WE ARE IN the first war of the Information Age, and we have a critical advantage over our enemy: We are far better at gathering intelligence. It’s an advantage we must utilize, and it’s keeping us safe.
But every time classified national security information is leaked, our ability to gather information on those who would do us harm is eroded.
We suffered a setback Thursday when USA Today ran a front-page story alleging that the National Security Agency was collecting domestic phone records. This article hurt our efforts to protect Americans by giving the enemy valuable insights into the Terrorist Surveillance Program, which has been focused like a laser beam on Al Qaeda and its known associates.
President Bush’s job is to defend our nation and prevent another terrorist attack. He has taken many vital steps to combat Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups. The Terrorist Surveillance Program does not target ordinary U.S. citizens. This is a valuable program that I strongly support because it is protecting American lives. Let me say a few things about this program.
First, to protect the American people, our government needs to know whether individuals already in the U.S. are communicating with known Al Qaeda terrorists or associates. The program disrupts terrorist planning and the organizing of terrorist attacks.
Second, the program fully complies with the law and the Constitution. It has been reviewed by executive branch attorneys, and congressional leaders from both parties -- including my friend and colleague Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice) -- have been regularly briefed. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have been aware of this program for several years yet never expressed any concerns until it was illegally leaked.
And third, persons entrusted with extremely sensitive information about this program have taken it upon themselves to jeopardize it by leaking to the news media. This is a breach of trust with the American public, and I am concerned that my Democratic colleagues are turning a blind eye to this illegal activity. As Americans, we should all be ashamed that Al Qaeda can learn about our efforts to defend our nation just by picking up the morning paper.
The problem for responsible members of the administration, and the intelligence committees in Congress, is that we are not allowed to discuss intelligence leaks. We cannot tell the public details of the damage that has been done to our ability to stay a step ahead of Al Qaeda because to do so would confirm that damage -- and that would help the enemy just as much as a leak.
We cannot tell the public whether American intelligence officers have died since 9/11 protecting the secrets that are being cavalierly leaked. We cannot discuss the financial losses incurred when top-secret technologies developed at huge cost to taxpayers are revealed on Page 1, rendering them useless against our foes. What I can assure you is that leaks are costly in every sense of the word. They endanger all Americans.
I regret that I see little sign of intolerance for unauthorized disclosures of intelligence to the media from some of my Democratic colleagues today. If an individual with knowledge of the Terrorist Surveillance Program thought it was wrong or illegal, he or she could have gone to the intelligence oversight committees under the procedures established by law. By going to the media, the leaker broke the law and the oath he or she swore to protect the nation’s legitimate secrets.
This was a grave crime that helped Al Qaeda and its allies in the information war by providing an understanding of our defenses and vulnerabilities against terrorist attacks.
We are a nation at war. Unauthorized disclosures of classified information only help terrorists and our enemies -- and put American lives at risk.