Nov
28
2013

Pretending a Name Is Still Secret–in the Name of the Cult of Secrecy

PTI officials naming CIA official.

The Pakistani political party PTI outs the CIA's man in Pakistan.

In retaliation for a US drone strike in Pakistan that allegedly targeted a religious school, killing six people, the Pakistani political party Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf accused both CIA Director John Brennan and the chief of the CIA's Islamabad station, whom it identified as Craig Osth, of "committing murder and waging war against Pakistan."

The naming of the station chief was a significant development.  As the New York Times (11/28/13) reported, 

the move is expected to infuriate American officials, who had to recall a previous CIA station chief in 2010 after he was identified in the local news media, also in relation to a legal suit brought by anti-drone campaigners.

The Washington Post (11/28/13) wrote that it "underscor[es] the constant friction that has come to characterize the two countries’ counterterrorism partnership."

But there was one thing conspicuously missing from these reports on the disclosure of the station chief's name: the station chief's name.

The Post article noted:

The Washington Post generally does not publish the names of clandestine CIA officers, who use false or “cover” identities in part to protect themselves and their families.

The Times apparently felt it went without saying that repeating the names of outed CIA officers was not the done thing.

Now, journalists should not be putting people lives in danger unnecessarily. Both the Post and the Times revealed that Valerie Plame was an undercover CIA agent, a fact that was leaked by the Bush administration in retaliation for her husband's criticism of the phony case for invading Iraq (FAIR Media Advisory, 10/21/05); it's hard to see what public interest this served that would outweigh the threat this posed to people who had worked with Plame in her undercover capacity.

But Osth's name is no longer a secret; not only did the Pakistani party put it up on the Internet, it's been reported by numerous regional news outlets (e.g. The Hindu11/27/13–an Indian paper that boast a daily circulation of 1.5 million). What's more, Osth was publicly identified as a leading CIA officer years ago, in 1999, when the Brazilian magazine Carta Capital identified him (under the name Craig Peters Osth) as the chief of station in Brazil at a time when the CIA had been accused of  tapping the telephone of then-Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso (Albion Monitor, 5/31/99).

So Osth's name is out, and it's been out for a long time; concealing it from US readers doesn't make anyone any safer. But it does help bolster the cult of secrecy, which holds that information is to be kept from the citizenry on general principle. And it serves to shield from accountability an official who heads "one of the spy agency’s largest outposts in the world," in the Times' words, and whose influence in Pakistan "has sometimes eclipsed even that of the American ambassador."

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.