Leaks of classified and politically-charged intelligence information often are purposeful.

So what to make of simultaneous leaks to The Washington Post and Newsweek Magazine that the CIA helped Israel assassinate Hezbollah master terrorist Imad Mughniyah, responsible for killing more Americans in terror attacks than anyone else prior to 9/11, and continued to work to kill Americans in Iraq and elsewhere.

He also was involved in the kidnapping, torture, and murder of CIA Beirut station chief William F. Buckley (not the author), and reportedly sent video of the torture to CIA headquarters.

Washington Post graphic Imad Mighniyah

This was thought to be a purely Israeli operation. Some of the details leaked also contradict prior claims as to how the assassination was carried out — instead of a bomb planted in a headrest, it was planted in the spare tire in the vehicle.

The Washington Post reports, CIA and Mossad killed senior Hezbollah figure in car bombing:

On Feb. 12, 2008, Imad Mughniyah, Hezbollah’s international operations chief, walked on a quiet nighttime street in Damascus after dinner at a nearby restaurant. Not far away, a team of CIA spotters in the Syrian capital was tracking his movements.

As Mughniyah approached a parked SUV, a bomb planted in a spare tire on the back of the vehicle exploded, sending a burst of shrapnel across a tight radius. He was killed instantly.

The device was triggered remotely from Tel Aviv by agents with Mossad, the Israeli foreign intelligence service, who were in communication with the operatives on the ground in Damascus. “The way it was set up, the U.S. could object and call it off, but it could not execute,” said a former U.S. intelligence official.

The United States helped build the bomb, the former official said, and tested it repeatedly at a CIA facility in North Carolina to ensure the potential blast area was contained and would not result in collateral damage.

WaPo, relying on several anonymous intelligence sources, goes into quite a bit of detail about how authorization was obtained from President Bush, and also how they passed up an unexpected opportunity to take out the senior Iranian Quds force commander:

Mughniyah wasn’t alone in his confidence to operate freely in Damascus. During the operation, the CIA and Mossad had a chance to kill Qassem Soleimani, commander of Iran’s Quds Force, as he and Mughniyah walked together. Soleimani was an archenemy of Israel and had also orchestrated the training of Shiite militias in Iraq.

“At one point, the two men were standing there, same place, same street. All they had to do was push the button,” said one former official.

But the operatives didn’t have the legal authority to kill Soleimani, the officials said. There had been no presidential finding to do so.

When the bomb used to target Mughniyah was detonated, officials estimated the “kill zone” extended approximately 20 feet. The bomb was “very shaped and very charged,” an intelligence official recalled.

There was no collateral damage. “None. Not any,” the official said.

Facial recognition technology, another former official said, was used to confirm Mughniyah’s identity after he walked out of a restaurant in his neighborhood and moments before the bomb was detonated.

Newsweek has a similar, but not identical account based on leaks, How the CIA Took Down Hezbollah’s Top Terrorist, Imad Mugniyah:

Media reports fingered Israel’s legendary Mossad for the hit. But according to former U.S. intelligence officials interviewed by Newsweek, the Mugniyah hit was a CIA operation, authorized personally by President George W. Bush and carried out by the CIA under the direct supervision of then-director Michael Hayden and a very, very small group of top CIA officials.

“That was us,” said a former official who participated in the project, on condition of anonymity to discuss the operation. “The Israelis told us where he was and gave us logistical help. But we designed the bomb that killed him and supervised the operation.”

Said another source, a former senior CIA operative with deep Middle East experience: “It was an Israeli-American operation. Everybody knows CIA did it—everybody in the Middle East anyway.” The CIA’s authorship of Mugniyah’s bloody death, the operative said, should have been told long ago. “It sends the message that we will track you down, no matter how much time it takes,” he said. “The other side needs to know this.”

Newsweek give this account of presidential approval:

But in late December, with the bomb ready and Mugniyah firmly in their sights, Hayden “started to get really cold feet again,” the participant said. He decided to go see President Bush personally—on Christmas Eve 2007, at Camp David.

“On Christmas Eve morning, he and [Deputy CIA Director Steven] Kappes fly up to Camp David to see POTUS, to say, ‘Okay, look, here’s what we got, everything is in place, do we still have the go-ahead?’ And POTUS basically threw both of them out, saying, ‘Why are you up here wasting my time on Christmas Eve? Get the fuck out and go do this. Not quite in those terms. But it was, ‘Yes, I’ve already given you my approval. Go do this; go with God.’”

And has this account of the final seconds:

Finally, on the night of February 12, 2008, after two months of round-the-clock surveillance, they caught Mugniyah alone.

“They made a positive ID. Click. One, one thousand; two, one thousand…ka-boom. It separated Mr. Mugniyah’s arms, legs, and head from the remainder of his torso, which was catapulted about 50 feet through a window,” the participant said. “It worked exactly like it was supposed to.”

Whether this new version of the story is correct is anyone’s guess.

Here was the reaction from former Hostage Terry Anderson’s daughter:

But why now for the leaks?

This appears to be coming from the U.S., not Israel. What purpose does claiming credit now serve?

Is there something in the offing that Hezbollah or Iran is planning, and this is the CIA’s way of saying, we know how to get to you?