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
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
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
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