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August 07, 2004


This story shows a very dangerous mishandling of intelligence information, but the reporting is so awful that I can't tell at whom I should direct my anger.

That seems to be a pretty common reaction, actually...

Excellent post. More like this, please.

Good points.

I still can't get my head around this. I'm still scratching my head - somehow this doesn't make sense. I'm not at the point where I believe the Bush administration would blow cover intentionally on such a valuable asset, even in the face of what looked like a bad political storm due to the terror warning.

Was the cover already blown?
Is part of this story Pakistani ISI leaks, and wheels within wheels, as I've seen mentioned elsewhere?

It just doesn't seem to add up.

JC: I'm not at the point where I believe the Bush administration would blow cover intentionally on such a valuable asset, even in the face of what looked like a bad political storm due to the terror warning.

Someone senior in the Bush administration outed a covert CIA operative last year - and Bush's reaction was (a) do nothing for nearly 3 months (b) admit that it was a bad thing when and only when the DoJ started the investigation (c) assert that the perpetrator most likely wouldn't be caught.

Well. Somehow I'm unsurprised (mad as hell, but not surprised) that the Bush administration have created a climate where outing undercover operatives is just fine, if you've got a political reason to do it. They did it before, no one got fired, why not do it again?

Valerie Plame was a "valuable asset", too.

Actually, quick back-track - I hadn't (when I wrote the above) read this New York Times article. No excuses, I just hadn't.

From that it looks like that the Pakistanis outed this operative's name - though several "senior American officials" seem to have been pretty loose-mouthed about how important he was.

So ignore comments relating to Valerie Plame above - I shouldn't have made them, they're irrelevant to the current situation.

there's some interesting info over at juan cole for those who want to check it out.

What do they teach in schools these days? That isn't passive voice. But it's pretty darned non-specific and I agree with you nonetheless.

Unless, of course, you mean "was arrested" rather than "appeared"? In which case, never mind.

The NYT article linked above seems to me to suggest the following scenario: First, there seem to have been a briefing on Sunday that included extensive discussion of the fact that someone whose arrest had not been announced had provided key information that led to the alert, and also of the nature of that information.

"One senior American intelligence official said the information was more detailed and precise than any he had seen during his 24-year career in intelligence work. A second senior American official said it had provided a new window into the methods, content and distribution of Qaeda communications.

"This, for us, is a potential treasure trove," said a third senior American official, an intelligence expert, at a briefing for reporters on Sunday afternoon."

Then the NYT found out his name; how, we do not know; and they published it. But at this stage there is no suggestion that he is operating as a double agent. It would be interesting to know whether any of the American officials the Times contacted alerted it to this fact: newspapers have, in the past, been willing to hold off on stories for just this sort of reason. It would also be interesting to know whether the Times asked about this.

Then Pakistani officials confirmed the name, and became much more forthcoming about his intelligence value.

And the fact that he, apparently unlike most other al Qaeda captives, was willing to turn only came out later.

Two things strike me about this. The first is that the Sunday briefing, even if it did not disclose Khan's name, was irresponsible. It seems to have included both the fact of a previously undisclosed arrest in Pakistan and detail about what information the arrest had produced. This information would not have led any of us to draw conclusions about who had been arrested, but I would think it might well have led people in al Qaeda to do so -- after all, how many people in Pakistan with access to this sort of information about al Qaeda's reconnaissance, communications, etc., can there be? And if an al Qaeda mamber read an article based on this briefing and then got an email from Khan, would he not wonder whether Khan had been turned?

The second is that it would be important to learn whether the Times, or anyone else, was warned off this story lest they compromise ongoing antiterror operations; and if not, why not, and why the Times did not ask about that possibility. If the Times was warned off and published anyways, that's shameful. If they were not warned off, then regardless of whether or not they should have asked, the people who didn't warn them off should be fired. If the Times did not ask, then again, that's shameful, unless the circumstances were such that they might reasonably have assumed an answer. The only such circumstances that leap to mind are: an administration official leaks the information to them, in which case the assumption that the administration does not have any reason to object to this info being published might be a reasonable one.

So much for my attempts to parse the NYT. I'm glad Sebastian picked this up; I had thought about posting on it, but Kevin Drum captured each and every one of my conflicting responses so well that I really had nothing to add.

And speaking of leaking classified intelligence information: I assume most people here saw that Richard Shelby seems to have leaked classified information to Fox News. Hullaballoo provides context here.

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