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SPJ criticizes CIA 'loophole'

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Society of Professional Journalists President G. Kelly Hawes denounced today the CIA practice of using American journalists as cover on "extraordinarily rare" occasions.

"Under no circumstances, not even extreme ones, should a U.S. intelligence officer be allowed to pose as a journalist, nor should an American journalist be recruited as cover for an intelligence operation," said Hawes. "The public shouldn't have to fear speaking to the press, and journalists shouldn't have to fear for their safety, but by allowing this loophole to exist for the CIA, these are the end results. Our integrity is compromised and our lives are endangered. That is wrong. There should be no more consideration of this policy. It should be an automatic `no' on the part of the government and the CIA."

An article in The Washington Post stated a "loophole" offered the CIA the opportunity to engage in using "American journalists of U.S. news organizations as cover in conducting clandestine operations." A ban on the practice was instituted in the 1970s. This article follows a Post report that a task force sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations had urged the consideration of allowing the CIA to resume such practices.

"The suggestion a few weeks ago that this practice might take place again was a shocking and disturbing one," said Hawes. "Now, the reality that the CIA's original ban might not be as firm as we were led to believe is frightening and upsetting. Many journalists on foreign soil already operate at a disadvantage because they are in areas of hostility. And even in peaceful locations, they are often distrusted as outsiders. You can read almost daily about American or foreign journalists being killed on the job. The possibility that intelligence officers may be operating under the cover of journalism places true journalists' lives and security in even greater danger."

At a meeting Feb. 3 in Phoenix, the SPJ executive committee adopted a resolution condemning the reinstatement of the practice.

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