Sunday, February 12, 2006

Probe of domestic eavesdropping leak expands

Probe of domestic eavesdropping leak expands: report

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Federal agents have interviewed officials at several law enforcement and national security agencies in a criminal investigation into The New York Times' disclosure of a U.S. domestic eavesdropping program, the newspaper reported.

In a story posted to its Web site to appear in its Sunday editions, The Times said the investigation was focused on circumstances surrounding its disclosure late last year of the highly classified program.

Officials and others interviewed by the Times said the investigation seemed to lay the groundwork for a grand jury inquiry and possible criminal charges, the Times said.

Many described the investigation as aggressive and fast moving, with the initial focus on identifying government officials who have had contacts with Times reporters, particularly those in the newspaper's Washington bureau.

It said an FBI team had questioned employees at the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department, the CIA and the office of the Director of National Intelligence, and that prosecutors had taken steps to activate a grand jury.

President George W. Bush has condemned the leak as a "shameful act" and CIA Director Porter Goss told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on February 2:

"It is my aim, and it is my hope that we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present being asked to reveal who is leaking this information."

The Times characterized the case as one that pits the government, for which "the investigation represents an effort to punish those responsible for a serious security breach" and news outlets, for which the inquiry threatens confidentiality of sources "and the ability to report on controversial national security issues free of government interference."

The newspaper's executive editor, Bill Keller, said no one at the paper had been contacted in connection with the investigation, and defended the Times' reporting on the story.

"What our reporting has done is set off an intense national debate about the proper balance between security and liberty," Keller said in the story.

Civil liberties groups, Democratic lawmakers and even some Republicans have called for an inquiry into the eavesdropping program, saying it appears to have circumvented the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which requires court approval for eavesdropping on U.S. citizens.

Former Vice President Al Gore has called for a special prosecutor to investigate the government's use of the program, and Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers Jr. has said the eavesdropping effort might amount to an impeachable offense.

Among statutes being reviewed by Justice Department investigators are espionage laws that prohibit the disclosure, dissemination or publication of national security information, the Times said.