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CONGRESS TO CONDUCT HEARINGS ON ESPIONAGE ISSUES
Congress plans to scrutinize Plame-related issues
By David MorganMon Jul 25, 4:38 PM ET
Congress will conduct a series of hearings on national security and espionage issues raised by the CIA-leak controversy surrounding senior Bush adviser Karl Rove, officials said on Monday.
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence plans hearings on potential national security threats posed by leaks, including leaks to the media, and will aim to toughen legislation barring the unauthorized disclosure of classified information.
"It's time there's a comprehensive law that will make it easier for the government to prosecute wrongdoers and increase the penalties that hopefully will act as a deterrent," said Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the panel's Republican chairman.
Media leaks and the covert status of espionage officials have become politically charged issues with the controversy over Valerie Plame, whose identity as a CIA agent was leaked in 2003 after her diplomat husband Joseph Wilson accused the White House of exaggerating intelligence to justify the Iraq war.
A Time magazine reporter said he learned about Plame's identity from Rove, deputy White House chief of staff and chief architect of President Bush's re-election. Time reporter Matthew Cooper also said he discussed Plame and Wilson with Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.
It can be illegal for a government official to knowingly disclose the identity of a covert CIA operative.
Democrats, who have urged Bush to fire Rove or revoke his classified clearance, stepped up political pressure on Republicans on Monday by calling for a formal congressional investigation of the Plame leak.
"The United States Congress has a constitutional responsibility to provide oversight of the executive branch, whether a law has been broken or not," the 26 senators said in a letter.
Speaking earlier at a forum hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation, Hoekstra said his committee would begin hearings as early as September that would include testimony from CIA, Pentagon and Justice Department witnesses.
He said he would also hope to invite witnesses representing the news media.
Intelligence officials have long complained that leaks to the media have damaged U.S. spy operations, including efforts to track al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Hoekstra described current laws governing unauthorized disclosure as a limited "patchwork" of statutes. Past attempts to craft more comprehensive measures have ended in failure. But Hoekstra said concerns fostered by bombings in Madrid, London and Egypt have created a more favorable political climate.
"I don't have any legislation yet," Hoekstra said. "That's what we have the hearing process for, to design and determine exactly what legislation might look like."
Meanwhile, Hoekstra's counterpart in the Senate, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts (news, bio, voting record) of Kansas, intends to preside over hearings on the intelligence community's use of covert protections for CIA agents and others involved in secret activities.
The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence could hold hearings on the use of espionage cover soon after the U.S. Congress returns from its August recess, said Roberts spokeswoman Sarah Little.
Little said the Senate committee would also review the probe of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who has been investigating the Plame case for nearly two years.
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