The CIA won’t respond to a U.S. House Intelligence Committee request for information about leaks of classified data, said Representative Mike Rogers, the panel’s chairman.
The committee had asked about last month’s disclosure of information on an intelligence operation that thwarted plans by al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate to smuggle a potentially undetectable bomb onto a U.S.-bound airliner, according to a congressional aide who is not authorized to speak to the media.
The CIA told the committee the information wouldn’t be provided because the matter is under investigation by the FBI, the aide said. Rogers said yesterday that the agency’s response, along with other information obtained by the committee, shows the need for a formal, independent investigation.
“It must be empowered to examine any office or department of the United States government,” said Rogers, a Michigan Republican. “It must be free of influence from those who conducted or reviewed the programs at issue.”
The leaks, along with disclosures on other intelligence operations including the U.S. drone program, have spurred calls from Rogers and lawmakers for an investigation and possible prosecutions.
Recent reports by media such as the Associated Press and New York Times have cited unnamed officials describing details about the Yemen underwear bomb plot; the U.S. government’s use of armed drones to kill people abroad, including the existence of a so-called kill list of terrorists targeted for arrest or death; and U.S. involvement in using a computer worm called Stuxnet to attack uranium enrichment facilities in Iran.
In addition, lawmakers are angered that President Barack Obama’s administration briefed former counterterrorism officials who now work as TV analysts on the Yemen operation without first giving the congressional intelligence committees similar briefings.
“The committee has material suggesting that the agencies were directed to expand the scope of classified information they gave to the press,” Rogers said yesterday after meeting with U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to discuss the leaks. Clapper declined to comment.
Rogers spoke at a news conference with three other lawmakers who met with Clapper: Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat; Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the Senate committee’s top Republican; and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger of Maryland.
FBI Director Robert Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee in a hearing last month that the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is part of the Department of Justice, was investigating the leaks related to the Yemen bomb plot.
Preston Golson, a Central Intelligence Agency spokesman, said there was no intent by the agency to withhold information on the leaks issue.
“We all have to be careful not to jeopardize the DOJ criminal investigation that is running concurrently with the congressional inquiry,” Golson said in an e-mail. “We share Congress’ concern and desire to get to the bottom of leaks and have every intention of cooperating fully with both DOJ and Congress.”
Feinstein and Chambliss said they want to help develop procedures to prevent future leaks.
“This is not meant to be a political exercise,” said Chambliss, who has called for a special independent prosecutor to conduct an investigation.
Feinstein said she wants to add language in the fiscal 2013 intelligence authorization bill “to codify a certain process which we hope will be more efficient in retarding leaking and also being able to stop it.” She said she was still reviewing whether a special prosecutor is needed.
Rogers said the Justice Department’s national security division “has recused itself from at least one element of the investigation, suggesting some of the leaks could have come from the sources within the DoJ or the FBI.”
After the news conference, Rogers issued a statement to clarify those comments.
“I did not intend to suggest that this recusal implied that anyone in the division had improperly disclosed any information, but rather that the sorts of issues that can force a recusal show the serious complications facing the Department in investigating these matters,” he wrote.