Defense Secretary Leon Panetta made a striking admission today. In an interview with CBS’ Norah O’Donnell, Panetta threatened legal action against the Navy SEAL who wrote, under a pen name, about the raid that killed terrorist Osama bin Laden. Panetta said that any sanctions against the SEAL, who wrote No Easy Day under the name Mark Owen, would be intended to send a message that others entrusted with national security secrets should not divulge what they know.

O’Donnell then asked Panetta a direct question: What’s the difference between what the SEAL did and the leaks that have come from the administration to journalists and filmmakers? Panetta spun: “There’s a fundamental difference. The people that presented some of the details of the operations were authorized to do that by the president of the United States, who has that authority to do that, and inform the American people as to what happened. In this case, that was not the case. And that’s the difference.”

Among the information that Panetta now says the president authorized to be released were the identities of the leaders of the SEAL team that killed bin Laden. Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers released that classified information to Hollywood producers who were working on the film Zero Dark Thirty, which was at that time intended for release just weeks before the 2012 presidential election. Vickers remains in his job. No one in the administration has come under any penalty for the numerous and damaging leaks of other operations, including President Obama’s “kill list,” US assistance to the rebellion in Syria, and the ongoing cyber war against Iran.

Now we know why: Despite the administration’s denials, President Obama himself authorized those leaks.

More: SEAL Team Six parents say the leaks put targets on the troops’ backs.