By Steve Berman
They were right, it was probably inappropriate for Trump to spill those beans so easily regarding foreign intelligence on ISIS.
Then the NYT gladly shared that the intelligence came from Israel. In May, they published Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer’s solicited response to their story. The reporters on that story, an 1800-odd word article ended it with a quote from Mike Pompeo, the CIA chief.
One of those reporters was Adam Goldman (on the byline). Another was Matthew Rosenberg, listed as a contributor, along with Matt Apuzzo.
Sharing the United States’ own intelligence with Russia, much less information from a foreign ally, has long been a contentious issues [sic] in American national security circles. In fact, many Republicans strenuously objected last year when the Obama administration proposed sharing limited intelligence about Syria with Russia.
One of the Republicans was Mike Pompeo, the former congressman from Kansas who now runs the C.I.A. In an appearance last year on a podcast hosted by Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official now best known for his anti-Muslim views, Mr. Pompeo said sharing intelligence with the Russians was a “dumb idea.”
Yes, we can all agree that trusting the Russians with our national security is a dumb idea.
Fast forward to June 2. Rosenberg and Goldman named the man the CIA appointed over Iran operations, calling him the “Dark Prince.” They didn’t just casually name the man—he was the central topic of the entire 1747-word article. They didn’t simply mention him: they named him 23 times.
A month and a half later, in a short “Reader Center” piece, they asked Amy Fiscus, “our national security editor, to explain why The Times published the name of a C.I.A. official last month.”
Why would they ask that? Because a bunch of readers wrote to “express their disappointment,” after CIA Director Mike Pompeo said naming the agent was “unconscionable.” Here’s their justification.
Before the article was published, one of the reporters who worked on it informed the C.I.A. that it would include [CIA agent’s] name — a routine check for comment that Times reporters make for the sake of fairness. The C.I.A. asked The Times not to publish his name, arguing that [CIA agent] was under cover.
Times editors and reporters covering national security frequently discuss these sorts of issues and take into account the government’s arguments against publication. We take care not to put national security or lives in danger, and we take that concern very seriously.
In this case, editors decided to publish the name because [CIA agent] is a senior official who runs operations from the agency’s headquarters outside Washington, not in the field. He is also the architect of the C.I.A.’s program to use drones to kill high-ranking militants, one of the government’s most significant paramilitary programs. We believe that the American public has a right to know who is making life-or-death decisions in its name.
Let’s unpack that. The same reporters who quoted Mike Pompeo because the president told Russian officials some information that he had full authority to reveal—whether that’s a good idea or not—decided amongst themselves that it would be a good idea not to listen to Pompeo’s recommendation not to publish his agent’s name.
After checking with the CIA, “editors decided to publish the name.” They used their own justification because the New York Times apparently considers itself a higher authority on national security and safeguarding America’s secrets than the U.S. government.
This isn’t the first time they’ve done it—and in fact they justified this egregious breach by saying “we’ve done it before.”
It was also not the first time that [CIA agent’s] name has been mentioned in our newspaper. After his identity was disclosed in a 2015 article, The Times’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, discussed the rationale in an interview with Lawfare*, a website that covers national security law, and gave more insight into editors’ decision-making.*
I read the interview. It’s not pretty. In 2015, NYT reporters Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo published the names of three CIA officers, including the person they profiled nicely for Iran in June.
All three men were undercover officers, a status sanctioned by Section 23 of the Central Intelligence Agency Act that indicates that the CIA does not want their identity to be public or acknowledged. The CIA accordingly asked the Times not to identify the three men by name. The Times rejected this request.
The Times’ decision almost certainly did not violate any law. The Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which criminalizes disclosure of the identity of covert agents, contains loopholes that likely apply here. But was the decision to publish the names appropriate? Or was it a disgrace?
Here’s the relevant part, after Baquet evaded multiple lines of questioning about specifically, why he outed the agents.
Jack Goldsmith: I interpret you as saying that you have learned from experience and that you have lost trust somewhat in the intelligence community’s representations about the importance of these secrets.
Dean Baquet: I think that is fair. The only thing I would add in their defense — because I really try to see the world from where they sit; part of my job is to see the world from where everybody sits, and then make a judgment — is that the CIA has not quite accepted that its role has changed. I don’t think they are blind or dishonorable. My relationship with all the spy agencies has been pretty good, going back to Tenet. I think they got used to everybody saying “yes” right after September 11. And I don’t quite think they have accepted that the terrain has changed.
The NYT’s executive editor doesn’t trust the intelligence community (the same one they’ve used as anonymous sources again and again to discredit the president and his staff) to properly represent the importance of what is secret and what isn’t.
Therefore, the NYT will publish whatever it pleases no matter whose life may be endangered and whose intelligence might be compromised. Because it knows better.
I’m glad they’ve cleared that up.
The question for Americans is: do we trust the New York Times as much as they trust themselves to vouchsafe our national security?
While you think about that, I’ll give my answer. I know I don’t.