On Protecting Sources

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albardach.jpg
(Anne Louise Bardach, author of The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro)
Yesterday was a frustrating day for me. I had the opportunity, thanks to another of the significant think tanks in town, to pose a question to one of the more important international diplomats of the moment.
I asked this diplomat to make clear something that the neocons have alleged was a fabrication by a European government. I asked the question very carefully and asked it in front of about 300 people. The meeting was “entirely off the record.”
The diplomat who responded before people like Helene Cooper of the New York Times and Jim Hoagland and Karen DeYoung of the Washington Post in the audience said some extremely interesting things. I connected with the diplomat later and tried to lift the veil on the “off the record” commentary — without success.
Now, I know something that is extremely important about the conduct of American foreign policy and cannot report it. Helene Cooper actually chased me out of the room to ask what I was going to do with the info — and we were both flummoxed — realizing we were stuck but fearing someone else might scoop us in reporting the info that came after a question I posed.
I understand the realities here, and I won’t write this up unless I find independent confirmation of what I learned. I have thoughts on how that might be possible.
But all this stuff about journalistic propriety came up yesterday as well on a second front when I hosted a meeting for the Cuba-diva herself, Anne Louise Bardach, who spoke both about her new book, The Prison Letters of Fidel Castro, but who gave a talk at the New America Foundation I chaired and co-hosted with The Nation Institute titled “Cuba, Castro, and What Comes Next?”
Bardach was terrific — but she’s been trying to connect to an anonymous source of mine for some years — and that source has not been cooperative. I’ve lived up to my commitment to this person, who happens to be a soldier, but it’s clear that Bardach would be an excellent person to run further with some information related to Cuba than what I have written.
Blogging is different than journalism — but there are norms and best practices that I think serious bloggers need to live up to. The blog has grown so much and is read so widely among Washington types that I consider this both my own sandbox for oped-style commentary, but it is also a place that breaks some news. So, I have to maintain an approximation of journalistic standards.
I realize that this is a disappointing post. Perhaps you’ll get a sense, however, as to how I feel sitting on some of the most interesting foreign policy information out there and am completely unable to write about it. ARGHH!
More later.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

62 comments on “On Protecting Sources

  1. DonS says:

    *** I posted this on the above thread — I should have posted it here!
    Paraphrasing Arianna Huffington on the Libby trial (Firedoglake video summary of yesterday’s hearings), with regard a grandiose definition of ‘confidentiality, given by the defense in the attempt to quash a subpoena:
    ‘It gives the impression that any conversation between government officials [or even that a conversation took place] is automatically off the record, that it is a kind of club between high government officials and major reporters, and that anything discussed between them is automatically off the record, no matter whether it is in the public interest or not’.
    Too much secrecy; not enough sunlight.

    Reply

  2. SqueakyRat says:

    OK, what do we know? This briefing took place on Feb. 6, presumably in DC (at an embassy?). About three hundred people attended. The speaker was a diplomat, probably European. Besides Steve, Helene Cooper, Jim Hoagland and Karen DeYoung were there. No doubt other big-time media people were there too. Steve’s question concerned something that neocons have been claiming was a fabrication by a European government. The answer, says Steve, was “extremely important for the conduct of American foreign policy.”
    Surely some of you sleuths out there can follow these bread crumbs at least a little ways. Me, I don’t care.

    Reply

  3. Hedley Lamarr says:

    I once had a boss whose all-purpose reply to breaking office news/gossip was, “I knew two weeks ago, but was sworn to silence.” I’m not sure what the point is with Steve.

    Reply

  4. SK says:

    It seems like this post is aimed at trying to squeeze the story out somehow. By generating discussion here (a blog likely read by many of those “Washington Elite”), maybe he can push someone else in the room who isn’t bound by the laws of journalism to start leaking. Or, perhaps other journalists who know what was said will drop a question next time they’re on the phone with a source who might know something about it. It looks to me like this post is one way to try to get the story moving without any outright violations of confidence.

    Reply

  5. qwerty says:

    Hm. Brookings had Egyptian FM Ahmed Abu al-Gheit in for a talk today.
    Interesting indeed, but didn’t Mr Clemons mention this was “yesterday” (the 6th)?
    And since think tank agenda`s are public raw data anyone can get of the web, lets make a list of what is publicly known 😉
    That day the brookings agenda mentions:
    http://www.brook.edu/calendar/200702.htm
    * Taiwan’s Economy and a U.S.-Taiwan Free Trade Agreement
    * Executive Education Leadership for America: The Certificate Capstone Course
    Center for defence information
    http://www.cdi.org/
    * The 2008 National Security Budget and Briefing
    Woodrow Wilson center: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=events.welcome
    Nanotechnology in China: Ambitions and Realities
    * 3:00 p.m China is rapidly catching up to the United States in nanotechnology.
    * Feb !7! Turkey’s Roadmap for the 21st Century: Internal and External Factors
    Dr. Turhan Comez of Turkish Grand National Assembly (AKP), Dr. Orhan Ziya Diren, Turkish Grand National Assembly (CHP)
    * Feb !7! Book Discussion – Economic Statecraft During the Cold War
    The Carnegie endowment spend two insider filled days presenting its new vision
    http://www.carnegieendowment.org/events/
    * Feb 5 7:00 pm What Europeans Are Thinking About the World and What They Think the U.S. Role Should Be.
    Participants: Gianni Riotta, Contributing Editor FP Italy, Andrés Ortega, Editor in Chief, FP Spain, François Roche, Editor in Chief, FP France, Moderator: Moisés Naím, Editor in Chief, Foreign Policy Mag
    * Feb 6 9:30 – 11:30 am Is China’s Military Modernization Program a Growing Threat to the United States and Asia?
    Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy, Kissinger Associates,David Finkelstein, Cent. for Strat. Studies, Project Asia, CNA Corp,Larry Wortzel, U.S.-China Economic , Sec.y Rev., Moderator: Michael Swaine, Senior Carnegie Endowment
    * 9:30 – 11:30 am Still a Political Reform Agenda in the Middle East
    Ghanim Al Najjar, Professor, Kuwait University Khalid El-Hariry, Member of Parliament, Morocco Amr Hamzawy,Senior Associate, Carnegie EndowmentPaul Salem,Director, Carnegie Middle East Center, Moderator: Thomas Carothers, Carnegie Int. Politics
    * 11:45 – 2:00 pm Carnegie Endowment for International Peace New Vision Lunch
    Jonathan F. Fanton, President, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Found. James C. Gaither, Chairman, Carnegie Board of Trustees Jessica T. Mathews, President, Carnegie Endowment
    Keynote: Eric Schmidt, CEO, Google “How the borderless, information-rich world created by the internet is challenging historic conceptions of regulation, political participation, and governance.”
    * 3:00 – 5:00 pm From the Great Game to Cooperation in Eurasia?
    Ambassador James F. Collins, Director, Carnegie Russian and Eurasian Program, Zhao Huasheng, Director, Center for Russian and Central Studies, Center for Shanghai Cooperation Org., Fudan University Sun Zhuangzhi, Director, Central Asian Dept Institute for East Europe, Russian and Cent. Asian Studies, Secretary-General of the Center for Shanghai Coop. Org., Chinese Academy of Sciences
    Andrei Grozin, Department of Central Asia and Kazakhstan at the Institute for Diaspora and Integration, Dmitri Trenin, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment, and Deputy Director Carnegie Moscow Center, Moderator: Martha Brill Olcott, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment
    * 3:30 – 5:00 pm A Conversation with Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif
    Ambassador Javad Zarif, Permanent Representative to the United Nations of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Moderator: George Perkovich, Carnegie Vice President for Studies–Global Security and Economic Development, and Director, Nonproliferation Program
    institute for policy studies:
    * Feb !7! Congress: Treat Iran War Like Contras War, Phyllis Bennis ;-(
    American enterprise institute http://www.aei.org/events/filter.all/eventlist_bydate.asp
    * feb !7! Hedging in Hanoi: The Progress and Pitfalls of U.S.-Vietnam Relations
    Frederick Z. Brown, Johns Hopkins SAIS Joshua Kurlantzick, Carnegie Endowment Alexander Vuving, Harvard Moderator:Christopher Griffin, AEI Speaker: Raymond Burghardt, East-West Center
    The aspen institute http://www.aspeninstitute.org/site/c.huLWJeMRKpH/b.651809/k.8AAD/Our_Calendar_of_Events/apps/cd/month.asp
    *Forgiveness or Vengeance Symposium
    *Kids and the Media Conference
    *Great Decisions Series
    Rand (Kinda like their stuff): had a quiet day http://rand.org/events/
    Stimson center: quiet day http://www.stimson.org/events.cfm
    Cato: quiet day http://www.cato.org/events/calendar.html
    hoover institution: quiet day http://www.hoover.org/pubaffairs/releases
    inter American dialogue: no agenda, no press release
    center for national policy: quiet day, empty agenda http://www.cnponline.org/index.php?tg=topusr&cat=11
    the progress and freedom foundation: quiet day, (US domestic anti regulation events from rooms of senators?)
    joint center for political and economic studies: quiet place http://www.jointcenter.org/events/SpeicalEventsIisting.php
    resources for the future: quiet day http://www.rff.org/rff/Events/Calendar.cfm
    the development gap: no agenda
    http://www.developmentgap.org/history%26program/history_program.html
    Heritage foundation: Lots of words but cant find an official agenda, typical 😉
    Association on Third World Affairs: quiet day http://atwa.org/news/news.asp
    Institute for policy studies: quiet day http://www.ips-dc.org/
    Center for international policy: no agenda http://ciponline.org/events/salud.htm
    New America Foundation: We would know 😉
    The Nixon Center: Cant be bothered 😉
    That leaves the following with an ambassador title on the agendas in DC for that day:
    * US Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._Stapleton_Roy
    * US Ambassador James F. Collins http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=18991&prog=zru
    * Iranian ambassador to the UN, Ambassador Javad Zarif
    One could argue that the US ambassadors in think tank positions would be relatively easy to get a hold of for someone in the position of mr Clemons
    Anyone care to make a list of questions mr Clemonts could have for these people? Anyone care to bet were WaPo and NYT journalist would hang out, presumably only one event at a time….
    If anyone wants to look up the outside the beltway think tanks I left out here is a decent list to work from http://www.nira.go.jp/linke/tt-link/lec/lec-179.html

    Reply

  6. Arun says:

    Perhaps there is another lesson here – the reality that Washington is a big insiders’ club. The think tank meeting had to be invitation only (how else would the diplomat be confident that none of his 300 audience would name him/her and quote him/her?). It means that the sanctions that would be levied against a leaker would be severe, in fact, more severe, than e.g., blabbing that Valerie Plame was a undercover CIA agent. That the press is in bed with the big think tanks and with the government, to an extent not imagined by any of us.

    Reply

  7. Frank says:

    brat has it right. Why bring up a tantalizing tidbit for your readers. It mimics soap operas. But (sigh), I am at the edge of my chair waiting for the latest about our foreign policy, but I only want to hear it within the framework of “journalistic professionalism”, you know, like Judith Millerish..

    Reply

  8. Arun says:

    A off-the-record remark to 300 people strains belief. In any case, if 300 people are indeed searching for a second source for this info, it will not be secret for long.

    Reply

  9. WatchfulBabbler says:

    Hm. Brookings had Egyptian FM Ahmed Abu al-Gheit in for a talk today. Egypt doesn’t exactly hold center stage in regional diplomacy like it used to, but I’d still call it an important player, especially with the instability going on next door in Israel and the Levant….

    Reply

  10. Carroll says:

    Well I just can’t stand not knowing…(stomping foot)
    Steve should leak it to me and I can leak it to 200 of my most intimate friends and it would take 2 Fitz’es 10 years to get to the original leaker.

    Reply

  11. qwerty says:

    Some speculation
    ——
    The Carnegie endowment had a big two day launch of their “new vision” on the 6th. Big speakers, lots of big players ( http://www.carnegieendowment.org/events/ )
    Major guest: Iran’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Javad Zarif, quite the international diplomat.
    Would Steve be anywhere else at that moment?
    What could they talk about?
    http://www.armscontrolwonk.com/1386/pimp-my-cascade
    Who knows…

    Reply

  12. John Powers says:

    I’ll admit to opening the comments with an “Ah, come on, you can tell us.” in the back of my head. But I don’t agree with Brat that this post is “juvenile.” It seems a good thing towards maintaining journalistic standards that journalists talk about those standards and the process of journalism. Of course I want to encourage you to find independent confirmation. And in this political climate, I recognize that’s going to be hard. It’s the journalists who wear down some shoe leather that eventually gain trust and admiration. So I feel your frustration and commend you for your determination to get us the facts.

    Reply

  13. John Powers says:

    I’ll admit to opening the comments with an “Ah, come on, you can tell us.” in the back of my head. But I don’t agree with Brat that this post is “juvenile.” It seems a good thing towards maintaining journalistic standards that journalists talk about those standards and the process of journalism. Of course I want to encourage you to find independent confirmation. And in this political climate, I recognize that’s going to be hard. It’s the journalists who wear down some shoe leather that eventually gain trust and admiration. So I feel your frustration and commend you for your determination to get us the facts.

    Reply

  14. John Powers says:

    I’ll admit to opening the comments with an “Ah, come on, you can tell us.” in the back of my head. But I don’t agree with Brat that this post is “juvenile.” It seems a good thing towards maintaining journalistic standards that journalists talk about those standards and the process of journalism. Of course I want to encourage you to find independent confirmation. And in this political climate, I recognize that’s going to be hard. It’s the journalists who wear down some shoe leather that eventually gain trust and admiration. So I feel your frustration and commend you for your determination to get us the facts.

    Reply

  15. John Powers says:

    I’ll admit to opening the comments with an “Ah, come on, you can tell us.” in the back of my head. But I don’t agree with Brat that this post is “juvenile.” It seems a good thing towards maintaining journalistic standards that journalists talk about those standards and the process of journalism. Of course I want to encourage you to find independent confirmation. And in this political climate, I recognize that’s going to be hard. It’s the journalists who wear down some shoe leather that eventually gain trust and admiration. So I feel your frustration and commend you for your determination to get us the facts.

    Reply

  16. Jerome Gaskins says:

    Wanna straighten our federal government out? Move it back into a normal state, like Pennsylvania. Let some of that Pennsylvania Dutch Country goodness rub off on the snakes.
    The primary sin of the federal government is expressed in allowing it the privilege of not having to follow the rules it creates for the rest of us.
    The district of Columbia must be equalized with the rest of the United States. Perhaps a traveling US Capitol can at least spread some of the privilege around to the rest of the country.
    Think I’m blowing smoke? Your congress people and mine are currently griping and whining about having to work a whole damned week at a time!!! The Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate are sticking to their guns right now, but its a safe bet that they’ll be back to the ol’ 3 day week within the season.
    Perhaps things are not as they seem. Lots of us are taught that the USA is a place where everybody has an equal opportunity to pursue their happiness. We’ve accepted that things are not that simple, but are we really going to accept that the warmongers are in fact better than us? Are we gonna allow one piss-ant family to destroy our society?
    Are we gonna return to the days of men and boys being persuaded to line up across the field from another group of boys and men to sling and stab metal implements into each other because they were persuaded by their “betters” that their lives are worth nothing those betters are bound to respect? If not, we must solve this political problem that has us allocated between two parties like so many cattle, and run our society more responsibly.
    We do not need people who are privileged running our country. We need people who have had to struggle thru the ills that buffet our average citizen. We don’t need people telling us that we are not capable of deciding for ourselves how to spend our money. What we need to privatize is the people who think they deserve $100 million dollars when they get fired, but only want to give us maybe $500/week for 6 months. We need the ability to select, every day of our lives as citizens, what to spend our money on when it comes to developing and supporting foreign policies.
    We need, as a matter of fact, diplomats who can distinguish between the interests of our society and those of their peers and concerns they want to arrange employment with at the end of their appointments.
    We need to respect ourselves and our abilities much more than we honor and give loyalty to the people who made the mess we’re in.
    I do not fault you for playing by your rules, Steve. I fault your source and the class structure that (s)he has bound themself to. I can’t get too worked up about not hearing something you’ve been told not to divulge, not when pallets of US dollars are being shipped to different countries and “lost”. Not when some loser cheerleader and his mechanical marvel are allowed to change our country into a dictatorship.

    Reply

  17. Jerome Gaskins says:

    Wanna straighten our federal government out? Move it back into a normal state, like Pennsylvania. Let some of that Pennsylvania Dutch Country goodness rub off on the snakes.
    The primary sin of the federal government is expressed in allowing it the privilege of not having to follow the rules it creates for the rest of us.
    The district of Columbia must be equalized with the rest of the United States. Perhaps a traveling US Capitol can at least spread some of the privilege around to the rest of the country.
    Think I’m blowing smoke? Your congress people and mine are currently griping and whining about having to work a whole damned week at a time!!! The Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate are sticking to their guns right now, but its a safe bet that they’ll be back to the ol’ 3 day week within the season.
    Perhaps things are not as they seem. Lots of us are taught that the USA is a place where everybody has an equal opportunity to pursue their happiness. We’ve accepted that things are not that simple, but are we really going to accept that the warmongers are in fact better than us? Are we gonna allow one piss-ant family to destroy our society?
    Are we gonna return to the days of men and boys being persuaded to line up across the field from another group of boys and men to sling and stab metal implements into each other because they were persuaded by their “betters” that their lives are worth nothing those betters are bound to respect? If not, we must solve this political problem that has us allocated between two parties like so many cattle, and run our society more responsibly.
    We do not need people who are privileged running our country. We need people who have had to struggle thru the ills that buffet our average citizen. We don’t need people telling us that we are not capable of deciding for ourselves how to spend our money. What we need to privatize is the people who think they deserve $100 million dollars when they get fired, but only want to give us maybe $500/week for 6 months. We need the ability to select, every day of our lives as citizens, what to spend our money on when it comes to developing and supporting foreign policies.
    We need, as a matter of fact, diplomats who can distinguish between the interests of our society and those of their peers and concerns they want to arrange employment with at the end of their appointments.
    We need to respect ourselves and our abilities much more than we honor and give loyalty to the people who made the mess we’re in.
    I do not fault you for playing by your rules, Steve. I fault your source and the class structure that (s)he has bound themself to. I can’t get too worked up about not hearing something you’ve been told not to divulge, not when pallets of US dollars are being shipped to different countries and “lost”. Not when some loser cheerleader and his mechanical marvel are allowed to change our country into a dictatorship.

    Reply

  18. Jerome Gaskins says:

    Wanna straighten our federal government out? Move it back into a normal state, like Pennsylvania. Let some of that Pennsylvania Dutch Country goodness rub off on the snakes.
    The primary sin of the federal government is expressed in allowing it the privilege of not having to follow the rules it creates for the rest of us.
    The district of Columbia must be equalized with the rest of the United States. Perhaps a traveling US Capitol can at least spread some of the privilege around to the rest of the country.
    Think I’m blowing smoke? Your congress people and mine are currently griping and whining about having to work a whole damned week at a time!!! The Speaker of the House and Majority Leader of the Senate are sticking to their guns right now, but its a safe bet that they’ll be back to the ol’ 3 day week within the season.
    Perhaps things are not as they seem. Lots of us are taught that the USA is a place where everybody has an equal opportunity to pursue their happiness. We’ve accepted that things are not that simple, but are we really going to accept that the warmongers are in fact better than us? Are we gonna allow one piss-ant family to destroy our society?
    Are we gonna return to the days of men and boys being persuaded to line up across the field from another group of boys and men to sling and stab metal implements into each other because they were persuaded by their “betters” that their lives are worth nothing those betters are bound to respect? If not, we must solve this political problem that has us allocated between two parties like so many cattle, and run our society more responsibly.
    We do not need people who are privileged running our country. We need people who have had to struggle thru the ills that buffet our average citizen. We don’t need people telling us that we are not capable of deciding for ourselves how to spend our money. What we need to privatize is the people who think they deserve $100 million dollars when they get fired, but only want to give us maybe $500/week for 6 months. We need the ability to select, every day of our lives as citizens, what to spend our money on when it comes to developing and supporting foreign policies.
    We need, as a matter of fact, diplomats who can distinguish between the interests of our society and those of their peers and concerns they want to arrange employment with at the end of their appointments.
    We need to respect ourselves and our abilities much more than we honor and give loyalty to the people who made the mess we’re in.
    I do not fault you for playing by your rules, Steve. I fault your source and the class structure that (s)he has bound themself to. I can’t get too worked up about not hearing something you’ve been told not to divulge, not when pallets of US dollars are being shipped to different countries and “lost”. Not when some loser cheerleader and his mechanical marvel are allowed to change our country into a dictatorship.

    Reply

  19. Dan Kervick says:

    Steve wrote:
    “I asked this diplomat to make clear something that the neocons have alleged was a fabrication by a European government.”
    Switzerland? Iran? Offer of negotiations?

    Reply

  20. dalivision says:

    While the Neocons are concentrating on the Middle East and making lies on Europe who is watching China. They are making inroads in Africa and diminishing our influence. We have in the past always used our business ingenuity and promises of riches to get these countries to buy in and at the same time, we have our military might as the stick.
    Today Iraq has shown that we do not have that stick and China has shown that business ingenuity to the African countries. So why should these countries turn to the US but rather to China? Maybe we are the evil empire that they accuse us to be. However, I would say that if we need to exert influence in a manner that would benefit all parties we should at least get started. This administration not even has the ball rolling in that regard.

    Reply

  21. ... says:

    poa’s 9:23 post says it all…right on, i agree completely.

    Reply

  22. Marky says:

    Is it standard practice for people to divulge “off the record” information to 300 people? That’s really unbelievable. As an outsider, my take is that the speaker absolutely wants that information made public.

    Reply

  23. Easy E says:

    Here is information the mainstream media won’t reveal:
    CLINTON, EDWARDS, OBAMA ARE MEMBERS OF THE WAR PARTY: “STRIKE IRAN”
    http://www.opednews.com/articles/opedne_joshua_f_070206_clinton_2c_edwards_and.htm

    Reply

  24. susan says:

    I find it absolutely absurd that 300 people have been give access to information that they cannot divulge. Who gives “double super secret background” to 300 people and expects it to remain secret?
    Figure out a way to share what you know, Steve. Lives may depend on it.
    I am also wondering why you are even telling us about this since you insist that you cannot write about it. Is this yet another effort to demonstrate to us that you are among Washington’s “elite” insiders?

    Reply

  25. Zorro says:

    ExBrit,
    but if memory serves me correctly, once the scheme was proven to be a ruse… the dossier in question was what the neocons “alleged was a fabrication by a European government.”
    I was typing faster than I was thinking…or something like that.

    Reply

  26. ExBrit says:

    “Neocons alleged [it] was a fabrication.” Neocons didn’t allege the Niger/Iraq scheme was a fabrication. They did just the opposite. They tried to tell us the Niger/Iraq scheme was the real deal, and almost got away with it until Wilson blew the whistle. It’s something else that they allege was a fabrication. If memory serves me, there was a lot of denial that the US used foreign prisons for “extraction” of information from Guantanamo retainees – and one of those foreign countries was probably Egypt….

    Reply

  27. Zorro says:

    “I asked this diplomat to make clear something that the neocons have alleged was a fabrication by a European government.”
    Who’s in court right now? …oh yes, Libby and by extension Cheney.
    What was a fabricated? …the Niger/Iraq scheme.
    Very interesting days ahead.

    Reply

  28. Blind Sheep says:

    It’s on the public record that the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Egypt is in town.
    A Saban Center Statesman’s Forum
    U.S.-Egyptian Partnership: The Way Forward with H.E. Ahmed Aboul Gheit Minister of Foreign Affairs, Arab Republic of Egypt
    http://www.brook.edu/comm/events/20070207egypt.htm

    Reply

  29. Alan says:

    Just noted: 40 top tier journalists!!! Given the Libby case I am not sure journalists are the flavour of the month or even the year. This is the kind of stuff that makes me wonder how much time folks in Washington spend in think tanks, symposia, colloquia and all the other fancy ways of meeting among themselves to think great thought and reach profound conclusions.
    Meanwhile, the US is reviled around the world, its diplomacy is a source of amusement and outright disdain, it foreign policy initiatives are the stuff of bitter jokes and we have 300 hundred souls walking around today with an important piece of information!

    Reply

  30. Carroll says:

    ARGGH!..is right. How frustrating.
    We understand you can’t tell but how long do you think until you can?

    Reply

  31. Fred says:

    This wasn’t a disappointing post at all, it was a big tease. One thinks that you wouldn’t have even written it unless there was more info forthcoming….?

    Reply

  32. steambomb says:

    At this meeting, there were a great number of people — and about 40 top tier journalists.
    It is remarkable that not a single one of them seems to have written about this set of revelations….
    In Washington, it seems, a secret can still be kept — even among 300 people.
    Journalists work for corporations. Have you forgotten that?

    Reply

  33. bryanwilkins says:

    Necessity is the mother of invention. As a former full time print reporter, now sometime, and close follower of washington scene–it is inconceivable that a room of 300 people heaaring off the record revelations are going to keep these sacred pearls of wisdom from the immediate next person they talk to. I’ll bet that this “stuff” is already out in the news blog sphere. And in any event it is all pprobably already old and dated. Come on guys. Stop pretending that this is a zero sum game. There are winners and loosers. Were losing. We cannot fight Bush/Cheney/neocon fantasy policies much less influence them with one hand tied.

    Reply

  34. brat says:

    This is so, well, juvenile. You’re waving your arms claiming, “I’ve got a secret, I’ve got a secret.” But it’s not really a secret, since about 300 people were in attendance.
    This is classic enabling. There are over a half million people DEAD in Iraq, and you’ve got a secret.
    Horsecrap!
    If it’s of national importance, report. If you need to keep your mouth shut do so. But for god’s sake, stop waving your arms like a 7 year old.

    Reply

  35. ESaund says:

    This “journalist’s integrity” is pretty much a one way street. Why is it that journalists have such high standards when protecting conservatives, yet time after time fall for all the garbage put out by the right-wing smear machine?

    Reply

  36. Justice Louis Brandeis says:

    “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
    –Justice Louis Brandeis, Other People’s Money, and How the Bankers Use It, 1933.
    This is a potential conflict of interest between the American public interest and a code of ethics for journalists or the diplomatic sensitivity of the nation in question. It’s unlikely this ambassador would have disclosed what he did without approval from his superiors. It’s not clear from this account whether the attempts to “lift the veil” included the key step of attempting to secure approval for the ambassador to contribute the information to public debate without jeopardy to her or his diplomatic interests. What is certain is that the ambassador knows precisely that 300 people in Washington do NOT keep a secret for long. It’s been 1 day. Give it time.

    Reply

  37. Gary Sugar says:

    I understand that you made a personal promise; but why can’t someone else who was there leak this important revelation to someone who wasn’t there? Because the 300 people present all “fear that someone else might scoop us?” Sorry, I don’t understand. It’s either something important for American voters to know, or it isn’t. Again, I understand that you personally are honor bound. But 300 people? That much secret DC elitism is very bad for democracy.

    Reply

  38. Mike says:

    Steve, why must you tease us like this?
    I’m assuming the information has something to do with the complicity of foreign individuals with some highly questionable of our government.
    The thing that makes me doubtful that this could be “the most important” type of information about American foreign policy, is that I’m guessing it’s either about Cuba? Or about somewhere that is not Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or Pakistan?
    So vague, so vague..

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  39. DonS says:

    Pardon the double post, and the misspellings (“very important diplomats”). Think of it as emphasis.

    Reply

  40. John says:

    What I find interesting is that “off the record” increasingly seems to imply cover for the administration’s skulduggery, lying, and its efforts to shape public opinion. Most of the facts regarding real policy choices are readily available but don’t get the publicity they deserve because the White House sets the agenda, frames the message, makes the truth confidential, and the news media and most bloggers blindly follow. As a result, the American people end of believing a bunch of garbage. It’s a sick situation when traitors like Judith Miller, who were instrumental to this process, can still claim to have been doing a great job.

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  41. DonS says:

    If there was ever a time for “very imporantdiplomats” of conscience and other highly placed power possessing beings to do whatever they can to blow the lid off the actions of this deceiving excuse for a government, this must be it. The purge must be deep and wide. And it cannot occur without insiders exposing truth. The public smells the rot, but cannot know the extent of it without courageous individuals coming forward — directly or indirectly — with the goods. Like a whole phalanx of Richard Clarkes.
    The net may be a sufficiently powerful tool to insure the (American) media will not be able to minimize or excuse the level of complicity, their own included.
    Time is of the essence.

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  42. DonS says:

    If there were ever a time for very imporant “diplomats” of conscience and other highly placed power possessing beings to do whatever they can to blow the lid off the actions of this deceiving excuse for a government, this must be it. The purge must be deep and wide. And it cannot occur without insiders exposing truth. The public smells the rot, but cannot know the extent of it without courageous individuals coming forward – directly or indirectly – with the goods. Like a whole phalanx of Richard Clarkes.
    The net may be a sufficiently powerful tool to insure the (American) media will not be able to minimize or excuse the level of complicity, their own included.
    Time is of the essence.

    Reply

  43. Zathras says:

    I appreciate the nature of Steve’s dilemma, but think its dimensions are less than they seem.
    It’s always gratifying to be able to point to an authoritative source for support of one’s opinions. It’s not always necessary, though, and certainly is not always necessary within the context of the modern news cycle. Journalists, especially opinion journalists, have faced this kind of situation forever, and have often prospered by following Churchill’s advice to an aide leaving his Downing Street staff to join the Royal Air Force. The aide knew a great many things he could not reveal, yet was bound to become involved in many discussions about the course of the war. What Churchill told him was, “Be wise, not well-informed. Give your opinions, not the reasons for them. Then you will have a great contribution to make.”
    Lots of journalists and commentators have access that far outstrips their acumen; they have information before their readers do but are no better than their readers at explaining what it means. The contribution Steve can best make is in the explanation more than the reporting, and information that cannot be reported directly and immediately can still form the basis for the assumptions on which that explanation is based.

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  44. SD Law Student says:

    The greatest frustration is that Bush is still in office. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeVNVHSm_Pw&mode=related&search=

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  45. Dave Johnson says:

    An interesting dilemma: Be careful what you ask for?
    The problem is that you asked an “un-askable question” and got an answer.
    The adage of “a blunder in Washington is when someone accidentally tells the truth” is appropriate.
    You wonder why no one reported on the answer? If someone were to reveal an embarrassing or strategic fact they would be pondering their next assignment.. The Guantanamo Bay Desk (on location .. without a pencil)
    Now you have consider the fact that you have become part of the story. You can’t even reveal (in detail) the question because your readers could infer an answer by imagining the best case scenario or the worst case scenario. So what does this say about our society? It says that there are consequences for questioning authority. Not only are their consequences for revealing state secrets there are potential (real or imagined) consequences for asking questions whose answer may compromise the strategic interest of the government.
    I’m sure that you may feel terrible about your dilemma. I would too. It demonstrates that our ‘free press’ not only doesn’t present the truth about our government they also won’t even ask a question that may accidentally reveal the truth. If there was a press conference at the Unveiling of the Emperors New Clothes, the most popular question would likely be “Where did you get that tie?”
    As far as Cuba goes. Shakespeare probably rolls in his grave at his missed opportunity for writing his greatest tragic comedy when he sees our foreign policy in Cuba. The propaganda has been so great in America that you can’t even discuss admitted facts about what our government has done to that country without being called a a wing nut conspiracy theorist. Exploding cigars, agri-biological warfare, weather manipulation are some of ones that raise the most laughter. The funniest one that comes to mind is when the Cuba was negotiating with the U.S. they sent back a box of cigars to Kennedy. Kennedy promptly lit one up and then evidently remembered that he had signed the order to try to assassinate Castro with a cigar. He looked over to his aid and made some sort of allusion to “Maybe I should have had you try one first”.
    In order for our government to continue on its current path and retain its current position in the world it has to control its people and the people that it wishes to dominate. This can and does extend to “bloggers”. The danger here is that our country was founded on the premise of freedoms. When the country no longer supports or encourages those freedoms it is not the same country. Yes, I am aware of those that maintain that the Constitution is a living and breathing document. Unfortunately, it seems to be on life support as of late. Everybody likes to say “Thank goodness we are free in America”. You bet you are free, free to ask any question, free to stand up and say whatever you like.. just don’t do it in public because the government is also free to declare you a threat to their national interest and then restrict your freedom indefinitely. In monopoly terms “Go directly to Jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200”. And finally for those that like to say that freedom of speech has to be restricted in the interest of the public (those who like to point out that it is illegal to yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater). I point out that it is only illegal to say ‘fire’ in the theater if there is no fire. If there is a fire it is a social responsibility to inform all around you of the situation so that you can make an informed judgement on an exit plan. (maybe I should have said redeployment)
    The very serious nature of this current event is that it demonstrates that even bloggers are coming under the control of the government. A chilling effect has already occurred in America.. this is just one example in many recent ones. You would be naive to think that the government doesn’t pay heed to what bloggers do or say. The real scare is that a citizen might actually guess a state secret. It is unfortunate that the way our legal system works the government only has to show that you were in possession of the secret and that you revealed it in a manner that is contrary to the interests of government. No intent is involved. So not only should you consider what questions you ask you now have to consider what secrets you guess. I am sure that Orwell would be proud of his ability to predict the future.
    Dave Johnson

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  46. memekiller says:

    Ask yourself, WWDCD (What Woudl Dick Cheney Do)? Grant confidentiality to someone in the audience, but who wants to remain anonymous due to the “off-the-record” nature of the meeting.
    Goes back to the days when Cheney was a lineman, and came up with the idea of snipping any scrap copper wire so that it didn’t meet the three foot limit and had to be reported to headquarters. Always snipping the wire.

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  47. CKR says:

    The real story will be how many of the 300 journalists actually follow this up. Or don’t. But we’ll never know that, will we?

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  48. Alan says:

    I find this post odd, to say the least. Why not wait until you have run down other sources and then posted? Why say I, among 300 people, have this very important piece of information which I cannot convey to you because I’m bound by a set of rules.
    There is a trial going on in Washington – Libby – and Tim Russert is waiting to appear as a witness. He carried on numerous interviews on the Libby – Plame matter without once revealing that he too was involved as a witness in that case.
    Are we supposed to believe that there is a chosen group of insiders in Washington walking around with vital information that they cannot impart to us until some in house rules are observed.
    In that case just don’t post it. I don’t want to know.

    Reply

  49. pauline says:

    I wonder if Steve’s off-the-record comments he heard have anything to do with this?
    “On the Litvinenko and Yushchenko incidents, I have expressed my doubts about the semi-official narratives, which point to alleged Russian perfidy. This crude attempt to characterize the Russian government as run by serial poisoners evokes the old familiar Cold War imagery that portrayed the Russians as invariably sinister: it also depends on the reputation of the Stalin-era KGB, which has little if anything to do with the present-day FSB. So I won’t go too deeply into these questions here, except to note that there is much more evidence regarding another incident of possible state-sponsored assassination, by means of radioactive poisoning, of a prominent person on his native soil.
    The Stratfor intelligence analysis Web site reports that the sudden death of Ardeshir Hassanpour, perhaps Iran’s leading nuclear scientist, was not an accident. Radio Farda, the U.S. government-run Iranian language network, gave the cause of death as radiation-related, although the details, as Stratfor noted, were “murky.” Much less murky, however, is this: “Stratfor sources close to Israeli intelligence have revealed, however, that Hassanpour was in fact a Mossad target.” According to Stratfor, this case of state-sponsored “radioactive poisoning” is part of a psychological warfare campaign conducted as an adjunct to Israel’s larger military-political strategy against Tehran.
    Oddly, the Iranians, instead of touting the news far and wide as evidence of Israeli ruthlessness and warlike behavior, denied that the Mossad had anything to do with Hassanpour’s death, which they attributed to “fumes from a faulty gas fire in sleep.” The claim that the Mossad got him, they say, is just Israeli propaganda. In reality, they claim, the Mossad has no way to get into Iran.
    One doesn’t know whether to laugh or guffaw.
    There was no comment from the Israelis: not even a denial, at least so far.
    Two cases of radioactive poisoning, two instances of possible state-sponsored terrorism, two assassinations with a political-ideological objective — so how come we have two completely different Western reactions to these very similar events?”
    http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=10479

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  50. Marcia says:

    This for laughs:
    We can just rendition Steve and MAKE him talk.
    That is how things work now. We want and need to know, “the end justifies the means,” and it is not torture. No pictures please.
    We live in a new world now, a post 9/11 one, so Steve, BE PREPARED!

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  51. Pissed Off American says:

    “…there are times to break confidentiality – but i have no reason to think this is one of them (can lives really be saved?)….”
    We really don’t know, do we? Its one of those “wait and see” things…..
    If people don’t die, we will probably get to see the info eventually. If people do die, its doubtful we will see it, and a bunch of journalists can smugly rationalize their complicity by invoking a tragically ill concieved and false sense of morality by congratulating themselves as being proffessionally ethical.

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  52. Marcia says:

    PoA:
    I think it can be considered there no longer is a fourth estate in MSM. It is in the hands of industry and no longer willing to finance real journalists. They make money, they appear on TV…What higher calling?
    There is also the eavesdropping that started long before it became public. Journalists and politiciens have alwayts been the first targets for this kind of operation.
    Since privacy is a thing of the past and pruderie a banner carried to the grave there is very little wigggle room.

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  53. selise says:

    poa – here’s the thing…. if steve hadn’t promised confidentiality, then he wouldn’t have been told anything (probably wouldn’t have even been able to attend). this at least gets him the info so that he can work at finding other sources and getting it out to us.
    it’s not steve’s fault that our corporate media has failed us. this time i hope they are all rushing to beat each other to find alternative sources and that they will be allowed to publish what they find…. we’ll see.
    there are times to break confidentiality – but i have no reason to think this is one of them (can lives really be saved?). and i appauld steve for being up front enough to let us know he’s keeping something back.
    Jim H from Indiana – i agree…. i also wish reporters/bloggers/citizens would burn sources that play people with false information.

    Reply

  54. bartkid says:

    This is why I.F. Stone never went to “off the record” briefings.
    Point a fellow journalist to the right place to look and have ’em work at getting the truth out here.

    Reply

  55. Josh says:

    By the way, if any of your readers want to know more about what Bardach said about Cuba, I’ve done a basic write-up here:
    http://www.futureatlas.com/blog/index.php/2007/02/06/cuba-evolving/

    Reply

  56. Pissed Off American says:

    600,000 dead Iraqis, and counting. Over 3000 dead American servicemen. Our country’s credibility destroyed. People torured in the name of the United States. American covert agents compromised, purposely and vindictively. Blatant and verifiably false intelligence bandied by this government as a rationale to invade a soveriegn nation.
    And throughout it all, a Fourth Estate that has completely failed the people of the United States.
    How many more people must die, how far lower must our nation sink, before the Fourth Estate places basic human morality above political protocol and self-serving charades masquerading as “proffessional ethics”?

    Reply

  57. Marcia says:

    I find this situation quite curious.
    First I under that you intend to adhere to your code of conduct. What you can or cannot make public is your own decision.
    The behavior of your source however is surprising.
    To confide a secret to 300 people is either extremely naive, and you say this is a seasoned diplomat, or he knew there will be leaks or serious follow ups that lead to the outing of the information, so therefore he intended to make this public without divulging it first-hand.
    I would guess it pertains to the documents on Nigerian yellow cake that were reported to be a fabrication coming from Italy to which many names have been attached. I may be wrong, there are so many fabrications involved in the conduct of this administration.
    “Patience is the mother of all virtues”.

    Reply

  58. Punchy says:

    Mr. Clemons….you seem to be implying that the neocons have been lying to us about something 1) very important, 2)something dealing with our important allies, and 3)something that will probably get our country in trouble in the near future.
    Frankly, I find this hard to believe. Neocons dont lie….do they??
    Signed,
    Senate Republicans

    Reply

  59. Jim H from Indiana says:

    As a college-trained and former working journalist, I applaud your decision to honor the “off-the-record” nature of some talks. Though it is maddening, off-the-record discussions are absolutely necessary to understanding the facts around any given situation.
    Off-the-record discussions builds trust with your contacts and will eventually lead (though never soon enough to suit the journalist) to on-the-record talks that you can write about.
    Woodward and Bernstein’s exploits during the Watergate days are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to journalists using off-the-record sources for source information. It is one of many ways journalist can understand “the story” and be able to write a story that will enlighten and educate the audience of readers.
    I will add this, however. Once an off-the-record source “plays” you with false information or an agenda (of course, they ALL have agendas but I hope you understand what I mean), burn ’em. And burn ’em hard. Trust is a two-way street. I believe if today’s journalists would practice this tit-for-tat concept more fully, we wouldn’t have the woeful media that we do.
    Keep plugging away with your source and work with them to get the on-the-record material you can tell the rest of us about.

    Reply

  60. Steve Clemons says:

    selise — Thanks for the empathetic note! I am seriously bummed…but I will find a way to tell this. There is no misleading in this case (by the diplomat) because he disclosed some things that made something more clear — and not designed to obfuscate. In this case, he owned up to something…so it’s a different kind of information.
    Some neocons have been raging about this for a bit — and I would love to do public battle over what was said.
    At this meeting, there were a great number of people — and about 40 top tier journalists.
    It is remarkable that not a single one of them seems to have written about this set of revelations….
    In Washington, it seems, a secret can still be kept — even among 300 people.
    Steve Clemons
    http://www.TheWashingtonNote.com

    Reply

  61. profmarcus says:

    i find your post very disturbing… what i find most disturbing about it is, if the information that you received is so sensitive that it can’t be reported to the public-at-large, why was it shared with you in the first place…? this two-tier, insider-outsider, in-the-know vs. the great unwashed caste system of information access is killing this country, and, maybe more pointedly, killing you… if the info is so – fill in the blank: sensitive, complex, inflammatory – that the average, dumb-ass american citizen cannot be trusted to deal with it, that must mean that those in the room with whom it was shared must have a set of superior capabilities unattainable by joe schmaltz… that chunk of 24-carat bullshit is a perfect illustration of what noam chomsky describes in “manufacturing consent…” do i understand that if you spill the beans, you will be ostracized and banned forever from the “inner circle…?” of course i do, but, lemme tell ya, steve, it’s a crock o’shit, and i’m sorry to see you caught up in it…
    http://takeitpersonally.blogspot.com/

    Reply

  62. selise says:

    steve – i’m sure that you are not more frustrated than we are, wanting to know what you heard…. so, we share your pain. i live in a kind of chronic frustration – not knowing what is being done in my name… let alone the very little influence (virtually none) i have.
    however, i expect you did right. the only cases where it makes sense to break a confidence are when lives are clearly going to be protected…. for example, in cases of child abuse.
    and with only one source, it is possible that you could be led astray (even if not intentionally).
    i hope you will be able to find another source…
    best,
    selise

    Reply

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