NEW YORK (AP) – The director of a group that monitors Islamic militant Web sites said the government leaked an Osama bin Laden video that was passed along to senior U.S. officials on condition that they keep it secret. She claimed the leak rendered certain intelligence-gathering capabilities ineffective.
The White House said it was not responsible for the leak, and a senior official said the director of national intelligence should investigate the allegation.
Rita Katz, who runs the Washington-based SITE Institute, said her decision to pass the video to an official in the Bush administration has had an impact on the ways that the group has for obtaining these videos before they are made available by al-Qaeda.
“Due to the leak, sources that took years to develop are now ineffective,” Katz told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “A rare window into the world of al-Qaeda has now been sealed shut.” She declined to elaborate on whether she meant people or methods.
In a story first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday, Katz said that on Sept. 7 she contacted White House counsel Fred Fielding, whom she had met before and trusted, and offered the video and a transcript, long before anyone else had a copy.
Katz said she wanted to give the government a head start on the video, which she expected al-Qaeda to release in the coming hours. She said she did not expect payment for passing along the information.
White House press secretary Dana Perino said the White House was not responsible for the leak and was “concerned about it.”
“When the White House refers information from an individual or a company, we refer that appropriately to the intelligence community. That’s what happened here,” she said.
Fran Townsend, assistant to the president for counterterrorism and homeland security, told reporters that she would leave any investigation to the director of national intelligence “to ascertain what’s the appropriate way of dealing with this and understanding what happened, so we can ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
Ross Feinstein, spokesman for National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell, said his office had not yet opened an official investigation, but was looking into the matter.
Katz said Fielding referred her to Joel Bagnal, deputy assistant to the president for homeland security. Bagnal asked her to pass the transcript and video on to Michael Leiter at the National Counterterrorism Center. Katz said she also copied Fielding in on the e-mail.
About an hour and a half after sending her e-mail, she saw news outlets reporting that the government had obtained the video. And soon after that, a transcript appeared on the ABC News Web site and later on the Fox News site.
Katz said both of these transcripts were hers, and they bear the same date — Sept. 6, the day SITE prepared the document — and file numbers as the copy SITE passed to Leiter.
Once aware of the leak, Katz checked the logs on her Web site to see who had accessed the video.
“Dozens of government IP (Internet provider) addresses were downloading the video. Pentagon IP addresses, CIA IP addresses, FEMA IP addresses,” she said, leading her to believe that her transcript and the link to the video have been widely distributed to government agencies. FEMA is the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Ben Venzke, who runs the Intel Center in Alexandria, Va., another monitoring company, said his job has become more difficult in recent months as more groups have begun to release material intercepted from al-Qaeda.
“Overall the public release of this material before official release by terrorist groups has caused the work that we do to become much harder,” said Venzke, whose group has contracts with U.S. intelligence agencies, law enforcement and the military.
Venzke said he makes public information he feels does not need to be secret, but he is dismayed by the competition that has sprung up around releasing videos first. He is concerned that premature acknowledgment that he has a video might give away to Islamic militants how or where he obtained it.
He added, however, that he has continued to obtain material, even after the leak of SITE’s material, saying that he relies on a variety of methods, which are always changing as militants discover more secure ways of distributing their material.