Bill Would Clamp Down on Intelligence Leaks

House lawmakers have approved a bill authorizing intelligence programs for the coming year. Among its provisions: an amendment that seeks to rein in those who would leak national secrets to reporters.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

In this part of the program, we'll report on an effort to stop leaks of classified information, and we'll report on an investigation inspired by a leak. We'll start here in Washington, where the House approved an intelligence bill for the coming year. The measure approves more spending on secret intelligence programs. It also urges action to keep them secret.

Here's NPR Congressional correspondent Brian Naylor.

BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:

The disclosure of the domestic wiretapping program, carried out by the National Security Agency, and of clandestine CIA-run prisons overseas, resulted in Pulitzer prizes for the reporters who broke the stories, but they infuriated the Bush Administration and Congressional Republicans. So some lawmakers are trying to reign in those who leak such classified information. A non-binding sent to the Congress amendment was overwhelmingly attached to the authorization bill. It calls on the President to take action against persons who commit unauthorized disclosures. It was offered by Republican Rick Renzi of Arizona.

Representative RICK RENZI (Republican, Arizona): It's not the role of a reporter working with a disgraced or disgruntled, politically motivated former government employee, or those who are on the verge of retirement, to determine when to reveal our national secrets.

NAYLOR: Last week the CIA dismissed Mary McCarthy for having unauthorized contact with reporters. She's denied leaking classified information. The measure approved by the House also contains a provision calling on the director of national intelligence to look into whether spy agencies can withhold pension benefits from employees who make unauthorized disclosures.

Jane Harman of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said there seemed to be a double standard to all this.

Representative JANE HARMAN (Democrat, California): If we are against leaks of classified information, we should be against leaks of classified information everywhere. And I don't believe that it is proper for the President or the Vice President to use inherent power to authorize their own aides to discuss what was classified information with selected reporters.

NAYLOR: Harman was referring to testimony by Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that he was told to leak previously classified intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to reporters to rebut an administration critic.

The intelligence bill authorizes everything from spy satellites orbiting earth to covert operations on the ground in the Middle East. The size of the budget is classified, but knowledgeable analysts put it as high as $50 billion. The measure is known to contain $1 billion for the office of Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, called the bill another step to help rebuild an intelligence community that he contends was decimated in the 1990s.

Representative PETER HOEKSTRA (Republican, Michigan): And we're doing this to keep America safe. We're doing this because we want to make sure that the intelligence community that we have in place in the future is going to be as quick, as nimble, as learning and as adaptive as what Al-Qaida is, as what radical Islam may be. But we want an intelligence community that is more than one step faster than the former Soviet Union.

NAYLOR: But Democrat Harman voted against the bill, saying she wanted to send a signal of her opposition to the Bush Administration's legal rationale for the domestic spying program. Harman had a bleak view of the state of the intelligence community.

Rep. HARMAN: Our intelligence reorganization is in a slow start-up, and the CIA is in a freefall. The Director of National Intelligence, a position Congress created to integrate the activities of the entire intelligence community after 9/11, has not taken command yet of that community.

NAYLOR: Democrats were also angry that several amendments they wish to offer were not allowed, including a bipartisan amendment that would have required Negroponte to report to Congress quarterly on Iran's nuclear programs. The Senate has not yet taken up its version of the intelligence measure.

Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.

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