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Grand jury probes data leaks, subpoenas ex-NSA officer

WASHINGTON -- A federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va., is investigating unauthorized leaks of classified information, and has issued a subpoena to a fired National Security Agency officer who has acknowledged talking with journalists about the agency's warrantless surveillance program.

The 23-member grand jury is ``conducting an investigation of possible violations of federal criminal laws involving unauthorized disclosure of classified information" under the Espionage Act and other statutes, according to a document accompanying the subpoena.

The demand for testimony from former NSA officer Russell Tice provides a sign of the Justice Department's aggressiveness in pursuing the leak investigation, which follows a series of controversial media reports on classified programs. It also marks the latest potential use of the espionage statute to combat such leaks.

In December, Justice opened a criminal investigation after The New York Times disclosed the existence of the eavesdropping program, which allows the NSA to monitor telephone calls to and from the United States without a court order if one party is linked to or suspected of links to terrorist groups.

The documents released Friday do not make clear whether the grand jury is focused on that report or some other disclosure.

Tice has publicly identified himself as a possible source for the story, saying that he talked to Times reporters before it was published. He also has said he believes he was fired by the NSA last year because he complained of possible Chinese espionage at the agency, and has since sought to testify before Congress about ``probable unlawful and unconstitutional acts" by the NSA director and other senior administration officials.

Tice said in an interview that he viewed the subpoena as an attempt at intimidation by the government. ``This is the king saying, `How dare anyone challenge my authority and say that I'm a crook or a criminal?' " he said.

The subpoena, dated July 25, requires Tice to appear before the federal grand jury on Wednesday . It was posted Friday on the website of the National Security Whistleblowers Coalition. Tice is a member of the group.

New York Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis said the newspaper has ``not been contacted by the government" in the case. A Justice spokesman declined to comment.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has said that while prosecutors are focused on the ``leakers," he cannot rule out the need to demand testimony from reporters as well. A grand jury investigation into the leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson's identity resulted in the jailing last year of Judith Miller, who was a reporter for The New York Times, along with testimony from her and other journalists .

Journalism and secrecy specialists said the Alexandria inquiry is another worrisome development for reporters attempting to inform the public about intelligence programs and policies.

``They are playing hardball," said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

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