The FBI has launched a probe into leaks about a plot to blow up a US-bound jet, the agency's chief Robert Mueller said Wednesday, warning such tip-offs endanger lives and may harm ties with allies.
"Leaks such as this have... a huge impact on our ability to do our business. Not just on a particular source and the threat to the particular source, but your ability to recruit sources is severely hampered," Mueller told lawmakers.
Talks were under way with US partners to try to minimize any fallout over the leaks to the US media, which exposed how the CIA foiled an Al-Qaeda plot using a double agent, he said.
But such illicit disclosures "threaten ongoing operations, puts at risk the lives of sources. Makes it much more difficult to recruit sources and damages our relationships with our foreign partners."
Key details of the disrupted bomb plot were reported by US media earlier this month only hours after a drone strike on a key Al-Qaeda figure and as FBI experts examined an explosive meant to bring down a US-bound airliner.
"We have initiated an investigation into this leak," Mueller told the Senate judiciary committee.
Mueller added that the FBI was working with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in its investigation.
Such leaks have "some long-term effects, which is why it is so important to make certain that the persons who are responsible for the leak are brought to justice," he said.
He added that "discussions are going on with partners overseas to make certain that whatever impact there is, is minimized and precautions put into place so that in the future, it does not happen again."
CNN has reported that the spy was sent by Saudi counterterrorism agents into Yemen as a mole after it was learned that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was developing an updated model of the underwear bomb that failed to explode in a Christmas Day 2009 attempt to blow up a US-bound plane.
It added that the agent also had a British passport. When he learned that a concrete terror plot was in the works, the man contacted Saudi counterterrorism officials from Yemen.
The Saudis then informed the Americans of the planned operation and let them know that they had succeeded in infiltrating the group, according to CNN.
There has been little official US confirmation of the details of the plot and how the information was relayed to the United States.
Mueller also called on Congress to renew the intelligence budget saying it was "absolutely essential" to prevent terror attacks.
"We cannot wait until the attackers are on the shores of the United States to preempt plots, such as the plot that was preempted last week.
"We cannot wait until that person gets on the plane and is over US territory in order to try to stop that plot."© ANP/AFP