The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency continues to cling to a policy that both contradicts its own regulations and clearly puts the lives of American journalists in danger.
Last week, reports from the Associated Press revealed that CIA Director John Deutch made the agency's intentions clear in a letter to Louis D. Boccardi, president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press, and W. Thomas Johnson, president of Cable News Network.
Deutch wrote. `We do not use American journalists as agents or American news organizations for cover, nor do I have any intention of doing so.
`As you know, past DCI's (directors of central intelligence ) have reserved the right to make exceptions to this policy. The circumstances under which I--or, I believe, any DCI--would make an exception to this policy would have to be genuinely extraordinary.'
In other words, if the CIA wants to use the media as cover for its secret agents or recruit journalists to be spies, it will.
Such a policy and the suspicion it breeds not only endangers the lives of journalists but greatly hinders them from doing their jobs of news gathering, particularly in foreign lands.
The CIA's justification for keeping its `extraordinary' exception contradicts its mission of protecting American's security and American lives.
In February, when Deutch appeared before the Senate Intelligence Committee, he sympathized with the journalistic community. But he maintained that `directors of central intelligence have to also concern themselves with perhaps very unique and special threats to national security where American lives are at risk.'
If Deutch and other top CIA officials cannot bring themselves to retract these statements and make a clear, firm commitment to the contrary, then President Bill Clinton should step in and do so himself.
Already journalists, and particularly journalists working in foreign countries, face enough threats. They don't need the CIA to continue to saddle them with unnecessary risk.
Many journalists taken hostage have suffered unjustly because their captors thought they might be part of the CIA.
Last November, for instance, when Bosnian Serb rebels held Christian Science Monitor reporter David Rohde hostage for almost two weeks, they continually asked him if he was a CIA agent.
And don't forget Terry Anderson, an Associated Press correspondent held in Lebanon for seven years. He said his captors asked him who his CIA contact was within the AP.
The CIA must reverse itself on the issue of using journalists as cover or as agents. And if it won't, the president should intervene.