WASHINGTON — Officials from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon say they have no idea what New York Times reporter Judith Miller was talking about when she claimed to have been given a "security clearance" while she was embedded with a U.S. Army unit in Iraq in 2003.
In a first-person account of her recent testimony before a federal grand jury, published in the newspaper on Sunday, Miller wrote the Pentagon had given her "clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment 'embedded' with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons."
According to the officials, they know of no instance or circumstance when a reporter has been, or would be, granted a security clearance and believed she would not have been given one when she was embedded with the unit that was tasked with finding Iraqi WMDs immediately after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Meanwhile, Pentagon officials say they are continuing to check whether Miller had been granted a security clearance of any kind.
Normally it takes at least three months of background checks before anyone is granted a "secret” clearance.
There are cases where someone is granted a temporary short-term clearance — for a day, for example — but that is usually extended only to military, Department of Defense or civilian contractors who need to be cleared for specific information on a specific project.
The officials spoke to NBC on condition of anonymity.
Discussion of "classified" information
In her article, Miller indicated that she thought her "security clearance" may still have been in effect during a meeting with Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, after she had returned to Washington, and that this status would not allow her to share all the information she had with her editors.
Miller wrote about how Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald questioned her during her grand jury appearance regarding conversations with Libby in which they discussed classified information.
Fitzgerald is investigating whether crimes were committed when Bush administration officials reportedly leaked the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters.
Plame’s covert status was exposed at a time when her husband, former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was criticizing the Bush administration, accusing it of manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.
In her account, Miller wrote, “I told Mr. Fitzgerald that Mr. Libby might have thought I still had security clearance, given my special embedded status in Iraq.”
While embedded reporters are often granted access to classified briefings with the proviso that the information can only be used as background and cannot be reported, Pentagon officials say no military commander or officer has the individual authority to grant a security clearance.
Grand Jury wrapping up soon
Fitzgerald is wrapping up his investigation and is expected to decide soon whether to seek indictments. The grand jury that has been hunting down the leakers inside the Bush administration over the past two years expires Oct. 28.
President Bush’s top political adviser, Karl Rove, testified to the panel Friday, his fourth appearance. Prosecutors warned Rove before he appeared that there was no guarantee he won’t be indicted.
Rove spoke to columnist Robert Novak and Time magazine reporter Matt Cooper about Plame’s identity, while Libby spoke to Miller and Cooper about Plame.