Terry Anderson, the Associated Press correspondent who was held hostage in Lebanon for almost seven years, says his captors never believed that he was simply a journalist. Anderson says the Muslim terrorists who imprisoned him `believe all Americans are spies, particularly those who go around asking questions.'
That common belief in much of the rest of the world creates obvious dangers for journalists and other Americans traveling abroad. It certainly made life even more unpleasant for Anderson during his harsh confinement. Unfortunately, the CIA's own rules unnecessarily feed such suspicions about the integrity and credibility of American journalists working in foreign countries.
CIA Director John Deutch continues to defend rules that give him and his deputy the discretion to employ American journalists as spies, or to allow CIA agents to pose as journalists. Deutch and his predecessors have said they would use such tactics only in cases involving extraordinary threats to national security. However, the CIA's insistence on those exceptions creates unacceptable risk for innocent American citizens and does violence to one of our most revered constitutional principles.
The American press' clear independence from government is fundamental to a truly free society, but the CIA's rules blur those lines. Journalists can't do their jobs properly if sources have reason to believe that they might really be speaking to a government agent.
This is not an issue that concerns only journalists. Every American who travels abroad is endangered by the CIA policy. Business executives, Peace Corps workers and ordinary tourists come under suspicion from governments and groups who fear the influence of American intelligence . Most such fears are unfounded, but the CIA policy feeds paranoia in other countries.
The policy is a vestige of the Cold War, when government routinely recruited journalists and other citizens for intelligence work. Many former journalists bear responsibility for willingly participating in such schemes. However, representatives of national press organizations are now unanimous in their opposition to the CIA's policy.
The CIA should not be allowed to recruit journalists for spying activity, nor should it permit agents to pose as journalists. Period. Otherwise, the safety of American citizens abroad and the integrity of the Constitution at home are left to the whim of the CIA director and his deputy.