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US defence chief sips $10k reward for bin Laden hit

It was just a tiny sip, but Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was finally able to taste the fruits of his promised reward for finding terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

During a dinner party in early November, California restaurateur Ted Balestreri made good on his promise to open a rare, $10,000 bottle of 1870 Chateau Lafite Rothschild in honour of the successful raid that killed bin Laden in Pakistan.

Last year at Balestreri's annual New Year's Eve party, he told Panetta he would uncork the bottle "if Leon catches Osama bin Laden".

Panetta chose to share his reward with several dozen friends. But even though the expansive guest list meant that each person got just a taste, they each took their sip in a souvenir shot glass.

"Each person enjoyed a taste of the wine from a shot glass marked with the CIA logo, which they were able to take home to remember the occasion," Pentagon press secretary George Little said.

Panetta was head of the CIA and was in charge of the mission in May when US special operations forces descended on a walled compound in northeastern Pakistan and killed the most-wanted terrorist on Earth.

On Wednesday night, during a speech at the National Press Club hosted by the nonprofit Stimson Centre, Panetta referred briefly to the bet.

He recalled that after the raid he telephoned his wife, Sylvia, and said, "I want you to call Ted and just tell him, watch television because he owes me a bottle of wine."

Balestreri made good on the promise, but Panetta joked that it may have come at a price.

"I'm sorry that you're now on al-Qa'ida's top list," he said during the Stimson event, addressing Balestreri, who was in the audience. "But don't worry about it. I have better weapons in this job than I did in the last job. I'll protect you."