Intel boss decries news leaks

Recent media exposure of secret U.S. intelligence programs has made it harder for the Bush administration to collaborate with private businesses in combating terrorism, intelligence chief John Negroponte said on Monday.

In remarks to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the national intelligence director assured business executives that the government would protect the anonymity of companies which help in initiatives against al Qaeda and other threats.

“This vital collaboration … has been made more difficult by a series of leaks that have revealed very sensitive national security programs,” Negroponte said.

“Let me say to you in no uncertain terms that these revelations undermine the security of our nation. They significantly complicate the ability of the United States government to cooperate quietly with patriotic and concerned businesses.”

Negroponte cited no specific intelligence programs. But the Bush administration has been angered in recent months by the disclosure of two sensitive initiatives: the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program and the Treasury Department’s tracking of private banking records.

The NSA program, which monitors international phone calls and e-mail without court warrants, has raised concerns about the role played by U.S. telecommunications firms.

USA Today has reported that the NSA compiled a massive domestic calls record database with information supplied by AT&T Inc. MCI, Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp.

The story provoked class-action lawsuits alleging the government and phone companies had violated privacy rights.

Verizon and BellSouth denied turning over data to the NSA program, and USA Today said last month that it could no longer state with certainty that either company was involved.

The Treasury’s tracking of terrorism financing has focused on bank records from a Belgian cooperative known as SWIFT, or Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, a nerve center of global banking.

“Rest assured that the intelligence community will work to protect the confidentiality with its arrangements so that we and those who would help us can continue to protect our nation, our citizens and our way of life,” Negroponte said.

© Reuters 2006