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White House Mistakenly Blows Cover Of CIA Officer In Afghanistan

A list that was meant to help journalists report on President Obama's trip to Afghanistan on Sunday has instead created an awkward and potentially damaging situation. That's because it mistakenly included the name of the CIA station chief in Kabul, the agency's top official there.

It's customary for the White House Press Office to distribute lists with the official titles and full names of senior officials who come into contact with the president. But the report of diplomatic and military officials who attended a briefing with Obama at Bagram air base Sunday included one that stuck out: "Chief of Station," along with a name.

When it realized the error, the White House issued a new list — but by then, the original had been circulated to foreign and domestic news agencies. The information was included in a pool report that was emailed to thousands of recipients Sunday night.

The White House has asked that the CIA official's name not be reported because of safety concerns; NPR and other major U.S. news organizations are abiding by that request.

It seems the mistake was first noticed by Washington Post White House bureau chief Scott Wilson. The newspaper says Wilson included the original list in a pool report he sent to the press office — which then forwarded it on to its full distribution list of more than 6,000 recipients.

From the Post:

"Wilson said that after the report was distributed, he noticed the unusual reference to the station chief and asked White House press officials in Afghanistan whether they had intended to include that name.

"Initially, the press office raised no objection, apparently because military officials had provided the list to distribute to news organizations. But senior White House officials realized the mistake and scrambled to issue an updated list without the CIA officer's name."

"The newspaper notes that the email error brings 'a rare instance in which a CIA officer working overseas had his cover — the secrecy meant to protect his actual identity — pierced by his own government.' "

As you'll recall, the identity of former CIA employee Valerie Plame was revealed by people tied to President George W. Bush's administration. Former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was sentenced to prison for that breach — a punishment Bush commuted.

It's not yet clear whether the CIA chief in Kabul will be sent home or whether there will be lasting ramifications from the exposure. The White House has not commented further on the matter.

Update at 5:16 p.m. ET. on Tuesday, May 27: Investigation:

Caitlyn Hayden, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said the White House chief of staff has asked "White House Counsel, Neil Eggleston, to look into what happened and report back to him with recommendations on how the Administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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