Concern Over National Security Leaks Has a Bipartisan Flavor

Investigation launched in leaks, but lawmakers worry


UPDATE 6/8/12, 11:34 a.m.: This story has been updated to include remarks from President Obama.

Though leaks are considered part of the status quo in politics, a bipartisan group of top lawmakers says the spate of news stories detailing drone attacks on suspected terrorists and the U.S.'s role in creating a computer virus to attack Iran's nuclear program are unacceptable.

Some, such as Sen. John McCain, claim the leaks have come from the Obama administration intentionally, designed to bolster the president's re-election chances. The stories have portrayed Obama as a decisive leader willing to do what it takes to protect the country, describing "kill lists" that are personally authorized assassinations of terrorists. President Obama condemned such accusations during a press conference Friday.

Others, such as Sen. Saxby Chambliss, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney have stopped short of such accusations.

"Gov. Romney thinks it's vital that covert operations remain covert," said Amanda Henneberg, Romney spokeswoman. "He believes leaks risk our national security and must stop. Leadership starts at the top. It's his sincere hope that the President is using all means at his disposal to put an end to this harmful practice."

Chambliss said he would not "pre-judge" the motivation of the leakers.

"We know that an investigation has already begun," he said during a press briefing with reporters on Thursday. "We've been through this before in the Bush administration. This is not meant to be a political exercise. This is too critical to the future of the intelligence community in the United States."

Earlier this week, McCain took to the Senate floor to decry the leaks that had resulted in recent press stories but his concerns gained more weight when Democratic Den. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, also expressed concern.

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"We're not finger pointing at anybody. What we're trying to say is we have a problem and we've got to stop that problem," she said Thursday. "This has to stop. When people say they don't want to work with the United States because they can't trust us to keep a secret that's serious. When allies become concerned, when an asset's life is in jeopardy or the asset's family's life is in jeopardy, that's a problem."

Feinstein said she and Chambliss have begun working with top members of their counterpart House committee to craft bipartisan language that would develop a more efficient process to prevent or stop leaking and arm officials with more tools to control it.

The Department of Justice has launched an investigation, though there is some concern that some of the leakers may be in a position to influence such an inquiry.

"The DoJ's national security division has recused itself from at least one element of the investigation, suggesting some of these leaks have come from within sources at the DoJ or the FBI," said House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Michigan. "And from publicly available comments, it appears that the sources of these leaks could be in a position to influence the investigations."

Concern among lawmakers about the frequency and sensitive nature of the leaks has been building for some time.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, a decade-long member of the committee, said she led a group of colleagues in writing to Attorney General Eric Holder in mid-May calling for an investigation because she had become "increasingly concerned about the culture that appears to perpetuate brazen leaks."

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"Incredibly, the pace of intelligence leaks may have actually accelerated since I first made this request to the attorney general last month," she said in a statement. "We can no longer afford to vacillate or delay when it comes to this critical issue. Each disclosure has the potential to put our security at risk. The time is now to reform the system and punish those responsible."