Monday, May 26, 2014

White House Reveals CIA Station Chief in Kabul

The Washington Post delivers a lesson in media spin with its story about the White House publication of the name of the CIA station chief in Afghanistan.

Obama works the crowd

The name was listed in a White House press release about a briefing given during a surprise visit to Bagram by Obama, during which he addressed an assembled crowd of troops ('assembled' in the military sense) and sat in on the daily briefing of the country team of Ambassador James Cunningham and ISAF Commander General Joseph Dunford with their top staff officers.  The list of the attendees was passed to Obama's handlers as a matter of course, but in a classic "in one ear and out the mouth" maneuver, it was passed verbatim to the press pool by way of Post reporter Scott Wilson, and thence to some 6000 recipients.

It was only then that Wilson noticed the title of Chief of Station for one of the attendees, a title reserved for the head CIA officer working out of the embassy, and chief of likely the largest such CIA country operation in the world.  'Chief of Station' is always a covered position, with the person publicly holding the title of some innocuous posting.  [The running gag for as long as I can remember is that the fellow holding the Public Health post is automatically suspected of being CIA by the host country, providing an ego boost to the PH appointee and cover to the real station chief.]

Wilson actually had to not only inform the White House of the error, but convince them of the seriousness of it.  Once done, the staff quickly withdrew the story and disseminated one in which the name was redacted, but the genie was already out of the bottle.  Rest assured that the named party is packing his bags.

The Post starts off by calling a station chief the "highest-ranking spy in a country".  He may be under cover but he is not a spy, a distinction which a truly educated correspondent on that beat should know, but I expect the temptation to dumb it down for the hoi polloi proved irresistible.

The story then lurches immediately to a typical 'blame Bush' rationale:
The disclosure marked a rare instance in which a CIA officer working overseas had his cover – the secrecy meant to protect his actual identity – pierced by his own government.  The only other recent case came under significantly different circumstances, when former CIA operative Valerie Plame was exposed as officials of the George W. Bush administration sought to discredit her husband, a former ambassador and fierce critic of the decision to invade Iraq.
Despite the standard accounts ("repeat it over and over again"), the dissection of that paragraph goes as follows:

Valerie Plame was a CIA employee, not an operative.  She held a CIA analyst job in Washington.  She was widely known to have that position because her husband Joseph Wilson (apparently no relation to the Post reporter) invariably introduced her as such around the cocktail circuit.  She is the only CIA employee that I know of who simultaneously decried her public exposure while posing for Vanity Fair and other media rags.  Both she and her husband forcefully denied that his famous trip to Niger was due to her manipulation, when in fact it was clearly established otherwise.  His famous exposé in the New York Times bore no resemblance to the report he made upon his return.  His ambassadorships were to the backwater posts of Gabon and São Tomé & Principe, after his turn as assistant to April Glaspie and her literally disastrous tour as ambassador to Saddam Hussein's Iraq (practically inviting him to invade Kuwait).  Plame was not outed by Scooter Libby but instead by Richard Armitage, who disclosed the information "inadvertently" to Robert Novak because he thought it was public knowledge (see "cocktail circuit" above).  Armitage told the special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald of his disclosure but was told to keep it quiet, while Fitzgerald continued his investigation for two more years.

And so on.  I just thought I'd toss in those snippets, seeing as how the MSM will not.

Other publications carry on in like manner, such as Foreign Policy, which twice forces the point that their investigation of the name that fell into their lap (which in righteous dudgeon they refuse to publish, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they are ultimately making the opposite argument) has not been released to the public by any of the other (and foreign) news services, as if this somehow mitigates or eliminates the harm.  This completely obfuscates the fact that intelligence services (our own certainly, and I'm not divulging anything that isn't otherwise obvious) make maximum use of the public information provided by news services.  No matter what intelligence assets, human or technical, one might have at whatever schwerpunkt, it avails us to read the open stream of updates from journalists (whether benighted or not) at the scene, or at least firmly esconced nearby in a secure hotel deep within the local green zone, in what we term "all-source fusion".  It is absolutely ludicrous to expect us to believe that all other intel services (and don't think that al Qaeda and the Pakistani ISI Taliban don't have that capability too) were not immediately aware of the name.

These media covers for the administration (and if you Google the story you will find a strangely coincident language in the Plame excuse) are simply the typical attempt to gild the lily, or as Chesterton would put it, gild the weed.

So the White House gives a not-so-subtle dig to the military for providing a factual list of who attended the brief, and feels that they have no responsibility for due diligence in sanitizing the names for public release.  Let's make this clear - the military did not release the list to the press; the White House did.  And the Post provides cover by its reflexive reference to Bush in parroting the story of the Valerie Plame/Joe Wilson media/Democrat circus.  This is serious journalism?  Is the Post going to call for a special prosecutor like in the Plame affair?

Don't hold your breath.


  1. Ha, ha. Of course not. The WaPo is a Democrat house organ. Has ever been. Figure it out.

    1. Of course, I only use the Post as a convenient and enjoyable whipping boy, representative of others.

  2. The White House ultimately holds the blame, as they released the list.....but I would be very interested in seeing the classification of the list the military gave to the WH staff.


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