Yesterday, the AP published an extensive piece on “John,” the CIA agent they claim to be the single most important person on the mission to find Osama bin Laden. Needless to say, it took little time for someone to attempt to identify the man, and today Gawker published photos from the White House Twitter feed claiming them to be of the man, courtesy of a leak website that traffics in such information. While there is no confirmation as to the man’s identity, someone may have been tossed into al-Qaeda’s cross-hairs today.
The photo was discovered by the group Cryptome, who used a hint in the AP article to find the man. According to the article, the CIA analyst was “hidden from view, standing just outside the frame of that now-infamous photograph” of the President and his Cabinet watching the raid unfold. Looking through other photos in that album, they found an individual present in several places the article claims he was, and conclude that this must be the man. As the AP explains, they gained access of his story only with the caveat that his identity would be protected:
The CIA will not permit him to speak with reporters. But interviews with former and current U.S. intelligence officials reveal a story of quiet persistence and continuity that led to the greatest counterterrorism success in the history of the CIA. Nearly all the officials insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters or because they did not want their names linked to the bin Laden operation.
The photos were then reproduced by Gawker (they are on the official White House Flickr account, but Gawker made sure to point out the man in question) with further speculation on whether Cryptome found the right man. Cryptome is a competitor to Wikileaks that has, on occasion, directly challenged the protection that organization didn’t give Bradley Manning for leaking secret military files to Julian Assange and company. Any organization that lives on the premise that there is no such thing as necessarily secret information will have no problem trying to out this man, and their intent to put the person’s identity in the public sphere is rather clear. When a group blindly vows to disclose information, there is no possible moral opposition to disclosing information.
But Gawker is not a website that traffics in such philosophies the way Cryptome does– or, for that matter, Wikileaks. It is difficult to come up with a legitimate reason to out someone who, as far as anyone knows, has done nothing wrong, and may have been the mastermind that caught this century’s most hated mass murderer. Other than pure human curiosity, no benefit arises from knowing who this man is, if it even is him. If the person in the photo isn’t “John the CIA agent,” then an entire new set of complications arise. Not to mention the title of the post: “Is This The Guy Who Killed Bin Laden?” The assumption from the headline is that this man was responsible for physically taking the Bin Laden’s life, though the text of the article clearly states that is not the case. Nevertheless, a web-surfing extremist with a minimal grasp of English could easily get confused and rally allies around the falsehood that the man from the AP article deserves to die for tracking down the martyred hero of many extremists.
Putting a face to the man who was instrumental in bringing down the idol of hundreds of potentially suicidal psychopaths bent on killing as many Americans as possible only serves to give Al-Qaeda members a target to shoot at. It provides a graphic for their cave-made YouTube videos that their colleagues can print out and burn in effigy, or try to hunt down. Revealing the identity of this man– whether the man in the photo is him or not– does nothing but endanger a potential hero (or even some “random staffer” as Cook points out) and stir the embers of hatred in an organization stripped to the bone by people like him.
Or, as one Gawker commenter so succinctly put it: “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.”
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