Flickr Gaffe Outs bin Laden Hunter 'John'

But 'Observer' decides not to publish his name
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 13, 2011 3:31 PM CDT
"John" is nowhere to be seen in the widely released photo, but he is off-camera.   (AP Photo/The White House, Pete Souza/file)

(Newser) – Last week, the AP ran a story praising a CIA agent, identified only as “John,” for his key role in catching Osama bin Laden. Well, it only took two days for another journalist to identify this shadowy hero. The AP article had said the man was just outside the frame in the famous White House situation room photo. But the intelligence blog Cryptome noticed that his yellow tie wasn’t cropped out, and soon found his face in other shots on the White House Flickr feed. He even showed up in a photo with Leon Panetta two days later, wearing the same tie.

The next day, an Observer reporter showed the picture to a friend, who recognized John from his days playing college basketball. The paper soon found the man’s name, address, even GPA. When they called the CIA, sources urged them not to publish it, saying John had been devastated by the article, and scared for his family. Two days later, a government official said John has been changed from an overt employee to a covert one—making it a crime to leak his identity to the press. The Observer still could have done it legally, but opted not to; it recounts the lengthy tale here.

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