October 8, 2007

In the midst of an ongoing policy debate over how much power the Bush administration should have to obtain surveillance powers, the White House has demonstrated once again that it simply can’t be trusted to handle national security information responsibly.

A small private intelligence company that monitors Islamic terrorist groups obtained a new Osama bin Laden video ahead of its official release last month, and around 10 a.m. on Sept. 7, it notified the Bush administration of its secret acquisition. It gave two senior officials access on the condition that the officials not reveal they had it until the al-Qaeda release.

Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company’s Web site. By midafternoon that day, the video and a transcript of its audio track had been leaked from within the Bush administration to cable television news and broadcast worldwide.

The founder of the company, the SITE Intelligence Group, says this premature disclosure tipped al-Qaeda to a security breach and destroyed a years-long surveillance operation that the company has used to intercept and pass along secret messages, videos and advance warnings of suicide bombings from the terrorist group’s communications network.

In this case, SITE obtained the most recent Osama bin Laden video several days before it went public. Though the company is a for-profit enterprise, SITE contacted White House counsel Fred Fielding and Michael Leiter, who holds the No. 2 job at the National Counterterrorism Center, with a link to a private SITE page containing the video and an English transcript. “Please understand the necessity for secrecy,” SITE’s founder Rita Katz wrote in her email. “We ask you not to distribute . . . [as] it could harm our investigations.”

That was at 10 am on Sept. 7. Within a few hours, it was on several television news outlets. Katz told the WaPo, “Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless.”

Remind me, who thinks the White House is trustworthy on national security issues?

Larry Johnson has more: "Bush Leaks Sink America’s Security. DUH!!"

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