* Leaks included details of covert cyber attack on Iran
* News conference planned for Thursday
* McCain charges violations of law
By Susan Cornwell and Mark Hosenball
WASHINGTON, June 6 The White House and a leading
Republican senator accused each other of being "grossly
irresponsible" on Wednesday in connection with a recent series
of leaks of national security data.
White House spokesman Jay Carney denied allegations made by
Senator John McCain a day earlier that the apparent leaks by
administration officials must have been politically motivated to
boost President Barack Obama's stature ahead of his attempted
re-election this fall.
McCain fired back with a heated statement repeating his
suspicions, declaring "this is not a game" and "laws have
apparently been broken." He called for prosecution of whoever is
responsible for the leaks, which have included information about
a U.S. cyber warfare program aimed at thwarting Iran's nuclear
The tense sparring underscored how the handling of
classified information and national security has suddenly
escalated into a presidential campaign-season issue, like no
time in recent memory.
Congressional intelligence chiefs also expressed deep unease
about the recent leaks and said they would press the Obama
administration to investigate, as well as considering how laws
could be strengthened to stop it happening again.
"The accelerating pace of such disclosures, the sensitivity
of the matters in question, and the harm caused to our national
security interests is alarming and unacceptable," the leaders of
the House and Senate intelligence committees from both political
parties said in a statement.
"These disclosures have seriously interfered with ongoing
intelligence programs and have put at jeopardy our intelligence
capability to act in the future," the lawmakers said. The
leaks put lives at risk, made assets harder to recruit and
strained the trust of U.S. partners, they said.
The statement was signed by Senator Dianne Feinstein,
Senator Saxby Chambliss, Representative Mike Rogers and
Representative Dutch Ruppersberger. The group also announced a
news conference on the subject for Thursday.
McCain, who challenged Obama in the 2008 presidential
campaign, took to the Senate floor on Wednesday along with
Chambliss to call for a special counsel to investigate the
recent string of leaks, saying they appeared to have been made
for political advantage.
The leaks have included detailed reports on a classified
counterterrorism "kill list" of militants targeted in drone
strikes, and an undercover investigation targeted on Yemen-based
militants involved in building underwear bombs designed to foil
Carney, on Obama's plane on a flight to San Francisco on
Wednesday, said the administration "takes all appropriate and
necessary steps to prevent leaks of classified information or
sensitive information that could risk ongoing counter terrorism
or intelligence operations."
"Any suggestion that this administration has authorized
intentional leaks of classified information for political gain
is grossly irresponsible."
"No, 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," McCain shot back in his statement.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)