G.O.P. Leaders Seek Inquiry on Leaks of Government Secrets

By DAVID STOUT

New York Times

November 9, 2005

WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 - A newspaper report that the Central Intelligence Agency had set up secret American prisons in Europe for the interrogation of terrorism suspects drew calls today for investigations into who leaked that information.

The C.I.A. itself asked the Justice Department to look into the matter, according to government officials familiar with the unfolding episode. And on Capitol Hill, Republican Congressional leaders called for lawmakers to investigate the affair.

Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Senate majority leader, and Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois wrote in a letter to intelligence committee chairmen that leaking such information "could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences" for the security of the United States.

The letter, to Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, and his House counterpart, Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, both Republicans, complained that the leaking of classified information by government employees appeared to have increased, "establishing a dangerous trend that, if not addressed swiftly and firmly, likely will worsen."

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that the Central Intelligence Agency had set up prisons in eight countries for the purpose of questioning suspected terrorists. Without directly confirming the existence of the prisons, President Bush has strongly defended his administration's approach to fighting terrorism.

"I'm confident that when people see the facts, that they'll recognize that we've got more work to do," the president said on Monday in Panama City, "and that we must protect ourselves in a way that is lawful."

The Frist-Hastert letter, first reported this afternoon by The Associated Press, said the Senate and House intelligence committees should try to find out who leaked the information, and under what authority. Among the questions that must be answered, the letter said, is "What is the actual and potential damage done to the national security of the United States and our partners in the global war on terror?"

The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said this afternoon that he had just learned about the letter. Asked if President Bush would approve of a Congressional inquiry, he replied, "I think that you've heard him express his views: the leaking of classified information is a serious matter and ought to be taken seriously."

"This is a Congressional prerogative, and it was a decision that was made by those leaders," said Mr. McClellan, who held a news briefing several hours before it became known that the C.I.A. had asked the Justice Department to investigate the leak.

The Washington Post said the C.I.A. has been hiding and questioning suspected Al Qaeda terrorists in a prison network it set up in Eastern Europe. The report produced sharp criticism of the United States.

Human Rights Watch expressed disappointment over the call for a Congressional inquiry. "It's sad that the Republican Congressional leadership wants to focus not on the C.I.A.'s maintenance of secret facilities, where detainees are held without charge or trial and are highly vulnerable to torture and abuse, but on those who discovered this blatant illegality," said Kenneth Roth, the organization's executive director.

Controversy over the overseas prison network coincides with a debate on Capitol Hill over a measure, sponsored by Senator John S. McCain, Republican of Arizona, that would prohibit cruel and degrading treatment of terrorism suspects.

The administration has complained that the bill is unwise and unnecessary because, as Mr. Bush put it in Panama City, "We do not torture."