The New York Observer may have learned the identify of the C.I.A. analyst who oversaw the clandestine manhunt that led to the killing of Osama bin Laden in May, along with tantalizing details about the high-stakes intelligence operative's personal life and family. The man, whom an earlier AP profile had only identified by his middle name, John, is a college basketball alum with a 3.5 undergrad GPA; his kids go to Catholic school, one plays lacrosse; his father is a professor; and his house is visible via Google Maps.
But despite this coup in foreign affairs reporting, the Observer has elected to keep the man's name out of public circulation, even though his identity--first described in the AP's July 5 profile--has already been outed to an extent by sleuths over at Gawker and Cryptome. The latter intelligence-themed blog used a single detail in the AP piece to ascertain and point out the man's image in an official White House press photo.
Observer executive editor Aaron Gell, meanwhile, recounts that he had randomly bumped into an "acquaintance" who "volunteered that he recognized the man in the photo and proceeded to put a name to the face."
Gell, formerly an editor at the now-defunct pop culture magazine Radar, writes: "Just how a reporter—one whose largest scoop to date involved the romantic indiscretions of a pair of Hollywood actors—gained possession of a nugget of intelligence that a senior U.S. official told us would be 'extremely damaging' if publicly revealed, is either the tale of a carefully orchestrated public relations gambit designed to christen a new American hero, or that of a colossal governmental blunder—or perhaps a bit of both."
And here's a bit on The Observer's rationale for withholding the name of the analyst:
Was it really up to a small weekly newspaper to protect the life of a top terrorist hunter, especially when so many of his colleagues were walking around openly and seemed to be adequately protected from harm?
As Mr. Goldman of the AP put it, "John's no more at risk than McRaven, the guy who ordered in SEAL Team 6. He's no more at risk than Morell, the deputy director of the C.I.A., or Panetta himself. Or what about Cofer Black, Jose Rodriguez, Bob Grenier or any other number of people whose names are out there?"
That said, there was, of course, some risk. How about the revenge-seeking, ax-wielding fanatic who targeted a Danish cartoonist for his images of Muhammed? Or Aimal Kasi, who in 1993 had walked along a line of cars on Chain Bridge Road as they waited to enter C.I.A. headquarters, and begun methodically picking off drivers, killing two employees and wounding three others?
If we could find the schedule for John's son's lacrosse games, anyone could.
In the end, it was suggested that we might want to talk to some of John's associates, off the record. That is, if we agreed not to print John's name, even his first name.
We took the deal.
You can read the full piece over at observer.com.