A freelance reporter covering the Iraq war for the Christian Science Monitor has become the first journalist known to be expelled by the U.S. military, for disclosing too much sensitive information, the newspaper reported Thursday.
Philip Smucker, who had joined up with the 1st Marine Division on Sunday along with Monitor photographer Andy Nelson, was escorted out of Iraq by military officials after he gave an interview on Wednesday to CNN in which he revealed the outfit's approximate location south of Baghdad, according to newspaper officials.
Smucker, 41, was not among the 500 or more journalists who are officially traveling with the military and have signed so-called embedding contracts. These pacts give them access to the battlefield in return for agreeing not to divulge certain details deemed confidential by military officials.
Smucker was an independent reporter, known in this conflict as a "unilateral" journalist, who had persuaded military officials to let him cover the division's activities for both the Monitor and the Daily Telegraph of London.
"My understanding of the facts at this point from the commander on the ground is that this reporter was reporting, in real time, positions, locations and activities of units engaged in combat," Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, said in a statement given to the Monitor. "The commander felt it was necessary and appropriate to remove [him] from his immediate battle space in order not to compromise his mission or endanger personnel of his unit."
Smucker, who has covered conflicts in Cambodia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Afghanistan for several publications, gave similar information about the unit's location in an interview with National Public Radio. In a column scheduled to run in today's Monitor, Editor Paul Van Slambrouck defended Smucker's actions.
"We have read the transcript of the CNN interview and it does not appear to us that he disclosed anything that wasn't already widely available in maps and in U.S. and British radio, newspaper and television reports on that same news cycle," he wrote.
"Of course, the Pentagon has the final say in the field about any threat the information reported might pose," the editor said. "We are disappointed Smucker has been removed. He is an experienced war correspondent who understands the gravity of such situations and would not knowingly put U.S. troops -- and himself -- in jeopardy."
Van Slambrouck said the paper has not been able to speak with Smucker since Wednesday morning, shortly before the Marines searched his belongings and confiscated his equipment. He was taken to Kuwait, while Nelson remains with the division in Iraq.