By Jeremy Herb - 06/06/12 12:46 AM EDT
Senate Democrats on Tuesday blasted leaks to the press about a cyberattack against Iran and warned the disclosure of President Obama’s order could put the United States at risk of a retaliatory strike.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Intelligence Committee, said the leak about the attack on Iran’s nuclear program could “to some extent” provide justification for copycat attacks against the United States.
“This is like an avalanche. It is very detrimental and, candidly, I found it very concerning,” Feinstein said. “There’s no question that this kind of thing hurts our country.”
Several Democrats noted with alarm that the Iranian cyber leak is just the latest in a series of media reports that disclosed classified information about U.S. anti-terrorism activity.
“A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests,” said Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “I think they’re dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.”
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Feinstein and Kerry, however, rejected charges from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) that the leaks were made deliberately in an attempt to boost President Obama’s reelection bid.
Kerry “categorically” rejected the accusations that the leaks were coming from the White House for political purposes, saying that was “not close to reality.”
Feinstein also said she did not think the information about the Iran attack came from the White House.
“That’s hard for me to believe,” she said.
A story in The New York Times last week revealed U.S. involvement with the Stuxnet worm, a computer virus that was used against an Iranian nuclear facility and caused centrifuges to explode. The story detailed joint U.S. and Israeli efforts to develop the virus as well as conversations Obama had with his advisers on whether to continue the program when the worm became public in 2010.
The story cited unnamed current and former U.S., Israeli and European officials. The White House has denied that it was an authorized leak.
McCain accused the White House of planting the story for political purposes, and on Tuesday joined with Intelligence Committee ranking member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) in calling for a special counsel to investigate and prosecute whoever is responsible for the national-security leaks.
“The only conceivable motive for such damaging and compromising leaks of classified information is that it makes the president look good,” said McCain, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee. “They are merely gratuitous and utterly self-serving.”
McCain said Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has agreed to hold congressional hearings on the leaks.
Other Republicans were more hesitant to attribute political motivations to the disclosures.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a McCain ally on the Armed Services Committee, said he didn’t know whether the leaks were campaign-related.
“I’m glad that we have a targeted assassination program against terrorists trying to kill us all, but I’m not sure we need to read blow by blow how it’s done,” Graham said. “I cannot imagine this can continue much longer without seriously undermining our national security.”
Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) said she hoped politics weren’t behind the leak, and that that was “a question that should be answered.”
The story on the Stuxnet virus last week follows other media accounts of classified information, including reports on a double agent who helped the United States and its allies track down al Qaeda members in Yemen, an expanded U.S. drone program in Yemen and the Obama administration’s “kill list.”
Republicans have accused the Obama administration of playing politics by granting two filmmakers access to CIA planners for a movie about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch released emails last month that showed U.S. officials offering Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal access to CIA facility planners. Pentagon officials say that the filmmakers did not receive access to any officials connected with the bin Laden raid.
Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) called for an independent investigation into the Iran leaks on Tuesday.
“It’s beginning to sound repetitive,” Lieberman said, referring to previous leaks of classified information.
Asked if he thought there was a political motive behind the latest incident, Lieberman told The Hill he couldn’t say. “The mere fact that people suspect it … means that it ought to be investigated,” he said.
Levin said he didn’t know where the leaks came from, and downplayed the charges of political meddling. He said he has serious concerns about the cyberattack story going public, but isn’t concerned about it being used as justification for a cyberattack against the United States.
“The nations that are going to attack us don’t need justification,” Levin said.
— Updated at 8:46 p.m.