Hill studies leaks' effect on security

WASHINGTON - Attorney General John Aschroft is organizing a task force to study whether leaks of classified government information have a corrosive effect on national security.

WASHINGTON - Attorney General John Aschroft is organizing a task force to study whether leaks of classified government information have a corrosive effect on national security.

The effort represents a compromise between the White House and Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL)

over his longstanding campaign to render such leaks a federal crime.

Under the recently passed Intelligence Authorization Act, the Department

of Justice (DoJ) will lead a review to determine whether it is

worthwhile to prosecute government employees who regularly dole out

secret information to the media, inadvertently or otherwise. The review

will also examine steps currently taken to stop leaks and measure their

effectiveness.

Shelby, who has long tried to pass legislation making the leaking of any

classified information a federal crime, has indicated that he is "more

than willing" to consider any alternative proposed by the task

force.

This comes after an assurance from the Bush Administration that it would

not lend its support to his desired legislation.

Shelby, the ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, last

made an attempt to criminalize leaks under former President Bill Clinton

in 2000. Clinton was persuaded to veto that bill after civil liberties

groups, journalists, and many government communicators - most notably

former Pentagon public affairs chief Ken Bacon - opposed the

measure.

Critics claimed it would stymie potential whistle-blowers and make

unsuspecting criminals of government spokespeople.

In addition to members of the DoJ, the task force will consist of CIA

staff, secretary of state Colin Powell, secretary of defense Donald

Rumsfeld, secretary of energy Spencer Abraham, and several other federal

agencies that deal regularly with classified information.

The task force is scheduled to submit its findings to Congress sometime

this spring.

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