Last year, 51 journalists were killed and 182 were imprisoned in pursuit of their jobs around the world, according to a survey by the Committee to Protect Journalists. In this atmosphere, the declaration by Central Intelligence Agency Director John Deutch that the agency retains the right to try to solicit journalists as spies and to have its own operatives pose as reporters is dangerous and unacceptable.
News organizations with staffers working overseas can cite chapter and verse on the risks that such a policy engenders. A reporter or photographer working in hostile countries cannot afford to have any shadow on his or her reputation for independence and professional neutrality. Lives can literally depend on being above suspicion. In the dark corners of the world where their duty takes them, journalists often have only one shield, and that is their reputation.
President Clinton should issue an unequivocal statement reversing Deutch’s asserted policy and establishing an absolute ban on attempts to lure journalists into spying. Yes, journalists working abroad gather information that an intelligence agency might find useful. But none with good sense, or professional honor, will traffic it. The Deutch position should be reversed. Now. If Clinton needs inspiration, he should look to the example set by President John F. Kennedy when he banned the use of Peace Corps volunteers as spies more than three decades ago.
A free press is more important to a country than a secret agency. National security is not served by casting doubts upon journalists.