February 6, 2013

The New York Times is getting a great deal of attention for going right ahead and revealing the existence of a secret U.S. drone base in Saudi Arabia. “Revealing,” however, may be too strong a word.

Have a look at this shot of a FoxNews.com story dating back to September 2011. The headline reads, “Obama Administration Building New Drone Bases in Horn of Africa, Saudi.”

Two key paragraphs expand upon the theme:

In addition to Seychelles and Ethiopia, the senior U.S. military official said the United States got permission to fly armed drones from Djibouti, and confirmed the construction of a new airstrip in Saudi Arabia.

“Operations in Saudi are (the) only new expansion to this plan. The rest has been working for over a year when we long ago realized danger from AQAP,” the official said, describing the process as a “long-term deliberate effort where we used what we could (until) we got the locations we wanted.”

Such revelations couldn’t have sat well with jittery Obama administration officials, who had negotiated less specific language with the Associated Press in June of 2011. It’s apparent that something pushed FoxNews.com to scale back the specificity in similar fashion. The current version is titled, “Obama Administration Building New Drone Bases in Horn of Africa, Arabian Peninsula.” It contains no reference to Saudi Arabia.

And here’s yet another story, in the Times of London, indicating that this “secret” base was less secret than U.S. officials might have thought.

This is more proof that information-stifling is an almost impossible task. When U.S. government officials and the editors of top U.S. news outlets negotiate to suppress information, they’re exposing themselves as old media wishful thinkers. While they’re scheming to guard state secrets, others are spilling them.

Fox News didn’t respond to a request for comment and the CIA declined to comment.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.