Employees of the CIA are learning that the gravest threats to their covert identities, the people most likely to publicly identify them and put them in danger, are not dastardly foreign agents or even NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
No, the people most likely to blow a CIA agent’s cover are clueless bureaucrats and spiteful politicians.
Case in point: the Obama administration’s bumbling release of the name of the CIA’s top guy in Afghanistan.
Staffers at the U.S. embassy included the CIA officer’s name on a list of 15 senior American officials who met with President Obama during the president’s Memorial Day weekend visit to Bagram Air Field.
The list was emailed to a Washington Post reporter representing the news media. The reporter sent it to the White House to check for accuracy, and even after this second chance to quash the list, the White House OK’d it.
So the reporter forwarded the list to the White House press pool — as many as 6,000 recipients.
Once the error was realized, The Associated Press and other news organizations agreed not to publish the CIA’s officer’s name.
Valerie Plame, we imagine, can sympathize.
Ms. Plame was a CIA operative. Her husband was a critic of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. In the summer of 2003, syndicated columnist Robert Novak mentioned in his column that Ms. Plame worked for the CIA.
It was determined later that a former deputy secretary of state had leaked Ms. Plame’s name. He wasn’t charged.
Instead, an aide to Vice President Dick Cheney was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Plame affair. President Bush commuted the aide’s sentence.
Intentionally disclosing the name of a covert CIA operative can be a crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. In the Plame case, the facts were muddied by disagreement over whether her job was “covert.”
In the Afghanistan episode, revealing the CIA officer’s name was clearly an accident, albeit a monumentally stupid one. That doesn’t sound much better, but it should keep anyone at the embassy and the White House from going to prison.
Washington’s paper-shufflers and officeholders really ought to be more careful with the names of our nation’s intelligence gatherers.
— From the Panama City News Herald