Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Senior lawmakers said Thursday that they plan to introduce legislation meant to restrict the leaking of sensitive national security information to news outlets and suggested that they might attempt to restrict access to sensitive information.

Leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees met Thursday with National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper to discuss recent news reports detailing national security decisions made by the Obama administration, including the recent U.S. involvement in a cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program.

“This has been as serious a problem as I have seen,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) told reporters, adding that a formal investigation is needed because officials with the Central Intelligence Agency and the national security division of the Justice Department have told the intelligence panels that officials with their agencies might have leaked information to reporters.

Despite their concerns, none of the four leaders of the intelligence committees agreed with suggestions by other lawmakers that the leaks are part of an overt political effort to improve President Obama’s reelection chances.

“This is not finger-pointing at anybody. What we’re trying to do is say we have a problem and we want to stop that problem,” Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said.

In addition to Thursday’s meeting with Clapper, the intelligence leaders said they planned to meet with FBI Director Robert Mueller on Thursday afternoon and plan to hold subsequent hearings.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said Thursday that “as a general matter, the President feels strongly that we must prevent leaks of classified or sensitive information that could risk ongoing counterterrorism or intelligence operations. This Administration takes all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information, or sensitive information that could risk ongoing counterterrorism or intelligence operations.”

In an e-mail, Vietor also noted that the authors of several of the recent reports on national security operations have said that their reporting was not controlled in any way by the White House.

Congressional concerns amplified Tuesday when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called on Obama to appoint a special counsel to determine who is leaking the information. The Arizona lawmaker also charged that the leaks are designed to bolster Obama’s reelection campaign.

McCain and others cited several stories published in recent weeks that detail key national security decisions, 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.

On Thursday, Rogers, Feinstein and their counterparts did not call for a special prosecutor.

Asked Wednesday about the concerns, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Obama administration “takes all appropriate and necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or sensitive information that could risk ongoing counterterrorism or intelligence operations. Any suggestion that this administration has authorized intentional leaks of classified information for political gain is grossly irresponsible.”

McCain shot back Wednesday, charging that “what is grossly irresponsible is U.S. officials divulging some of the most highly classified programs involving the most important national security priorities facing our nation today.”

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) came to the White House’s defense, reminding reporters Wednesday that the reporters who have written those stories have said that they did not obtain their information in a coordinated fashion. Leaking national security information is a long, if upsetting, tradition, he added.

“If you pick up Bob Woodward’s books, and David Sanger is a damn good reporter, and David Ignatius and these guys, they get a lot of people talking about things that people shouldn’t be talking about,” Kerry said. “And it always amazes me.”

In response to queries from reporters, Kerry also said he questioned whether the New York Times should have published a story last week regarding Obama’s decision to order cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
“I personally think there is a serious question whether or not that served our interest and whether the public had to know,” Kerry said. “To me it was such a nitty-gritty fundamental national security issue. And I don’t see how the public interest is well served by it. I do see how other interests outside the United States are well served by it.”

Times managing editor Dean Baquet told 2chambers: “Our job is to report issues in the public interest, and this piece certainly meets that standard. As always with sensitive stories, we described the piece to the government before publication. No one suggested we not publish.”

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