- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 16, 2001

Attorney General John Ashcroft has created an interagency task force to review current administrative and legal sanctions governing the leak of classified information.
The review, the first in nearly two decades, will look at current tools to stop leaks and will make recommendations for modifications to administrative policies and regulations, and formulate new statutory remedies, if necessary.
"Leaks of classified information do substantial damage to the security interests of the nation. As a government, we must try to find more effective measures to deal with this damaging practice, including measures to prevent it," Mr. Ashcroft said.
The Justice Department, under the Intelligence Authorization Act, will lead the review in direct consultation with the director of the CIA, the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, the secretary of energy and other federal government agencies that deal with classified information.
The task force will deliver a report to Congress by the deadline established in the legislation, May 1.
Justice Department officials said the task force will examine ways in which protection for classified information can be improved throughout the federal government. The review will include a decision on whether new legislation is needed, whether personnel processes need to be modified or tailored to address specific needs of the intelligence community, and the impact of new technology on the government's ability to control classified information.
The Bush administration has been concerned about the leak of classified information, and has sought ways to make it easier to prosecute government officials for leaking the material.
Some members of Congress have suggested legislation be drafted to make the release of classified information a felony. The proposed legislation, however, has been rejected by some Republicans and Democrats, as well as many in the news media, civil liberties organizations, unions and historians.
Media organizations and government watchdog groups persuaded President Clinton to veto similar legislation last year on the grounds it would have undermined legitimate efforts to keep the government accountable. They argued that the legislation would have had a chilling effect on whistleblowers and others seeking to open the door on questionable government activities.
In September, before the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Sen. Richard C. Shelby of Alabama, ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, shelved proposed legislation that would have called for a three-year prison sentence for those who leaked classified information after he was unable to muster widespread political support.
At the time, Mr. Shelby suggested the creation of an interagency government task force to study the impact of leaks of classified information on such agencies as the CIA and the FBI. He said he was "more than willing" to consider any alternative proposed by the task force.
Mr. Shelby had proposed to make the unauthorized release of all "properly" classified information a felony carrying a $10,000 fine and a maximum of three years behind bars. He said a deluge of leaks was damaging intelligence sources and, in some cases, putting agents in danger.

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