The New York Times' recent coverage of the fallout from a targeted drone strike that took out two hostages -- one American, along with the suspected terrorist -- contained a detail missing from many other new outlets' coverage of the same incident: Michael D'Andrea.
D'Andrea is the "architect" behind the CIA's targeted strike program. D'Andrea's name had never been previously published by a major news source (although it had been outed elsewhere). The Washington Post -- in its pre-Snowden leak days -- featured a long profile of the chain-smoking Islam convert that included several personally-identifiable details about D'Andrea… but not his name.
Unfortunately, the Post's experience with Snowden didn't affect its stance on the publication of this official's name. Perhaps still too reliant on government assertions that naming D'Andrea would increase the risk of him being targeted by terrorists, the Post left his name out of a more recent article on his reassignment as part of a CIA reorganization.
The Post and the New York Times have both published leaked documents and both have become less willing to oblige obfuscatory requests by government officials over this time period. New York Time's executive editor Dean Baquet explained his paper's decision to publish D'Andrea's name this way:
Baquet said the Times would not reveal names in a gratuitous way, but Sunday's drone story demanded it.
“The whole story was about accountability,” he said. “In a story about accountability, how could you not mention the guys who run the program?”
Accountability is key. As long as journalistic operations continue to allow the government to decide whose names are printed, accountability will remain nothing more than an ideal towards which the government would prefer not to stride. The Post's decision to defer to government officials in its March story about D'Andrea is "explained" by a couple of sentences that could have been copied directly from an (unnamed) official's email.
Because he remains undercover, The Washington Post has agreed to withhold his full name. He has been publicly identified in the past by both his actual first name, Mike, as well as that of his CIA-created identity, Roger.
But leaders of the CIA's counterterrorism programs aren't "undercover" by default. As Gawker points out, previous occupants of D'Andrea's position weren't exactly concerned about exposure "risks."
D'Andrea's predecessor at the counterterrorism center was also treated as an undercover operative, but the position has historically been occupied by real, named senior government officials. The center's founding director was Duane "Dewey" Clarridge, a man who is not afraid of talking to reporters. Cofer Black, who ran the center during and after 9/11, was repeatedly named as such in the Post and trades on the experience to market himself as a paid speaker. Robert Grenier, who has also been named by the Post, highlighted the gig on the cover of his book.
D'Andrea wasn't (and isn't) an operative working in CIA field operations. He's an official (or was until recently) with the power to order drone strikes on foreign soil without even needing to verify the identities of those he's sentencing to death. That's too much power to hand over to someone who can't be held accountable -- not even in the most minimal fashion -- by the American public. These strikes have resulted in the death of several civilians, at least in part because D'Andrea sought -- and obtained -- permission to bypass the supposed "rules" of targeted drone strikes. When something goes wrong -- and it will -- there needs to be someone at the top of the line, known to the public, who should answer for it.
Even though the name is public knowledge (and has actually been so for a few years now), other members of the press are still acting as though it's possible to keep his identity a secret by simply refusing to do what the New York Times did.
When Times reporter Matt Apuzzo, who co-wrote the CIA drone story, appeared on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” co-host Mika Brzezinski signaled at the start that the segment wouldn’t veer into the agents’ identities.
“There’s a couple of different angles on this story,” Brzezinski said. "We’re going to not name names here.”
By doing this, these outlets are no better than the government they're protecting. Our intelligence agencies and various law enforcement counterparts still believe there's a way to retroactively apply secrecy to information already in the public domain. MSNBC's refusal to name names is no different than the DOJ claiming that documents it wants to keep secret are still secret simply because the order to hand them over to the public didn't originate from the DOJ itself.
Far too many articles on highly-controversial subjects contain quotes attributed only to "unnamed officials." The New York Times does this just as often as any other outlet, but at least it has shown it won't continue to obfuscate this detail about the CIA's drone strike program. Of course, the "damage" to D'Andrea is somewhat mitigated by his recent reassignment to elsewhere within the CIA, but it does at least allow the public to put a name to the faceless killings.