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Mr. WICKER. Mr. President, I rise today to express my serious concern about a matter of national security. It is a matter that is increasingly more visible with the American people. It is a matter that they are more and more concerned about as they hear more. It is an issue that is not going away until it is properly investigated by the executive branch of this government. That, of course, is the recent news publications that discussed details of counterterrorism plans, programs, and operations of our government. These publications refer to specific counterterrorism military and intelligence activities that are among the most classified and highly sensitive national security operations involving our military and our intelligence community. The leaks of this information constitute a grave breach of our vital national security interests.
The President, in his press conference last Friday, attempted to distance his administration from these damaging leaks, stating, ``The notion that my White House would purposefully release classified national security information is offensive.''
The matter is certainly offensive and needs to be fully investigated.
I must point out that the President did not explicitly deny that members of his administration were responsible for leaking classified or sensitive information to the media. As a matter of fact, so many of the news reports, quite frankly, point to members of this administration for these damaging and criminal leaks.
Any mishandling of classified material must be taken with the utmost seriousness. The authors of these publications cite unnamed senior administration officials and Presidential aides as their sources. We need to know the names of these senior administration officials, we need to know the names of these Presidential aides, and we need to know, quite frankly, if they were engaged in criminal breaches of our espionage and intelligence statutes.
Our men and women in the military and our intelligence community officials work under extremely difficult conditions. These leaks have put their lives in danger. These leaks have put their methods and their ongoing operations at risk. They need to stop, and they need to be investigated.
All individuals privy to the White House discussions regarding counterterrorism and intelligence operations hold security clearances at the very highest levels. Before being granted access to these classified items of information, individuals must undergo a thorough background investigation and receive extensive security training regarding proper procedures for handling classified materials. They are trained as to what they can say and what they ought not to say. They are trained as to what the law requires and what the law prohibits. It is clear that any potential leak of classified material was not an accidental slip of the tongue but a deliberate and brazen violation of Federal law, and we need to get to the bottom of this.
I will also add that we are not talking about an isolated instance of a leak. As the chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Senator Dianne Feinstein, rightly observed last Wednesday, we are talking about what she described as an ``avalanche'' of leaks--an avalanche of leaks--on national security matters that have, in her words, put our Nation's security in jeopardy, to quote the chair of the Intelligence Committee.
Quoting from the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Senator John Kerry:
A number of those leaks, and others in the last months about drone activities and other activities, are frankly all against national-security interests.
He goes on to say:
I think they're dangerous, damaging, and whoever is doing that is not acting in the interest of the United States of America.
Yet, news reports say these reports come from senior administration officials. We need to find out who these administration officials are.
Then, further to quote Senator Feinstein, whom I began quoting earlier:
When people say they don't want to work with the United States because they can't trust us to keep a secret, that's serious. When allies become concerned when an asset's life is in jeopardy or the asset's family's life is in jeopardy, that's a problem. The point of intelligence is to be able to know what might happen to protect this country.
I could go on and on.
I have joined 10 of my colleagues in cosponsoring a Senate resolution that urges the U.S. Attorney General, Eric Holder, to appoint an independent special counsel to investigate classified information leaks by the administration. Yet instead of a special counsel, the Attorney General has merely appointed two Justice Department attorneys to investigate the leaks, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald Machen, and his counterpart in Maryland, Rod Rosenstein.
Although I have no question about their abilities, the appointment of these two Obama administration officials is unacceptable and raises questions as to their independence. A truly independent investigation would almost certainly reveal any breaches of the criminal law concerning classified information essential to national security. A truly independent counsel would have his or her own prosecutorial discretion. If the administration leaks such information, the public has a right to know and the public has a right to be outraged. The lives of Americans and our friends have already been put at risk. The Obama administration cannot be expected to pursue a complete self-investigation of allegations of this magnitude. In the midst of an election, they simply cannot be asked to do this, especially when those responsible could well be members of the administration themselves.
Attorney General Holder is a principal on the President's national security team. Members of this team may very well have been the sources of these leaks--members of the Attorney General's team. I wish to ask this: Does the administration want the truth in this or is the administration simply looking for cover? What is it about an independent special counsel that frightens this administration? Is it the truth this administration is afraid of? Are Americans more likely to get the truth from a truly independent counsel or from U.S. attorneys who will still report directly to the Attorney General?
The administration's concern about special counsels is understandable. If an independent counsel investigation reveals proof of leaks for political gain, it will not be pretty and will not sit well with the American people.
This Sunday marks the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. It started small, but as more and more people began to ask questions and as more and more people began to demand a true investigation, the truth finally was revealed and it brought down a Presidency. Early on in Watergate, a member of my political party, a member of President Nixon's political party, a former nominee for President, Barry Goldwater, came forward to the American people and said: Let's get the truth out. No more coverups. Let's get rid of the stink and let's find out what was going on.
Members of my party should have heeded the words of Barry Goldwater at that moment and perhaps the scandal could have been brought to light and people involved in the subsequent coverup would not have been asked to do so. Barry Goldwater was right.
Members of both political parties would be well advised to ask this administration to come forward, appoint a truly independent counsel to have a truly independent investigation of these breaches of national security. What I am talking about is evidence of criminal disclosures of national intelligence secrets, disclosures that have damaged our national security and continue to damage our national security. This issue is not going away. I urge the Attorney General, I urge my President, to ensure confidence in government, to appoint a special counsel to investigate and hold accountable anyone responsible for these flagrant violations of our national security.
I yield the floor.
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