Championing Responsible National Security Policy

Final Inspector General’s Report Cuts References to Panetta’s Disclosure of “TOP SECRET” Info

The Department of Defense Inspector General’s final report on what kind of access the Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers had to classified information omits any reference to then-CIA Director Leon Panetta’s disclosure of “TOP SECRET” and other sensitive information at an event attended by the film’s screenwriter.

However, the report, which was released today, details how the Executive Office of the President, the White House and the National Security Council encouraged Pentagon officials to cooperate with the filmmakers, who were working on a movie about the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

The final report differs from a draft that the Project On Government Oversight obtained and reported on last week. The draft, which the Inspector General’s (IG) Office now describes as a “pre-decisional working draft” includes specific references to Panetta’s disclosure of classified information.

When asked to comment on the removal of any reference to Panetta in its final version of the report, IG spokeswoman Bridget Serchak said, “Issues related to then-Director of the CIA Mr. Leon Panetta were referred to the CIA IG.”

It remains unclear why the Defense Department IG spent time investigating Panetta’s disclosure of classified Pentagon information only to refer the matter to its counterpart at the CIA. During much of that time Panetta served as the Secretary of Defense, stepping down in February.

The IG’s report was requested in 2011 by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), then chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. At the time, King said he was concerned that Hollywood filmmakers had reportedly received “top level access to the most classified mission in history.”

In a cover letter to King accompanying the release of today’s final report, the Defense Department IG’s principal deputy and top official, Lynne M. Halbrooks, referred directly to “the document that was posted on the Project On Government Oversight website” as “a copy of a pre-decisional working-draft of the report written by my staff in the Office of Intelligence and Special Programs Assessments,” adding that the “… working draft has not been issued and was not authorized to be released.”

Halbrooks’ letter notes that, “As with any IG work product, the working draft has been edited and revised during a rigorous internal review process to produce the final report. Certain matters identified in conjunction with the review were referred to other DoD IG components and government agencies for analysis and action deemed appropriate.”

In response to questions posed by Rep. King last week, Halbrooks’ letter asserts that no outside pressure was brought to bear that might have delayed the report or otherwise affected its contents. “No third parties,” she writes, “to include anyone from the Office of the Secretary of Defense or the Executive Office of the President, attempted to influence the content of the report or its release date. Communications with third parties related to content were limited to classification reviews by DoD Components to ensure proper marking and handling. As such, there is no documentation reflecting third party influence on the content or date of the report ...”

Halbrooks states, “I strongly disagree with any assertion that the DoD IG has been ‘sitting on the report,’ ” a characterization that appeared in POGO’s account of the matter last week.

POGO’s Communications Director Joe Newman said the organization stands by its reporting.

Panetta’s alleged disclosures included the name of a commander involved in the Bin Laden raid as well as highly classified signals intelligence or, as the draft report put it: “Director Panetta also provided DoD information, identified by relevant Original Classification Authorities as TOP SECRET//SI//REL TO USA, AUS, CAN, GBR, NZL, as well as, SECRET/ACCM.”

Panetta was not interviewed for the report, the draft document says, and POGO’s repeated attempts to reach him were unsuccessful. Panetta's former chief of staff, Jeremy Bash, said Panetta had no idea a filmmaker was in the room when he made the classified disclosure, according to a report last week by KION. Bash added that the former CIA director did not reveal any information that “wasn't already out there in the public.”Panetta and Bash did not appear to dispute factual assertions about the former CIA director that appeared in the draft IG report, according to KION and the Monterey Herald.

In contrast, the Pentagon warned employees and contractors last week not to download classified information, even if it is posted online in the public domain.

In a June 7 memo, senior Pentagon official Timothy A. Davis wrote that classified information remains classified even if it is posted on a public website.

POGO investigator Michael Smallberg contributed to this report.