In June, House investigators revealed that Vice President Dick Cheney had exempted his office from an executive order designed to safeguard classified national security information. He claimed that the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is not an “entity within the executive branch.”
The National Security Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office (ISOO) wrote Cheney’s then-chief of staff David Addington on two separate occasions in summer 2006, disputing those claims. Cheney’s office ignored both letters. Finally, in Jan. 2007, the ISOO directly asked — to no avail — Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve whether the executive order applies to Cheney’s office.
In a new interview with Newsweek, ISOO director J. William Leonard — described as the “gold standard of information specialists in the federal government” — said that he is quitting after 34 years, partly because of pressure from Cheney’s office. Addington personally tried to “wipe out” his job after Leonard attempted to challenge Cheney’s claims. From the interview:
LEONARD: So I wrote my letter to the Attorney General [asking for a ruling that Cheney’s office had to comply.] Then it was shortly after that there were [email] recommendations [from OVP to a National Security Council task force] to change the executive order that would effectively abolish [my] office.
Who wrote the emails?
LEONARD: It was David Addington.
No explanation was offered?
LEONARD: No. It was strike this, strike that. Anyplace you saw the words, “the director of ISOO” or “ISOO” it was struck.
Leonard also reveals that much of the information Cheney’s office was classifying wasn’t actually “real secrets,” underscoring the need for independent oversight. Some of the materials, for example, contained politically damaging information related to the Valerie Plame leak case:
A number of prosecution exhibits [in the Plame-related perjury trial of I. Scooter Libby, Cheney’s former chief of staff] were annotated, ‘handle as SCI.’ SCI is Sensitive Compartmentalized Information, the most sensitive classified information there is. As I recall, [one of them] was [the vice president and his staff] were coming back from Norfolk where they had attended a ship commissioning and they were conferring on the plane about coming up with a [media] response plan [to the allegations of Plame’s husband, Iraq war critic Joseph Wilson.] That was one of the exhibits marked, ‘handle as SCI.’
Cheney’s office refused to directly respond to Newsweek’s piece.