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Alabama senator won't quit on 'Official Secrets Act'

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    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Freedom of Information         Sep 6, 2001    

Alabama senator won’t quit on ‘Official Secrets Act’

  • Sen. Richard Shelby cancelled a hearing on an anti-leak bill at the request of Attorney General John Ashcroft, but said he won’t give up his effort to protect classified information.

The postponement of congressional hearings scheduled for Sept. 5 halted action on a bill proposed by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) to criminalize actions of whistle blowers and others who leak classified government information.

Shelby said that he plans to reintroduce the bill next year. He told the Associated Press that new administration opposition dimmed chances of swift passage now but predicted that President Bush eventually will accept his bill to criminalize intelligence leaks.

Shelby, ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, called for cancellation of the hearings at the request of Attorney General John Ashcroft. Both Ashcroft and CIA Director George Tenet were among the witnesses slated to testify against the bill. The hearings were to discuss legislation that would criminalize the leaking of any classified information to the news media.

Shelby told the Associated Press that Ashcroft simply needed more time to review the issue. But a senior administration official, also speaking to the Associated Press, said the White House considers the bill problematic and unnecessary.

The new “anti-leak” proposal is different from existing law. Federal law already prohibits the release of information that would compromise national security. Shelby’s measure would impose a broader standard by making it a felony to leak virtually anything the government has classified. Violators would face fines and up to three years in prison.

Last year, Shelby, then chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, wrote the provisions into the Intelligence Authorization bill, which was passed by both the Senate and the House with no public hearings.

The bill was vetoed last November by President Clinton after news media and watchdog groups urged him to do so. At the time, Clinton called the bill “a badly flawed provision” that could “unnecessarily chill legitimate activities that are the heart of democracy.”

HP

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