U.S. lawmakers from both parties sharply criticized on Wednesday leaks that revealed how the CIA disrupted an Al-Qaeda plot through a spy who infiltrated the terror group.
Elements of the dramatic operation were shared with the American media only hours after a drone strike on a key Al-Qaeda figure and as FBI experts examined an explosive meant to bring down a US-bound airliner.
Saying the leaks could jeopardize future anti-terrorism work by the spy agency, lawmakers also suggested the leaks may have been intended burnish U.S. President Barack Obama’s image on the campaign trail.
“I don’t think those leaks should have happened. There was an operation in progress and I think the leak is regarded as very serious,” Senate Intelligence Committee chair Dianne Feinstein (D) told reporters.
She promised a Congressional investigation of the episode, a view shared by her Republican counterparts.
“If something bad happens because it was leaked too early, that’s a catastrophe and it’s also a crime,” House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers (R) told CNN.
Rogers and fellow Republican lawmakers suggested the leaks may have been politically motivated to burnish Obama’s image.
“This operation was not disclosed because it was essentially ongoing and they didn’t want to compromise sources or compromise the operation," Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee chair Senator Joe Lieberman told The Hill newspaper.
"So whoever leaked this did both of those things, which are unacceptable,” he added.
American media, including ABC News and the New York Times, reported on Tuesday that the plot had been foiled by a spy who volunteered for the would-be suicide mission and managed to bring out the explosive.
The spy, reportedly a “mole” or “double agent,” spent weeks with Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and garnered sensitive information that was passed on to the Americans.
That information allowed the CIA to launch a drone strike on Sunday against a senior Al-Qaeda operative in Yemen, according to reports.
The air raid killed Fahd al-Quso, who was wanted for the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, unnamed U.S. officials were quoted as saying.
A senior US official told the New York Times that the bomb for the foiled attack was sewn into “custom fit” underwear that would have been difficult to detect even in a pat-down at an airport.
The leaks come at a time when foreign allies already were wary of sharing secrets with the United States due to fallout from the WikiLeaks affair and repeated leaks concerning Israel's plans vis-a-vis Iran.
Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank, told AFP the new leaks would only make things worse.
“They will discourage cooperation with us. We can’t keep secrets,” Riedel said.
In April, Republicans accused the White House of cynically using the death of Osama Bin Laden as a publicity platform as Obama finds himself in a hard-fought bid for re-election against GOP contender Mitt Romney.
The president and his deputies gave several high-profile television interviews recounting the secret commando raid last year that killed the Al-Qaeda chief.
Obama’s re-election campaign also aired an advertisement lauding the president for making the call to mount the raid, while questioning whether his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, would have done the same.