DoD News BriefingTuesday, October 31, 2000 1:30 p.m. EST
Presenter: Mr. Kenneth H. Bacon, ASD PA
Q: Has the secretary taken a position on the legislation now pending before the president on disclosure of classified information? And if so, is he making any specific recommendation for a veto or for signing?
Bacon: Well, that's in the defense authorization -- that's -- sorry -- in the intelligence authorization bill, which is not as much in his lane of responsibility as the defense authorization bill.
Q: It attacked officials here.
Bacon: Yes. His general counsel is actively engaged in discussing this issue with the Justice Department and other aspects of the government. I'm not aware that Secretary Cohen himself has taken a view on this. He's certainly aware of the provision, but I'm not aware that he's taken a view.
Q: Are you at odds at all with the secretary on this, with your reportorial background? I mean, the secretary lamented in a speech, a recent speech to CSIS, that one of the worst disappointments he's had as secretary is the leaks of classified information to Washington newspapers. He said he often read memos to him in the paper in the morning before they reached his desk. And you sharply, sharply attacked this. Is there any difference between you two on this?
Bacon: No, but I think that there is a lot of room for confusion on what this provision would mean and what it wouldn't mean. The provision basically says that people who disclose classified information could be liable for criminal penalties. It won't make it any easier to find the people who leak information than it is today. It doesn't do anything to give the government more powers to seek out and find those who leak classified information.
What it does say is that people who reveal classified information, whether wittingly or unwittingly, if they are caught doing that, could be imprisoned and pay a fine of up to $10,000. It has a slightly different standard than the current law does for determining when somebody would violate the law by leaking classified information. It's a somewhat broader standard.
It does not in any way that I can see punish journalists for publishing classified information. In that way, it's no different from current law. It does not speak to the people who publish classified information; it speaks to the people who provide classified information improperly.
Q: So this wouldn't be like the National Secrets Act in Britain or anything like that?
Bacon: Well, I mean, some people in Congress have said that that is what it's like, but it is different, in that my understanding of the National Secrets Act, and my understanding is just based on what I read about it, is that people who publishing classified information can be held liable to prosecution. This does not contain that provision -- in part, because we have a First Amendment in our Constitution.
Q: Speaking of classified information, it was reported in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that low-observable radar stealth technology has been transferred to the Russians. Is the Pentagon aware of that? Any kind of investigation going on that they have a hand in?
Bacon: I am not aware of that, but I'll check into it. I don't know what I can tell you once I check into it, but I'll check into it. [The Department is aware of this matter. It was a joint investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Air Force's Office of Special Investigations. No data obtained in this case indicates that information provided to anyone outside of allowable channels was classified, nor does any data in this case indicate that passed information represents a degradation of the U.S. lead in the area of stealth technology. The Russian Academy of Sciences did have access to and use of U.S. supercomputers for the purpose of running computations using a modeling code that the Russians developed, but at no time did the Russians have access to classified information within the supercomputers. It's important to note that the Russians' use of the supercomputers was not unlawful, as current U.S. laws only cover the export of supercomputer hardware, not the use of the supercomputers themselves. There is no indication in this case that the Russians' use of the supercomputers was detrimental to either the U.S. Air Force or the U.S. government. The case opened in 1997 and closed in 1999.]
Q: Thank you.