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Of Espionage and Press Releases

We’ve watched a lot of cloak-and-dagger movies in our day, and like to think ourselves savvy to all the conventions of the espionage genre, but we’ve never encountered a plot twist where a Central Intelligence Agency operative’s top secret cover was compromised by his name and position being included on a White House press release. Such broad farce is too far-fetched for even most the irreverent spy-movie spoof, and can only occur in real life.
Yes, a White House press release handed out during President Barack Obama’s recent photo-op with the troops in Afghanistan did indeed identify the CIA chief of station who has been running the intelligence-gathering and drone-warfare the enemy has found so vexing. The top-secret spook was apparently among the guests of honor at the photo-op, no doubt conspicuous by his black tie and tuxedo among all the camouflage and the president’s butch bomber jacket, and somebody in the White House thought he therefore deserved mention to the press. A Washington Post reporter thought this odd and potentially dangerous, but only after his story had been filed and quickly published on the internet, and by the time he drew the government’s attention to the matter the name was available to any of the vexed enemy with a working internet connection. Another White House spokesman assured that the White House chief of staff had asked the newly installed White House counsel to look into the matter and make recommendations on “how the administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again,” and anyone screenwriting yet another spy-movie spoof will be hard-pressed to improve on that.
That Post reporter deserves some credit for his belated realization of his security breach and bringing it to the government’s attention, and his paper redacted the operative’s name from subsequent editions and most American publications have also properly declined to repeat the name, but otherwise most of the media have done their usual dreadful job on the story. Almost none have given it the same outraged attention that was given to the naming of CIA worker Valerie Plame, who wasn’t a covert agent at the time and who was named by an associate of Secretary of State Colin Powell, the only Bush administration official that the media didn’t want to destroy, in an apparently innocent effort to explain why Plame’s husband had been sent off to the Middle East to file a much-publicized and highly-dubious report about his half-assed investigation into charges that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had tried to acquire yellowcake uranium. The press went wild for the story, hoping it would lead instead to the revelation that the administration had deliberately endangered a brave spy’s life in order to discredit a noble whistle-blower, and they kept telling it even after it fell apart. The Washington Post even revived it in the account of the Afghanistan press release, falsely recalling “when former CIA operative Valerie Plame was exposed as officials of the Bush administration sought to discredit her husband, a former ambassador and fierce critic of the decision to invade Iraq.” The Los Angeles Times got it even more wrong, stating that Plame was identified by Scooter Libby, a former assistant to the vice-president who was convicted of a lie about the non-crime during the multi-million dollar investigation of the matter.
A desire to revive even false memories of the bad old Bush days is understandable, though, given how very inept the current administration looks. The naming of the CIA operative ruined the fine optics of the president looking so very Commander in Chiefy in that butch bomber jacket, so the press was almost obliged to throw in some compensatory Bush-bashing, no matter how inaccurate, and we expect the story will fade away before that special counsel fellow makes any recommendations. The bigger story is the president’s latest schedule for bugging out of Afghanistan, which will have the boys back home just in time for the next presidential election, and no one seems especially concerned that it might be handled just as ineptly as the administration’s public relations. Even such friendly publications as the aforementioned Los Angeles Times are starting to a notice a pattern of incompetence by the administration, from shovel ready jobs that aren’t quite shovel ready to crashed web sites to bankrupt solar panel companies to a gun-running operation for Mexican drug gangs to misspelled “reset” buttons that were going to charm the Russians into good global citizenship, not to mention Benghazi and the Veterans Administration and countless other examples, so a suddenly-endangered CIA operative is another embarrassment the press would rather not dwell on.
We wish that compromised CIA spook well, and hope he fares at least as well as Valerie Plame. She got a glamorous Vanity Fair photo spread and a Hollywood movie out of it, but this fellow will be lucky to get a book deal. His story is too far-fetched for a movie, even if you could get Will Ferrell or some other over-the-top comic to star, and it makes the wrong president look bad.

— Bud Norman

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