* McCain accuses White House of leaking for election-year
* Committee chiefs have called for urgent probe of leaks
* Leaks have involved cyber-warfare, drone strikes
By Mark Hosenball and Susan Cornwell
WASHINGTON, June 7 Congressional intelligence
committee leaders turned up the heat on the White House over
alleged national security leaks on Thursday, with the head of
the Senate Intelligence Committee suggesting she might be
willing to join Republican demands for an investigation by a
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the committee's Democratic
chairwoman, told reporters she needed more time to consider
Republican demands - voiced earlier this week by Senator John
McCain and committee vice chair Saxby Chambliss - for a special
counsel to probe how highly sensitive secrets were disclosed to
The Intelligence Committee chiefs and other legislators have
called for urgent investigations into recent media disclosures
on U.S. cyber warfare against Iran, procedures for targeting
militants with drones, and the existence of a double agent who
penetrated a militant group in Yemen.
McCain has suggested that some of the leaks may have been
calculated to boost the election prospects of President Barack
Obama - something White House spokesmen emphatically deny.
Feinstein cautioned that she was still pondering the
"special counsel" idea for the current leak inquiries because "A
special prosecutor can take years. We don't have years. We need
to legislate and we need to do things quickly."
She suggested she might propose legislation to give
inspectors general of government departments more investigatory
Historically, some special counsels, such as the prosecutor
who conducted a lengthy leak-related investigation that led to
the conviction of a top aide to former Vice President Dick
Cheney on obstruction and perjury charges, have been accused of
Feinstein and Chambliss joined the House Intelligence
committee's Republican chairman Mike Rogers and ranking Democrat
C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger at an unusual Capitol Hill news
conference following a closed-door meeting on the leaks issue
with James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence.
There were fresh indications on Thursday that even if
Attorney-General Eric Holder does not formally appoint a special
counsel, the Justice Department could create some kind of
special chain of command to handle leak inquiries.
At the news conference, Rogers said portions of the Justice
Department's National Security Division (NSD) had removed
themselves from elements of at least one current leak
Rogers later issued a statement clarifying that he did not
mean to suggest wrongdoing by Justice Department officials, but
was merely pointing out the hazards of a Justice Department-led
investigation of the leaks.
CONCERNS OVER CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
A Justice official, without confirming any recusals, said
that top counter-terrorism and counter-espionage officials in
the National Security Division sometimes opted out of
investigations and prosecutions "to avoid the appearance of a
potential conflict of interest."
"Such a recusal in no way suggests any wrongdoing on the
part of these officials," the official said, speaking on
condition of anonymity.
A law enforcement official said leak investigations were
conducted by the counter-espionage branch of the NSD. Given the
possibility that NSD leaders might have to be interviewed in an
investigation of leaks about secret operations they may have
officially known about, it could raise questions about possible
conflicts of interests if frontline prosecutors were required to
interview their own bosses, the official said.
In similar cases, the Justice Department on its own
initiative had assigned supervision of such cases to outside
officials, the official said.
One recent example was Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. Attorney
in Chicago who acted as special counsel in the investigation of
Cheney aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby in connection with the
leaking of a CIA operative's identity.
Rogers also said the CIA had told lawmakers it could not
respond to their request for information about the spate of
leaks, a development he called "very troubling indeed."
However, Preston Golson, a CIA spokesman, told Reuters:
"There is absolutely no intent by CIA to withhold from our
committees on the leaks issue.
"We all have to be careful not to jeopardize the DOJ
criminal investigation that is running concurrently with the
Congressional inquiry. We share Congress' concern and desire to
get to the bottom of leaks and have every intention of
cooperating fully with both DOJ and Congress."
Official concern over the handling of classified information
and national security has escalated into a presidential
Obama's Justice Department has been criticized by media and
civil liberties advocates for prosecuting low-level leakers. Now
the White House may face accusations of encouraging higher-level
officials to engage in large-scale leaks about programs that
embellish the president's national security credentials.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said recent
suggestions that the White House leaked sensitive information
for political purposes have "no basis in fact."
"The president feels strongly that we must prevent leaks of
classified or sensitive information that could risk ongoing
counter-terrorism or intelligence operations."
Rogers said his committee had materials suggesting U.S.
agencies had been directed to expand the scope of classified
information they gave to the media. "We know in some cases
someone from a segment of the media was present in a classified
setting," he said.
A congressional source said Rogers was apparently referring
to access given by the CIA and the Pentagon to filmmakers
preparing a movie about the commando operation that killed Osama
Chambliss said legislators would talk with FBI director
Robert Mueller to discuss the leaks on Thursday afternoon. He
said the FBI was already conducting a leak investigation.
(Additional reporting by Laura MacInnis. Editing by Warren
Strobel and David Brunnstrom)