- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 24, 2002

No new laws are needed to punish government officials for leaking classified information, a Justice Department Task Force has concluded.

Attorney General John Ashcroft stated in a report to Congress that current laws and regulations are sufficient to track down the sources of leaks.

"Accordingly, I am not recommending that the executive branch focus its attention on pursuing new legislation at this time," Mr. Ashcroft said in the report made public Tuesday.

He said the administration would work with Congress if it chose to seek new laws.

The task force of national security and intelligence agency representatives was set up in December after secret legislation to impose new criminal penalties on government officials was vetoed by President Clinton in 2000.

Critics had said that legislation, which passed without public hearings, was too broad and tantamount to an official-secrets act.

Proponents of new legislaton in Congress then mandated a review of current secrecy laws that became part of the intelligence authorization act for fiscal 2002.

Mr. Ashcroft said both he and President Bush view "deterring, detecting and punishing unauthorized disclosures of U.S. national security secrets among our highest priorities, at all times, but especially in this time of war against terrorism of global reach."

Mr. Ashcroft said current U.S. criminal law covers unauthorized disclosure of classified data, even though there is no single statute that provides penalties for all types of leaks.

The attorney general said "current statutes provide a legal basis to prosecute those who engage in unauthorized disclosures, if they can be identified."

The task force conclusions are a setback for CIA Director George J. Tenet, who has been one of the most forceful advocates for passing new laws against leaks.

CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said Mr. Tenet agrees with the report that "unauthorized disclosures of classified information have caused enormous and irreparable harm to national security."

Mr. Tenet also agrees with the task force's conclusion that the government should explore whether more steps are needed, including "legislative options," Mr. Mansfield said.

Critics of Mr. Tenet have said the CIA director appears more interested in stopping leaks to the press than in imposing tougher measures on government officials that would halt leaks caused by espionage.

The CIA, FBI and Defense Intelligence Agency have each been severely damaged by spy cases caused by CIA turncoat Aldrich Hazen Ames, by FBI Agent Robert Philip Hannsen, who spied for Moscow, and Ana Montes, a Cuban intelligence agent who was the DIA's senior Cuba analyst for more than a decade.

Mr. Ashcroft said the fact that only one person in the past 50 years has been prosecuted for disclosing classified information in a "non-espionage case" shows that more should be done to stop leaks.

Angelo Codevilla, a former Senate Intelligence Committee staff member, said the issue of press leaks has been highly politicized.

"It all matters who gets the leaks," Mr. Codevilla said during a recent speech at the Heritage Foundation. "Officials who leak to the New York Times are rewarded, while those who leak to The Washington Times are punished."

Scott Armstrong, a former Washington Post reporter who helped set up a dialogue between the press and the government on the disclosure issue, said he was satisfied with the results of the task force.

"We're gratified to see that the interagency task force recognized that a sweeping criminal statute that would criminalize a vast number of discussions between the government and the media was unnecessary," Mr. Armstrong said.

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