Bush Administration Attempts to Stem Leaks
DEBBIE ELLIOT, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, I'm Debbie Elliot.
Journalists and their confidential government sources could find themselves facing espionage charges in a Bush Administration crackdown on media leaks. The Washington post reports today that F.B.I. agents have been interviewing employees at federal intelligence agencies, trying to pinpoint leaks about classified activities including the National Security Agency's controversial warrant-less wiretap program.
Last month CIA Director Porter Goss told a Senate Committee that these intelligence leaks threaten U.S. security, and he promised to take action.
Mr. PORTER GOSS (Director, Central Intelligence Agency): It is my aim and it is my hope that we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present being asked to reveal who is leaking this information.
ELLIOTT: Reporter Dan Eggen has been covering this story for the Washington Post, and he joins us now. Welcome to the program.
Mr. DAN EGGEN (Reporter, Washington Post): Nice to be here.
ELLIOTT: It sounds like the Justice Department is gathering evidence for that Grand Jury probe.
Mr. EGGEN: Yeah, and probably for more than one. There are a number of different cases going on. One is the reporting by the New York Times in December in which they revealed the existence of a surveillance program run by the National Security Agency monitoring phone calls in and out of the United States without warrants. And the second was reporting by the Washington Post detailing a network of secret prisons run by the C.I.A. around the world.
And then there's also, there's even a case that no one seems to have noticed out in Sacramento where reporters have actually already been at least contacted by F.B.I. agents.
ELLIOTT: Who have F.B.I. agents been talking to so far?
Mr. EGGEN: So far it's government employees. Except for that Sacramento case, they always start these investigations by combing through the government officials that may have had access to information about the programs in question.
ELLIOTT: What kind of charges are we talking about here?
Mr. EGGEN: There's a number of different possible statutes, but the one that has gotten a lot of attention from journalists, because it's never been used before against journalists, is called The Espionage Act, which was passed in 1917. And the Justice Department's position is that journalists are not exempt from that law, and they made this argument in a recent court filing in another case.
So there's a lot of concern in journalistic circles that they are crossing a line here.
ELLIOTT: There is a bit of an irony here when the Vice President's former Chief of Staff is embroiled in a leak case. You know, leaks are such an important part of how journalism is done in this city. Is it really even possible to think that you could somehow stop them?
Mr. EGGEN: Well, you can come up with a scenario where the penalties would be so severe that perhaps you could at least limit or eliminate most unauthorized leaks. The thing that's unrealistic about it is that every administration quickly finds that they need to leak on their own, and I doubt that there's any way that that will ever stop.
ELLIOTT: Reporter Dan Eggen of the Washington Post. Thank you for speaking with us.
Mr. EGGEN: Glad to be here.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.