Rep. Pete King, the chairman of the House committee on Homeland Security, wrote FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III today to formally request that the bureau launch a comprehensive investigation into leaks of detailed and highly classified information about an international anti-terror operation involving al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula earlier this month.
In the letter to Mueller, King deduces that “the leak would have to have emanated from a small universe,” considering “this intelligence matter was handled in the most restricted manner.” In a breach of this magnitude, King demanded that the investigation “must encompass everyone who had access to this vital information.”
Last week, Mueller testified before Congress that the FBI is already investigating leaks to the news media about the recently disrupted plot by al Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate, also known as AQAP, to smuggle a bomb designed to be concealed in underwear onto a U.S. bound jet.
Reached in a phone call Monday, King told ABC News that Congress was left in the dark about the operation, which he called “almost unprecedented,” but he suggested that would help narrow the possibilities of who could have disclosed the classified information.
“Nobody in Congress knew about it, so we start off with that,” King, R-N.Y., told ABC News Monday morning. “Even the Speaker of the House [John Boehner] didn’t know about it. It’s almost unprecedented. Even with [Osama] bin Laden, my understanding is certain members of Congress were told about it months in advance, the killing of bin Laden, and I know the speaker is generally briefed on critical intelligence on a regular basis…but in this case no one was briefed.”
“I have no idea where it’s coming from,” he confessed. “It had to be somebody who knew the entire situation, and again it’s a very small universe.”
The leaks, first disclosed by the Associated Press May 7, revealed that CIA, along with Britain’s MI-6 secret intelligence service and Saudi Arabian intelligence assets, apparently used a double agent to disrupt the plot by infiltrating the organization, posing as a suicide bomber, and then delivering the bomb to intelligence agents instead of carrying the device onto a U.S.-bound plane.
In his letter today, King also requests that the scope of the FBI’s inquiry encompass “the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, federal law enforcement and the White House, including the National Security staff.” He also asks the FBI to investigate whether the lives of “a unique intelligence source” and others may have been jeopardized, to examine whether the operation had to be aborted before its potential was maximized or whether critical intelligence relationships have been damaged as a result of the leaks.
“This [mole] was such a really unprecedented penetration – a very rare penetration of al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” King said. “This really was criminal, and I use the term criminal, but this really was. To put the source at risk, to force the aborting of the operation, to preventing us getting more information than we would have gotten, but also to create real distress with partners that we were involved with in this operation.”
“Ultimately there could have been a way found to get him out…to create a situation where he doesn’t necessarily have to blow his cover,” he added. “Certainly the allies using him and others had not decided at all to admit that they had a source in there. You could have had cover stories, you could have had something done…there could have been ways to have extricated that person without giving up his identity.”
The FBI’s ongoing investigation is likely being run by the Justice Department’s counterespionage section and agents from the FBI’s Washington Field Office. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is also conducting a separate review with the DNI’s general counsel to see if the leaks originated in any of the 16 agencies that DNI James Clapper oversees.
King said he is unlikely to schedule his own hearings at the Homeland Security committee, but he also sits on the Intelligence committee, where he predicted the first hearings could occur.
“[House Intelligence chairman Mike Rogers] is very concerned about this and because of the security level, because of the classifications, it’s right now I think more appropriate that the intelligence committee do it,” King said. “It’s right now I think more appropriate that the intelligence committee do it. I don’t want to be getting in their way, I don’t want to be duplicating hearings for the sake of duplication here.”
ABC News’ Jason Ryan contributed to this report