Sometimes a lede can be buried so deep it barely makes it into the story. On Saturday, the New York Times ran a lengthy article about a sharply critical private letter the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee sent to President Bush May 18.
"An important congressional ally charged the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters," wrote Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane in their lead paragraph.
The lede implies that Rep. Peter Hoekstra (R-Mich) thinks "Republican support on national security matters" is jeopardized by the failure to inform Congress of these secret intelligence programs, but his letter indicates this isn't so.
Rep. Hoekstra won't say what those intelligence programs are, but the speculation is they are the "special access programs" former National Security Agency official Russell Tice claimed violated the law.
Mr. Tice was fired in May of 2005, allegedly because he was psychologically disturbed.
Mr. Tice had asked permission to brief the House and Senate Intelligence Committees on the programs he was worried about, which was denied until after Rep. Hoekstra wrote his letter.
But mentioned only in the penultimate paragraph of a four page letter, this concern was the least of the three raised by Rep. Hoekstra.
A more important concern was what he saw as empire building by the new Director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte.
"I am concerned that the current implementation is creating a large, bureaucratic and hierarchial structure that will be less flexible and agile than our adversaries," Rep. Hoekstra wrote. "I we are to be successful we must limit the growth of the office of the DNI to force it to be the lean, coordinating function we envisioned."
But most of his ire was directed at the appointment of Stephen Kappes to be Deputy Director of the CIA.
"Regrettably, the appointment of Mr. Kappes sends a clear signal that the days of collaborative reform between the White House and this committee may be over," Rep. Hoekstra wrote.
Rep. Hoekstra is a friend of former CIA Director Porter Goss, his predecessor as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and was upset with his brusque dismissal May 5.
The appointment of Mr. Kappes to team with Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden poured salt in the wound. Mr. Kappes was deputy director for operations when Mr. Goss took over at Langley in the fall of 2004. He resigned rather than reassign an aide who was insubordinate when told that leaks to reporters from the CIA must stop.
Rep. Hoekstra accused Mr. Kappes of being one of the leakers:
"I have been long concerned that a strong and well-positioned group within the Agency intentionally undermined the Administration and its policies," he wrote. "This argument is supported by the Ambassador Wilson/Valerie Plame events, as well as by the string of unauthorized disclosures from an organization which prides itself with being able to keep secrets. I have come to this belief that, despite his service to the DO, Mr. Kappes may have been part of this group.
"Further, the details surrounding Mr. Kappes' departure from the CIA give me great pause," Rep. Hoekstra wrote. "The fact is, Mr. Kappes and his Deputy, Mr. Sulick, were developing a communications offensive to bypass the Intelligence Committees and the CIA's own Office of Congressional Affairs. One can only speculate on the motives, but it clearly indicates a willingness to promote a personal agenda. Every day we suffer from individuals promoting their personal agendas. This is clearly a place where we do not want or need to be."
Neither of these paragraphs made it into the lengthy story Mr. Lichtblau and Mr. Shane wrote. Their only mention of Rep. Hoekstra's concerns about Mr. Kappes was this sentence, deep within the article: "He warned that the choice of Mr. Kappes, who he said was part of the group at CIA that 'intentionally undermined the administration,' sends 'a clear signal that the days of collaborative reform between the White House and this committee may be over.'"
Without this sentence, Mr. Lichtblau and Mr. Shane could not have implied, misleadingly, in their lede that the White House risked losing Republican support over its failure to inform Congress of some intelligence programs.
The New York Times frequently accuses the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq. I'd say the Times did a fine job of cherry-picking not to say distorting Rep. Hoekstra's letter.