The Washington Post

Senate panel proposes that leakers of classified information lose pensions

A Senate panel has proposed legislation that could strip government pensions from active and retired members of the intelligence community who knowingly avoid pre-publication review procedures when authoring works or delivering speeches.

Members of the intelligence community are required to agree to pre-publication review whenever they write on matters related to their work. But in a report on the 2011 intelligence authorization bill, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said it was a source of “frustration” that leakers “are rarely seen to suffer consequences.”

Short of a criminal prosecution of leakers, which is undertaken rarely, the government has at its disposal only administrative sanctions, such as removing clearances, suspending employees or terminating employment.

These options, the panel said, are not generally available for use against a key source of leaks: former employees of the intelligence community. In at least one recent case, a former deep-cover agent published a book before the review process had run its course.

To lose a pension under the Senate panel’s proposal, a person would have to “knowingly” violate the pre-publication agreement, but the legislation does not require that the person “knowingly” disclose classified information. The provision was included to protect against a person avoiding pre-publication review and then claiming he or she did not know information that was released was classified.

The language would be included in the non-disclosure agreement that employees sign when first given access to classified information.

“Such agreement may be enforced either during or subsequent to employment,” the report said.

The proposal would not affect contributions made to a pension benefit plan, only that portion funded by U.S. taxpayers.

The provision was first disclosed Tuesday by Steven Aftergood on his Secrecy News Web site.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who opposed the language in committee, said Tuesday that he had warned Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) that he would oppose any attempt to pass the intelligence authorization bill by unanimous consent.

Wyden said he is against leaks but was opposed to creating a “punishment that only applies to accused leakers who have worked directly for an intelligence agency at some point in their careers.” He said there are thousands of others in the State, Defense and Justice departments and the White House with access to classified information who would not be subject to the same penalty.

Wyden also pointed out that neither the White House nor the intelligence agencies have asked for the provision. And while the committee has sought comment from Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., none had been received at the time the report was printed.

Two of the persons thought to have provided the most damaging classified information to Russian intelligence, Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, both stipulated that their pensions be paid to their wives and children as part of the guilty plea agreements in espionage cases.

Felix Bloch, the State Department employee accused of passing information to the Russians but never prosecuted, was ultimately fired by the department and had his pension revoked.

Walter Pincus reports on intelligence, defense and foreign policy for The Washingon Post. He first came to the paper in 1966 and has covered numerous subjects, including nuclear weapons and arms control, politics and congressional investigations. He was among Post reporters awarded the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for national reporting.

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