When Is A Leak Not A Leak?

Peter Maer is a White House correspondent for CBS News.

(CBS)

The White House has come up with a new euphemism for leaks.

Press Secretary Dana Perino said intelligence agencies would be responsible for investigating what she described as any "process problem " in the alleged disclosure of sensitive information from a tip the administration received in advance of Osama bin Laden's video message last month.

Perino was reacting to the Washington Post's front page disclosure that a small private intelligence-gathering group's ability to monitor al Qaeda websites was severely compromised by administration leaks. The newspaper reported that just hours after the group SITE, the acronym for Search for International Terrorist Entities, privately shared advance details of the bin Laden message with the White House and intelligence agencies, word of the video spread to news organizations. The published report quoted SITE as saying the leak caused al Qaeda supporters to block access to the web links the intel-gathering outfit had used in past successful efforts to get the jump on the terror group's communications. The Post quoted SITE founder Rita Katz as saying, "Techniques that took years to develop are now ineffective and worthless."

Spokeswoman Perino was quick to insist that the White House was not the source of the leak. The Bush administration, like its predecessors, abhors leaks except for self-serving disclosures. Now the White House is in the uncomfortable position of worrying that release of the SITE data will have a chilling effect on other commercial outfits or individuals who want to provide private tips to federal law enforcement or intelligence agencies.

Presidential Homeland Security Advisor Frances Townsend told reporters, "any time an individual or a commercial entity cooperates with us and asks to be protected and doesn't get the protection that they either sought or deserved, that's a cause for concern."Spokeswoman Perino said the administration wants people to be "alert and aware" and to provide information to the government. She promised their sources will be protected.

Perino described the leak of the bin Laden video material as "an isolated incident."
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    Peter Maer is a CBS News White House Correspondent.

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