THE Pentagon will boost protection for the commando team that killed Osama bin Laden, claiming too much information has been leaked about their covert mission.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said yesterday he was determined to protect the identities of the US Navy SEAL team involved in the assault on the al-Qa’ida leader in Pakistan on May 2, after soldiers involved had expressed worries about their security.
He signalled a rift within the Obama administration over the amount of detail released publicly after President Barack Obama’s national security team viewed the assault in real time from the White House using special camera technology and made a deal not to disclose information.
“Frankly, a week ago in the situation room we all agreed we would not release any operational details from the effort to take out bin Laden, and that all fell apart on Monday – the next day,” he said.
He expressed his disappointment to a hall packed with US marines at Camp Lejeune in South Carolina while responding to a question from one soldier about what measures were being taken to protect the identities of the commandos in the bin Laden raid and other forces “that might have to face extreme retaliation from terrorist organisations”.
Although Dr Gates did not name White House officials, his reference to the release of operational details the next day implicates Mr Obama’s homeland security adviser, John Brennan.
Mr Brennan gave a highly detailed public briefing from the White House the day after bin Laden was killed. Some of Mr Brennan’s information, including suggestions bin Laden used a woman as a shield and may have been armed, had to be retracted when found to be false.
White House press secretary Jay Carney later shut down further responses. But a steady stream of detail on the raid continued to be leaked. Also released has been intelligence from a hoard of personal material retrieved from bin Laden’s compound.
Dr Gates said yesterday that “there is an awareness that the threat of retaliation is increased . . . because of the action against bin Laden”.
He said the Pentagon was very concerned about the security of troops and their families, and members of the Navy SEAL team had expressed their worries to him when he met them four days after the raid on the al-Qa’ida leader’s compound.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morell said the Defence Secretary was “not pointing fingers at any particular individual or any particular building”.
But he added: “All of a sudden airwaves and newspapers were filled with details about a covert military and intelligence operation, and that’s concerning because one of the reasons that these operations – and this operation in particular – are effective is because how they do their work, how they’re equipped, how they’re trained, their tactics and procedures are all secret.
Dr Gates, who will retire at the end of next month, has been very frank lately as he has given evidence to congressional committees and conducted a farewell tour of US bases after serving in his post since the final years of the Bush administration. Just days before Mr Obama ordered US air attacks on Libya in March, Dr Gates said: “In my opinion, any future defence secretary that advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the middle of Africa should have his head examined.”
Former Republican presidential candidate John McCain told the US Senate yesterday that “harsh interrogation” techniques by the CIA did not play a part in tracking down bin Laden, contrary to claims by party colleagues including former Bush administration vice-president Dick Cheney and attorney-general Michael Mukasey. Senator McCain said the trail to bin Laden did not begin with al-Qa’ida terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.
Senator McCain said the real name or alias of bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, that was critical to the manhunt came not from Khalid but from a detainee “in another country”.
US intelligence officials yesterday interrogated three of bin Laden’s wives after being granted access to them by Pakistani authorities. It appears little or no useful information was gained after the wives were reportedly “hostile” during questioning.