Saturday, November 12, 2005

Senate votes to strip leakers' security clearances

USA Today

Senate votes to strip leakers' security clearances

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has signed off on a provision that would strip the security clearances of any government official who knowingly discloses national security secrets, reflecting lawmakers' anger over recent leaks of classified information to the public.

The GOP-run Senate added the Democratic-sponsored provision to a broad defense policy bill expected to be approved next week. The House version does not include that provision.

"I served in World War II. We had an expression then. It said, 'Loose lips sink ships,'" said Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who sponsored the provision. "Exposing our secrets was a grave offense then and it is a grave offense now."

Under current law, officials do not automatically lose their security clearance if they intentionally reveal classified information.

The provision, approved by the Senate on Thursday, would apply to anyone in the federal government, including those in Congress and on House and Senate staffs who have clearances and who intentionally disclose classified information, including details of a covert agent's identity or a secret operation.

Lautenberg told his colleagues the provision was necessary "given recent developments of which we are all aware."

Last month, I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's now former chief of staff, was indicted on charges that included perjury in a two-year federal probe over who leaked the identity of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame to reporters.

On Nov. 2, a story in The Washington Post discussed the existence of secret CIA detention centers for suspected terrorists in Eastern European democracies and other countries. That triggered calls by GOP leaders on Capitol Hill for a congressional investigation into the purported leak of potentially classified information. The Justice Department also is weighing whether to open a criminal investigation, at the request of the CIA.

And at a conference in San Antonio last week, the top U.S. official for intelligence collection, Mary Margaret Graham, disclosed the closely held total U.S. intelligence budget. She said it is $44 billion.

The Senate implemented an unusual parliamentary procedure called a "standing division" to add the provision to the defense bill without a roll call vote. Under that procedure, approval is granted if enough senators in the chamber at the time rise.

Democrats accused Republicans of denying a request for a roll call vote because they did not want to put their names on record in favor of such a provision. Republicans blamed a time crunch and said they did not want to inconvenience senators wanting to leave Washington for the Veterans Day holiday.

Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had offered a similar proposal in the summer, but some senators were wary of it because it wouldn't have precluded people who mistakenly disclosed classified information from losing their clearance. By adding the word "knowingly," the Senate-passed provision sets a higher bar.