The Obama administration's top national security lawyers said today that recent leaks of classified information have already compromised intelligence sources and methods, and that the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, had appointed his top counter-intelligence executive, Robert M. "Bear" Bryant, to come up with better ways of tamping them down.
General counsels for the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the head of the Justice Department's National Security Division spoke for the first time in public, together, at an American Bar Association conference on national security.
Asked by a moderator to describe the priority issues he deals with, Robert Litt, the DNI's general counsel, said he has been in meetings where it was revealed that "leaks of classified information have caused specific and identifiable losses of intelligence capbilities, where [something] appeared in the press and this target changed his behavior."
David Kris, the country's senior national security prosecutor, said that his staff was working on "leaks issues," and that the department was developing new administrative penalties for those leakers found who can't be prosecuted.
Litt said later, referring to Bryant's policy review, "I do think that there is a focus on what ways we have outside of criminal prosecution of trying to deter and prevent leaks."
Jeh Johnson, the DoD's top lawyer, said that leaks "really do confound me."
"Things have I have been personally involved in all the sudden show up in the newspaper the next day, or on television the same day." Referring, it seems, to the leak of Gen. Stanley
McChrystal's classified Afghanistan review to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward, Johnson said he didn't understand how an official could agree to give a document to a reporter on the condition "that it's only going to go in my book two years from now."
Johnson also said that he was concerned about leaks of "classified evidence" derived from
The C.I.A.'s general counsel, Stephen W. Preston, sounded a note of despair, when, raising his voice, he criticized "misinformed press reports and poor scholarship" about "so-called assassination sqauds, civilian casualties and the rule of law." He noted that his boss, CIA Director Leon Panetta, had described certain reports as "flat wrong." There's "just not much we can do about the problem," Preston said. He urged the national security lawyers in attendance to step up to the plate and become more active in correcting information and reports.
Preston, for his part, noted that it was "very difficult to make a criminal case from a leak."
Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.