By Adam Zagorin and David Hilzenrath
The Defense Department Inspector General’s office has been sitting on a report that former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta disclosed “TOP SECRET” information and other sensitive details two years ago at an event attended by a “Hollywood executive” working on the movie Zero Dark Thirty.
In June 2011, when he was director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Panetta discussed the information at a CIA headquarters event honoring participants in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, according to an unreleased report drafted by the Inspector General’s office and obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO).
“During this awards ceremony, Director Panetta specifically recognized the unit that conducted the raid and identified the ground commander by name,” the draft report says. “According to the DoD Office of Security Review, the individual’s name is protected from public release” under federal law, the report says.
“Director Panetta also provided DoD information, identified by relevant Original Classification Authorities as TOP SECRET//SI//REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL, as well as, SECRET/ACCM,” the report says.
Panetta was not interviewed for the report, the document says. POGO’s repeated attempts to reach him or a spokesperson for him through the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, his base in California, were unsuccessful.
“The report is not yet completed,” said Bridget Ann Serchak, a spokeswoman for the Inspector General’s office. “Once it is released, if it is unclassified, it will be posted on our Listserv and in our newsletter as well as on our website.”
Disclosures of classified information have taken center stage in Washington recently as the government has ratcheted up actions against leakers, whistleblowers, and journalists. The nation has been struggling to draw the line between truth-telling in the public interest and criminal violations of national security—a debate that runs through the newly opened trial of accused WikiLeaks tipster Bradley Manning, the Justice Department’s pursuit of phone and email records of reporters for the Associated Press and Fox News, and the imprisonment of former CIA agent John Kiriakou for divulging the names of fellow officers.
James Comey, widely reported to be President Obama’s choice to become FBI director, has set his own tough standard. “[S]ome things can’t leak,” Comey said in a 2007 video clip broadcast last week on the PBS NewsHour. “The flip side of that is, when they do leak, the government has to do something about it, has to, because we care about the rule of law.”
The Inspector General (IG) report obtained by POGO lays out results of an investigation requested almost two years ago by the then-chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Peter T. King (R-NY). In August 2011, he wrote that he was concerned that filmmakers had reportedly received “top level access to the most classified mission in history.” The probe was formally initiated in December 2011.
The fact that the IG’s office has not released its findings has caused consternation among the office staff, people familiar with the probe told POGO. Within the office, there was a push to make findings public as early as a year ago, sources speaking on condition of anonymity said. Last fall, the office took steps toward releasing some version of the report, including putting it through a Pentagon vetting process and preparing talking points to explain the contents, a person familiar with the investigation said.
Another person with knowledge of the probe said the draft report obtained by POGO matched a copy that person examined in January, when it appeared to be all but ready for release. The IG’s office had gone so far as to include an undated cover letter addressed to the House committee chairman who requested the investigation.
Message From a Whistleblower
Appointed by President Obama, Panetta served as CIA director from 2009 to mid-2011 and as Defense secretary from mid-2011 until early this year.
The unknown fate of the IG report was the subject of a December 2012 email exchange—obtained by POGO—between a congressional staff member and an employee in the IG’s office. The congressional aide mentions having heard that someone in the IG’s office was “sitting on it until Secretary Panetta retires” and asks the IG employee for any information about it.
The IG employee replies: “That effort . . . has been controlled and manipulated since inception by the IG Front Office.” The employee adds: “There is a version ready to hit the street, been long time ready to hit the street…but we will see if that happens anytime soon. Highly unusual tight controls and tactical involvement from senior leadership on this project.”
The employee says the matter reflects broader problems within the IG’s office.
“I have grave concerns that the message and findings are now controlled and subject to undue influence across the board at DoD IG. I have never experienced or seen so much influence or involvement by outsiders now in developing and issuing oversight reports.”
The IG employee invokes whistleblower status.
“I consider this protected communications on alleged wrong-doings within the Government.”
Lame Duck Watchdogs
The story of the unreleased investigative report illustrates systemic problems that can undermine the independence of inspectors general, federal watchdogs meant to provide a check on executive branch departments and agencies. The Defense Department IG answers not only to Congress but also to the secretary.
Across various departments, IG posts have gone unfilled for long periods of time, left in the hands of officials serving on an interim basis. Less secure in their jobs, they may be in a weaker position to challenge authority.
As POGO said in testimony to Congress last year, “It is hard to imagine that an Acting IG known for conducting hard-hitting investigations and audits that implicate high-level administration officials would be asked by that same administration to serve as IG on a permanent basis.”
The Defense Department IG’s job has been vacant since December 2011, and the office has been headed on a temporary basis by Lynne M. Halbrooks, who is now the principal deputy inspector general. She has sought support to be named permanent inspector general, a presidential appointment that traditionally involves the approval of the secretary.
Serchak, the IG spokeswoman, said the absence of a permanent inspector general has not affected the office’s work.
“Nothing’s changed,” she said.
In January, representatives of the IG’s office told Senate overseers that the Zero Dark Thirty report would not be released until the office had completed two related reports, POGO has been told.
The IG report also highlights what critics have complained is inconsistent treatment of people who spill government secrets.
“It’s like Animal Farm,” said one person with knowledge of the investigation. “Some people are more equal than others.”
In the realm of national security, the government has taken extraordinary steps to plug news leaks, prosecute whistleblowers, and probe news organizations. In contrast, the IG report describes how the Obama Administration threw its support behind a Hollywood project depicting one of President Obama’s most dramatic triumphs – the nighttime SEAL team assault on the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan where bin Laden – referred to as “UBL” – had been hiding.
After Panetta became secretary of Defense, senior Panetta aides implored a resistant Special Operations Command to assist, according to the draft IG report.
“Secretary Panetta wants the Department to cooperate fully with the makers of the UBL movie,” a Pentagon under secretary emailed the head of Special Operations, according to the report.
Emailing a senior Pentagon colleague during the summer of 2011, Defense Department spokesman George Little offered a glimpse of Panetta’s enthusiasm. “I hope they get Pacino to play [Secretary Panetta],” the report quotes Little as having written. “That’s what he wants, no joke!”
Inside The CIA’s Big Tent
Zero Dark Thirty debuted in December 2012. At one time, it had been slated for release before last fall’s election. The producers included Kathryn Bigelow, the Academy Award winning director of The Hurt Locker, about an Army bomb squad in Iraq, and Mark Boal, screenwriter of The Hurt Locker.
The IG report recounts that Boal was permitted to attend a June 24, 2011, ceremony at CIA headquarters honoring personnel involved in the May 2011 bin Laden raid. The fact that the screenwriter was allowed to attend has been reported previously and has been a subject of controversy. The IG report provides new details about the event—notably, that Panetta’s remarks contained information classified as Secret and Top Secret.
Read the rest of this stunning article by clicking – http://www.pogo.org/our-work/articles/2013/unreleased-probe-finds-cia-disclosed-secret-info.html
Unreleased IG Report – http://pogoarchives.org/m/ns/pogo_document_2013_ig.pdf