Keeping Yet Another Government Secret

The National Clandestine Service: Too secret to reveal the name of its acting chief--but not too secret to be looking for student interns.

The National Clandestine Service: Too secret to reveal the name of its acting chief–but not too secret to be looking for student interns.

The New York Times  (3/27/13) and Washington Post (3/26/13), among other outlets, are withholding the name of a CIA official under consideration for the Agency’s third-highest ranking job: director of the National Clandestine Service. (She is currently the acting head of the Service.)

The story is odd, because such high-ranking CIA officials are normally named in news reports about their activities. So why is the media concealing her identity in this case? Because the CIA asked them to–that’s apparently all it takes.

The real question is: Why did the CIA ask? The Agency reportedly wants her identity concealed because they say she is undercover, suggesting that disclosure could be a matter of national security or safety. But FireDogLake‘s Kevin Gosztola (3/28/13) casts doubt on that claim, pointing out her high rank and the fact that her name is well-known to establishment reporters.

On the contrary, Gosztola makes a good case that agency wants her identity concealed to shield her from accountability over past involvement in the CIA’s interrogation and rendition programs, and in the destruction of videotapes of CIA torture sessions. According to Gosztola:  

The Washington Post reported the female officer served in a senior position at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center after the September 11th attacks. She was in the chain of command for the Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program (RDI). When Rodriguez was promoted to head the clandestine service in 2004, she became his chief of staff.

At a black site prison in Thailand, brutal interrogations of high-profile detainees, including Abu Zubaydah and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, were recorded. Footage included video of Zubaydah vomiting and screaming as he was being waterboarded.

Rodriguez and his chief of staff grew nervous that the 92 tapes recorded might become public and officers involved would face trouble. “The two repeatedly sought permission to have the tapes destroyed but were denied,” according to the Post. “In 2005, instructions to get rid of the recordings went out anyway. Former officials said the order carried just two names: Rodriguez and his chief of staff.”

The compelling interest in the public knowing that a high-ranking public official has taken part in highly controversial and perhaps even illegal actions, in the view of these news  outlets, is apparently outweighed by their duty, as they see it, to keep the government’s secrets.

Of course, this is just the latest example of journalists siding with government secret-keepers rather than defending the public’s right to know. In the last go-round, the New York Times and the Washington Post withheld news,  again at the CIA’s request, that the U.S. had a drone base in Saudi Arabia, prompting Times ombud Margaret Sullivan to scold her own paper: “The real threat to national security is a government operating in secret and accountable to no one, with watchdogs that are too willing to muzzle themselves.”

But it’s hard to get such a message through to journalists who see muzzling themselves as in integral to their work. As I wrote in the latest Extra!:

Withholding important news over supposed national security concerns is nothing new. And in many cases, no official request is even needed–the decision-makers seem to have internalized the notion that keeping the government’s secrets is part of their job.

About Steve Rendall

Senior Media Analyst and Co-producer of CounterSpin Steve Rendall is FAIR's senior analyst. He is co-host of CounterSpin, FAIR's national radio show. His work has received awards from Project Censored, and has won the praise of noted journalists such as Les Payne, Molly Ivins and Garry Wills. He is co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error (The New Press, 1995, New York City). Rendall has appeared on dozens of national television and radio shows, including appearances on CNN, C-SPAN, CNBC, MTV and Fox Morning News. He was the subject of a profile in the New York Times (5/19/96), and has been quoted on issues of media and politics in publications such as the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post and New York Times. Rendall contributed stories to the International Herald Tribune from France, Spain and North Africa; worked as a freelance writer in San Francisco; and worked as an archivist collecting historical material on the Spanish Civil War and the volunteers who fought in it. Rendall studied philosophy and chemistry at San Francisco State University, the College of Notre Dame and UC Berkeley.