The Cover-Up That Wasn't: How the World Knew Raymond Davis Was a Spy

He's got a gun, a flashlight, and a telescope. Hmm... what could this mean?

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On Saturday, The New York Times ran a column addressing the fact that for a time the paper withheld information about Raymond Davis, the American currently standing trial in Pakistan after killing two men on the streets of Lahore. For weeks, the official story was that Davis did unspecified work at the American consulate, but it's since been confirmed that he was gathering intelligence for the CIA. Arthur Brisbane, public editor of the Times, explained that the State Department reached out to the Times and ask that it not speculate about a connection between Davis and the CIA, since it might damage relations between the U.S. and Pakistan and put Davis's life at risk.

In Brisbane's column, Times executive editor Bill Keller describes the request from State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley thusly: "He was asking us not to speculate, or to recycle charges in the Pakistani press ... His concern was that the letters C-I-A in an article in the NYT, even as speculation, would be taken as authoritative and would be a red flag in Pakistan."

Okay. So the Times didn't openly wonder about whether or not Davis might be a spy. Let's look at what they did publish about Davis. From a February 8 article:

Mr. Davis, 36, was driving in dense traffic in this city on Jan. 27 when, he later told the police, two Pakistani men on a motorcycle tried to rob him. He shot and killed both and was arrested immediately afterward by police officers who say he was carrying a Glock handgun, a flashlight that attached to a headband and a pocket telescope ... The Pakistani press, dwelling on the items in Mr. Davis's possession and his various identity cards, has been filled with speculation about his specific duties, which American officials would not discuss ... At the heart of the public outcry seems to be uncertainty over the nature of Mr. Davis's work, and questions about why his camera, according to police investigators, had pictures of buildings in Pakistani cities.

From February 11:

The statement on Friday night said that Mr. Davis was assigned as an "administrative and technical" member of the staff at the American Embassy in Islamabad. But his exact duties have not been explained, and the reason he was driving alone with a Glock handgun, a pocket telescope and GPS equipment has fueled speculation in the Pakistani news media.

From an op-ed by H. D. S. Greenway, called "Gunslinger With Immunity," dated February 14:

The question of what an American "diplomat" was doing with a loaded gun, ready to use it, in the streets of a Pakistani city needs a lot more daylight than the Americans are providing. And, yes, it turns out that Davis was not a member of the U.S. Foreign Service, but a gun-for-hire private operative attached to the "technical and administrative" staff of the consulate, according to the U.S. Embassy ... The case of Raymond Davis plunged into even deeper mystery when the Pakistanis say they found maps on him of high security installations. The Pakistanis are suggesting he may have known the men whom he killed. The Americans, in the meantime, refuse any further explanation of his activities.

Brisbane notes that the government didn't just reach out to the Times--they also contacted the Associated Press and The Washington Post with similar requests. (From the AP, February 16: "The U.S. says Davis was part of the embassy's 'administrative and technical staff,' which means he might have been involved with security, but Pakistani media have focused on him being a former Special Forces soldier who runs an American 'protective services' company with his wife." From the Post, February 11: "U.S. officials say that Davis, a former Army Special Forces soldier, is a member of the 'administrative and technical' staff at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad... They have not explained his duties or why he was armed.")

"I find it hard to second-guess the editors' assessment that the State Department's warning was credible and that Mr. Davis's life was at risk in a country seething with anti-American feeling," wrote Brisbane this weekend. "I'd call this a no-win situation, one that reflects the limits of responsible journalism in the theater of secret war." So, kind of throwing it back at the government there. Really, though, if you're going to report that a guy has a gun, a flashlight, a telescope, and a camera with pictures of buildings on it, and that American officials are being cagey about his specific duties, why even bother trying to tiptoe at all?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.