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Senate Intelligence Committee proposes new “leak” legislation

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    NMU         U.S.

    NMU         U.S. SENATE         Freedom of Information         Jun 20, 2000    

Senate Intelligence Committee proposes new “leak” legislation

  • Leaking classified information would be a criminal felony under legislation attached to the proposed intelligence appropriations bill.

The Senate Intelligence Committee met behind closed doors June 14 to hear testimony on legislation that would criminalize the “leaking,” or disclosure, of any classified information to the news media. Currently, it must be shown that “national security” information has been disclosed for a criminal prosecution to be pursued.

The committee, chaired by Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), endorsed a provision that would make leaking any classified information to the press a felony punishable by up to three years jail time in federal prison and a fine of up to $10,000. The provision is being considered as part of a larger intelligence appropriations bill, which is likely to be voted upon sometime this month.

The Associated Press reported Sen. Shelby as saying that leaking classified information is “a chronic problem” and that “a tougher criminal statute” was needed to stop leaks of classified information. At the hearing, the Intelligence Committee heard testimony from Attorney General Janet Reno, FBI Director Louis Freeh and CIA Director George Tenet. Neither Reno, Freeh nor Tenet spoke with reporters upon leaving the hearing, the AP reported. Reno was the strongest critic of the legislation at the hearing, according to the AP.

When asked if reporters who refuse to divulge the source of leaked information would be subject to the same penalties as those who leaked the information, an aide in Sen. Shelby’s office answered that “this is not a First Amendment issue” and that “reporters are free to write what they want.” Nowhere in the bill is there a reference to journalists, she continued, stating that this proposal is strictly intended to address government employees who leak classified information.

First Amendment advocates, however, said the bill should fail. Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said such a law would lead to even more over-classification of government information by fearful government employees. She also said she would expect an increase in the number of subpoenas served on reporters by the Justice Department in an effort to identify suspected leakers.

(S. 2507) JM

© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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