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Thousands of Iraqi soldiers retreating on two highways from Kuwait City, Kuwait, towards Basra, Iraq, are slaughtered by US forces on what is later called the “Highway of Death.” (PBS Frontline 1/9/1996) The so-called “Battle of Rumaylah,” or as some call it, the “Battle of the Junkyard,” is not a battle in the classic sense, as the huge losses of Iraqi soldiers and vehicles are contrasted with the loss of a single American tank, lost when an Iraqi tank explodes too close to it. Only one US soldier is injured. In the two separate but connected US assaults that make up the battle, at least 600 Iraqi tanks, armored vehicles, and trucks are destroyed or disabled; estimates of Iraqi personnel losses vary widely, but the losses are well in the thousands. Iraqi, Kuwaiti, and Palestinian civilians, including children, are caught in the heavy US assault as well as innumerable Iraqi soldiers. (Some believe the Kuwaitis and Palestinians were being taken to Baghdad to be used as hostages.) Most of the bodies are buried within hours, making it impossible to ascertain the number of dead. During the US assault, US tanks, using sophisticated thermal-imaging targeting, have little trouble sighting and destroying Iraqi tanks before the Iraqi units are even aware that they are being fired upon. (Time 3/18/1991; Hersh 5/22/2000; Newsweek 5/29/2000)
Air Strikes - Initially, a force of retreating Iraqi armored units are bombed front and rear by US aircraft during the night of February 27-28, trapping the convoy between the centers of destruction. The remaining units are targets for later air strikes. Most of the vehicles—military tanks, trucks, and armored personnel carriers, as well as civilian cars and trucks—are destroyed.
Five-Hour Air, Armor Assault - The March 2 attack on the Iraqi Republican Guard “Hammurabi” tank division is ordered by Army General Barry McCaffrey (the general who commanded the already-famous “left hook” maneuver days before—see February 23, 1991 and After), in response to what McCaffrey says is an attack on his forces with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). The decision surprises some in the Allied command structure in Saudi Arabia and causes unease among civilian and military leaders in Washington, who worry about the public relations ramifications of an attack that comes days after a cease-fire was implemented (see February 28, 1991). McCaffrey himself later calls the attack “one of the most astounding scenes of destruction I have ever participated in.” The “Hammurabi” division is obliterated in the assault.
Criticism from Fellow Officers - Some senior US officers are not sure that McCaffrey’s unit, the 24th Mechanized Division, was in fact attacked; many senior US officers privately assert that McCaffrey’s five-hour assault was well out of proportion. (McCaffrey, later accused of war crimes by an anonymous but well-informed accuser, will be exonerated by an Army inquiry.) McCaffrey will assert that his troops were indeed attacked—an assertion backed by other field officers on the scene—and that he ordered the retaliation because had he not, his forces would have come under heavy attack by Iraqi armored units. Besides, McCaffrey will later say, the entire war was intended to be a one-sided affair: “We didn’t go up there looking for a fair fight with these people.” The whole war, one British commander said in earlier weeks, was “rather like a grouse shoot.” (Hersh 5/22/2000; Newsweek 5/29/2000)
One critic is the commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Unit, Lieutenant General James Johnson, who will later say: “There was no need to be shooting at anybody. [The Iraqis] couldn’t surrender fast enough. The war was over.” Johnson, whose unit is deployed near McCaffrey’s, will add, “I saw no need to continue any further attacks.” Explaining why McCaffrey ordered the assault on his own authority, Johnson will say that McCaffrey—widely perceived as CENTCOM commander General Norman Schwarzkopf’s favorite general—“does what he wants to do.”
Lieutenant General Ronald Griffith, commanding the 1st Armored Division of VII Corps, will later say that many of the tanks destroyed in the assault were being transported on trailer trucks to Baghdad, with their cannons facing away from the US troops, and thus posing no threat. “It was just a bunch of tanks in a train, and he made it a battle,” Griffith will later say of McCaffrey. “He made it a battle when it was never one. That’s the thing that bothered me the most.”
Major James Kump, the senior intelligence officer for the Army’s 124th Military Intelligence Battalion, is monitoring what he believes to be a routine retreat before McCaffrey’s units begin attacking the Iraqi forces. Kump will later recall: “I thought, I can’t believe what I’m hearing! There’s nothing going on. These guys are retreating.” Kump receives a large amount of electronic data indicating that McCaffrey is attacking a retreating force. “I had links to several intelligence systems—more than I can talk about,” he will later say. “And I’d have known if troops were moving toward us.… I knew of no justification for the counterattack. I always felt it was a violation of the ceasefire. From an integrity standpoint, I was very troubled.”
McCaffrey’s orders will be questioned even by one of his own subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Lamar, the 24th’s operations officer. Lamar, who is in charge of the assault command post and who relays McCaffrey’s orders to the field units, will later say: “There was no incoming. I know that for a fact.” The battle is “a giant hoax. The Iraqis were doing absolutely nothing. I told McCaffrey I was having trouble confirming the incoming.” But, Lamar will recall, nothing he says matters. McCaffrey wants to attack.
Private First Class Charles Sheehan-Miles, a gun loader in a 1st Brigade tank platoon, will later recall being sent to rescue an American unit under attack by Iraqi armored units. “We went up the road blowing the sh_t out of everything,” he will recall. “It was like going down an American highway—people were all mixed up in cars and trucks. People got out of their cars and ran away. We shot them.” Sheehan-Miles recalls shooting at least one person in civilian clothing. “My orders were to shoot if they were armed or running. The Iraqis were getting massacred.”
Specialist 4 James Manchester, a member of the Scout platoon of the 27th Battalion of the 1st Brigade, will later call the battle nothing more than “f_cking murder.”
Shortly after the attack, an interpreter for the 124th Military Intelligence Battalion interrogates a captured Iraqi tank commander who asks over and over: “Why are you killing us? All we were doing was going home. Why are you killing us?”
After the battle, military analysts will pore over the battle films recorded by the Apache attack helicopters participating in McCaffrey’s assault. One of the analysts will later tell a reporter that the footage was clear: the Iraqi tanks were in full retreat and posed no threat to American forces. “These guys were in an offroad defensive position—deployed in a perimeter,” the analyst will recall. Some of the Iraqi tanks attempted to return fire once McCaffrey began his assault: “We saw T-72s in battle lines, firing away blindly in the air. They didn’t know what was killing them, but they were gamely shooting—knowing they would die.”
Many officers on the ground will later describe actions by McCaffrey and some of his senior subordinates they believe are designed to provoke a response from the retreating Iraqis and thus provide an excuse to begin a counterattack.
Massacre Factor in Decision to End Hostilities - Reporters are not allowed in the area, so no one is there to report on, or photograph, the actual assault or its immediate aftermath. But the area is heavily photographed in the following days, and the swath of destroyed, burned-out vehicles becomes at once a symbol of US military superiority and of Iraqi defeat. It is later cited as one of the factors in President Bush’s decision to accept Iraq’s surrender and cease hostilities. The decision enables the Iraqi Army to survive the war somewhat intact, and keeps Saddam Hussein in power. Bush will later explain: “If we continued the fighting another day… would we be accused of a slaughter of Iraqis who were simply trying to escape, not fight? In addition, the coalition was agreed on driving the Iraqis from Kuwait, not on carrying the conflict into Iraq or on destroying Iraqi forces.”
Dehumanizing the Iraqis - Manchester will later tell a reporter: “I was as patriotic as they come. I was a gung-ho ass-kicking Commie-hating patriotic son of a b_tch. I hated the Arabs. We all did. I dehumanized them. Did the Iraqis commit war crimes in Kuwait? Did they retreat back into Iraq to commit war crimes against their own people? The answer is yes to both questions. But does that make March 2nd justified? There have to be limits, even in war. Otherwise, the whole system breaks down.” (Hersh 5/22/2000)
While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. (Barstow 4/20/2008) Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” (Kurtz 4/21/2008) Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. (Cohen 4/28/2008) Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. (Goodman 4/22/2008)
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy notes that there are at least a dozen retired military officers giving supposedly independent opinion and commentary on the Iraq war to the various news networks. McCarthy writes: “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been unhappy with the criticism of their war effort by former military men appearing on television. So am I, but for a different reason. The top people at the Pentagon are wondering why these ex-military talkers can’t follow the company line on how well the war has been fought. I’m wondering why these spokesmen for militarism are on TV in the first place.” McCarthy lists twelve: Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, Major General Robert Scales, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Major General Donald Shepperd, General Barry McCaffrey, Major General Paul Vallely, Lieutenant General Don Edwards, Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, Colonel Tony Koren, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, Major Jack Stradley, and Captain Chris Lohman. He asks rhetorically, “Did I miss anyone?” (McCarthy 4/19/2003) In 2008, after the story of the massive and systematic Pentagon propaganda operation using at least 75 retired military officers to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) becomes public knowledge, Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell answers the question, “[H]e sure did.” (Mitchell 4/20/2008)
Deploring the Military's Domination of the Airwaves - McCarthy continues: “That the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox sanctioned this domination by military types was a further assault on what the public deserves: independent, balanced and impartial journalism. The tube turned into a parade ground for military men… saluting the ethic that war is rational, that bombing and shooting are the way to win peace, and that their uniformed pals in Iraq were there to free people, not slaughter them. Perspective vanished, as if caught in a sandstorm of hype and war-whooping. If the US military embedded journalists to report the war from Iraq, journalists back in network studios embedded militarists to explain it. Either way, it was one-version news.” McCarthy asks why no dissenters are allowed on the airwaves to counter the military point of view, a question answered by a CNN news executive (see April 20, 2003). McCarthy answers his own question: “In wartime, presumably, the message to peace activists is shut up or shut down.”
Viewers Unaware of Analysts' Business Connections - Presciently, considering the wide range of business connections exploited by the analysts and documented in the 2008 expose, McCarthy notes: “Viewers are not told of possible conflicts of interest—that this general or that one is on the payroll of this or that military contractor. Nor are they given information on whether the retired generals are paid for their appearances.”
Militaristic Newsmen - It is not just the retired officers who provide a militarist perspective, McCarthy observes, but the reporters and anchormen themselves. With examples of ABC’s Ted Koppel and NBC’s Brian Williams donning helmets before the cameras, or Fox’s Geraldo Rivera proclaiming in Afghanistan that “[W]e have liberated this country” (and his cameraman shouting, “Hallelujah!”), “the media are tethered to the military,” McCarthy writes. “They become beholden, which leads not to Pentagon censorship, as in 1991 (see October 10, 1990), but a worse kind: self-censorship” (see September 10, 2003).
For Us or Against Us - McCarthy concludes: “George W. Bush lectured the world that you’re either with us or against us. America’s networks got the message: They’re with. They could have said that they’re neither with nor against, because no side has all the truth or all the lies and no side all the good or evil. But a declaration such as that would have required boldness and independence of mind, two traits not much linked to America’s television news.” (McCarthy 4/19/2003)
The Nation examines the use of so-called “military analysts” by the broadcast news media, retired generals and high-ranking officers brought on camera to share their knowledge and expertise regarding the invasion of Iraq. The report finds that, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and many other administration officials and supporters, the retired military analysts have consistently taken a pro-military, pro-administration slant that has led many of them to make consistently wrong judgments and analyzes. It will be five years before the New York Times exposes the Pentagon propaganda operation in which many of these analysts take part (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Ideological and Financial Interests in Promoting the War - While many of them indeed have what one analyst, retired Lieutenant General Barry McCaffrey, calls “a lifetime of experience and objectivity,” many of them also have what the report terms as “ideological or financial stakes in the war. Many hold paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies and serve as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq.” As a result, the report says, these analysts’ objectivity must be questioned. McCaffrey and his colleague, retired Colonel Wayne Downing, both NBC analysts, are both on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a lobbying group formed to bolster public support for the invasion. Its mission is to “engage in educational advocacy efforts to mobilize US and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein,” and it deliberately reaches out to influence reporting in both the US and European media. Downing has also served as an unpaid adviser to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, a prime source of the fraudulent propaganda and disinformation that provided a rationale for the war (see June 1992 and (1994)). NBC viewers are unaware of McCaffrey’s and Downing’s connections to these pro-war organizations.
McCaffrey and IDT - Neither are they aware of McCaffrey’s seat on the board of four defense firms—Mitretek, Veritas Capital, Raytheon Aerospace, and Integrated Defense Technologies (IDT)—all which have multimillion-dollar defense contracts. IDT is of particular interest, as stock analysts believe that its currently floundering financial state could be remedied by hefty government contracts. McCaffrey has been an outspoken critic of Rumsfeld and his war policies, but his primary objection is his repeated statement that “armor and artillery don’t count” enough in the offensive. He recently told an MSNBC audience, “Thank God for the Abrams tank and… the Bradley fighting vehicle,” and added that the “war isn’t over until we’ve got a tank sitting on top of Saddam’s bunker.” In March 2003, IDT received over $14 million in contracts relating to Abrams and Bradley machinery parts and support hardware.
Downing and Metal Storm - Downing is a board member of Metal Storm Ltd, a ballistics-technology company with both US and Australian defense contracts. According to its executive director, Metal Storm’s technologies will “provide some significant advantage” in the type of urban warfare being fought in Iraq.
Fox News and wvc3 - Fox News analysts Lieutenant Colonel William Cowan and Major Robert Bevelacqua are CEO and vice president, respectively, of the wvc3group, a defense consulting firm that serves as a liaison between arms companies and the US government. The firm recently signed a contract to promote military aviation equipment produced by a New Zealand firm. The firm promotes itself by advising potential customers of its inside contacts with the US military and the Defense Department. A message on its Web site, augmented by a sound file of loud gunfire, reads, “We use our credibility to promote your technology.” Another Fox analyst, Major General Paul Vallely, represents several information-technology firms. Vallely is most valuable, says Fox bureau chief Kim Hume, as a commentator on psychological operations.
Little Concern at the Networks - The networks are relatively uninterested in any potential conflicts of interest or possible promotions of ideological or financial agendas. Elena Nachmanoff, vice president of talent development at NBC News, dismisses any such concerns: “We are employing them for their military expertise, not their political views.” She says that the analysts play influential roles behind the cameras at NBC, helping producers decide on what to report and how to report it. But, she says, defense contracts are “not our interest.” Hume says that Fox “expect[s] the analysts to keep their other interests out of their commentary, or we stop using them.” Hume admits that Fox has never severed its connection with any analyst, though it is aware of Cowan’s, Bevelacqua’s, and Vallely’s ties to their respective defense firms. Interestingly, Vallely, the expert on so-called “psyops” warfare, developed a concept he called “MindWar,” a psychological propaganda strategy that uses, in his words, “electronic media—television and radio” in the “deliberate, aggressive convincing of all participants in a war that we will win that war.” Nation reporters Daniel Benaim, Priyanka Motaparthy, and Vishesh Kumar muse, “With the televised version of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we may be watching his theory at work—and at a tidy profit, too.” (Benaim, Motaparthy, and Kumar 4/21/2003)
Retired General Barry McCaffrey, professor of international security studies at West Point, says that the US is “probably holding around 3,000 people [at] Bagram airfield [in Afghanistan, the US military base at] Diego Garcia, Guantanamo, 16 camps throughout Iraq,” and elsewhere. McCaffrey will repeat his claim in December 2004. (Campbell and Norton-Taylor 6/2/2008)
Retired Army General Paul Vallely, a military analyst employed by Fox News (see Early 2002 and Beyond, Late September 2003, April 14-16, 2006, and April 18, 2006), says that former ambassador Joseph Wilson revealed his wife’s status as a CIA official over a year before she was exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). Vallely’s claims are published by WorldNetDaily (WND), an online conservative news site, after Vallely makes the claims on an ABC Radio talk show hosted by conservative commentator and blogger John Batchelor. Fox News has described Vallely as an expert on psychological warfare (see April 21, 2003). Vallely says Wilson openly discussed his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official between three and five times in 2002, while the two waited to appear on various Fox News broadcasts. Both Vallely and Wilson served as analysts for Fox News during the US’s run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Vallely says the first time Wilson discussed his wife’s CIA status was in the spring of 2002. “He was rather open about his wife working at the CIA,” Vallely says. “He was a total self promoter,” Vallely continues. “I don’t know if it was out of insecurity, to make him feel important, but he’s created so much turmoil, he needs to be investigated and put under oath.” Vallely also says that several acquaintances of his at the CIA have said Wilson routinely introduced his wife as a CIA official at Washington cocktail parties and social events. “That was pretty common knowledge,” he says. “She’s been out there on the Washington scene many years.” If she were a covert agent, Valley says (see Fall 1992 - 1996), “he would not have paraded her around as he did.” Vallely concludes, “This whole thing has become the biggest non-story I know, and all created by Joe Wilson.” Conservative lawyer Victoria Toensing agrees that Plame Wilson is most likely not a covert agent for the agency. WND does not report Wilson’s response to Vallely’s charges, and in several critical references to a Vanity Fair interview given by the Wilsons (see January 2004) the blog misidentifies the date of the interview publication as 2005, not 2004. (Moore 11/5/2005)
CIA Confirmed Plame Wilson's Covert Status - The CIA has repeatedly confirmed Plame Wilson as a covert official, and many observers both inside and outside the agency have noted the extensive damage caused by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006).
Fox News, Conservative Blogs Report Claims - Three days after Vallely’s claims appear on WND, Fox News reports Vallely’s statements. (Hume 11/8/2005) And a day after the WND article, Batchelor announces on prominent conservative blog RedState that another analyst will confirm Vallely’s claims. Batchelor says that on November 7, Vallely and retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney will “repeat and expand upon Vallely’s memory that Joe Wilson more than once in 2002 in the green room at Fox New Channel in Washington, DC, boasted about his wife the ‘CIA desk officer.’ McInerney has the same memory and more, since both he and Vallely were on FNC between 150 and 200 times in 2002 each.” (John Batchelor 11/6/2005)
Wilson Demands Retraction, Counters Claim - Wilson’s attorney, Christopher Wolf, e-mails both Vallely and WND demanding that they retract Vallely’s statements, writing that “the claim that Ambassador Wilson revealed to you or to anyone that his wife worked for the CIA is patently false.” In the e-mail, Wolf includes a message Wilson sent him: “This is slanderous. I never appeared on [TV] before at least July 2002 and only saw him maybe twice in the green room at Fox. Vallely is a retired general and this is a bald faced lie. Can we sue? This is not he said/he said, since I never laid eyes on him till several months after he alleges I spoke to him about my wife.”
Vallely Modifies Original Claim, Others Refuse to Confirm - Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that in subsequent days, Vallely modifies his original claims, backing down to claim that Wilson revealed his wife’s CIA status on “only one occasion,” which “probably was in that summer, early fall” of 2002. And promises that two other military analysts, retired generals McInerney and Barry McCaffrey, will back up his claims go unfulfilled, as neither is willing to publicly state that Wilson ever spoke to them about his wife. Vallely later says he has not spoken to the FBI about his claims, and tells conservative talk show host Sean Hannity that he waited two years to make the claims because “I figured Joe Wilson would self-destruct at some point in time.” He tells Hannity that he has been “upset” by Wilson’s opposition to the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq. (Media Matters 11/9/2005) Batchelor’s promise that fellow conservative commentator Victor Davis Hansen will also confirm the claim also goes unfulfilled. (John Batchelor 11/6/2005) WND notes, “But contrary to a report, Hanson said Wilson did not disclose his wife’s CIA employment” during their conversations. (Moore 11/8/2005)
Fox News Schedule Shows Vallely, Wilson Never Appeared Together - Progressive blogger John Amato and former CIA agent Larry Johnson pore through the Fox News schedule for the time period Vallely cites—the spring of 2002—and find that Vallely and Wilson never appeared together during that time. Johnson writes: “They were never in the studio on the same day, much less the same program. Vallely is lying or maybe having a senior moment.” (John Amato 11/7/2005)
Former Republican Congressman Curt Weldon, newly hired by private US defense consulting firm Defense Solutions, begins helping that firm broker deals between Russian and Ukranian arms dealers and the governments of Iraq and Libya. The US has banned its citizens from participating in any such deals with Libya. Weldon visits Libya to discuss a possible military arms deal, and, in the company of Defense Solutions CEO Timothy Ringgold and another Defense Solutions representative, travels to Moscow to discuss working with Russia’s weapons-export agency on arms sales to the Middle East. Defense Solutions is one of a number of American and other firms trying to profit from the growing pipeline between weapons suppliers of the former Soviet bloc and Afghanistan and various countries in the Middle East. According to a letter from Ringgold to his colleagues, Russia finds that an “intermediary” like Weldon, with his political and defense industry connections, helps it move products in Iraq. “They [the Russians] have not spoken with any American company that can offer the quid pro quo that we can or that has the connections in Russia that we have,” Ringgold wrote. Wired News will note that, a few years ago, any American firm trying to broker arms deals involving a sponsor of terrorism such as Libya would have run afoul of Congressional oversight committees. Now, though, the Bush administration is so eager to outfit countries like Afghanistan and Iraq with modern weapons that it allows, at least informally, such contacts. Defense Solutions has hired a number of influential Washington advisers such as Weldon, a former member of the House Armed Services Committee, and retired General Barry McCaffrey. Weldon speaks enthusiastically about setting up a “front company” to work with Rosoboronexport, a Russian arms agency, in selling arms to Middle Eastern nations. He also claims that the director of Rosoboronexport has approached him to work with “an American company that would act as a front for weapons these nations want to buy,” and calls the proposal an “unbelievable offer.” Rosoboronexport is barred from doing business with the US government after violating the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act, and Libya is on the State Department’s arms embargo list. Rachel Stohl, an expert on the international arms trade and a senior analyst at the Center for Defense Information, will say that many expert observers believe that Defense Solutions and other defense contractors may be engaging in illegal and corrupt activities, such as selling shoddy, substandard arms and equipment, or in some cases making deals for arms that are never delivered. Ringgold will deny having signed any deals with Libya, but admits he is interested in doing business there. He will also confirm Weldon’s trip to Libya on behalf of the firm, and will openly admit trying to cut deals with Rosoboronexport. (Weinberger 7/3/2008)
In the hours following the New York Times’s article about the Pentagon’s propaganda operation using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), a number of press officials express their concerns over the operation and the media’s role in it. The report “raises a red flag,” says Cox Newspapers bureau chief Andy Alexander. The editorial page editors at the Times and the Washington Post, both of which have published op-eds by some of the same retired officers cited in the Times story, say the report raises concerns about such access. The Times’s editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, says, “It makes you suspicious, absolutely.” Rosenthal’s bureau printed at least nine op-eds by some of the generals cited in the report. “When generals write for you now, you have to look at that. But you have to do that anyway. Anybody who participated in that program has to be scrutinized more closely.” Rosenthal’s counterpart at the Post, Fred Hiatt, whose pages have run at least one such op-ed, says, “Retired generals are entitled to speak out like anyone else, but I would have the same expectation of them to disclose anything that might be relevant.” He goes on to defend the Post op-ed, written by retired general Barry McCaffrey, saying that McCaffrey’s words demonstrate his independence from the propaganda operation. Rosenthal also defends his paper’s publication of the nine op-eds and also states that the writers clearly demonstrate their independence. Rosenthal refuses to divulge the names of eight of the nine op-ed authors. Neither the Times nor the Post ever disclosed the close ties their writers maintained with the Pentagon, nor did they disclose their ties to an array of military contractors. Rosenthal says that such connections are irrelevant because their op-eds were not necessarily about Iraq: “There is no instance in which a general who attended a briefing at the Pentagon repeated it on our Op-Ed pages.” He also says that none of the authors have any conflicts in their business relationships. The Times will probably continue to use retired officers for commentary, Rosenthal says. McClatchy News bureau chief John Walcott says that as long as the public knows who is writing a particular op-ed and what their connections are, publishing material from retired military officers is acceptable: “The reader is entitled to know where this or that commentator is coming from on an issue. It doesn’t necessarily disqualify them from commentating, it must be transparent.” (Strupp 4/21/2008)
Washington Post columnist William Arkin writes that from 1999 until late 2007, he was a military analyst for NBC News, “one of the few non-generals in that role.” Arkin writes that he worked with several generals retained by NBC and MSNBC, “and found them mostly to be valuable.” Arkin writes that “[t]he problem is not necessarily that the networks employ former officers as analysts, or that the Pentagon reaches out to them. The larger problem is the role these general play, not just on TV but in American society. In our modern era, not-so-old soldiers neither die nor fade away—they become board members and corporate icons and consultants, on TV and elsewhere, and even among this group of generally straight-shooters, there is a strong reluctance to say anything that would jeopardize their consulting gigs or positions on corporate boards.”
McCaffrey a Consistent Voice of Criticism - Retired general Barry McCaffrey (see April 21, 2003) stands out in Arkin’s recollection as one of the most consistent critics of the Pentagon, “and to this day he is among the most visible of the paid military analysts on television.” Arkin recalls McCaffrey as well-informed and sincere, but writes that “much of his analysis of Iraq in 2003 was handicapped by a myopic view of ground forces and the Army, and by a dislike of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that was obvious and outspoken. (To be fair to McCaffrey, few former or active duty generals read the war or its aftermath correctly.)”
Analysts 'Invaluable' during Hostilities - In 2003, the reporters and camera crews embedded in the particular military units “gave an almost-live view of a war at the tactical level.” The generals were on the air to make sense of the ground-level tactical information, and translate it into a more general understanding of events and strategies. “The generals would use their knowledge and plumb their contacts to get a sense of what the divisions and corps and the coalition formations were doing at a higher level.” Arkin writes that, considering the obfuscation and deliberate deception routinely practiced by Rumsfeld and US commander General Tommy Franks, “the generals were invaluable. When they made the effort, they could go places and to sources that the rest of us couldn’t. That the Pentagon was ‘using’ them to convey a line is worrisome for the public interest but not particularly surprising.”
Pushing the Pentagon's Viewpoint - Arkin continues: “On the war itself—on the actions of the US military in March and April of 2003—there was an official line that was being pushed by the Pentagon and the White House. I’m not convinced that the generals (at least those who were serving at NBC) were trumpeting an official line that was being fed to them, but neither am I convinced that their ‘experience’ or professional expertise enabled them to analyze the war any better than non-generals or the correspondents in Washington or out in the field.” McCaffrey stands out in Arkin’s mind as one analyst who “publicly lambasted the war plan—during a time of war! In the grand scheme of things, though, I’m not sure that McCaffrey was right—and I’m not sure that having more troops then, given our assumptions about what would happen in postwar Iraq and our ignorance of the country and its dynamics, would have made much of a difference. In other words, we still could have won the battle and lost the war.”
Diminished Value as Occupation Continued - Once “major” fighting was over and other issues besides battlefield outcomes dominated the news—the disastrous occupation, the developing insurgency, the torture of prisoners—“the value of the American generals as news commentators diminished significantly,” Arkin writes. “They were no longer helping us to understand battles. They were becoming enmeshed in bigger political and public policy and partisan battles, and as ‘experts’ on the military, they should have known better not to step too far outside their lane. The networks should also have known this, and indeed they did learn eventually, as there are certainly far fewer generals on the payroll today than there were at the height of the ‘fighting.’”
A Broader Perspective - Arkin concludes: “It’s now clear that in the run-up to the war, during the war in 2003 and in its aftermath, we would have all benefited from hearing more from experts on Iraq and the Middle East, from historians, from anti-war advocates. Retired generals play a role, an important one. But for the networks, they played too big of a role—just as the ‘military’ solutions in Iraq play too big of a role, just as the military solutions in the war against terrorism swamp every other approach.” (Arkin 4/22/2008)
NBC News anchor Brian Williams staunchly defends NBC’s use of two military analysts, Barry McCaffrey and the late Wayne Downing, in his response to recent stories about the Pentagon’s well-orchestrated propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Bush administration’s agenda in the mainstream media (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Williams notes that he quickly became friends with both analysts, and toured Iraq four times with Downing. Williams says that neither Downing nor McCaffrey ever “gave what I considered to be the party line,” and both, particularly McCaffrey, often criticized the administration’s policies in Iraq. He calls them “tough, honest critics of the US military effort in Iraq,” “passionate patriots,” and “honest brokers” of information. He says that when they went to the Pentagon for briefings, “[t]hey never came back spun, and never attempted a conversion.” He calls them “warriors-turned-analysts, not lobbyists or politicians.” Williams also lauds a third military analyst, retired Army colonel Jack Jacobs. Jacobs, a Medal of Honor winner, is a “rock-solid” analysts who “has never hesitated to take a whack at the Pentagon brass.” After his defense of NBC’s analysts, Williams writes: “I think it’s fair, of course, to hold us to account for the military analysts we employ, inasmuch as we can ever fully know the ‘off-duty’ actions of anyone employed on an ‘of counsel’ basis by us. I can only account for the men I know best. The Times article was about the whole lot of them—including instances involving other networks and other experts, who can answer for themselves. At no time did our analysts, on my watch or to my knowledge, attempt to push a rosy Pentagon agenda before our viewers. I think they are better men than that, and I believe our news division is better than that.” (Williams 4/29/2008)
Former Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita denies that the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation recently exposed in the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) ever excluded critics of the Pentagon. Di Rita is proven wrong by the Pentagon’s own documents concerning the operation (see May 9, 2008). Moreover, one of those military analysts, Fox News’s William Cowan, was fired in 2005 for criticizing the US’s progress in Iraq (see August 3-4, 2005).
No Recollection - In an e-mail exchange with Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald, Di Rita claims, “I simply don’t have any recollection of trying to restrict [Cowan] or others from exposure to what was going on.” Di Rita cites two supporting sources, fellow analyst Barry McCaffrey and McClatchy war correspondent Joseph Galloway, as examples of the Pentagon “reaching out to people who specifically disagreed with us.” Three days later, Galloway responds in his own e-mail to Greenwald, and disputes Di Rita’s veracity.
Laughter - Galloway says he “howled with laughter” when he read Di Rita’s attempt to “cite me as proof that [the Defense Department] did so reach out to military analysts who were anything but friendly to [former Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld & Co. I was never invited to any of those hush-hush briefings of the favored military analysts/retired generals and colonels.” Galloway recalls attending “an off-the-record lunch with Rumsfeld in the early summer of 2003,” and “was astounded by his failure to grasp the reality of the situation on the ground in Iraq; even more astounded by his flat declaration that the US was NOT going to do any ‘nation-building’ there.”
Lunch - Over two years later, Galloway declined an invitation to join Rumsfeld on a trip to the Middle East and Australia because of a previous commitment, but accepted a November 2005 invitation to have a “one-on-one” lunch with Rumsfeld. The “one-on-one” consisted of Rumsfeld and four other senior Pentagon officials, who spent an hour and a half battling Galloway on war policies (see November 1, 2005). Galloway writes, “I remain puzzled at their motives in this so-called reach out to me in fall of 2005 after they had so steadfastly ignored two and a half years of my weekly columns pointing out everything they were doing wrong. I suppose they thought [Rumsfeld] could somehow ‘handle’ me or impress me or scare me. Whatever it was it didn’t work.” (Greenwald 5/15/2008)
'Horse Manure' - In his own column on the Di Rita incident, Galloway writes, “So much for the Rumsfeld/DiRita outreach to their critics. They were much too busy hand-feeding horse manure to their TV generals, who in turn were feeding the same product to the American public by the cubic yard. There’s little doubt that this program violated the laws against covert propaganda operations mounted against the American public by their own government. But in this administration, there’s no one left to enforce that law or any of the other laws the Bush operatives have been busy violating. The real crime is that the scheme worked. The television network bosses swallowed the bait, the hook, the line and the sinker, and they have yet to answer for it.” (Galloway 5/15/2008)
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