Leon Panetta, the CIA director, has confirmed that controversial "enhanced interrogation techniques" such as waterboarding yielded some of the intelligence information that ultimately led to Osama bin Laden.
"In the intelligence business you work from a lot of sources of information and that was true here," he told NBC News. "It's a little difficult to say it was due just to one source of information that we got. I think some of the detainees clearly were, you know, they used these enhanced interrogation techniques against some of these detainees."
The White House and its Capitol Hill allies had earlier been at pains to state that such techniques, used under the Bush administration but banned by Mr Obama as amounting to torture, had not played a part in yielding significant information.
Mr Panetta's admission lays Mr Obama open to politically explosive claims that bin Laden would not have been killed had it not been for the use of those techniques by the Bush administration.
In his 2009 Senate confirmation hearings, Mr Panetta, a moderate Democrat and former California congressman, argued that "waterboarding is torture and it's wrong".
But he stated candidly last night that discussion about its use will continue. "Whether we would have gotten the same information through other approaches I think is always gonna be an open question," he said.