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Mr. McCAIN. Madam President, over the past few months there has been a disturbing stream of articles in the media and common among them, they cite elite, classified, or highly sensitive information in what appears to be a broader effort by the administration to paint a portrait of the President of the United States as a strong leader on national security issues--information for which there is no legitimate reason whatsoever to believe should be in the public domain. Indeed, the release of this information in these articles harms our national security and puts in danger the lives of the men and women who are sworn to protect it.
What price did the administration apparently pay to proliferate such a Presidential persona--highly valued in an election year? Access. Access to senior administration officials who appear to have served as anonymous sources divulging extremely sensitive military and intelligence information and operations.
With the leaks that these articles were based on, our enemies now know much more than they did the day before they came out about important aspects of our Nation's unconventional offensive capabilities and how we use them. Such disclosures can only undermine similar ongoing or future operations and, in this sense, compromise our national security. For this reason, regardless of how politically useful these leaks may have been to the President, they have to stop. These leaks have to stop.
The fact that this administration would aggressively pursue leaks perpetrated by a 22-year-old Army private in the Wikileaks matter and former CIA employees in other leaks cases but apparently sanction leaks made by senior administration officials for political purposes is simply unacceptable. It also calls for the need for a special counsel to investigate what happened.
I am also pleased to report that Chairman Carl Levin has agreed, at my request, to hold a hearing on these leaks in the Senate Armed Services Committee. The Senate Armed Services Committee has a responsibility here, and I am grateful that Chairman Levin has agreed to hold a hearing.
In the latest of the recently published articles--published on June 1, 2012, just a few days ago--the New York Times documented in rich detail the President's secret decision to accelerate cyber attacks on Iran's nuclear enrichment facilities with a computer virus that came to be known as Stuxnet. The author of the article, Mr. David Sanger, clearly states that former and current American officials spoke to him but refused to do so on the record because the program is both highly classified and parts of it are ongoing. I repeat, the administration officials discussed a most highly classified operation that is both highly classified and still ongoing, an operation that was clearly one of the most tightly held national security secrets in our country until now. And I might point out to my colleagues that this is all about the Iranian effort to acquire nuclear weapons, which is one of the most difficult national security challenges this Nation faces.
Other recent articles divulged critical and classified information regarding U.S. plans to expand the secret drone campaign against terrorists in Yemen and the Horn of Africa. One of these pieces was a sorry excuse for journalism that the New York Times published on May 29, 2012, which Charles Krauthammer rightly observed should have been entitled ``Barack Obama--Drone Warrior.''
Finally, there was a recent so-called article about the so-called ``kill list''--the highly classified list of counterterrorism targets against whom the President has authorized lethal action--in other words, to kill. It was reported in that article on May 29, 2012, in the New York Times that David Axelrod, the President's chief political adviser--who is running the reelection campaign as we speak--began attending the meetings in which this list was discussed. I repeat, the President's campaign manager was present and attending the meetings where lists of possible people to be eliminated through drone strikes was discussed and decisions were made. The only conceivable motive for such damaging and compromising leaks of classified information is that it makes the President look good.
These are not the only times I have been frustrated about national security-related leaks coming from this administration. The administration similarly helped journalists publish some of the highly sensitive tactics, techniques, and procedures that enabled our special operations forces--including the classified name of the unit involved--to carry out the operation to kill Osama bin Laden last year. It is entirely possible that this flurry of anonymous boasting was responsible for divulging the identity of Dr. Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who assisted us in our search for Osama bin Laden and whose public exposure led to his detention and a 33-year prison sentence in Pakistan. His name was divulged by members of the administration, and he has been basically given a death sentence, a 33-year sentence in prison in Pakistan. Our friends are not the only ones who read the New York Times; our enemies do, too.
Let me be clear. I am fully in favor of transparency in government. I have spent my entire career in Congress furthering that principle. But what separates these sorts of leaks from, say, the whistleblowing that fosters open government or a free press is that these leaks expose no violations of law, abuses of authority, or threats to public health or safety. They are gratuitous and utterly self-serving.
These leaks may inhibit the Nation's ability to employ the same or similar measures in its own defense in the future. How effectively the United States can conduct unmanned drone strikes against belligerents, cyber attacks against Iran's nuclear program, or military operations against terrorists in the future depends on the secrecy with which these programs are conducted. Such activities are classified or enormously sensitive for good reason--in many cases, for reasons related to operational security or diplomacy. Their public disclosure should have no place in how this or any other administration conducts itself.
These are the kinds of operations and intelligence matters no one should discuss publicly, not even the President.
With this in mind, I call on the President to take immediate and decisive action, including the appointment of a special counsel, to aggressively investigate the leak of any classified information on which the recent stories were based and, where appropriate, to prosecute those responsible. A special counsel will be needed because the articles on the U.S. cyber attacks on Iran and expanded plans by the United States to use drones in Yemen were sourced to--and I quote from the articles--``participants in the [cyber-attack] program'' and ``members of the [P]resident's national security team.'' In the cyber attacks article, in particular, the author stated that ``current and former American officials'' spoke to him anonymously about the program because ``the effort remains highly classified and parts of it continue to this day.''
What could be worse?
The suggestion that misconduct occurred within the executive branch is right there in black and white and is why a special counsel is needed.
As part of this investigation, this special counsel should also scrutinize the book from which the New York Times cyber attacks article was adapted, which was just released yesterday, for other improper or illegal disclosures.
Where classified information regarding cyber operations was leaked, the President should assess any damage that those leaks may have caused to national security and how that damage can be mitigated.
In my view, the administration should be taking these leaks, apparently perpetrated by senior administration officials, as seriously as it pursued those made by relatively low government personnel such as the Army private in the WikiLeaks matter or the former CIA employee who provided the New York Times with classified information about U.S. attempts to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program. The failure of the administration to do so would confirm what today is only an inference--that these leaks were, in fact, sanctioned by the administration to serve a pure political purpose.
As I continue to closely monitor developments in this matter, I hope to be proved wrong.
There is a Wall Street Journal article, ``FBI Probes Leaks about Cyberattacks by U.S.'' I am glad the FBI is going to probe that. It says Mr. Sanger, in an appearance on CBS News ``Face the Nation,'' suggested that deliberate White House leaking ``wasn't my experience.''
I spent a year working on the story from the bottom up and then went to the administration and told them what I had. Then they had to make some decisions about how much they wanted to talk about ..... I'm sure the political side of the White House probably likes reading about the President acting with drones and cyber and so forth. National security side has got very mixed emotions about it because these are classified programs.
Mr. Sanger again is authenticating that senior members of the White House and our intelligence community decided to talk to him about classified programs. Their motivation for doing so--perhaps we don't know particularly at this time, but I don't think one could argue that these articles have all conveyed the impression that the President is a very strong warrior in carrying out his responsibilities as Commander in Chief, something I have disputed as far as Iraq, Afghanistan, and other national security issues, which I will discuss on another day.
I don't know how one could draw any conclusion but that senior members of this administration in the national security arena have either leaked or confirmed information of the most highly classified and sensitive nature. Some of these leaks have concerned ongoing operations. Since they were highly classified and sensitive information, that classification was there for a reason--the reason being that if that information was classified, it could harm our national security.
These are very serious actions on their part. They are very serious actions when ongoing operations in the war against terror and the issue of Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons could trigger attacks either by Israel or the United States to prevent such an eventuality. We now find leaks which have exposed, not only to the American people but to the Iranians as well, exactly what American activity is of the most sensitive nature. This is not a proud day for the United States of America.
I ask unanimous consent that following the remarks of Senator Chambliss, he and I be permitted to engage in a colloquy.
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Mr. McCAIN. As my colleague well knows, the leaks are part of the way the environment exists in our Nation's capital, and leaks will always be part of the relationship between media and both elected and appointed officials. I understand that. I think my colleague would agree there have been times where abuses have been uncovered and exposed because of leaks so this information was made public, and we have always applauded that.
There has also continuously been a problem of overclassification of information so government officials don't have to--be it Republican or Democratic administrations--discuss what is going on publicly.
But I have to tell my friend, I do not know a greater challenge that the United States faces in the short term than this entire issue of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. The President of the United States said it would be ``unacceptable.'' We all know the Israelis are going through an agonizing decisionmaking process as to whether they need to attack Iran before they reach ``breakout,'' which means they have enough parts and equipment to assemble a nuclear weapon in a short period of time.
Here we are exposing something that, frankly, I was never told about. I was never informed of Stuxnet, and it is ongoing, at least according to the media reports. So aren't the Iranians going to learn from this? I would ask my colleague, aren't the Iranians going to become more and more aware?
Drone strikes are now one of the leading methods of going after al-Qaida and those radical terrorists who are intent on destroying America. So now al-Qaida and our enemies, both real and others who plan to be, are very aware of the entire decisionmaking process in the White House.
I guess the most disturbing part--and I would ask my friend--it is one thing to have a private, in the WikiLeaks matter, who had access to it, low-level members of certain agencies, one in the CIA who I know was prosecuted, but this is, according to the articles that are written, the highest levels in the White House are confirming this classified information and maybe even volunteering it, for all we know.
But there, obviously, has been a very serious breach of perhaps the two most important challenges we face: the Iranian nuclear process and, of course, the continued presence and efforts of al-Qaida to attack America.
I wonder if my friend from Georgia would agree that these are two of the most challenging national security issues America faces.
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Mr. McCAIN. Could I finally add, the disturbing aspect of this is that one could draw the conclusion, from reading these articles, that it is an attempt to further the President's political ambitions for the sake of his election at the expense of our national security. That is what is disturbing about this entire situation.
I see our friend from Oregon is waiting to illuminate us, so I yield the floor. I thank my friend from Oregon for his patience.
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