By: DEBRA GERSH HERNANDEZ
THE PUBLIC DISCUSSION of the CIA’s policy waivers that allow the limited use of journalists in covert operations may be doing more harm than good, as it confirms assumptions overseas, however unwarranted, that American journalists are spies, according to witnesses at a recent government hearing.
At the start of the hearing, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, noted that he was uncomfortable discussing the issue publicly, but added that he believes anyone who would retaliate against a journalist because of the waiver policy already is aware of it.
“To whatever degree any [foreign] governments may have questions about whether we do this or not, those questions may be better left without articulations of policy,” commented Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.). “But here, it seems to me, if they weren’t tainted before, they sure as hell will be tainted afterwards.”
Terry Anderson, who was working for the Associated Press in the Middle East when he was taken as a hostage, commented that, “The damage has already been done, I believe, most prominently by Director [of Central Intelligence John M.] Deutch’s acknowledgement . . . that there were exceptions to the general rule and that such things have happened in the past.
“So, the best thing that we can do is try to repair the damage by a greater prohibition, without exceptions. We are talking about a real danger; this is not imaginary,” said Anderson, who has had militiamen hold loaded weapons to his head and yell, “Spy, spy.”
“I am not the only journalist working in the field who has had his life threatened or been put in danger by the suspicion that he or she was a spy,” he commented.
Although there is no way to tell how many journalists around the world died because of the assumption that they were spies, but “most of us assume at least some did,” Anderson added.
The existing CIA policy disallows use of journalists, clergy or Peace Corps workers in covert operations or as cover for CIA agents, unless the director of Central Intelligence determines that the situation is serious enough to grant a waiver.
Deutch often has given as examples cases where hostages’ lives are at stake or if a terrorist group is threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction.
The policy became the focus of intense debate earlier this year, when a Council on Foreign Relations report suggested, among other things, that the CIA take “a fresh look . . . at limits on the use of non-official ‘covers’ for hiding and protecting those involved in clandestine activities” (E&P, March 2, p. 8).
Recently, the House of Representatives passed a measure sponsored by Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) that bans the use of journalists for such activity, but the amendment gives the president the power to grant a waiver in extraordinary circumstances.
Passage of the House action led to a hearing by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The full Senate may address the issue if a floor amendment to the intelligence authorization bill is introduced, but it will be dealt with in conference regardless, since the House amendment has already passed.
At the hearing, Senators J. Robert Kerrey (D-Neb.) and John Glenn (D-Ohio) both spoke against any measure that would totally prohibit such activity.
“I simply don’t see why any profession should be completely and permanently excluded,” Kerrey said. “The determining factors should be the situation and the willingness of the individual. When lives are at risk, or a vital national interest is at risk, I don’t see why any American patriot should be forbidden to cooperate with an American intelligence agency.”
Glenn said he views the matter “as an individual choice.”
“Just to have a policy that says we will under no circumstances, no how, no way, even think of talking to clergy or those associated with religious groups overseas or journalists, I think that would be a wrong policy,” Glenn said.
Director of Central Intelligence Deutch previously articulated his belief that the existing policy is sound, and he said so again during the hearing. Deutch also argued against transferring the power to grant waivers from the DCI, or the deputy in his absence, to the president.
“As director of Central Intelligence, I must be in a position to assure the president and the members of his National Security Council and this country that there will never come a time when the United States cannot ask a witting citizen to assist in combating an extreme threat to the nation,” he said.
The CIA “should not be prohibited from considering the use of American journalists or clergy.”
After reviewing the guidelines for granting a waiver, Deutch said he recently issued new ones “which set out specific tests that must be satisfied before the director or deputy director may consider the waiver.”
The guidelines are classified, but they do “require prompt, as well as periodic, notification of the intelligence committees” of Congress, he explained.
Deutch said the ability to grant a waiver should not rest with the president, because the DCI “is the official entrusted with running intelligence operations” and “ought to be responsible for this operational, albeit extremely important, decision in those rare situations where it might be contemplated.”
“If the director fails to give the matter proper attention or judgment, the director can be overruled or even fired by his boss, the president,” he pointed out.
Although most of the journalists on the panel testified against using journalists as spies or as cover for CIA agents, Washington Times columnist Kenneth L. Adelman thought the whole thing was a “non-issue” and that the existing policy should be left in place.
“I don’t know why any group of professionals should be exempted,” Adelman said.
Further, he pointed out, no matter what the policy, no matter who denies that journalists are not used by the CIA, it will be “laughed off or ignored or discounted, especially by the bad guys of the world ? and these bad guys of the world are the ones that we should care most about in terms of where human intelligence needs to penetrate, because of the kind of terrorist attack, the kind of weapons of mass destruction” they may use.
“Yes, American journalists are journalists, but they are also Americans, and I see no reason why they shouldn’t feel some kind of civic responsibility, when lives are in danger, to serve our country ? and I know many of them do feel that civic responsibility,” Adelman continued. “But it does not take great leaps of imagination to come up with scenarios of weapons of mass destruction, of lives in danger, where they shouldn’t, for a moment, step out of their role as journalist and care about our country and care about lives.”
Former AP correspondent Anderson told the committee that during the nearly seven years he was a hostage, and at other times during his career, he was accused of working for the CIA.
“From both personal experience and my duties as a director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, I’ve known that journalists are in danger by the perception that they are connected to intelligence agencies,” Anderson said.
“We all know that in much of the world, the CIA is viewed with great suspicion and distaste, and that journalists in those same places begin with the presumption on the part of many people that they are somehow connected with intelligence gathering,” he remarked.
“I have been accused of being a spy, not just on occasion of my captivity, but on various occasions in various places. I was told by a number of people that I was on a list of CIA agents kept by fundamentalist Shiites who captured me.
“That is a perception that is very difficult to disprove,” Anderson noted. “It’s hard to argue with them. They are very suspicious people.”
Anderson told the committee that during his captivity, he often was asked for the name of the CIA agent he reported to at the AP.
“The assumption being, of course, that there was one,” he said, adding, “Of course there isn’t and there never has been and there never will be.”
Anderson also said he found it “difficult to conceive of a journalist having information of any such importance to the nation and keeping it to themselves. It’s against nature, I think.”
The “insistence of the CIA on formal exceptions” to the policy increases the perception that journalists are spies, and even if there is only the slightest chance that a journalist may be working with the CIA, Anderson said it was “dangerous and unnecessary.”
“I think we need an absolute and public blanket ban on the recruiting or use of journalists or clergy or Peace Corps workers by any intelligence agency of the United States,” he said, adding that the use of journalistic cover by CIA agents also is dangerous.
ABC News Nightline anchor Ted Koppel told the committee that he was “unalterably and categorically opposed to the notion of the CIA having the legal option of using journalism as a cover for its officers or agents.”
Many foreign governments, police and agencies already assume that American journalists overseas “are, at the very least, sharing information with the CIA and probably work for the agency,” Koppel remarked.
“How often the CIA would actually use such cover is beside the point,” he added.
“The relevant question is how often it would be assumed, both at home and abroad, that American reporters are working with a second, secret agenda.”
Recalling the case of reporter Nicholas Daniloff, the Moscow correspondent who was accused of being a spy, U.S. News & World Report chairman and editor in chief Mort Zuckerman pointed out that while the United States’ intelligence interests are substantial and legitimate, “there are another set of interests which are equally serious and substantial and legitimate.”
“Whatever gains may be justified and whatever grounds may be used to justify intelligence work by the press, in whatever form it may take, it seems to me that these gains must still be assessed in the context of what they do to the press as an institution in a free society,” Zuckerman said.
“The central role of journalism is that of a constitutional check on government, not as an instrument of government,”
he noted, adding that “the notion of trust and confidence and objectivity are critical.”
“Any association, it seems to me, with a government agency, or with particularly an intelligence service, undermines the credibility and greater public good that is done by independent journalists.
“Untainted journalism today might do more good for America, it seems to me, than anything that the occasional journalistic agents might accomplish in intelligence services,” Zuckerman remarked.
“These prohibitions must be increased and made more absolute, not just on the basis of the risks that are associated with journalists serving abroad,” he added. “There is a widespread understanding that journalists assume risks serving abroad. I think it undermines the very critical and constitutionally protected role of journalism.”
Zuckerman also argued that it is “not enough to say that if an individual consents, that he therefore should be available as a resource to, or an asset for, intelligence service, because the effects of his individual decision go way beyond what this individual may or may not be involved in.”
“I think that it affects the role of the press, it affects the security of the press, it affects the integrity of the press, it affects the credibility of the press, and all of these, in my judgment, are critical enough so that they should be maintained through a greater prohibition,” Zuckerman said.
The committee also heard from witnesses who discussed the similar use of clergy and religious workers and Peace Corps volunteers, all of whom urged the Congress to enact a ban on such activity.
?(Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, noted that he was uncomfortable discussing the issue publicly.) [Caption & Photo]
?(“Just to have a policy that says we will under no circumstances, no how, no way, even think of talking to clergy or those
associated with religious groups overseas or journalists, I think that would be a wrong policy.” ) [Caption & Photo]
?(? U.S. Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) [Photo]
?(“When lives are at risk, or a vital national interest is at risk, I don’t see why any American patriot should be forbidden to cooperate with an American intelligence agency.” ? U.S. Sen. J. Robert Kerrey (D-Neb.) [Photo & Caption]
?(“I think we need an absolute and public blanket ban on the recruiting or use of journalists or clergy or Peace Corps workers by any intelligence agency of the United States.”) [Caption]
?(? Terry Anderson, former Associated Press Middle East correspondent who was held captive for seven years ) [Photo & Caption]
?(“The central role of journalism is that of a Constitutional check on government, not as an instrument of government. Any association, it seems to me, with a government agency, or with particularly an intelligence service, undermines the credibility and greater public good that is done by independent journalists.”)[Caption]
?(? Mort Zuckerman, New York Daily News owner and editor and chief of
U.S. News & World Report ) [Photo & Caption]