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Republican tweet govt.'s first word of bin Laden

First U.S. government report of Osama bin Laden's demise came from Tea Party Republican, not the White House.

The first U.S. government report that Osama bin Laden was dead didn't come from the White House. Nor was it the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the State Department.

Instead, it appears to have originated with a freshman Tea Party congressman from Florida, Dennis Ross, who posted a note to Twitter at 10:41 p.m. ET yesterday saying: "Bin Laden is dead. GOD BLESS AMERICA!" (See list of related CNET stories.)

That public announcement came nearly an hour before President Obama's White House appearance. It came three minutes before The New York Times posted a news alert, and four minutes before CNN followed suit, citing unnamed sources.

Members of Congress had been briefed by the administration a few hours before the news was public. U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), for instance, says he heard directly from Vice President Joe Biden. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also heard from Biden.

But an aide to Ross told CNET today that his boss' public confirmation well in advance of the White House announcement wasn't based on a briefing.

Instead, it came from other news and Twitter reports. "Dennis was watching news channels and they were talking about how it was Qaddafi-related or possibly something bigger, but no one was sure," aide Fred Piccolo said. "There were multiple tweets about it and so after seeing a half dozen or more tweets from reputable sources, Dennis tweeted 'bin Laden is dead. God Bless America.'"

Piccolo said one of those sources on Twitter was Keith Urbahn, a former chief of staff to ex-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who later said he obtained the information from a "connected network TV news producer." (Jill Jackson from CNET's sister news organization, CBS News, noted this a few minutes later.)

Ross describes himself as a "strong conservative who will take those values and make them a reality in Washington." He's a member of the House of Representatives' Tea Party caucus.

Hours before Ross' note on Twitter, users in Pakistan were recording a rough outline of the events to come. Sohaib Athar, who describes himself as a 30-ish independent software consultant "taking a break from the rat-race by hiding in the mountains with his laptops," wrote dispatches about helicopters over Abbottabad.

Ross wasn't the only member of Congress to leak (or, in this case, perhaps, repost) the news. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), the ranking member on the Senate Homeland Security Committee, sent out a press release about 15 minutes before Obama's remarks that said: "The director of the National Counterterrorism Center informed me tonight that Osama bin Laden was killed in a U.S. operation."

CNET intern Amanda Golden contributed to this report.