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CIA Official Reveals Agency's Use Of Journalists in Secret Operations

By Walter Pincus
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Waiving regulations that bar the practice, the CIA on "extraordinarily rare" occasions over the past 19 years has used American journalists or U.S. news organizations as cover in conducting clandestine operations, according to an intelligence official.

The official, who would not describe the instances, noted that activities were undertaken under a waiver in CIA regulations formally adopted in 1977. Those rules ended the earlier agency practice of secretly employing American reporters and using the names of U.S. news organizations as cover for the CIA's own clandestine officers.

The regulations were a response to public outcry after disclosures a year earlier by congressional committees that the CIA for decades had clandestine agents posing as journalists for American news organization.

Under the little-publicized waiver, exceptions to the 1977 prohibitions could be made "with the specific approval" of the CIA director. The intelligence official, who spoke on condition that he remain anonymous, cited that provision in saying, "Exceptions have been made in extraordinarily rare circumstances."

Asked about the official's comments, CIA spokesman Mark Mansfield said Thursday the 1977 regulation including the waiver "has been and continues to be the CIA's policy." He refused to discuss if any waivers had been granted.

Disclosure that existing CIA regulations continue to permit using American journalistic cover for intelligence operations came after an independent, blue-ribbon task force on intelligence sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations recommended "a fresh look be taken at limits on the use of non-official covers" for clandestine operations overseas.

U.S. clergy and Peace Corps volunteers are, along with journalists, among categories the CIA is barred from recruiting. The prohibitions have never applied to foreign journalists, whom the CIA still looks to recruit, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The panel's recommendation, first reported two weeks ago in The Washington Post, is part of a broader report on the future of U.S. intelligence. The recommendation regarding journalistic cover was controversial among the group's members and has since drawn sharp criticism from many editors and reporters.

Richard N. Haass, the council's project director and an official of the Bush administration's National Security Council, said Thursday he was unaware that current CIA regulations permitted the use of journalistic cover in exceptional circumstances. "Our assumption was use was totally banned," he said.

Informed of the CIA director's right to waive the prohibitions, Haass said, "That is about right. The bias or norm ought to be against the use of journalists as spies but one would not want to be in a situation of exceptional circumstances where the possibility was automatically ruled out."

Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post, said Thursday, "It's disturbing to hear that the possibility exists that CIA has either used the cover of legitimate journalistic organizations without their knowledge, or somebody working for them has been recruited by the CIA."