Gateway Pundit has the best summary I've seen on the circumstances behind President Bush's decision to declassify the 2003 National Intelligence Summary on Iraq. As you'll recall, the information was provided to The New York Times after former Ambassador Joe Wilson began spouting lies about his infamous trip to Niger, the person who recommended him for that mission, and Iraq's potential interest in yellowcake from that African country.
Against that backdrop, Mr. Bush decided to defend himself by declassifying intelligence information on the subject. Note the word "declassify." As Vice President Cheney (and others) have noted, the President and V-P have the authority to declassify and release sensitive information. Any suggestion that release of the NIE (by then VP Chief of Staff Scooter Libby) was a classified "leak" is completely false.
As Gateway Pundit reminds us, the NYT, WaPo and other media outlets don't normally have a problem with leaks; indeed, they've feasted on them for years. But when a report or estimate is declassified to debunk claims that are demonstrably false--and undercut the credibility of a left-wing icon--well, that's a different matter altogether. Ditto for a President using that information to defend his decision to take a nation to war.
As a former spook, I still have great reservations about the declassification and release of sensitive information. But there is no doubt (legally) that the President had the right to release the NIE, and using the report to knock down Joe Wilson's lies is a strong justification for declassification. Unfortunately, the release of the Iraq NIE is yet another example of "how the game is played" in Washington, and will inspire future administrations to declassify sensitive data, for more partisan reasons. Democracy will always demand a surprising amount of secrecy, but you can't tell that to the folks inside the beltway.
Hat tip: Powerline.