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28 July 2005

Leaks of Classified Data Called Damaging and Widespread

House intelligence panel chief Hoekstra urges stiffer penalties for leaks

Washington -- The practice of leaking information to the media has become "almost second nature" in the U.S. capital, and when it is classified, severe damage to U.S. intelligence capabilities can occur, a Michigan congressman says.

Representative Pete Hoekstra, chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, spoke about the problem of leaks of classified information at a Heritage Foundation forum on July 25. In remarks prepared for delivery, he focused on deliberate leaks of classified information, as opposed to accidental or espionage-related incidents.

Some people, Hoekstra said, "seemingly leak just because they can.  These are the people, and especially those that have access to classified information, that we need to worry about."


Why worry?  The congressman gave several examples:

·        Some years ago, he said, very sensitive information was leaked about how the intelligence community was collecting data about Osama bin Laden.  Thereafter, bin Laden changed his methods of operation and a valuable  intelligence opportunity was lost.

·        Hoekstra noted that the Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction said the U.S. intelligence community's serious misjudgment of Iraq's biological weapons program in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate was caused mainly by a "heavy reliance" on a source -- code-named "Curveball" -- later found to be unreliable.  This happened because "a foreign government refused to provide us direct access to Curveball because of past leaks from within our government," he said, and it "seriously undermined our ability to assess his credibility."

·        Quoting from a June 2002 memo from the CIA on damage caused when classified information appears in the media, Hoekstra read:  "Information obtained from captured detainees has revealed that al-Qaida operatives are extremely security-conscious and have altered their practices in response to what they have learned from the press about our capabilities.  A growing body of reporting indicates that al-Qaida planners have learned much about our counter-terrorist capabilities from U.S. and foreign media."

·        Hoekstra pointed to the classified annex of the Silberman-Robb Report on Weapons of Mass Destruction as providing numerous cases over several years that caused harm by the exposure of intelligence assets, methods and capabilities, though he said he was not at liberty to discuss them at the public forum.

Hoekstra noted that there are leaders of foreign governments who cooperate in the war on terror, but "at tremendous political peril," he said.  "If the United States cannot promise to protect classified information and where we got it from, why should we expect these leaders, or even our overt allies, to be willing to share their information?"


Hoekstra said leaks occur because leakers are so rarely penalized for doing so.  He said the Justice Department has found it extremely difficult to identify and prosecute perpetrators successfully.  This problem is even greater since the 9/11 attacks, because information sharing has led to "more people [having] access to more information than ever before," he said.

Furthermore, he said, Justice lacks one comprehensive statute with criminal penalties "for the unauthorized disclosure of classified information regardless of the type of information or the recipient involved."  Instead, the agency must use a "patchwork" of statutes to prosecute leaks.


Hoekstra’s proposed solution is for the U.S. intelligence community to embrace a culture that has zero tolerance for leakers.  "People entrusted with a security clearance must realize their clearance is not a right, it is a privilege, and it must be treated as such," he said.

He believes that the U.S. intelligence community must implement an education campaign to impress upon its employees their legal obligations and existing penalties for leaking classified information.

The intelligence committee chairman also says a comprehensive law is needed to improve government prosecution of leakers -- one with more severe penalties.

The full text of Hoekstra's prepared remarks is available on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Web site.

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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