Holder in Washington. (AFP)
Washington, June 9: Attorney-general Eric H. Holder Jr yesterday assigned two US attorneys to lead separate criminal investigations into recent disclosures to the news media of national security secrets, saying they were authorised to “follow all appropriate investigative leads within the executive and legislative branches of government”.
Their appointment followed calls in Congress this week for a crackdown on leaks after disclosures on topics including drone strikes and a computer virus attack against Iran’s nuclear programme.
Several of the revelations were published by The New York Times.
“The unauthorised disclosure of classified information can compromise the security of this country and all Americans, and it will not be tolerated,” Holder said in a statement.
“The justice department takes seriously cases in which government employees and contractors entrusted with classified information are suspected of willfully disclosing such classified information to those not entitled to it, and we will do so in these cases as well.”
Several members of Congress from both parties this week expressed alarm about recent leaks, and some Republicans had called for the appointment of a special prosecutor with greater independence from day-to-day supervision by the Obama administration to investigate.
But Holder instead assigned two prosecutors — Ronald C. Machen, the US attorney for the district of Columbia, and Rod J. Rosenstein, his counterpart in Maryland — to take over direction of existing investigations by the FBI, elevating the stature of the cases but not giving them any special powers.
Earlier yesterday, President Obama declared that the White House had not been behind the recent leaks and vowed to prosecute the people responsible for disclosing classified information if they could be identified.
“Since I’ve been in office, my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation,” Obama said at a news conference. “Now we have mechanisms in place where, if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences. In some case, it’s criminal. These are criminal acts when they release information like this. And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past.”
The Obama administration has already compiled an aggressive record of prosecuting people accused of leaking national security secrets. It has brought six such cases, compared with three under all previous Presidents combined.
The recent disclosures included the revelation that a plot by the Yemen branch of al Qaida to bomb an airliner had been foiled because of penetration by a double agent, details about the joint American-Israeli computer virus called Stuxnet that sabotaged Iran’s nuclear centrifuges, and an account of Obama’s role in approving a “kill list” of terrorism suspects for drone strikes.
They include reports published by The New York Times, The Associated Press, Newsweek and other news media outlets, some of which were derived from recently published books by reporters for The Times and Newsweek.
They followed previous disclosures about the operation that located and killed Osama bin Laden, both in the aftermath of the raid and then again around its anniversary this spring.
The justice department did not say which leaks in particular were now under investigation, apparently because doing so would implicitly confirm that certain reports contained accurate classified information.
Some Republicans have accused the White House of risking national security for political gain by deliberately disclosing secret information that makes Obama look tough — even as it prosecutes lower-level current and former officials for other leaks.