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.
"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."
"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."
The content of the letter is classified, according to a Snowe spokesman and their office is not permitted to reveal the names of the colleagues who signed it.
While some Republicans have called for a special investigation into the issue, Feinstein dismissed it as impractical at this time.
"A special prosecutor can take years. We don't have years," she said. "Wherever the chips fall, they fall. We want a fair investigation. We want to see that we have the process in place to deal with this. I do not believe that we do at the present time."
Obama himself responded to the charges made by some lawmakers that his White House had authorized the leaks for political gain.
“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” he told reporters during an economic briefing on Friday. “It’s wrong and people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office and how the people around me here approach this office.”
He said such leaks put people at risk, and his administration doesn’t “play around with that.”
“Since I’ve been in office my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation,” he said. “Now we have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked they will suffer consequences. In some cases, these are criminal acts when they release information like this and we will conduct thorough investigations as we have in the past.”
Ultimately, there may not be much anyone can do to stop such leaks, says Patrice McDermott, president of OpenTheGovernment.org, a group that promotes government transparency.
"In terms of what [Congress] can do to actually prevent leaks, it's probably pretty limited," she says. "It's already a civil offense, they can lose their security clearances, there are only certain kinds of information that are criminal offenses."
She says the Obama administration, under pressure from Congress, has already been pressured to prosecute leakers.
"A lot of the prosecutions that the Obama administration has undertaken for at leaks of classified information have been at least in part a result of pressure from members of Congress to get tougher," she says. "There's just not a lot that [Congress] can do because the authority already is there for the executive branch to prosecute this and the problem has always existed."
McDermott says there has always been a tension between the public's right to know what their government is up to and protecting people on the front lines.
"We do need information in order to hold government accountable and to have public debates on particularly things like the kill list and the use of drones to target individuals including American citizens and it's impossible to have an informed debate without information," she says. "There really are secrets that need to be protected … but we do have to have a way to debate these issues that are of major public concern. This has been going on forever. It's nothing unique to this administration."
Rebekah Metzler is a political writer for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.