President Bush is severely limiting the number of members of the U.S. Congress who can get top-secret briefings on the war against terrorism. The order came in a memo to key cabinet members and the heads of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency.
Only eight of the 535 members of the legislature will get the briefings. They include the four Congressional leaders (the Speaker and Minority Leader of the House and the Majority and Minority leaders of the Senate), and the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer defends the move. "It's an effort to make certain that Congress has the information that it needs while making certain that nobody is put in a position where they inadvertently could give any information that could harm anybody's life as a very sensitive military campaign is underway," he said. The list of eight lawmakers does not include senior members of committees dealing with military matters and foreign affairs. Mr. Fleischer says the president trusts those lawmakers, but believes it is necessary to limit the flow of highly sensitive information to the smallest group possible. "It's a reflection of the fact our nation is now at war," he said. "The rules have changed. It is a reflection of the reality that disclosure of information at a time of war is far different from the inadvertent disclosure at a time of peace."
Mr. Fleischer refuses to say if one incident prompted the President to issue the order. But the directive went out shortly after details from October 2 intelligence briefing on Capitol Hill found their way into news reports.
The initial response from members of Congress has been fairly muted - in large part because the legislature has been on recess for the last few days. Some lawmakers indicate they support the idea. But others question the decision, saying the Bush administration may be overreacting.