WASHINGTON – Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, outraged by what he calls “a hemorrhage” of top secret U.S. intelligence, is firing a warning shot at those responsible and those still considering leaking information.
Intelligence officials are working on strong, new procedures to halt the flow of classified information that is finding its way into the news media.
At the top of the list of measures is “expanding the counter intelligence polygraph, which is already given to large numbers of people in the intelligence community. I think we can enhance that,” Clapper says.
He would like to see it expanded beyond the agencies that comprise the intelligence community to the other agencies that work with them.
The leaking “in my view, is egregious,” he says. His anger about it extends well beyond the fact that some of the nation’s most sensitive and vital intelligence has been exposed.
In fact, he’s furious that the intelligence community is being blamed for it.
Details about an alleged terrorist kill list that President Barack Obama maintains, CIA undercover assets inside of al-Qaida and explosive information about U.S. and Israeli efforts to shut down Iranian nuclear facilities have emerged from several news organizations in recent months, prompting harsh criticism of the intelligence community.
Clapper bristles at the suggestion that the leaks came from within the intelligence community.
When asked about it in an interview with WTOP, his voice grew stern, his eyes seemed to narrow behind his small bifocals and his body language telegraphed his displeasure at the idea.
“You’ve indicted the intelligence community yourself, just now. You’re assuming that all of these leaks came from within the intelligence community. They may have, we’ve done our share. There’s no question about that.
“But in the absence of empirical evidence as to who’s done any of this, I’m a little loathe to automatically indict the professional men and women of the intelligence community of the leaks,” he says.
Reading between the lines of his statement and sensing the depth of his anger, there appeared to be a clear target of his wrath.
Pressed to expound on it, he said, “There are many others who know about these things beside those that are formally a part of the intelligence community. The secrets that are generated within the intelligence community don’t necessarily stay within the intelligence community.
“There are many others who are exposed to those same secrets,” Clapper says.
The official definition of the intelligence community, according to Presidential Executive Order 12333, includes the following:
The Central Intelligence Agency;
The National Security Agency;
The Defense Intelligence Agency;
The offices within the Department of Defense for the collection of specialized national foreign intelligence through reconnaissance programs;
The Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the Department of State;
The intelligence elements of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Energy;
The staff elements of the Director of Central Intelligence.
The directive confirms that U.S. government employees, who don’t work for intelligence agencies but do work with IC agencies, have access to extremely sensitive information.
Clapper is not alone is his concern. A bipartisan investigation, initiated by congressional intelligence committee leaders, has erased any doubt about the leaks being quietly swept away under political cover.
“There has been just a cascade of leaks coming out of the intelligence community in the last several weeks and months,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., the vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said at a news conference to launch the investigation.
“It’s our clear intention to put a stop to this,” Chambliss says.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the chairperson of that committee, said in a statement, “Leaks of classified information have caused serious damage to our national security. They have put intelligence sources at risk, damaged our relationships with foreign partners, exposed ways of collecting valuable information and put our adversaries on heightened alert. These leaks must stop.”
“We share Congress’ concern about the serious nature of the recent leaks and desire to get to the bottom of this problem,” says CIA spokesman John Tomczyk. “We have every intention of cooperating fully with both DOJ and Congress.”
Since the recent damaging links, Clapper and many other incensed intelligence community professionals have tried to convey that those who work hand-in-hand with the intelligence community, but are not an official part of it, need to be looked at.
When classified information is exposed, Clapper says, “it does great harm to intelligence operations, it compromises tradecraft and it endangers relationships with foreign partners, not to mention the potential for endangering people’s lives.”
Jose Rodriguez, former director of CIA’s National Clandestine Service, is familiar with the thin divide between life and death in the intelligence world.
“The issue of leaks has been a persistent problem for the U.S. government going back many administrations (but) I’ve never seen it this bad,” he says.
“I am frankly shocked at the sensitivity of intelligence that is being leaked and the damage that it is creating to national security.”
Rodriguez himself was investigated by a special prosecutor in 2007, after he destroyed 92 videotapes in 2005 that showed CIA employees engaged in harsh interrogation techniques. Those techniques included waterboarding al-Qaida leaders. He says he did it to protect those employees and CIA from possible retaliation from al-Qaida had the tapes leaked.
Clapper, in addition to rooting out alleged leakers and turning them over to DOJ for criminal prosecutions in the most serious cases, is expected to announce measures Monday to go after leakers who commit offenses the DOJ deems not prosecutable.
“In those cases that don’t meet that threshold, I think we, the intelligence community, can be more aggressive about pursuing administrative investigations on our own,” he says.
But any kind of investigation will be a daunting project.
“It was a lot easier back in the ’80s and ’90s when you had more of a specific paper trail you could identify,” says Fred Burton, vice president of Intelligence at global intelligence company Stratfor.
Before the proliferation of sophisticated computer technology and electronic documents throughout the U.S. government, Burton says leakers were passing along paper documents “that you could get old school forensic evidence off of, such as fingerprints and some degree of audit trail.”
Despite the relative ease involved in leaking today compared to years past, the practice has reached a critical point in Washington.
“I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, because we don’t have anyone to point at in the recent cases,” Clapper says.
But he is clear. Soon those thinking of leaking U.S. secrets will have new, serious reasons to think twice before doing it.