Politics & Policy

Harry Potter and the Deathly Intelligence Leakers

can only Scholastic keep a secret?

The fate of Harry Potter in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows was a closely guarded secret that was not supposed to be revealed before the book’s official release on July 21. The U.S. Postal Service tried to protect the secret when a mailman asked a Chicago-area woman to give back two copies of the book he had accidentally delivered before the release date. The mailman feared that he would lose his job for delivering the novel early. That is, he feared he would be fired for “leaking” the new Harry Potter book.

If only our intelligence agencies were as concerned about leaks as the U.S. Postal Service. There has been a torrent of leaks of national-security information since 2001. Many have been politically motivated, unauthorized disclosures to the news media aimed at hurting the Bush administration. The small number of intelligence officers who leak are a cancer inside the U.S. intelligence community. They jeopardize the lives and credibility of the thousands of hard-working intelligence professionals who have dedicated themselves to protecting America and its citizens.

Crucial antiterrorist programs implemented after 9/11 targeting al Qaeda and other radical jihadist groups have been seriously weakened by unauthorized disclosures by intelligence officials to the news media. Last week, unnamed intelligence officers told a blogger that a recent National Intelligence Estimate on terrorist threats to the United States lacked sourcing and was politicized. I have read this carefully crafted assessment and find these claims to be groundless. If anyone in the intelligence community believed this, they should have brought their concerns to the intelligence oversight committees and/or their agency inspectors general. They did not; instead they chose to go to the press.  

Rowan Scarborough discussed many examples of illegal leaks of classified information to the news media by intelligence officers in his new book Sabotage: America’s Enemies within the CIA. The CIA, rather than explaining how it is working to stop leaks, instead attacked the author.

This was exactly the wrong response and further demonstrates the CIA’s unwillingness to respond to the leaks that are undermining the agency. Late last year, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence conducted a review documenting multiple cases since 2001 of intelligence officers making unauthorized disclosures to the press. Repeated demands by Congress that the Intelligence Community investigate and prosecute these leaks have been met with silence. Moreover, in my six years on HPSCI, there has never been a successful prosecution of an intelligence official for leaking classified information to the press.

Now there is news of an even more disturbing leak by high-level intelligence officials. Last week, a Swiss investigator told the European parliament that senior CIA officials leaked information to him on the alleged classified activities of the U.S. government. The CIA officers reportedly made these illegal disclosures to the Swiss investigator because of their dislike of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and disagreements with certain CIA programs.

Leaking information to an agent of a foreign power conducting an investigation of U.S. intelligence activities takes illegal disclosures to a new and very disturbing level. This is why I wrote director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell to demand that he investigate the report and prosecute any CIA officers who may have illegally disclosed information to this foreign investigator to the maximum extent of the law.

It is urgent that President Bush and the heads of all intelligence agencies begin to take this problem seriously. Leaks of national-security information — especially America’s counterterrorism programs — have seriously damaged the security of the United States. Immediate action must be taken stop leaks of classified information and to prosecute those who have been engaged in this illegal activity.

The Chicago mailman who thought his career was in danger for prematurely delivering the then-secret Harry Potter book should not have worried. His job is to see to the efficient delivery of mail, and he should not have been faulted for doing his job perhaps too well. Intelligence officers, however, take an oath to safeguard America’s secrets. When intelligence officers leak sensitive national-security information to the press or give it to agents of foreign powers without authorization, they are not just violating this oath, they are violating the public’s trust. There is no room for political activity in intelligence because protecting our nation from al Qaeda and others who would do us harm is a deadly, serious business.

 – Peter Hoekstra (R., Mich.) is the Ranking Republican Member on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

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