Last month the U.S. Department Of Justice indicted a former CIA agent, John Kiriakou, for allegedly passing classified information to reporters and misleading the CIA in order to get permission to publish his memoirs. Specifically, the indictment accuses the former CIA officer of giving one journalist the name of the covert CIA agent and helping New York Times reporter Scott Shane identify a second agent involved in the waterboarding of al Qaeda leader Abu Zubaydah. In a new article in the National Journal, Yochi J. Dreazen discusses the case against Kiriakou in depth and looks at the relationship between the CIA and journalists.
The indictment claims that during an email exchange with an unnamed reporter Kiriakou was asked the name of a covert agent. While Kiriakou initially said he did not remember the name, he later emailed it to the journalist. The journalist never publically published the name, however they later sent the name to a defense attorney representing several detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The CIA claims that the release of the name put the covert agent’s life at risk. In addition, the Justice Department is alleging that Kiriakou lied on multiple occasions during an FBI interview on January 19th in which Kiriakou flatly denied giving the name of the covert CIA agent to journalists.
In the second instance, the indictment accuses Kiriakou of helping Scott Shane of the New York Times link one CIA agent, whose identity was not a secret, with the operation to capture Abu Zubaydah. The fact that the agent was involved in the operation was classified and the agent was later named in a front-page story in The New York Times.
The relationship between the intelligence community and media has long been a shaky one. Each party is often reliant on the other – whether for the need to get information or the desire to influence public opinion on a topic. The use of information in the military in overseas operations falls under the domain of Information Operations, an often controversial job that involves swaying public opinion to support the American cause. A critical component of overseas operations, it’s strickly prohibited on American soil.
Reporters and policy wonks can often be found trading stories with drinks in the nation’s capital, with perhaps little risk to either’s career. But when those relationships cross the line between socializing and sharing secrets, there are serious consequences.
After a spate of high-profile leaks in recent years, including the massive leak of hundreds of thousands of Department Of State diplomatic cables, job seekers looking for cleared positions need to be mindful of their relationships with the media. Managers looking to fill cleared positions could well be more hesitant to hire an individual with strong connections with journalists, especially if those relationships appear to be based on exchanging information. For job seekers with previous connections to the media, their best bet is to be open and honest with clearance investigators about the nature and extent of their relationship.
Mike Jones is a researcher, writer, and analyst on national and international security. He lives in the DC area.