WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Budget legislation passed by the U.S. Senate intelligence committee authorizes a crackdown on security leaks, including curbs on how many officials can talk to the media and steps to punish unauthorized disclosures, lawmakers said on Wednesday.
The Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2013, passed the Democratic Party-controlled committee by a 14-1 vote on Tuesday, Chairman Dianne Feinstein and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss said in a statement.
Media reports in recent months based on high-profile leaks about U.S. cyber-warfare against Iran, procedures for targeting militants with drones and a double agent who penetrated a militant group in Yemen have angered U.S. lawmakers.
The vote came five days after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta ordered senior Pentagon officials to begin monitoring major U.S. news media for disclosures of classified information in an effort to stop the release of government secrets.
“Leaks of classified information regarding intelligence sources and methods can disrupt intelligence operations, threaten the lives of intelligence officers and assets, and make foreign partners less likely to work with us,” said Feinstein, a Democrat from California.
“The culture of leaks has to change,” she said in a joint statement with Chambliss, a Georgia Republican.
According to their statement, key provisions aimed at stemming leaks include requirement that the executive branch notify Congress when disclosing intelligence information to the public.
The legislation restricts the number of intelligence community employees authorized to communicate with the media and prohibits current and former intelligence officials from signing certain contracts with media organizations.
The bill, which requires passage by both chambers of Congress to become law, also requires the director of national intelligence to beef up its system for investigating leaks and to strengthen intelligence agencies non-disclosure agreements and penalties for unauthorized leaks.
Chambliss called the leaks provision a “strong step toward stemming the torrent of leaks” and said it was negotiated with the House of Representatives.
“I urge the administration to reject the status quo and work with Congress to pass these and any other needed changes into law,” he said.
Attorney General Eric Holder appointed two chief federal prosecutors last month to spearhead an investigation into suspected leaks of classified information amid allegations the White House made the disclosures to boost President Barack Obama’s re-election chances.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney on Tuesday blamed the White House for leaks to the media about the raid that killed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and cyber-warfare aimed at slowing Iran’s nuclear program.
“This conduct is contemptible,” Romney said. “It betrays our national interest. It compromises our men and women in the field. And it demands a full and prompt investigation, with explanation and consequence,” Romney told a convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Reporting By Paul Eckert and Tabassum Zakaria; Editing by Stacey Joyce