WASHINGTON: U.S. President Barack Obama said on Friday he was offended by allegations that his White House had leaked classified national security information to embellish his record as he seeks re-election in November.
At a news conference, Obama said he had zero tolerance for such leaks and would root out those responsible for the recent revelations, because "in some cases it's criminal - these are criminal acts when they release information like this."
On Capitol Hill, a lawmaker said there were indications a high-level individual w as involved in the media disclosures, which have included reports on U.S. cyber warfare against Iran, procedures for targeting militants with drones, and the existence of a double agent who penetrated a militant group in Yemen.
"Someone from a very senior clearance level has provided information, that's very clear in the preliminary review," Representative Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House of Representatives intelligence committee, told Reuters.
Rogers did not speculate on who this might be. The top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, said s e parately that he did not believe anyone had been targeted in early investigations into the leaks.
U.S. lawmakers from both political parties are upset over the recent publication of sensitive information and are planning legislation to toughen penalties for leakers. The FBI has opened investigations into some of the recent reports about sensitive national security matters.
The issue has spilled into the presidential campaign, with some Republicans charging the leaks appear calculated to boost the Democratic president's re-election prospects.
Obama rejected that idea out of hand on Friday, saying his administration did not "play" with security issues.
"The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive. It's wrong, and people I think need to have a better sense of how I approach this office," he told reporters.
"Since I've been in office my attitude has been zero tolerance for these kinds of leaks and speculation," he added.
"Now, we have mechanisms in place where if we can root out folks who have leaked, they will suffer consequences. In some cases, it's criminal -- these are criminal acts when they release information like this," the president said. "And we will conduct thorough investigations, as we have in the past."
Obama's Justice Department has been criticized by media and civil liberties advocates for prosecuting low-level leakers.
But Senator John McCain, the Republican who lost the presidency to Obama in 2008, has accused the administration of apparently sanctioning leaks by senior administration officials for political purposes.
Ruppersberger said on Friday there could be authorized releases of information by the president or his top advisers.
"The president can declassify issues, the National Security Council can declassify issues. Sometimes you want to declassify because it's important for your investigation, or its important to send messages," Ruppersberger told Reuters. "This is part of what we need to look at."
Democrats have not joined Republican calls for a special counsel to look into the release of sensitive information. Ruppersberger said one reason a special prosecutor might be sought would be if there was "pushback" from the administration when investigators ask for documents and information.
"But from what I understand now, the administration has said they will fully cooperate," Ruppersberger said.