Lawmakers ask probe of prison leak

Top congressional Republicans seek source of article on CIA's secret facilities abroad


WASHINGTON -- With pressure mounting on the Bush administration over its detainee policies, Republican House and Senate leaders are asking for an investigation into who leaked information to The Washington Post about secret CIA prisons abroad.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist of Tennessee and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois requested that the Senate and House intelligence committees "immediately initiate a joint investigation into the possible release of classified information to the media" about the existence of the prisons.

"As you know, if accurate, such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences," they said in a letter to Rep. Peter Hoekstra, a Michigan Republican who is chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Responding to reports of the leaders' request for an investigation, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the matter "ought to be taken seriously. This is a congressional prerogative, and it was a decision that was made by those leaders."

On Nov. 2, The Post reported on the existence of a network of clandestine prisons, some in Eastern Europe, where the CIA is holding suspected terrorists. The administration has not confirmed or denied the report, which intensified the debate on Capitol Hill about the administration's detainee policies.

A U.S. official said last night that the CIA had filed a report with the Department of Justice indicating that The Post's article might have included classified information.

Such referrals often prompt leak investigations by the Justice Department, but few lead to criminal charges. The recent indictment of former senior White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was a rare exception. And even in that instance, Libby was charged with perjury, making false statements and obstruction of justice, not the release of classified information in the leak of a covert CIA employee's name.

Democratic congressional leaders welcomed the call for an investigation but said it should be broader than the possible leak of classified information.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, condemned leaking as unacceptable, but added: "While Republicans have been quick to call for an investigation of this matter, they have repeatedly and regularly resisted any real oversight of this administration's flawed policies."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said that "if Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Frist are finally ready to join Democrats' demands for an investigation of possible abuses of classified information, they must direct the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to investigate all aspects of that issue."

At least one Senate Republican agreed. Asked whether he believed there should be a probe of the existence of the prisons, or of the leak of classified information about them, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former military lawyer, rolled his eyes and replied: "How about both?

"I'd like to know why we've got secret prisons and what oversight precautions we have."

He said it was "imperative we regain the moral high ground - and having secret prisons come out in The Washington Post is not a good way to regain it."

Another Republican, Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, said senators from his party might have provided information to The Post. Lott told reporters that the existence of the secret prison system was discussed last week during the Republican policy luncheon, attended by Vice President Dick Cheney and held on Capitol Hill the day before the Post published its report.

Mary Curtius writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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