Washington, D.C., May 2, 2002—In Senate testimony today, a CPJ representative argued that the U.S. government should never recruit journalists as spies, and that U.S. intelligence operatives should never pose as journalists.
Appearing before the Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, CPJ Washington representative Frank Smyth underscored the need to maintain an inviolate firewall between U.S. intelligence agencies and the press.
“I want to highlight one action that CPJ believes the U.S. government should never take: Using an American journalist as a CIA agent,” Smyth testified.
During questioning by subcommittee members, Smyth noted that the CIA has been barred from using journalists as spies since the 1970s, although this policy can be overruled through an executive waiver. In response, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the subcommittee chair, said she would seek clarification from CIA Director George Tenet.
CPJ was asked to testify about what the United States government can do to ensure the safety of U.S. journalists working overseas following the recent abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
Smyth pointed out that, according to CPJ statistics, the risk faced by U.S. reporters working abroad is fairly small compared to the risk faced by local reporters. “CPJ research shows that 399 journalists have been killed worldwide while carrying out their professional work,” testified Smyth. “Only seven of them were U.S. reporters working overseas.”
Concerning the Pearl case, Smyth took the opportunity “to recognize and commend the U.S. government for the role it has played, and continues to play, in working with Pakistani authorities to ensure that the killers of Daniel Pearl are brought to justice.”
But Smyth noted that “this action is appropriate not because Mr. Pearl was a journalist, but because he was a U.S. citizen who was the victim of a crime.” When it comes to American journalists, Smyth said, “the U.S. government should take no new specific actions to protect U.S. journalists working overseas,” as any such action might only jeopardize their perceived neutrality and thus “do more harm than good.”
Smyth encouraged the subcommittee, along with the rest of the U.S. government, to speak out about specific press freedom abuses wherever they occur, and to take active measures to ensure that the policies and rhetoric of the U.S. government are never used to justify restrictions on press freedom anywhere.
Testimony by the Committee to Protect Journalists
Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism
Chair, the Honorable Barbara Boxer Senate Foreign Relations Committee
May 2, 2002
Good morning. My name is Frank Smyth, and I am the Washington Representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ is an independent, non-profit organization based in New York City that fights for the rights of journalists worldwide to report the news freely, without fear of reprisal. I would like to place in the record a copy of our recently published annual report, Attacks on the Press in 2001, which contains more than 500 individual cases of attacks against journalists in more than 130 countries. We are grateful for this opportunity to address this subcommittee.
I’ve been asked to talk about what the United States government can do to ensure the safety of U.S. journalists working overseas. This is, of course, an important issue, and the recent abduction and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in Pakistan dramatically illustrates the risks that U.S. journalists confront. Nevertheless, according to CPJ’s statistics, the risk faced by U.S. reporters working abroad is fairly small compared to the risk faced by local reporters, particularly those covering corruption, human rights abuses, and military operations. These journalists are often targeted in direct reprisal for what they write or broadcast. During the past decade, our research shows that 399 journalists have been killed worldwide while carrying out their professional work. Only seven of them were U.S. reporters working overseas.
While I would like to briefly address the issue of the safety of U.S. journalists overseas, I plan to devote the bulk of my allotted time to discussing the larger threat to press freedom around the world, specifically CPJ’s concern that the events of September 11 and the subsequent U.S. military response have precipitated a global press freedom crisis.
I would like to take this opportunity to recognize and commend the U.S. government for the role it has played, and continues to play, in working with Pakistani authorities to ensure that the killers of Daniel Pearl are brought to justice. However, we believe that this action is appropriate not because Daniel Pearl was a journalist but because he was a U.S. citizen who was the victim of a crime. In fact, we are hard pressed to think of any other action that the U.S. government might take to protect U.S. journalists that would not do more harm than good. U.S. journalists reporting from dangerous areas around the world—particularly those places where the actions of the U.S. government have stirred local anger—rely on their perceived neutrality to keep them safe. Thus, efforts by the U.S. government to protect U.S. journalists overseas risk having the unintended effect of further endangering the journalists, if those efforts create the impression that U.S. journalists are somehow linked to the U.S. government.
I want to highlight one action that CPJ believes the U.S. government should never take: Using an American journalist as a CIA agent. We call on the U.S. government to reiterate its commitment to never recruit U.S. journalists as spies or government agents. We also call on the CIA and other government agencies to enforce a firm policy: that it will never permit CIA agents to pose as U.S. journalists during undercover operations. Furthermore, we would like to see this policy expanded to bar the use of non-U.S. journalists as spies. The perception or even the rumor that a local journalist works with the CIA would obviously put him or her at considerable risk.
We have also been concerned that around the world, repressive regimes have appropriated the rhetoric of the war of terrorism to justify the suppression of domestic criticism and curtail press freedom. In other instances, authoritarian governments appear to have taken advantage of the fact that the world’s attention was elsewhere to launch domestic crackdowns. In Eritrea, for example, the government of President Isaias Afewerki shut down the independent press and jailed 13 journalists in a crackdown that began shortly after September 11.
In Nepal, the government in November branded as “terrorists” anyone who supports the country’s Maoist rebels and imposed emergency regulations that have been used to harass and persecute journalists who report on rebel activities or who work for publications seen as sympathetic to the Maoist cause. Dozens of journalists have been detained since the declaration of the state of emergency.
Similarly, Chinese officials have characterized independence activists in the Muslim-majority region of Xinjiang as “terrorists,” targeting journalists and other intellectuals as part of a recently intensified crackdown on the separatist movement.
In Malaysia, the Home Ministry has repeatedly blocked the distribution of international publications—including Time and Newsweek—that published articles about the activities of Islamic militants within the country who may have links to the al-Qaeda terrorist network.
In Kyrgyzstan, President Askar Akayev has used the threat of international terrorism and the growing number of U.S. troops as excuses to curb political dissent and suppress the independent and opposition media.
And in Zimbabwe, Information Minister Jonathan Moyo has described the independent press as “terrorists” and specifically cited U.S. actions in justifying an independent media crackdown there. “We are watching events in the United States and Britain closely as pertaining to media freedom,” said Moyo last year, according to a local report. “These countries, especially the U.S.A., have unashamedly limited press freedom since September 11 in the name of safeguarding the national interest . . .If the most celebrated democracies in the world won’t allow their national interests to be tampered with, we will not allow it too.”
This is clearly an opportunistic response by Mr. Moyo, who spearheaded the efforts to curtail the independent press in Zimbabwe long before September 11. Nevertheless, it is sad that Mr. Moyo is seeking to justify his government’s repressive measures by citing U.S. government policy. In fact, CPJ has criticized the U.S. government in several cases for taking actions that we believe set a very poor precedent internationally. Specifically, CPJ expressed concern about efforts by the State Department to censor a Voice of America broadcast last year that included a telephone interview with the Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar. Later, Congress formally restricted the VOA from airing any such “terrorist” views. The U.S. government also tried to control broadcasts abroad. Last October, Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the Emir of Qatar to use his influence to rein in Al-Jazeera, the Arabic-language satellite station that is broadcast out of Qatar and financed by its government. Secretary Powell’s request was followed by a formal diplomatic démarche by the U.S. embassy in Qatar. In conclusion, while we believe that the U.S. government should take no new specific actions to protect U.S. journalists working overseas (because such action could do more harm than good), we believe there are actions that the U.S. government should take to uphold and support press freedom around the world. Specifically, we believe that the U.S. government should speak out against specific abuses and take active measures to ensure that the policy and rhetoric of the U.S. government is never used to justify repressive actions against journalists anywhere.
CPJ is grateful for this opportunity to address this important matter.