For as long as there has been the existence of a formalized state there has been intelligence services. Kings had scouts and spies. We have legions of informants and agents today. Their business is poorly understood by we who are outside of it. However in a state of nature where nations are forced to compete for resources and territory they are essential.
These are brave men and women. What they do is by it’s very nature thankless. They do not wear uniforms. They do not carry their flags on their sleeves. They do not even carry them in their conscious minds. Alone in their hearts do they know where they belong. Out of decorum and the implicit understanding that nobody wants war, we can not acknowledge that these heroes stand with us. They work most often alone, and in the dark.
They have accepted this role for themselves. We also need to accept the role that they have chosen and respect it. This brings me to the meat of the subject for this post. Earlier this week the New York Times put a name on an individual. They released in print the name, amd in general terms the job responsibilities of a covert agent of the United States. There is no justification for this whatsoever. This is completely unacceptable.
They justified it to themselves and to their readers by claiming that is name had been in print and his existence acknowledged previously. This is flimsy at best and they should be ashamed of themselves. Exposure of any kind can not be afforded. It must be minimized at all times. As supposed professionals they should know this and know better than the choices they made.
This man’s life could be directly endangered as a result of these choices. You could try to argue that they must clearly already know that our agents are active. This doesn’t hold up any better though. Just because foreign services know that we are there and even might know who some of us are, does not mean that they know exactly who or what they are doing.
Naming names let’s anybody with internet access and rudimentary reasoning skills make an id on someone and do what they will with it. This man has now been “burned” by the Times’ article. His mission has been set back and compromised. While there is no way of knowing it is also reasonable that he and whatever family he has will have to have active protection. They may even have to go in to hiding.
For these reasons it is important to let them work as they will. We know these people are out there working on our behalf. It is enough to know it. We do not need to speak of it. Ever. It is important for our safety as a nation, and more importantly their safety as people that we let them live in the dark just as they have chosen to do. They have made their choices and if we have any respect left in our culture for patriots who choose willingly to serve, then we must leave them alone. Public secrets are in fact still secrets. And there is room left still for these public secrets in our intelligence services and how they relate to our ordinary every day lives.