By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
U.S. intelligence officials will investigate allegations that the government improperly leaked a secretly obtained Osama bin Laden video, alerting al-Qaeda to a security gap in the terrorist group's internal communications network that it was able to shut, an intelligence spokesman said yesterday.
Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the director of national intelligence, said officials are looking into the leak allegation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which passed the video on to the White House and the director of national intelligence's office before its leak.
"At this point, we don't think there was a leak from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence or the National Counterterrorism Center," Feinstein said.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino, responding to a description of the leak in yesterday's editions of The Washington Post, told reporters that "this was a cause of concern that the information was leaked. And I would have to refer to the DNI's office in regards to any possible investigation into that leak."
Frances Fragos Townsend, the White House homeland security adviser, expressed concern about the leak in a news conference, saying the government needs the cooperation of private individuals and companies in stopping terrorist groups.
SITE is one of several small, commercial intelligence firms that specialize in intercepting al-Qaeda's internet communications, often by clandestine means. SITE founder Rita Katz told The Post that her company covertly obtained an early copy of a bin Laden video message in early September, then shared the video with senior administration officials on Sept. 7 on the condition that it not be distributed or made public before its official release.
Soon afterward, the video was downloaded by dozens of computers registered to government agencies. Within hours, SITE's copy of the video was leaked to television news networks and broadcast worldwide.
SITE provides copies of videos and other al-Qaeda material to subscribers, which include intelligence agencies, private companies and news organizations. SITE has acknowledged alerting clients that it had obtained the bin Laden video and would release it when safe to do so. During this period, SITE also negotiated with at least two television networks that were interested in obtaining the video once cleared for release, but it reached no deal before the video was leaked.