The CIA signaled Tuesday it likely will fight the release of highly classified presidential intelligence briefings that Vice President Dick Cheney’s former top aide wants to use in his defense against perjury charges.
Gathering the materials sought by I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff, would take up to nine months, Marilyn Dorn, a CIA information review officer, said in a sworn statement filed in U.S. District Court.
Dorn said the CIA believes disclosure of the information would damage national security and wants a chance to be heard in court before any material is turned over to Libby, who is charged with lying in the investigation into the leak of a CIA operative’s identity.
“The defense’s requests clearly implicate highly classified, compartmentalized information and potential claims of executive privilege for presidential communications and the deliberative process,” Dorn wrote.
“Compartmentalized” information requires a special security clearance, meaning the CIA could not assign just anyone to help gather the material Libby’s lawyers want, Dorn said.
Dorn’s affidavit was filed under seal last Friday but made public Tuesday.
Indicted for lying
Libby, 55, was indicted last year on charges that he lied to the FBI and a federal grand jury about how he learned the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame and when he subsequently told reporters.
Lawyers for Libby want access to nearly a year of the President’s Daily Brief, a summary of intelligence about threats against the United States. Dorn estimated it would take nine months for the small staff responsible for producing the intelligence briefing to assemble the material.
But Dorn estimated it would take about three months to comply with a more streamlined request of about 40 days of the briefings that U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton suggested. That period would cover when Libby allegedly spoke to three reporters, along with two days before and after he was interviewed by FBI agents and testified before the grand jury.
'Time-consuming and laborious' task
“While the size of the task would be reduced if the time periods were restricted, the process is nevertheless time-consuming and laborious,” Dorn said.
Walton, in an effort to try to give the defense some of what it says it needs, suggested that the CIA determine whether it could provide summaries of the briefings Libby received six days a week, often along with Cheney.
But Dorn warned the judge that summaries pose as grave a danger to national security as turning over the actual reports.
“Referring to the topics ... even in an abstracted or generalized manner presents the same concerns about disclosure of classified information,” she wrote. “The very fact that these topics were presented to the president discloses sensitive information concerning U.S. intelligence and policy priorities.”
The defense lawyers said they need all of the briefings to show that Libby was busy with important national security matters and may have forgotten or remembered incorrectly what he had said to reporters about Plame.
Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald opposed the request, calling it “simply breathtaking,” and accused the defense of trying to derail the case.
In seeking the middle ground, Walton appears to be trying to avoid a showdown with President Bush over access to the documents.
But Dorn suggested there is no middle ground. “Any disclosure ... beyond its intended narrow audience — the president and his most senior advisers — increases the possibility of damage to the national security,” she wrote.
Libby usually received intelligence briefings with Cheney. But, sometimes, Dorn said, the CIA told Cheney things it did not tell Libby.
Frequently, she said, Libby received more information than Cheney because Libby often asked the CIA additional questions.
The CIA official who briefed Libby learned to “customize” the report by including additional information in anticipation of the former White House aide’s questions, Dorn said.
“As a result, the briefing provided to Mr. Libby on any given day usually differed from, and only rarely would have been identical to, the briefing provided to the vice president and the president,” Dorn wrote.