Congress, White House Work to Plug Leaks
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
On Capitol Hill, the House has passed a measure to authorize intelligence programs for the coming year. Much of the debate has been on the issue of leaks, and whether to punish spy agency employees who give classified information to reporters. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRIAN NAYLOR reporting:
The Intelligence Authorization Bill deals with all sorts of issues, oversight of the spy agencies, the funding of everything from covert operations on the ground in Iraq and Iran to spy satellites orbiting earth. But all of those issues are in the classified portion of the bill. No one even knows for sure how big the spy budget is. Educated guesses range from $45 to $50 billion. So it was perhaps ironic that the only real debate on the House floor today centered on what should be done about those who leak such classified information to reporters. In particular, it was the leaks revealing the existence of CIA-run clandestine prisons overseas and of the Bush administration's domestic wiretapping program. But House Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican, says such leaks harm the nation's security.
Representative PETER HOEKSTRA (Republican, Michigan): The devastating leaks from within the community and outside of the community that damage our capabilities and give those who want to attack us insight as to what our plans, intentions and capabilities are.
NAYLOR: The top Democrat on the committee, Jane Harmon of California, countered that Republicans have a double standard when it comes to leaks. Some are okay, some are not.
Representative JANE HARMON (Democrat, California): Sure. None of us condones leaks of classified information. That is wrong. But why is it that certain people get prosecuted for those leaks, unless you work in the White House, in which case the president or the vice president can authorize you to do selective leaks of classified information in order to give that information to favored reporters in order to discredit political enemies?
NAYLOR: That was a reference to testimony by former White House aide Lewis Libby that he was authorized to leak previously classified information about intelligence on Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction to reporters to rebut a critic. Democrat Rush Holt of New Jersey criticized the bill for weakening basic freedoms.
Representative RUSH HOLT (Democrat, New Jersey): This bill turns a blind eye, really, to misuses of executive power that threaten our liberties and the constitutional balance of powers, which we are sworn to protect.
NAYLOR: But while Democrats expressed their traditional concerns over civil liberties, Republicans countered that criticism of spy agencies was hurting intelligence-gathering efforts. Republican Mike Rogers of Michigan.
Representative MIKE ROGERS (Republican, Michigan): When you bump into somebody whose morale is low, it isn't because of the work that they're doing. They're off-the-charts excited about making a difference for their country. It's because policymakers back here use words like illegal wiretap, and even though they've never been briefed into the program at all and have no concept of what it is.
NAYLOR: Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a nonbinding sense of the Congress resolution that the president should use his constitutional powers to the fullest extent to take action against persons who commit unauthorized disclosures. The bill also contains a provision calling on the director of national intelligence to look into whether agency employees who reveal classified material can lose their pension benefits. The Senate has yet to take up its version of the intelligence bill.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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