Critics: White House Blunder Puts Whole CIA Unit in Peril

Image: Critics: White House Blunder Puts Whole CIA Unit in Peril Rep. Pete Hoekstra

Monday, 26 May 2014 08:33 PM

By Todd Beamon

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The accidental disclosure of the identity of the top CIA agent in Afghanistan by the Obama administration could affect operations in that country — even target the entire unit for assassination by the Taliban, political operatives said Monday.

"It looks like a rookie mistake, but it's in year six of the administration," retired Air Force Gen. Michael Hayden, who directed both the CIA and the National Security Agency, told Newsmax. "It's a bit stunning. You would never expect to see that in material that's been made public."

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Former House Intelligence Chairman Pete Hoekstra told Newsmax that the CIA agent "is now compromised. I just classify this as a major blunder by the Obama White House national security staff."

"I do not know how long this person has been in Kabul, but they're not going to be there for long," Hoekstra added. "They'll probably be moved within a couple of days."

A spokeswoman with the National Security Council confirmed to Fox News that the White House chief of staff asked White House Counsel Neil Eggleston to “look into what happened” and make recommendations on “how the administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again.”

The brief statement from the National Security Council was the first on-the-record comment made by the administration since the CIA official’s name was disclosed over the weekend. The internal review, though, reflects the severity of the error.

Brit Hume on Fox News compared the current leak to that of the Valerie Plame case:

Hume: "Well, first of all, the comparisons I think to the Valerie Plame case which we all remember in which Karl Rove was remorselessly pursued by the special prosecutor. Scooter Libby, he wasn't the person who leaked the name was successfully prosecuted for what he said in a grand jury and so on.

This was a woman, even though her status was supposed to be classified, she was working at a desk in Virginia; this is a guy on the front lines in Afghanistan. It's a very different matter and I think it's fair to say much more serious and I think the public will recognize that and as I say, I think it feeds into this question whether these are people who can run anything."

Bob Baer, a retired CIA agent, told CNN that administration officials are "going to have to pull him out now that he's been identified publicly."

"The Taliban probably didn't know his name before, but they will now," he said. "They will focus on attempting to assassinate him — and I think it is just a matter of fact that they will pull him out of Afghanistan."

In an embarrassing flub for the White House, the CIA official's name was included in an email sent to thousands of journalists during President Barack Obama's surprise Memorial Day trip to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan.

The officer's name — identified as "chief of station" in Kabul — was included by U.S. embassy staff on a list of 15 senior U.S. officials who met with Obama during the Saturday visit.

The list was sent to a reporter for The Washington Post who was representing the news media, who then sent it out to the White House "press pool" list, which contains as many as 6,000 recipients.

The officer's name was being withheld by many news organizations at the request of the Obama administration, who said its publication could put his life and those of his family members in danger.

A Google search, however, appeared to reveal the name of the officer's wife and other personal details.

White House officials realized the error when Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson notified them, and sent out a new list without the station chief's name.

The reporter who distributes the pool report generally sends it to the White House to be checked for factual accuracy and then forwards it to the thousands of journalists on the email distribution list.

In this case, the White House failed on at least two occasions to recognize that the CIA official's name was being revealed and circulated so broadly.

The disclosure smacked of the 2003 disclosure that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative by officials of the George W. Bush administration, Hayden and Hoekstra told Newsmax on Monday. It was done to discredit Plame's husband, a former ambassador who had criticized the decision to invade Iraq.

Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a lawyer who was chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice in the case, and sentenced to 30 months in prison, though Bush later commuted the prison sentence.

For her part, Plame said on Monday on Twitter:



"The issue is the same," Hayden told Newsmax. "The issue is revealing the name of someone whose relationship to the CIA is a classified matter. It's exactly the same thing."

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While neither Hoekstra nor Hayden suspects the disclosure was intentional, what is most troubling about it, they said, is that Obama's national security staff should know how to handle such matters by now — after almost six years in the White House.

"This is not the president's first trip overseas," Hoekstra said. "He's now nearly six years into his presidency, and for an 'experienced' staff to be making these kinds of mistakes is pretty inexcusable."

Members of the CIA's operations arm, called the National Clandestine Service, are typically given cover identities to protect them, their families, and the sources they have recruited abroad.

The station chief, who manages all CIA operations in the country, is often a senior officer whose true name is known to the host nation and other intelligence agencies.

The term "station chief" is sensitive enough, however, that former officers usually are not allowed to use it in their resumes in connection with specific countries, even after their covers have been lifted.

Because Afghanistan's station chief is known to Afghan officials and lives in a heavily guarded compound, he may be able to continue in his job, both Hayden and Hoekstra told Newsmax.

"Most likely, the CIA chief in Kabul was cooperating with key people in the Afghan military," Hoekstra said. "We know that there's probably leaks in the Afghan hierarchy, but that's no excuse for us being sloppy. That's absolutely no excuse."

Baer, who worked primarily in the Middle East for the CIA from 1976 to 1997, echoed similar concerns to CNN.

"They're going to be able to look at him, his cover," he said, referring to the Taliban. "The people around him are going to look like CIA, too, and they may have to take a whole unit out.

"It depends on the situation out there," Baer added. "But this is a serious breach of security. The problem is White House staffers, and some of the military, don't understand the significance of cover and what it means for the CIA."

The intentional disclosure of the name of a "covered" operative is a crime under the U.S. Intelligence Identities Protection Act.

In January, a former CIA officer, John Kiriakou, was sentenced to 30 months in prison after pleading guilty to disclosing to a reporter the name of an undercover agency officer.

"I doubt anyone from the White House is going to be prosecuted over this," said Jesselyn Radack, who represented Kiriakou. "It shows the continuing double standard over leaks."

Referencing the Plame case, Hoekstra also cited a double standard — but this one is with the mainstream media and its continued weak coverage of the Obama administration.

"What you're going to see again is a double standard," he told Newsmax. "Obviously, in terms of scale, this is a much more significant blunder than the mistake that was made by Scooter Libby.

"You're going to see the media just skate on this one and say: 'That's too bad. That's really too bad that someone made a mistake like this.'

"But the person in Kabul is absolutely furious that his or her cover has been blown," Hoekstra said. "When you compare that to where Valerie Plame was to the station chief in Kabul, there is no comparison — in terms of scale and in terms of importance."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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