Ted Rall: I Know a Secret [exclusive]

Ted Rall knows a secret. The same secret the CIA asked 6000-plus reporters not to reveal after an email slip. Witness the scary state of U.S. journalism.

aNewDomain.net — I know a secret.

I know the identity of the man who was CIA chief of station in Kabul — up until just a month ago.

Turns out the exact name of the top spook in Afghanistan was circulated in an email to 6000-plus reporters. It showed up on an attendance list of senior U.S. officials participating in a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama during his surprise visit with U.S. troops.

The government spotted the error and asked journalists not to post it.

The journalists agreed! Yet it’s still all over the Internet.

Why are 6000-plus journalists keeping a secret — a non-secret — for the U.S. government? Why?

What I found via Google during a few hours of searching made me 98 percent sure it was him. Sources speaking from Kabul covered the final two percentages of doubt. So now I know his name.

Until last week I was working this story for Pando Daily, where I was a staff writer and cartoonist.

We intended to publish the name. This was not to endanger him — impossible in any case because Langley already has yanked him off his spook post. We intended to publish it as a way of taking a stand for brave reporting and adversarial media.

Journalists ought to publish news wherever they find it, whatever it is, damn the consequences.

Credible media organizations don’t protect government secrets. They don’t obey spy agencies and take their requests like waiters.

Real journalists don’t cooperate with government — any government, any time, for any reason.

My editor and I believed that, by demonstrating a little fearlessness, we might inspire other media outfits to grow a pair and stop sucking up to the government.

Only problem is, now there is no longer a “we.” Pando fired me over the weekend, along with the investigative journalist David Sirota.

Stripped of the institutional protection of a media organization willing to supply legal representation and advice, I cannot move forward with our/my original plan to reveal the name. Not even here. Not without corporate lawyers watching my back.

What I can still do is draw attention to an absurdity: That there are thousands of journalists representing 100s of media outlets who’ve agreed to keep a secret and not report on something because the U.S. government asked them to. It’s not much of a secret now that you can quickly Google it, anyway, but the point is that American media is currying favor and taking orders from a government. The same government that so routinely lies to them.

On May 25, U.S. President Barack Obama paid a visit to the U.S. airbase at Bagram, north of Kabul. The airbase includes an expanded torture facility for Muslim detainees.

Sixteen so-called “senior” U.S. officials were brought to Bagram to brief  Obama on the military situation. Among those in the briefing: the Kabul chief of station (COS). That’s the CIA’s top man in occupied Afghanistan.


As I said, an Obama Administration PR flack mistakenly included the COS’ name on a list of meeting attendees that was emailed to more than 6000 journalists around the globe. And then it asked them to conceal that information.


From The Washington Post:

The list was circulated by e-mail to reporters who traveled to Afghanistan with Obama, and disseminated further when it was included in a ‘pool report,’ or summary of the event meant to be shared with other news organizations, including foreign media, not taking part in the trip …

In this case, the pool report was filed by Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson. Wilson said he had copied the list from the e-mail provided by White House press officials. He sent his pool report to the press officials, who then distributed it to a list of more than 6,000 recipients.”


 What happened next is notable both for farcicality worthy of the movie “Brazil,” and what it reveals about the slavishly submissive posture of reporters and their editors and producers to the U.S. government in general and the CIA in particular.

CIA Chiefs of Station are certainly secret agents. But while their jobs may be “secrets, their names rarely in are. That’s because they often maintain such a high profile that they are widely known in their own host countries. The flamboyantly work out of the local US agency, hang at ex-pat parties and bars, and show up at exclusive, high-profile events. Like the aforementioned meeting with Obama I mentioned above.

The predecessor of the Kabul COS outted in May, for example, had previously been identified on Facebook.

The Taliban and other adversaries have superb access to intelligence throughout Afghanistan, including widespread infiltration among the police and Afghan military. They are sophisticated Internet users. Any time they feel like it, they can target a COS . They probably won’t. It isn’t a smart use of resources. Like other guerilla armies, tracking such figures reveals years of useful information that make followiing him far more valuable than any one-off propaganda price of, say, assassinating him.

When the CIA recognized that its Station Chief’s cover truly had been blown, it pulled him out of Kabul.

According to Senator Rob Portman, he is safe. But now things get ridiculous: the White House asked 6,000+ reporters — reporters! — to forget what they’d learned. And all 6000 plus did.


 Reports The New York Times.

 The name and title of the station chief were removed in a later pool report that urged reporters to ‘please use this list’ of attendees at the president’s briefing instead of the previous one …”

And there you have it. The sad state of America’s once fierce and free press: All 6,000+ reporters and their media employers adhered to the White House request to redact the outted COS’ name from their reporting All. What has happened to First Amendment journalism, journalistic ethics or its duty to inform American citizens.

And look, it’s not that the former Kabul Station Chief’s name isn’t out there. You could find it easily. It’s on a bunch of websites, particularly blogs that specialize in coverage of spy agencies.


Yet US media has spent the last month playing online Whack-a-Mole. It is censoring the outted COS’ name whenever it pops up, as requested by the agency after it revealed the name to them.

Whenever his name appears in an aggregated piece copied from an original version of the White House email by a bot, or in a comment thread, it stays up a few days before vanishing down the memory hole.

Why do they do it? Because the Obama Administration asked nicely. And, worse, they don’t want to offend the CIA.

This is even though the name is not secret.

Kowtowing to the government doesn’t even have a practical effect. The guy is no longer in Kabul! And America’s enemies already knew or can easily know all about him.

They know, as I do, about the ex-COS’ previous postings.

They know, as I do, about the cars he drives, the sports he enjoys, his address history in the States and overseas, the names of his family members. It’s all on the Internet.

Everyone leaves a digital trail — even spies.

No one has privacy — not even spies.

Anyone can find this stuff.

We should be holding the Fourth Estate accountable for their failure to hold government accountable.

The Kabul Chief of Station fiasco exposes the subservience that shows why corporate media can’t be trusted to challenge the powers that be.

Why isn’t one journalist out of 6,000 — unlike me, protected by lawyered-up media organizations — willing to publish a government secret that the government gave away?

Our Ted Rall, syndicated writer and cartoonist, is the author of “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan,” out Sept. 2.  Subscribe to Ted Rall here.