Newsweek – November 30, 2005
The case of the secret memo
Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball
A British government crackdown on government leaks may have backfired by calling world attention to an ultrasensitive secret memo whose alleged contents have embarrassed President George W. Bush and strained relations between London and Washington. The document allegedly recounts a threat last year by Bush to bomb the head office of the Arabic TV news channel Al-Jazeera.
U.K. authorities consider the memo, described as minutes or a transcript of an April 16, 2004, White House meeting between Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, so diplomatically sensitive that Blair's attorney general last week warned U.K. media by e-mail that they could face prosecution under the country's draconian Official Secrets Act if they reported on its contents. But all the legal threat appeared to do was call more attention to the still-mysterious document and, at a minimum, appear to confirm its existence.
Bush administration officials initially dismissed the memo's allegations about Bush's threat against Al-Jazeera as "outlandish." U.S. officials later suggested that if Bush did talk with Blair about bombing Al-Jazeera, the president was only joking. Asked directly today about Bush's purported threat to bomb Al-Jazeera, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said: "Any such notion that we would engage in that kind of activity is just absurd." McLellan did not respond to follow-up questions as to whether Bush actually said what the memo says he did.
But a senior official at 10 Downing Street, Blair's official residence, who insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject, recently seemed to give credence to the Al-Jazeera threat. The official told NEWSWEEK London Bureau chief Stryker McGuire: "I don't think Tony Blair thought it was a joke." ….