House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., called the recent slew of national-security leaks “probably the most damaging” in this country’s history, warning that people’s lives are in danger and families have already had to be relocated as a result of the public speculation about highly classified operational activities.
Rogers's stark assessment, in an interview with National Journal, reflects some of the first tangible signs of operational fallout from the explosive leaks to the media, which have so far sparked accusations that Obama administration officials released the information for political gain ahead of an election.
The New York Times recently reported that President Obama attempted to derail Iran’s nuclear program by secretly ordering cyberattacks on computer systems that run its enrichment facilities, a mission that relied on spies -- and unsuspecting accomplices -- with access to the Natanz plant. An Associated Press report said that al-Qaida's Yemen branch planned to send a suicide bomber to explode a U.S.-bound plane; later, it was revealed that an agent working for Saudi Arabia managed to infiltrate the terrorist network and smuggle the bomb out of Yemen. Other media reports have detailed the president’s secret drone campaign and an apparent “kill list” of counterterrorism targets.
Some articles within this “parade” of leaks, Rogers said late last week, “included at least the speculation of human source networks that now -- just out of good counterintelligence activities -- they’ll believe is real, even if its not real. It causes huge problems.”
“ … Somebody’s going to lose their life. We're going to have operations that will cease. We'll have lost opportunities. All those things are going to happen.”
Rogers, who would not confirm any specific reports, said that mere speculation about a U.S. cyberattack against Iran has enabled bad actors. The attack would apparently be the first time the U.S. used cyberweapons in a sustained effort to damage another country’s infrastructure. Other nations, or even terrorists or hackers, might now believe they have justification for their own cyberattacks, Rogers said.
This could have devastating effects, Rogers warned. For instance, he said, a cyberattack could unintentionally spread beyond its intended target and get out of control because the Web is so interconnected. “It is very difficult to contain your attack," he said. "It takes on a very high degree of sophistication to reach out and touch one thing.... That’s why this stuff is so concerning to me.”
Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., told reporters last week that the Justice Department has summoned hundreds of officials for interviews in its investigation of the national-security leaks. Two U.S. attorneys have been appointed to probe the leaks, and 31 Republican senators wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling for an independent counsel to investigate.
The Justice Department hasn't made public which leaks are under investigation, but Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told reporters that he believes the leak investigation only spans the cyberattack and the underwear bomb plot. "[The leaking problem] is far deeper than just the two of them.... The investigation doesn't cover the entire subject matter," Graham, who is also calling for an independent counsel, said last week.
Graham called for the probe to be expansive and include possible leaks associated with the covert U.S. raid to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, which revealed the cooperation of the Pakistani doctor who helped the CIA track down the late al-Qaida leader and was later sentenced to 33 years in prison for his efforts. Graham also referred to the recent disclosure of alleged secret drone bases in the Horn of Africa. "Why should that be in the paper?" he asked.