Glenn and I both complained after the US media admitted yesterday it had been sitting on the very obvious news that Raymond Davis was a spook. But I got a number of questions from people who seem to miss the point. Why did I argue for years that Bob Novak shouldn’t have published Valerie Plame’s identity, yet was now arguing that newspapers should have revealed Davis’ affiliation? This article from Michael Calderone gets closer to–but does not directly address–what I think the difference is.
Consider the whole reason why–at least as far as our government claims–we keep spies’ identities secret. It’s to make sure our adversaries don’t know who we’ve got spying on them. Just as random example (just about all these cautionary claims use a similar formulation), here’s what Robert Gates said about the danger that Wikileaks would reveal the identities of our sources to (in this case) our enemies in Afghanistan.
Intelligence sources and methods, as well as military tactics, techniques and procedures, will become known to our adversaries.
The whole point is to keep spies and their sources’ identities secret from our enemies. (In spite of what some have reported about Aldrich Ames and Valerie Plame and Brewster and Jennings, CIA documents I’ve seen in the Plame case made it clear that the Agency believed Plame’s identity was still secret when Novak published her identity; I also suspect that B&J’s cover role was misunderstood.)
But consider this case. From the very earliest reports on Davis in Pakistan, he has been alleged to be a spook and/or Blackwater. Indeed, as Calderone points out, the people protesting in the streets of Pakistan have long been operating on the assumption that he is a spy.
But the shooting had already sparked a diplomatic crisis, with Pakistani protesters calling for violent retribution against Davis and burning American flags and an effigy of the CIA agent on the street. (The protest against Davis pictured above took place a week ago). And in the Pakistani media—where conspiracy theories involving the CIA are commonplace—Davis had already been pegged as a spy.
Furthermore, we have every reason to believe that Pakistani intelligence (replete with its ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban) know and knew who Davis is. Members of the ISI have said as much, for starters. Plus, there are the many allegations that the two men whom Davis killed had ties to ISI; if, as it appears, the ISI was tracking Davis, then it’s a sure bet they knew before he was arrested that he was some kind of spook. And if they didn’t know before they arrested him, then there are the items they captured with him, not least his phone, which allegedly had numbers of people in the tribal regions. Thus, regardless of what Davis has said, the ISI likely already has a good idea who his sources are.
So almost all the people we’d like to keep Davis’ identity secret from–the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people–already either knew or have been operating based on the assumption that he is a spy. The one exception, of course, is the Taliban or other extremists, who would no doubt like to know whom Davis was speaking to in their ranks. But to the extent they haven’t already guessed those details, the Pakistani government now must be trusted to keep them secret, if they will. There’s no more or less that the Taliban and Al Qaeda will learn about Davis based solely on US reporting confirming he is a spy.
In other words, had they revealed his CIA affiliation, American newspapers would not have revealed anything to the key people we’re supposed to be protecting Davis’ identity from; those people already knew or assumed it.
So the people from whom American newspapers were withholding the truth about Davis’ identity were not America’s adversaries, but the American readers who hadn’t already read all the Pakistani coverage on Davis.