The Obama administration inadvertently revealed the name of the top CIA officer in Afghanistan to members of the press on Sunday, a rare and embarrassing breach of security procedures meant to shield the identities of U.S. spies working on dangerous missions overseas.
The name appeared next to the designation "chief of station," the term for the top CIA officer in a particular country, on a list of 15 officials who participated in a military briefing with President Obama during a surprise visit to Afghanistan over the Memorial Day weekend. The White House gave the list to a Washington Post reporter traveling with the president, who then disseminated it in a standard press pool report to 6,000 journalists, including foreign media organizations, not traveling with Obama.
Foreign Policy received the pool report and isn't revealing the CIA officer's name. Obama administration officials said revealing the officer's identity could jeopardize the security of the officer and the officer's family. Personal information about the individual is available through Google searches, but it appears that the individual's CIA connections have never been publicly reported or revealed. No other news organizations have reported the name.
The CIA, the White House, and the Pentagon declined to comment. In the past intelligence officials have warned that identifying an officer could put them or their families at risk. A CIA official as senior as the Kabul station chief, however, would rarely leave the secure compound and would usually only interact with Afghan officials who already knew his identity.
It was unclear how the officer's name was included on a list of other officials meeting with Obama, including prominent ones such as National Security Adviser Susan Rice, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan James Cunningham, and the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan Gen. Joseph Dunford. The Post reported than when its journalist noticed the CIA officer's name on the list, he inquired with administration officials, since it's not common practice to reveal the identity of CIA officers. The Post reported that White House officials initially raised no concerns, because the names had been supplied by military officials, and presumably vetted for release. But when the White House realized the mistake, officials scrambled to issue a new release without the officer's name.
The last time government officials revealed the name of a CIA officer was the case of Valerie Plame, who was exposed by members of the George W. Bush administration after her husband, Joseph Wilson, wrote an op-ed criticizing the White House's march to war in Iraq in 2003. In January of this year, former CIA officer John Kiriakou was sentenced to 30 months in prison after he admitted to revealing the name of an undercover CIA officer to a reporter. Both of those incidents involved the intentional release of the officers' names for political or ideological purposes. Kiriakou, who maintains that he is a whistleblower and didn't leak the name of a CIA officer in order to harm him or his reputation, had criticized the CIA's use of harsh interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists; he disclosed the name of a CIA officer involved in the agency's detainee program in an email to a reporter writing a book about the program. This time, by contrast, revealing the name of the Kabul station chief appears to have been a startling case of carelessness.
It remained unclear on Monday whether an investigation had been opened into the security breach. Intentionally disclosing the name of a CIA officer is a criminal offense. Searches of Web sites and social media indicated that the name and affiliation of the officer don't appear to have been exposed.
The names of three chiefs of station in Pakistan have been exposed over the years, after they were named in lawsuits or revealed by critics of U.S. drone strikes in the country. At least one of them was recalled from Pakistan and given a new assignment at the CIA.
UPDATE: On Tuesday afternoon, White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden issued the following statement: "The Chief of Staff has asked the White House Counsel, Neil Eggleston, to look into what happened and report back to him with recommendations on how the Administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again."
Gordon Lubold contributed reporting.
Saul Loeb / AFP