Goss Says Leaks Have Hurt CIA's Work, Urges Probe

By Spencer S. Hsu and Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 3, 2006

CIA Director Porter J. Goss told a Senate committee yesterday that unauthorized leaks of classified information about agency activities have caused "severe damage" to the CIA's operations and that journalists who report leaks should be questioned by a grand jury.

Appearing alongside Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte for an annual briefing on global threats for the Senate intelligence committee, Goss and other intelligence officials also defended the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program.

Regarding disclosures about CIA detention and interrogation of terrorist suspects at secret sites abroad, Goss, the former chairman of the House intelligence committee, said that "the damage has been very severe to our capabilities to carry out our mission." He added: "It is my aim and it is my hope that we will witness a grand jury investigation with reporters present being asked to reveal who is leaking this information. I believe the safety of this nation and the people of this country deserves nothing less."

The annual briefing sparked a fierce partisan battle over President Bush's widening claims of executive power, centered on the recently disclosed program of warrantless eavesdropping on the phone calls and e-mails of people in the United States suspected of communicating with terrorists overseas. Democrats charged that the White House has politicized the handling of intelligence by launching a week-long public defense of its efforts while refusing to divulge to Congress details of the program's reach.

Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (W.Va.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate panel, invoked the reliance on questionable intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war and alleged a "disturbing pattern" by the administration "to selectively release intelligence information that supports its policy or political agenda, while withholding equally pertinent information that does not."

Rockefeller, one of the few members of Congress briefed on the spy program, asked "whether the very independence of the U.S. intelligence community has been co-opted . . . by the strong, controlling hand of the White House."

The charges provoked a withering response from Republicans, led by committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who said Democrats were minimizing the threat of terrorism for political gain.

"I am concerned that some of my Democrat colleagues used this unique public forum to make clear that they believe the gravest threat we face is not Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, but rather the president of the United States," Roberts said. He added that Democratic senators were under "marching orders" to attack Bush aides "and now members of our intelligence agencies."

Yesterday's hearing was the first in a series of likely partisan scuffles over the National Security Agency spying program that will follow the White House's aggressive defense of the program's necessity and constitutionality, capped by Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday.

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales is scheduled to appear as the sole witness Monday at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which may schedule more hearings on the topic in coming weeks. The Senate intelligence panel is scheduled to hear Feb. 9 from Gonzales and Negroponte's deputy, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, and hold a second closed meeting the following week.

Under questioning by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Negroponte said Bush and Vice President Cheney authorized that disclosure of the program be limited to eight members of Congress: House and Senate leaders and the chairman and ranking member of each chamber's intelligence panel.

Rockefeller said the information provided on the NSA's largest surveillance effort in the United States hardly amounted to briefings, particularly in contrast to details that Bush and top aides have publicly released in claiming its success at thwarting terrorist attacks.

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