WASHINGTON – The Senate Intelligence committee has approved legislation designed to clamp down on national security leaks as Republicans accuse the administration of intentionally disclosing classified information to burnish President Barack Obama's image in an election year.
In a closed session late Tuesday, the panel voted 14-1 for the bill, which also authorizes funds for the nation's spy agencies.
The committee released a general description of the measure on Wednesday but did not disclose the overall amount of spending. That number is classified. The Associated Press has reported that the budget is around $80 billion. The committee said only that its bill for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 reduces spending from current levels without harming national security.
Leaks about U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran and an al-Qaida plot to place an explosive device aboard a U.S.-bound airliner have prompted an outcry from some in Congress and spilled into the presidential race. Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two attorneys to lead an investigation into who leaked the information.
The bill would restrict the number of employees in the intelligence community authorized to talk to reporters and prohibit current and former intelligence officials from doing contract work with the news media.
The measure, which needs the full Senate's vote, also would require the executive branch to notify Congress when it authorizes disclosure of certain intelligence information. It would give new authority to the Director of National Intelligence to proactively identify leaks and take action.
"Leaks of classified information regarding intelligence sources and methods can disrupt intelligence operations, threaten the lives of intelligence officers and assets, and make foreign partners less likely to work with us," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the panel's chairwoman, said in a statement.
The committee's top Republican, Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, said the provisions were negotiated with the House and called them "a strong step toward stemming the torrent of leaks."
On Tuesday, Feinstein backtracked from her suggestion a day earlier that the White House was responsible for the national security leaks. She said she shouldn't have speculated because she didn't know the source of the unauthorized disclosures.
Shortly before her statement, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had seized on her comments to criticize Obama, accusing the White House of disclosing the information and calling for a special prosecutor to investigate. Obama and the administration have strongly rejected the leak accusations.
Last week, the Pentagon announced it was taking steps to stem the leaks.
Pentagon press secretary George Little said in a statement that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has ordered him to join the Pentagon's top intelligence official in monitoring all "major, national level" news media reports for unauthorized disclosures of secrets.
Panetta also reiterated guidance issued by his predecessor, Robert Gates, that the Pentagon's public affairs office should be the only source of defense information provided to the news media in Washington.