The Obama administration said Tuesday it will seek to determine how the identity of the CIA’s top spy in Afghanistan was exposed in an embarrassing slip by the White House press office during President Obama’s surprise visit to the country on Sunday.
White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough has instructed the president’s chief counsel, W. Neil Eggleston, to examine how the CIA officer’s name ended up on a list of U.S. officials who met with Obama in Afghanistan, a document that was then distributed to thousands of journalists and other recipients.
Eggleston has been asked “to look into what happened and report back to [McDonough] with recommendations on how the administration can improve processes and make sure something like this does not happen again,” said Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.
The move marks an effort by the White House to assure members of the U.S. intelligence community, as well as the public, that it regards the inadvertent disclosure as a security breach serious enough to warrant attention from high-level officials.
The exposure has been a source of embarrassment for the White House at a time when Obama has sought to focus attention on his efforts to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Obama announced that he planned to reduce the U.S. presence there to 9,800 troops and formally end U.S. combat operations by the end of the year.
The exposed station chief is a veteran CIA officer who leads the agency’s largest overseas operation, with hundreds of operatives, analysts and support personnel based in Afghanistan.
The officer works under cover, meaning that his true identity is kept secret from the public. But his name was included on a list of senior U.S. officials who met with Obama for a military briefing over the Memorial Day weekend.
Administration officials have said that the list was put together by the U.S. military and was mistakenly passed along to reporters who accompanied Obama on the trip. That list was then included in a “pool report,” or summary of the event, distributed to dozens of other news organizations.
The Washington Post has not published the officer’s name at the request of administration officials who cited concern for his safety.