So, two days ago the Guardian, which is in near-sexual spasms of outrage over the ethical lapses of the News of the World, reported this story:
The CIA organised a fake vaccination program in the town where it believed Osama bin Laden was hiding in an elaborate attempt to obtain DNA from the fugitive al-Qaida leader’s family, a Guardian investigation has found.
They’re a bit thin on details about how this program actually worked, but they’re filling in the blanks with blood-sucking trained spy nurses and handbags kitted out with “electronic devices”–this according to “several sources.”
It is not known exactly how the doctor hoped to get DNA from the vaccinations, although nurses could have been trained to withdraw some blood in the needle after administrating the drug. …
A nurse known as Bakhto, whose full name is Mukhtar Bibi, managed to gain entry to the Bin Laden compound to administer the vaccines. According to several sources, the doctor, who waited outside, told her to take in a handbag that was fitted with an electronic device.
Read it through, the whole thing. Really, read it, just humor me. Note that the story does not name one credible source: It is all based, apparently, upon the word of anonymous “Pakistani and US officials and local residents.” We’ve just got to take the correspondent’s word that these anonymous sources said this, that they’re sane in the head, and that they’re not yanking his chain.
Given that this story is almost the pure distilled essence of a lunatic conspiracy theory if I’ve ever heard one, that Pakistani officials have a million reasons beyond this being, you know, true to want to propagate such a theory, that we have no idea who these “local residents” are, and that US officials who might be privy to the details of such a plan are–to put it mildly–highly unlikely spontaneously to decide they’d like to share them with the Guardian, perhaps we’d want to treat such reporting with caution?
But no. The story has immediately been reproduced the world around and the CIA excoriated as if it is simply a matter of fact that this happened. The New York Times, The New Yorker–right on the bandwagon. The Guardian said it and so did “an American official,” so it must be so, and how shameful that the CIA did this! Don’t they realize that this will give vaccination campaigns a bad name and cause children to die?
The whole world is breathlessly repeating this story–which is on the face of it about as plausible as the one about the Sinai Jewbot Sharks–as if the Guardian had offered some reason to believe it beyond “We heard this from a bunch of anonymous people in Pakistan.”
It’s certainly true that the very real consequence of this story breaking into the mainstream is that programs to administer vaccinations where they’re desperately needed will now be viewed with even further suspicion–and let’s not even think about the insane anti-Americanism to which this kind of story gives rise. So if the CIA did that, why, I guess I’d agree that it was very irresponsible, particularly given their apparent inability to keep their mouths shut about it.
But you know what would be even more irresponsible? Reporting this without making it clear to your readers that meanwhile, back in the real world, people who know the details of highly classified operations with massive blowback potential would probably be small in number and wouldn’t speak to the Guardian, and anyone who speaks to the Guardian about the details of a highly classified operation with massive blowback potential would probably be nuts or trying to play you.
Here’s what else would be irresponsible: Failing to make it clear that if there’s really an “American official” with knowledge of this babbling about it to the New York Times, he’s almost certainly doing it for a reason, and the most plausible one is, “He’s screwing with someone in a way you can’t even begin to guess.”
Here’s the best part: The Guardian now has the temerity to complain that “fears are growing for the safety” of the man they accused of working for the CIA–without citing a single credible source. He has, of course, been locked up by the ISI on suspicion of espionage.
The Pakistani authorities are holding him for working for a foreign intelligence agency, which carries harsh punishment, including the death penalty.
The Guardian story was headline news in Pakistan on Tuesday but so far, government officials have offered no comment.
That, too, is kind of thing only the right-wing gutter press would ever point out, though, so don’t think about it too much. Let’s all go back to excoriating the News of the World and making sure we forever stamp out Rupert Murdoch’s irresponsible brand of journalism.