The US Department of Justice has already charged four people with “unauthorized disclosure” of classified material and created a new FBI task force to run down leakers. The hunt was endorsed by the Director of National Intelligence.
In the first six months of the Trump administration, the DOJ has received almost as many criminal referrals over leaks as over the past three years combined, Attorney General Jeff Sessions told reporters on Friday. For the first time, he disclosed that four prosecutions are already under way, and more might be coming.
“Simply put, these leaks hurt our country,” Sessions said. “We will not allow rogue anonymous sources with security clearances to sell out our country.”
The DOJ has tripled the number of active leak investigations and created a new counter-intelligence unit within the FBI devoted to hunting leakers. At the suggestion of career investigators and prosecutors, Sessions said the DOJ is exploring the ways to effectively subpoena the media who enable the “culture of leaks.”
“They cannot place lives at risk with impunity,” he said.
While some of the leaks were originating from within the intelligence community, others have come from Congress and the executive branch, said DNI Dan Coats. Those members of the intelligence community who wish to become whistleblowers have official avenues to do so and guarantees they will be protected, he said.
“Any disclosure outside of authorized channels is a criminal offense. And we will simply not tolerate the illegal release of classified information,” said Coats. “If you improperly disclose classified information, we will find you, we will investigate you, we will prosecute you to the full extent of the law, and you will not be happy with the result.”
As part of the effort to crack down on leaks, the intelligence community is reviewing security clearance procedures, and may recommend strengthening them if that is deemed appropriate, Coats added.
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The intelligence community will take steps to identify leakers and refer them to the FBI for criminal investigation, Coats said, as well as take administrative measures to crack down on them internally.
Coats said he expected the DOJ to prosecute the leakers to the full extent of the law, a sentiment echoed by Sessions.