Peter King: Obama admin may have given classified briefings to Daily Beast columnist

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King is asking CIA director Gen. David Petraeus and White House national security adviser James Clapper to investigate whether a columnist for The Daily Beast received the same classified foreign policy briefings as President Barack Obama.

“While I recognize that members of the Executive Branch provide background briefings to members of the media, I do not recall any occasion where a journalist received an intelligence briefing equivalent to that received by the President or the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., especially in the aftermath of a terrorist attack against U.S. personnel,” King wrote to the high-ranking national security officials in a letter obtained exclusively by The Daily Caller.

King asked whether “other members of the media receive the intelligence briefings,” but his inquiry focuses on The Daily Beast’s Dr. Leslie Gelb.

On Oct. 8, Gelb — a foreign policy columnist for the Newsweek-affiliated website — defended U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice for her role in what has become known as “Benghazi-gate.”

In the wake of a Sept. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the United States consulate in Libya that culminated in the murder of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens, the Obama administration sent Rice on a series of Sunday television talk shows during which she blamed the attack on a little-seen anti-Islam YouTube video, and claimed it was a “spontaneous” uprising.

Rice’s comments were inaccurate. The Obama administration, reports now confirm, knew the incident was a planned terrorist attack within 24 hours of Stevens’ death. Calls for Rice’s resignation have ensued.

Gelb’s article served as one firewall the administration may have used to explain why Rice made false public statements. In it, he blamed the intelligence community. And, as King points out in his call for an investigation, Gelb “even infers that he received the same briefing as President Obama and Ambassador Rice.”

“Her mistake was taking the initial intelligence at face value.  The White House briefers made the same error, and so did I,” Gelb wrote. “I too repeated in an op-ed on The Daily Beast what the intelligence briefers told me.”

In his letter to Petraeus and Clapper, King asked — in order to “ensure the protection of classified information against unlawful disclosure” — if Gelb “maintains a security clearance” and, “if so, [at] what classification level.”

King also asked them if “any employee or contracted employee of the Obama Administration and/or the U.S. Intelligence Community provide Dr. Gelb an intelligence briefing,” if Gelb had “access to intelligence also contained in the Presidential Daily Brief” and if Gelb was given “finished intelligence products, or signals, imagery or human intelligence reports, of equal or lesser classification level than those provided to Ambassador Rice.”

“If disclosures of classified information to Dr. Gelb were authorized,” King asked, “was his publication of such intelligence also authorized?  If the disclosures were unauthorized, what penalties are in place to protect against such disclosures in the future?”

King tied this potential leak to the other Obama administration leaks of classified national security intelligence.

“As you know, for nearly four years, I have written to President Obama, yourselves, and other Intelligence Community leaders to express my deep concern about the numerous leaks coming from the Obama Administration,” King said. “Illegal disclosures of classified information have repeatedly jeopardized our clandestine and law enforcement officials, special operators, and intelligence sources and methods.”

“These leaks include the whereabouts of Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, details of the intelligence and raid that found and killed Osama bin Laden, the existence of a human source penetration of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, possible U.S. involvement in cyber attacks against Iran’s nuclear arms program, specifics regarding drone campaigns, and (most recently) reported ongoing counterterrorism efforts and even future possible operations in North Africa,” King continued.

“If the Obama Administration and/or the Intelligence Community now provide intelligence briefings (as opposed to background briefings) to journalists—as claimed by Dr. Gelb—I urge you to take immediate corrective action to protect the public trust in your agencies, vital intelligence, and lives.”

King gave Clapper and Petraeus until Oct. 19 to respond.

Neither a White House spokesman nor a Daily Beast spokesperson immediately returned TheDC’s request for comment.

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Matthew Boyle