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Friday, May 3, 2013

Intelligence Identities Protection Act

Jennifer K. Elsea
Legislative Attorney

Concern that government documents obtained by WikiLeaks and disclosed to several newspapers could reveal the identities of United States intelligence agents or informants focused attention on whether the disclosure or publication of such information could give rise to criminal liability. This report summarizes the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA; P.L. 97-200), enacted by Congress in 1982 to address the unauthorized disclosure of information that exposes covert U.S. intelligence agents. The act, as amended, is codified at 50 U.S.C. Sections 421-426, and provides criminal penalties in certain circumstances for intentional, unauthorized disclosure of information identifying a covert agent, where those making such a disclosure know that the information disclosed identifies the covert agent as such and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal the covert agent’s foreign intelligence relationship to the United States. The act prescribes punishments for disclosing the identities of covert agents with increasing severity according to the level of access to classified information the offender exploited. Offenders without authorized access to classified information are subject to punishment only if they participated in a pattern of activity designed to discover and reveal the identities of covert agents and have reason to believe that such disclosure will harm U.S. intelligence operations.

The act also provides exceptions and defenses to prosecution, makes provision for extraterritorial application for offenders who are U.S. citizens or permanent resident aliens, includes reporting requirements to Congress, and sets forth definitions of the terms used in the act. Prosecutions are rare, despite some high-profile incidents involving the exposure of U.S. intelligence agents. Although some officials have expressed concern that the WikiLeaks disclosures could endanger the lives of persons who provided information to assist U.S. forces in Iraq or Afghanistan or to embassy officials, no prosecutions appear to have occurred related to those disclosures. There was, however, one prosecution brought related to the revelation of the identities of CIA interrogators. The 111
th Congress increased the penalties for violations by persons with access to classified information (P.L. 111-259).

Date of Report: April 10, 2013
Number of Pages: 11
Order Number: RS21636
Price: $29.95

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