Some e-mailers have pointed out a front-page story in the Washington Post today headlined “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Hidden Prisons.” The article, by Dana Priest, reveals that the CIA has been holding some al Qaeda prisoners at a secret facility in Eastern Europe — emphasis on secret:
The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries, including Thailand, Afghanistan and several democracies in Eastern Europe, as well as a small center at the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, according to current and former intelligence officials and diplomats from three continents….
The existence and locations of the facilities — referred to as “black sites” in classified White House, CIA, Justice Department and congressional documents — are known to only a handful of officials in the United States and, usually, only to the president and a few top intelligence officers in each host country….
The Washington Post is not publishing the names of the Eastern European countries involved in the covert program, at the request of senior U.S. officials…
The Post’s decision to publish the article raises several questions. Is the existence of the prisons classified information? If so, did a government official give that classified information to someone — a reporter, perhaps — who was not authorized to receive it, in possible violation of the 1917 Espionage Act? Did that official give other classified information to the paper which does not appear in the article, the disclosure of which might also constitute a violation of the Espionage Act? Should the Department of Justice open a criminal investigation of this matter? Should the president order government officials, including those at the CIA, to sign waivers releasing reporters from any pledges of confidentiality made in the reporting of this story? Should Dana Priest or other journalists be forced by a court to reveal the content of their discussions with confidential sources? In the not-too-distant past, none of these questions would be particularly urgent. Now, in the post-Plame world, they are.