CIA Director Leon Panetta issued an agency-wide memo Monday calling attention to "a damaging spate of media leaks on a wide range of national security issues" over the past months.
The agency head singled out WikiLeaks — which published hundreds of thousands of classified Iraq and Afghanistan war documents since July — as "one egregious example."
Panetta said that "in some cases, CIA sources and methods have been compromised, harming our mission and endangering lives." For that reason, he explained, "such leaks cannot be tolerated" and the "Office of Security is directed to fully investigate these matters."
"Unauthorized disclosures of classified information also will be referred to the Department of Justice," Panetta continued. "Our government is taking a hard line, as demonstrated by the prosecutions of a former National Security Agency official, a Federal Bureau of Investigation linguist, and a State Department contractor."
So does Panetta's memo indicate that the CIA will specifically target WikiLeaks? Reporters drew different conclusions.
The Washington Examiner reported that "Panetta says CIA will probe WikiLeaks document release," a story picked up by numerous blogs and the Drudge Report.
WikiLeaks — a whistleblower organization that's always ready to show how it battles governments over secrets — followed up on Twitter by linking to the Examiner piece with the comment that the "CIA chief launches WikiLeaks investigation."
Panetta mentions WikiLeaks in his memo and says leaking will be investigated. So it's reasonable to infer that Panetta and his lieutenants will indeed conduct a WikiLeaks probe.
But the Washington Post's Jeff Stein heard from "informed sources" that Panetta actually "had no special cases in mind, including the WikiLeaks releases, which have primarily exposed military reports." If that's correct, Panetta's memo was intended more as a broad warning to CIA staffers about the hazards of leaking.
The Pentagon has publicly pushed back against WikiLeaks, which is responsible for publishing more than 75,000 Afghanistan documents in July, with another dump of nearly 400,000 on the Iraq war last month — the latter being the largest intelligence leak in U.S. history. The Iraq reports documented 109,000 civilian deaths, along with claims of torture at the hands of Iraqi security forces.
(Photo of Panetta on ABC's "This Week" Sunday, June 27, 2010: AP/ABC/ Fred Watkins)