How do war journalists get such good photographs of the "enemy"?

I saw this photograph from the skirmishes in Basra, and I was seriously puzzled. This photo seems like it must have been taken with the consent of the subjects, but it seems foolish for the subjects to allow a photographer to follow them around. I can rationalize that a photographer might put himself at risk to get a good shot, but I can’t imagine an insurgent allowing a potential spy to follow him around. I just don’t see how getting their picture in the paper helps them at all.

So my questions are:

  1. Do the insurgents (or any militia-type groups: the Taliban, the Chechen resistance, etc.) really allow AP photographers / stringers to follow them into combat?

  2. Does this ever endanger the insurgents’ identities or security, or do photographers “protect their sources” like print journalists do?

  3. {no factual answer required!} Wouldn’t that be an amazingly fruitful cover for a CIA field agent, or am I missing something obvious?

It would be a good cover but it’s generally held to be wrong to mask as a journalist (it may be illegal for all I know) when you’re with an intelligence service.

Also, if discovered, it’s a good way to make certain your organization gets no good coverage ever.

Some do, some don’t. Those that do recognise the power of propaganda. Those that don’t are easier for the media to portray as one-dimensional evil-doers.

I’m sure photographers will desist from photographing anybody who so asks. But when they’re documenting public events, there’s no issue of protecting sources.

Interestingly, the photographer who took the photo you link to has been injured in Basra - by British fire.

Why would the CIA spend resources placing a highly valuable, highly trained individual agent as a photojournalist when there are so many actual photojournalists willing to do the same job and whose main goal is exactly the same as the agent’s would be - i.e. to gather and disseminate all the information they possibly can?

Seems to me, the thing for the CIA agent to do is befriend as many real photojournalists as possible.


(I Am Not A Secret Agent, Not That I’d Tell You If I Was. Because Then I’d Have To Kill You.)

  1. I believe there are international regulations prohibiting such activities, i.e., CIA agents undercover as journalists. Someone more knowledgeable can help, probably.

That doesn’t mean, though, that we, or any other country, doesn’t break that rule.

The insurgents obviously allow journalists to follow them around, or at least give them access to their “side”, since essentially every day I saw similar footages of the insurgents on TV, taken during the fights (insurgent firing, using mortars, etc…). So, they let in not only photographers, but whole TV teams. Actually, I’m surprised that this picture puzzles you, because it appears quite ordinary to me.
Now, I wouldn’t know how it works in practice for these journalists have presumably to get the agreement of both sides to enter the combat zone in Basra, not even mentionning that standing besides people firing a mortar probably isn’t the safest place to be.
I’m not sure how they would have to protect their source, since they’re showing their face, anyway. The only thing I can think of is that they could report to the american troops “you know there’s a group of insurgent/ a mortar at such or such place”. My assumption would be that they won’t give this kind of information, in order to stay neutral and not endanger themselves or their colleagues in the future.

As for the last question, I would not be surprised if intelligence services pulled this trick on occasion. And some insurgents probably feel the same. A couple months ago, two french journalists were accused of being spies, detained for a couple days and threatened to be executed, until they managed to sufficiently convince some leader they were genuine journalists.

And by the way, refering to your title, all journalists aren’t “ennemies”. They’re supposed to always be neutral, and in any war, there will be journalists from actually neutral, or even sympathetic countries.
Personnally, if I were an insurgent in Basra, I would get paranoid and wouldn’t let a journalist taking my picture, but I suppose that if they think they’re heroes, and that they will ultimately win (rather than being eventually chased down and arrested after suffering a defeat), they would be, at the contrary, rather proud to be shown on TV, in the same way an american soldier could.

Just looked it up…the Geneva Convention specifically classifies journalists as civilians. So what the OP is suggesting is military personnel disguising themselves as civilians for espionage purposes, which apart from anything else removes all protection of the Geneva Convention from them (a moot point given the guerilla status of the militias in Iraq)

I’m not sure a CIA agent is considered “military personnel” - according to the CIA website, military members can’t transfer to the CIA, for one thing.

There are allegations that such things occur, but in general, the CIA has not been overly enthusiastic about using spies with covers as journalists since the practice was uncovered during congressional hearings in the 1970s.

The reason is surprisingly altruistic, considering the dirty tricks that intelligence agencies can play. If the CIA often used spies posing as journalists, then any journalist could potentially be a spy. That means that journalists in dangerous places could be instantly accused of being a spy, seriously endangering the lives of those who work in a profession that is essential to a free and informed country.

Conversely, few journalists with integrity would agree to cooperate with intelligence agenices for exactly the same reasons. Reporters aren’t dumb when it comes to personal safety.

This practice is only policy, however, and is not a law and is not required by treaties. (In fact, treaty law generally allows countries to do whatever the hell they want to spies (with the notable exception of those who are based in embassies and have diplomatic immunity), especially in times of war. Spies need not be afforded the protection of the Geneva Conventions that apply to POWs, for example.) The aversion of the CIA to using journalists should therefore be regarded as a rule of thumb, not a hard-and-fast rule.

Exactly my point. It’s in the CIA’s interest not to pollute the pool (too much), because otherwise no jounalists, spies or not, will get access. So, the CIA’s best choice would be to place an agent where he can gather intelligence from the journalist without the journalist even knowing that he’s doing the CIA’s dirty work for them (maybe bartender where all the jounalists hang out, or supplier of photographic equipment - hell, how about as an editor?) - as an added bonus, if the journalist gets accused by the militia, he can plead innocence (honestly), can prove he’s a real journalist (hopefully), and the Agency still gets information (legally).

Possible for foriegn journalistic organizations, but there are very strict laws about the CIA running covert operations against Americans. For example, the CIA getting a spy in the New York Times to gather reports from American reporters in Iraq would be illegal, no question. Heads rolled in the 1970s for those types of operations. has an interview up this morning with a journalist describing his experiences in the Imam Ali shrine with Sadr and his militia.

However, it should be noted that you have to click through an ad to see the story.

And, before anybody starts jumping up and down, yes, does have a leftist bias, which they are completely open about. However, I haven’t found problems with the veracity of their reporting, just the way it’s sometimes presented.

One difficulty is that there are usually conditions placed on what the photographers can shoot. Most such groups (insurgents, terrorists, etc) tightly control their press. Thus, you will often see photos of wide-eyed children roaming through the rubble caused by the American soldiers, for instance: the implication being that the X’s are innocent children being treated brutally by the nasty Americans.

So, take some of those photos with a major grain of salt – they’ve sometimes been posed or deliberately set up. Any photographs that might show anything negative about the insurgents are often rigidly surpressed.

Much of this criticism is equally valid for journalists ‘embedded’ with the US/UK militaries.

Or journalists anywhere, for that matter.

Apparently al-qaeda does not follow the same rules. I remember this happening right before 9/11

Unsurprising, though I forgot about that story. At least most of the time, however, I guess they do respect journalists, as Bin Laden has done his share of interviews with the Western press.

Only with hand-picked journalists, under tightly-controlled circumstances. (Oh wait, that’s what Bush does, too…)

But seriously…Al Qaeda changed their approach to teh Western media as they began to realise they were losing Afghanistan - I remember the astonishing footage of their first true press-conference, which even had female journalists asking questions.