The White House has adopted a formal three-step process for releasing names of people President Obama plans to meet with on international trips after the CIA station chief in Afghanistan was accidentally outed during the president's visit to Kabul in late May.
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest declined to say whether an internal review found anyone at fault for the release of the station chief's name, saying only that the probe confirmed that the disclosure was inadvertent and “was not focused on trying to isolate any specific wrongdoing” because of that.
“But given the seriousness of this circumstance, the White House counsel was tasked with coming up with some process improvements that would prevent a disclosure like this from happening again,” he told reporters traveling with the president to an event in Massachusetts Wednesday night.
Earnest also did not say whether the station chief had to be pulled from his mission in Afghanistan after his cover was blown, referring to a prior CIA statement that “his situation has been addressed.”
For now on, during all international presidential travel when there are events open to press coverage, a member of the White House scheduling and advance staff will notify participants that their names and titles will be released to the press and give them an opportunity to raise concerns and opt out of the public event, Earnest said.
Whoever is serving as the White House press lead for the trip will then clear the names and titles of participates with White House National Security Council staff before distributing the names and titles to the press.
In addition, the White House scheduling and advance staff, as well as all communications staff, will receive additional training to enhance awareness and improve the handling of sensitive information.
Before the mistaken disclosure, Earnest said the White House was taking these steps only on occasion and not routinely.
“They were occasionally being done, but not rigorously as a matter of course being done,” he said.
Asked whether a person could pull their name from a public event and still attend, resulting in less transparency for the press, Earnest said the White House is “balancing our committee to transparency with the need to protect some information for national security reasons.”
“So as we implement these recommendations, that will be a built-in tensions that we'll have to manage,” he said. “But frankly, that's a tension that we manage every time we do public events like this.”
Earnest then said the president frequently holds private meetings without providing a manifest of participants to the press.
“So it’s possible that if there were an individual that did have a concern about being publicly disclosed, that their participation in a public meeting is probably not a very good idea, right?” he said.
“So we would probably find a more appropriate venue for them to either meet with the president or not.”
After the grave and embarrassing blunder in May, McDonough tasked White House counsel Neil Eggleston to look into what happened and report back to him with recommendations.
Reporters who accompany the president on his travels routinely must serve "pool duty" — the process of chronicling the president's movements and details of his daily interactions and remarks to write up and pass along to thousands of journalists, including foreign media.
White House aides gave the journalist assigned to pool duty during Obama's visit to Kabul in late May the list that inadvertently included the station chief's name. The press aides reportedly attained the list from the military. It's common for the White House to provide such lists to reporters on pool duty but the names of intelligence officials usually are omitted.
After the pool reporter, the Washington Post'sScott Wilson, emailed his report that included the station chief's name to the White House press aides, the aides looked it over before sending it on to thousands of other journalists not on the trip. The White House soon recognized the mistake and issued a second list that omitted the station chief's name and title.