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Can you keep a secret?

Want to hear a secret?

“U.S. President Barack Obama will make an unannounced visit to Afghanistan but you cannot tell anyone.” Those seemed like simple enough guidelines, but it certainly wouldn’t end up that way.

President Barack Obama meets with troops at Bagram Air Base, December 3, 2010.    REUTERS/Jim Young

It started with a call from Washington Editor in Charge Jim Bourg during my shift at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. “I never know how to start these kind of conversations…” he said. “You know when we have these trips where we really can’t talk about it?” I had a feeling I knew where this was headed. He kind of paused a bit trying to find the words to say it, without really saying it. But I stopped him and said, “I know where you are going with this and you don’t have to go any further.” Obama would make a surprise visit to Afghanistan. I was careful not to answer his questions out loud, so that anyone standing by wouldn’t figure out the questions or the subject matter, but we were on the same page. He just said it was tomorrow night. The trip would be about 30 hours there and back, with 25 of those hours in the air. I would finish my shift as usual and go to see him in the office to get more details.

We went through the rough details, it was almost the same as Obama’s last announced trip to Afghanistan when I went with him back in late March this year. This would be my fourth such Presidential trip, three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. There is always a huge veil of secrecy, rightfully so.

I went home to install some new global aircards to file in Afghanistan and to test the BGAN Satphone in the parking lot next to my house. I didn’t think we would have time to set it up since we move around so fast when we go on these trips. But you have to be prepared for any scenario, especially after the communication nightmares from our last trip to Afghanistan.

I finally got to bed at 2am after making sure all my equipment was working and all my gear was packed and ready to go. I would be up again after four hours of sleep. I received an email Wednesday night to attend a meeting at the White House at 1pm the next day with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and the other journalists asked to go on this trip. It was brief with many of the same details as the last secret visit. We of course could not tell anyone. So I headed home to grab my things, we had to meet at Andrews Air Force Base in just a few hours.

Capturing the covert nature of WikiLeaks

WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson poses for a photograph before a briefing at the Frontline club in London, December 1, 2010.  REUTERS/Paul Hackett  I had an assignment at the Frontline club in Paddington to photograph WikiLeaks spokesman Kristinn Hrafnsson speaking during a debate at the club. I was fortunate enough to be quite early for the assignment and within minutes Kristinn had arrived and was being interviewed ahead of the main debate. There were no other stills photographers there at that time.

I approached it in the usual way and made sure I had a couple of clear head shots of him talking. I walked around the scene a few times and noticed that I could see Kristinn through the reporters spectacles. I was shooting with available light which was the light from the TV camera set up. I was shooting wide open as that was really all the light that was available to me. I didn’t want to use flash because it would have killed the feel of the picture.

This is a picture that has been done many times before but I thought that given the covert nature of the WikiLeaks story that it was good way to take what is essentially a head shot.

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