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Saturday, October 1, 2016

by Cora Currier, ProPublica

Accusations continue to fly from lawmakers and presidential hopeful Mitt Romney that the Obama administration has leaked national security information for political gain. Leaks, of course, are nothing new in Washington, but now the Senate has jumped into the fray, with a new proposal to tighten control over the flow of information between intelligence agencies and the press.

This summer the Justice Department opened two investigations into leaks about a foiled terror plot and U.S. cyber-attacks against Iran. But leak prosecutions haven’t always proved easy. As we’ve explained before, there’s no single law criminalizing the disclosure of classified information. National security leaks are sometimes prosecuted under the Espionage Act, which has been used a record six times under Obama, but there is perennial debate over whether to introduce more stringent laws against leaks.

On Monday, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence filed new anti-leak legislation. The bill wouldn’t amend the Espionage Act, or make any blanket criminal penalty for leaks. But it does include several provisions that could stymie reporting on national security.

One provision would require intelligence employees to report all contact with the media. This goes farther than most existing policies; a standard intelligence polygraph question asks whether employees have leaked classified information, but not about any media contact. The measure also doesn’t define “media,” or “contact” — does a blogger, or think tank count?

Prospects for the anti-leak provisions aren’t clear. Previous attempts to pass anti-leak legislation over the past decade have failed, usually faltering on concerns about whistleblower protections and press freedom. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who chairs the intelligence committee and helped author the proposed measures, told Politico that she would be open to revising the bill.