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Posted at 05:30 PM ET, 06/05/2012

John McCain wants special counsel to investigate national security leaks


(Johannes Simon - GETTY IMAGES)
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called on President Obama on Tuesday to appoint a special counsel to investigate and prosecute recent leaks by top government officials to news outlets regarding key national security decisions, arguing that the leaks are timed to bolster the president’s reelection efforts.

McCain, who faced Obama in the 2008 presidential race and remains a leading critic of the president’s foreign policy, charged in a Senate floor speech Tuesday afternoon that recent leaks to The Washington Post, the New York Times and other news outlets and authors “appears to be a broader administration effort to paint a portrait of President Obama as a strong leader on national security issues.”

“There is no legitimate reason” for the information to be “out in the public domain,” McCain said, adding that releasing the information “only harms our national security and the men and women sworn to protect it.”

McCain was joined in his calls for a special counsel by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Throughout the day, Democratic senators also raised concerns about the leaks, but said they did not believe they were tied to Obama's reelection campaign or came directly from White House officials.

McCain cited several reports detailing key national security decisions by the Obama White House, including a New York Times story chronicling Obama’s approval of a “kill list” of suspected terrorists targeted with drone attacks, reports in the Times and The Washington Post regarding U.S. involvement in cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program and details in a new book by Newsweek special correspondent Daniel Klaidman about the administration’s deliberations on the detention of suspected terrorists.

Because of the leaks, “our enemies now know much more than they even did the day before they came out about important aspects of the nation’s unconventional offensive capability and how we use them,” McCain said. “Such disclosures can only undermine similar ongoing or future operations and, in this sense, compromise national security. For this reason, regardless of how politically useful these leaks may be to the President, they have to stop.”

The Arizona lawmaker noted that the Obama administration continues to prosecute Army Pfc. Bradley Manning for leaking sensitive information to the WikiLeaks Web site and to prosecute former CIA employees for sharing sensitive information with reporters. He also charged that information shared with reporters in the aftermath of last year’s killing of Osama bin Laden probably contributed to the arrest of Shakil Afridi, a Pakistani doctor sentenced to 33 years in prison for helping U.S. officials track down the terrorist leader.

Around the same time that McCain was speaking Tuesday, David Sanger, author of the New York Times report on the U.S. cyber attacks on Iran’s nuclear program, described to CNN how he spent almost 18 months reporting his story.

“You don’t put a story together like this from people with the administration calling you up and saying we want to tell you about this program,” Sanger told CNN. “It took a long time.”

White House officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

McCain’s speech came on the same day that the FBI announced it plans to launch an investigation into who disclosed information to the Times about a classified U.S. cyberattack program, known as Stuxnet, that targeted Iran’s nuclear facilities.

During his remarks, McCain said he welcomed the investigation.

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