Credit: James Devaney/WireImage

Beyonce -- and her extended team of publicists, record label executives, stylists, producers and many musical/video collaborators -- could teach a master course in secret-keeping to the NSA. Days later, fans and the music industry are still reeling and digesting the superstar's self-titled fifth album -- featuring 14 songs and a whopping 17 videos -- dropped on iTunes with absolutely no warning at midnight last Friday, Dec. 13.

"Beyonce decided several months ago to release her album in this way but she didn't decide on this date until very recently, just a little bit ago," a source explains to Us Weekly, adding that the "XO" singer had been contemplating a surprise January release date. "Now just felt right, especially on Friday the 13."

As folks now know, Blue Ivy's mama had already recorded over a dozen songs and shot even more videos, with those around her "begging her" to release them. "She kept going back and forth about what to do," the source admits.

"She discussed it over and over again with Jay Z and her team and decided to just drop it this way. Only Beyonce could have done this!" See photos of the superstar.

How did one of the world's biggest stars keep such a massive project under wraps? "Everyone agreed not to breathe a word or the plan would be ruined . . . One person leaking it would have destroyed the whole project. She wanted to reinvent the way we listened to albums. . . there was already so much interest in this project that it all built up perfectly."

And, some of that secrecy required some innocent fibbing to the press. "The few people involved that knew had to lie a little so it didn't blow the whole thing. It was worth it."

Indeed. currently projects that Beyonce is set to debut on the Hot 100 chart at number one, selling over 550,000 copies -- a number that could grow.