White House denies leaking info that hurt Al-Qaeda spying
The White House on Tuesday denied being the source of a leak involving an Osama bin Laden video that a private intelligence firm said had sabotaged its secret ability to intercept Al-Qaeda messages.
Asked if the White House was the source of the leak, spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "No, we were not ... We were very concerned to learn about it."
The SITE Intelligence Group said it lost access that it had covertly acquired to Al-Qaeda's communications network when the administration of President George W. Bush let out that the company had obtained a bin Laden video early last month ahead of its official release, the Washington Post said.
"Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless," SITE founder Rita Katz told the newspaper.
SITE monitors websites and public communications linked to radical Islamist groups and organizations deemed terrorist by US authorities and provides the information to clients, including news media companies.
It got hold of the bin Laden video before its release and provided it for free to the White House on the morning of September 7 but insisted that the video's existence remain secret until it spotted the official release, in order to protect its own work.
"Within 20 minutes, a range of intelligence agencies had begun downloading it from the company's website," the Post said.
By that afternoon the video and a transcript from it had been leaked to a cable television news network and broadcast worldwide, the Post reported.
According to Katz, this tipped off Al-Qaeda that its communications security had been breached by SITE.
White House officials said the matter would be referred to the Director of National Intelligence, and that the White House was not planning any internal investigation.
"When the White House receives information from an individual or a company, we refer that appropriately to the intelligence community. That's what happened here," Perino said.
"And I'll have to refer you to the Director on National Intelligence for any process problem they had in that regard."
Homeland security adviser Fran Townsend echoed Perino's "concern" and referred the matter to the nation's spy chief.
"This is going to be an issue for the DNI to look at so that we can understand what, if anything, happened, and how to deal with it to ensure that we fully protect those who cooperate with us," Townsend said.
"I haven't looked at the internal White House emails, so what I can tell you is the DNI and the Intelligence Committee will need to look at who had access to it.
She added: "We are only going to be successful in the war on terror with the help of the American people."
The video appeared to be timed to coincide with the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States, and was bin Laden's first video appearance since October 2004.
In it, the elusive Al-Qaeda chief mocked the United States as "weak" and vowed to escalate fighting in Iraq.
Another US-based organization that monitors Islamic militant websites, IntelCenter, said its "sources, methods and techniques ... to collect terrorist video material remain intact," according to CEO Ben Venzke, who added that the focus on rushing videos to the public could have dangerous consequences.
"Simply getting the video first but not having the professional knowledge and responsibilities to know what to do with it can not only result in the loss of valuable intelligence but it can actually harm ongoing activities within the official counterterrorism community," he said.
This "has happened time and time again when private citizens and organizations outside of the IC (intelligence community) play in fields where they lack the depth and experience."
Tuesday, October 09, 2007