Kevin Strouse and I recently argued in the digital pages of Defense One that the press and the intelligence community must come to a better understanding about publishing stories that involves secrets and the names of undercover personnel.
“Give me a compelling reason.” That’s what Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, says he tells the intelligence community when its leaders or media affairs personnel ask him to refrain from printing a national security story.
Baquet was explaining his controversial decision to publish the names of three senior undercover CIA officers in an April article, here “Deep Support in Washington for C.I.A.’s Drone Missions.” The case exemplifies the clash of two fundamental American principles: protecting national security secrets and serving the public’s right to know. The case also underscores the media’s increasing aggressiveness in holding the intelligence community accountable to the public, and the need for the IC to do more to engage the press. While “the media”—however that is defined in an increasingly fragmented, segmented digital and print landscape—may have certain responsibilities to the public, there are limitations on how much the government can “‘manage”’ it.
Rather, it’s the government, as the leaky protectors of secrets, that must craft a better strategy to engage the media than deploying the shopworn phrases “neither confirm nor deny” and “don’t publish this or people will die.”
photo: the New English Affairs of 1689 & the Boston News-Letter of 1704.