David Ignatius: Good intentions gone awry

BY DAVID IGNATIUS Published: August 3, 2012

The bill suggests extending the polygraph tests now given to intelligence personnel “to additional executive branch personnel.” That's a dubious idea if you're skeptical about polygraphs. And note that Congress isn't included.

The bill includes a “talking head” provision that bans any official or contractor who's had a top security clearance from being a paid media commentator until a year after leaving the government. Nobody could give me an example of what problem this is supposed to solve.

The bill limits media contacts by intelligence agencies to the director or deputy, or a designated public affairs officer. This is a terrible idea, because it would ban analysts with special expertise from giving unclassified briefings to journalists.

The bill would strip away pension benefits from anyone who makes unauthorized disclosures. This provision seems pointless because the CIA and other agencies already have strict contractual systems enforcing nondisclosure by their employees.

The bill mischievously encourages the attorney general to consider changing policies on issuing subpoenas to reporters to compel them to reveal sources of leaks. This is a bad idea — not just for journalists but for the country.

Let's consider, finally, some of the unanticipated consequences this legislation would produce: First, it would reduce useful contacts between journalists and the government about potentially dangerous leaks. Second, it would give foreign sources (who can keep shoveling secrets because they don't live in Feinstein's world) greater leverage over U.S. public opinion.

In other words, the Senate bill would create a counterintelligence problem, while purporting to solve a leak problem. This bill deserves another look.