Top Obama Aide: National Security Leaks 'Absolutely' Have Caused Damage

Top White House terrorism official calls for harsh prosecutions of those who shared classified data.

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John Brennan
John Brennan, Assistant to U.S. President Barack Obama for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism.

A senior aide to President Obama is calling for any White House official who knowingly leaked details about classified national security programs to be prosecuted.

Details of national security programs that have been made public in recent months have been "unconscionable," John Brennan, Obama's chief homeland security and counterterrorism official, said Wednesday.

Asked during a forum in Washington whether those leaks have damaged sensitive programs and operations, Brennan responded, "Absolutely."

"The president has made clear that leaks should be prosecuted" if any official violated a responsibility to keep classified information under wraps, Brennan said.

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He also, however, lashed out at congressional Republicans who have accused senior White House officials of leaking information to improve the president's political fortunes.

That simply has not occurred, Brennan said, calling such charges "highly irresponsible."

Such charges have come from Republicans like House Armed Services Committee Chairman Howard "Buck" McKeon of California.

But such allegations also have come from Democrats friendly to the White House, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, also of California. "The White House has to understand that some of this is coming from their ranks," Feinstein said July 23. She later attempted to walk back her comments, but the political damage to Obama and the White House was already done.

Brennan's calls for prosecutions come as a federal probe continues into a string of news article that have run in major publications this spring and summer detailing several top-secret security programs. Obama has vowed to locate the leakers, ordering the Justice Department to conduct an investigation.

The leaked data revealed a number of classified efforts, including President Obama's personal list of suspected terrorists to target with drone strikes, and the role of U.S. security agencies in developing and releasing computer viruses that have attacked Iran's alleged nuclear arms program.

House Judiciary Committee members have even discussed whether to subpoena Obama administration officials and journalists who knowingly leaked and published classified government information.

The leaders of the House and Senate panels that oversee intelligence matters have unveiled tough legislation that targets leakers by giving federal agencies new tools to go after those who disclose sensitive data but would otherwise avoid federal prosecution.

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

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