News brief(s): Loose lips sink informants
The CIA and Saudi and Yemeni intelligence organizations have foiled a suicide bomber’s attempt to take down an aircraft with a bomb in his shorts.
Apparently the intelligence community has been tracking the explosive device for weeks.
That is all good, obviously. Now we learn that the plot was foiled because the bomber was a CIA informant.
About that, I have mixed feelings.
Identifying and grooming an undercover operative is as delicate as it is time-intensive. Anyone who is serving two masters while acting as if he is serving one must be stressed beyond most people’s gasp, always skittish and under almost incomprehensible pressure.
Being a double agent or a confidential informant must work on the nerves. And now he is blown. Not in the way al-Qaeda had hoped, but in terms of his identity, and that is what troubles me.
A word, an overheard conversation in an unguarded moment—or being constantly guarded in every word and action—must take a heavy toll.
It might take years to recruit and prepare an undercover operative, and someone took it upon himselfto endanger the informant, his friends and family, other agents in place and global security.
Al-Qaeda must be ticked.
Looking the fool while the world is celebrating the first anniversary of the death of their leader will likely incite them to try again, to try harder and to try soon.
I recall a time that I was working at a major newspaper. We were about to publish an article about a CIA operation in Afghanistan. As is customary, we (We the newspaper; I was not involved in the story.) asked the CIA for comment. As is customary, we expected no response. But we got one.
I knew nothing about the situation until a short time later when I asked the managing editor what his toughest call had been as a newspaperman.
Without hesitation, he laughed and said just last week. He told me about going through the motions of asking the CIA for comment when the reporter received a call telling him that he had to spike the story or endanger the operation.
Well, anybody in journalism knows that those words shoot a surge of adrenaline that would kill a mortal non-newspaperman, but he told his editor who kicked it up to the managing editor (ME in the biz) who told the CIA contact that they always say that. Why, he asked, was this different?
The Company man said that the specific information would necessarily identify the source.
The ME said that he might consider it if the president told him so,
It wasn’t the president who called. It was his vice-president, who stated unequivocally that publishing he story would lead directly to the death of at least one source,
The ME agreed, predicated on not hearing a whisper of it from any other medium. If he thought someone else was coming forward with the story, we’d run it.
His decision was not received with equanimity. There were those at the paper who were vertiginous with fury by what they saw as the ME knuckling under to the government’s violation of the inviolable concept of freedom of the press.
I had never been prouder of the paper than when the ME, with the concurrence of the editor-in-chief, chose to place human life over a killer story.
Would that everyone were to choose integrity and discretion over the momentary pleasure of being the big shot who can’t wait to tell his secret.
And who can guess the ramifications of this selfish and senseless choice, for us and for our allies, both short-term and over time
If ever I wanted to personally stuff a bomb in someone’s shorts….