The Washington Post reported last week that the CIA is operating secret terror-suspect detention facilities in eight countries around the world, including two Eastern European democracies. One immediate reaction from Republican leaders in Congress was not to express outrage at a CIA prison archipelago, but to find out who leaked the story to reporter Dana Priest. National Security Archive analyst Peter Kornbluh talks to Bob.
DALJIT DHALIWAL: This is On the Media. I'm Daljit Dhaliwal.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. With Washington still trying to pick up the pieces from one CIA leak investigation, another appears to be forming inside the Beltway. The Washington Post reported last week that the Central Intelligence Agency has over the past four years been operating secret terror-suspect detention facilities in eight countries, including at least two Eastern European democracies, later revealed to be Poland and Romania. The immediate reaction from the Republican leaders in both Houses of Congress was not to express outrage at a CIA prison archipelago, but to find out who leaked the story to reporter Dana Priest. They believe the story has threatened national security, but other critics are disappointed in the Post for pulling its punches. Peter Kornbluh is a senior analyst for the National Security Archive, a non-governmental organization that maintains a library of declassified information spanning more than a half century. He joins me now. Peter, welcome back to the show.
PETER KORNBLUH: Thank you for having me on, on this important topic.
BOB GARFIELD: So based on what we have read in the Washington Post and now elsewhere, what do we know about the nature of these secret camps? In other words, how long have they existed, why do they exist, and who's being held there?
PETER KORNBLUH: They were created just after 9/11 when the CIA decided to start working as it needed to on rounding up al Qaeda suspects. Some of them were taken to Guantanamo Bay, but the CIA quickly determined that it was going to have a lot of trouble doing what it wanted to do in secret there and sought authorization from very high up in the U.S. government to create a whole network of internment camps, secret detention centers, where more than 100 terror suspects are being secretly held.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, on the scale of super-double secrets, how big a revelation was this?
PETER KORNBLUH: Well, I don't think anybody was surprised. What was important about the Washington Post's story is that it was very specific to the network of these secret detention centers and the authorities under which the CIA developed them. And we have to pause here and say that the Post and Dana Priest deserve tremendous credit. She did excellent reporting and we have to give credit to her courageous sources who are now going to become, you know, the targets of a Republican counterattack. But having said that, of course, in the end her editors weren't quite as courageous and they yielded to the request of senior administration officials to keep out, I think, an important part of the story, and that is the actual names of the Eastern European democracies where at least two of these major detention centers are being housed.
BOB GARFIELD: The Post went to the government and said, you know, we're running this story and the government said please, oh, please, oh, please, pretty please, don't name the countries and the Post complied. But you're not happy with that.
PETER KORNBLUH: Well, I think that the Post should have published the names of these countries for three reasons. One is the right to know, the right to know in the United States of America what is being done in our name but without our knowledge. The second reason is that U.S. officials have routinely gone to editors like Len Downie and claimed national security, arguing that stories should be killed. This has been suspect in the past. Many of the stories have gone ahead and run and national security has not been significantly damaged. And the final reason it seems to me that this is a unique case is that by yielding to the argument that U.S. officials made to the Washington Post basically means that the Post is kind of loosely enabling these very activities to go on. And what these activities are, are the secret detention and abuse, behind dark walls, of prisoners, some of whom may be innocent. And I don't think it should be the kind of role of a U.S. newspaper in a free society like ours to be protecting the continuation of such atrocities by withholding this kind of information.
BOB GARFIELD: Point taken. But it's quite routine for major news organizations upon discovering something secret about the Pentagon or about the intelligence services to accede to requests, almost always on national security grounds, not to include certain points of information, maybe to protect operatives, maybe to protect sources and methods or whatever the reason. Is this really very different from hundreds of other such negotiations made by news organizations, you know, after close consideration in the past?
PETER KORNBLUH: Well, I don't really think this was a negotiation. I think that Dana Priest and her very talented reporting got this story, learned the identities of these countries and then U.S. officials came in and, basically over a period of a couple of weeks, convinced Len Downie that they should not name the countries. There was one argument that they made that these countries could then become this target of, kind of, terrorist retaliation for collaborating with the CIA, and that seems to me to be the most salient argument of all. But I would point out that what is going on here is a response inside the CIA by CIA officials who don't agree that the CIA should now be jailers and torturers of these detainees and who are talking to reporters like Dana Priest, about their disagreement with the Bush Administration's effort to go forward with this type of operation and policy.
BOB GARFIELD: Some months ago, the editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Doug Clifton, got a tremendous amount of criticism for acknowledging that his paper had at least temporarily spiked a couple of stories from whistleblowers, from anonymous sources, that he believed would have put his reporters in some jeopardy of criminal prosecution. Was Doug Clifton simply prescient in understanding that from this point forward any story that embarrasses the administration, particularly about the war on terror, is going to unleash a political reaction that includes criminal investigation?
PETER KORNBLUH: I hope he wasn't, because Dana Priest and her sources are true patriots and they don't deserve the type of political harassment brewing right now. But I think there are people in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Congress, hopefully some wiser people in the Justice Department, that understand that they will be seen as persecutors here, going that extra length to protect the ability of the Bush Administration to continue to torture in secret. And that is the way it is going to be seen if the people who are telling the truth and trying to get a discussion going about this are faced with punishment of jail.
BOB GARFIELD: Well Peter, once again, thanks very much.
PETER KORNBLUH: It's a pleasure to be on your show.
BOB GARFIELD: Peter Kornbluh is a senior analyst for the National Security Archive.