‘Antileak’ law overly broad, limits access

A bill currently awaiting the president’s approval or veto could greatly limit the press’ access to inside information, severely diminishing the third estate’s ability to act as a government watchdog. Written into the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2001 and dubbed the “antileak” law, the proposed legislation is far too broad to only deter government officials from leaking classified information to foreign nations, the task it was ostensibly designed to assume. Instead, the law would prevent the public from gaining access to information essential to its ability to govern itself appropriately. The president, who has until tomorrow to make a decision, should veto the bill.
As a result of what Republican Rep. Porter J. Goss calls a “waterfall” of leaks in recent years, the Central Intelligence Agency requested the “antileak” law be written into the Intelligence Authorization Act by the Senate Intelligence Committee. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno says the legislation — which would make disclosing classified secrets punishable by as many as three years in prison — will only fill a “very narrow gap” not currently covered by other laws that regulate the unauthorized disclosure of classified data. Her boss, President Bill Clinton, however, appears to disagree with her assessment and stands good chance of sending the entire act back to Congress due to its overly broad coverage.
Contrary to what many government officials seem to believe, democracy works best when government is transparent and its citizens have as much access as possible. As many daring officials at the highest level of government already risk their jobs or at least severe censure for leaking invaluable information to reporters, the additional threat of three years behind bars would only add more barriers to the difficult task of finding reliable and reputable sources.
But to an official willing to offer classified information to foreign agents, three years is a puny penalty easily outweighed by the likely compensation such a service would provide.
Numerous large news companies and organizations have criticized the “antileak” bill, and several, such as the American Society of Newspaper Editors, have sent letters to the President requesting his veto. Representatives from others, among them The New York Times and The Washington Post, have been urging the White House to veto the legislation.
Though Goss, a former intelligence officer moderately supporting the bill, called the provision too broad and said it should have more clearly distinguished between “the most egregious cases, where there is serious damage to national security,” and what he called “dinner-table slips.”
Although eliminating leaks to foreign governments is a worthy aim, this bill seem to be more directed toward journalists’ access. In its current form, the “antileak” must be eliminated from the intelligence agency appropriations. The president should veto this dangerous piece of legislation.