Lott Claims Bush Would Never Declassify Intel ‘Just For Political Purposes’

Yesterday, in an effort to defend his war strategy, President Bush declassified intelligence about a 2005 order from Osama bin Laden instructing aides “to form a terrorist cell that would conduct attacks outside Iraq — and that the United States should be the top target.” The newly released information was featured in Bush’s commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy today, where he stoked fears of terrorism, saying “All around us, dangerous winds are swirling and these winds could reach our shores at any moment.”

Appearing on Fox News, Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-MI) defended Bush’s selective declassification of the intelligence, saying that he is “glad the president made the decision to make it available” and that the administration would never declassify intel “just for political purposes.” Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/05/LottFox.320.240.flv]

Lott appears to be forgetting the administration’s long history of selectively declassifying intelligence that supports their political goals. A few examples:

– In 2003, President Bush personally authorized then-chief of staff to the Vice President, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, to “publicly disclose” sections of the classified National Intelligence Estimate about Iraq in order to push back against Amb. Joe Wilson’s public debunking of pre-war intelligence.

– In 2004, the White House authorized the release of “an off-the-record background briefing” given by former White House terrorism czar Richard Clarke, in order to discredit Clarke after he published a book that was critical of Bush’s pre-9/11 national security priorities.

– In 2006, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) wrote to then-Director of Intelligence John Negroponte complaining that in response to the revelation of the NSA warrantless spying program, “the President chose to selectively declassify aspects of the program that would allow for a public relations campaign to score political points.”

The administration does not appear to leak intelligence except for politically advantageous purposes.


GALLAGHER: Now to that story about new details on Osama bin Laden’s plan for terror attacks against the U.S.

According to the FBI, bin Laden wanted the leader of Al Qaida in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, to organize the terrorist mission.

With us now, Mississippi Senator and Minority Whip Trent Lott. He also sits on the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.

And, Senator, what do you make of the new intelligence being released?

LOTT: Well, I think it’s important that that information is made available. I’m glad the president made the decision to make it available because it shows that the war on terror and Al Qaida is still targeting the United States and they are very much and have been very much involved in Iraq.

So I’m pleased the president decided to declassify this information and make it available to the American people.

GALLAGHER: The critics are now saying the president is selectively declassifying the information that will support his cause in the war on terror.

LOTT: Well, he is the president. He can’t just declassify everything.

This is information that I think is needed right now for the American people to understand the severity of the threat.

And, of course, the guy that bin Laden was using is now dead himself, so I think it makes sense.

I believe that Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania was calling for the declassification of this information a year or so ago. So, it is a very careful process, and not one that’s used indiscriminately or just for political purposes.