WASHINGTON — U.S. officials say CIA surveillance aircraft video that they think shows Osama bin Laden in 2000 was “highly classified,” and that the CIA will investigate who leaked it to the media.
The CIA often investigates when unauthorized material is leaked to the media, U.S. officials said.
No decision has been made on whether the matter would be referred to the U.S. Department of Justice.
NBC News aired the footage Tuesday. CNN has broadcast it as well.
The video, taken from an unarmed and unmanned surveillance aircraft over Tarnak Farm in Afghanistan in the fall of 2000, shows a tall man dressed in a white robe.
A senior intelligence official said the tape is genuine and that analysts think the figure in white is bin Laden.
The sprawling agricultural complex was a meeting place for senior al Qaeda leaders, and a training camp for scores of al Qaeda operatives.
Pentagon and CIA officials have copies of the videotape.
The possibility that the figure in the tape might have been bin Laden helped speed the decision to arm the Predator drone aircraft with “Hellfire” missiles, which can be fired by remote control, officials said.
With the technology available in 2000, it would have taken three to seven hours to strike the Tarnak Farm site with cruise missiles or bombs, U.S officials said.
In 1998, President Clinton ordered cruise missile strikes on suspected terrorist training camps in eastern in Afghanistan where intelligence suggested bin Laden might be. In the time it took for the cruise missiles to reach their target, officials say bin Laden moved to another location. That attack killed at least 21 Pakistanis, but missed bin Laden.
In November 2002, the CIA used an armed Predator to execute a senior al Qaeda official who was riding in a car in Yemen.
Steve Coll, in his recently published book “Ghost Wars,” says that the Clinton administration at one time planned to seize bin Laden at Tarnak Farm but never carried out the mission, in part over concerns about killing innocent women and children, as well as legal disagreements within the administration.