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NYT: Agency Is Target in Cheney Fight on Secrecy Data

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  • Ram Lau
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/22/washington/22cheney.html June 22, 2007 Agency Is Target in Cheney Fight on Secrecy Data By SCOTT SHANE For four years, Vice
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 22, 2007
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      June 22, 2007
      Agency Is Target in Cheney Fight on Secrecy Data

      For four years, Vice President Dick Cheney has resisted routine
      oversight of his office's handling of classified information, and when
      the National Archives unit that monitors classification in the
      executive branch objected, the vice president's office suggested
      abolishing the oversight unit, according to documents released
      yesterday by a Democratic congressman.

      The Information Security Oversight Office, a unit of the National
      Archives, appealed the issue to the Justice Department, which has not
      yet ruled on the matter.

      Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California and chairman of
      the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, disclosed Mr.
      Cheney's effort to shut down the oversight office. Mr. Waxman, who has
      had a leading role in the stepped-up efforts by Democrats to
      investigate the Bush administration, outlined the matter in an
      eight-page letter sent Thursday to the vice president and posted,
      along with other documentation, on the committee's Web site.

      Officials at the National Archives and the Justice Department
      confirmed the basic chronology of events cited in Mr. Waxman's letter.

      The letter said that after repeatedly refusing to comply with a
      routine annual request from the archives for data on his staff's
      classification of internal documents, the vice president's office in
      2004 blocked an on-site inspection of records that other agencies of
      the executive branch regularly go through.

      But the National Archives is an executive branch department headed by
      a presidential appointee, and it is assigned to collect the data on
      classified documents under a presidential executive order. Its
      Information Security Oversight Office is the archives division that
      oversees classification and declassification.

      "I know the vice president wants to operate with unprecedented
      secrecy," Mr. Waxman said in an interview. "But this is absurd. This
      order is designed to keep classified information safe. His argument is
      really that he's not part of the executive branch, so he doesn't have
      to comply."

      A spokeswoman for Mr. Cheney, Megan McGinn, said, "We're confident
      that we're conducting the office properly under the law." She declined
      to elaborate.

      Other officials familiar with Mr. Cheney's view said that he and his
      legal adviser, David S. Addington, did not believe that the executive
      order applied to the vice president's office because it had a
      legislative as well as an executive status in the Constitution. Other
      White House offices, including the National Security Council,
      routinely comply with the oversight requirements, according to Mr.
      Waxman's office and outside experts.

      Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said last night, "The White
      House complies with the executive order, including the National
      Security Council."

      The dispute is far from the first to pit Mr. Cheney and Mr. Addington
      against outsiders seeking information, usually members of Congress or
      advocacy groups. Their position is generally based on strong
      assertions of presidential power and the importance of
      confidentiality, which Mr. Cheney has often argued was eroded by
      post-Watergate laws and the prying press.

      Mr. Waxman asserted in his letter and the interview that Mr. Cheney's
      office should take the efforts of the National Archives especially
      seriously because it has had problems protecting secrets.

      He noted that I. Lewis Libby Jr., the vice president's former chief of
      staff, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice for lying
      to a grand jury and the F.B.I. during an investigation of the leak of
      classified information — the secret status of Valerie Wilson, the wife
      of a Bush administration critic, as a Central Intelligence Agency officer.

      Mr. Waxman added that in May 2006, a former aide in Mr. Cheney's
      office, Leandro Aragoncillo, pleaded guilty to passing classified
      information to plotters trying to overthrow the president of the

      "Your office may have the worst record in the executive branch for
      safeguarding classified information," Mr. Waxman wrote to Mr. Cheney.

      In the tradition of Washington's semantic dust-ups, this one might be
      described as a fight over what an "entity" is. The executive order,
      last updated in 2003 and currently under revision, states that it
      applies to any "entity within the executive branch that comes into the
      possession of classified information."

      J. William Leonard, director of the oversight office, has argued in a
      series of letters to Mr. Addington that the vice president's office is
      indeed such an entity. He noted that previous vice presidents had
      complied with the request for data on documents classified and
      declassified, and that Mr. Cheney did so in 2001 and 2002.

      But starting in 2003, the vice president's office began refusing to
      supply the information. In 2004, it blocked an on-site inspection by
      Mr. Leonard's office that was routinely carried out across the
      government to check whether documents were being properly labeled and
      safely stored.

      Mr. Addington did not reply in writing to Mr. Leonard's letters,
      according to officials familiar with their exchanges. But Mr.
      Addington stated in conversations that the vice president's office was
      not an "entity within the executive branch" because, under the
      Constitution, the vice president also plays a role in the legislative
      branch, as president of the Senate, able to cast a vote in the event
      of a tie.

      Mr. Waxman rejected that argument. "He doesn't have classified
      information because of his legislative function," Mr. Waxman said of
      Mr. Cheney. "It's because of his executive function."

      Mr. Cheney's general resistance to complying with the oversight
      request was first reported last year by The Chicago Tribune.

      In January, Mr. Leonard wrote to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales
      asking that he resolve the question. Erik Ablin, a Justice Department
      spokesman, said last night, "This matter is currently under review in
      the department."

      Whatever the ultimate ruling, according to Mr. Waxman's letter, the
      vice president's office has already carried out "possible retaliation"
      against the oversight office.

      As part of an interagency review of Executive Order 12958, Mr.
      Cheney's office proposed eliminating appeals to the attorney general —
      precisely the avenue Mr. Leonard was taking. According to Mr. Waxman's
      investigation, the vice president's staff also proposed abolishing the
      Information Security Oversight Office.

      The interagency group revising the executive order has rejected those
      proposals, according to Mr. Waxman. Ms. McGinn, Mr. Cheney's
      spokeswoman, declined to comment.

      Mr. Cheney's penchant for secrecy has long been a striking feature of
      the Bush administration, beginning with his fight to keep confidential
      the identities of the energy industry officials who advised his task
      force on national energy policy in 2001. Mr. Cheney took that dispute
      to the Supreme Court and won.

      Steven Aftergood, who tracks government secrecy at the Federation of
      American Scientists and last year filed a complaint with the oversight
      office about Mr. Cheney's noncompliance, said, "This illustrates just
      how far the vice president will go to evade external oversight."

      But David B. Rivkin, a Washington lawyer who served in Justice
      Department and White House posts in earlier Republican
      administrations, said Mr. Cheney had a valid point about the unusual
      status of the office he holds.

      "The office of the vice president really is unique," Mr. Rivkin said.
      "It's not an agency. It's an extension of the vice president himself."
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