While President Barack Obama was on a “surprise” Memorial Day weekend trip to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, something the Obama administration has viciously condemned whenever it has occurred on their watch happened: the name of the CIA officer who is the Kabul station chief was leaked to reporters.
As The Washington Post reported, “The officer’s name — identified as ‘chief of station’ in Kabul — was included by US embassy staff on a list of 15 senior American officials who met with President Obama during the Saturday visit.”
The list was emailed to reporters who were traveling with Obama. It was then distributed to more people when it was “included in a ‘pool report,’ or “summary of the event meant to be shared with other news organizations, including foreign media, not taking part in the trip.”
Washington Post White House Bureau Chief Scott Wilson “copied the list from the email provided by White House press officials.” The “pool report” was then shared with over 6,000 people.
Once it was distributed, Wilson realized that the station chief was on the list and asked White House press officials if this was intentional.
Initially, the press office raised no objection, apparently because military officials had provided the list to distribute to news organizations. But senior White House officials realized the mistake and scrambled to issue an updated list without the CIA officer’s name. The mistake, however, already was being noted on Twitter, although without the station chief’s name.
Additionally, Ken Dilanian of the Associated Press noted, “The reporter who distributes the pool report sends it to the White House to be checked for factual accuracy and then forwarded to the thousands of journalists on the email distribution list, so in this case the White House failed on at least two occasions to recognize that the CIA official’s name was being revealed and circulated so broadly.”
At least twice an official failed to properly protect the identity of an undercover officer. Moreover, it was reportedly a military official who put the name of the station chief on the list.
The White House has said this was a mistake and, at the moment, there is not much reason to think otherwise based on what is known and how it exactly happened. However, there is a law called the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) that can be used against anyone who intentionally discloses “any information identifying” a covert agent “to any individual not authorized to receive classified information.”
Former CIA officer and whistleblower John Kiriakou, who is serving a thirty-month jail sentence in a prison in Loretto, Pennsylvania, was charged with violating the (IIPA). He pled guilty to committing this offense in October 2012 but only because he faced multiple Espionage Act charges and did not want to be imprisoned for multiple decades.
Kiriakou maintains that “Covert Officer A,” who had a key role in the rendition, detention and interrogation (RDI) program, retired. He claims if he’d “known the guy was still undercover” he “would never have mentioned him.”
In a court filing prior to pleading guilty, one of his defense attorneys acknowledged that the indictment alleged, “in 2008 and 2009,” Kiriakou communicated with reporter Matthew Cole “in which he disclosed Covert Officer A’s name and the fact that he was a branch chief in a specific CIA office and a team leader on a specific CIA operation.” The government argued this allegedly violated the IIPA as well as the Espionage Act. But his defense argued there was “no allegation in either count that the identity of Covert Officer A was publicly disclosed or otherwise broadly disseminated.”
Comparatively, the person who allowed his name to remain on the list that was distributed to reporters would have known that person was undercover. And, in this instance, the potential risk of grave damage to the covert officer seems to have been much more severe than in Kiriakou’s case.
The name was shared with over 6,000 people on a press list not authorized to receive the name. Kiriakou was only accused of sharing the name with one reporter.
It did not matter in Kiriakou’s case that the public did not know the name he exposed, and it should not matter in this case that the public does not know this station chief’s name. The disclosure can still be criminalized.
Kiriakou’s defense maintained that the IIPA was being applied against Kiriakou in an “unconstitutionally vague.” Kiriakou had not known the government was taking “affirmative measures” to protect the person’s identity so how could he have violated it?
Did the White House officials not immediately realize they were looking at the name of the Kabul CIA station chief on the list when they looked it over and fact checked it? That would certainly be infuriating to the family of Kiriakou if that was the case because it would indicate a complete failure on the part of the Obama administration to keep the identity of an officer in a war zone protected—something far worse than what Kiriakou did.
Obviously, the Obama administration is not going to have this person prosecuted. Officials in positions of power who make these kinds of mistakes are allowed to get away with them. They are even allowed to keep their jobs or continue to move upward in the ranks of government, despite their failure to protect sensitive information.
On June 24, 2011, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was at an awards ceremony at CIA headquarters where he said of the bin Laden raid, “In a sensitive operation like this, one leak – one leak – would have undermined the entire operation.” Those who were part of the raid sat in the front row with name tags and heard him say it was a “tribute” to them that information had been kept secret.
The screenwriter for Zero Dark Thirty, Mark Boal, who did not have a top secret security clearance, was in the audience. Panetta leaked “classified NSA intelligence and top-secret military information, including the protected identity of the ground commander of the Navy SEAL unit that staged the bin Laden raid.”
Even worse, Michael Vickers, who worked for Panetta, provided Zero Dark Thirty filmmakers the “restricted name of a US Special Operations Command officer who helped plan the May 2, 2011, raid” on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. When an internal investigation was done by the Inspector General, the office deemed the findings to be “politically sensitive” and ensured the content would not be released. Vickers was never fired or prosecuted.
Panetta, Vickers and the White House official(s) who failed to protect a covert officer’s identity all are on the appropriate side of the Obama administration’s agenda. Their leaks were not bad leaks. On the other hand, Kiriakou was speaking out in media about the CIA and how waterboarding of detainees was torture. His disclosure of a name, whether it was a mistake or not, had to be prosecuted to ensure nobody else would get the idea that they could leave the agency and do what Kiriakou was doing.
Department of Defense Photo by Marvin Lynchard