The heinous nature of the New York Times’ action – naming a senior CIA official in a 2 June article about a new CIA cell focused on Iran – isn’t about whether the officer in question has been named publicly before (although more on that in a moment). It lies in the fact that the CIA official has been assigned to a new task, and has now had a target painted on his back because of his association with that task.
The CIA official led the hunt for Osama bin Laden, and was outed in that regard in 2015 (along with his involvement in the drone-hunting program). NYT played a role in that outing, as described by Gawker at the time:
Today [26 April 2015], the New York Times named, against the CIA’s wishes, Michael D’Andrea, the former chief of the agency’s counterterrorism center, in a story about support in Washington for the lethal drone program. The Washington Post reported on D’Andrea’s reassignment last month without using his name, which Gawker then published.
“The C.I.A. asked that Mr. D’Andrea’s name and the names of some other top agency officials be withheld from this article,” the Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Matt Apuzzo write, “but The New York Times is publishing them because they have leadership roles in one of the government’s most significant paramilitary programs and their roles are known to foreign governments and many others.”
In the latest instance, NYT has used the previous outing of this operative in relation to his counterterrorism work – in which NYT had a hand – as an excuse for outing him again in the new Iran assignment. (Emphasis added.)
The C.I.A. declined to comment on Mr. D’Andrea’s role, saying it does not discuss the identities or work of clandestine officials. The officials spoke only on the condition of anonymity because Mr. D’Andrea remains undercover, as do many senior officials based at the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Va. Mr. Eatinger did not use his name. The New York Times is naming Mr. D’Andrea because his identity was previously published in news reports, and he is leading an important new administration initiative against Iran.
This is deceptive special pleading. Until NYT announced it, the officer’s connection with the “important new administration initiative against Iran” was unpublicized – and that’s what matters.
Putting that connection in the limelight is the exact opposite of respecting America’s interest in effective national intelligence operations against Iran. What NYT has done is not in the public interest in any way; rather, it is an action against America’s public interest.
Worse, moreover, is the action of NYT’s government sources in naming the CIA officer to the media. NYT is not sworn to keep his identity a secret. The government officials are.
Two days later, at least two websites dedicated to news and commentary for Iranians in the West have published personal information dug up on the operative, including the town he is said to live in, his wife’s name and family information, and separate photos of her and her husband.
I won’t link to those websites here. I’m providing redacted screen caps of the material from one of them, so you can see that they exist. There are probably more websites rebroadcasting this information, in the time since I discovered the two I mention several hours ago.
The threat of assassination by Iranian operatives in the West is a real one. In 2011, two men linked to Iran’s security agencies were charged with plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States (conviction followed in 2013).
Iran has no compunction about assassinating regime opponents who live abroad, and has spoken explicitly of assassinating the “enemies of the Republic” abroad (see here for a more recent discussion on Iranian TV in February 2017).
In 2012, the pre-Jeff Bezos Washington Post reported that U.S. officials were among those known to have been recently targeted by Iranian assassination plots.
And, as Omri Ceren reminds us, in 1984, Iran’s proxies kidnapped and tortured to death the CIA’s chief of station in Lebanon, William Buckley.
— Omri Ceren (@omriceren) June 2, 2017
The Gordon Thomas account of that harrowing incident is only to be read when your mind and gut are at their strongest. Buckley’s captors sent the U.S. several videotapes of his horrific deterioration during the months-long period of torture.
Ironically, the most likely date of Buckley’s death was 3 June 1985, almost 32 years to the day before NYT’s notification to Iran that a new CIA honcho was on their trail.
The action by government officials and NYT on 2 June 2017 has made the officer’s wife and her family targets of the ruthless Iranian kidnappings-and-assassinations brigade as well.
The outing of this officer and the new Iran intelligence cell came from U.S. officials who leaked the information, without authorization, to the media. The Wall Street Journal also reported on the new cell on 2 June, clarifying several things about it and including the officer’s name once again.
According to WSJ (emphasis added):
The Central Intelligence Agency has established an organization focused exclusively on gathering and analyzing intelligence about Iran, reflecting the Trump administration’s decision to make that country a higher priority target for American spies, according to U.S. officials.
The Iran Mission Center will bring together analysts, operations personnel and specialists from across the CIA to bring to bear the range of the agency’s capabilities, including covert action. In that respect it is similar to a new Korea Mission Center that the CIA announced last month to address North Korea’s efforts to develop long-range nuclear missiles.
The CIA didn’t publicly announce the new Iran organization. The agency declined to comment.
So in case it wasn’t clear, the Iran cell is something the CIA didn’t intend to publicize at all, at least for the moment – unlike the North Korea cell.
This can’t be anything but deliberate attempted sabotage of the new Iran effort. There is no other explanation for government officials outing the new effort and the name of its leader.
The motive behind the sabotage has been discussed in a number of quarters since at least February, when a January 2017 intelligence leak to the Washington Post was leveraged to drive Michael Flynn from his post as national security adviser, with a campaign of innuendo.
Adam Kredo had an article at the time outlining the campaign: to attack and sabotage anyone from the new Trump administration involved in changing U.S. policy on Iran. The focus on Iran policy has continued in the months since; in February, Kredo described information from his sources that previewed just how tenacious it would be (emphasis added):
The effort, said to include former Obama administration adviser Ben Rhodes—the architect of a separate White House effort to create what he described as a pro-Iran echo chamber—included a small task force of Obama loyalists who deluged media outlets with stories aimed at eroding Flynn’s credibility, multiple sources revealed. …
“It’s undeniable that the campaign to discredit Flynn was well underway before Inauguration Day, with a very troublesome and politicized series of leaks designed to undermine him,” said one veteran national security adviser with close ties to the White House team. “This pattern reminds me of the lead up to the Iran deal, and probably features the same cast of characters.”
The Free Beacon first reported in January that, until its final days in office, the Obama administration hosted several pro-Iran voices who were critical in helping to mislead the American public about the terms of the nuclear agreement. This included a former Iranian government official and the head of the National Iranian American Council, or NIAC, which has been accused of serving as Iran’s mouthpiece in Washington, D.C.
Since then, top members of the Obama administration’s national security team have launched a communications infrastructure after they left the White House, and have told reporters they are using that infrastructure to undermine Trump’s foreign policy.
“It’s actually Ben Rhodes, NIAC, and the Iranian mullahs who are celebrating today,” said one veteran foreign policy insider who is close to Flynn and the White House. “They know that the number one target is Iran … [and] they all knew their little sacred agreement with Iran was going to go off the books. So they got rid of Flynn before any of the [secret] agreements even surfaced.”
The campaign against Flynn was vicious enough. But by outing a CIA officer in a uniquely sensitive post, government officials and NYT have put him and his family connections in real danger: more demonstrable and immediate than any that Valerie Plame was ever in, and without question, consciously intended. That’s a new level of wrong. The deliberate attempts to sabotage Trump’s administration – both people and policies – have been called a slow-motion “coup,” and with each passing day, that term becomes more and more appropriate.
This cannot stand. It’s more important to clean out the next-to-top level of national security and intelligence personnel than it is to pretend that “ops normal” is what’s going on with them, or that “ops normal” is still serving us.
Manifestly, it is not. Drain the swamp, whatever it takes. It can be done lawfully. It just may not be possible without a short-term operational cost. But the cost of not draining it is too high to pay.