A Pentagon watchdog has referred for possible prosecution a senior military intelligence official who gave the name of a U.S. special operations forces commander to Hollywood filmmakers researching a movie about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, a senior House Republican said Tuesday.
“The news that the [Department of Defense] inspector general has referred an aspect of its investigation to [the Department of Justice] for possible criminal prosecution is quite troubling,” Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.
Defense officials said the name of the commander was not classified and that they were unaware of a Justice Department investigation.
The inspector general’s staff began an investigation last December, six months after Mr. King brought to their attention documents detailing the cooperation that Obama administration intelligence and defense officials extended to screenwriter Mark Boal and director Katherine Bigelow. They are the producers of the movie “Zero Dark Thirty,” a retelling of the arduous hunt for the al Qaeda leader, which opens this week.
The documents were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the conservative advocacy group Judicial Watch. Among the documents is a transcript of a conference call between Pentagon officials, including Undersecretary for Defense Intelligence Michael G. Vickers, and Ms. Bigelow and Mr. Boal on July 14, 2011, two months after the raid on bin Laden’s hideout in Pakistan.
In the transcript, Mr. Vickers offered to put the filmmakers in touch with a SEAL Team 6 operator and commander involved in planning the raid who could help their research.
“The only thing we ask is that you not reveal his name in any way as a consultant because … he shouldn’t be talking out of school,” Mr. Vickers said, according to the transcript.
The name of the special operations officer was redacted from the transcript before it was released, but defense officials said it was not to protect classified information.
A security review “concluded that the transcript was unclassified in its totality, including with respect to the names of individuals mentioned,” Pentagon press secretary George Little said Tuesday.
As standard procedure for Freedom of Information Act releases, he said, “the names of certain personnel who are not senior [Defense Department] officials were redacted for privacy reasons. Those redactions were not made to protect classified information.”
On Monday, McClatchy News, citing unidentified U.S. officials, reported that the Pentagon inspector general referred Mr. Vickers for disclosing the name that was “restricted.”
Under some circumstances, it is a crime to disclose the identity of a U.S. intelligence officer regardless of whether the name is classified, but it was unclear how Mr. Vickers’ disclosure might fit with that prohibition.
“The [inspector general’s office] does not provide information or updates on investigations or investigation-related matters,” spokeswoman Bridget Serchak told The Washington Times.
“As a general matter, the Justice Department does not comment on whether it has received a referral from another agency to investigate or prosecute a particular matter,” said Justice spokesman Dean Boyd.
Mr. King said the referral shows that national security and the personal security of intelligence personnel were “placed at risk by people who wanted to help Hollywood make a movie.”
U.S. officials told The Times on Tuesday that such referrals about the possible disclosure of classified or otherwise restricted information were routine. In congressional testimony in 2000, Attorney General Janet Reno said the Justice Department received about 50 every year from the CIA.
Mr. King’s office did not reply to follow-up questions about his statement.