Unauthorized disclosures of classified information in the press led to the imprisonment of a CIA source and other damaging consequences, said Central Intelligence Agency Director Michael Hayden in a speech last week. “Some say there is no evidence that leaks of classified information have harmed national security. As CIA Director, I’m telling you there is, and they have,” Hayden told the Council on Foreign Relations. “Let me give you just two examples: Â In one case, leaks provided ammunition for a government to prosecute and imprison one of our sources, whose family was also endangered. The revelations had an immediate, chilling effect on our ability to collect against a top-priority target.” “In another, a spate of media reports cost us several promising counterterrorism and counterproliferation assets. Sources not even involved in the exposed operation lost confidence that their relationship with us could be kept secret, and they stopped reporting.” “More than one foreign service has told us that, because of public disclosures, they had to withhold intelligence that they otherwise would have shared with us. That gap in information puts Americans at risk.” “Those who are entrusted with America’s secrets and break that trust by divulging those secrets are guilty of a crime. But those who seek such information and then choose to publish it are not without responsibilities.”
In his comments on unauthorized disclosures, Director Hayden did not address wrongful withholding of information, and did not acknowledge any reasons why American might be skeptical of CIA disclosure policies. “CIA acts within a strong framework of law and oversight,” he said. While leaks have been a perennial problem from the government’s point of view, it does not follow that new legislation to combat them is a fitting solution. “I am not aware of a single case involving the unauthorized disclosure of classified information that would have been prosecuted but could not be because of the lack of statutory coverage,” said Attorney General John Ashcroft in testimony prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2001. The Ashcroft testimony, dated September 5, 2001, represents a missing link between the testimony of Janet Reno on the same subject on June 14, 2000, and a subsequent report to Congress on leaks that was submitted by Mr. Ashcroft in October 2002. The testimony was approved by the White House Office of Management and Budget, according to a handwritten notation on the document, but the scheduled Intelligence Committee hearing was cancelled and the Ashcroft testimony was never delivered. A copy of the text was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Michael Ravnitzky.