Oops: WH Accidentally Reveals Name of Top CIA Official in Afghanistan

Posted: May 27, 2014 2:31 PM

This isn't a small 'oops,' either. Reuters reports:

The White House inadvertently included the name of the top CIA official in Afghanistan on a list of participants in a military briefing with President Barack Obama that was distributed to reporters on Sunday, the Washington Post reported. The newspaper said the official, identified as "Chief of Station" in Kabul, was named as being among those at a briefing with Obama during the president's trip to Bagram Air Base near the Afghan capital. The list of names was sent by email to reporters traveling with Obama on his surprise Afghanistan visit and included in a "pool report" shared with correspondents and others not on the trip. The Post said the White House issued a revised list deleting the CIA official's name after it recognized the mistake. The newspaper said its White House bureau chief, Scott Wilson, who was on the trip, copied the original list from the email provided by White House press officials and included it in a report sent to a distribution list with over 6,000 recipients. After he spotted the reference to the station chief, Wilson asked White House press officials in Afghanistan if they had intended to include that name, the Post said. "Initially, the press office raised no objection, apparently because military officials had provided the list to distribute to news organizations," the Post added. "But senior White House officials realized the mistake and scrambled to issue an updated list without the CIA officer’s name."

Kudos to the Washington Post for (a) catching the potentially dangerous mistake, (b) immediately alerting US officials, and (c) agreeing to withhold the station chief's name from its reporting. Lives could be at risk:

The newspaper said it withheld the individual's name at the request of the Obama administration, which warned he and his family could be at risk if his name were circulated. A review of the pool reports from the trip shows that the name was taken out of an updated list sent to reporters...The Post said it was not clear if the CIA would now be forced to remove the officer from Afghanistan. The White House declined to comment.

The central question may now be how widely this person's name was distributed. Six thousand email recipients isn't a small pool, so if the identity of the Kabul station chief begins to circulate beyond that fairly expansive media list, the US may have to consider replacing its top spook in Afghanistan at a crucial time. President Obama announced in late February that American forces are planning for a full-scale withdrawal from Afghanistan as 2014 winds down. The Daily Beast's Eli Lake reports on the deepening rift between the White House and leaders within the defense and intelligence communities; the latter group has been pressing for at least 10,000 US troops to remain in the war-torn country for post-2014 operations. They've warned that a lighter residual footprint may not be able to prevent a resurgent Al Qaeda from reestablishing a dangerous foothold, and it appears that they've prevailed. For the time being, at least. This CIA mistake injects another unhelpful wrinkle into the mix. Decision-makers may ultimately be forced to weigh the disruptions resulting from our top intelligence officer being forced out in the midst of a major NATO draw-down against the safety of him and his family.

Parting thought: Democrats and the media worked themselves into a frothy frenzy over the Valerie Plame affair, which also involved the outing of a CIA operative, during the Bush years. As the story went, the Bush White House deliberately blew Plame's cover as a form of political retribution for her husband's public statements criticizing the rationale for the Iraq war. This wasn't a short-lived kerfuffle. Reporters connected to the story ended up facing jail time for protecting sources, and Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff was convicted on four counts. The conspiratorial narrative didn't end up fully aligning with reality, though. First off, Plame's status wasn't quite the state secret it was cracked up to be (though the exact nature of her status was hotly contested), and secondly, the person who leaked her identity turned out to have been a State Department official who wasn't exactly an Iraq hawk. Also, other important elements of the Plame/Wilson story were contradicted by documents and exposed in a bipartisan Congressional report. Nevertheless, the notion that a CIA agent's identity had been intentionally spilled stirred up quite a scandal in Washington. In this case, the identity of a key CIA chief in the field -- in one of the most dangerous countries on the planet, no less -- has again been compromised, but this time the culprit isn't (imagined) Machiavellian machinations. It's breathtaking sloppiness and incompetence.