US legal experts say that President George Bush had the unquestionable authority to approve the disclosure of secret CIA information to reporters, but added that the leak was highly unusual and amounted to using sensitive intelligence data for political gain.

“It is a question of whether the classified National Intelligence Estimate was used for domestic political purposes,” said Jeffrey Smith, a Washington lawyer who formerly served as general counsel for the CIA.

The experts also said that if the claim by Libby proved correct, Mr Bush’s actions would have violated a traditional, unwritten understanding that any declassification decision would be made in close consultation with intelligence officials.

“He doesn’t have a legal obligation to check with the CIA, but he certainly has a professional obligation to check with the CIA,” said Mr Smith, the agency’s former general counsel. ~Sydney Morning Herald