“If it’s wrong enough or questionable enough for the IG to refer it to the Justice Department, that means it shouldn’t have been done.”
The film, by director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal, originally was set for release just weeks before the Nov. 6 election. But it was delayed amid Republican complaints that it could bring Obama votes by glorifying the bin Laden operation. The premier was held last week and the film is due for a limited public release on Wednesday.
The senior defense official, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly, wrote in an email that Pentagon officials don’t think the case “will amount to anything.” He pointed out that the Pentagon deemed as “unclassified” a transcript of a July 15, 2011, conversation among Vickers, Bigelow and Boal in which Vickers identified the U.S. special forces planner by name as someone who could be made available to brief the filmmakers. The transcript was released to Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog organization, in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The investigators found no evidence that White House officials were involved in any leaks of classified materials to the filmmakers, according to U.S. officials familiar with the findings. They reached that conclusion, however, without interviewing any White House officials or Panetta, who was the CIA director at the time of the bin Laden raid. Panetta reassured Congress in June — before the investigators reached their findings — that no classified information had been released to the filmmakers.
A second U.S. official blamed bureaucratic handwringing for the delay in notifying King, not an orchestrated effort to protect the White House.
“This does not appear to be a cover-up or a wag-the-dog media stunt,” the U.S. official said. “Rather, this is about who gets to break the law and leak information for their own benefit.”
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The case is emblematic of an ongoing debate over what information the government deems to be secret, who can disclose classified material and to what degree leaks of such information jeopardize national security.
Obama’s Justice Department has prosecuted a record number of U.S. officials for leaking secret information to the news media that critics contend shouldn’t have been classified or did no harm to national security. The most prominent case involves the ongoing prosecution of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning, who’s accused of providing thousands of secret and confidential diplomatic and military documents to WikiLeaks, the online whistle-blowing organization.
In a Dec. 6 report, a presidential advisory panel that studied the classification issue found that “the current classification system is fraught with problems. In its mission to support national security, it keeps too many secrets, and keeps them too long; it is overly complex; it obstructs desirable information sharing inside of government and with the public.”
“A culture persists that defaults to the avoidance of risk rather than its proper management,” the Public Interest Declassification Board said in recommending an extensive overhaul of the system.
Steven Aftergood, who runs the Federation of American Scientists’ Project on Government Secrecy, said the release of the U.S. special forces planner’s identity “would most likely be considered sensitive, not for national security reasons, but for personal security reasons. If his name became public, it might raise security considerations for him as an individual.”