House chairman: Leaks not likely from Pentagon

Thursday - 7/19/2012, 2:43pm EDT

By LARRY MARGASAK
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) - The House Armed Services Committee chairman, speaking after a secret briefing from top defense officials on Thursday, said he did not believe the Pentagon was responsible for recent national security leaks.

"I feel pretty secure they were not" from the Pentagon, Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., told reporters after the three-hour closed hearing with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and top Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson.

McKeon would not say where he believed the leaks came from, but some Republicans have speculated that the White House was responsible for the leaks to improve President Barack Obama's chances of re-election. They have demanded a special counsel, removing an investigation of the leaks from two U.S. attorneys selected by Attorney General Eric Holder.

The chairman said the officials "assured us they are proceeding to try to limit those leaks," adding that the leaks have "the potential for causing serious harm." He said all three officials agreed that the leaks have already damaged national security. The top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Smith of Washington state, said he also was convinced the Pentagon was taking the issue seriously.

McKeon said the officials gave the committee a classified report on the leaks, and the Pentagon plans to produce an unclassified version.

DoD takes step to stop leaks

A separate Defense Department document obtained by The Associated Press spells out the steps the Pentagon has taken to reduce the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. Among the 10 steps were better training of Pentagon personnel if they suspect a threat from an insider or observe a leak, clearer instructions on what constitutes a leak and an online reporting system for significant security incidents.

The document also said that the undersecretary of defense for intelligence commissioned a working group in April 2012 to develop a strategy to prevent leaks.

Holder has appointed U.S. Attorneys Ron Machen in the District of Columbia and Rod Rosenstein, who is based in Baltimore, to lead the investigation into who leaked information about U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran and about an al-Qaida plot to place an explosive device aboard a U.S.-bound flight.

Holder said the investigation is moving fast, and added that he and FBI Director Robert Mueller had already been interviewed.

That didn't satisfy Republicans, who demanded that the probe not be conducted by U.S. attorneys who work for the Justice Department.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., has called the leaks an "almost unprecedented release of information which directly affects our national security. I can't think of any time that I have seen such breaches of ongoing national security programs as has been the case here."

Holder contended the Obama administration has brought more leak prosecutions than any other administration, and has charged six people under the Espionage Act for the alleged mishandling of classified information. He added that speed in carrying out the leak probes was an important factor in appointing the two prosecutors.

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Associated Press writer Donna Cassata contributed to this report.


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