"The Journalist Who Came in from the Cold?"
Written by Kathy Casper
Some time ago segment of the National Public Radio (NPR) program, "Morning Edition",
featured a discussion of the findings of a report by the
"Clandestine operations for whatever purpose currently are circumscribed by a number of legal and policy constraints.", further suggesting that "a fresh look be taken at limits on the use of nonofficial "covers" for hiding and protecting those involved in clandestine activities."
One policy constraint came about as a result of a study by the Senate Church Committee in 1975-76, which lead to an executive order in 1977, and a regulation signed by former CIA director, Adm. Stansfield Turner. The regulation banned the use of journalists, clergy and humanitarian aid (Peace Corps) volunteers as agents, or using those occupations as "covers" for agents involved in intelligence operations throughout the world.
The bone of contention, however, is a clause within the directive that permits exceptions to be made, if authorized by the director of the CIA, or his deputy. Does this clause give the CIA the leeway it needs? If so, then why should the CIA take a "fresh look" at its existing policy? Richard N. Haass, the CFR's project director and author of the report, stated that he was unaware of the exemption clause.
Some observers say that lifting the ban will unnecessarily endanger the lives and the credibility of American journalists, and that the risks far outweigh the benefits. Others say the CIA needs this flexibility in order to compete with foreign agencies not subject to such constraints.
Journalists may be second to none in their information gathering abilities. They develop crucial contacts and have traditionally protected their sources. Should the CIA - or any other governmental agency, for that matter - have carte blanche to exploit these attributes?
It seems to me, the essence of journalism is not so much the gathering of information, but the ultimate communication of that information through publishing. "Publishing" is rooted in the Latin word publicare, which means "to make public", "to announce". Clearly, there is a conflict of interest here both for the CIA and for the integrity of journalism.
The journalist who gathers information not intended for publication is no longer a "journalist", but an agent for whatever organization has hired his nose.
An agent posing as a journalist misrepresents an entire industry, and corrupts the spirit of one of the founding principles of our country.
How does this impact the armies of true journalists in America? According to American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) counsel, Richard M. Schmidt, Jr., "it casts doubt" on their credibility. William B. Ketter, president of ASNE, condemns both scenarios as "contrary to the principle of an independent American press".
Section III of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)
"Secondary employment, political involvement, holding public office, and service in community organizations should be avoided if it compromises the integrity of journalists and their employers. Journalists and their employers should conduct their personal lives in a manner that protects them from conflict of interest, real or apparent. Their responsibilities to the public are paramount. That is the nature of their profession."
The Society's President, G. Kelly Hawes, was quoted in the
In a letter of protest to President Clinton, Hawes recalled the ordeal of AP correspondent, Terry Anderson, who was held hostage in Lebanon for nearly seven years. According to Anderson, his captors demanded to know who at the AP was his contact with the CIA, "the assumption being that, of course, there was one."
Robert Gates, former CIA Director, states that the exemption clause in the 1977 regulation banning the use of journalists as agents, or journalism as a cover, was exercised only "once or twice" during the past 15 years. Assuming this to be true, consider how death and imprisonment statistics will escalate if the restrictions are lifted. Consider also the consequences that lifting this ban will have on potential news sources. Will they hold back information for fear they are talking with a spy?
When national security is at stake, many believe that no occupational sector should be verboten as a means of obtaining access to vital information. While it is true that sacrifices must be made by all of us in serving our patriotic duty, we must also be vigilant not to "throw out the baby with the bath."
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