Pentagon general counsel Jeh Johnson is leading a major effort to plug news leaks and recently sent a memorandum to all Defense Department employees requesting that they all search their computers for information about contacts with reporters, according to defense officials familiar with the memo.
The memo said officials should look for the names of several reporters for the New York Times, The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. The officials disclosed the name of only one of the reporters: David E. Sanger of the New York Times.
One official who received the memo was surprised by the request because the Pentagon’s information-technology security officials already have the capability to search Pentagon computers. Knowing that a major leak investigation is under way is not likely to produce admissions by officials who were in touch with the reporters in question.
A U.S. official said what also was unusual about the Johnson memo was its classification. The request was given the highest security classification level, above the “top secret” label.
The memo is part of the hunt within the Obama administration to find who disclosed information about cyberwarfare operations and counterterrorism activities. The issue surfaced recently as a major point of contention in the presidential election.
Republicans on Capitol Hill accused the White House of deliberately leaking sensitive information about U.S. covert activities in an effort to bolster President Obama’s image as the commander in chief. Boosting the president’s national security credentials is viewed as a way to avoid discussing his role in the floundering U.S. economy.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta; Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and Mr. Johnson testified on the news-leak issue last month before the House Armed Services Committee.
Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the committee chairman, told reporters after the closed-door hearing that he did not think the Pentagon was the source of leaks to reporters in recent months. He also said the senior defense officials had said they were taking steps to prevent disclosures.
The Justice Department is investigating how information was made public linking the U.S. and Israeli governments to the cyberwarfare attack on Iran involving a computer virus called Stuxnet, something reported by Mr. Sanger. A second probe is said to focus on an Associated Press report that identified a Saudi undercover agent who had helped thwart a second terrorist bomb plot that originated in Yemen.
Pentagon spokesman George Little declined to comment on the Johnson memo.
GOP to hit Obama ‘Flexibility’
The Republican Party has produced an advertisement for use in the fall presidential campaign that criticizes President Obama for his open-microphone comments promising concessions in missile-defense talks with the Russians after his presumed re-election.
The advertisement is one of a series of critical ads being readied for the coming political warfare among Republicans and Democrats when the election campaign kicks into high gear after Labor Day.
The advertisement was shown to Republican leaders from around the nation when they met recently in Arizona during a briefing for the Republican National Committee by GOP pollster Frank Luntz.
Mr. Obama was criticized widely for the comments, captured during a meeting with then-Russian President Dmitri Medvedev during the summit meeting in Seoul in March.