President Obama’s trip to Afghanistan this past weekend was a surprise. It was a moment for him to deflect some of the heat from the Veteran Affairs fiasco and remember those troops who have given all for their country. Also a surprise was the name released to the traveling journalist pool of a top CIA station chief posted in Kabul. The mistake was rare and came from the most unlikely of sources – the U.S. government.
The name was released as part of a participant list of who’s who at a military briefing given to the White House press office. Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson received the information from an e-mail provided by the White House press officials. The names were distributed the list to more than 6,000 in the reporter pool. The press office later noticed the mistake and tried to scramble to blackout the name, but news of the error already hit Twitter.
While one might think differently, Wilson broke no laws. He reported on the information he was provided without knowing the name linked to a station chief was not supposed to be released. The information was readily provided to him as a member of the elite press correspondents from the White House. However, his actions raise the question of how this really happened.
In the 1970s, it was almost commonplace for journalists to publish names of case officers. Because of this, the CIA was able to sway Congress to write a law defining criminal penalties. The law imposes such penalties “for the intentional, unauthorized disclosure of information identifying a covert agent with knowledge that the information identifies a covert agent as such and that the United States is taking affirmative measures to conceal the covert agent’s foreign intelligence relationship to the United States. Covert agents include officers and employees of a U.S. intelligence agency.”
There should be an investigation in this matter, but I don’t see Wilson’s actions as punishable. In fact, it’s not a crime. If he knowingly submitted the name with an intentional plan for damage, ethical concerns would be at the forefront. If anyone should be punished, that would be the military report that offered the listing. Something wasn’t double-checked, meaning someone did not adequately perform his or her job.
This past weekend’s leak mimics the exposure of former CIA operative Valerie Plame was ousted by former president George W. Bush affirmed to discredit Plame’s husband who was a staunch critic of the Iraqi invasion.