While that case was, of course, ridiculous and the information falsified, the leaking of it was illegal. And the leaks appear to have been part of a coordinated effort. Immediately following important leaks, top administration officials appeared on talk shows to discuss information that they could not have legally discussed had it not appeared in a newspaper that morning.
Congressman John Conyers has just released an extensive report titled "The Constitution in Crisis: The Downing Street Minutes and Deception, Manipulation, Torture, Retribution, and Cover-ups in the Iraq War." Pages 73 81 address the Bush Administration's claims regarding aluminum tubes allegedly acquired by Iraq for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons.
On page 78, the report notes: "Our investigation has also found that classified intelligence information supporting the Bush Administration's position regarding the aluminum tubes was leaked to the press. For example, on Sunday, September 8, 2002, the lead story in The New York Times, written by Judith Miller and Michael R. Gordon, quotes 'anonymous' Administration officials as stating that 'Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons and has embarked on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb.'"
The headline of that article was "U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts."
Conyers' report continues: "The article goes on to source 'administration officials' for the proposition that '[i]n the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium' and that '[t]he diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq's nuclear program.'"
So, someone in the Administration was leaking classified information. Of course, it was false information, but that made it all the more damaging. But who was the leaker(s)?
According to Conyers' report, "Subsequent media accounts have traced the story, at least in part, to Paul Wolfowitz:
"'In the summer of 2002, [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz convened a secret meeting [concerning the tubes] in his office with Francis Brooke, the I.N.C. adviser, and Khidir Hamza, a former chief of Saddam's nuclear program, who had defected to America in 1994 . . . Wolfowitz circulated his conclusions to his administration allies. A few days later, the story of the "nuclear" tubes was leaked to The New York Times, where it landed on the front page.'
"On the CNN Documentary, Dead Wrong, an anonymous source characterized the dissemination of this biased and slanted information to Miller and Gordon as 'official leaking': 'I would call it official leaking because I think these were authorized conversations between the press and members of the intelligence community that further misreported the nature of the intelligence community's disagreement on this issue.'
Of course, a front page story in the New York Times gets everyone's attention, and if the lies are glaring enough can lead to a reporter resigning in disgrace. But the Bush Administration has often promoted stories into the "mainstream" media by first establishing them in the super-right-wing outlets.
"The Constitution in Crisis" continues: "Our investigation has also learned that administration officials appear to have leaked classified information to the press well before the New York Times article. A July 29, 2002, article in the Washington Times, titled 'Iraq Seeks Steel for Nukes' reported:
"'Procurement agents from Iraq's covert nuclear-arms program were detected as they tried to purchase stainless-steel tubing, uniquely used in gas centrifuges and a key component in making the material for nuclear bombs, from an unknown supplier, said administration officials familiar with intelligence reports . . . U.S. intelligence agencies believe the tubing is an essential component of Iraq's plans to enrich radioactive uranium to the point where it could be used to fashion a nuclear bomb.'"
With impeccable timing, on the eve of the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks, top Bush officials appeared on the Sunday talk shows to discuss the aluminum tube story that someone among them had just planted in the New York Times.
Knight Ridder explained how this worked: "[the leaks] appearance in the nation's most influential paper also gave Cheney and Rice an opportunity to discuss the matter the same day on the Sunday television talk shows. They could discuss the article, but otherwise they wouldn't have been able to talk about classified intelligence in public." ("CIA leak illustrates selective use of intelligence on Iraq [The Aluminum Tubes]," by Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder Newspapers.)
And who can forget the horrifying comments that the Bush Administration made?