Debate over anti-leak law hits boiling point

WASHINGTON: Civil rights and media groups are sounding the alarms this week in an 11th-hour offensive to block a proposal - now lacking only President Clinton's likely signature - that would make the leaking of all 'properly classified' government information a federal crime.

WASHINGTON: Civil rights and media groups are sounding the alarms this week in an 11th-hour offensive to block a proposal - now lacking only President Clinton's likely signature - that would make the leaking of all 'properly classified' government information a federal crime.

WASHINGTON: Civil rights and media groups are sounding the alarms this week in an 11th-hour offensive to block a proposal - now lacking only President Clinton's likely signature - that would make the leaking of all 'properly classified' government information a federal crime.

While the cause may seem a lost one, considerable efforts are still being made to light a fire under the issue. 'We are asking our member editors and publishers to take a strong stand on this in hopes it will influence the president's decision,' said Anders Gyllenhaal, executive editor at the News & Observer in Raleigh, NC, and a member of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

'This bill makes whistleblowers into felons,' said Rebecca Daugherty, service center director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP). 'It will deter government employees who have outrageous things to tell from going to the press.'

Leaking classified government information is such a time-honored tradition that it is considered by many to be a key cog in the PR machine. But of equal concern to the groups involved is the possibility that this provision, part of a much larger intelligence bill, could lead to prosecution of the press in order to ferret out those who leak information. 'This will certainly lead to subpoenas of the press to reveal their sources,' said Daugherty.

'I can see more journalists going to jail for (refusing to reveal their sources) than I see leakers going to jail for leaking the information to begin with,' said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the RCFP.

The provision was drafted by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) in response to a perceived rash of damaging federal leaks, exemplified by the recent controversy surrounding Wen Ho Lee and the Department of Energy.

Also raising concerns among civil rights watchdogs is the covert fashion in which the bill passed through Congress. In the words of Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-GA), it was approved 'with not one day of hearings, without one moment of public debate, without one witness.'

Those sounding the alarms are calling on the media to raise their voices loud enough to reach the president before he gives his approval.

Government reaction to the bill was reflected in the following statement of Maj. Rob Koon of the Air Force Press Desk: 'If this bill becomes law, we will follow it just like any other law.'



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