CIA chief Leon Panetta has ordered a gag on his employees not to reveal secrets about recent raid on Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, warning that disclosures could jeopardise future operations.
All leaks would be investigated and action, when warranted, would be taken, Panetta in a memo circulated among CIA staff said, admitting that an "unprecedented amount" of "very sensitive" and "classified information" had made its way into the press.
His warnings comes as a team of cyber forensic experts started a search of documents, computers and hard drives seized from al Qaeda's chief's room in Abottabad, which could contain explosive material.
"The intense public and media interest in the operation that killed Osama bin Laden has led to an unprecedented amount of very sensitive — in fact, classified — information making its way into the press," The Washington Post quoted Panetta as saying in a memo that was sent out on Wednesday.
The daily said it has a copy of the memo and added that Panetta's message is part of a broader effort by the Obama administration to clamp down on disclosures surrounding the raid, as well as months of sensitive intelligence gathering efforts that preceded it.
Senior Defence Department officials had conveyed a similar message in a news briefing on Wednesday at the Pentagon. "We have talked far too much about this," said Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "We need to move on."
The CIA played the lead role in monitoring the Abbottabad compound where bin Laden was killed, using spotters based at a nearby safe house as well as new stealth drones deployed overhead.
Bin Laden was shot dead by a team of US Navy SEALs on May 2, during a heli-borne raid that capped a decade-long pursuit.
The final months of that manhunt were shrouded in a remarkable level of secrecy, the daily said.
Even though the CIA had discovered the compound in August, the news that bin Laden had finally been located was kept from the public and from officials in Pakistan until well after US officials had confirmed the al-Qaeda leader's death.
However, details began to emerge almost immediately after President Barrack Obama's late-night television address. Much of the information came during sanctioned briefings and media appearances by Panetta and other administration officials.
Officials sought to stem that flow after aspects of their early accounts proved incorrect — including the assertion that bin Laden had hidden behind his wife — and after further revelations in the media, the daily said.
In his note, Panetta warned that the agency will investigate leaks and that, "when warranted, referrals will be made to the Department of Justice." He also said CIA employees "have every reason to be proud of the bin Laden operation."