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Rumsfeld urges crackdown on leaks to press

By The Associated Press

07.17.02

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WASHINGTON — Pentagon leaks of military secrets to news organizations are hurting the war on terrorism and endangering American lives, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told senior officials.

In a July 12 internal memo, Rumsfeld lamented a "damaging lack of professionalism we continue to see on a daily basis," referring to a willingness of some defense officials to provide classified information to reporters.

"It is wrong. It is against the law," Rumsfeld wrote. "It costs the lives of Americans. It diminishes our country's chance for success."

Rumsfeld has spoken out publicly many times against disclosures of classified information, often noting that leakers, if caught, face jail terms. His campaign against leaks has created an atmosphere of fear among some officials who deal with reporters, although it has not stopped leaks.

Rumsfeld's worries are shared by others in the Bush administration, which has acted recently to crack down. Security officers at the State Department, for example, stopped and questioned a reporter last week who said during a news conference that he had possession of a classified document. He was released and is not under investigation.

That incident prompted two members of Congress to send a critical letter yesterday to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

"We have concerns that government agencies not take inappropriate actions that cast a shadow over our free press," wrote Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Fla.

Last month, at President Bush's direction, Vice President Dick Cheney called the chairmen of the House and Senate intelligence committees to complain that news organizations were reporting two Sept. 10 messages intercepted by the National Security Agency. The messages, which warned of an impending major event the next day, were not translated by the NSA until the day after the attacks.

The Justice Department is trying to determine the source of the leaked information.

Rumsfeld mentioned no specific example of a news leak, but his July 12 memo was written a week after The New York Times reported on a classified military planning document that outlined aspects of a "concept" for a U.S. war against Iraq. The document was not an actual war plan.

On July 11, a USA TODAY report cited a draft Iraqi invasion plan specifying the use of up to 300,000 U.S. troops.

"The disclosure of classified information is damaging our country's ability to stop terrorist acts and is putting American lives at risk," Rumsfeld wrote. He attached to the memo a brief CIA assessment of the impact of news leaks on the war against terror. It said Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network pays close attention to publicly available information that could help its personnel evade U.S. intelligence.

"A growing body of reporting indicates that al-Qaida planners have learned much about our counterterrorist intelligence capabilities from U.S. and foreign media," the unclassified CIA note said.

That knowledge has prompted al-Qaida operatives to alter their practices, it said without elaborating.

"The cumulative effect of public disclosures of classified, terrorism-relation information — including significant losses from such disclosures predating 11 September — has jeopardized highly fragile and very sensitive intelligence capabilities that we require" in the war against terror, it added.

The CIA report was written June 14.

The Pentagon released copies of the Rumsfeld memo and CIA report yesterday after they were reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Rumsfeld reportedly was angered by the July 12 New York Times report, although some analysts view it differently.

Ivo H. Daalder, a Brookings Institution defense analyst who served on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration, said yesterday that disclosure of actual war plans would be a major problem. But he said he doesn't think The New York Times report on conceptual planning "is going to have any impact one way or another on the security of the nation."

In a CNBC television interview July 15, Rumsfeld said he would "dearly like to find" the people who leaked the document to The New York Times.

"They ought to be imprisoned," he said. "And if we find out who they are, they will be imprisoned."

Related

Reporter: State Department demanded source of classified leak
National Review's Joel Mowbray says officials detained him briefly, wanted to know how he obtained secret papers on U.S. visa program in Saudi Arabia.  07.16.02

Senators to give FBI records on contacts with news media
Freedom Forum's Paul McMasters fears investigation could go beyond leaks of classified information and uncover unrelated communications between lawmakers and journalists.  08.30.02

Ashcroft: New laws against leaks may not be needed
If current laws are enforced, attorney general says, they should be adequate 'to prosecute those who engage in unauthorized disclosures' of classified information.  10.24.02

Putting corporate security before national security
Ombudsman Government is asking private citizens to take on more responsibilities, but is considering bribing private businesses to enlist in war on terrorism.  07.22.02

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