Panetta warns CIA employees against bin Laden leaks

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta warned agency employees not to reveal secrets about the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound earlier this month, saying in a memo sent to employees Wednesday that disclosures could jeopardize future operations.

“The intense public and media interest in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden has led to an unprecedented amount of very sensitive — in fact, classified — information making its way into the press,” Panetta said, according to a copy of the memo obtained Thursday by The Washington Post.

Panetta’s message is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to clamp down on disclosures surrounding the raid, as well as months of sensitive intelligence-gathering efforts that preceded it.

Senior Defense Department officials had conveyed a similar message in a news briefing Wednesday at the Pentagon. “We have talked far too much about this,” said Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We need to move on.”

The CIA played a lead role in monitoring the compound in Pakistan where bin Laden was killed, using spotters based at a nearby safe house as well as new stealth drones deployed overhead.

Bin Laden was killed by a team of U.S. Navy SEALs during a helicopter raid that capped a decade-long pursuit.

The final months of that manhunt were shrouded in a remarkable level of secrecy. The CIA had discovered the compound in August. But news that bin Laden had finally been located was kept from the public — and from officials in Pakistan — until well after U.S. officials had confirmed the al-Qaeda leader’s death.

Details began to emerge, however, almost immediately after President Obama’s late-night television address. Much of the information came during sanctioned briefings and media appearances by Panetta and other administration officials.

Officials sought to stem that flow after aspects of their early accounts proved incorrect — including the assertion that bin Laden had hidden behind his wife — and after further revelations in the media.

In his note, Panetta warned that the agency will investigate leaks and that, “when warranted, referrals will be made to the Dept. of Justice.” He also said CIA employees “have every reason to be proud of the bin Laden operation.” Obama is scheduled to appear at CIA headquarters Friday to congratulate employees on the operation.

Greg Miller covers the intelligence beat for The Washington Post.
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