The name of the top CIA official in Afghanistan was mistakenly exposed by the White House on Sunday during President Obama's surprise trip to the war-torn country. The officer's name (which is being redacted by the media to protect the individual's safety) was accidentally included in a memo to the press listing senior U.S. officials involved in the commander-in-chief's trip, according to the Washington Post. The White House soon recognized it had made a mistake and issued another revised list without the official's name. It is unclear if the disclosure could result in the CIA pulling the officer out of Afghanistan.
When President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan over the weekend, he received a detailed briefing at Bagram Air Field on war developments from 15 leading officials on the ground. The CIA's station chief in Afghanistan, not surprisingly, participated in the briefing.
This person's name, however, wasn't supposed to be shared with the public as part of the reports on Obama's visit. It was.
It's obviously an unfortunate accident. The White House was trying to provide information to the media about the president's time in Afghanistan, but in this case, officials shared too much information. When they realized their error, they scrambled, but it was too late to undo the error.
If recent history is any guide, the White House's critics will seize on this to complain about the president's team, but the right might want to tread carefully on this one.
It was about nine years ago that the Bush/Cheney White House leaked the name of a CIA operative on purpose, as part of a political effort to punish her husband. Karl Rove was very nearly indicted as part of the scandal, and one of Dick Cheney's top aides was convicted of multiple criminal counts. (Scooter Libby, you may recall, was sentenced to 30 months behind bars, but then-President George W. Bush commuted his sentence.)
To be sure, the fact that someone in the Obama White House made this mistake is embarrassing and may have real-world consequences for the official whose name was accidentally exposed. But before the right crows too much, let's not forget that, in this weekend's case, it wasn't done on purpose.
I'm also struck by the differences in media coverage. Stories on the weekend's accident appear to be just about everywhere. But in 2003, after the Bush/Cheney White House exposed a CIA operative, the political media simply couldn't have cared less -- at least at first.
The original leak came in a Bob Novak column that ran in July 2003. The political blogs pounced at the time, but most major news organizations decided it just wasn't important and the media blew off the story for about 10 weeks.
In September 2003, msnbc.com, in a report that is no longer online, became the first major outlet to cover the Republican scandal, and the Washington Post followed a couple of days later with a front-page piece that is also no longer online.
Slate noted at the time that the coverage sent "the rest of the press corps to the blogosphere ... to catch up." (Some of these reporters turned to, ahem, me.)
Interest in the exposure of a CIA official's name has apparently evolved quite a bit over the last decade.