Justice Department Investigating NSA Leaks
The Justice Department is investigating the leaks to the New York Times over the NSA’s secret electronic surveillance program.
The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of classified information about President Bush’s secret domestic spying program, Justice officials said Friday. The officials, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe, said the inquiry will focus on disclosures to The New York Times about warrantless surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
It’s about time. Whatever one’s position on the appropriateness or even the legality of the program, we can not have people entrusted with classified information deciding for themselves that it should be made public. There are measures in place for people–certainly, the “senior officials” who the NYT sources for their story–to go to Congress and other oversight authorities.
Correction: Post title changed to a conform with the rules of English grammar.
Update: Like the full AP report (at least at the time of posting; they change repeatedly while keeping the same hyperlink and not noting what was in the original) the CNN and other accounts I’ve read so far have two sentences on the leak and then several paragraphs rehashing the surveillance controversy. One exception is the report from Fox New’s Greg Simmons:
The Justice Department has opened an investigation into the leak of information to the media about a domestic eavesdropping program run by the National Security Agency, senior Justice Department officials confirmed Friday. Officials have confirmed to FOX News that the FBI is involved in the investigation, but did not comment on whether other agencies were involved. One official has said the referral for the probe came from the NSA.
White House spokesman Trent Duffy on Friday, speaking to reporters from the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, echoed previous comments from the administration, saying that terrorists want to strike again and leaks put America in danger. “The fact is that Al Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on page one. And when America’s is, it has serious ramifications,” Duffy said.
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and one of the members briefed by the administration about the surveillance plan, expressed deep reservations about the program to the vice president in 2003. But he said he also would like hearings into whom leaked the story to reporters at the Times. Reps. Peter Hoekstra and Jane Harman, the chairman and ranking Democrat, respectively, on the House Intelligence Committee, also condemned the leak, saying it hurt national security. While Harman, of California, said she believes broader oversight is needed of the NSA program, “its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” “These politically motivated leaks must stop,” Hoekstra, of Michigan, said in a statement.
Edward Turzanski, a senior fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a national security analyst at La Salle University, agrees. He told FOX News that he believes a special prosecution team might be needed to investigate the leak. “We’ve reached a critical mass,” Turzanski said. “There’s too much damage to our national security capabilities, to critical information and to the war-fighting effort. And that is where this urgency comes in.”
There is already speculation over what might result from a leak investigation. Some question whether the government can even pursue the leakers in this particular case. “The government has no legal right to pursue the whistleblower [or] whistleblowers who disclosed what’s been publicly aired to date,” Tom Devine, the legal director for the Government Accountability Project and a lawyer who represents whistleblowers, told FOXNews.com. Devine said at least two laws protect a potential leak source. One is a so-called anti-gag statute that prevents the government from spending money on a leak investigation unless it specifically warned the employee that its gag rules cannot trump good-government laws.
The leak also could be legal if the Whistleblower Protection Act covers it, Devine said, as long as the leaker was not in the FBI, CIA or NSA, which aren’t covered by the act. For instance, a civilian Pentagon employee who wanted to expose government wrongdoing would have free speech protections to expose abuses of power or illegal actions.
The laws don’t apply to public disclosure of classified information, Devine said, but a government worker could tell an inspector general if wrong-doing involving classified information has occurred. He said someone could also disclose unclassified aspects of a classified program, and be protected.
Because it’s not yet known if classified information was given to reporters, there’s no telling yet if that’s a problem in this case. So far, though, Devine said he thinks everything he’s seen published so far is safe from prosecution.
The information revealed was almost certainly classified and the leakers were senior NSA officials, though, so Devine’s arguments are moot.
Around the Blogosphere:
- Michelle Malkin says “It’s about time” and offers some speculation on the political fallout.
- Steve Benen proves Malkin right on the latter.
- Jeff Goldstein believes, “What we are witnessing here is a battle that was a long-time in coming between a Republican leadership and the press.”
- Garance Franke-Ruta bets this investigation will be faster than the Plame case.
- Dan Markel notes the irony that “the NSA requests the DOJ probe and yet the DOJ officials claim that they need anonymity to leak news of this probe due to the ‘sensivity of the probe.'”
- Digby snarks, “I assumethis also means that nobody from the White House will be able to comment in any way since there is an ongoing investigation.”