WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Bush administration on Tuesday denied leaking an Osama bin Laden video obtained by a private terrorism monitoring group which said the leak had exposed its surveillance methods and potentially closed a window on al Qaeda.
Private monitoring firm SITE Institute said in a Washington Post article that its years-long efforts to monitor al Qaeda communications had been set back after government agencies prematurely leaked to the media a pre-release video of bin Laden last month.
“Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless,” SITE founder Rita Katz told the Post.
A SITE spokesman confirmed the company’s views as described in the article but declined to elaborate.
The White House denied it had leaked the video but said the issue was a cause for concern and an investigation would be needed to determine what happened. The office of the Director of National Intelligence said U.S. intelligence agencies were not involved.
“To make the accusation that the intelligence community leaked this to the media is totally false,” intelligence office spokesman Ross Feinstein said.
Asked if the government’s ability to monitor al Qaeda communications had been compromised, he said, “We have the appropriate people and the appropriate methods.”
At issue was a video from bin Laden, his first video appearance in three years, that was prepared for the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks.
An Islamist Web site had announced the video on September 7, and a few hours later U.S. government officials said they had obtained a copy of the video and were analyzing it.
SITE said in the Post article that it had obtained the video ahead of its planned al Qaeda release and given two senior Bush administration officials access to it on condition they not reveal they had it until the official release.
But government computers were quickly used to download the video from SITE computers, and a video and transcript of the video were leaked to news outlets by people within the government, SITE told the Post.
The article cited Katz as saying al Qaeda supporters, alerted by the leak, then put up new obstacles that blocked SITE from accessing their secret network.
White House Homeland Security Adviser Fran Townsend told reporters the U.S. government needs help from private firms and individuals to fight terrorism. “So any time an individual or a commercial entity cooperates with us, and asks to be protected and doesn’t get the protection that they either sought or deserved, that’s a cause for concern,” she said.