Good morning, readers, and good afternoon to those members of the foreign service stationed in the Muslim world are enjoying a day away from the office because the State Department has closed many of its embassies and issued an alert to travelers in response to an unspecified terrorist threat. Interpol has also issued a warning, pointing to three major prison breaks in recent weeks in Pakistan and Libya and at Abu Ghraib in Iraq.
Marci Wheeler is speculating openly that these warnings might be politically motivated. She points to the plot in Yemen last year in which the security apparatus issued an alert after a target had been killed and even though allied forces had “inside control” of the plot the entire time. Reporting on this same plot resulted in the Department of Justice tapping 20 Associated Press phones.
It would be premature to assume anything about the current warning, and it is partly a measure of Wheeler’s cynicism that she is speculating. Not completely, though. It’s also a measure of the degree to which the military and the intelligence communities have lost reporters’ trust over the past ten years, beginning with the invasion of Iraq.
Some time ago, I had a conversation with a friend who works in counterterrorism about the tension between trust and accountability. He lamented the fact that the media, and the public at large, insist on holding government officials accountable, by which he meant establishing a transparent record of their activities: keeping records of their statements, making documents public, etc. He argued that this model of journalism isn’t very effective at keeping the public informed anyway, and that the goal should be an atmosphere of reciprocal trust, in which intelligence and military officials hewed closely to protecting the public interest, while in return, reporters left them alone.
I imagine that this attitude is prevalent in that community, and I agree that there are important limitations on what journalism can accomplish. On the other hand, the security apparatus has to earn that trust, too, and so far, they haven’t.
The warning has everyone thinking about the Benghazi affair, especially after CNN’s reporting this week. He told Foreign Policy’s John Hudson that when State shuts down its embassies, the terrorists win. More on the death of Ambassador Stevens in a moment.