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Administration Split on Media Bill

Updated:
WASHINGTON (AP) — Administration officials are divided on Senate legislation to make disclosing classified information to the news media a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, officials said Wednesday.

Attorney General Janet Reno will oppose the legislation at Wednesday's closed-door Senate Intelligence Committee session, Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin said. CIA Director George Tenet will testify in favor of the measure, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

``We want to do all we can to prevent leaks, but we don't support the legislation in its current form,'' Marlin said. ``But we're always willing to work with Congress to see if a clarification of current or existing laws are needed.''

The provision is contained in a bill authorizing intelligence programs for the next fiscal year. It was approved by the panel in April and is expected to see action on the Senate floor later this month.

The provision would give the Justice Department authority to protect all classified information from unauthorized disclosure.

Existing laws make prosecutions difficult and don't encompass all kinds of classified material, sponsors suggested. Currently, prosecutors must show they leaked on behalf of a foreign power or divulged ``national defense'' information.

The fine would be up to $10,000 and three years imprisonment, according to an unclassified report on the legislation put out by the intelligence panel, chaired by Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

That report says the section ``closes the gap in existing law.''

First Amendment groups and Reno have opposed the bill, saying criminal prosecutions are not necessarily the best way to stop leaks.

But Tenet, the CIA director, will support the legislation at Wednesday's session, said an intelligence official who spoke only on the condition on anonymity.

Tenet ``has emphasized the seriousness of this problem on numerous occasions and recognizes we must find more effective ways to identify and punish individuals who leak classified information,'' the official said.

The testimony is after the fact, since the panel has already approved the measure.

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The bill is S 2507
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