Editorial: Intelligence failure on budget bill

Published Nov 15, 2012 at 04:00AM

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., put a freeze Wednesday on the new budget for the nation’s intelligence efforts to force the Senate into a needed discussion about the bill’s flaws.

As it’s written, the bill is going to make it unnecessarily more difficult for the public to find out what the nation is doing on national security issues. It also introduces an erratic punishment system for some leakers but not others.

The bill is a budget bill, allocating some $52.6 billion for intelligence activities next year. The problem that concerns Wyden and us has to do with the changes it puts in place to close leaks.

Two of the proposed changes are going to make it harder for the public to find out what the government is doing.

One provision requires former government employees who had Top Secret clearances to wait a year before entering into a contract to provide commentary or analysis to the media. It’s already against the law for these officials to make an unauthorized disclosure of classified information. The only thing this surely accomplishes is to make news coverage less well informed.

The second prohibits almost anybody in the intelligence community from speaking on background on unclassified matters. That would be another strike against the media’s ability to provide information.

The bill also creates a new ability for the leaders of intelligence agencies to strip pension benefits from current or past employees that an agency head “determines” are responsible for unauthorized disclosure of classified information. “The Director of National Intelligence has said that this provision would not help deter leaks, would not help identify leakers ...” Wyden said in a statement.

It’s also odd, as Wyden pointed out, that the special punishment applies only to employees who work for an intelligence agency — not the thousands of other federal employees who see sensitive information.

Leaks can seriously damage national security, but the bill fails.

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