US lawmakers Wednesday denounced leaks to media organizations that revealed how the CIA disrupted an Al-Qaeda plot through a spy who had infiltrated the terror group, saying the release of such details could jeopardize sensitive intelligence work.
The tale of high-risk intrigue and stealth conjured up a script from a Hollywood thriller, but members of Congress and intelligence veterans were angered by the disclosures.
Amid calls for a congressional investigation, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper ordered an internal review to find out if the leaks came from any of the 16 spy agencies under his authority, CNN reported.
Lawmakers from both parties voiced dismay that elements of the operation were reported by US 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.
"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," Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told reporters Tuesday.
The Democrat 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," Republican Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN.
Amid a heated presidential election campaign, Rogers and fellow Republican lawmakers suggested the leaks may have been politically motivated to burnish President Barack Obama's image.
Republicans already have accused the White House of triumphalism for high-profile media events this month marking the death of Osama bin Laden, in which the president and his deputies gave 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.
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News that the United States and foreign intelligence agencies had thwarted a plot by Al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen first came from the Associated Press on Monday, after administration officials persuaded the wire service to delay the report for a number of days.
Other 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, handing it over to US intelligence services.
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, allowing 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 US officials were quoted as saying.
A senior US official told the New York Times that the bomb for the would-be attack was sewn into "custom fit" underwear that would have been difficult to detect even in a pat-down at an airport.
White House and CIA spokesmen declined to publicly comment on the leaked details, with key aspects of the case still unclear.
"This operation was not disclosed because it was essentially ongoing and they didn't want to compromise sources or compromise the operation. So whoever leaked this did both of those things, which are unacceptable," Senator Joe Lieberman, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, told The Hill newspaper.
Foreign allies already were wary of sharing secrets with the United States after the fallout from the WikiLeaks saga, in which the website published reams of classified US diplomatic cables and documents.
The leaks this week will further undermine the confidence of spy agencies working with the United States, said Bruce Riedel, a former CIA official and now a fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank.
The leaks "will discourage cooperation with us. We can't keep secrets," Riedel told AFP.