News and events revolving around the ousting of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

House Intel Chief Weighs Leak Legislation

By Katherine Shrader / Associated Press

WASHINGTON - The House Intelligence Committee will consider crafting legislation to help the Justice Department prosecute individuals who leak classified information, the panel's Republican chairman said Monday.

House Intelligence Chairman Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., told an audience at the conservative Heritage Foundation that deliberate leaks of classified information have "probably done more damage to the intelligence community" than espionage. He said he wants to create a culture where "zero tolerance" is the norm.

"It's time there is a comprehensive law that will make it easier for the government to prosecute wrongdoers and increase the penalties, which hopefully will act as a deterrent for people thinking about sharing information," he added.

Hoekstra's comments came as Democrats called for congressional investigations into the headline-grabbing leak of a covert CIA operative's identity during the run-up to the Iraq war.

The Justice Department rarely investigates leaks of confidential information, which often come from Congress members or political appointees hoping to influence international policy.

Hoekstra said he plans to hold hearings this year with the CIA, Justice Department and Defense Department on ways to prevent leaks. He said he is considering inviting journalists to testify.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director for the Washington-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said her organization would be interested in the issue and any proposed legislation. She said she hoped journalists would be invited to testify.

"People leak or release classified information every day — deliberately," Dalglish said. Defense Secretary "Donald Rumsfeld has a briefing; he is releasing classified information. He is making a choice to do that. It is a very touchy area."

A variety of state and federal laws were crafted in the 1970s and 1980s to prevent the unauthorized disclosure of classified information while leaving some room for whistle-blowers and accidental leaks. The laws do not extend to journalists who report that information, except in rare cases, such as details about wiretaps.

During his speech, Hoekstra made several references to the 1998 disclosure of the intelligence community's ability to monitor Osama bin Laden's satellite phone.

"Were it not for a leak, there is a chance we could have brought Osama bin Laden to justice by now and have a much better understanding of al-Qaida operations," Hoekstra said.

The leak of CIA weapons expert Valerie Plame's identity has taken center stage in recent weeks.

On Monday, 26 Democrats wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., requesting that Congress investigate. They cited press reports examining whether senior Bush administration officials — including White House chief of staff Karl Rove and the vice president's chief of staff, Lewis Libby — may have exposed Plame's identity.

"Americans deserve a Congress that holds Washington accountable for the truth about our national security," said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., one of the signatories.

When asked about the investigation, Hoekstra said he hasn't been focused on it.

"We are not chasing newspaper stories" in the committee, he said.

Asked if anyone's security clearances should be revoked while the investigations are ongoing, he said that is a decision for the manager involved — in this case, President Bush.


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