Lawmakers Up the Stakes on Intelligence Leaks

Posted June 7, 2012 at 3:02pm

A bipartisan coalition of top lawmakers charged with monitoring intelligence issues is coalescing against the Obama administration to investigate a series of leaks that the Members believe are jeopardizing national security.

The heads of the House and Senate Intelligence committees met with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller today. The lawmakers are so concerned about the mounting evidence that officials divulged classified information that they are working to complete legislation within the month to “codify” the process to target and prevent leaks.

The questions surrounding a series of articles published in the New York Times on cyberattacks on Iran, a terrorist “kill list” and an expansive drone program are bringing together a diverse group of politicians on Capitol Hill to go after the executive branch. Members of both parties worried about national security issues — from Republicans accusing the White House of using leaks to boost the president’s image to top lawmakers upset that they learned about these serious national security programs through the media and not the White House — are banding together on a legislative remedy in the most substantial way since President Barack Obama took office.

“It must be complete. It must be empowered to examine any office or department of the United States government. It must be free of influence from those who conducted or reviewed the programs at issue. It must be fair, [and] it must be nonpartisan,” House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said. He noted all four leaders agreed on this: “We must put together legislation quickly that moves to give the tools to the intelligence community to prevent this from happening in the future.”

Senate Intelligence Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she is not yet joining the calls, primarily from Republicans, to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the matter. On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he did not believe the cases merited a special prosecutor, but he would not comment specifically on whether the Department of Justice was investigating the matter because of the classified nature of the material in question. Other media outlets have reported an FBI investigation is under way.

Rogers, however, revealed today how complicated the investigation might be without a more independent watchdog. After meeting with Clapper, Rogers said that multiple agencies told his House panel that they could not respond to requests about leaks because they might be implicated — a concession that had not been made publicly.

“Just today, the CIA informed the HPSCI that it cannot respond to our requests involving the leaks — a very troubling event indeed,” Rogers said. “The DOJ’s national security division has recused itself from at least one element of the investigation, suggesting some of these leaks could have come from sources within the DOJ or the FBI.”

At first blush, the troubles facing the White House on this issue were political. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee and the 2008 GOP presidential nominee, began his Tuesday speech on the leaks issue by declaring he was “disturbed” the White House would breach protocol to boost the president’s national security bona fides.

The White House has vehemently denied that it authorized the disclosure of classified information.

But the issue could run much deeper for the administration than just the cable news sound bites, if top lawmakers continue to pursue a larger investigation. Though the four top Members on the Intelligence panels all emphasized the need for new language in the pending intelligence authorization bill, they would not specify what weaknesses exist in current law. As it is, divulging classified information is a federal crime.

“We will work with the House membership on language that can be acceptable to both sides to codify a certain process that we think will be more efficient in targeting leaking and also being able to stop it,” Feinstein said, noting that lawmakers wanted to give the intelligence community “more tools” to control leaks without disclosing what those tools might be.

Feinstein said earlier this week that she has discussed a joint hearing with Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.). McCain, who initially requested a hearing for the committee, secured an agreement from Levin that a hearing will happen in the near future.