White House: Disclosure of Classified Information Limited to "Protect Lives"White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday the disclosure of classified information to Congress will be limited to eight members "to protect lives."
"It's a reflection on the fact that our nation is now at war, and the rules have changed," Fleischer said at a news briefing. Disclosure of information "can literally mean the loss of lives" of people on missions, he said.
U.S. President George W. Bush, who is angered at leaks from classified briefings, ordered key department heads last week to restrict their briefings of members of Congress to the four major leaders and the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate intelligence committees.
"This approach will best serve our shared goals of protecting American lives, maintaining the proper level of confidentiality for the success of our military, intelligence and law enforcement operations and keeping the leadership of the Congress appropriately informed about important developments," Bush said in a memo to major department heads dated October 5.
The memo, signed by Bush, was sent to the secretaries of state, treasury and defense, the attorney general and the directors of the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Bush said only the department or agency heads or "officers expressly designated by you may brief members of Congress regarding classified or sensitive law enforcement information."
He also called the four leaders to explain his decision and said he was furious that sensitive intelligence material that was shared with Congress was being leaked to the news media.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, a Democrat from South Dakota, and House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt, a Democrat from Missouri, have expressed approval of Bush's new policy, but members of Congress gave mixed reviews of Bush's decision.
"I think it's an overreaction," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California. "Certainly members of the Intelligence Committee can be trusted. This is their job. I would urge him to reconsider."
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Bob Stump said he had no objection to being excluded from the top secret briefings.
Senator John Warner, a Republican from Virginia, said that while he deplores leaks, the White House needs Congress "to share as a partner the responsibility of sending these men and women into harm's way."
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