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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. COATS. Mr. President, I rise today to discuss the issue of national security leaks.

A few weeks ago, the world learned that U.S. intelligence agencies and partners disrupted an al-Qaida plot to blow up a civilian aircraft. We are all very familiar with the success of this effort, and we applaud those involved in preventing a truly horrific terrorist attack.

However, my concern today, and has been since that time, is that the public has become too familiar with this successful operation. Specifically, due to an intelligence leak, the world learned of highly sensitive information, sources, and methods that enabled the United States and its allies to prevent al-Qaida from striking again.

This irresponsible leak jeopardizes future operations and future cooperation with valuable sources and intelligence partners overseas. The release of this information--intentional or not--puts American lives at risk as well as the lives of those who helped us in this operation.

Unfortunately, this is not the only recent leak to occur. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I am deeply concerned about a troubling rash of leaks exposing classified intelligence information that has come out in the last several weeks. This paints a disturbing picture of this administration's judgment when it comes to national security.

There is a questionable collaboration with Hollywood, whereby the Obama administration decided to give unprecedented access to filmmakers producing a movie on the bin Laden raid--including the confidential identity of one of our Nation's most elite warriors. Discussions with reporters in the aftermath of the raid also may have revealed the involvement of a Pakistani doctor, who was sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason after playing a critical role in the hunt for bin Laden.

The pages of our newspapers have highly classified information publicized pertaining to intelligence operations in Yemen and Iran--currently, the two most concerning foreign policy challenges this Nation faces. This is in addition to the frequency with which top administration officials now openly discuss the once highly classified execution of drone strikes. All too frequently we read in these publications that ``highly placed administration officials'' are the source of confirmation of previously classified information.

Sadly, these incidents are not the first time this Nation's secrets have spilled onto the streets or in the book stores. The problem stems in part from the media's insatiable desire for information that makes intelligence operations look a lot like something out of a Hollywood script. This media hunger is fed by inexcusable contributions from current and former government officials.

Mr. President, I want to repeat that last statement. This media hunger to publish classified information comes from the inexcusable contributions of current and former government officials. We now know that investigations by the FBI, CIA, and now two prosecutors are underway, but more must be done to prevent intelligence disclosures from occurring in the first place.

The question of whether the White House purposely leaked classified information, as the President refutes, is not my main point. Whether it was intentional has little bearing on the results. Highly classified information still got out, and it appears to have been enabled by interviews with senior administration officials.

At this time, I take the President at his word that the White House did not purposely leak classified information. But what about his administration leaking it accidentally or what about mistakenly or--and this is perhaps the best adjective that might apply--what about stupidly? There remain a lot of unanswered questions about the White House's judgment and whether the actions by this administration, intentional or not, enabled highly sensitive information to become public.

The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are working together in a nonpartisan fashion--let me emphasize that we are working together in a nonpartisan fashion--to address this issue. As a member of the committee, I am working with my colleagues to evaluate a range of reforms to reduce or hopefully eliminate the opportunity for future leaks. I wish to commend Chairman Feinstein and Vice Chairman Chambliss for their efforts and genuine interest in moving forward with this, and I thank them for their leadership on this matter. Our committee, working across the Capitol with the House Intelligence Committee, will bring forward recommendations, including legislation, to address this growing problem.

As the Department of Justice conducts its investigations, we cannot lose sight of important questions that must be answered, such as but not limited to the following:

Question No. 1: Why did the White House hold a conference call on May 7 with a collection of former national security officials, some of whom are talking heads on network television, to discuss the confidential operation to disrupt the al-Qaida bomb plot?

Question No. 2: Why is the White House cooperating so candidly with Hollywood filmmakers on a movie about the Osama bin Laden raid, one of the most highly secretive operations in the history of this country? While we don't know the date of the public release of this Hollywood production, we can be sure that any release prior to the November Presidential election will fuel a firestorm of accusations of political motives.

Question No. 3: Why would the confidential identity of elite U.S. military personnel be released to Hollywood filmmakers?

Question No. 4: Why would administration officials even talk to reporters or authors writing books or articles about incredibly sensitive operations?

Question No. 5: Did any administration officials--in the White House or not--authorize the disclosure of classified information?

These are just some of the key questions that must be asked in this investigation. There also remain several questions surrounding the current investigations. The appointment of two prosecutors to lead criminal investigations into the recent leaks is a step forward, but the scope remains unclear, as well as the question of whether we should insist on a special counsel given the current concerns about the credibility of the Justice Department.

Will these investigations focus just on the Yemen and Iran issue or will the leaks involving drone strikes and other leaks that have occurred in the past months also be a target of the investigation?

Will White House officials be interviewed as part of this investigation? Which officials will or will not be available to take part in the investigation? Will those who are former or no longer a part of the administration or the Federal Government or those outside it, including those reporters in question, be a part of this investigation?

Will e-mails or phone calls of administration officials be analyzed to identify who spoke with the reporters and authors in question and when?

Again, whether these officials are intentionally leaking classified information is not the main point. If they put themselves in situations where they are discussing or confirming classified information, they must also be held accountable. Public pressure is required to shape these investigations and to ensure all our questions about these events are answered, which is why I am speaking here today.

Every day, we have men and women in uniform serving around the globe to protect and defend this great country, and every day we have intelligence professionals and national security officers working behind the scenes with allies and potential informants to prevent attacks on our country. These leaks undermine all that hard work and all those countless sacrifices. Additionally, it risks lives and the success of future operations. Not only must we plug these damaging and irresponsible leaks, we also must work to do all we can to eliminate or greatly reduce the opportunity for them to occur in the future.

Criminal prosecution and congressional action is not the only solution. We also need public accountability. Administration officials continue to speak off the record with reporters and authors about classified information even after these recent disclosures. It is a practice that contributes to unwise and harmful consequences.

Purposely or accidentally, loose lips can bring about disastrous results. Perhaps the best advice is the saying: ``You don't have to explain what you don't say'' or maybe it is even simpler than that. Maybe the best advice for those who are privy to confidential information is what former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, and I paraphrase: Just shut the heck up.

I yield the floor.


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