NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON, D.C. · Freedom of Information · March 6, 2007
Senator introduces anti-leak amendment
March 6, 2007 · Sen. Jon Kyl introduced an amendment Friday that would criminalize the unauthorized disclosure of classified information about counterterrorism programs in congressional reports, a proposal that media groups say could chill public debate about important national security programs.
Shortly after withdrawing a similar proposal last week, Kyl (R-Ariz.) introduced a modified amendment that is less broad than his original proposal but would still expand the espionage laws considerably. Kyl proposed the change as an amendment to a bill to enact the remaining recommendations of the commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks.
The amendment would apply to members of Congress, House and Senate staffers, and other individuals who have lawful possession of or access to classified information in reports submitted to Congress pursuant to three bills: the Sept. 11 recommendations, the Patriot Act, and an intelligence reform bill.
Under Kyl’s proposal, those people could be prosecuted for publishing that information or communicating it to an “unauthorized person,” or for otherwise using the information “in any manner prejudicial to the safety or interest of the United States.” Violators could be punished by fines and up to 10 years in prison.
Kyl’s original amendment, which he sought to add to a federal data mining bill, would have criminalized the publication of information “concerning efforts by the United States to identify, investigate, or prevent terrorist activity.”
Open government advocates say the proposed amendment, even in its altered form, represents a backdoor overhaul of the espionage laws that could chill speech about public policy issues.
Unlike most of the espionage laws originally passed as part of the 1917 Espionage Act, Kyl’s proposed law would not require that authorized individuals who disclose information have “intent to harm” the United States or “reason to believe” the information could hurt the United States or aid a foreign nation. Only one espionage statute, a 1950 law that concerns only communication intelligence, does not require proof that a leaker meant to harm the United States to convict the person.
(S.4, Improving America’s Security by Implementing Unfinished Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007) — RG