Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke at a news conference in...

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke at a news conference in Washington (Sept. 13, 2012) Credit: Getty Images

The Federal Reserve said Wednesday it launched an investigation into the U.S. central bank's worst security lapse in years, but it said it appeared the early release of market-sensitive minutes of a policy meeting, including to some banks, was accidental.

Minutes of Fed meetings can shed vital light on the future path of U.S. monetary policy and frequently impact financial markets worldwide. As such, they are normally guarded by elaborate security measures.

"At this time, we do not know whether there was any trading related to inadvertent early distribution of the minutes," a Fed spokesman said.

More than 100 people, primarily congressional staffers and employees of trade associations, had received the minutes of the Fed's March policy meeting around 2 p.m. on Tuesday -- about 24 hours before their scheduled public release.

The minutes detail discussions between the 19 members of the policy-setting committee over each of the Fed's regular two-day meetings.

The minutes, which suggested policymakers were nearing a decision on tapering their bond purchases, pushed prices for U.S. government debt lower and helped lift the dollar to a four-year high against the yen after they were released broadly Wednesday morning.

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