The AP asked the Defense Department and CIA separately for files that included copies of the death certificate and autopsy report for bin Laden as well as the results of tests to identify the body. While the Pentagon said it could not locate the files, the CIA, with its special power to prevent the release of records, has never responded. The CIA also has not responded to a separate request for other records, including documents identifying and describing the forces and supplies required to execute the assault on bin Laden’s compound.
The CIA did tell the AP it could not locate any emails from or to Panetta and two other top agency officials discussing the bin Laden mission.
McRaven’s unusual order would have remained secret had it not been mentioned in a single sentence on the final page in the inspector general’s draft report that examined whether the Obama administration gave special access to Hollywood executives planning a film, ‘‘Zero Dark Thirty,’’ about the raid. The draft report was obtained and posted online last month by the Project on Government Oversight, a nonprofit watchdog group in Washington.
McRaven, who oversaw the bin Laden raid, expressed concerns in the report about possible disclosure of the identities of the SEALs. The Pentagon ‘‘provided the operators and their families an inordinate level of security,’’ the report said. McRaven also directed that the names and photographs associated with the raid not be released.
‘‘This effort included purging the combatant command’s systems of all records related to the operation and providing these records to another government agency,’’ according to the draft report. The sentence was dropped from the report’s final version.
Since the raid, one of the SEALs published a book about the raid under a pseudonym but was subsequently identified by his actual name. And earlier this year the SEAL credited with shooting bin Laden granted a tell-all, anonymous interview with Esquire about the raid and the challenges of his retiring from the military after 16 years without a pension.
Current and former Defense Department officials knowledgeable about McRaven’s directive and the inspector general’s report told AP the description of the order in the draft report was accurate. The reference to ‘‘another government agency’’ was code for the CIA, they said. These individuals spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter by name.
There is no indication the inspector general’s office or anyone else in the U.S. government is investigating the legality of transferring the military records. Bridget Serchak, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, would not explain why the reference was left out of the final report and what, if any, actions the office might be taking.
‘‘Our general statement is that any draft is pre-decisional and that drafts go through many reviews before the final version, including editing or changing language,’’ Serchak wrote in an email.
The unexplained decision to remove the reference to the purge and transfer of the records ‘‘smells of bad faith,’’ said Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists. ‘‘How should one understand that? That adds insult to injury. It essentially covers up the action.’’
McRaven oversaw the raid while serving as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, the secretive outfit in charge of SEAL Team Six and the military’s other specialized counterterrorism units. McRaven was nominated by Obama to lead Special Operations Command, JSOC’s parent organization, a month before the raid on bin Laden’s compound. He replaced Adm. Eric Olson as the command’s top officer in August 2011.
Ken McGraw, a spokesman for Special Operations Command, referred questions to the inspector general’s office.
The refusal to make available authoritative or contemporaneous records about the bin Laden mission means that the only official accounts of the mission come from U.S. officials who have described details of the raid in speeches, interviews and television appearances. In the days after bin Laden’s death, the White House provided conflicting versions of events, falsely saying bin Laden was armed and even firing at the SEALs, misidentifying which of bin Laden’s sons was killed and incorrectly saying bin Laden’s wife died in the shootout. Obama’s press secretary attributed the errors to the ‘‘fog of combat.’’
A U.S. judge and a federal appeals court previously sided with the CIA in a lawsuit over publishing more than 50 ‘‘post-mortem’’ photos and video recordings of bin Laden’s corpse. In the case, brought by Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, the CIA did not say the images were operational files to keep them secret. It argued successfully that the photos and videos must be withheld from the public to avoid inciting violence against Americans overseas and compromising secret systems and techniques used by the CIA and the military.Continued...