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US Treasury says gave O'Neill secret papers in error

WASHINGTON, Feb 6 (Reuters)

The feud between the Bush administration and its maverick former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill took another turn on Friday when the agency said it was at fault for giving him documents with classified information.

The Treasury Department had ordered a probe into how O'Neill a document marked "secret" was shown on the screen during a television interview broadcast last month in which he fiercely criticized his old boss President George W. Bush in

"The Treasury Department recognizes that those documents were not properly reviewed before their release," Treasury Secretary John Snow said in a letter sent on Friday to various committee leaders on Capitol Hill and obtained by Reuters.

O'Neill, who resigned under pressure in December 2002, likened Bush at cabinet meetings to "a blind man in a room full of deaf people" and criticized his approach to Iraq in a book written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Ron Suskind.

The Treasury Department's inspector general is probing how a cover sheet document marked "secret" appeared in a television interview with O'Neill on January 11, raising the question of whether O'Neill had improperly taken secret papers..

O'Neill denied he had taken secret documents. "I don't honestly think there is anything classified in those 19,000 sheets," O'Neill said in a televised interview.

A memorandum from the inspector general accompanying Snow's letter said the investigation had so far "determined that at least three documents containing information that should have been classified were released to former Secretary O'Neill. None of the documents were properly annotated with the required markings for classified information."

In addition, the memorandum said a classified report on Treasury's weakness in handling sensitive information was sent to Treasury in December 2003.

In his letter, Snow said a review by Treasury personnel had shown "a number" of documents given to O'Neill "contained classified information."

According to the book, O'Neill approached the department in March 2003 and asked for copies of "every document that had crossed his desk" while he had been in office. In the book, Suskind said,

"They stretch from memoranda to the President to hand-scribbled thank-you notes, from minutes of meetings to hundred-page reports."

On Thursday, the book's publisher, Simon and Schuster, posted key documents on the Internet, at

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