John Cook of Gawker attempted this week to out the CIA staffer who spearheaded the effort to kill Osama bin Laden.
In a post titled “Is This the Guy Who Killed Bin Laden?” Cook attempts to isolate the staffer, referred to in the AP’s coverage as an anonymous “John”, within press photography of then CIA-now SecDef Leon Panetta testifying about the successful raid, and from the same individual’s presence in the background of White House photos. The AP was probably told too much in that piece to give people like Cook something to dig into, but that’s another story.
Cook does not know the man’s title, the man’s name, nor does he give any indication in his piece of having made a call to the relevant offices to determine his identity (he bases his post entirely on the accusations of another blogger). He could be a scheduler or a personal staffer. Or he could be the key figure Cook speculates he is.
But whether Cook is correct or not, this once anonymous staffer at the CIA is now a target.
Did Gawker even think this one through? This isn’t analysis of Brett Favre wang pictures. This even goes beyond Richard Armitage’s outing of Valerie Plame — which Cook, of course, condemned at the time (and called for the heads of Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, but that’s beside the point). If Cook is correct or not, this individual is now a high value target for a group of terrorists who enjoy killing people and their families who have done them wrong. It’s pretty much all they do, in case Cook hadn’t noticed amidst ranting at his family members about how much he hates Israel. And if you don’t think that the man in these pictures is now figuring out the security detail situation for his family or personnel to watch his kids at school now, you haven’t had a family member who worked in the intelligence business.
Even the normally eager Gawker commenters let Cook have it. “Myrna Minkoff” writes:
If this is the guy who tracked down Bin Laden, I can think of no better way to thank him for his outstanding civil service than by outing him on a highly trafficked web site and putting his career, his life, the lives of his loved ones in danger.
Maybe Cook’s career track is to blame. He was a television writer back in the day, then went to Radar Online, and had a brief sojourn at Yahoo News before returning to Gawker. According to his former Yahoo News bosses, Cook returned to Gawker “he prefers the license Gawker gave him to add his opinions into his reporting to the scale and credibility Yahoo! News could offer.” At the time, I thought they were referring to pieces like this. But maybe the folks at Yahoo were just a little less likely to favor unsourced gossipy claims which put the lives of civil servants who go to work every day in defense of America at risk.
Everyone knows that Gawker and their whole network have suffered from loss of traffic and attention after an ill-thought redesign over the past few months. This desperation might push a website into the territory of publicizing irresponsible accusations, but it’s rare that irresponsibility is paired with a willingness to increase the danger of the lives of American civilians, or dramatically change the careers of public servant who’ve done nothing wrong. So maybe next week Gawker can follow this up by giving us the home addresses and Facebook pages of members of Seal Team Six. That’d be awesome.
Hooray for you indeed, John Cook and Gawker. Thanks for doing your best to make an American hero pay for what he did.
By singling him out as the most important figure behind “the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the C.I.A.,” the article made him and his family terror targets in a way they had never been before.
“I understand the enemy,” the source close to John elaborated darkly. “This article focused attention on one specific individual that they didn’t know about. That sort of thing has great symbolic meaning to them, and for that reason I’m legitimately concerned.”
The Observer wondered whether the story had inspired any resentment from John’s colleagues. Quite the opposite, the source said. “Unanimously, people were coming up and expressing their condolences. This is not what anybody who works at the C.I.A. wants—this kind of attention brought to themselves or their families. The folks who work with him the closest understand the increased risk.”
If only the media did as well. Or cared.