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Ethics Corner: When a CIA Agent Is Outed, No One Wins

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Ethics Corner: When a CIA Agent Is Outed, No One Wins

Article excerpt

The telephone call came at 5 a.m., July 9, 1979. "Mr. Gossens, you should know that your name is all over the front pages this morning," said a Marine from the United States Embassy in Pretoria, South Africa. Gerry Gossens, the CIA chief of station in Pretoria, knew his diplomatic cover had been blown. The South African press had read a book, Dirty Work 2: The CIA in Africa, that included the biographies of 800 CIA officers. He was one of them.

"When a CIA agent is outed, it puts him, his family, and all of his diplomatic friends in danger," Gossens, 72, said while sitting in his Salisbury, Vt., home, as he recalled the chaos of that morning.

Gossens moved quickly to make sure his children were safe. He phoned the principals at his kids' schools to prepare them for any potential fallout and later picked up his 17-year-old son, who knew of his father's double life, and his 16-year-old daughter, Christine, who was learning about it for the first time. "You don't want to tell your kids you're CIA until they're old enough to handle it," the former intelligence officer said.

The Gossens, also including his wife and another daughter, escaped physical harm partly because the South African govern- ment had known about his dual role and insisted the papers were wrong. But his colleagues at the U.S. embassy who had not known that their congenial civil servant colleague was CIA felt betrayed. "Our friends at the embassy dropped all contact with us, and it became difficult going to diplomatic meetings," he said.

That experience was why I went to see Gossens: I wanted to talk to a former CIA officer whose identity had been revealed by the media. I needed his take on the officials who named Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, first revealed in Robert Novak's syndicated column.

And most of all, I wanted his perspective on the press' role in the CIA-leak controversy and whether he thought reporters who published the names of CIA agents should be prosecuted. Gossens had plenty to say.

He was aghast that the CIA leak and the alleged cover-up that followed was a plot hatched in or around a White House administered by the son of President George H.W. Bush -- a former director of the intelligence agency. "I can't believe President Bush's father would have tolerated a leak like that while he was president," said Gossens, a Democrat who was chief of station in Lusaka, Zambia, when the elder Bush ran the CIA. …

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