By Jeremy Herb
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper on Monday announced new steps intended to cut down on leaks after a furious backlash from Congress.
The most significant measure is adding a new question to polygraph tests used by intelligence agencies, which will ask officials whether they have disclosed classified information to members of the media, said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for Clapper.
Clapper is also asking for a review of policies across the intelligence community to examine how officials report contact with members of the press. He will consider changes if the agencies are inconsistent or insufficient, Turner said.
Among the 16 intelligence community agencies that Clapper's new measures govern are the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Congress is demanding investigations and vowing to write new laws of its own after a series of national security leaks became major news stories, including reports on a U.S. cyberattack against Iran, a double agent infiltrating al Qaeda in Yemen and a terrorist “kill list.”
Attorney General Eric Holder appointed two U.S. attorneys to investigate the cyberattack and Yemen leaks, but Republicans have called for an independent special counsel to investigate, alleging that the DOJ investigation might not be independent.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has alleged the leaks were disclosed to boost President Obama’s reelection prospects, has introduced a non-binding Senate resolution calling for a special counsel that has 28 Republican co-sponsors.
McCain announced Monday that he's holding a press conference with four other Republican senators to talk about the leaks on Tuesday, giving him a chance to respond to the administration's first steps to try to curb the leaks and also signaling that he wants to keep the issue in the public eye.
Democrats have also been outraged over the leaks. Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) called them the worst series of leaks she’d seen, but she and other Democrats say that the DOJ investigation is sufficient and will be independent.
Feinstein is working on legislation with the heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committee to try and limit the number of leaks coming from the intelligence community.
Feinstein was "very pleased" with the new policies Clapper announced, according to a spokesman, though she still is planning to go forward with legislation. She has said that she's looking at provisions including more forceful leak investigations, additional resources for the government to identify leakers and the timely disclosure of authorized leaks.
Clapper said in a statement that the new measures were the “right thing to do” and were “in the interest of our national security.”
Steven Aftergood, a leading expert on government transparency and director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said that the impact of the new policies would depend on specifics.
“The wording of the polygraph question will make a lot of difference,” he said. “A relatively narrow polygraph question might be: Have you disclosed classified intelligence information to an unauthorized person? An overly broad question would be: Have you had any contacts with members of news media?”
Aftergood, who argues that robust public debate on intelligence policy is more important than stopping leaks, said that new measures direct from the administration are still preferable to legislation coming from Congress.
“Such measures are flexible and can be adjusted to adapt to changing circumstances,” Aftergood said. “Legislation by contrast is a blunt instrument. I don't see a valid need for new legislation on leaks, and I hope that Congress will exercise some self-restraint on that front.”