The agency's general counsel sent a report to the Justice Department about the Post story, which reported the for suspected terrorists in Eastern Europe.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue deals with classified information, said the referral was made shortly after the Nov. 2 story. The leak investigation into the disclosure of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame's identity came about through the same referral procedure. The Justice Department will decide whether to initiate a criminal investigation.
The Post declined to comment.
Republican leaders of Congress now want an investigation into a leak disclosing the existence of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and Asia, CBS News correspondent Bob Fuss reports. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist and House Speaker Dennis Hastert called for a congressional investigation into the disclosure of the existence of the secret prisons.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sidestepped questions on secret prisons, saying the United States was in a "different kind of war" and had an obligation to defend itself.
If the Post story is accurate, "such an egregious disclosure could have long-term and far-reaching damaging and dangerous consequences, and will imperil our efforts to protect the American people and our homeland from terrorist attacks," wrote Frist, R-Tenn., and Hastert, R-Ill., asking for a joint leak probe by the Senate and House intelligence committees.
The newspaper's story of a week ago said the CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, part of a covert prison system set up by the agency four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries. Those countries, said the story, include several democracies.
"If the leadership determines that we should investigate the leak, it would be much like the 9/11" commission, said Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who did not dispute a reporter's suggestion that a probe would raise First Amendment press-freedom issues.
Such an investigation would become "very difficult when you're getting into matters like this," said the senator.
Roberts also said he would support hearings into the importance of maintaining a covert agent's cover, a topic triggered by the leak of Plame's identity, eight days after her husband accused the Bush administration of manipulating prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraq threat.