When Is A Leak Not A Leak?

A reader writes:

"I agree with you on the debater's point, but only if the President actually declassified something. I don't know the law of declassification, and maybe it allows the President to declassify orally. But, if the President declassifies something, isn't it then available to the public? Were the leaked/disclosed portions of the NIE then provided to everyone who wanted them and had asked for them? I don't know. But if they were not, then it would seem to me that the information is still classified, and the leak is a leak, not a disclosure."

That strikes me as a good point. Maybe someone can help us out on the formal legal/administrative details of declassification. If the president formally declassified the NIE, then we should all have been able to read all of it, simultaneously, right? And that's what ultimately happened. And when we did, we saw that some government agencies disputed the president's account on aluminum tubes. But before that, the president picked a few items to declassify - items that clearly misled the public - and told underlings to give them to selected members of the press. I think that's a fair ethical description of a leak. At the very least, it's a clear intent to mislead, by selectively releasing evidence. And if he deliberately misled the people after the war on intelligence, doesn't that imply he was fully capable of doing so beforehand? This is not a matter of law ultimately. It's a matter of character and honor. And it's not a pretty perspective on this president. McClellan, by the way, flailed about this morning - and the transcript is here.