Top members of Congress from both parties complained Wednesday that leaks of sensitive national security secrets are hurting U.S. spy efforts and putting American lives in danger, with the White House angrily rejecting any suggestion that it’s leaking secrets to make President Barack Obama look tough in an election year.
The complaints came after a series of reports in the news media about the U.S. use of a computer virus to attack Iran’s nuclear program, as well as a classified “kill list” of terror suspects targeted for U.S. drone strikes.
“In recent weeks, we have become increasingly concerned at the continued leaks regarding sensitive intelligence programs and activities including specific details of sources and methods,” said a joint statement released by the top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the House Select Committee on Intelligence.
“The accelerating pace of such disclosures, the sensitivity of the matters in question, and the harm caused to our national security interests is alarming and unacceptable,” said the statement from Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. – the chair and ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee – and Reps. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., and C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, D-Md. – the chair and ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee.
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“These disclosures have seriously interfered with ongoing intelligence programs and have put at jeopardy our intelligence capability to act in the future,” they wrote. “Each disclosure puts American lives at risk, makes it more difficult to recruit assets, strains the trust of our partners, and threatens imminent and irreparable damage to our national security in the face of urgent and rapidly adapting threats worldwide.”
Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee and his party’s candidate for president in 2008, went farther, accusing the Obama administration of leaking sensitive intelligence information to make Obama look good.
“This is the most highly classified information and has now been leaked by the administration at the highest levels of the White House. That’s not acceptable,” he said on CBS.
White House Press Secretary Jay Carney sternly rejected McCain’s claim Wednesday.
"This administration takes all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk ongoing counterterrorism or intelligence operations,” Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as the president flew to California.
“Any suggestion that this administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible,” he said.
"No,” McCain responded, “what is grossly irresponsible is U.S. officials divulging some of the most highly classified programs involving the most important national security priorities facing our nation today.”
Ruppersberger told McClatchy that the committee leaders decided to issue the statement because "the stakes are too high." They also scheduled a Capitol news conference for Thursday.
"It outrages us,” he said. “These leaks can be dangerous to our country, they can hurt us with our allies and they could have very serious consequences. They’ve got to be stopped."
The leaders said they intend to “press the executive branch to take tangible and demonstrable steps to detect and deter intelligence leaks, and to fully, fairly, and impartially investigate the disclosures that have taken place.”
“We plan to move legislation quickly, to include possible action in this year’s intelligence authorization act,” the lawmakers said. “We believe that significant changes are needed, in legislation, in the culture of the agencies that deal with classified information, in punishing leaks, and in the level of leadership across the government to make clear that these types of disclosures will not stand.”