ARLINGTON, Va. — “Semper Gumby” was the buzzword among Pentagon spokesmen Thursday morning, hours after the first explosions rocked Baghdad.

It might as well have been “mum” instead of a call for flexibility.

Officials in the Pentagon and at Central Command headquarters in Qatar shared little information with reporters about the first day of U.S.-led bombings in Iraq, which prompted some defense reporters to resort to outside experts, anonymous sources or fellow reporters embedded with troops on the ground and aboard naval vessels for updated information.

And the Pentagon’s top leaders voiced not once, but three times, reminders for those in the know not to divulge operational security surrounding the war in Iraq.

“To those in our government, let me say a word about security of operational details,” Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Thursday from the podium during the first Pentagon news briefing following the U.S.-led aerial assault. “It’s essential that everyone with access to classified operational details exercise discipline.

“There is no excuse for anyone revealing sensitive information that will almost certainly put the lives of men and women in uniform at risk. … Don’t do it.”

Those who speak regularly with the media, in fact, would not even confirm the name “Operation Iraqi Freedom” before their boss said it publicly for the first time from the podium during the 11 a.m. briefing.

Defense personnel were cautioned not to release too much too fast, for fear of compromising ongoing and future operations, said another Pentagon official.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, said: “There are military preparatory actions that need to be accomplished before any major attack. That said, we still want to preserve tactical surprise as much as possible. So we will not confirm or deny any preparatory actions, whether accurate or inaccurate.”

Pentagon officials said they were stunned by the speed and accuracy of early reports on the airstrikes. Less than an hour after the strikes began, CNN was quoting unnamed “defense officials” as saying that the strikes were conducted by F-117A stealth fighters and cruise missiles fired from Navy ships.

The official reportedly said intelligence had led U.S. military leaders to believe they knew precisely where Saddam Hussein was at that time, and that the strikes were ordered in advance of the main attack because the opportunity “was too good to miss.”

Pentagon reporters scrambled to confirm reports, only to be met with stony silence from public affairs officials, who themselves were clustered around television sets, watching the developments.

CNN’s reporting was largely correct, leading to speculations among the press corps that the agency had been given special access to the Pentagon war room by administration officials — a rumor that Air Force Col. James DeFrank, the Pentagon’s director of defense information, vigorously denied.

DeFrank said he believed that the news had come from some of the 500 reporters embedded with troops in the region.

“It’s frustrating,” he said. “We’re concerned, and the secretary is concerned.”

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