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New York Times Outs Individual Behind Ukraine Call Whistleblower Complaint, Sparks Outrage

The New York Times sparked outrage when they outed the whistleblower, who filed a complaint alleging President Donald Trump solicited interference from Ukraine in the 2020 presidential election.

“The whistleblower who revealed that President Trump sought foreign help for his re-election and that the White House sought to cover it up is a CIA officer who was detailed to work at the White House at one point, according to three people familiar with his identity,” the Times published.

A very, very small universe of people work or have worked as CIA officers in the White House during the Trump administration. Essentially, the New York Times tipped off the administration to who filed the complaint.

The publication about the whistleblower’s identity came mere hours after a major hearing on Capitol Hill, where acting Director for National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified on his role in refusing to pass the complaint on to congressional intelligence committees.

“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistleblower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” Trump declared, according to the Los Angeles Times. “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

Trump waxed nostalgic for the days when individuals accused of spying or treason were executed for their perceived disloyalty.

Under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department ramped up its targeting of whistleblowers or alleged leakers. There were—as of 2017—”nearly as many criminal referrals involving unauthorized disclosures,” as were “received in the previous three years combined.”

Recognizing that outing the whistleblower may not be viewed as an appropriate decision, the report included a quote from Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the Times, where he stated, “The role of the whistleblower, including his credibility and his place in the government, is essential to understanding one of the most important issues facing the country—whether the president of the United States abused power and whether the White House covered it up.”

It actually is not. The contents of the disclosure are all the public needs to determine whether the president committed an abuse of power, covered up an abuse of power, and engaged in conduct that rises to the level of impeachment.

The inspector general’s office for the “intelligence community” already determined—within the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act—that the allegations rose to the level of a matter of “urgent concern.” That gave the whistleblower credibility, regardless of what any politician in Congress or staff member in the White House may say.

A backlash intensified as several people shared they would cancel their Times newspaper subscriptions. So, Baquet doubled-down on his argument for publication.

“The president and some of his supporters have attacked the credibility of the whistleblower, who has presented information that has touched off a landmark impeachment proceeding. The president himself has called the whistleblower’s account a ‘political hack job.’”

Baquet added, “We decided to publish limited information about the whistleblower—including the fact that he works for a nonpolitical agency and that his complaint is based on an intimate knowledge and understanding of the White House—because we wanted to provide information to readers that allows them to make their own judgments about whether or not he is credible.”

Yet, in trying to undermine Trump’s attack on the whistleblower’s credibility, the Times ensured the White House could make sure that CIA officer never sets foot in the White House again. They increased the likelihood that high-ranking CIA officials may monitor his actions to make sure he does not make more disclosures to Congress or the press.

Hours before the Times outed the whistleblower, Tom Mueller, author of the forthcoming book Crisis of Conscience: Whisteblowing In An Age of Fraud, wrote for POLITICO about what would happen if the whistleblower’s identity was revealed. He cited cases where national security whistleblowers followed protocol and still faced retaliation.

“It’s not clear how much longer the whistleblower will stay anonymous, but losing that anonymity is almost guaranteed to bring professional and personal pain—an unfortunate reality of whistleblowing in every occupation, but above all in national security,” Mueller suggested.

The Times published this identifying information because they wanted the benefit of being known as the first outlet to reveal the person who sparked an impeachment inquiry. It was a decision fueled by Times management, who saw dollar signs attached to the traffic spike their news website would enjoy.

This is not the first time that Baquet endangered a whistleblower. In fact, they previously made a venal decision that affected a person who worked for the CIA.

John Kiriakou was the first member of the CIA to publicly acknowledge that torture was official United States policy under President George W. Bush’s administration. The government targeted him with an Espionage Act prosecution.

In October 2012, he accepted a deal to ensure he didn’t serve a lengthy sentence. He pled guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act when he confirmed the name of an officer involved in the CIA’s Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program to a reporter. He was sentenced in January 2013 and reported to prison around a month later.

Prior to his sentence, New York Times reporter Scott Shane (who was “Journalist B” in the case) interviewed Kiriakou for a story that was supposed to appear in New York Times Magazine.

Kiriakou asked Shane to wait until after sentencing so it did not affect his plea deal, but as Baquet told Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, “We felt competitive pressure.”

According to Sullivan, editors thought another news organization might be writing a similar story.

It turned out Steve Coll was about to publish a feature for the New Yorker. It became more important to not get scooped than to respect an agreement that was made with a source.

The government claimed in its sentencing memorandum that the Times story was evidence that Kiriakou had repudiated his “acceptance of responsibility for the criminal conduct he committed.”

Judge Leonie Brinkema was furious over what Kiriakou said to the press. She recognized that he did not speak during his sentencing and quipped, “Perhaps, you’ve already said too much.”

It pushed her to declare, “This is not a case of a whistleblower. This is a case of a man who betrayed a solemn trust.” She thought the sentence was too light, and if he did not have a deal that was made with prosecutors in October, she would have sentenced him to more time in prison than 30 months.

“I have had a very difficult relationship with the New York Times,” Kiriakou told Shadowproof. “The New York Times, in my own personal experience, doesn’t care one whit about the whistleblower or the source of a story or anybody else. All they care about is scooping the Washington Post and the news networks and that’s it.”

Kiriakou declared, “I don’t think they should have described [the whistleblower] like they did.”

The whistleblower “did not go to the media like I did” or like Daniel Ellsberg or Edward Snowden, Kiriakou added. He wanted to maintain his privacy, and he wanted to do the right thing at the same time. He deserved anonymity and to not have details of his identity splashed across all the major newspapers in the country.

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."