Rep. Peter King says leak of bomb plot "criminal"

(CBS News) Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., is one of several members of Congress angry about the leak of the disrupted terrorist bomb plot aimed at an American aircraft. King told CBS News on Thursday that the press reporting was "extremely damaging" to the intelligence operation, putting lives in danger.

"This was one of the most sophisticated intelligence operations that we've ever run. We were having access to extremely vital information," King, who heads the House Homeland Security Committee, told CBS News correspondent Nancy Cordes. "This leak was extremely damaging."

CBS News and other media outlets have reported that a double agent, working for Saudi intelligence and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, volunteered to smuggle a bomb onto an American plane, but instead turned it over to U.S. and Saudi intelligence.

Lawmakers briefed said that the intelligence operation was leaked to the Associated Press before the entire operation was complete, and before House Speaker John Boehner, third in line to the presidency, knew about it.

"Such a small universe of people knew about it. No one in Congress at all," King said. "I've been in Congress 20 years. I'm not aware of any other intelligence operation that was being carried out that was so closely held as this."

Relevant lawmakers were briefed about the operation on Capitol Hill on Thursday by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Counterterrorism Center.

King said the leak is damaging because "Al Qaeda found out what we were doing."

"We're talking about life and death here," King said, calling the action "criminal."

"This is criminal in every sense of the word. Criminal in the literal sense of the word," King said, adding that "whoever leaked this should be punished to the fullest extent of the law and yes, that means going to jail."

"We're talking about the life and death of people oversees who are working on...in this operation," King told CBS News. He is "calling on the FBI to do a full investigation."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, who was also briefed on Thursday, said the leak is a problem.

"I don't want to get into any specifics at all to add to the problem, but suffice it to say that when an intelligence operation is revealed prematurely or when details about who may or may not be assisting us become public it makes it more difficult for us to conduct future operations and potentially puts lives in danger," Collins said.

Senator Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., the head of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, also attended the briefing, and said "whoever was involved in these leaks should feel like they did something really harmful to our national security and I hope we catch them."

However, Lieberman cautioned against assuming the leak was an American.

Lieberman said there is "no reason to assume the leak in this case came from an American source, though obviously American sources are going to be rigorously investigated."

Reporting by CBS News' Nancy Cordes and Jill Jackson.

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    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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