CAPITOL HILL - The four bipartisan leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees have sharply criticized recent leaks to the press about ongoing covert operations and are promising to take action to try to stop such leaks. The leaders met Thursday in a closed meeting with National Intelligence Director James Clapper.
In a rare show of unity in an often polarized Congress, the four top Republican and Democratic intelligence committee leaders came together to condemn a recent spate of leaks about secret U.S. intelligence operations. The Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Republican Mike Rogers, said the leaks are the most serious he has ever seen.
"To have all four of us to come forward today, and talk about the severity of these leaks, I hope sends a very clear message," said Rogers.
Among recent leaks that have made headlines is a New York Times story alleging covert U.S. efforts to thwart Iran's nuclear program through cyber attacks and stories about U.S. drone attacks. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia said there have been too many leaks recently.
"I think it goes without saying that all of us are extremely upset about the fact that, not only have leaks occurred, but there has been just a cascade of leaks coming out of the intelligence community over the last several weeks and months, and it is our clear intention to put a stop to this," said Chambliss.
Earlier this week, Republican Senator John McCain stirred controversy by saying that one could draw the conclusion from reading recent articles that the leaks are an attempt "to further the president's political ambitions for the sake of his re-election at the expense of U.S. national security." The White House angrily rejected the comments, calling them absurd. White House spokesman Jay Carney said "any suggestion that this administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible."
At a news conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, the four intelligence leaders did not blame the White House for the leaks, saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating them and that House committees will also investigate the leaks and they did not want to judge prematurely. Senator Dianne Feinstein said she is not interested in a special prosecutor to investigate the leaks, because that could take years. Feinstein said she wants to put forward bipartisan legislation soon to try to minimize any such leaks of sensitive information in the future. She said she is not blaming anyone at this point.
"This is not finger-pointing [casting blame] at anybody," said Feinstein. "What we are trying to do is say we have a problem, and we want to stop that problem. We are not finger-pointing."
The congressional leaders were also to meet with FBI Director Robert Mueller to discuss the leaks. Senator Feinstein said the leaks could prompt U.S. allies to be reluctant to participate in intelligence operations with the United States and could put lives in danger.