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Journalists as Spies

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Journalists as Spies

Article excerpt

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 nonofficial `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. …

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