The Department of Homeland Security has complained to Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) about what it says was an inappropriate disclosure of sensitive security information to the press by the House transportation panel that he chairs.
In a letter dated Wednesday, a clearly miffed Department of Homeland Security Deputy Counsel Joseph B. Maher told Chaffetz that “sensitive security information” provided to his subcommittee by the Transportation Security Administration was illegally disclosed to the press.
“This document was marked as [Sensitive Security Information],” Maher wrote, “and provided clear notice that unauthorized disclosures of the document violated federal law.”
The letter was obtained by the Washington Post from an administration official.
USA Today and other news outlets reported this week that “newly released” DHS documents revealed 25,000 security breaches at U.S. airports since November 2001.
Maher called the information on past security breaches “a topic of particular interest to our adversaries” and said the law against unauthorized disclosure is designed to protect air travelers.
In an angry response directly to DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano late Friday, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), head of the House Oversight Committee, called Maher’s assertions “meritless” retaliation for the committee’s efforts to address “TSA deficiencies.”
Issa called Maher’s letter a “threat to the entire legislative branch that this administration will seek retribution when non-classified information is shared with the public.” Issa denied that the security breach data was classified information. His staff said lawmakers and open-government groups have long debated whether security classifications are often used to hide embarrassing information.
Issa now plans to investigate “how and why” Maher’s letter was sent to Chaffetz and demanded that the lawyer produce all records documenting his decision, his letter said.
“The fact that the information in question was transmitted to the committee via an open e-mail over an open and non-secured network only underscores that this was not national security sensitive information,” Issa wrote.
Chaffetz, a member of Issa’s committee, has been a frequent critic of the TSA and held a hearing Wednesday on the security shortcomings. The Oversight Committee is one of the most high-profile in the Republican-led House, launching dozens of investigations of the Obama administration.
In June, Justice Department officials and Issa clashed at a hearing into an undercover federal investigation into gunrunning that lost track of weapons later found at the scene of a Border Patrol agent’s murder in Arizona.
Administration officials accused Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) of releasing confidential information about the identity of a former target of the probe.
Chaffetz’s subcommittee has held several hearings on the TSA and whether it protects the privacy of air travelers. Earlier this week, he launched two new inquiries, seeking data on passenger complaints against transportation security officers and on security-related personnel actions against TSA employees.
“As we continue to work with you on oversight requests, we must work to find common ground on the manner in which sensitive security, classified and national security-related information is handled and protected,” Maher wrote.