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Panetta reminds CIA workers to avoid unauthorized leaks of information

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By Jeff Stein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 8, 2010; 8:11 PM

Asserting that lives have been endangered and sources compromised by "a damaging spate of media leaks on a wide range of national security issues" in recent months, CIA Director Leon Panetta reminded the spy agency's employees Monday that unauthorized disclosures of classified information "cannot be tolerated."

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"When information about our intelligence, our people, or our operations appears in the media, it does incredible damage to our nation's security and our ability to do our job of protecting the nation," Panetta's agency-wide message said. "More importantly, it could jeopardize lives. For this reason, such leaks cannot be tolerated."

Informed sources said Panetta, a former Clinton White House chief of staff and California congressman, had no special cases in mind, including the WikiLeaks releases, which have primarily exposed military reports.

But a U.S. intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said: "A number of leaks over time - and across our government - prompted Panetta to remind agency employees of their obligation to protect America's secrets. Unauthorized disclosures of classified information can harm national security, and he wanted to emphasize that important point."

Steve Aftergood, editor of the Federation of American Scientists's Secrecy News, said: "I don't know which particular sources or methods might have been compromised. I think the message itself is part of a familiar socialization process that is intended to instill the notion that leaks are taboo.

"From CIA's point of view," Aftergood said, "there are no good leaks. But of course CIA's point of view is not the only one."

Panetta said the administration has been "taking a hard line" on leaks, "as demonstrated by the prosecutions of a former National Security Agency official, a Federal Bureau of Investigation linguist and a State Department contractor."

Former NSA official Thomas A. Drake is being prosecuted on charges he provided a reporter with classified information about a program that he said was marred by "waste, mismanagement and a willingness to compromise Americans' privacy without enhancing security," according to The Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima.

In May, former FBI linguist Shamai Kedem Leibowitz, also known as Samuel Shamai Leibowitz, 40, was sentenced to 20 months in prison for providing classified documents to an unnamed blogger.

And in August, a State Department analyst under contract, Steven Kim, was charged with leaking top secret information about North Korea to a reporter.

"Every officer takes a secrecy oath, which obligates us to protect classified information while we serve at the Agency and after we leave," Panetta said in his message. "A vast majority of officers live up to their oath, but even a small number of leaks can do great damage."

In August, the newly appointed director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper, sent an internal memo to all 16 agencies in the intelligence community complaining about leaks. It stayed private for only a few hours.

Panetta side-stepped that embarrassment by leaving his message unclassified.

To read more of Jeff Stein's reporting on the intelligence community, go to SpyTalk at www.blog.washingtonpost.com/spy-talk.


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