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July 24, 2004
A Premonition Of Things To Come?

Alert CQ reader -- do we have any other kind? -- William Sauer sent me this item earlier today on Clinton-era efforts to safeguard national-security data. In a foreshadowing of events to come with his NSA, Sandy Berger, Clinton forced Congress to remove key language from a bill in November 2000 that made leaking government secrets a felony:

The House gave in to President Clinton on Monday and removed language from a major intelligence spending bill that would have made leaking of government secrets a criminal act.

The president vetoed the bill, which authorizes an estimated $30 billion in spending by the CIA, National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies, because he disagreed with the provision on classified data leaks. ...

The crackdown on government officials' leaking of classified material had some support within the administration. Attorney General Janet Reno said it would have no dramatic increase in the number of prosecutions and would close what she called a "very narrow gap" in existing laws.

The language drew criticism from news organizations, however. They said it could jeopardize seriously their ability to obtain information vital to the public.

Four of the nation's largest news organization -- CNN, The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Newspaper Association of America -- appealed to Clinton to veto the bill.

The provision would have extended penalties that now exist for leaking classified national defense information to the leaking of nondefense classified data that could harm the United States if made public or given to foreign governments.

The bill would have made it easier to prosecute people like Berger, because the government would no longer need to prove damage to national security -- a process that in itself exposes more clandestine and classified information, this time in open court. It would have allowed the government to rely on the classification itself as prima facie evidence that the person knowingly intended to damage national security. It would have elevated the crime from a misdemeanor to a felony, with prison time likely.

One has to wonder whether Bill Clinton foresaw a day when his admittedly sloppy National Security Advisor would have to contend with this provision of the law, and so decided to oppose Congress and his own Attorney General when he vetoed the originial bill. One also has to wonder about the pleas from the national news media to veto the provision, especially given their remarkable capacity to raise eyebrows over "timing" on certain leaks but yet celebrate others as "whistleblowing", something Clinton specifically mentioned when vetoing the bill the first time around.

At any rate, it demonstrates the pattern of the Clinton administration's "sloppiness" in handling sensitive material, such as the 900 or so raw-data FBI personnel evaluations that disappeared into the White House as well as Berger's heavy lifting at the National Archives. Just remember, as John Kerry promised, if you liked the Clinton presidency ... you're gonna love the Kerry presidency. Joe Wilson and Berger promise you that.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 24, 2004 8:35 AM

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