Rumsfeld: Leaking Classified Info 'Outrageously Irresponsible'

By Sgt. 1st Class Kathleen T. Rhem, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 23, 2002 -- Anyone in DoD who would leak classified information to the press is so "outrageously irresponsible" that an investigation to find that person is worth the cost, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said July 22.

Rumsfeld ordered the Air Force's Office of Special Investigation to look into a leak that is the purported basis of a July 5 New York Times article on a secret war plan for an attack on Iraq. The information in the article allegedly came from a top-secret document provided by an anonymous defense official.

"I think anyone who has a position where they touch a war plan has an obligation to not leak it to the press or anybody else, because it kills people," Rumsfeld said in a Pentagon press briefing.

He was adamant that the person who leaked the document should be jailed. He said people could get killed if others start treating "war plans like paper airplanes" they can fly to anybody who wants them.

"I think it is so egregious, so terrible, that I decided to have an investigation notwithstanding the cost," Rumsfeld said.

According to military legal experts, jail time for such a crime is a real possibility. A senior defense official explained military people caught leaking classified information can be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and civilians, under the Espionage Act.

"Depending on the severity of the leak, people caught passing classified information could spend significant time in jail under the Espionage Act and the UCMJ," he said. In times of war, the death penalty is even a possibility if the leak were egregious enough, he added.

At a minimum, individuals caught leaking classified information would lose their security clearances, which usually means the loss of their jobs as well, the official said.

During the briefing, Rumsfeld also said DoD employees who know of leaks should come forward. "I hope that if there's anyone in the Department of Defense who knows who did that, that they will give someone in a position of responsibility that information, because they have every bit as big an obligation to do that as they do to not release it in the first place," he said.

Rumsfeld also vehemently dismissed the notion that someone might have leaked the information to expose a flawed plan, thus saving lives. "There is nothing you could say that would lead me to believe that the individual was well motivated and trying to serve his country by violating federal criminal law -- nothing you could say," he said.

(AFPS reporter Jim Garamone contributed to this article.)