By Mike Linn: CNJ news editor
Three lectures by a Central Intelligence Agency officer were canceled on Wednesday after a local newspaper editor refused to withhold the agent’s name in a planned story.
A CIA public affairs officer said printing the CIA officer’s name in the newspaper could put his life in danger.
Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico Editor David Stevens said he questions the legitimacy of the security concern since the agent’s name and photo have been posted in public places at Eastern New Mexico University for more than a week. The Portales News-Tribune published the agent’s name last week after it was provided in a press release from the university, which has been promoting the event.
Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico include the Clovis News Journal, the Portales News-Tribune and the Quay County Sun in Tucumcari.
Eastern officials said CIA officials made the decision to cancel the lectures, which were scheduled for Wednesday and today at various locations on campus.
Promotional material from the university stated CIA Officer Kenneth Kresse was planning to speak about the “CIA and the war on terrorism.”
Stevens said university officials contacted him late last week to ask whether he would agree not to report on the CIA agent’s programs. Stevens said he declined that request, along with the request to withhold the agent’s name if it did publish newspaper stories.
On Wednesday, Stevens said Kresse called him and said the programs would be canceled unless the newspaper agreed to withhold the agent’s name.
“If the university wants to put posters up, we have no problem with that,” CIA Public Affairs Officer Tom Crispell said. “We do have a problem with a CIA agent’s name being gratuitously placed in the press. I think it’s absurd.”
Crispell said his main concern is that The Associated Press or another wire service could pick up the story in the Clovis News Journal or the Portales News-Tribune and that the agent’s name could then be distributed to national and International media outlets.
Crispell said other media outlets have complied with the CIA’s request to withhold agents’ names and photos.
Stevens said the Clovis and Portales papers rarely publish opinions provided by anonymous sources and so this decision was not difficult.
“I can’t see not covering this event. It seems like something our readers would want to know about,” Stevens said. “And I can’t see withholding the name of someone whose name and picture is all over the campus on posters that were still up on Wednesday afternoon.
“He is a government agent … He was going to do this in a public forum. If he wants to be anonymous, why is he giving public speeches?”
Stevens said he is sympathetic to legitimate security issues.
“Our newspapers certainly don’t want to place anyone in danger,” he said. “We have withheld names when security issues have been brought to our attention and seemed logical.
“What I don’t understand is how this becomes a life-threatening issue when the media might want to bring a particular CIA agent’s views to public light at a public event — and it is not a problem when media are asked to promote that same event in hopes of boosting attendance.”
Eastern officials said Kresse’s name and photo were not published on Eastern’s main Web site, which would have allowed for international viewing.