Loose links sink ships

Private intel agency says the White House compromised its methods.

Published October 9, 2007 12:05PM (EDT)

When the private SITE intelligence group obtained a copy of the most recent Osama bin Laden video, SITE founder Rita Katz provided free and early access to White House counsel Fred Fielding and Michael Leiter, the principal deputy director of the government's National Counterterrorism Center. Just one condition, she said: "We ask you not to distribute ... [as] it could harm our investigations."

The Washington Post explains what happened next: About 12 minutes after Katz e-mailed a link to the video to Fielding and Leiter, somebody at the Pentagon used the link to access it. Two minutes later, someone at the Defense Department's Network Information Center did the same. A minute later, someone at the Army Information System Command used the link. Within the next three hours, the Post says, computers with "addresses registered to defense and intelligence agencies" accessed the video dozens of times.

By that afternoon, the Post says, journalists had transcripts of the video and were talking about it on television. Katz says al-Qaida supporters responded by taking steps to block SITE from using the methods it had used to get the video in the first place. The result, Katz says: "Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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