Michael Vickers helped reshape military special operations.

Michael Vickers helped reshape military special operations. AP file photo

Pentagon Intel Chief Retires Citing No Wrongdoing in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ Leak

Michael Vickers is a veteran of Army Special Forces and the CIA.

Michael Vickers, the nation’s third Defense undersecretary for intelligence since the job was created after 9/11, stepped down on Thursday, as announced in March.

Marking the end of a federal career that included combat and operations service as an Army Green Beret and a CIA operations officer, Vickers made it a point through Pentagon public affairs staff to stress that he was cleared of any wrongdoing in the controversy over whether top intelligence officials leaked classified information to the filmmakers of the 2012 movie “Zero Dark Thirty” about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

“My last decade as a national security policy maker and intelligence community leader has been marked by a couple of things I am very proud of,” Vickers told a Defense press officer. “One is the expansion of special operations capabilities and capacity—it’s the largest growth of [special operations forces] in history.” Vickers was first appointed to the position in 2007 by President George W. Bush and then asked to stay on by the Obama administration.

Vickers also cited as a highlight the May 2011 Navy SEAL team raid that took out the al Qaida leader.

He acknowledged that the United States had not foreseen the rapid expansion of the Islamic State or of al Qaida in Iraq over the past year. “They had been degraded about 90 percent through the Iraq war, and remnants fled to Syria and were enabled by the Syrian conflict,” he said. “Their ability to re-infiltrate and take large areas of territory in Western and Northern Iraq and how fast they did it was a surprise as well, partially because of the alienation of the Sunni community made that possible.”

The Pentagon reported that Vickers was surprised at charges that he had leaked classified information when he met with the Hollywood screenwriters. “A number of investigations found that Vickers participated in a routine meeting with producers and it was done with full knowledge of DoD officials,” the report said. “Reviews of the meetings found that Vickers conducted himself appropriately and professionally, and made no disclosures,” Defense spokeswoman Navy Cmdr. Amy Derrickfrost confirmed to Government Executive. “Any reporting otherwise is completely erroneous and irresponsible,” she said.

Joe Newman, communications director for the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog group, disputed that assertion: “POGO draws no conclusions on Mr. Vickers' guilt or innocence. However, for a DoD spokesperson to say that the investigation into Mr. Vickers' actions was much ado about nothing seems to be some serious obfuscation.” 

“The assertion that Mr. Vickers passed along sensitive information was made by IG investigators, not POGO,” Newman said. “It's absolutely relevant to report that that information, and other details implicating Mr. Vickers and [Defense Secretary Leon] Panetta, was redacted from the IG's final report.”

“The IG's office referred Mr. Vickers' name to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution in this matter. While that step does not prove guilt, it does indicate that there was enough credible evidence to warrant bringing it to the attention of federal prosecutors,” Newman said. 

Vickers said he not yet made plans for his next step.

This story was updated with comment from the Project on Government Oversight.