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More than two years after sensitive information about the OBL raid was disclosed to Hollywood filmmakers, Pentagon and CIA investigations haven’t held anyone accountable despite internal findings that the leakers were former CIA Director Leon Panetta and Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers. Instead, investigators who found out who the leakers were are now being targeted because the findings were disclosed the findings to Judicial Watch and to McClatchy.
While the information wasn’t classified, the Inspector General’s Office has pursued the new inquiry aggressively, grilling its own investigators, as well as the former director of its whistle-blowing unit, according to several people, including a congressional aide. They requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issues surrounding the 2012 movie Zero Dark Thirty.
The handling of the disclosures of protected information to the makers of Zero Dark Thirty, the award-winning account of the U.S. hunt for bin Laden, points up an apparent double standard in President Barack Obama’s unprecedented crackdown on unauthorized leaks.
Disclosures by lower-level officials have been vigorously pursued. For example, seven Navy SEALs were reprimanded for disclosing classified material to the makers of a military video game. Moreover, the administration has prosecuted a record number of intelligence community personnel for leaking.
Rarely, however, has the administration taken criminal action against senior officials for leaking.
A central pillar of the crackdown — labeled the Insider Threat Program by the administration — aims to use behavioral profiling and tips from co-workers to identify federal employees who someday might make unauthorized disclosures.
Under the program, the Defense Department equates leaking to the news media with spying. Many of those who have been targeted, however, contend that they’re compelled to leak about official malfeasance because the government’s whistle-blower protection system doesn’t work, a defense raised by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.
The handling of the Zero Dark Thirty disclosures “suggests that some leaks are tolerated depending on who makes them,” said Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, a conservative nonprofit group that has pressed Republican and Democratic administrations for greater transparency. “Snowden should call his lawyer. This is exactly what he’s talking about.”
Among the few high-profile leak cases the administration is known to have pursued are two that involve retired four-star generals.
In the bin Laden matter, Panetta himself exhorted intelligence and military personnel involved in the operation on the need to protect secrets at an awards ceremony at CIA headquarters. “In a sensitive operation like this, one leak — one leak — would have undermined the entire operation,” he said at the June 24, 2011, event.
“Everyone involved held this information tight,” he continued, according to a declassified transcript of the speech that Judicial Watch obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. “It is a tribute to you that you kept this secret, and as a result this mission was accomplished.”
It was in his speech that Panetta disclosed classified information to Mark Boal, the Zero Dark Thirty screenwriter. Boal was the only audience member who didn’t have top-secret clearance.
The speech contained classified NSA intelligence and top-secret military information, including the protected identity of the ground commander of the Navy SEAL unit that staged the bin Laden raid, according to a Defense Department Inspector General’s Office document that Judicial Watch obtained.
Members of the raiding party sat in the front row in uniform, wearing name tags. They and the then-commander of U.S. Joint Special Operations Command, Adm. William H. McRaven, were “surprised and shocked” that a Hollywood screenwriter had been invited to the top-secret event, said a draft report on the Pentagon Inspector General’s Office probe.