With everything else going on here in the U.S. and around the globe, it’s possible you may have missed this little gem of a story. Let me try to succinctly set the stage while you pour yourself a drink and prepare to smack yourself in the forehead with amazement. Or disgust.
I’ll preface by saying that the takedown of Al Qaeda's terror mastermind Usama bin Laden was a painstaking, labor intensive decade-long effort involving dedicated folks from numerous agencies and organizations. These people toiled for years trying to piece together countless bits of information… sifting for any credible lead, chasing down potential sources, carrying out surveillance, interviewing and analyzing every word from detainees, working every angle and never giving up.
All that work is what allowed the Navy SEALs to do what they do best and close the deal. The men and women of the CIA, FBI, NSA and other shops carried out the operations, the analysis, the surveillance, the interrogations and the investigations that brought us to Bin Laden’s posh digs in Abbottabad.
Now here’s the thing. All these good people do their jobs without expectation of big money, fame or recognition. They don’t want the spotlight. Public recognition is not a useful thing when your job is clandestine operations. That’s not tough to figure out.
And yet, just the other day the Associated Press decided to write a story profiling, without actually naming, a CIA analyst who had been a key member of the team working to locate Bin Laden. The AP had reportedly agreed to a U.S. government request not to identify the analyst… for what you and I would consider obvious reasons.
However, apparently the AP couldn’t help itself and felt the need to include numerous details in the article about the officer in question. They also included comments and statements from government officials who requested anonymity because… well, because they had signed secrecy agreements that meant they should keep their mouths shut. But that’s best left for a future rant.
Anyway, here’s the head smacking part. After the AP article appeared, with its tantalizing details about the “unidentified” analyst who had been integral to the hunt, a blogger from a website called Gawker began an effort to “out” the CIA officer.
The blogger, John Cook, apparently has decided that what we, and any Al Qaeda member or extremist with an Internet connection and an ability to spell "Gawker" really needs to know is the actual identify of a person who spent the past decade tirelessly working out of the spotlight to track down Bin Laden.
Perhaps he believes that since the AP showed little regard for the protection of the officer’s identify it’s okay for him to finish the job.
Perhaps he believes its all about freedom of the Internet and he’s really doing us all a favor by pushing the Wikileaks style notion of transparency with no regard to safety, national security or what we used to call common sense and decency.
Perhaps Gawker John is simply looking to make a splash and could care less about possible repercussions to the officer, his family or anyone else caught in the light.
It’s certainly not the first time people have shown little regard for the identities of our personnel in the intelligence community. Remember the whole brouhaha over the Bill Novak outing of Valerie Plame… or the John Adams Project collecting photos of individuals associated with the CIA and then showing them to Gitmo detainees?
Remember back when people could keep secrets? Back when newspapers couldn’t build an article on just anonymous sources… when classified information was treated properly… when privacy was respected, even by the media? Yeah, me neither.
Mike Baker served for more than 15 years as a covert field operations officer for the Central Intelligence Agency, specializing in counterterrorism, counternarcotics and counterinsurgency operations around the globe.
Since leaving government service, he has been a principal in building and running several companies in the private intelligence, security and risk management sector and has recently returned to Diligence LLC, a company he cofounded in 2000, as president.
He appears frequently in the media as an expert on counterterrorism, intelligence and homeland security.
Baker is also a partner in Classified Trash, a film and television production company. Baker serves as a script consultant, writer and technical adviser within the entertainment industry, lending his expertise to such programs as the BBC's popular spy series "Spooks," as well as major motion pictures.