WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The top U.S. intelligence official on Monday ordered that a new question be added to federal employee lie-detector tests to help uncover any leaks of secret information to the media. In true spy-agency form, the wording of the question was not made public.
Director of National Intelligence James Clapper announced he was mandating a question related to “unauthorized disclosure of classified information” be added to the counterintelligence polygraph given to employees at agencies including the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Energy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency and others.
“It is my sincere hope that others across the government will follow our lead,” Clapper said in a statement.
The CIA has been the only intelligence agency that asks about unauthorized disclosures of classified information on its basic polygraph given to employees, but the question does not specifically ask about the recipient of the leak, an intelligence official said on condition of anonymity.
“The question that the CIA uses is going to be adjusted to speak specifically to members of the press, members of the media, and that question is going to be expanded to the counterintelligence polygraph programs across the intelligence community,” the official said.
Intelligence agency employees take that lie-detector test when they first join and when they renew their security clearance every seven years.
The change will allow the new question to be used at any time to determine whether an employee had disclosed secret information to the media, the official said.
The wording of the question? “The specific language is not something that we talk about,” he said.
In addition to the “counterintelligence polygraph,” spy agency employees who have access to the most sensitive material are required to take a much more thorough lie-detector test often referred to as the “lifestyles polygraph.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has appointed two federal prosecutors to investigate suspected leaks of classified information. Republicans, who want White House officials investigated, had demanded an outside special counsel.
The investigations will examine the origins of media reports about the foiling of a plot by Yemen-based al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to attack an airliner using a newly designed underwear bomb and alleged cyber activities against Iran.
Clapper’s office is conducting a separate internal review within the intelligence agencies to determine if any leaks occurred.
Another step taken by Clapper on Monday would have the Intelligence Community Inspector General lead independent investigations of selected “unauthorized disclosure cases” when the Justice Department declines to prosecute, possibly for fear that classified information would be publicly aired.
That would allow Clapper to take administrative action against any leak offenders, including letters of reprimand or suspension of security clearance.
The congressional intelligence committees are developing legislation aimed at stopping leaks of classified information.
“We’re trying to break this culture,” House intelligence committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican, said. “We are going to have a bill, we are working on the final details.”
He told Reuters that leaks have created problems for the United States in getting intelligence cooperation from allies. “There are instances where cooperation has been lost,” he said without being more specific.
“People vastly underestimate how much damage has been done in the last probably 12 months. This may be the most serious national security leaks over a period of time that I’ve seen in the history of the country,” Rogers said.
Editing by Philip Barbara