O’Donnell Claimed to Have Received “Classified Information” on China from Missionaries

One of the hazards of being a Christian missionary from the USA in certain countries is that one may be accused of being a spy or an agent for US interests. There have certainly been instances where missionary activities and intelligence work have overlapped, although missionary organisations themselves have been keen to discourage this. The practice of using missionaries or journalists as CIA cover was prohibited in 1977, although in 1996 CIA director John Deutch announced that this could be waived in exceptional circumstances. The announcement caused some consternation; World magazine reported at the time that:

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence heard testimony on the use of missionaries and journalists as spies; the National Association of Evangelicals had raised the issue at its annual convention last February…

Missionaries may be sensitive about having their patriotism called into question, but the agencies that sponsor them are unequivocally opposed to any possibility their workers will be hired to spy. The lobbying effort has brought to the same side of the issue [National Association of Evangelicals] members as well as the National Council of Churches and Church World Service, Maryknoll Fathers and Sisters, and U.S. Catholic Mission, among others.

Most important, according to NAE’s Rich Cizik, “It’s the appearance worldwide that mission agencies, religious workers, clergy, and others are open to being used by the CIA. It’s not from our vantage point a special and unique circumstances problem as much as it is an appearance problem.” The groups cite cases like Chet Bitterman, a Wycliffe missionary who was killed 15 years ago in Colombia after he was accused of spying for the CIA.

So, it’s probably not helpful when a political aspirant brags about receiving “classified information” about China from “nonprofit groups” working with missionaries. As is being widely reported:

Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell of Delaware said in a 2006 debate that China was plotting to take over America…”There’s much I want to say. I wish I wasn’t privy to some of the classified information that I am privy to.”

…When… challenged… about having secret information, O’Donnell didn’t answer specifically but suggested she had received it through nonprofit groups she worked with that frequently sent missionaries there.

It should also be noted that China has used accusations of spying as a justification for persecuting Christians: one case is that of Alimujiang Yimiti, a Uyghur house church leader sentenced to 15 years in 2008 for supposedly “providing state secrets or intelligence to overseas organizations and individuals”. O’Donnell’s foolish boasting perhaps hasn’t done him any favours, either.

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