ABC News' Luis Martinez reports: CIA Director Leon Panetta sent a message Wednesday to CIA employees cautioning that there should be no more leaks about the bin Laden raid and how it was conducted.
In the message, obtained by ABC News, Panetta acknowledges that it’s likely some of the classified information about the raid that has emerged in the press has come from beyond the CIA, but he warns employees to protect classified information or they could face investigation and possible prosecution by the Justice Department.
Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen told reporters at a Pentagon briefing that they too wanted to see an end to leaks about the raid.
Mullen said very forcefully, “from my perspective it is time to stop talking. And we have talked far too much about this. We need to move on. It's a story that, if we don't stop talking, it will never end. And it needs to. ” He explained that enough information had been made public that “we are close to jeopardizing this precious capability that we have, and we can't afford to do that. This fight isn't over.”
Gates said there had been agreement by senior administration officials not to disclose the details of the operation. He characterized that arrangement as having lasted “about 15 hours.” He said his concern is that future operations might be compromised because “when so much detail is available, it makes that both more difficult and riskier. ”
Panetta echoes those thoughts in his letter, “Disclosure of classified information to anyone not cleared for it—reporters, friends, colleagues in the private sector or other agencies, former Agency officers—does tremendous damage to our work. At worst, leaks endanger lives.” More bluntly he explained, “ Unauthorized disclosure of those details not only violates the law, it seriously undermines our capability to do our job."
Among the CIA details that have come out: the existence of a safe house in Abbottabad and the use of a stealth drone that monitored the bin Laden compound without detection for months.
Panetta told employees that the bin Laden raid gave them reason to be proud, but “let’s live up to our secrecy oath in protecting it so that our Agency can look forward to even greater accomplishments in the future.”
Here is the text of the message Panetta sent out to employees.
Message from the Director: Protecting Classified Information
The intense public and media interest in the operation that killed Usama Bin Ladin has led to an unprecedented amount of very sensitive—in fact, classified—information making its way into the press. While much of that information is likely coming from other places, I feel compelled to remind everyone that our continued success against terrorists and every other threat to our nation’s security depends on our ability to keep secrets.
Disclosure of classified information to anyone not cleared for it—reporters, friends, colleagues in the private sector or other agencies, former Agency officers—does tremendous damage to our work. At worst, leaks endanger lives.
As I said the morning after the raid on Bin Ladin’s hideout, our Intelligence Community applied the full range of its most advanced and powerful capabilities to this operation. Every kind of source and method contributed to this success. Unauthorized disclosure of those details not only violates the law, it seriously undermines our capability to do our job. For those reasons, the Office of Security will fully investigate, and, when warranted, referrals will be made to the Department of Justice.
We have every reason to be proud of the Bin Ladin operation. Let’s live up to our secrecy oath in protecting it so that our Agency can look forward to even greater accomplishments in the future.
Leon E. Panetta