WASHINGTON – In an effort to make it more difficult for the news media to divulge secret programs, America’s top intelligence official plans to seek more non-criminal leak investigations and to require intelligence agency employees to answer in polygraph examinations whether they have disclosed classified information to journalists, his office announced Monday.
“These efforts will reinforce our professional values,” said Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has been vocal in criticizing recent news stories that detailed classified intelligence programs.
Leak investigations are notoriously difficult to pursue, and the Justice Department has generally refrained from seeking prosecutions. So Clapper said he will ask the Intelligence Community Inspector General to lead administrative leak investigations in cases when federal lawyers decline to press criminal charges.
“This will ensure that selected unauthorized disclosure cases suitable for administrative investigations are not closed prematurely,” Clapper’s office said in a statement.
Clapper also issued a directive requiring intelligence employees to be asked if they made unauthorized disclosures to the news media. Government officials who seek top-secret clearances are subject to an initial polygraph test and periodic renewals, in many cases every five years. Currently, they are asked if they have ever disclosed classified information to someone not authorized to receive it. But they are not specifically asked about contacts with journalists.
Two recent news articles in particular infuriated intelligence officials: the disclosure by The New York Times that the Stuxnet computer worm was part of a cyber operation by the United States and Israel designed to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program; and the revelation by the Associated Press of a thwarted airline bomb plot originating in Yemen.
Justice Department prosecutors are now investigating how those secrets emerged. The Obama Administration has pursued six criminal leak cases. Before Obama took office, only three such cases had ever been pursued.
Lawmakers from both parties praised Clapper’s move.
“The leaking of classified national security information is intolerable at any level, but the parade of recent leaks requires action,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-MI, who chairs the House intelligence committee. “We must break this culture of unauthorized disclosures.”
Rogers said the House and Senate intelligence committees are working on additional proposals to deter leaks, though he did not describe them.
“We will need to investigate further steps to stop unauthorized disclosures and bring those responsible to justice,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), an intelligence committee member. “While the new steps announced by Clapper only apply to the intelligence community, we have to examine new methods of stopping others with access to sensitive and classified information from leaking it as well."