Thanks for your emails. Here's some more information relevant to the discussion. Here is the executive order in March 2003 specifying who gets to declassify classified information. Money quote:
"The authority to classify information originally may be exercised only by:
(1) the President and, in the performance of executive duties, the Vice President;
(2) agency heads and officials designated by the President in the Federal Register; and
(3) United States Government officials delegated this authority pursuant to paragraph (c) of this section [which, again, is a section of an order by the President]"
The president seems to have the power to do what he did. But I stand corrected on one point. The NIE was never fully declassified. Bits of it dribbled out over the last couple of years, including the information that questioned the aluminum tube issue. But Bush wasn't the driving force behind that; and his gambit was to selectively declassify certain bits of intelligence and selectively keep other contrary evidence from the public. As Steve Clemons notes, we don't have the full NIE formally declassified sitting over at the National Security Archives at GWU. In fact, GW's own website tell us the contrary, claiming in July 2004 that
"The CIA has decided to keep almost entirely secret the controversial October 2002 CIA intelligence estimate about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction that is the subject of today's Senate Intelligence Committee report, according to the CIA's June 1, 2004 response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the National Security Archive."
The bottom line is that the president clearly used his prerogative to classify and declassify intelligence data to leak selectively to the press to give a misleading notion of what his own government believed about Saddam's WMDs before the war. He was personally involved; and he tasked his veep to coordinate it. The most plausible explanation is that the president believes grave national security prerogatives can be used for political purposes and/or that he had something embarrassing to hide. Bottom bottom line: we can't trust him to be fully honest with us on one of the bases on which he led us to war. That matters, doesn't it?