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Frist: Prison leak threatens national security

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he is more concerned about the leak of information regarding secret CIA prisons in Europe than activity in the detention centers themselves.
Senate Holds Rare Closed Door Session
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., seen here on Nov. 1, said he is more concerned with the leak of classified information than with the allegations of illegal prison activity.Mark Wilson / Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says he is more concerned about the leak of information regarding secret CIA detention centers than activity in the prisons themselves.

Frist told reporters Thursday that while he believed illegal activity should not take place at detention centers, he believes the leak itself poses a greater threat to national security and is “not concerned about what goes on” behind the prison walls.

“My concern is with leaks of information that jeopardize your safety and security — period,” Frist said. “That is a legitimate concern.”

He noted that the CIA has also called for a federal criminal investigation into the leak of possibly classified information on secret prisons to The Washington Post. A Nov. 2 Post article touched on a number of sensitive national security issues, including the existence of secret CIA detention centers for suspected terrorists in Eastern European democracies. The Bush administration has neither confirmed nor denied that report.

Frist was asked if that meant he was not concerned about investigating what goes on in detention centers.

“I am not concerned about what goes on, and I’m not going to comment about the nature of that,” Frist replied.

He added that as Senate majority leader he is privy to classified information and discussions about prison activity. “I’m going to make sure that everything that’s done is consistent with the Constitution ... and the laws of the United States of America,” he said.

Allegations of al-Qaida captives in Europe
The Post’s story said the CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al-Qaida captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, part of a covert prison system set up by the agency four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries. Those countries, the Post said, include several democracies.

Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., wrote the leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees earlier this week calling for a joint congressional investigation into the leak.

“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 letter said, referring to the leak.

In response, the House Intelligence Committee agreed to look into the possible leak of classified information, but said Thursday it will not restart a 2003 inquiry into prewar intelligence on Iraq, responding to recent Democratic calls for intelligence-related reviews  on Capitol Hill.

The House committee began an inquiry in June 2003 and produced interim findings in September of that year in a letter to then-CIA Director George Tenet. The committee, chaired then by the current CIA Director Porter Goss, said the United States went to war in Iraq on the basis of outdated and vague intelligence.