An Unauthorized Leak on Unauthorized 'Zero Dark Thirty' Remarks?

Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for five Academy Awards. Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for five Academy Awards. Columbia Pictures

The tangled tale of how former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in 2011 may have inadvertently disclosed classified information took a new turn this week with a complaint that a longtime whistleblower ombudsman now working for the intelligence community inappropriately shared a document with Congress.

Dan Meyer, who spent years at the Defense Department Inspector General’s Office but moved in July 2013 to handle whistleblower issues for the intelligence community inspector general, has been accused by his former agency of giving the Senate Armed Services and Intelligence committees what was officially termed a “pre-decisional working draft” of a report on how Panetta and Defense Department Undersecretary for Intelligence Michael Vickers handled the making of the film “Zero Dark Thirty.”

As reported March 25 by journalist Adam Zagorin at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight, the Pentagon watchdog’s office “has asserted that, in giving the unclassified report to Congress, Dan Meyer, who now holds a sensitive post in the intelligence community, made an ‘unauthorized disclosure.’ ” Zagorin attributed this information to a document obtained by the Project On Government Oversight and to “people familiar with the matter.”

Meyer, according to reporting by Government Executive, says the disclosure was part of his job.

The story dates back to POGO’s disclosure in June 2013 that Panetta, who left the Defense Department in February 2013, was being investigated for remarks made when he was CIA director in June 2011. At an awards ceremony in Langley, Va., honoring the SEAL team that took out Osama bin Laden, Panetta is said to have mentioned the name of a key SEAL in the presence of Hollywood screenwriter Mark Boal, who wrote “The Hurt Locker” and later “Zero Dark Thirty” about the bin Laden raid.

The Pentagon IG, however, delayed release of the report -- a copy of which was obtained by POGO -- and which had been requested by then-House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Peter King, R-N.Y. In December 2012, a copy was given to the congressional panels “that had the potential to embarrass the Secretary of Defense,” POGO recently wrote. “And it spelled trouble for the IG…because it showed that the IG had been sitting on politically sensitive information.”

Then-acting DoD IG Lynne Halbrooks subsequently released an unclassified version of the report that did not mention Panetta’s remarks at the awards ceremony.

POGO’s new revelations include quotations from a DoD IG internal memo saying that “in general the OIG does not provide draft reports to outside stakeholders to include members of Congress and their staff.” The memo adds that Meyer was “reminded of his responsibility to ensure the protection of sensitive information to include information marked For Official Use Only.”

Contacted by Government Executive, Meyer referred inquiries to the intelligence community inspector general and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. But he supplied “documentation which he understands to have authorized the transmittal of the final draft Zero Dark Thirty Report to the congressional staff."

Another former Defense Department employee familiar with the issue, who spoke on condition of anonymity, backed Meyer, saying “he had lots of authority to use his judgment to unilaterally contact Congress.” The disclosure came in the context, the source says, of Senate staff expressing concern that the Defense IG fulfill obligations to keep the Senate committees informed of developments that, for example, could affect confirmation hearings for the next CIA director.

Meyer and others “thought the report was about final -- it had the Secretary of Defense’s memo and media talking points that staff developed,” this source said. “But because the report might embarrass Panetta and Vickers, Lynne Halbrooks pulled it.”

Halbrooks has disputed POGO’s characterization of the report and said it was produced under normal procedures without outside pressure.

Panetta told the Associated Press he did not realize the filmmaker was present when he spoke the Navy SEAL’s name.

The Defense and intelligence inspectors general offices and the Senate Intelligence Committee did not respond to requests for comment by Friday morning.

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