The Norman Transcript

Opinion

November 27, 2012

Taking a hammer to ‘leaks’

NORMAN — Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., recently placed a hold on the 2013 Intelligence Authorization Act, expressing legitimate concerns about provisions designed to plug leaks of classified information. Wyden rightly asked his colleagues to revisit provisions that “threaten to encroach upon the freedom of the press” and “reduce access to information.”

Wyden objects to three provisions. The most troubling would drastically reduce the number of background briefings provided by intelligence officials to the media by authorizing only a few specific officials to engage in such off-the-record exchanges. The provision would curtail the sharing not only of classified information but of all information “regarding intelligence activities.”

The other two provisions cited by Wyden would be less burdensome on the news media but still lack compelling justification. One would prevent government employees with top-secret clearance from contracting with the news media to offer analysis or commentary on intelligence issues until a year after their departure from the government. The other would allow an intelligence agency to deprive an employee of pension benefits if the head of the agency determined that the employee had knowingly disclosed classified information. In addition, the intelligence bill includes a worrisome call for a reconsideration of long-standing Justice Department procedures providing a measure of protection for reporters’ confidential sources. Those policies require investigators to make “all reasonable attempts” to obtain information from other sources before issuing a subpoena to a member of the news media.

These provisions were added to the bill amid a congressional uproar over a series of news reports, apparently the result of leaks, detailing classified operations, including a U.S. cyber attack on Iran’s nuclear program and the use of a Saudi double agent to frustrate a plot to blow up an airliner bound for the United States. But it isn’t clear that the proposed changes would have prevented those disclosures.

— Los Angeles Times

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