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Profile: New York Times
March 22, 2002
“There is still no practical or legal justification for having the tribunals. [The tribunals] still constitute a separate, inferior system of justice, shielded from independent judicial review.”
[New York Times, 3/22/2002]
July 24, 2004
“The authors of this 300-page whitewash say they found no ‘systemic’ problem—even though there were 94 documented cases of prisoner abuse, including some 40 deaths, 20 of them homicides; even though only four prisons of the 16 they visited had copies of the Geneva conventions; even though Abu Ghraib was a cesspool with one shower for every 50 inmates; even though the military police were improperly involved in interrogations; even though young people plucked from civilian life were sent to guard prisoners—50,000 of them in all—with no training.”
[New York Times, 7/24/2004]
New York Times was a participant or observer in the following events:
The New York Times reveals that CIA analysts acknowledge being pressured to shape their intelligence reports on Iraq to conform to Bush administration policies. In particular, they were pressured to find or create evidence that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 3/23/2003] In 2004, Times editor Daniel Okrent will admit that the story was “completed several days before the invasion (see March 19, 2003) and unaccountably held for a week,” not appearing until three days after the war began, when it “was interred on Page B10.” [New York Times, 5/30/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 192] For months, some CIA analysts have privately expressed concerns over the forcible shaping of their reports to colleagues and Congressional officials, but until now have not revealed those concerns to reporters. “A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-al-Qaeda case has been handled,” a senior intelligence official says. The revelation that the claims of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 7, 2003) sparked some analysts to come forward. One government official says, “The forgery heightened people’s feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled.” The intelligence official says: “As we have become an integral component informing the debate for policy makers, we have been asked a lot of questions. I’m sure it does come across as a pressured environment for analysts. I think there is a sense of being overworked, a sense among analysts that they have already answered the same questions. But if you talk to analysts, they understand why people are asking, and why policy makers aren’t accepting a report at face value.” Other analysts have discussed leaving the agency over their frustration with the way intelligence is being manipulated by the Bush administration. Another government official says, “Several people have told me how distraught they have been about what has been going on.” A CIA official says no analysts have resigned in protest over the management of Iraqi intelligence. [New York Times, 3/23/2003]
Bernard Trainor. [Source: PBS]The New York Times examines the influence of retired military officers in influencing public opinion on the invasion of Iraq. Reporter John Cushman, Jr writes that “a whole constellation of retired one-, two-, three- and four-star generals—including many who led the recent wars in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf—can be seen night and day across the television firmament, navigation aids for viewers lost in a narrative that can be foggier than war itself.” All of the news broadcasters, including cable news outlets CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and the commercial networks’ news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC rely on retired military officers to explain to their viewers what is happening in Iraq. Cushman acknowledges the “deep perspective” that the retired officers bring to the war coverage, particularly those who led the same units now on the ground, or at least “commanded, trained, or shared barracks and beers with the current commanders.” Retired Marine General Gregory Newbold recently told an ABC News audience, “If things haven’t gone exactly according to script, they’ve gone according to plan.” Newbold helped draw up the plans for the invasion as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Questions Raised - How much do the military analysts actually know? Cushman asks, and are they giving out more information than they should? Many of the analysts receive what Cushman calls “occasional briefings from the Pentagon” (he is apparently unaware of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation involving these selfsame analysts—see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), and garner much of their information from public sources and from their friends and former colleagues in the military. Cushman goes on to observe that almost all of the analysts have “evident sympathies with the current commanders”; between those sympathies and their “immersion in [military] doctrines,” their objectivity is in doubt—or as Cushman delicately phrases it, their experience and bias “sometimes seem to immunize them to the self-imposed skepticism of the news organizations that now employ them.” After conducting “a detailed review of their recent remarks,” Cushman says that it is a rarity when an analyst criticizes the conduct of the war. “Instead, they tend gravely to point out the timeless risks of combat.” One sharp exception is from retired Army General Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO, who recently questioned whether the military had committed enough troops on the ground. More typical is recent remarks by retired Army General Wayne Downing, a commander in the 1991 Gulf War. Downing lavished praise on the invasion’s supreme commander, General Tommy Franks. Cushman notes that Downing “rattl[ed] off the story of his old comrade’s career as if by rote.”
Technical Details Vs. Analysis - The retired officers do “reasonably well” in explaining what Cushman calls “the nuts and bolts of an operation, the technical details of weapons, the decisions facing American and British commanders.” Their speculations about what the Iraqis might be doing and thinking are more problematic. One analyst, retired Marine General Bernard Trainor, almost seemed to invite chemical or biological retaliation from the Iraqis when he told an MSNBC audience: “If he moves, we kill him; if he stays put, we kill him. And regardless of what they’re told to do over the network, whatever is left of the command and control, unless it comes down to using chemical weapons, then the rest of it is just ancillary. If this is going to be the communication of red telephone, if you will, to tell people to launch chemical weapons—and we’re reaching that point in the operation—if they’re going to use their stuff, they’d better start thinking about it, because pretty soon we’re in downtown Baghdad.” Clark, considered the most polished and urbane of the analysts, takes a different tack, and notes repeatedly that the analysts are careful not to give away details of current operations and thus endanger American troops. All of the analysts, Cushman writes, “emphasize the gravity of what the military is up to in Iraq.” As Clark told an audience, “It’s not entertainment.” [New York Times, 3/25/2003]
Entity Tags: MSNBC, Fox News, CNN, CBS News, Bernard Trainor, ABC News, Gregory Newbold, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Thomas Franks, US Department of Defense, Wayne Downing, Wesley Clark, NBC, New York Times, John Cushman, Jr
Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
President Bush signs an executive order delaying the public release of millions of government documents, citing the need to more thoroughly review them first. The government faced an April 17 deadline for declassifying millions of documents at least 25 years old. [Reuters, 3/26/2003] The order countermands a 1995 executive order by then-President Bill Clinton, who mandated that government documents over 25 years old be automatically declassified unless there was “significant doubt” as to whether their release would damage national security. [New York Times, 3/21/2003] The order also treats all material sent to American officials from foreign governments, no matter how routine, as subject to classification. It expands the ability of the CIA to shield documents from declassification, giving the director the right to unilaterally block any declassification of agency documents. And for the first time, it gives the vice president the power to classify information. The New York Times says, “Offering that power to Vice President Dick Cheney, who has shown indifference to the public’s right to know what is going on inside the executive branch, seems a particularly worrying development.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003; New York Times, 3/28/2003] Historian Anna Nelson says of the decision: “This is in context with the way this administration has done the whole bit on secrecy. They have left a skeletal process.” But Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists is less harsh in his assessment, saying, “One might have expected a more aggressive, pro-secrecy policy than this draft.” Tom Blanton of the private National Security Archive says the provision to classify information from foreign governments is far too broad: “Making all foreign government information presumptively classified means we’re lowering our openness standard to the lowest common denominator of our ostensible allies.” [New York Times, 3/21/2003]
While television news anchors and analysts continue to follow the lead of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in comparing the toppling of the Firdos Square statue to the fall of the Berlin Wall (see April 9, 2003 and April 9, 2003), press reporters and editorial writers begin to express some skepticism. An unphotogenic photo of the statue being covered by an American flag prompts the New York Times’s Alessandra Stanley to note that this was a “powerful reminder that, unlike the Soviet empire, Iraq’s regime did not implode from within.” Noting that an American tank had been required to eventually push the statue over, Stanley adds, “In 1989, East Germans did not need American help to break down their wall.” The Washington Post’s Tom Shales observes that “of all the statues of Saddam Hussein scattered throughout the city, the crowds had conveniently picked one located across from the hotel where most of the media were headquartered. This was either splendid luck or brilliant planning on the part of the [US] military.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 83] Two days later, the Toronto Star will report, “Never mind how that video was tightly framed, showing a chanting crowd, when wider shots would have revealed a very different picture: a very large, mostly empty square surrounded by US tanks.” [Toronto Star, 4/12/2003]
Some in the press, overtly admiring of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as the “architect” of the Iraq invasion, have given him an interesting nickname. During a press conference in Washington, Wolfowitz is asked: “And on a lighter note, sir, some people are calling you Wolfowitz of Arabia. How would you respond to that?” After the laughter subsides, and answers to more serious questions are given, Wolfowitz says, “Oh, and on your last question, I think it’s amusing but not very accurate.” [US Department of Defense, 4/11/2003] Apparently the sobriquet was first given to Wolfowitz by the New York Times, which published an article with that title in recent days. [National Public Radio, 5/3/2003]
Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan sits amidst the wreckage in the National Museum. [Source: Getty Images / Salon]The New York Times reports that in the four days of looting in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities (see April 9, 2003 and After April 9, 2003), the National Museum of Iraq has been almost completely pillaged. Over 170,000 artifacts have been stolen or destroyed from the museum, which once boasted an irreplaceable collection of artifacts from Mesopotamia dating back as far as 7,000 years. The Times reports that archaeologists and specialists once regarded the museum as “perhaps the richest of all such institutions in the Middle East.” Only today have museum curators and government officials been able to start cataloguing the losses, as the waves of looting have begun to ebb, and fires set in dozens of government buildings begun to burn themselves out. While some treasures may have been stored in safes and vaults, the 28 galleries of the museum, and the museum’s main storage vaults, have been “completely ransacked,” the Times reports. What could not be taken was vandalized; 26 huge statues were methodically decapitated. Museum officials are enraged that US troops refused to protect the building (with one exception, a single intervention on April 10 that lasted about half an hour). The museum’s corridors are littered with smashed ceramics and burned-out torches of rags soaked in gasoline. “All gone, all gone,” one curator says. “All gone in two days.” Iraqi archaeologist Raid Abdul Ridhar Muhammed describes a crowd of thousands of looters armed with rifles, pickaxes, knives, clubs, and hunks of metal torn from automobiles. He watched as they stormed in and out of the complex, carrying precious antiquities away in wheelbarrows and handcarts. Deputy curator Mohsen Hassan watched helplessly as men with sledgehammers smashed glass display cases to get at the valuables inside. Some of the looters were from the impoverished districts of Baghdad, Hassan recalls, but many were middle class citizens who seemed to know just what they were looking for. “Did some of them know the value of what they took?” Hassan says. “Absolutely, they did. They knew what the most valued pieces in our collection were.” Muhammed blames the Americans for not securing the museum, as do many other Iraqis. “A country’s identity, its value and civilization resides in its history,” he says. “If a country’s civilization is looted, as ours has been here, its history ends. Please tell this to President Bush. Please remind him that he promised to liberate the Iraqi people, but that this is not a liberation, this is a humiliation.” [New York Times, 4/13/2003; St. Petersburg Times, 2/6/2005] Later investigations prove that many of the antiquities thought looted were actually hidden away by museum curators (see June 13, 2003).
New York Times reporter Judith Miller speaks about her reporting on PBS. [Source: PBS]New York Times reporter Judith Miller, embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad, writes that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the days before the March 2003 invasion.
Single Unidentified 'Scientist' as Source - Miller’s source is identified as an Iraqi scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program for over a decade; this scientist is said to have told an American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha (see April-May 2003), of the stockpiles. According to MET Alpha, the scientist has taken the team to a supply of material he buried in his backyard—“precursors for a toxic agent”—as evidence of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. The scientist also claims that Iraq sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, and has been cooperating with al-Qaeda. In the last years of the Hussein regime, Miller reports the scientist as claiming, Iraq “focused its efforts… on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq’s giant weapons plants.” MET Alpha refuses to identify the scientist, saying to do so would imperil his safety, and does not take Miller to see the scientist’s buried supply of materials. According to Miller, the team describes the scientist’s assertions and his cache of materials as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.” Moreover, Miller writes that the discovery “supports the Bush administration’s charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.”
Military Controlled, Vetted Report - Miller admits to not interviewing the scientist, not being permitted to write about the scientist for three days, and having her report vetted by military officials before submitting it for publication. She says that portions of her report detailing the chemicals located by the MET Alpha team were deleted, again for fear that such reporting might place the scientist in jeopardy. Neither Pentagon officials in Washington nor CENTCOM officials in Qatar will verify that the scientist is actually working with American forces. Miller’s only contact with the scientist is viewing him “from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried,” where he wore a baseball cap and pointed at spots in the sand where he claimed chemical weapons materials were buried.
'Incalculable Value' - Miller quotes the commander of the 101st Airborne, Major General David Petraeus, as calling the potential of MET Alpha’s work “enormous.” Petraeus adds: “What they’ve discovered could prove to be of incalculable value. Though much work must still be done to validate the information MET Alpha has uncovered, if it proves out it will clearly be one of the major discoveries of this operation, and it may be the major discovery.” [New York Times, 4/21/2003] The day after her report is published, Miller will tell a PBS interviewer: “I think they found something more than a smoking gun.… What they’ve found is… a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we’ve called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions.” Asked if the report will confirm “the insistence coming from the US government that after the war, various Iraqi tongues would loosen, and there might be people who would be willing to help,” Miller responds: “Yes, it clearly does.… That’s what the Bush administration has finally done. They have changed the political environment, and they’ve enabled people like the scientists that MET Alpha has found to come forth.” [American Journalism Review, 8/2003; Huffington Post, 1/30/2007]
Report Almost Entirely Wrong - Miller’s reporting will be proven to be almost entirely wrong. Neither Miller nor MET Alpha will ever produce any tangible evidence of the scientist’s claims, including the so-called “evidence” he claims he buried in his backyard. And, Miller will later admit, the “scientist” was actually a former Iraqi military intelligence officer with no connection to Iraq’s WMD programs (see July 25, 2003). [Slate, 7/25/2003] Other reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Associated Press’s Dafna Linzer, report that teams such as MET Alpha have found nothing of use. Linzer will soon report that nothing the Iraqi scientist claims can be verified. And Miller will admit that much of the information she has published in the Times has come from Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi (see May 1, 2003), a known fabricator (see 1992-1996, (1994), November 6-8, 2001, Summer 2002, Early 2003, and July 9, 2004). Miller will continue to insist that her reporting is accurate. [American Journalism Review, 8/2003]
Barry McCaffrey. [Source: NBC]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.” [Nation, 4/21/2003]
Entity Tags: The Nation, Raytheon, Priyanka Motaparthy, Veritas Capital, William Cowan, wvc3 Group, Vishesh Kumar, Wayne Downing, Robert Bevelacqua, NBC, Donald Rumsfeld, Daniel Benaim, Elena Nachmanoff, Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, Barry McCaffrey, Ahmed Chalabi, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Paul Vallely, Iraqi National Congress, Fox News, MSNBC, Metal Storm Ltd, Mitretek, Kim Hume, Integrated Defense Technologies
Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. [Source: Broadcatching (.com)]The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 304]
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006]
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” [Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” [Washington Post, 5/2/2003; Media Matters, 4/27/2006; Editor & Publisher, 5/3/2008]
Entity Tags: David S. Broder, Chris Matthews, Tom Cruise, Texas Air National Guard, Ronald Reagan, Public Broadcasting System, Walter Mondale, Washington Post, Wendell Goler, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Ann Coulter, Bob Schieffer, Pat Caddell, Brian Williams, CBS News, Wolf Blitzer, Brit Hume, New York Times, Vladimir Putin, Michael Dukakis, George S. McGovern, Fox News, CNN, Elisabeth Bumiller, Detroit Free Press, David Sanger, Dwight Eisenhower, George W. Bush, NBC News, Jerry Bruckheimer, Keith Olbermann, Gwen Ifill, Karl C. Rove, Laura Ingraham, Jon Scott, MSNBC, Joe Klein, Maureen Dowd
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
A button supporting the Texas Democrats, nicknamed the ‘Killer D’s.’ [Source: Ebay (.com)]The Republican leadership of the Texas legislature sends agents from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Texas Rangers, state troopers, and members of the Special Crimes unit to locate and apprehend over 50 Democratic state legislators who have left the state to prevent a quorum from being reached. The state Democrats left Austin, and the state, in order to prevent the Republican leadership from passing a controversial electoral redistricting plan that they say discriminates against minority voters (see 2002-2004). One Democratic lawmaker, Representative Helen Giddings, is apprehended. Many of the Democrats are staying for the time being in Ardmore, Oklahoma. One Democrat, Representative Craig Eiland, says that police officers questioned his wife in Galveston, where their newborn twins are in intensive care. He calls the law enforcement efforts to “find” him and his colleagues “bordering on harassment,” and advises, “Let the good guys go back to catching the bad guys and let the politicians deal with each other.” Under Texas law, even though the Democrats are committing no crime in refusing to participate in the legislative session, state law enforcement officers have the authority to arrest members of the legislature and forcibly return them to Austin to allow the legislature to achieve a quorum. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5/14/2003]
Use of Federal Resources; DHS 'Furious' at Involvement - US Representative Tom DeLay (R-TX) says that the Speaker of the Texas House, Tom Craddick (R-Midland), has asked for the intervention of the FBI and/or US Marshals to “go up and get those members.” Craddick denies making any such request. The US attorney’s office in San Antonio says that an “unidentified person” called it with an inquiry about federalizing the “arrest warrant.” A Justice Department spokesperson says the issue is entirely a state matter, and “would not warrant investigation by federal authorities.” The Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, a federal agency under the purview of the DHS, is involved for a time in a search for a private plane belonging to former House Speaker Pete Laney (D-Hale Center). The agency’s purpose is to engage in counterterrorism activities. Craddick says that the agency was successful in locating the airplane in Ardmore, alerting him that many of the Democrats are in that town. Craddick says: “We called someone, and they said they were going to track it. I have no idea how they tracked it down. That’s how we found them.” Bush administration officials promised that DHS agencies and officials would not operate within American borders when the agency was created. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5/14/2003; CommonDreams, 5/14/2003] According to DHS officials, someone in the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) calls the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center on May 12 and says: “We got a problem and I hope you can help me out. We had a plane that was supposed to be going from Ardmore, Oklahoma, to Georgetown, Texas. It has state representatives in it and we cannot find this plane.” The center agrees to help, DHS says, because “from all indications, this request from the Texas DPS was an urgent plea for assistance from a law enforcement agency trying to locate a missing, lost, or possibly crashed aircraft.” DHS officials contradict Craddick by denying that the center found Laney’s plane in Ardmore. Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) says: “I am outraged that Homeland Security resources are being used to help settle partisan scores. It’s inconceivable that anyone would waste scarce department resources for such an indefensible purpose.” Lieberman is demanding an investigation into the matter. Representative Jim Turner (D-TX), the ranking Democrat on the House Select Committee on Homeland Security, says he is reminded “of the days of Watergate, when federal resources were used for purely partisan political purposes.” According to the New York Times, DeLay is working closely with Craddick on the matter, though a DeLay spokesman denies that anyone from DeLay’s office has had any contact with DHS, and adds, “This is a smoke screen from the Democrats, who will say or do anything to change the subject from shirking their constitutional responsibilities.” DPS spokesperson Tom Vinger refuses to say specifically what his department has done to find the legislators, saying only: “We were ordered to begin an investigation into the missing legislators by the Texas House and to take them into custody if we found them and bring them back to the House chambers. Those were our orders. And we used very basic, routine investigative procedures in an attempt to do this.” DHS officials tell a Times reporter on the condition of anonymity that they are furious about being involved in the search. [Utne Reader, 5/2003; New York Times, 5/15/2003] Craddick soon orders all records of the Republicans’ search for the Democrats to be destroyed, sparking outrage among the Democrats, who demand accountability and say Craddick is trying to hide something. [CBS News, 5/21/2003]
Questioning Family Members - Law enforcement officers have questioned the children of Representative Joe Pickett, angering Pickett’s wife Denise. And Carol Roark, the wife of Representative Lon Burnam, says police officers appeared at her home in Fort Worth and announced they were there to “arrest” her husband; one officer told her, “I’m here on the order of Tom Craddick to arrest Rep. Lon Burnam.” Roark says she laughed at the officer, and says, “I think it was a pretty silly use of tax dollars.” Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, whose husband, Representative Steve Wolens, is in Ardmore, says that police officers have camped out overnight in front of her home. Miller says, “I felt very safe last night because there were two DPS officers who slept in front of my home.” [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 5/14/2003]
Mixed Reactions - Reaction to the Democrats’ exodus is mixed. Supporters have dubbed them the “Heroes of the House” and the “Killer D’s,” the latter a reference to a similar action taken by Texas Senate Democrats in the late 1970s. Republicans in Texas and Washington have labeled the Democratic lawmakers “cowards” and “terrorists.” Many Texas news outlets have shown sympathy to the Democrats and have criticized what some call the excessive reaction by the Republican leadership. [CommonDreams, 5/14/2003] DeLay says the Democrats who have left Texas “may not be patriots,” and adds, “Representatives are elected and paid for by the people with the expectation that they show up for work and do the people’s business and have the courage to cast tough votes.” In response, Representative Martin Frost (D-Arlington) says in regards to the redistricting plan: “Tom DeLay would be perfectly happy in the old Soviet Union. He wants one-party government. He doesn’t believe in a two-party system.” DeLay’s House colleague, Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), says, “It is easier, I think, for Tom to manipulate these lines… than it is to win elections.” [Dallas Morning News, 5/14/2003; New York Times, 5/15/2003]
Order Expires - The order from the Republican leadership is essentially vacated on May 15, when the Texas House, formerly “standing at ease,” officially adjourns. At that point, the “call on the House,” under which law enforcement officials are authorized to apprehend and forcibly return recalcitrant lawmakers, is abated. They return to Austin on May 16. Representative Jim Dunnam (D-Waco), who helped organize the retreat, says, “Government is by the people and for the people, and we had to go to Oklahoma to say government is not for Tom DeLay.” The delay causes the redistricting bill to lapse, but it will be brought up again in the next session, according to Texas Republicans. Representative Beverly Woolley (R-Houston) says: “Texas is a Republican state by all voting population, and they [Republicans] deserve to have greater representation in Congress. Sooner or later, we will redistrict. This is not over.” [New York Times, 5/15/2003; Houston Chronicle, 5/16/2003]
Entity Tags: James Dunnam, US Department of Homeland Security, Denise Pickett, Tom DeLay, US Department of Justice, Helen Giddings, Craig Eiland, Carol Roark, Air and Marine Interdiction and Coordination Center, Beverly Woolley, Bush administration (43), Tom Craddick, Texas State Legislature, Tom Vinger, Texas Rangers, Laura Miller, Martin Frost, Lloyd Doggett, Lon Burnam, Texas Republican Party, Joe Pickett, Joseph Lieberman, Jim Turner, Steve Wolens, Texas Department of Public Safety, Pete Laney, New York Times, Texas Democratic Party
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A story in the New York Times about captured anti-abortion extremist Eric Rudolph (see April 14, 2005) portrays the sympathy many locals have for Rudolph, and ties Rudolph’s acts of terrorism with the Christian faith as espoused by some. Crystal Davis of Murphy, North Carolina, where Rudolph hid from authorities for five years, tells a reporter: “He’s a Christian and I’m a Christian and he dedicated his life to fighting abortion. Those are our values. And I don’t see what he did as a terrorist act.” Many Murphy residents agree with Davis’s views, and express their sympathy for Rudolph and their disdain for the federal agents who combed the area looking for him. Birdhouse builder William Hoyt says: “We thought it was kind of funny when the feds rolled in here all arrogant. They kept saying they didn’t need our help. It put a lot of people off. Nobody around here condones murder, but I think a lot of people weren’t sure which side to be on.” Some Murphy residents sport T-shirts with the slogans “Run, Rudolph, Run” and “Eric Rudolph—Hide and Seek Champion of the World.” Davis says she would have helped Rudolph had she been given the opportunity. “If he came to my door, I’d give him food,” she says. “That’s just how we are with strangers.” Assistant high school principal Bill Gaither says: “I agree with his views. But not his ways. I’m glad they finally got him.” [New York Times, 6/1/2003] Weeks later, liberal blogger David Neiwert will cite the Times article and ask if Rudolph might well be termed a “Christian terrorist.” Neiwert will write, referring to the “Christian Identity” movement of religious white supremacists and anti-Semites of which Rudolph is affiliated (see 1960s and After): “Both Mrs. Davis and the reporter’s basic question eliminated the distinction between Identity and Christianity—something that has become increasingly easy to do as Identity rhetoric attunes itself to the mainstream, and conservatism itself becomes increasingly bellicose and intolerant. These lines blurred even further as other media reports picked up the ‘Christian terrorist’ idea and played with it.” Washington Post reporter Alan Cooperman asks, “Is he a ‘Christian terrorist’?” and goes on: “The question is not just whether Rudolph is a terrorist, or whether he considers himself a Christian. It is whether he planted bombs at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, two abortion clinics, and a gay nightclub to advance a religious ideology—and how numerous, organized and violent others who share that ideology may be.” Cooperman then quotes a sociology professor from Idaho State University, James Aho, who says he is reluctant to use the term “Christian terrorist,” saying, “I would prefer to say that Rudolph is a religiously inspired terrorist, because most mainstream Christians consider Christian Identity to be a heresy.” If Christians take offense at the juxtaposition of the words “Christian” and “terrorist,” he adds, “that may give them some idea of how Muslims feel” when they constantly hear the term “Islamic terrorism.… Religiously inspired terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon, and every major world religion has people who have appropriated the label of their religion in order to legitimize their violence.… I’m inclined to believe that people who are violent in their inclinations search out a religious home that justifies their violence.” However, Syracuse University professor Michael Barkun says, “Based on what we know of Rudolph so far, and admittedly it’s fragmentary, there seems to be a fairly high likelihood that he can legitimately be called a Christian terrorist.” Barkin has been a consultant to the FBI on Christian extremist groups. [Washington Post, 6/2/2003; David Neiwert, 6/17/2003]
New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof contradicts National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s recent statement that no one in the White House ever suspected that the documents “proving” Iraq sought to buy uranium from Niger were forged (see May 6, 2003). Rice recently said, “Maybe someone knew down in the bowels of the agency, but no one in our circles knew that there were doubts and suspicions that this might be a forgery” (see June 8, 2003). Kristof also notes that the White House claims Vice President Cheney learned of its own role in using the forged documents as “evidence” of the Iraq-Niger claim from reading Kristof’s May 6 column in the Times. Using information from what he calls “two people directly involved and three others who were briefed on” the story, Kristof writes that the truth is quite different from what Rice and Cheney say. He writes, “while Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet may not have told [President] Bush that the Niger documents were forged, lower CIA officials did tell both the vice president’s office and National Security Council staff members. Moreover, I hear from another source that the CIA’s operations side and its counterterrorism center undertook their own investigations of the documents, poking around in Italy and Africa, and also concluded that they were false—a judgment that filtered to the top of the CIA” (see January 28-29, 2003 and March 23, 2003). Kristof also notes that “the State Department’s intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, independently came to the exact same conclusion about those documents, according to Greg Thielmann, a former official there. Mr. Thielmann said he was ‘quite confident’ that the conclusion had been passed up to the top of the State Department.” Kristof also quotes former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman, who says, “It was well known throughout the intelligence community that it was a forgery.” Kristof adds that Tenet and the US intelligence communities “were under intense pressure to come up with evidence against Iraq.” As a result, “[a]mbiguities were lost, and doubters were discouraged from speaking up.” A former military intelligence officer says: “It was a foregone conclusion that every photo of a trailer truck would be a ‘mobile bioweapons lab’ and every tanker truck would be ‘filled with weaponized anthrax.’ None of the analysts in military uniform had the option to debate the vice president, secretary of defense, and the secretary of state.” Kristof concludes: “I don’t believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq’s nuclear programs—and then deceived the American public as well.” [New York Times, 6/13/2003]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Bush administration (43), Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Condoleezza Rice, Nicholas Kristof, George J. Tenet, Greg Thielmann, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Melvin A. Goodman
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon and a former diplomatic official in the US embassy in Iraq during the Gulf War (see September 20, 1990), writes an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “What I Didn’t Find in Africa.” Wilson went to Africa over a year ago (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to investigate claims that the Iraqi government surreptitiously attempted to buy large amounts of uranium from Niger, purportedly for use in nuclear weapons. The claims have been extensively debunked (see February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). Wilson opens the op-ed by writing: “Did the Bush administration manipulate intelligence about Saddam Hussein’s weapons programs to justify an invasion of Iraq? Based on my experience with the administration in the months leading up to the war, I have little choice but to conclude that some of the intelligence related to Iraq’s nuclear weapons program was twisted to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.” Wilson notes his extensive experience in Africa and the Middle East, and says candidly: “Those news stories about that unnamed former envoy who went to Niger? That’s me” (see May 6, 2003). He makes it very clear that he believes his findings had been “circulated to the appropriate officials within… [the] government.”
Journey to Niger - Wilson confirms that he went to Africa at the behest of the CIA, which was in turn responding to a directive from Vice President Cheney’s office. He confirms that the CIA paid his expenses during the week-long trip, and that, while overseas, “I made it abundantly clear to everyone I met that I was acting on behalf of the United States government.” About Nigerien uranium, Wilson writes: “For reasons that are understandable, the embassy staff has always kept a close eye on Niger’s uranium business. I was not surprised, then, when the ambassador [Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick] told me that she knew about the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq—and that she felt she had already debunked them in her reports to Washington” (see November 20, 2001). Wilson met with “dozens of people: current government officials, former government officials, people associated with the country’s uranium business. It did not take long to conclude that it was highly doubtful that any such transaction had ever taken place.” Wilson notes that Nigerien uranium is handled by two mines, Somair and Cominak, “which are run by French, Spanish, Japanese, German, and Nigerian interests. If the government wanted to remove uranium from a mine, it would have to notify the consortium, which in turn is strictly monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Moreover, because the two mines are closely regulated, quasi-governmental entities, selling uranium would require the approval of the minister of mines, the prime minister, and probably the president. In short, there’s simply too much oversight over too small an industry for a sale to have transpired.” Wilson told Owens-Kirkpatrick that he didn’t believe the story either, flew back to Washington, and shared his findings with CIA and State Department officials. “There was nothing secret or earth-shattering in my report,” he writes, “just as there was nothing secret about my trip.”
State of the Union Reference - Wilson believed that the entire issue was settled until September 2002, when the British government released an intelligence finding that asserted Iraq posed an immediate threat because it had attempted to purchase uranium from Africa (see September 24, 2002). Shortly thereafter, President Bush repeated the charges in his State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). Wilson was surprised by the charge, but put it aside after discussing the issue with a friend in the State Department (see January 29, 2003). Wilson now knows that Bush was indeed referring to the Niger claims, and wants to set the record straight.
Posing a Real Nuclear Threat? - Wilson is now concerned that the facts are being manipulated by the administration to paint Iraq as a looming nuclear threat, when in fact Iraq has no nuclear weapons program. “At a minimum,” he writes, “Congress, which authorized the use of military force at the president’s behest, should want to know if the assertions about Iraq were warranted.” He is quite sure that Iraq has some form of chemical and biological weapons, and in light of his own personal experience with “Mr. Hussein and his thugs in the run-up to the Persian Gulf war of 1991, I was only too aware of the dangers he posed.” But, he asks, are “these dangers the same ones the administration told us about? We have to find out. America’s foreign policy depends on the sanctity of its information.… The act of war is the last option of a democracy, taken when there is a grave threat to our national security. More than 200 American soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq already. We have a duty to ensure that their sacrifice came for the right reasons.” [New York Times, 7/6/2003]
'Playing Congress and the Public for Fools' - Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2004 that after Wilson’s editorial appears, he checks out the evidence behind the story himself. It only takes Dean a few hours of online research using source documents that Bush officials themselves had cited, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy, the CIA, and the United Nations. He will write: “I was amazed at the patently misleading use of the material Bush had presented to Congress. Did he believe no one would check? The falsification was not merely self-evident, it was feeble and disturbing. The president was playing Congress and the public for fools.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 145-146]
Entity Tags: US Department of Energy, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, United Nations, Somair, Office of the Vice President, Joseph C. Wilson, Bush administration (43), Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, New York Times, Cominak, John Dean, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, International Atomic Energy Agency
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Two days after the New York Times publishes former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), a business acquaintance of Wilson’s tells him of an encounter he just had with conservative columnist Robert Novak. The acquaintance sees Novak in the street and, recognizing him from his frequent television appearances, asks if he can walk with him, as they are going in the same direction. The two men do not know one another. After asking Novak about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, the acquaintance asks Novak what he thinks of Wilson. Novak responds by blurting out: “Wilson’s an assh_le. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She’s a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.” Novak has just discussed Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and is about to receive confirmation from White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003). The acquaintance is shocked by Novak’s outburst and, after parting company with Novak, goes to Wilson’s office to tell the former ambassador what Novak has said. Wilson immediately calls the head of CNN, Eason Jordan, and complains. (Novak is employed by CNN.) Jordan suggests that Wilson speak directly to Novak. After two days of missed phone calls, Novak finally speaks to Wilson, apologizes for the insult, and then, according to Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson, “brazenly asked Joe to confirm what he had already heard from an agency source: that I worked for the CIA” (see July 14, 2003). Wilson refuses, and contacts his wife. She will describe herself as “uneasy knowing that a journalist had my name and knew my true employer.” She immediately informs her superiors in the counterproliferation division, who assure her that “it would be taken care of.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 343-346; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214; Wilson, 2007, pp. 140-141; MSNBC, 2/21/2007]
Senator John D. Rockefeller. [Source: ViewImages.com]John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, learns of the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program against US citizens (see Early 2002) in a secret briefing for himself, the chairman of the committee, and the chairman and ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee. Hours later, Rockefeller sends a handwritten letter to Vice President Cheney expressing his concerns about the potential illegality of the program, concerns he apparently expressed in the briefing as well. Rockefeller will not release the letter publicly until December 19, 2005, four days after the New York Times publishes an article revealing the program’s existence (see December 15, 2005). Disturbed both by the information he was given and the information that was obviously being withheld, Rockefeller writes in part: “Clearly the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues.… Given the security restrictions associated with this information, and my inability to consult staff or counsel on my own [Cheney had prohibited Rockefeller and the three other lawmakers in the briefing from consulting with their staff experts], I feel unable to fully evaluate, much less endorse these activities. As I reflected on the meeting today, and the future we face, John Poindexter’s TIA [Total Information Awareness (see March 2002)] project sprung to mind, exacerbating my concern regarding the direction the administration is moving with regard to security, technology, and surveillance. Without more information and the ability to draw on any independent legal or technical expertise, I simply cannot satisfy lingering concerns raised by the briefing we received.” [Democratic Party, 12/19/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 115] Rockefeller also notes that he is not at liberty to do anything about his concerns, since he is legally bound to obey the secrecy rules the White House has invoked, but he wants his concerns noted. [Savage, 2007, pp. 116] It is unclear whether Rockefeller ever receives a reply. Rockefeller is apparently unaware of evidence showing that domestic surveillance may have begun well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in Iraq as part of what the New York Times calls a “carefully choreographed visit” to that country to point up the record of brutality compiled by former dictator Saddam Hussein, tells reporters that Iraqi WMD are no longer the “core reason” why the US invaded Iraq, or why it occupies that country. “I’m not concerned about weapons of mass destruction,” he says. “I’m concerned about getting Iraq on its feet.” With the US’s help, Wolfowitz says, Iraq can build a “magnificent” democracy. And apparently without a sense of irony, Wolfowitz says foreign nations should not meddle in Iraq’s business. “I think all foreigners should stop interfering in the internal affairs of Iraq,” he says. “Those who want to come and help are welcome. Those who come to interfere and destroy are not.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003]
Slate reporter Jack Shafer lambasts New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s record of error as the Times’s primary chronicler of the claims for Iraqi WMD. Miller has just written an article backing away from her previous claims (see July 20, 2003), but blaming the failure to find WMD on everything from “chaos [and] disorganization” to “flawed intelligence[,] interagency feuds,” and the wrong choice of people to head the US searches. Shafer responds: “Judith Miller finds everybody associated with the failed search theoretically culpable except Judith Miller. This rings peculiar because Miller, more than any other reporter, showcased the WMD speculations and intelligence findings by the Bush administration and the Iraqi defector/dissidents. Our WMD expectations, such as they were, grew largely out of Miller’s stories.” He notes that Miller’s reports were largely based on assertions from sources affiliated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), and writes, “If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources… Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now.” Shafer goes on to note that Miller’s words were always carefully selected to ensure that the sources, not Miller herself, painted a picture of Iraq teeming with WMD. “[I]f Miller got taken by her coveted sources, so did the reading public, and the Times owes its readers a review of Miller’s many credulous pieces,” Shafer writes. Since the Times has yet to provide such a review, Shafer says, he has done some of the initial work for it.
'The Renovator, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri' - Shafer begins with an Iraqi civil engineer, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who, thanks to the INC (see December 17, 2001), provided Miller with the information required for stories describing the secret renovation of facilities to store and develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see December 20, 2001). Shafer notes that al-Haideri, who now lives in the US, has boasted of his willingness to return to Iraq once Saddam Hussein is out of power; he suggests that the Times send him back to Iraq “where he can lead them on a tour of the 20 sites and 20 installations” that he claims housed WMD.
'The Pseudonymous Ahmed al-Shemri' - In September 2002, Miller and her colleague Michael Gordon wrote that Iraq was continuing to develop, produce, and store chemical agents in secret mobile and fixed weapons laboratories, many underground, in defiance of UN weapons sanctions (see September 8, 2002). The allegations, made as part of a much broader story, were based on the allegations of Ahmed al-Shemri, the admitted pseudonym of an Iraqi who claimed to have been “involved” in chemical weapons production in Iraq before his defection in 2001. “All of Iraq is one large storage facility,” al-Shemri told Miller. He also told her of the existence of large, secret labs in Mosul, those labs’ production of 5 tons of liquid VX nerve agent, and their ability to produce far more if requested. And, he told her that Iraq had created a new solid form of VX that makes decontamination difficult. Russian and North Korean scientists were assisting the Iraqis, al-Shemri asserted, and told of stockpiles of “12,500 gallons of anthrax, 2,500 gallons of gas gangrene, 1,250 gallons of aflotoxin, and 2,000 gallons of botulinum throughout the country.” Shafer suggests that al-Shemri “drop his pseudonym to make his background more transparent and lead the Times to the Mosul lab.”
Making the Case for the White House - On September 13, 2002, Miller and Gordon printed a story titled “White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons” (see September 13, 2002). The story related the White House’s claims of Iraq’s attempt to purchase aluminum tubes to be used in building nuclear missiles, its development of mobile biological laboratories, its attempt to buy poison gas precursors, and the secret development of chlorine gas at Fallujah and three other locations. Also, the article noted, Iraq was constructing missiles in violation of the 1991 cease-fire agreement, was conducting prohibited missile research, and was rebuilding a destroyed facility once used to build long-range missile engines. Shafer suggests that the Times send a delegation of reporters and experts to the sites noted in the article, saying, “Maybe the Times can find evidence that supports or discredits the administration’s claim.”
'Khidir Hamza, Nuclear Mastermind' - Miller has written extensively of the claims of former Iraqi nuclear bomb expert Khidir Hamza (see July 30, 2002), who defected in 1994. Perhaps her most influential story was printed on September 18, 2002 (see September 18, 2002), where she reported Hamza’s claims that Iraq was within two to three years of mass-producing centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium. Shafer suggests that Hamza “take the Times on an Iraqi atomic tour.”
Proclaiming the Defectors' Accuracy - In October 2002, Miller wrote that al-Haideri and Hamza complained that US intelligence was not taking them seriously. She quoted Chalabi and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle’s enthusiastic support for the two defectors’ claims, along with their vociferous attacks on the CIA, and wrote: “The INC has been without question the single most important source of intelligence about Saddam Hussein.… What the agency has learned in recent months has come largely through the INC’s efforts despite indifference of the CIA.” Shafer writes: “Either the INC was wrong or the CIA was wrong. If the INC was wrong, the Times should feed Perle’s words back to him with a fork and spoon.” Miller wrote another story quoting an administration defender of the defectors in January 2003, this time Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Shafer says “[t]he Times should review the credibility of all the Iraqis who defected to Miller. Who are the defectors? What did they tell the United States? How much of it was true? How much was blarney?”
Atropine Auto-Injectors - In November 2002, Miller wrote that, according to White House officials, Iraq had ordered “large quantities” of atropine auto-injectors (see November 12, 2002). Atropine is an antidote to sarin and VX, two lethal nerve agents. Shafer says “[t]he Times should track the atropine order to the source, if possible, to see if the request was in preparation for a chemical weapons attack.”
Russian Smallpox Allegations - In December 2002, Miller wrote that a Russian scientist may have provided a virulent strain of smallpox to Iraqi scientists (see December 3, 2002). Shafer notes that it is clear Miller does not know who the source for the allegation was, and the Times should now reinvestigate the story.
Miller's Mobile Exploitation Team Scoop - Shafer writes that Miller’s “biggest scoop” was an April 20, 2003 article titled “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert” (see April 20, 2003 and April-May 2003). Miller reported on an Iraqi scientist in the custody of a US Mobile Exploitation Team (MET) in search of WMD. The scientist said that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons just before the invasion, and he led the MET to buried precursor materials from which illegal weapons can be made. Moreover, the scientist alleged that Iraq sent its remaining stockpiles of WMD to Syria in the mid-1990s, where they remain hidden to this day. Iraq provided some of those weapons to al-Qaeda, and has focused heavily on researching new and more powerful weapons. Miller wasn’t allowed to name the precursor element the scientist had named, but wrote that it could be used to create a toxic agent banned under chemical weapons treaties. She was not allowed to speak to the scientist himself, nor could she reveal his name. And, she noted, she agreed to allow the military to review her story, and held off publishing it for three days. In return, the military allowed her to look at the scientist from a distance, as he pointed at spots in the desert where he said the precursor elements were buried. One day after the article appeared, Miller went on PBS, where she called her reporting the “silver bullet” in the WMD search. The next day, she published another article announcing a “paradigm shift” by investigators as a result of what they’d learned from the Iraqi scientist. But neither Miller nor any of the METs actually found anything concrete as a result of the scientist’s allegations. She later admitted that the “scientist” was actually a military intelligence officer, but continued to stand by his original allegations. Shafer suggests that Miller persuade the military to allow her to identify the so-called “precursor” substance, and explain the deceptive portrayal of a military intelligence officer as a scientist familiar with Iraqi WMD programs.
Impact and Consequences - Shafer says that the most important question about Miller is, “Has she grown too close to her sources to be trusted to get it right or to recant her findings when it’s proved that she got it wrong?” He continues: “Because the Times sets the news agenda for the press and the nation, Miller’s reporting had a great impact on the national debate over the wisdom of the Iraq invasion. If she was reliably wrong about Iraq’s WMD, she might have played a major role in encouraging the United States to attack a nation that posed it little threat. At the very least, Miller’s editors should review her dodgy reporting from the last 18 months, explain her astonishing credulity and lack of accountability, and parse the false from the fact in her WMD reporting. In fact, the Times’ incoming executive editor, Bill Keller, could do no better than to launch such an investigation.” [Slate, 7/25/2003]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Ahmed al-Shemri, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Bush administration (43), Paul Wolfowitz, Iraqi National Congress, Judith Miller, Jack Shafer, Michael Gordon, Khidir Hamza, Richard Perle
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation
Joseph Wilson, the former US ambassador to Gabon who has played a key part in discrediting the Bush administration’s attempts to claim that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003)), is interviewed for the PBS Frontline episode, “Truth, Consequences, and War.” The interview will be broadcast in early October 2003.
Trip to Niger - Wilson confirms that the CIA sent him to Niger in February 2002 to find evidence either supporting or challenging claims that Iraq tried to purchase weapons-grade uranium from that nation (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Wilson notes that the CIA officials who sent him to Iraq “said that the Office of the Vice President had raised questions about this report, and they’d asked them to look into it” (see (February 13, 2002)), but he personally had no contact with anyone in that office.
Reactions to Claims of Iraq-Niger Uranium Deal - Wilson recalls being bemused by President Bush’s assertion that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from an African country, but accepted the possibility that he was not referring to Niger, but another African nation that also mines and sells uranium (see January 28-29, 2003). Wilson says the issue became a concern to him when the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that the documents used for the Iraq-Niger claims were obvious forgeries (see March 7, 2003), and the State Department admitted to being gulled by them (see March 8, 2003). He says, “Now, when the State Department spokesman said that, I was moved to say on a news program that I thought that if the US government looked into its files, it would find that it had far more information on this particular subject than the State Department spokesman was letting on” (see March 8, 2003). Wilson calls the decision to allow Bush to make the claim in his State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) irresponsible. “You allow the president of the United States to use information that did not even pass the threshold for an Italian news magazine [Panorama—see October 9, 2002]? You allow him to use that information in the most important speech that he makes in his tenure?”
Correcting the Record - Wilson denies that his decision to write an op-ed for the New York Times exposing the falsehood of the White House claims (see July 6, 2003) was political. Instead, he says, it was “a response to what appeared to me to be a series of misstatements on the part of senior administration officials.” Wilson notes that the White House had many opportunities to set the record straight without his intervention, but chose not to. He made pleas to the White House through his friends at the State Department and friends of senior administration officials to be honest about the claims (see January 29, 2003 and March 8, 2003). Wilson reiterates his feelings that the Iraq invasion was outside the bounds of the various United Nations resolutions constraining Iraq’s behavior, and that Iraq could have been successfully contained by continuing UN efforts to disarm the Iraqi regime. There were no provable links between Iraq and Islamist terrorism, there was no provable imminent threat to the US or the Middle East from Iraq, and allegations that Iraq had committed genocide could have been addressed through the UN’s Genocide Convention.
Blowing His Wife's CIA Identity - Wilson concludes by addressing the leak of his wife Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA official (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003), and notes that while he won’t confirm that his wife is a CIA official, to publicly expose such an official is a crime under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (see July 16, 2003). It was an attempt to intimidate others, Wilson says: “I think it was a signal to others, that should you decide to come forward, we will do this to your family as well. It was just very sloppy.” He adds that if his wife is indeed a CIA official, “if it’s a real violation, [it will] cause a lot of pain in our national security apparatus, because at a minimum—the assertions were that she was a CIA operative working in the weapons of mass destruction programs. So if those assertions are true, what this administration has done is they’ve taken a national security asset involved in a program to which they give high priority, off the table, and to protect whose career? What political objective is so important… that you take a national security asset off—not to shut me up, but to… [shut] others up. That would be the only conclusion I could come to. If you read the story in which this assertion was made, the assertion adds absolutely nothing to the story, nothing. It is not germane, it is not relevant.” The interviewer says, “All’s fair in love and war,” and Wilson responds: “When you’re an administration that comes to office on a platform of restoring dignity and honor to the White House, and you act in such a dishonorable and undignified way, then you really do descend to that ‘all’s fair in love and war’ status. I think in that case it’s important to point out how duplicitous some in the White House are.” [PBS Frontline, 10/9/2003]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Intelligence Identities Protection Act, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), International Atomic Energy Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Public Broadcasting System, US Department of State, Office of the Vice President, Valerie Plame Wilson
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
When the media reports that six different reporters were told of Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA officer in the days before conservative columnist Robert Novak publicly identified her as such (see July 14, 2003), New York Times bureau chief Philip Taubman asks reporter Judith Miller if she is one of the six. Miller denies that she was told of Plame Wilson’s identity. She is lying (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Taubman will later recall that Miller is rather equivocal in her denial. “The answer was generally no,” he will say. He will recall Miller claiming that the subject of Plame Wilson and her husband, Bush administration critic Joseph Wilson, had come up in casual conversation with government officials, but “she had not been at the receiving end of a concerted effort, a deliberate organized effort to put out information.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Gannett News Service discovers that identical letters purporting to be from different US soldiers in Iraq are being published around the country as supposed “letters to the editor.” The Pentagon later admits that it released the letters as part of what it calls its “hometown news release program.” The letters are signed by different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry. At least 11 copies of the letter have appeared at a variety of small-town newspapers, including two (with identical copy but different signatures) coming to the Olympia-based Washington Olympian. That newspaper refused to run either letter because it considered them “form letters,” not actual letters from independent sources. But many other newspapers did run the letters. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] One of them was the Boston Globe. [Boston Globe, 9/14/2003]
Troops Mobbed by Happy Iraqis, Proud of Accomplishments, Letter Says - The letter, written in five paragraphs, discusses soldiers’ efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, and rebuild water and sewer plants, in Kirkuk. “The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened,” the letter says. “The fruits of all our soldiers’ efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.” It goes on to describe crowds of happy Iraqis waving at passing troops, and soldiers being mobbed by children grabbing their hands and thanking the troops in broken English.
Some Willingly Signed, but None Wrote Letter - Six of the soldiers who “signed” the various copies of the letter say they agree with its content, but deny writing it. Some admit to signing it. One, Private Nick Deaconson of Beckley, West Virginia, denies anything to do with the letter through his parents. Deaconson is hospitalized, recovering from shrapnel wounds in both legs. Another, Sergeant Christopher Shelton, who supposedly authored a letter that appeared in the Snohomish Herald, says his platoon sergeant distributed the letter and asked his soldiers for the names of their hometown newspaper. Shelton and others were asked to sign it if they agreed with it. Shelton calls the letter “dead accurate.”
Source Disputed - When the letters are revealed to be fakes, Army spokesman Sergeant Todd Oliver tells a reporter that an individual soldier wrote the letter and asked some of his fellow soldiers to sign it. “Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country,” he says. Sergeant Shawn Grueser says he talked to a military public affairs officer about his unit’s accomplishments for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, West Virginia, but says he never saw, much less signed, any letter. The Pentagon later says that “several soldiers” collaborated on the letter. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; CBS News, 10/14/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] Days later, the 2nd Battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, says his staff wrote the letter. He says his intent was to get “good news” back to the US more efficiently. He says he gave it to his soldiers and told them they could send copies home if they liked. “We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home,” he says. [BBC, 10/14/2008] The New York Times calls the “orchestrated campaign” of letters “disturbing.” It observes: “[T]he misleading letter… coincides with the Bush administration’s renewed program of defending the war in an ambitious speaking campaign across the nation. With polls registering rising public doubts, the president and his aides are claiming that the news media unfairly play up negative developments and ignore progress in Iraq” (see Mid-October 2003). It concludes, “Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public’s rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.” [New York Times, 10/15/2003]
Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Nick Deaconson, Gannett News Service, Bush administration (43), Dominic Caraccilo, Shawn Grueser, New York Times, The Olympian, Snohomish Herald, US Department of the Army, Christopher Shelton, US Department of Defense, Todd Oliver
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman predicts, “The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in US foreign policy in a long, long time.” Friedman will continue predicting a resolution of the Iraq situation in “the next six months” until at least May 2006 (see May 6-11, 2006). [New York Times, 11/30/2003; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
The White House and the Justice Department are at odds over the legality of the National Security Agency’s “data mining” program, which involves the NSA combing through enormous electronic databases containing personal information about millions of US citizens, ostensibly for anti-terrorism purposes and often without court warrants (see February 2001, Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, October 2001, and Early 2002). Such data mining by the NSA potentially threatens citizens’ constitutional right to privacy. This clash between the White House and the Justice Department is one of the reasons that White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and chief of staff Andrew Card will try to pressure Attorney General John Ashcroft, while Ashcroft is recuperating from surgery, to reauthorize the NSA program over the objections of Deputy Attorney General James Comey. That attempt to force reauthorization over Justice Department complaints will result in the protest resignations of Ashcroft, Comey, and other Justice officials (see March 10-12, 2004). In 2007, Gonzales will deny that any such attempt to pressure Ashcroft to overrule Comey ever happened (see July 24, 2007), and will deny that there was any such dispute between the White House and Justice Department over the NSA program. Those denials will lead to calls to investigate Gonzales for perjury (see May 16, 2007). In late 2005, President Bush will admit, after the New York Times reveals the existence of the NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002), that the program indeed exists, but will not acknowledge the data mining. Several current and former administration officials, interviewed by reporters in 2007, refuse to go into detail about the dispute between the White House and Justice Department, but say that it involves other issues along with the data mining. They will also refuse to explain what modifications to the surveillance program Bush will authorize to mollify Justice Department officials. Bush and his officials, including Gonzales, who will ascend to the position of attorney general in 2005, will repeatedly insist that he has the authority, both under the Constitution and under Congress’s authorization to use military force against terrorists passed after the 9/11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001), to bypass the requirements for court warrants to monitor US citizens. Critics will say that such surveillance is illegal under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [New York Times, 7/29/2007]
Domestic Surveillance Began Before 9/11? - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, July 2001, and Early 2002).
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; Newsday, 3/5/2004; Washington Post, 3/6/2004]
Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Wall Street Journal, White House Iraq Group, Ari Fleischer, Time magazine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrea Mitchell, Scott McClellan, Timothy Phelps, Newsday, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Erin Healy, Dana Priest, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, NBC News, Michael Duffy, Associated Press, New York Times, MSNBC, Mike Allen
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Dexter Filkins. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times publishes a front page story blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for many troubles in the Iraq war. However, it will later be revealed that the contents in the article were a hoax or exaggeration by a US military propaganda operation. The article, written by Dexter Filkins, claims that in January 2004, US forces in Iraq intercepted a letter written by al-Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qaeda, claiming that the best way to defeat the US in Iraq is to, in essence, begin a “sectarian war” in that country. The letter reportedly states that al-Qaeda, a Sunni network, should attack the Shi’a population of Iraq: “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis.” In the letter, al-Zarqawi boasts of his role in many suicide bombings in Iraq. The article also notes that this letter would “constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 2/9/2004; Independent, 2/11/2008] US General Mark Kimmitt says later the same day: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously.… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” The story is quickly published around the world. [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Reporter Skeptical; Article Does Not Reflect Doubts - Filkins will later say he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity when he wrote the story and remains skeptical of it. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] However, the article and follow up articles in the New York Times cast no doubt on the letter’s authenticity, except for one sentence in the original article mentioning the possibility the letter could have been “written by some other insurgent.”
Skepticism from Other News Outlets - However, some scattered accounts elsewhere at the time are more critical. For instance, a few days later, Newsweek writes: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from al-Zarqawi? We don’t.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006] In the letter, al-Zarqawi says that if success does not come soon: “We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!” Counterpunch notes this and skeptically comments, “If you were Karl Rove, you couldn’t design a better scenario to validate the administration’s slant on the war than this.” It is also noted that this article follows a dubious pattern of New York Times reporting on Iraq: “cultivate a ‘highly placed inside source,’ take whatever this person says and report it verbatim on the front page above the fold.” [CounterPunch, 2/26/2004]
Systematic Propaganda Campaign - Later in 2004, the Telegraph will report, “Senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax” and that the US is systematically buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerates al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, a number of classified documents will be leaked to the Washington Post, showing the US military has a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of al-Zarqawi in Iraq (see April 10, 2006). One document mentions the “selective leak” of this letter to Filkins as part of this campaign. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
Media Unquestioning in its Acceptance - Editor and Publisher will later examine the media coverage of this letter, and note that most publications reported on it unquestioningly, “So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.” Ironically, Reuters at the time quotes an “amazed” US official who says, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006]
Katharine Gun, who leaked an NSA memo to the British press in February 2003 that revealed the existence of an elaborate US plan to “bug” UN delegates (see January 31, 2003), is arrested and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act for giving a copy of the memo to the press. Gun was a translator for British intelligence, who worked at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) before losing her job over the leak in June. Gun does not dispute leaking the memo, instead calling it “justified.” Any leaks she made exposed “serious illegality and wrongdoing on the part of the US Government,” she says, and were made to prevent “wide-scale death and casualties among ordinary Iraqi people and UK forces.” [BBC, 11/13/2003] Gun has had the support of a wide array of antiwar and civil rights activists, led in the US by actor Sean Penn and activist Jesse Jackson, who signed a statement shortly before her court appearance praising her as a whistleblower. [Observer, 1/18/2004] The British government decides to drop the charges against her. No official explanation for this is forthcoming, though it may have been precipitated by the defense’s intent to argue that Gun leaked to the media in order to save lives from being lost in a war, an argument that would cause political damage to the government. Liberty spokeswoman Shami Chakrabarti says the decision to charge Gun may itself have been politically motivated, perhaps to cow future whistleblowers, and observes, “One wonders whether disclosure in this criminal trial might have been a little too embarrassing.” Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesman, says the reason for dropping the charges might be to keep the Attorney General’s legal advice for war with Iraq a secret. Prosecutor Mark Ellison merely tells the court, “There is no longer sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction. It would not be appropriate to go into the reasons for this decision.” The only thing needed for a successful prosecution under the Official Secrets Act is for the prosecution to show that Gun is covered by the act, which she is, and that she revealed information covered by the Act, which she has admitted. Gun’s lawyer, James Webb, calls the prosecution’s excuse “rather lame.” [BBC, 11/13/2003; Evening Standard, 2/25/2004] Gun says that leaking the NSA memo was “necessary to prevent an illegal war in which thousands of Iraqi civilians and British soldiers would be killed or maimed.… I have only ever followed my conscience.” [ZNet, 12/28/2005] A month before the court proceedings, the New York Times’s Bob Herbert writes in defense of Gun, “We are not talking about a big-time criminal here. We are not talking about someone who would undermine the democratic principles that George W. Bush and Tony Blair babble about so incessantly, and self-righteously, even as they are trampling on them. Ms. Gun is someone who believes deeply in those principles and was willing to take a courageous step in support of her beliefs. She hoped that her actions would help save lives. She thought at the time that if the Security Council did not vote in favor of an invasion, the United States and Britain might not launch the war.” [New York Times, 1/19/2004] And just days before the court proceedings begin, liberal columnist Molly Ivins wrote, “…Gun may be sentenced to prison for doing precisely what we all hope every government employee will try to do: Prevent the government from committing an illegal and immoral act. Some dare call it patriotism.” [AlterNet, 2/18/2004]
Entity Tags: Katherine Gun, Jesse Jackson, Government Communications Headquarters, George W. Bush, Bob Herbert, James Webb, Tony Blair, United Nations, Sean Penn, Molly Ivins, National Security Agency, Walter Menzies Campbell, New York Times, Mark Ellison, Shami Chakrabarti, Liberty
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations. [Source: New York Times]New York Times reporter Robert Pear discovers that the Bush administration has employed two fake “reporters,” Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, who have appeared in administration-produced television “news” segments—“video news releases,” or VNRs—designed to promote the administration’s new Medicare prescription-drug policies. (Garcia primarily appeared in Spanish-language Medicare VNRs.) HHS had budgeted $124 million for the fake news segments, more than most real news organizations can provide. The segments are under investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for possible violation of government statutes prohibiting the use of federal money to produce propaganda or partisan presentations. The Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, appears in one of the segments, saying, “This is going to be the same Medicare system only with new benefits, more choices, more opportunities for enhanced benefits.” Several others show a crowd giving President Bush a standing ovation as he signs the new Medicare bill into law. Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the customer says, “It sounds like a good idea.” The pharmacist agrees, “A very good idea.” The segments, professionally produced and ending with tag lines such as “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” were regularly aired by at least 50 local television news broadcasts in 40 cities around the country. The government also provides scripts that can be used by local news anchors to introduce, or “walk up,” the VNRs. One script suggested that anchors read the following: “In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.” A VNR is then broadcast explaining how the new law benefits Medicare recipients.
'Infoganda' - Ryan is a freelance journalist, the administration claims, and using her for such fake news segments is perfectly acceptable. But cursory investigation reveals that she was once a freelance reporter, but has for years worked as a public relations consultant. Her most recent assignments include appearing in marketing videos and “infomercials” promoting a variety of pharmaceutical products, including the popular drugs FloMist and Excedrin. Perhaps the most telling reaction is from Comedy Central’s comedy-news program The Daily Show, where host Jon Stewart can’t seem to decide whether to be outraged or flattered by what Rich calls “government propaganda imitating his satiric art.” (Daily Show member Rob Corddry calls the HHS videos “infoganda.”) Administration officials also insist that the VNRs are real, objective news releases, but the company that produced the segments, Home Front Communications, confirms that it had hired Ryan to read a script prepared by government officials. The VNRs give a toll-free phone number for beneficiaries to call. To obtain recorded information about prescription drug benefits, the caller must speak the words, “Medicare improvement.” The Columbia Journalism Review writes, “The ‘reports’ were nothing more than a free advertisement for the legislation, posing as news.”
Legal? - GAO lawyers say that their initial investigations found that other fliers and advertisements disseminated by HHS to promote the new Medicare policies are legal, though they display “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials claim the VNRs are also a legal, effective way to educate Medicare beneficiaries. The GAO is still investigating the VNRs. GAO investigators believe that they might violate the law in at least one aspect: misleading viewers by concealing their government origins. Federal law expressly forbids the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. Earlier investigations have found government-disseminated editorials and newspaper articles illegal if they did not identify themselves as coming from government officials. The GAO will find that the VNRs break two federal laws forbidding the use of federal money to produce propaganda (see May 19, 2004).
'Common Practice' - HHS spokesman Kevin Keane says the VNRs are well within legal guidelines; their only purpose, he says, is to inform citizens about changes in Medicare. “The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” he says. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” Congressional Democrats disagree with Keane. “These materials are even more disturbing than the Medicare flier and advertisements,” says Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press.” Lautenberg, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and seven other members of Congress requested the GAO investigation. Keane is correct in one aspect: businesses have distributed VNRs to news stations as well as internally for years, and the pharmaceutical industry has been particularly successful in getting marketing videos that appear as “medical news” or “medical features” aired on local and even national news broadcasts. And government agencies have for years released informational films and videos on subjects such as teenage smoking and the dangers of using steroids. Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, says HHS’s VNRs have gone far beyond what the government has previously provided. “Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” he says. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.” [New York Times, 3/15/2004; Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 164]
Media Responsibility - The Columbia Journalism Review’s Bill McDermott writes: “[F]or our money, the villains here aren’t the clever flacks at HHS—they’re supposed to be masters of deception. Nope, the dunce hats go to the local TV station editors willing to slap onto the air any video that drops in over the transom.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004] Ryan is relatively insouciant about the controversy. “Stations are lazy,” she says. “If these things didn’t work, then the companies would stop putting them out.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/20/2004]
Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Department of Health and Human Services, Committee of Concerned Journalists, Bush administration (43), Bill McDermott, Bill Kovach, Alberto Garcia, Tommy G. Thompson, Columbia Journalism Review, Robert Pear, New York Times, Jon Stewart, Home Front Communications, George W. Bush, Karen Ryan, General Accounting Office, Kevin Keane, Frank R. Lautenberg, Rob Corddry
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
A Pew Center for the People and the Press study finds that 35 percent of Republicans consistently watch Fox News, while 21 percent of Democrats do so. Fox has experienced the largest increase in viewers, and 52 percent of its audience defines itself as conservative. In general, Republicans consider Fox the most reliable broadcast news outlet, while Democrats consider it the least reliable. Overall, trust in mainstream news outlets, from CNN and ABC to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, has declined sharply since 2000. The biggest rise is in the number of news consumers who get their news from online, i.e. Internet, sources. [Pew Center for the People and the Press, 6/8/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 237]
Vice President Dick Cheney, infuriated by the 9/11 Commission’s intent to report that no serious connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda ever existed (see July 12, 2004) and the media’s acceptance of the same position, decides to launch a media counterattack. His first target is not the Commission itself, but the media, particularly the New York Times, which has just published a front-page article entitled “Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie.” Cheney’s first appearance is on CNBC’s Capital Report. Correspondent Gloria Borger notes, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you… as exercised about something as you seem today.” Cheney leads off by calling the Times reporting “outrageous,” and accuses the newspaper of manufacturing a division between the administration’s claims of a “Qaeda-Iraq tie” and the Commission’s report that no such ties ever existed. “There’s no conflict,” he says. He asserts that “[W]e don’t know” if Iraq was involved in 9/11 and adds that no one has “been able to confirm” or “knock… down” the claim that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in April of 2001. Reporters who doubt the connection are “lazy,” he says. When Borger notes that Commission investigators have found no evidence to support that allegation, Cheney asserts that he “probably” knows information the 9/11 Commission does not. [CNN, 6/18/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385] A few days later, the Commission says that after asking Cheney for any additional evidence he might have, they stand by their position. Cheney maintains his position as well, but does not turn over any new evidence. [Los Angeles Times, 7/2/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385]
The New York Times publishes an analysis of Harvard University’s admission policies towards Africans and African-Americans, and notes that while the admission of black students is rising, the percentages of those admitted are heavily skewed towards West Indian and African immigrants, and less so towards Americans of African descent. Some on the faculty say that African-American students were the intended recipients of affirmative action benefits more than non-Americans of African descent. Harvard professor Mary Waters says: “You need a philosophical discussion about what are the aims of affirmative action. If it’s about getting black faces at Harvard, then you’re doing fine. If it’s about making up for 200 to 500 years of slavery in this country and its aftermath, then you’re not doing well. And if it’s about having diversity that includes African-Americans from the South or from inner-city high schools, then you’re not doing well, either.” Another Harvard professor, Lani Guinier, whose ancestry includes Caucasians and Jamaicans, says: “Colleges and universities are defaulting on their obligation to train and educate a representative group of future leaders. And they are excluding poor and working-class whites, not just descendants of slaves.” [New York Times, 6/24/2004] Conservative pundit Tucker Carlson, discussing the article on PBS’s Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, misrepresents the article in his opening discussion, saying: “Here’s something I bet you never thought you’d hear a liberal say: Harvard is letting in too many Africans. Yet that is exactly what a group of earnest liberals told the New York Times this week.” None of the academics and educators in the article say that Harvard or any other university is admitting “too many Africans,” or that Harvard needs to begin screening out African applicants. (Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters later notes that the transcript of Carlson’s monologue alters Carlson’s remarks, adding the word “almost” in front of “exactly.”) Media Matters notes that Carlson is a critic of affirmative action, having recently equated the program with “good old-fashioned segregation” and accusing the program of “fighting racism with racism.” Carlson also states that the article says “between one-half and two-thirds of the black students at Harvard” are either West Indian or African, but the article cites no such statistics. He also misquotes Guinier, and attributes other statements to academics and educators quoted in the article that they did not make. [Media Matters, 6/30/2004]
David Bossie (see May 1998), the head of the conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU), accuses liberal filmmaker Michael Moore of improper involvement in the presidential campaign of Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Moore and the production company Lions Gate have released a new documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, that is highly critical of the Bush administration (see June 25, 2004). Bossie says the film’s commercials, airing on network and cable television, are little more than campaign commercials devised to attack President Bush and assist Kerry. One commercial shows Bush on the golf course, talking about terrorism. In the clip, Bush tells a group of reporters, “We must stop these terrorist killers,” then turns his back, hefts his golf club, and says, “Now watch this drive.” The New York Times writes that “[t]he scene is one of many featured in the film that paint the president as cavalier, cynical, and insincere in the war against terrorism.” Republicans have for the most part ignored the film until recently, when ads for the film began drawing what they consider unwarranted attention. Bossie says: “There’s only a very small percentage of Americans that are going to go and see this movie. A much larger number are going to be bombarded by these political ads run by Michael Moore, potentially all the way through the election.” CU has run ads supportive of Bush (see (May 11, 2004)). Bossie has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) asking that agency to classify the film’s ads as political, and restrict their broadcast according to campaign finance law (see March 27, 2002 and December 10, 2003). The law says that if found to be political, the ads must not be aired within 30 days of the start of the Republican National Convention on August 30. Legal experts say the FEC is unlikely to rule on the complaint for months, and even if the agency finds the ads to be political, the film could qualify for an exemption from the restrictions for news and commentary. Tom Ortenberg of Lions Gate says, “If we are still running television ads [by July 30], we will make certain that they are in full compliance with any and all regulations.” If they must remove Bush from the ads to remain in compliance, Ortenberg says “we can market this film without him.” Ortenberg denies that the ads have any political agenda. [New York Times, 6/27/2004] After Lions Gate agrees not to show ads for the film after July 30, the FEC will dismiss the complaint (see August 6, 2004).
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. [Source: BBC]The New York Times reveals the identity of al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. Bush administration officials allegedly revealed his name to the Times in an attempt to defend a controversial US terror alert issued the day before (see August 1, 2004). [Associated Press, 8/10/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] Officials from the Department of Homeland Security apparently gave out the name without revealing that Khan had already been turned and was helping to catch other al-Qaeda operatives. [Daily Times (Lahore), 8/8/2004] A few days later, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice confirms that US officials named Khan to the reporters “on background.” [Boston Globe, 8/10/2004] But some days after that, anonymous Pakistani government sources will claim that Khan’s name was initially leaked by Pakistani officials. [Salon, 8/17/2004] Middle East expert Juan Cole suggests both accounts have merit. In the hours after the August 1 terror alert that was based on information secured from Khan’s computer, reporters scramble to determine the source of the alert. One reporter learns of the Khan arrest from a CIA analyst, though the analyst refuses to give out any names. Cole believes that New York Times reporter David Rohde then acquires Khan’s name from his Pakistani sources and confirms it through US sources at the Department of Homeland Security. [Antiwar.com, 8/19/2004] Khan, an al-Qaeda computer expert, was arrested in Pakistan on July 13 and quickly began cooperating with investigators. He started sending e-mails to other operatives around the world and asked them to report back in. As they replied, investigators began tracing their locations. But Khan’s name is revealed before his computer contacts could be fully exploited. Many al-Qaeda members, including some suspected plotters planning strikes on US targets, escape arrest because of the outing. One Pakistani official says, “Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaeda suspects ran away.” [Associated Press, 8/10/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] Intelligence reports also indicate that the exposure of Khan makes al-Qaeda members more cautious in their electronic communications. Many cells abruptly move their hideouts, causing the US losing track of them. [Salon, 8/9/2004; Village Voice, 8/2/2005] Some are critical about the leak of Khan’s name:
Tim Ripley, a security expert who writes for Jane’s Defense publications, says, “The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse. You have to ask: what are they doing compromising a deep mole within al-Qaeda, when it’s so difficult to get these guys in there in the first place? It goes against all the rules of counterespionage, counterterrorism, running agents, and so forth. It’s not exactly cloak and dagger undercover work if it’s on the front pages every time there’s a development, is it?”
British Home Secretary David Blunkett is openly contemptuous of the White House’s management of the information. “In the United States there is often high-profile commentary followed, as in the current case, by detailed scrutiny, with the potential risk of ridicule. Is it really the job of a senior cabinet minister in charge of counter-terrorism to feed the media? To increase concern? Of course not. This is arrant nonsense.” [Salon, 8/9/2004]
Other high-level British officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” They complain that they had to act precipitously in arresting low-level al-Qaeda figures connected to Khan instead of using those suspects to ferret out more senior al-Qaeda figures. These officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” [New York Observer, 8/11/2004]
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) writes in a letter to Bush officials, “I respectfully request an explanation [about] who leaked this Mr. Khan’s name, for what reason it was leaked, and whether the British and Pakistani reports that this leak compromised future intelligence activity are accurate.” [Boston Globe, 8/10/2004]
Senator George Allen (R-VA) says, “In this situation, in my view, they should have kept their mouth shut and just said, ‘We have information, trust us’.”
[Inter Press Service, 8/10/2004]
Middle East expert Juan Cole notes that the leak of Khan’s name forced the British to arrest 12 members of an al-Qaeda cell prematurely, allowing others to escape. “[T]his slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity. They don’t deserve to be in power either way.” [Daily Times (Lahore), 8/8/2004]
Salon’s Dale Davis says, “[S]adly, the damage [the Bush administration’s] machinations have caused to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda will be measured in the loss of the young American servicemen and women who carry the burden of their failed policies.” [Salon, 8/13/2004]
Entity Tags: John Loftus, Juan Cole, New York Times, James Ridgeway, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, George W. Bush, Dale Davis, Douglas Jehl, George F. Allen, Tim Ripley, Al-Qaeda, David Rohde, David Blunkett, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see December 30, 2003) subpoenas New York Times reporter Judith Miller to testify. The Times says it will fight the subpoena. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/12/2004 ; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Unusual Negotiations between Lawyers - The subpoena will open a lengthy and sometimes puzzling set of negotiations between lawyers for Miller and her source, White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Miller refuses to divulge the identity of her source or the contents of their conversations (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). But she sends her lawyer, Floyd Abrams, to talk to Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, to see if Libby will approve of her testimony. According to Abrams and others involved in the negotiations, Tate initially tells Abrams that Miller is free to testify. However, Abrams will say, Tate says that Libby never told Miller the name or the undercover status of Plame Wilson. This raises a conflict for Miller: her notes clearly indicate that she was told three times about Plame Wilson’s identity. If she testifies, she will contradict Libby’s own accounts of their conversations.
Libby Attempting to Influence Miller? - Miller decides that Libby is sending her a signal not to testify. She will later recalls Abrams’s recounting of his conversation with Tate: “He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn’t give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, ‘Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.’” Abrams himself will recall: “On more than one occasion, Mr. Tate asked me for a recitation of what Ms. Miller would say. I did not provide one.” (Tate will angrily dispute both Abrams’s and Miller’s recollections, saying: “I never once suggested that she should not testify. It was just the opposite. I told Mr. Abrams that the waiver was voluntary.… ‘Don’t go there’ or ‘We don’t want you there’ is not something I said, would say, or ever implied or suggested.”) Miller’s executive editor, Bill Keller, will later say that Miller believed Libby feared her testimony. “Judy believed Libby was afraid of her testimony,” he will recall. “She thought Libby had reason to be afraid of her testimony.” Because of these reasons, Miller will decide not to further pursue the idea of a waiver from Libby that would allow her to testify about their conversations. For over a year, the two sides do not speak to one another. “I interpreted the silence as, ‘Don’t testify,’” Miller will later say. Tate will counter that he never understood why Miller or Abrams wanted to discuss the matter further. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
McClellan: Fighting to Protect Partisan Government Leakers - In 2008, one-time White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write of Miller and fellow journalist Matthew Cooper, also battling a subpoena (see August 9, 2004): “Of course, there was a curious twist to the defense used by Cooper and Miller. By refusing to divulge the names of their sources in the leak case, the two reporters were not protecting courageous whistle-blowers revealing government wrongdoing in the public interest. Rather, they were shielding government officials whom administration critics believed had used leaks as weapons of partisan warfare. It was hard for some in the public, and especially those critical of the administration, to see this as an act of journalism.… This episode… seemed to confirm for at least some administration critics that reporters were no longer heroic figures, but were now participating in the same partisan warfare they created.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 256]
Judge Thomas Hogan denies an appeal from New York Times reporter Judith Miller asking that a subpoena for her to testify in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation be quashed (see August 12, 2004 and After). Hogan writes that Miller must describe any conversations she had with “a specified executive branch official.” [PBS, 9/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/9/2004 ] Presumably, the person is former White House official Lewis Libby.
The New York Times reports on the recent issuance of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq by the US intelligence community. It is the first NIE to be issued since before the invasion (see October 1, 2002). The report was leaked to the Times by unnamed government officials.
Civil War a Strong Possibility - The NIE’s findings are grim. Civil war is a strong possibility, the NIE finds. Even the best-case scenario is an Iraq whose political, economic, and national security stability is tenuous and fragile. One government official says of the report, “There’s a significant amount of pessimism.” This NIE was initiated by the National Intelligence Council under the aegis of then-CIA Director George Tenet, who has since resigned. Acting CIA Director John McLaughlin approved the final report. The NIE stands in contrast to recent pronouncements by White House officials, who have insisted that the situation in Iraq is improving daily.
Critics 'Pessimists and Hand-Wringers' - The day before the NIE was released, White House press secretary Scott McClellan called critics of the occupation “pessimists and hand-wringers” who are being “proven… wrong.” [New York Times, 9/16/2004]
White House Ignores NIE - The NIE was prepared in July 2004 and not circulated until August, indicating that the White House had little use for the document. “It was finished in July, and not circulated by the intelligence community until the end of August,” one senior administration official says. “That’s not exactly what you do with an urgent document.” [New York Times, 9/28/2004]
This NIE Closer to CIA's Own Assessments than Earlier Report - Senior CIA analyst Paul Pillar will later say that the agency’s own prewar assessments “foretold a long, difficult, and turbulent transition,” assessments more in line with the current NIE than with the 2002 estimate (see January 2003 and September 28, 2004). “It projected that a Marshall Plan-type effort would be required to restore the Iraqi economy, despite Iraq’s abundant oil resources. It forecast that in a deeply divided Iraqi society, with Sunnis resentful over the loss of their dominant position and Shi’ites seeking power commensurate with their majority status, there was a significant chance that the groups would engage in violent conflict unless an occupying power prevented it. And it anticipated that a foreign occupying force would itself be the target of resentment and attacks—including by guerrilla warfare—unless it established security and put Iraq on the road to prosperity in the few weeks or months after the fall of Saddam” Hussein. The NIE, and the White House’s blase response to it (see September 21-23, 2004), will deepen the tension and distrust between the White House and the CIA. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 153, 244]
A New York Times editorial accuses the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation of “veer[ing] terribly off course,” and in doing so “threaten[ing] grievous harm to freedom of the press and the vital protection it provides against government misconduct.” The editorial is in response to the recent sentencing of Times reporter Judith Miller to a jail term for refusing to testify before a grand jury (see October 7, 2004). The Times writes, “The specter of reporters’ being imprisoned merely for doing their jobs is something that should worry everyone who cherishes the First Amendment and the essential role of a free press in a democracy.” The Times concludes: “Supreme Court precedent protects them from harassment and heedless prosecutorial fishing expeditions like this one. The situation points to the wisdom of state laws that recognize and protect a special relationship between journalists and their sources. Congress should follow their lead.” [New York Times, 10/14/2004]
In a two-pronged attack on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General John Ashcroft cast aspersions on Kerry’s ability to fight terrorism, with Ashcroft leaving the impression that God will withdraw his protection from the US if Kerry becomes president. Cheney tells a campaign audience in Ohio that one day soon the US might face terrorists “in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us,” including a nuclear bomb. Cheney says: “The biggest threat we face now as a nation is the possibility of terrorists ending up in the middle of one of our cities with deadlier weapons than have ever before been used against us—biological agents or a nuclear weapon or a chemical weapon of some kind—to be able to threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.… You have to get your mind around that concept.” Cheney questions Kerry’s strength of character and resolve to face such a possibility: “John Kerry would lead you to believe he has the same kind of view that George Bush has, that he would be tough and aggressive. I don’t believe it. I don’t think there’s any evidence to support the proposition that he would, in fact, do it.” A Kerry campaign spokesperson retorts that Cheney “has the audacity to question whether a decorated combat veteran who has bled on the battlefield [Kerry] is tough and aggressive enough to keep America safe.… He wants to scare Americans about a possible nuclear 9/11 while the Bush administration has been on the sidelines while the nuclear threats from North Korea and Iran, the world’s leading sponsor of terrorism, have increased.” Kerry’s running mate, John Edwards, notes: “You don’t keep this country safe by giving a speech. You keep it safe by what you do.” As for Ashcroft, he tells an audience at the US Chamber of Commerce that God has protected the nation from another 9/11-like attack. “For three years, our nation has been blessed,” Ashcroft says. “But the hand of Providence has been assisted by the dedicated men and women of the Department of Justice. In three years, we have compiled a record of achievement that is impressive by peacetime standards.” [New York Times, 10/19/2004] The New York Times will later chide Ashcroft “for suggesting that God had spared America from an attack since 9/11 because President Bush’s team was assisting ‘the hand of Providence,’” and Cheney for being “irresponsible” and “reckless” in “suggesting that a vote for Mr. Kerry is a vote for the terrorists.” The Times writes that a large “part of the government’s role is to maintain the highest possible level of credibility. Turning our fears about a terrorist attack into just another campaign commercial undermines this trust and makes us all more vulnerable.” [New York Times, 10/21/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 147]
A 1996 photograph of one of the Al Qaqaa storage bunkers. [Source: New York Times]The US media learns that Iraq’s interim government reports that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives, used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads, and detonate nuclear weapons, are missing from a former military installation (see October 10, 2004). The facility, Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under US control but in reality is “a no-man’s land,” in the words of the New York Times, “picked over by looters as recently as” October 24. UN inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had monitored the huge cache of explosives for years. The IAEA says that machine tools usable for either nuclear or non-nuclear purposes are also missing. White House and Pentagon inspectors admit that the explosives disappeared some time after the US-led invasion of Iraq. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was informed of the missing explosives within the last month; according to the Times, “[i]t is unclear whether President Bush was informed.” US officials began answering questions about the missing explosives after reporters from the Times and CBS’s “60 Minutes” began asking questions. The CIA’s Iraq Survey Group has been asked to investigate the disappearance.
Similar Explosives Used in Other Terrorist Attacks - The immediate concern, according to US officials, is the explosives’ possible use in major bombing attacks against American and/or Iraqi forces. The explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, can be used in bombs strong enough to destroy airplanes or large buildings. The Times notes that the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland (see After December 21, 1988) used less than a pound of such explosive. Larger amounts of the same kinds of explosives were used in the November 2003 Riyadh bombings (see May 12, 2003) and a September 1999 bombing of a Moscow apartment complex (see September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999). The explosives can also be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, the primary reason why it had been, until the invasion, monitored by UN inspectors from the IAEA.
Repeated IAEA Warnings - The IAEA had publicly warned about the danger of the Al Qaqaa explosives before the invasion, and after the overthrow of the Iraqi government, IAEA officials specifically told US officials that they needed to keep the facility locked down (see May 2003). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that the missing explosives need to be kept in perspective, as US and allied forces “have discovered and destroyed perhaps thousands of tons of ordnance of all types.” Iraq’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Rashad Omar, tells Times and CBS reporters: “Yes, they [the 380 tons of explosives] are missing. We don’t know what happened.” Omar says that after the invasion, Al Qaqaa was the responsibility of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which served as Iraq’s de facto government until June 2004 (see June 28, 2004). “After the collapse of the regime, our liberation, everything was under the coalition forces, under their control,” he says. “So probably they can answer this question, what happened to the materials.” The CPA is defunct; Bush administration officials say they don’t know where the explosives could be. One senior official says that the Qaqaa complex was listed as a “medium priority” site on the CIA’s list of more than 500 sites that needed to be searched and secured during the invasion. “Should we have gone there? Definitely,” says one senior official. Another senior official says that US soldiers gave the Qaqaa facility a cursory inspection during the push towards Baghdad in early April, but “saw no bunkers bearing the IAEA seal.”
Refusal to Allow IAEA Inspections after Occupation - Satellite photos taken in late 2003 showed that two of the ten bunkers containing HMX had exploded, presumably from bombing during the US offensive, but eight remained relatively intact. The Bush administration refused to let the IAEA back into Iraq to inspect and verify the Qaqaa facility or any of the other stockpiles formerly monitored by IAEA officials. By May 2004, the IAEA was warning CPA officials that the facility had probably been looted (see May 2004).
More Unguarded Stockpiles - Iraq is dotted with unguarded stockpiles of explosives, say US military and administration officials. One senior administration official notes, “The only reason this stockpile was under seal is because it was located at Al Qaqaa,” where nuclear work had gone on years ago. [New York Times, 10/25/2004]
The New York Times agrees to a White House request to withhold publication of a potential “bombshell” story: an in-depth article revealing an enormous, and possibly illegal, warrantless wiretapping program executed by the NSA at President Bush’s behest after the 9/11 attacks. The Times will publish the story almost a year later (see December 15, 2005). In August 2006, the Times’s public editor, Byron Calame, will confirm the delay, and note that he has been “increasingly intrigued” by the various descriptions of the delay by Times editor Bill Keller (see December 16, 2005) and others. Keller will tell Calame that, contrary to some statements he and others have made, the story was originally scheduled to be published just days before the November 2004 presidential election. “The climactic discussion about whether to publish was right on the eve of the election,” Keller will say, though he will refuse to explain why he makes the final decision to hold the story. However, he will say that at this time he is not sure the story’s sources are reliable enough to warrant its publication before a close election. [New York Times, 8/13/2006]
In a New York Times editorial printed one day before the presidential election, columnist William Safire implies that Osama bin Laden is trying to influence the American electorate to vote against President Bush and for his challenger, Democratic candidate John Kerry. Safire writes that bin Laden’s recent message to American voters (see October 29, 2004) proves that “his intercession in our election” has not yet been “as successful as his pre-election panicking of Spain’s voters,” referring to a recent election where Spanish voters repudiated the conservative incumbent and elected a more liberal choice. Safire says bin Laden has echoed themes from Kerry’s campaign, specifically Kerry’s frequent assertions that Bush has not been truthful with the American people, and says the Islamist figure “delight[ed]” in the anti-Bush film Fahrenheit 911. Safire says that bin Laden’s apparent calls for some form of reconciliation or an easing of armed conflict between al-Qaeda and the West is his attempt to persuade Americans that voting for Kerry will bring about peace in the Middle East. “Generals do not call for a truce when they’re winning,” he writes. “Only warriors thrust on the defensive become conciliatory, hoping that negotiations will give them time to regroup and resupply. Bin Laden’s vain hope seems to be that the defeat of Bush will give him time to buy or steal a horrific weapon as an ‘equalizer.’” Safire goes on to accuse UN arms inspector Mohamed ElBaradei of joining with bin Laden in trying to mount an “October surprise” to defeat Bush, and details what he believes is a conspiracy between ElBaradei, the United Nations, and CBS News to publish a story concerning US troops’ failure to secure explosive devices in time to affect the election. He says the New York Times refused to hold the article until October 31, as CBS allegedly desired, and printed the article a week before. Safire writes, “If Kerry wins, the Egyptian [ElBaradei] should be chief UN inspector for life,” and he calls bin Laden’s recent videotaped message “anti-Bush overkill” that will “help ensure the president’s re-election.” [New York Times, 11/1/2004] Contradicting Safire’s assertions, Bruce Hoffman of the RAND Corporation says he “agrees with those who see bin Laden probably preferring the current administration.” The Christian Science Monitor quotes a senior US intelligence official as saying that bin Laden released the videotaped message to help Bush’s re-election chances: “Bin Laden knows us well enough to realize that we will take offense at him, the most reviled man in the world, criticizing our president” (see October 29, 2004 and October 29, 2004). [Christian Science Monitor, 11/1/2004]
New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman writes: “Improv time is over. This is crunch time. Iraq will be won or lost in the next few months. But it won’t be won with high rhetoric. It will be won on the ground in a war over the last mile.” Friedman will continue predicting a resolution of the Iraq situation in “the next six months” until at least May 2006 (see May 6-11, 2006). [New York Times, 11/28/2004]
Miller, Abrams, and Cooper speak to reporters during the Libby investigation. [Source: Life magazine]Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter held in contempt for failing to obey a subpoena to testify before the Patrick Fitzgerald grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see October 7, 2004), tells her husband that she may go to jail. “Something bad is happening,” Miller tells Jason Epstein, her husband and a founder of the New York Review of Books. “I think I might be going to jail.” Epstein replies, “Going to jail—that can’t be right.” Miller says, “That is where this is going to lead.” Trying to lighten the mood, Epstein retorts, “Well, if that’s the case, get a lawyer from the Yellow Pages so it won’t cost so much.” Miller says she already has a lawyer, renowned First Amendment advocate Floyd Abrams. With another lawyer, Abrams had represented the Times in the Pentagon Papers case of 1971 (see June 15, 1971), and he helped to forge case law protecting journalists from being compelled to reveal their sources. Abrams is already representing another Times reporter, Philip Shenon, against Fitzgerald in the case of Shenon’s reporting on an FBI raid of two Muslim charities accused of supporting terrorism (see December 3-14, 2001). He is also defending two more Times reporters, James Risen and Jeff Gerth, in a privacy lawsuit filed by nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, who is accusing the reporters of inaccurate and defamatory reporting. And he is representing Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who is also facing a subpoena from the Fitzgerald investigation (see October 13, 2004). Abrams has asked Fitzgerald to steer clear of subpoenaing reporters such as Miller and Cooper, fearing the effect those subpoenas might have on investigative reporting if successful. Fitzgerald told Abrams that he had thought through the issue, and was prepared to compel their testimony through the entire judicial system. [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
Some are quietly expressing criticism or a lack of surety about the recent nomination of former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS—see December 3, 2004). The New York Times questions Kerik’s qualifications for the post and what it calls “some troubling parts of his record.” The Times says, “A homeland security secretary should be above politics and respectful of civil liberties,” and that Kerik is neither, as he campaigned for the reelection of President George W. Bush, and suggested that criticism of the Iraq War was tantamount to aiding the enemy, and that the election of Kerry would result in a terrorist attack. It is also unclear why Kerik abruptly left Iraq in the summer of 2003, just when he should have been settling into his new job of training security forces (see May 2003 - July 2003). The Times says the public should know more about Kerik’s duties at Giuliani-Kerik LLC, a consulting firm Kerik operates with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and raises questions about potential conflicts of interest: “Mr. Kerik should offer assurances that former clients and colleagues will not get preferential treatment. He has had difficulty with ethical lines in the past. In 2002, he paid a fine for using a police sergeant and two detectives to research his autobiography.” The Times also notes Kerik’s “enormously profitable” stint as a board member of Taser International, the stun-gun manufacturer, saying this deserves scrutiny. [New York Times, 12/9/2004] Kerik will be doing business with some of the firms that made him wealthy, Times reporter Eric Lipton observes, particularly Taser International, even though he has promised to resign from that firm’s board of directors and sell his remaining stock if he is confirmed as DHS secretary. The price of Taser stock has risen sharply in recent months, largely because Kerik has done an excellent job of pitching the company’s product to police departments around the country. Kerik has also led the push to bring federal business to Taser, including contracts offered by DHS. Taser president Thomas Smith says: “Anyone in a federal law enforcement position is a potential customer. And we are going to continue to go after that business.” Kerik refuses to discuss his position with Taser with the press. Bush administration spokesman Brian Besanceney promises Kerik will adhere to “the highest ethical standards” and ensure there are no conflicts of interest. “In order to avoid even an appearance of a conflict, he will comply with all ethics laws and rules to avoid acts that might affect former clients or organizations where he served as a director,” Besanceney says. Under Kerik, the New York Police Department became one of the first departments in the country to purchase large amounts of Taser stun guns. [New York Times, 12/10/2004]
The Justice Department issues a secret opinion that countermands and contradicts the administration’s official policy that torture is “abhorrent” and will not be practiced by US military or law enforcement officials (see December 30, 2004). The secret opinion is, the New York Times writes two years later while publicly revealing its existence, “an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.” The opinion gives explicit authorization to abuse detainees with a combination of physical and psychological abuse, including head-slapping, stress positioning, simulated drowning (“waterboarding”), and prolonged exposure to intense cold. New attorney general Alberto Gonzales (see November 10, 2004) approves the memo over the objections of deputy attorney general James Comey, himself preparing to leave the Justice Department after a series of battles over the legality of torture and the domestic surveillance program (see March 10-12, 2004). Comey says at the time that everyone at the department will be “ashamed” of the new opinion once the world learns of it. [New York Times, 10/4/2007]
Matt Cooper and Judith Miller. [Source: Paul J.Richards / AFP / Getty Images (left) and New York Times (right)]An appeals court rules 3-0 that reporters Judith Miller (see August 12, 2004 and After) and Matthew Cooper (see October 13, 2004) must testify in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Both the New York Times and Time magazine will appeal the ruling to a full appeals court and eventually to the Supreme Court (see June 27, 2005). The appeals court rules that because Miller and Cooper may have witnessed a federal crime—the disclosure of Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity by government officials (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003)—the First Amendment does not protect them from testifying to the possible crime. The court finds that a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, Branzburg v. Hayes, applies: in that case, a reporter was ordered to testify about witnessing the production of illegal drugs. Writing for the appeals court, Judge David Sentelle notes that the Supreme Court “stated that it could not ‘seriously entertain the notion that the First Amendment protects the newsman’s agreement to conceal the criminal conduct of his source, or evidence thereof, on the theory that it is better to write about a crime than to do something about it.’” [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 ; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger says of the ruling: “The Times will continue to fight for the ability of journalists to provide the people of this nation with the essential information they need to evaluate issues affecting our country and the world. And we will challenge today’s decision and advocate for a federal shield law that will enable the public to continue to learn about matters that directly affect their lives.” Miller says, “I risk going to jail for a story I didn’t write, for reasons a court won’t explain.” [New York Times, 2/16/2005]
Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).
Entity Tags: Brian Conrady, Transportation Security Administration, Richard A. Boucher, Reuters, Associated Press, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Defense, US Department of Health and Human Services, AgDay, Army and Air Force Hometown News Service, William Pierce, US Department of Justice, US Department of State, Pentagon Channel, US Census Bureau, Pat O’Leary, David Winstrom, Fort Leonard Wood, Patricia Harrison, Bush administration (43), CNN, Fox News, Public Relations Society of America, Larry Gilliam, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Office of Broadcasting Services, Government Accountability Office, Medialink, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
In an 8-0 ruling, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals dismisses a lawsuit by the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch asking that the court require information to be disclosed from Vice President Cheney’s energy task force from 2001 (the National Energy Policy Development Group—see May 16, 2001). The US Supreme Court sent the case back to the appeals court (see April 27, 2004 and June 24, 2004). The appeals court ignores reports from the Government Accountability Office finding that energy executives and lobbyists took part in the task force deliberations (see After January 20, 2001, Mid-February, 2001, March 21, 2001, March 22, 2001, April 12, 2001, and April 17, 2001), and accepts the government’s contentions that the executive branch should not be forced to disclose information about its workings to either the legislative or judicial branches. Because no evidence was submitted that showed the energy executives or lobbyists cast votes or exercised veto power over task force decisions, the court rules, the task force is not obligated to comply with federal laws mandating that such governmental working groups reveal details of their deliberations. The executives and lobbyists are essentially no different than staff aides, the court finds. Cheney’s energy task force was not an advisory committee, and therefore “the government owed the plaintiffs no duty, let alone a clear and indisputable or compelling one,” says the court’s opinion. The court applies the Supreme Court’s standard of law as recommended in the case, a standard far more favorable to the executive branch than any previously applied in the case. Several of the appellate judges will later say that they took the Court ruling to mean that the judiciary should not be involved in a legal struggle with the executive branch. The ruling allows Cheney to keep the task force documents secret, and says that the task force is not bound by the Federal Advisory Committees Act (FACA). [Associated Press, 5/10/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 176]
'Double Blow' - David Bookbinder, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, says, “The decision is not going to be helpful in assuring open and accountable government.” [Sierra Club, 5/15/2005] He says the ruling is a double blow: “As a policy matter, we see the Bush administration has succeeded in its efforts to keep secret how industry crafted the administration’s energy policy. As a legal matter, it’s a defeat for efforts to have open government and for the public to know how their elected officials are conducting business.” Judicial Watch official Chris Farrell will later say the ruling leaves the open-government laws “a hollow shell.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 176] The New York Times calls the decision “regrettable,” and observes, “The Bush administration hardly needs encouragement to deny public access to vital government information.” [New York Times, 5/15/2005]
Rejected Judicial Precedent - In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “The decision relied entirely upon the assertion of two Cheney aides that the lobbyists had not cast any votes, a claim no judge ever verified by looking at the records. The court’s ruling also dismissed arguments that ‘influential participation’ by outsiders made them de facto members of the task force whether or not they cast votes, rejecting the standard the courts had applied to the 1994 Clinton health care task force.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 176]
The New York Times obtains a copy of a classified file of the Army criminal investigation into a number of detainee deaths at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan. The report focuses on two Afghan detainees, Mullah Habibullah (see October 2004 and November 30-December 3, 2002) and a taxi driver known as Dilawar (see December 10, 2002), both of whom were in essence tortured to death; other detainees are also covered in the report. The Army report follows up on the official inquiry conducted in late 2004 (see October 2004).
Torture to Extract Information, Punish Detainees, and Alleviate Boredom - The Times writes: “Like a narrative counterpart to the digital images from Abu Ghraib, the Bagram file depicts young, poorly trained soldiers in repeated incidents of abuse. The harsh treatment, which has resulted in criminal charges against seven soldiers, went well beyond the two deaths. In some instances, testimony shows, it was directed or carried out by interrogators to extract information. In others, it was punishment meted out by military police guards. Sometimes, the torment seems to have been driven by little more than boredom or cruelty, or both.” One female interrogator has what a colleague in a sworn statement calls a taste for humiliation; that interrogator is described as having stood on the neck of one prostrate detainee, and having kicked another detainee in the genitals. Another statement tells of a shackled prisoner being forced to kiss the boots of his interrogators. A third tells of a detainee forced to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water. Overall, the Army report concludes that many of the tactics used by interrogators and guards amounts to criminal assault. Pentagon spokesman Larry Di Rita says: “What we have learned through the course of all these investigations is that there were people who clearly violated anyone’s standard for humane treatment. We’re finding some cases that were not close calls.” Seven soldiers, all interrogators and guards of low rank, have been charged with crimes ranging from dereliction of duty to maiming and involuntary manslaughter; two others received reprimands, and 15 others named in the original report were cited as bearing probable criminal responsibility in the deaths. One of the interrogators charged with assaulting Dilawar, Sergeant Selena Salcedo, says: “The whole situation is unfair. It’s all going to come out when everything is said and done.”
Many Interrogators Redeployed to Iraq; Bagram Tactics Used at Abu Ghraib - The Army criminal investigation was conducted slowly. During the course of the investigation, many of the Bagram interrogators, including their operations officer, Captain Carolyn Wood, were redeployed to Iraq (see Mid-March 2003). Wood took charge of interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison and, according to Army inquiries, began using tactics “remarkably similar” to those employed at Bagram (see July 15, 2003 and (Early August 2003)). She received the Bronze Star for her actions (see January 22, 2003-May 8, 2003).
Serious Disparities between Investigative Results and Personnel Statements - In the aftermaths of the deaths, military officials made a number of unsupported claims. The deaths of both Dilawar and Habibullah were originally listed as due to natural causes even as military coroners ruled the deaths homicides. The American commander in Afghanistan at the time, Lieutenant General Daniel McNeill, said that he had no indication that the deaths were caused by abuses carried out by US soldiers; the methods used in the detainees’ interrogations were, McNeill said, “in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques.”
Poorly Trained Interrogators - The report focuses on one group of poorly trained interrogators from the Army’s 519th Military Intelligence Brigade (see July 2002). After Bush’s decree that terror suspects have no rights under Geneva, the interrogators began pushing the envelope of acceptable interrogation techniques. They began employing “stress positions” that cause pain and suffering but not, presumably, actual injury. They began experimenting with longer and longer periods of sleep deprivation. One of the more popular methods is called in military jargon “Fear Up Harsh,” or as one soldier called it, “the screaming technique.” The technique is based on verbally and physically intimidating detainees, and often degenerates into screaming and throwing furniture. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the interrogators, Staff Sergeant Steven Loring, sometimes tried to curb his interrogators’ excesses, but, contradictorily, often refused to countenance “soft” interrogation techniques, and gave some of the most aggressive interrogators wide latitude. Sergeant James Leahy recalled, “We sometimes developed a rapport with detainees, and Sergeant Loring would sit us down and remind us that these were evil people and talk about 9/11 and they weren’t our friends and could not be trusted.” One of Loring’s favorites was Specialist Damien Corsetti, nicknamed “Monster,” a tall, bearded interrogator Loring jokingly nicknamed “the King of Torture.” One Saudi detainee told Army investigators that during one session, Corsetti pulled out his penis, shoved it in the Saudi’s face, and threatened to rape him. (The earlier investigation found cause to charge Corsetti with assault, maltreatment of a prisoner, and indecent acts; no charges were filed. Corsetti was fined and demoted for brutalizing a female prisoner at Abu Ghraib.) By August 2002, the 519th interrogators, joined by a group of reservists from a military police company, were routinely beating their prisoners, and particularly favored the “common peroneal strike,” a potentially disabling blow to the side of the leg just above the knee. The MPs later said that they never knew such physical brutality was not part of Army interrogation practices. “That was kind of like an accepted thing; you could knee somebody in the leg,” one of the MPs, Sergeant Thomas Curtis, later told investigators.
'Timmy' - Specialist Jeremy Callaway told investigators of one Afghan prisoner with apparently severe emotional and mental problems. The detainee would eat his own feces and mutilate himself with concertina wire. He quickly became a favorite target for some of the MPs, who would repeatedly knee him in the legs and, at least once, chained him with his arms straight up in the air. The MPs nicknamed him “Timmy” after an emotionally disturbed child in the “South Park” animated television show. According to Callaway, one of the guards who beat the prisoner also taught him to screech like the cartoon character. Eventually, “Timmy” was sent home. [New York Times, 5/20/2005]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Jeremy Callaway, James Leahy, Dilawar, Daniel K. McNeill, Damien Corsetti, Carolyn A. Wood, Lawrence Di Rita, Mullah Habibullah, New York Times, Steven Loring, US Department of Defense, Selena Salcedo, Thomas Curtis
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives
The Army suppresses an unclassified report by the RAND Corporation, a federally financed think tank that often does research for the military. The report, entitled “Rebuilding Iraq,” was compiled over 18 months; RAND submitted a classified and an unclassified version, hoping that the dissemination of the second version would spark public debate. However, senior Army officials are disturbed by the report’s broad criticisms of the White House, the Defense Department, and other government agencies, and the Army refuses to allow its publication. A Pentagon official says that the biggest reason for the suppression of the report is the fear of a potential conflict with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The unclassified version of the report will be leaked to the New York Times in February 2008. That version finds problems with almost every organization and agency that played a part in planning for the Iraq invasion.
Bush, Rice Let Interdepartmental Squabbles Fester - The report faults President Bush, and by implication his former National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, for failing to resolve differences between rival agencies, particularly between the departments of Defense and State. “Throughout the planning process, tensions between the Defense Department and the State Department were never mediated by the president or his staff,” the report finds.
Defense Department Unqualified to Lead Reconstruction Effort - The report is also critical of the Defense Department’s being chosen to lead postwar reconstruction, citing that department’s “lack of capacity for civilian reconstruction planning and execution.” The Bush administration erred in assuming that reconstruction costs would be minimal, and in refusing to countenance differing views, the report says. Complementing that problem was the failure “to develop a single national plan that integrated humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, governance, infrastructure development and postwar security.” As a result, the report finds, “the US government did not provide strategic policy guidance for postwar Iraq until shortly before major combat operations commenced.”
State's Own Planning 'Uneven' and Not 'Actionable' - It questions the “Future of Iraq” study (see April 2002-March 2003), crediting it with identifying important issues, but calling it of “uneven quality” and saying it “did not constitute an actionable plan.”
Franks, Rumsfeld Exacerbated Problems - General Tommy Franks, who oversaw the entire military operation in Iraq, suffered from a “fundamental misunderstanding” of what the military needed to do to secure postwar Iraq, the study finds. Franks and his boss, Rumsfeld, exacerbated the situation by refusing to send adequate numbers or types of troops into Iraq after the fall of Baghdad.
Strengthened Resistance to US Occupation - The poor planning, lack of organization, and interdepartmental dissension together worked to strengthen the Iraqi insurgency. As Iraqi civilians continued to suffer from lack of security and essential services, resentment increased against the “negative effects of the US security presence,” and the US failed to seal Iraq’s borders, foreign and domestic support for the insurgents began to grow.
RAND Study Went Too Far Afield, Says Army - In 2008, after the Times receives the unclassified version of the report, Army spokesman Timothy Muchmore explains that the Army rejected the report because it went much farther than it should in examining issues pertinent to the Army. “After carefully reviewing the findings and recommendations of the thorough RAND assessment, the Army determined that the analysts had in some cases taken a broader perspective on the early planning and operational phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom than desired or chartered by the Army,” Muchmore will say. “Some of the RAND findings and recommendations were determined to be outside the purview of the Army and therefore of limited value in informing Army policies, programs and priorities.”
Recommendations - The Army needs to rethink its planning towards future wars, the report finds. Most importantly, it needs to consider the postwar needs of a region as much as it considers the strategy and tactics needed to win a war. [New York Times, 2/11/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George W. Bush, New York Times, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Bush administration (43), Thomas Franks, Timothy Muchmore, US Department of State, US Department of the Army, RAND Corporation
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Months after the Bush administration successfully convinced the New York Times to hold off publishing its report on the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and December 15, 2005), one of the reporters on the story, Eric Lichtblau, attempts to get a response on the program from one of the few Democrats briefed on it, House Intelligence Committee ranking member Jane Harman (D-CA). In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau will write about covering a House hearing where Harman launches into a passionate call for stronger civil liberties safeguards in the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act (see March 9, 2006). According to his recollection, Lichtblau approaches Harman and says, “I’m trying to square what I heard in there with what we know about that program.” He will write: “Harman’s golden California tan turned a brighter shade of red. She knew exactly what I was talking about. Shooing away her aides, she grabbed me by the arm and drew me a few feet away to a more remote section of the Capitol corridor. ‘You should not be talking about that here,’ she scolded me in a whisper. ’ They don’t even know about that,’ she said, gesturing to her aides, who were now looking on at the conversation with obvious befuddlement.” Harman tells Lichtblau, “The Times did the right thing by not publishing that story,” but will not discuss the details. When asked what intelligence capabilities would be lost by informing the public about something the terrorists already knew—that the government was listening to them—she simply replies, “This is a valuable program, and it would be compromised.” Lichtblau will add: “This was clearly as far as she was willing to take the conversation, and we didn’t speak again until months later, after the NSA story had already run. By then, Harman’s position had undergone a dramatic transformation. When the story broke publicly, she was among the first in line on Capitol Hill to denounce the administration’s handling of the wiretapping program, declaring that what the NSA was doing could have been done under the existing FISA law.” [TPM Muckraker, 3/19/2008]
After the Supreme Court fails to intervene and grant reporters Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller immunity from testifying in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003 and June 27, 2005), Cooper’s publisher, Time magazine, agrees to turn over Cooper’s notes and e-mails regarding his knowlege of Plame Wilson, and his sources. Cooper opposes the decision. Norman Pearlstine, Time’s editor in chief, says: “I believe that there’s no argument for saying ‘no’ once the Supreme Court has ruled on a decision. I think we are a country of laws and not of individuals and that as journalists who regularly point a finger at people who think they’re above the law, I’m not comfortable being one of them myself.… I think it’s a terrible case. I wish the court had taken our appeal, but given that they did not, we’re not above the law and the law was clear that I think we had no choice but to turn over the information.” Miller and the New York Times continue to refuse to comply (see July 6, 2005). [CNN, 6/30/2005; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Time reporter Matthew Cooper agrees to testify before the grand jury in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003 and July 13, 2005) after the source he has been protecting, White House political adviser Karl Rove, gives him a waiver dissolving their confidentiality agreement. Sources say that Cooper will identify Rove as a person who revealed Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to him. Cooper says he is prepared to remain “in civil contempt,” and ready to go to jail for defying the grand jury subpoenas, “because even though Time magazine had, over my objections, turned over my notes and e-mails to the special counsel under a court order, and even though the prosecutor has all that information now, I wanted—I was prepared to go and remain in civil contempt because I had given a word to my source for two years, which I have kept my word to that source today, for two years. This morning, in what can only be described as a stunning set of developments, that source agreed to give me a specific personal and unambiguous waiver to speak before the grand jury.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005] Cooper has not asked Rove for a waiver before, in part because his lawyer advised against it. Additionally, Time editors were worried about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year. And Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, believed that contacting Cooper would have amounted to interfering with the ongoing court battle between reporter and prosecutor. [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005] Cooper adds, “It’s with a bit of surprise and no small amount of relief that I will comply with this subpoena.” Cooper refuses to publicly divulge the source he has been protecting, but a person briefed on the case confirms Cooper’s source as being Rove. [New York Times, 7/7/2005] Cooper did not speak to Rove directly on the issue. The waiver of confidentiality is the product of what the New York Times describes as “a frenzied series of phone calls” between Cooper’s lawyer Richard Sauber, Rove’s lawyer Luskin, and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Cooper views his case as substantially different from that of his New York Times colleague, Judith Miller (see July 6, 2005). Miller has consistently refused to testify, but Cooper has already testified once, describing conversations he had with White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see August 24, 2004). And while the New York Times has consistently supported Miller, Time magazine has been more equivocal, turning over documents to Fitzgerald that identified Rove as Cooper’s source. Cooper’s friend Steven Waldman, a former US News and World Report editor who has talked with Cooper in recent days, says, “The question that was on his mind, and this is my words, is: do you go to jail to protect the confidentiality of a source whose name has been revealed, and not by you but by someone else?” Still, Cooper resisted until he saw an article in the Wall Street Journal that quoted Luskin as saying, “If Matt Cooper is going to jail to protect a source, it’s not Karl he’s protecting.” That statement prompted a round of telephone discussions between Luskin, Sauber, and Fitzgerald, culminating in Cooper’s decision to testify. “A short time ago,” Cooper tells the court, “in somewhat dramatic fashion, I received an express personal release from my source.” [New York Times, 7/10/2005]
Entity Tags: Richard Sauber, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Karl C. Rove, Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Luskin, Steven Waldman, New York Times, Time magazine
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Judge Thomas Hogan. [Source: Washington City Paper]A federal judge orders New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who continues to refuse to comply with a subpoena in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak case (see December 30, 2003), to go to jail until she or the Times complies. Time magazine and its reporter Matthew Cooper have already agreed to comply with the subpoena, thereby sparing Cooper jail time (see July 1, 2005 and July 6, 2005). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Refusal to Reveal Sources - Miller tells Judge Thomas Hogan: “Your Honor, in this case I cannot break my word just to stay out of jail. The right of civil disobedience based on personal conscience is fundamental to our system and honored throughout our history.… The freest and fairest societies are not only those with independent judiciaries, but those with an independent press that works every day to keep government accountable by publishing what the government might not want the public to know.… If journalists cannot be trusted to guarantee confidentiality, then journalists cannot function and there cannot be a free press.” Her attorney says, “Judy’s view is that any purported waiver she got from anyone (see January 2-5, 2004) was not on the face of it sufficiently broad, clear, and uncoerced.” Hogan, in sharp disagreement, calls Miller’s decision not to testify a possible “obstruction of justice.” [New York Times, 7/6/2005; New York Times, 7/7/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 222-223] He seems moved by Miller’s impassioned speech until she invokes her time in Iraq. At that point, according to reporter Marie Brenner, his face darkens. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald will later say, “Ms. Miller has great respect for the military who served in Iraq, as we should all do, but if one of those officers’ [lives] was compromised by the leak of classified information, we would want to see that justice was done.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006] Hogan says Miller can leave the jail any time she likes. “She has the keys to release herself,” he says. “She has a waiver [from her source] she chooses not to recognize” (see January 2-5, 2004 and August 12, 2004 and After). She can “avoid even a minute of separation from her husband if she would do no more than just follow the law like every other citizen in America is required to do.” When Miller’s lawyers ask for home detention and denial of e-mail and cell phone access instead of incarceration, Hogan dryly retorts, referring to Miller’s extensive time spent in Iraq: “Certainly one who can handle the desert in wartime is far better equipped than the average person jailed in a federal facility.… Forced vacation at a comfortable home is not a compelling form of coercion.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 222-223] Miller will later tell a colleague: “I was told to put my medications in a Baggie, to understand that I would have no makeup, no personal items except for my pills.” Her lawyers tell her, “You are going in one door of the courthouse and out another.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
'Draconian Act' - Times editor Bill Keller calls Miller’s incarceration “a chilling conclusion to an utterly confounding case,” and Fitzgerald’s decision to jail the reporter a “draconian act” that punishes “an honorable journalist” and will “serve future cover-ups of information that happens in the recesses of government and other powerful institutions.” Keller praises Miller’s “determination to honor her professional commitment,” noting that her defiance of the subpoenas “is not an attempt to put herself above the law. The law presented Judy with the choice between betraying a trust to a confidential source or going to jail. The choice she made is a brave and principled choice, and it reflects a valuing of individual conscience that has been part of this country’s tradition since its founding.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005]
Former Clinton administration political consultant James Carville predicts that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald will “com[e] after more people at the New York Times” in addition to Times reporter Judith Miller, who is in jail for refusing to cooperate with Fitzgerald’s investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 6, 2005). Carville tells radio host Don Imus: “My sense is he’s coming after more people at the New York Times. He’s going to subpoena [executive editor] Bill Keller and all of them and ask them what Judy Miller told them. And if they don’t talk, he’s going to stick them in jail.” Carville also says that many people he talks to believe that Miller was used by the White House to “disseminate” Plame Wilson’s identity. “There are all sorts of rumors and I hear second hand that [Miller] was screaming out in the news room about this,” he says. The Times, Carville says, “to some extent is going to have to come clean. Because they’re going to have to tell us what Judy Miller knew, when she knew it, and who she told. And there’s a lot of people at the Times—and I know this to be a fact—who believe that.” Carville says it is difficult for Miller to claim First Amendment protections in refusing to discuss her knowledge of Plame Wilson’s identity leak. “It’s going to be very interesting to see whether [Miller’s] problem is a First Amendment [problem]—i.e., I want to protect a source—or a Fifth Amendment [problem]—I was out spreading this stuff too.” [NewsMax, 8/8/2005]
New York Times reporter Judith Miller is released from jail after agreeing to comply with a subpoena from the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 6, 2005). According to Miller, the person who told her of Plame Wilson’s covert identity, former vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, “voluntarily and personally released me from my promise of confidentiality” (see September 15, 2005 and October 28, 2005). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Libby’s lawyer Joseph Tate says that his client released Miller from her confidentiality agreement over a year ago, and that he was surprised to learn that Miller and her lawyer, Robert Bennett, did not know that she was free to testify. “We told her lawyers it [Libby’s original waiver] was not coerced,” Tate says. “We are surprised to learn we had anything to do with her incarceration” (see September 12, 2005). [Washington Post, 9/30/2009] Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger says: “Judy has been unwavering in her commitment to protect the confidentiality of her source. We are very pleased that she has finally received a direct and uncoerced waiver, both by phone and in writing, releasing her from any claim of confidentiality and enabling her to testify.” Miller adds: “I went to jail to preserve the time-honored principle that a journalist must respect a promise not to reveal the identity of a confidential source. I chose to take the consequences—85 days in prison—rather than violate that promise. The principle was more important to uphold than my personal freedom.” [New York Times, 9/29/2005] In preparation for her upcoming testimony (see September 30, 2005), Sulzberger and Times executive editor Bill Keller take Miller from jail to have a massage, a manicure, a martini, and a steak dinner before she goes home to sleep in her own bed. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Judith Miller speaks to reporters outside the courtroom. [Source: Luke Frazza / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images]New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who yesterday was released from jail after agreeing to testify before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 29, 2005), testifies before that jury. [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] In some respects Miller’s testimony is less than enlightening. She admits that Lewis Libby was the source that she was protecting (see September 15, 2005), but says that she doesn’t believe Libby told her Plame Wilson’s name. In the same notebook Miller used to take notes from her conversations with Libby (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), Miller wrote “Valerie Flame,” an apparent misspelling. Asked why that name appears in the notebook alongside the notes from her conversations with Libby, Miller equivocates, saying she doesn’t believe she heard the name from Libby. She will later write of her testimony, “I said I believed the information came from another source, whom I could not recall.” As a side note, the Times only now reveals Libby as Miller’s source, though other news outlets have already identified Libby. [New York Times, 10/16/2005] Miller testifies that she does not recall her first meeting with Libby, which took place June 23. She will change her testimony (see October 7, 2005 and October 12, 2005) after prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald shows her Secret Service logs showing that she had met with Libby in the Executive Office Building. [National Journal, 10/20/2005] This memory lapse is consistent with theories that Miller may be attempting to protect Libby by failing to testify about that first meeting, where Libby informed Miller that Plame Wilson was a CIA official working in the Weapons, Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control office (see September 29-30, 2005). Miller also testifies that Libby saw the media’s reporting of the Iraq-Niger story as the product of “selective leaking” by the CIA. The purpose of the CIA leaks, Miller says Libby believed, was to protect the agency if no WMD were found in Iraq. [Roberts, 2008, pp. 151]
New York Times reporter Judith Miller turns over additional notes to the prosecutors in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak case. The notes indicate that she met with Lewis “Scooter” Libby on June 23, 2003 (see June 23, 2003) and discussed Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson. Until these notes are revealed, Miller had testified that she had not met with Libby until almost two weeks later (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). [New York Times, 10/8/2005] Miller will later say that she discovered the notes in the Times newsroom after her first testimony (see October 12, 2005). [New York Times, 10/12/2005] It was during the June 23 meeting that Libby told Miller of Plame Wilson’s position in the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control (WINPAC) office. Miller’s memory is also jogged when special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald shows her Secret Service logs showing that she met with Libby on June 23 in the White House Executive Office Building. Only after seeing the logs does Miller search her notes and find the information about her first meeting with Libby. Miller’s lawyer, Robert Bennett, says: “We went back on the second occasion to provide those additional notes that were found, and correct the grand jury testimony reflecting on the June 23 meeting.” He says Miller’s testimony is now “correct, complete, and accurate.” Washington defense attorney Stan Brand says that even if Fitzgerald believes Miller deliberately feigned a memory lapse about that first meeting with Libby, he is unlikely to “make an issue out of this because he got what he wanted from her,” and might still be dependant upon her as a witness during a potential trial. [National Journal, 10/20/2005]
Ellen Sauerbrey. [Source: Salon]The New York Times criticizes President Bush for nominating a political crony with no expertise to a critical State Department position. Bush has nominated Ellen Sauerbrey, a Maryland Republican legislator who chaired his 2000 presidential campaign in that state, to the post of assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration, a nomination the Times calls “patronage.” The Times describes the post as “coordinat[ing] the delivery of life-sustaining emergency aid to refugees of foreign wars, persecution, and natural disasters.” Sauerbrey would oversee a bureau responsible for allocating $700 million a year to private relief groups and United Nations agencies, mostly to set up refugee camps and arrange for food deliveries, protection, and other vital aid in third world countries. “Ms. Sauerbrey has no experience responding to major crises calling for international relief,” the Times notes. “This is a post for an established expert in the field.” Sauerbrey was chosen for another “patronage job” in 2002, the Times continues, as the US representative to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. “There she has relentlessly pressed an anti-abortion and anti-family-planning agenda at international conferences meant to focus on urgent problems like sexual trafficking and the spread of AIDS,” the Times writes. Salon will later note that during her tenure at the UN, Sauerbrey worked to scuttle international agreements that guaranteed women’s rights to reproductive health care. The Times recommends that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee block her nomination; editorial boards for a number of other newspapers also oppose her nomination. [Salon, 1/6/2005; New York Times, 10/11/2005] Sauerbrey will be granted the position as a recess appointment (see January 5, 2006).
The New York Times again finds itself apologizing for its failures in covering the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson and its handling, or lack of handling, of the newspaper’s star reporter, Judith Miller, who recently testified as to her knowledge of the matter (see September 30, 2005). It also admits that much of Miller’s prewar reporting on Iraq was “totally wrong.” Although the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, and its executive editor, Bill Keller, supported Miller’s decision to go to jail rather than reveal the source of her knowledge about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 6, 2005), neither knew many details of Miller’s conversations with her source, former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Neither knew, for example, that Miller’s claim of not learning Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby was undermined by her own notes. Ultimately, both Sulzberger and Keller left most of the decisions on how to handle the situation to Miller herself. “This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk,” says Sulzberger. While Miller continues to portray her decision to go to jail as one rooted in principle, critics say that she and the Times were not protecting a whistleblower, but an administration source bent on crushing dissent. Asked what she regretted about the Times’s handling of the matter, managing editor Jill Abramson says, “The entire thing.”
'I Got It Totally Wrong' - Many in the newsroom and in the editorial staff believed that Miller’s prewar articles on Iraq’s WMD—articles that have long been proven to be based largely on false information from unreliable Iraqi defectors (see December 20, 2001, September 18, 2002, March 19-20, 2003, July 25, 2003, and Autumn 2003)—unfairly advanced the administration’s case for war. Miller operated with a level of autonomy other reporters found unusual and distressing, especially since many of them believed her reporting verged on administration propaganda. Investigative editor Douglas Frantz recalls that Miller once called herself “Miss Run Amok”; when he asked her what she meant, she replied, “I can do whatever I want.” Miller now admits her reports were largely specious. “WMD—I got it totally wrong,” she says. “The analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them—we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could.”
Not a Clear-Cut Decision to Fight - Keller says: “I wish it had been a clear-cut whistle-blower case. I wish it had been a reporter who came with less public baggage.” Times reporter Todd Purdom says: “Everyone admires our paper’s willingness to stand behind us and our work, but most people I talk to have been troubled and puzzled by Judy’s seeming ability to operate outside of conventional reportorial channels and managerial controls. Partly because of that, many people have worried about whether this was the proper fight to fight.” For her part, Miller says she intends to take some time off and perhaps write a book about her ordeal. She says she wants to get back into investigative reporting, and continue to cover “the same thing I’ve always covered—threats to our country.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Criticism of Miller, Times - The next day, columnist Norman Solomon will write, “It now seems that Miller functioned with more accountability to US military intelligence officials than to New York Times editors.” Solomon also notes that in her July 8, 2003 meeting with White House official Lewis Libby (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003), Miller expressed frustration at the government’s refusal to allow her “to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq.” Solomon writes: “There’s nothing wrong with this picture if Judith Miller is an intelligence operative for the US government. But if she’s supposed to be a journalist, this is a preposterous situation—and the fact that the New York Times has tolerated it tells us a lot about that newspaper.” Solomon also notes that Miller’s claim of “analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them” were “all wrong” about Iraqi WMD is itself wrong. “Some very experienced weapons inspectors—including [the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency] Mohamed ElBaradei, [former chief UN weapons inspector] Hans Blix, and [former UN weapons inspector] Scott Ritter—challenged key assertions from the White House,” he writes. “Well before the invasion, many other analysts also disputed various aspects of the US government’s claims about WMDs in Iraq.… Meanwhile journalists at some British newspapers, including The Independent and The Guardian, raised tough questions that were virtually ignored by mainstream US reporters in the Washington press corps.… [T]he Times did not ‘fall for misinformation’ as much as jump for it. The newspaper eagerly helped the administration portray deceptions as facts.” [CounterPunch, 10/17/2005] Liberal columnist and blogger Arianna Huffington provides a long list of reporters and publications who “didn’t get it wrong” on Iraqi WMD. She quotes reporter Joe Lauria, a veteran foreign affairs reporter who writes for the London Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Boston Globe, who told her: “I didn’t get it wrong. And a lot of others who covered the lead up to the war didn’t get it wrong. Mostly because we weren’t just cozying up to Washington sources but had widened our reporting to what we were hearing from people like Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix, and from sources in other countries, like Germany, France, and Russia. Miller had access to these voices, too, but ignored them. Our chief job as journalists is to challenge authority. Because an official says something might make it ‘official,’ but it doesn’t necessarily make it true.” [Huffington Post, 10/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Douglas Frantz, Bill Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, Arianna Huffington, Jill Abramson, Judith Miller, Norman Solomon, New York Times, Todd Purdom, Joe Lauria
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Arthur Sulzberger. [Source: New York Times]George W. Bush summons New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and Times editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office to try to dissuade them from running a landmark story revealing the NSA’s illegal wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) that he authorized in 2002 (see Early 2002). In the meeeting, Bush warns Sulzberger and Keller that “there’ll be blood on your hands” if another terrorist attack were to occur, obviously implying that to reveal the nature of the program would invite terrorist strikes. Bush is unsuccessful in his attempt to quash the story. [Newsweek, 12/21/2005; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
An FBI investigation into Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking minority member of the House Intelligence Committee, is halted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, according to three former top national security officials. The investigation was to determine whether she agreed to use her influence on behalf of accused Israeli spies in return for Israeli support in being named chairman of the committee (see Summer 2005, October 2005 and December 2, 2006). In contrast to the former officials’ claims, the media will report that the investigation is ended due to “lack of evidence” of impropriety or illegal behavior on Harman’s part. However, according to the former officials, Gonzales wants Harman to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which is about to be revealed by a long-simmering New York Times story (see December 15, 2005). The evidence against Harman includes NSA wiretaps of a conversation between her and an Israeli agent. Reporter Jeff Stein will write, “As for there being ‘no evidence’ to support the FBI probe, a source with first-hand knowledge of the wiretaps called that ‘bull****.’” Another former national security officer will confirm Harman’s presence on the wiretaps. “It’s true,” the official will say. “She was on there.” Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units have concluded that Harman had committed what they called a “completed crime,” meaning there was evidence to show that she had attempted to complete it; they were prepared to open a case on her that would include wiretaps approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). CIA Director Porter Goss certified the FISA wiretapping request, and decided to inform House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and ranking House Democrat Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) of the impending FBI investigation. At this point, say Stein’s sources, Gonzales intervenes to stop the investigation. Two officials with knowledge of the events will say that, in Gonzales’s words, he “needed Jane” to help support the warrantless wiretapping program once it became public knowledge. Gonzales tells Goss that Harman had helped persuade the Times to refrain from publishing the story in late 2004 (see Early November 2004, December 6, 2005, and Mid-2005), and although the Times would no longer wait on the story, Harman could be counted on to help defend the program. She will do just that (see December 21, 2005 and February 8-12, 2006). Hastert and Pelosi are never told of the FBI investigation. Stein will also learn that Goss’s successor, Michael Hayden, will later be informed of the potential investigation, but choose to take no action. Likewise, Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte will oppose any such investigation. Former officials who will pursue the Israeli espionage case for years will say, in Stein’s words, that “Harman dodged a bullet… [s]he was protected by an administration desperate for help.” A recently retired national security official closely involved in the investigation will add: “It’s the deepest kind of corruption. It’s a story about the corruption of government—not legal corruption necessarily, but ethical corruption.” [Congressional Quarterly, 4/19/2009]
Entity Tags: Jeff Stein, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dennis Hastert, Alberto R. Gonzales, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Jane Harman, Michael Hayden, Porter J. Goss, John Negroponte, House Intelligence Committee, New York Times, Nancy Pelosi
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
New York Times headline from article revealing NSA surveillance. [Source: CBS News]The New York Times reveals that after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush granted the National Security Agency (NSA) secret authorization to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the US without going through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court to obtain legal warrants (see Early 2002. The administration justifies its actions by claiming such eavesdropping, which includes wiretapping phones and reading e-mails, is necessary to find evidence of terrorist activities, and says the nation needs the program after the 9/11 attacks exposed deficiencies in the US intelligence community’s information gathering process, and because of what they characterize as the “handcuffing” of US intelligence agencies by restrictive laws. The Times has had the article for over a year; the White House prevailed on the Times not to publish its findings for that time, arguing that publication would jeopardize continuing investigations and warn potential terrorists that they were under scrutiny. Many believe that the White House wanted to delay the publication of the article until well after the 2004 presidential elections. The Times delayed publication for over a year, and agreed to suppress some information that administration officials say could be useful to terrorists. (Less than two weeks before the article is published, Bush tries to convince the Times not to print the article at all: see December 6, 2005.) Two days after the Times publishes its article, Bush will acknowledge the order, and accuse the Times of jeopardizing national security (see December 17, 2005). The NSA program eavesdrops without warrants on up to 500 people in the US at any given time, officials say; the overall numbers have likely reached into the thousands. Overseas, up to 7,000 people suspected of terrorist ties are being monitored. Officials point to the discovery of a plot by Ohio trucker and naturalized US citizen and alleged al-Qaeda supporter Iyman Faris to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with blowtorches as evidence of the program’s efficacy. They also cite the disruption of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate fertilizer bombs outside of British pubs and train stations by the program. But, officials say, most people targeted by the NSA for warrantless wiretapping have never been charged with a crime, and many are targeted because of questionable evidence and groundless suspicion. Many raise an outcry against the program, including members of Congress, civil liberties groups, immigrant rights groups, and others who insist that the program undermines fundamental Constitutional protections of US citizens’ civil liberties and rights to privacy. Several other government programs to spy on Americans have been challenged, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)‘s surveillance of US citizens’ library and Internet usage, the monitoring of peaceful antiwar protests, and the proposed use of public and private databases to hunt for terrorist links. In 2004, the Supreme Court overturned the administration’s claim that so-called “enemy detainees” were not entitled to judicial review of their indefinite detentions. Several senior officials say that when the warrantless wiretapping program began, it operated with few controls and almost no oversight outside of the NSA itself. The agency is not required to seek the approval of the Justice Department or anyone else outside the FISA court for its surveillance operations. Some NSA officials wanted nothing to do with a program they felt was patently illegal, according to a former senior Bush administration official. Internal concerns about the program prompted the Bush administration to briefly suspend the program while Justice Department officials audited it and eventually provided some guidelines for its operations. A complaint from Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the federal judge who oversees the FISA Court, helped spur the suspension, according to officials. Kollar-Kotelly questioned whether information obtained under the program was being improperly used as the basis for FISA wiretap warrant requests from the Justice Department. Some government lawyers say that the Justice Department may have deliberately misled Kollar-Kotelly and the FISA court about the program in order to keep the program under wraps. The judge insisted to Justice Department officials that any material gathered under the program not be used in seeking wiretap warrants from her court. The question also arose in the Faris case, when senior Justice Department officials worried that evidence obtained by warrantless wiretapping by the NSA of Faris could be used in court without having to lie to the court about its origins. [New York Times, 12/15/2005]
Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) is gladdened to see the New York Times’s reports on the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005 and December 24, 2005). Klein has known since 2002 that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been using AT&T facilities to illegally eavesdrop on American citizens’ telephone and Internet communications (see Late 2002, January 2003, October 2003, Fall 2003, Late 2003, Late 2003, and January 16, 2004). He has considered going public with his knowledge, but has so far refrained because, he will later explain, “[t]he atmosphere was still kind of scary.” He will later say of the Times report, “They seemed to be talking mainly about phone calls, but anyway, it was revealed that there was an illegal spying program going on, and I thought, ‘Ah, this would probably blow the whole thing,’ and I thought it would all come out, and I don’t need to do anything.” However, Klein is horrified to see the government’s response. He will say: “[W]hat came out was the government turned around and went on the offensive against anybody who would dare to criticize them.… They’re issuing threats: Anyone who has a security clearance and spills any beans here is in for prosecution. That was deliberately said by them several times on TV to intimidate anybody in, say, the NSA who knew the truth, intimidate them so they would not come forward. So that silenced anybody in the intelligence community” (see December 17, 2005, December 19, 2005, December 21, 2005, December 30, 2005, and January 25-26, 2006). In his 2009 book Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… and Fighting It, Klein will write that the Justice Department’s December 2005 investigation into the leak of classified information that led to the Times reports (see December 30, 2005) “was obviously intended to silence Congress, the media, and any potential whistleblowers inside the NSA who might have been tempted to come forward. The administration was manipulating the secrecy oath which people had taken to get security clearances, turning it into a weapon to silence anyone who had knowledge of wrongdoing.” Klein decides that he must come forward. He never received a security clearance, so he cannot be threatened with legal action over violating such clearance. He will explain: “All I had and still have are some company documents and some knowledge of some illicit NSA installation at AT&T’s network. And if anybody—say, Congress—was willing to follow the trail, I can give them all the names they want, and they can go up the hierarchy of AT&T all the way up to Dave Dorman, who was the president back then, and they can go even higher, and they can find out who is responsible for this, and they can ask them under oath and subpoena what the heck is going on here, if they had the will to do it.” Klein later admits to some hesitation and trepidation at undertaking such an effort, and will cite the “McCarthyite” atmosphere he says the government has created in which “dissidents become the target of a lynch mob searching for ‘terrorists.’” But, he will write, he believes the Times stories are “a political indication of a shift at the top of government, a split of some kind which could provide an opening.… Maybe they would publish my material, I thought, and that would provide some protection.” By December 31, Klein writes a preface to his memo from almost two years before (see January 16, 2004 and December 31, 2005). [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 52-53]
Times executive editor Bill Keller. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times’s executive editor, Bill Keller, defends his paper’s decision to reveal the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, conducted through the NSA (see December 15, 2005), after holding the story for over a year. Keller writes: “We start with the premise that a newspaper’s job is to publish information that is a matter of public interest. Clearly a secret policy reversal that gives an American intelligence agency discretion to monitor communications within the country is a matter of public interest.… A year ago, when this information first became known to Times reporters, the administration argued strongly that writing about this eavesdropping program would give terrorists clues about the vulnerability of their communications and would deprive the government of an effective tool for the protection of the country’s security. Officials also assured senior editors of The Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions. As we have done before in rare instances when faced with a convincing national security argument, we agreed not to publish at that time. We also continued reporting, and in the ensuing months two things happened that changed our thinking. First, we developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program. It is not our place to pass judgment on the legal or civil liberties questions involved in such a program, but it became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood. Second, in the course of subsequent reporting we satisfied ourselves that we could write about this program—withholding a number of technical details—in a way that would not expose any intelligence-gathering methods or capabilities that are not already on the public record. The fact that the government eavesdrops on those suspected of terrorist connections is well-known. The fact that the NSA can legally monitor communications within the United States with a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is also public information. What is new is that the NSA has for the past three years had the authority to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States without a warrant. It is that expansion of authority—not the need for a robust anti-terror intelligence operation—that prompted debate within the government, and that is the subject of the article.” [CNN, 12/16/2005]
During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he will order an investigation into the leak that revealed the NSA’s domestic surveillance program (see December 15, 2005). Bush says he has not directly ordered an investigation, presuming the Justice Department is handling the matter, but he calls the leak “a shameful act for someone to disclose this very important program in a time of war.” And he implies that the leak, and the New York Times’s decision to print the resulting article, is treason: “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.… But it is a shameful act by somebody who has got secrets of the United States government and feels like they need to disclose them publicly.” When asked why he “skip[ped] the basic safeguards of asking courts for permission for the intercepts,” he answers: “[R]ight after September the 11th, I knew we were fighting a different kind of war. And so I asked people in my administration to analyze how best for me and our government to do the job people expect us to do, which is to detect and prevent a possible attack. That’s what the American people want. We looked at the possible scenarios. And the people responsible for helping us protect and defend came forth with the current program, because it enables us to move faster and quicker. And that’s important. We’ve got to be fast on our feet, quick to detect and prevent. We use FISA still—you’re referring to the FISA court in your question—of course, we use FISAs. But FISA is for long-term monitoring. What is needed in order to protect the American people is the ability to move quickly to detect. Now, having suggested this idea, I then, obviously, went to the question, is it legal to do so? I am—I swore to uphold the laws. Do I have the legal authority to do this? And the answer is, absolutely.… [T]he legal authority is derived from the Constitution, as well as the authorization of force by the United States Congress” (see September 14-18, 2001). A reporter asks why “has your administration not sought to get changes in the law instead of bypassing it, as some of your critics have said?” Bush responds by reiterating the point that the program is “limited in nature to those that are known al-Qaeda ties and/or affiliates.” He then reiterates another point: he believes he has the authority to bypass the law. He “share[s] the same concerns” about civil liberties that members of Congress have expressed (see December 16, 2005).” However, his reassurances that domestic calls are not being monitored are not absolute. “[I]f you’re calling from Houston to [Los Angeles], that call is not monitored. And if there was ever any need to monitor, there would be a process to do that.” He is asked: “You say you have an obligation to protect us. Then why not monitor those calls between Houston and LA? If the threat is so great, and you use the same logic, why not monitor those calls? Americans thought they weren’t being spied on in calls overseas—why not within the country, if the threat is so great?” Bush replies: “We will, under current law, if we have to. We will monitor those calls. And that’s why there is a FISA law. We will apply for the right to do so. And there’s a difference—let me finish—there is a difference between detecting so we can prevent, and monitoring. And it’s important to know the distinction between the two.” He concludes, “I just want to assure the American people that, one, I’ve got the authority to do this; two, it is a necessary part of my job to protect you; and, three, we’re guarding your civil liberties.” [White House, 12/19/2005]
Jonathan Alter. [Source: Publicity photo via Greater Talent Network]Reporter and political pundit Jonathan Alter writes that President Bush’s attempt to kill the New York Times domestic wiretapping story (see December 15, 2005 and December 6, 2005), which the Times delayed for over a year at the White House’s request, is not an attempt to protect national security, as Bush will say in his response to the article (see December 17, 2005), but “because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker.” Alter continues, “He insists he had ‘legal authority derived from the Constitution and Congressional resolution authorizing force.’ But the Constitution explicitly requires the president to obey the law. And the post-9/11 congressional resolution authorizing ‘all necessary force’ in fighting terrorism was made in clear reference to military intervention. It did not scrap the Constitution and allow the president to do whatever he pleased in any area in the name of fighting terrorism.” Alter is puzzled that Bush felt the need for the program when the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978) “allows the government to eavesdrop on its own, then retroactively justify it to the court, essentially obtaining a warrant after the fact.” Alter says that only four of “tens of thousands” of FISA requests have ever been rejected, and, “There was no indication the existing system was slow—as the president seemed to claim in his press conference—or in any way required extra-constitutional action.” He concludes: “[Bush] knew publication would cause him great embarrassment and trouble for the rest of his presidency. It was for that reason—and less out of genuine concern about national security—that George W. Bush tried so hard to kill the New York Times story. …We’re seeing clearly now that Bush thought 9/11 gave him license to act like a dictator, or in his own mind, no doubt, like Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.” [Newsweek, 12/21/2005]
Continuing his trend of predicting a resolution in Iraq within six months—a trend that has been ongoing since at least November 2003 (see May 6-11, 2006)—New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman writes: “The only thing I am certain of is that in the wake of this election, Iraq will be what Iraqis make of it—and the next six months will tell us a lot. I remain guardedly hopeful.” [New York Times, 12/21/2005; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]
In the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005, December 18, 2005, and December 21, 2005), Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, issues a statement defending the operation and slamming the New York Times for revealing the program’s existence. Harman says, “I believe the program is essential to US national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” [Time, 1/3/2006] Evidence will later show that Harman may be defending the program in return for a quid pro quo from Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who will quash an FBI investigation into Harman’s alleged improprieties involving Israeli lobbyists charged with felonies (see Late 2005 and April 19, 2009).
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) writes that Congress explicitly rejected several attempts by the Bush administration to provide him with war-making authority and the authority to wiretap and monitor US citizens “in the United States” when it approved the September 18, 2001 authorization to use military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Instead, the Bush administration merely usurped that authority and launched—or expanded (see Spring 2001)—its warrantless wiretapping program, conducted by the NSA. Since then, the Bush administration and the Justice Department have both repeatedly asserted that the AUMF gave them the right to conduct the wiretapping program, an assertion that Daschle says is flatly wrong. On December 21, the Justice Department admitted in a letter that the October 2001 presidential order authorizing warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens did not comply with “the ‘procedures’ of” the law that has regulated domestic espionage since 1978, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA established a secret intelligence court and made it a criminal offense to conduct electronic surveillance without a warrant from that court, “except as authorized by statute.” However, the letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, argues that the AUMF gave the administration the authority to conduct the program. [Washington Post, 12/22/2005] The letter continues the argument that Congress gave President Bush the implict authority to create an exception to FISA’s warrant requirements, though the AUMF resolution did not mention surveillance and made no reference to the president’s intelligence-gathering authority. The Bush administration kept the program secret until it was revealed by the New York Times on December 15, 2005. Moschella argues that secret intelligence-gathering, even against US citizens, is “a fundamental incident to the use of military force” and that its absence from the resolution “cannot be read to exclude this long-recognized and essential authority to conduct communications intelligence targeted at the enemy.” Such eavesdropping, he argued, must by necessity include conversations in which one party is in the United States. [William Moschella, 12/22/2005 ] Daschle, one of the primary authors of the resolution, says that Moschella and the Bush administration are wrong in their assertions: “I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance” (see September 12-18, 2001). [Washington Post, 12/23/2005]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Bush administration (43), Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, William E. Moschella, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Daschle
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Chart showing NSA surveillance network. [Source: NSA Watch] (click image to enlarge)The National Security Agency has built a far larger database of information collected from warrantless surveillance of telephone and Internet communications to and from US citizens than the NSA or the Bush administration has acknowledged (see October 2001). On December 15, the New York Times exposed the NSA’s program (see December 15, 2005), which was authorized by President Bush in early 2002 (see Early 2002), but which actually began far earlier (see Spring 2001). The NSA built its database with the cooperation of several major American telecommunications firms (see June 26, 2006), and much of the information was mined directly into the US telecommunications system’s major connections. Many law enforcement and judicial officials question the legality of the program (see May 12, 2006 and December 18, 2005), and many say the program goes beyond the bounds of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). One question is whether the FISA Court, or FISC, can authorize monitoring of international communications that pass through US-based telephonic “switches,” which handle much of the US’s electronic communications traffic. “There was a lot of discussion about the switches” in conversations with FISC, says a Justice Department official. “You’re talking about access to such a vast amount of communications, and the question was, How do you minimize something that’s on a switch that’s carrying such large volumes of traffic? The court was very, very concerned about that.” While Bush and his officials have insisted that the warrantless wiretaps only target people with known links to al-Qaeda, they have not acknowledged that NSA technicials have not only eavesdropped on specific conversations between people with no known links to terrorism, but have combed through huge numbers of electronic communications in search of “patterns” that might point to terrorism suspects. Such “pattern analysis” usually requires court warrants before surveillance can begin, but in many cases, no such warrants have been obtained or even requested. Other, similar data-mining operations, such as the Total Information Awareness program, developed by the Defense Department to track terror suspects (see March 2002), and the Department of Homeland Security’s CAPPS program, which screened airline passengers (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001), were subjected to intense public scrutiny and outrage, and were publicly scrapped. The Bush administration has insisted that it has no intention of scrapping the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, because, as its officials have said, it is necessary to identify and track terrorism suspects and foil terrorist plots before they can be hatched. Administration officials say that FISC is not quick enough to respond to its need to respond to potential terrorist acts. A former technology manager at a major telecommunications company says that after 9/11, the leading telecom firms have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists. “All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared with them, and since 9/11, there’s been much more active involvement in that area,” says the former manager. “If they get content, that’s useful to them too, but the real plum is going to be the transaction data and the traffic analysis. Massive amounts of traffic analysis information—who is calling whom, who is in Osama Bin Laden’s circle of family and friends—is used to identify lines of communication that are then given closer scrutiny.” And, according to a government expert on communications privacy who used to work at the NSA, says that in the last few years, the government has quietly encouraged the telecom firms to rout more international traffic through its US-based switches so it can be monitored. Such traffic is not fully addressed by 1970s-era laws that were written before the onset of modern communications technology; neither does FISA adequately address the issues surrounding that technology. Computer engineer Phil Karn, who works for a major West Coast telecom firm, says access to those switches is critical: “If the government is gaining access to the switches like this, what you’re really talking about is the capability of an enormous vacuum operation to sweep up data.” [New York Times, 12/24/2005]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of Justice, Total Information Awareness, New York Times, US Department of Homeland Security, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, Bush administration (43), Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, George W. Bush, National Security Agency, Phil Karn
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Justice Department opens an investigation into the leak of classified information about the Bush domestic surveillance program. The investigation focuses on disclosures to the New York Times about the secret warrantless wiretapping program conducted by the National Security Agency since shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002). The White House claims that the Justice Department initiated the investigation on its own after receiving a request from the NSA, and that it was not even informed of the investigation until the decision had already been made. But White House spokesman Trent Duffy hails the investigation, and implicitly accuses the Times of aiding and abetting terrorists by printing its stories. “The leaking of classified information is a serious issue,” Duffy says. “The fact is that al-Qaeda’s playbook is not printed on Page One, and when America’s is, it has serious ramifications.” [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] President Bush fuels the attack on the Times when he says, “The fact that we’re discussing this program is helping the enemy.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Many outside of the administration have accused the wiretapping program, which functions without external oversight or court warrants, of being illegal, and Bush of breaking the law by authorizing it. Administration officials insist that Bush has the power to make such a decision, both under the Constitution’s war powers provision and under the post-9/11 Congressional authorization to use military force against terrorism, even though, as former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recalls, Congress explicitly refused to give Bush the authority to take military action inside the US itself (see December 21-22, 2005). And, in a recent letter to the chairs of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, the White House claimed that the nation’s security needs outweigh the needs of the citizenry to be secure from secret government surveillance. [Associated Press, 12/30/2005] Others disagree. The American Civil Liberties Union’s Anthony Romero says, “President Bush broke the law and lied to the American people when he unilaterally authorized secret wiretaps of US citizens. But rather than focus on this constitutional crisis, Attorney General [Alberto] Gonzales is cracking down on critics of his friend and boss. Our nation is strengthened, not weakened, by those whistle-blowers who are courageous enough to speak out on violations of the law.” And Marc Rotenberg, the executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the NSA should be the focus of an investigation to determine if it broke federal surveillance laws. Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project suggests a middle course. His group does not object to a limited investigation into the leak of classified information, but, he says, if the administration does “a blanket witch hunt, which I fear, it would trample all over good government laws” designed to protect government workers who expose wrongdoing. “The whole reason we have whistle-blower laws is so that government workers can act as the public’s eyes and ears to expose illegality or abuse of power.” [New York Times, 12/30/2005] Ultimately, this leak investigation may not achieve much, according to law professor Carl Tobias. “It doesn’t seem to me that this leak investigation will take on the importance of the Plame case,” Tobias says. “The bigger story here is still the one about domestic spying and whether the president intends, as he said, to continue doing it.” [Washington Post, 12/31/2005]
Entity Tags: Anthony D. Romero, Tom Devine, Trent Duffy, American Civil Liberties Union, Al-Qaeda, Tom Daschle, Senate Intelligence Committee, US Department of Justice, National Security Agency, Carl Tobias, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Alberto R. Gonzales, New York Times, Government Accountability Project, George W. Bush, Marc Rotenberg, House Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush’s rationale for authorizing warrantless surveillance against US citizens is of questionable legality and “may represent an exercise of presidential power at its lowest ebb,” according to a Congressional analysis. The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the independent and nonpartisan research bureau of the legislature, answers the question raised around the nation since the revelation of the secret program by the New York Times (see Early 2002): did Bush break the law when he ordered the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on US citizens without court orders or judicial oversight? The CRS report does not give a definitive yes or no answer to that question, but finds Bush’s legal rationale dubious at best. That rationale “does not seem to be as well-grounded” as administration lawyers have claimed, and the report finds that, despite assertions to the contrary by Bush and administration officials, Congress did not authorize warrantless wiretaps when it gave the executive branch the authority to wage war against al-Qaeda in the days after the 9/11 attacks. Unsurprisingly, Bush administration officials criticize the report. But some Republicans and Democrats find the report’s conclusions persuasive, and hold up the report as further evidence that Bush overextended his authority by authorizing the wiretaps. For instance, Republican Thomas Kean, the former chairman of the 9/11 commission (see January 27, 2003, says he doubts the program’s legality. Kean, who has not spoken publicly about the program until now, says the 9/11 commission was never told about the program, and he strongly doubts its legality. “We live by a system of checks and balances, and I think we ought to continue to live by a system of checks and balances,” Kean says. [Congressional Research Service, 1/5/2006 ; New York Times, 1/6/2006]
James Risen. [Source: Publicity photo]The New York Times published reporter James Risen’s December account of NSA domestic wiretapping (see December 15, 2005) without having seen the manuscript of his book on the subject, the media learns. Many observers on the right, most notably Matt Drudge, have accused Risen, who wrote the article with fellow Times reporter Eric Lichtblau, and the Times of printing the article to coincide with the publication of Risen’s book State of War. On the left, critics have blasted the Times for sitting on the story for a year in apparent deference to the Bush administration. The truth is somewhere in the middle, according to numerous informed sources. While the Times did sit on the piece for a year in part because Bush officials did not want the story to run (see December 6, 2005), when Times editors finally approved its publication, they were unsure whether or not Risen’s book manuscript contained the wiretapping story. The editors did not see the manuscript until December 27, a week before it appeared on the shelves. One of the first reviewers of the book, author and national security expert James Bamford, writes, “Among the unanswered questions concerning the domestic spying story is why, if Mr. Risen and The Times had first come upon the explosive information a year earlier, the paper waited until just a few weeks before the release of the book to inform its readers.” It seems that part of the reason is the long, internal disagreement between Risen and the Times over ownership of the book’s contents; internal sources at the Times say that without Risen’s book being published, it is likely that the editors would not have published the article as soon as they did. [New York Observer, 1/19/2006]
A New York Times investigation along the Afghan-Pakistan border finds not-so-hidden evidence of continued Pakistani support for the growing Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. Pakistan’s intelligence agencies are said to be using a network of religious political parties to attract and then pressure young men into joining the jihad in Afghanistan or in Kashmir. The agencies are believed to be preparing for the day when NATO troops leave the country and hope to re-install a pro-Pakistan government in Kabul. [New York Times, 1/21/2006]
In an interview with PBS’s Gwen Ifill, Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says she supports the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see Spring 2001), a position that places her at odds with most Congressional Democrats. “Well, I said then and I say now that I support the program,” she tells Ifill. Harman is critical of the insider leaks that led to the public divulgance of the program (see December 15, 2005), saying, “Well, I think the leaks have done a lot of damage, and I deplore the leaks of this critical program.” She goes on to complain that the administration “says it adequately oversees this program,” but “the system of checks and balances that we have… requires that Congress as an independent branch of government pass the laws, fund the programs, and oversee how all that works.” In addition to requesting greater cooperation on oversight with Congress, she adds that “the courts need to be cut back in,” and thinks the “entire program” should be brought under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [PBS, 2/8/2006] Four days later, Harman reiterates her position on NBC’s Meet the Press. She tells moderator Tim Russert, “If the press was part of the process of delivering classified information, there have to be some limits on press immunity.” Russert asks, “But if [the NSA leak] came from a whistleblower, should the New York Times reporter be prosecuted?” Harman answers: “Well, it’s not clear it was a whistleblower. You have to prove that first. If it’s protected by the whistleblower statute, then it’s protected.… By the way, I deplore that leak. This is a very valuable foreign [intelligence] collection program. I think it is tragic that a lot of our capabilities are now [spread] across the pages of the newspapers.” [MSNBC, 2/12/2006; NewsMax, 2/12/2006]
Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group about his knowledge of governmental illegality in eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see Early January 2006), is concerned that the New York Times will not publish a story featuring his allegations and evidence against AT&T and the National Security Agency (NSA). Klein was “outed” by Los Angeles Times editor Dean Baquet to the US intelligence apparatus after Klein approached a Los Angeles Times reporter about his story, and Klein is concerned that he lacks the protection that publicity would afford him (see February 11, 2006 and After). New York Times reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau fail to contact Klein for weeks during this time period, leaving Klein to wonder if the New York Times, like the Los Angeles Times before it, will fail to publish his story. Klein emails Risen and Lichtblau his full set of AT&T documents proving his allegations in mid-February (see December 31, 2005). Meanwhile, he sends emails containing selected documents to a number of Congressional members. Only one, House Representative Pete Stark (D-CA), responds, promising that he will present Klein’s information to the House Judiciary Committee, but, as Klein will write, “I never heard anything from the Judiciary Committee, or any other committee for that matter.” [PBS Frontline, 5/15/2007; Klein, 2009, pp. 63]
Entity Tags: James Risen, Dean Baquet, AT&T, Eric Lichtblau, House Judiciary Committee, Los Angeles Times, Mark Klein, New York Times, National Security Agency, Fortney Hillman (“Pete”) Stark, Jr
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Several news organizations are subpoenaed by the Lewis Libby defense team (see February 27, 2006). The New York Times, NBC News, and Time magazine all say they have been subpoenaed for documents and records pertaining to Libby’s involvement in the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak. The Washington Post says it expects a subpoena as well. Libby’s lawyers want to use reporters to prove that Libby did not intentionally lie to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and to a grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) about disclosing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Instead, they intend to argue that Libby failed to remember important details about his conversations with reporters regarding Plame Wilson’s identity. The New York Times acknowledges that it has been asked to provide notes, e-mail messages, draft news articles, and all other documents that refer to Plame Wilson before July 14, 2003, when her identity was made public (see July 14, 2003), and information regarding its columnist Nicholas Kristof, who wrote an article featuring Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson (see May 6, 2003). Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis says the newspaper has not yet decided whether to comply with the subpoena. She says former Times reporter Judith Miller has received a separate subpoena (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). NBC’s Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003) and Time’s Matt Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) have also been subpoenaed. The Post anticipates receiving a subpoena for its managing editor Bob Woodward (see November 14, 2005 and November 16-17, 2005). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/14/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/14/2006 ; Reuters, 3/16/2006; New York Times, 3/16/2006] Robert Bennett, a lawyer for Miller, says she will most likely fight the subpoena. “It’s entirely too broad,” he says. “It’s highly likely we’ll be filing something with the court.” [New York Times, 3/16/2006]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Judith Miller, Catherine Mathis, Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, Joseph C. Wilson, New York Times, NBC News, Matthew Cooper, Nicholas Kristof, Robert T. Bennett, Time magazine
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The Justice Department demands that it be allowed to review evidence obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) from retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see February 23-28, 2006). The EFF is preparing to submit the evidence under regular court seal to presiding Judge Vaughn Walker. Neither the Justice Department nor any other government agency is a named defendant in the EFF’s lawsuit against AT&T for its allegedly illegal behavior in working with the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct warrantless surveillance against American citizens (see January 31, 2006). Even so, lawyers from the Justice Department say they want to see if Klein’s documentation contains classified information (it does not—see Late 2003), and if so, they intend to place Klein’s documentation into a “sensitive compartmented information facility,” which would mean it would not be kept at the courthouse but in the possession of government agents at a secure location. Such classification would make the legal proceedings more difficult for both Judge Walker and the EFF lawyers. However, the request piques the interest of the national media, and reporters begin “flooding” Klein and the EFF with requests for information and interviews. [Klein, 2009, pp. 65-66] Ironically, two news outlets, the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, have all but shunned Klein before now (see February 11, 2006 and After and Mid-February - Late March, 2006). On April 4, after perusing the documents, the government lawyers return them to Walker with approval from senior Justice Department lawyer Anthony J. Coppolino to file them under ordinary court seal. Klein will later write that Coppolino’s acquiescence will undermine the government’s later efforts to have the lawsuit dismissed under the “state secrets” provision (see Late May, 2006). [Klein, 2009, pp. 66] In June 2007, the online technical news site Wired News will publish the documents after they are released by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (see June 13, 2007) under the headline “AT&T ‘Spy Room’ Documents Unsealed; You’ve Already Seen Them.” Wired previously published them in May 2006 (see May 17, 2006), and PBS’s Frontline also published them as part of a televised documentary on Klein and the eavesdropping program. [Wired News, 6/13/2007]
A map drawn by one of the defectors, showing his version of the Salman Pak facility. [Source: PBS]The story told by three Iraqi defectors in November 2001, of a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, has long been disproven (November 6-8, 2001) and one defector has been shown to have pretended to be former Iraqi general Jamal al-Ghurairy, the key source for the story. But only now are the news reporters and pundits beginning to acknowledge—however grudgingly—that they were duped, and that their credulous reportings helped cement the Bush administration’s fabricated case for invading Iraq. The story was one of at least 108 planted in the US and British press by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) between October 2001 and May 2002, a number audaciously provided by the INC itself in its attempts to persuade Congress to continue its funding (see June 26, 2002). The New York Times eventually admitted some faults with its prewar reporting, but only admitted that its coverage of the Salman Pak story had “never been independently verified.” PBS, similarly gulled by the defectors and their fraudulent claims (see
October 2005), amended its Frontline Web site for its “Gunning for Saddam” story, which featured interviews with the defectors, to note that the defector’s claims have “not been substantiated,” and later will admit to the likelihood that its reporter, Christopher Buchanan, was duped. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges now says he took the word of producer Lowell Bergman as to the validity of the defector, and was further convinced by one of the defector’s military appearance. As for Bergman, Hedges says, “There has to be a level of trust between reporters. We cover each other’s sources when it’s a good story because otherwise everyone would get hold of it.” Hedges admits he was not aware at the time of how close Bergman, and other Times reporters such as Judith Miller, was to INC head Ahmed Chalabi. “I was on the periphery of all this. This was Bergman’s show.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] In 2004, Hedges noted that he attempted to get confirmation from the US government about the defectors and their story, and government officials confirmed the claims: “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said ‘these guys are full of sh*t.’” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] Hedges says he later rejected an attempt by Chalabi to convince him that UN inspectors were spying for Saddam Hussein. He also says that he never believed the stories placing 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague (see April 8, 2001). He no longer trusts Chalabi as a source of information: “He’s a sleazy guy who I was not comfortable working around, but there was nothing right after 9/11 to indicate he was an outright liar.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges notes that Chalabi seemed to have an “endless stable” of defectors to talk with reporters. “He had defectors for any story you wanted. He tried to introduce me to this guy who said he knew about Iraqi spies on the UN inspection teams: the guy was a thug. I didn’t trust either of them.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] However, none of this uncertainty made it into Hedges’s Times report. Bergman says, “You’ve got to remember that back then there really was only one show in town, and that was Chalabi’s. If you were doing a story on Saddam’s Iraq, you would speak to the Iraqi government, the White House, and the INC.” Bergman tried to confirm the al-Ghurairy story with former CIA director and prominent neoconservative James Woolsey, and Woolsey told him that “al-Ghurairy” had met with the FBI in Ankara. (At the time, Woolsey was hardly a neutral source since it was already reported that he was aggressively trying to drum up connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see Late September 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001).) “Chalabi was dangerous goods in the sense you know he’s advocating war” Bergman recalls. “But that label is up-front. I think Chalabi is given too much credit for influencing the march to war.” Many conservative pundits still cite the al-Ghurairy tale as justification for the Iraq invasion. And the White House still lists “shutting down the Salman Pak training camp where members of many terrorist camps trained” in its “Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism” Web page. In 2004, Chalabi boasted, “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants. We are heroes in error.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Entity Tags: Jamal al-Ghurairy, Chris Hedges, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, Christopher Buchanan, Saddam Hussein, Mohamed Atta, New York Times, Public Broadcasting System, Lowell Bergman, Judith Miller, James Woolsey
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The New York Times publishes its first report on the allegations by former AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who is providing evidence and documentation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for that organization’s lawsuit against AT&T (see December 31, 2005 and January 31, 2006). The three-paragraph squib, buried deep in the pages of the “A” section, says that AT&T “cooperated with the National Security Agency in 2003 to install equipment capable of ‘vacuum-cleaner surveillance’ of email messages and other Internet traffic.” The report is based in part on a recent press release issued by Klein (see April 6, 2006), and notes the EFF lawsuit in passing. It admits that Klein has provided some of the documentation to the press, if not to the Times itself (see Mid-February - Late March, 2006), but simply writes that Klein’s documents “describe a room at the AT&T Internet and telephone hub in San Francisco that contained a piece of equipment that could sift through large volumes of Internet traffic.” Klein later calls the brevity and incompleteness of the report “puzzling,” and will say, “Their only purpose seemed to be to signal the government that I had ‘provided’ the New York Times with the documents, while minimizing the story for everyone else.” Klein will speculate, “It looked like some kind of backroom brawl was going on, but the public could not know the details.” [New York Times, 4/7/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 70] A week later, the Times will publish a more in-depth article (see April 12, 2006).
The New York Times does a more in-depth report on the allegations advanced by former AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), who is providing evidence and documentation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) for that organization’s lawsuit against AT&T (see December 31, 2005 and January 31, 2006). The Times published a far briefer report five days earlier (see April 7, 2006). The article provides a brief synopsis of Klein’s allegations—that AT&T worked with the National Security Agency (NSA) to illegally monitor and record millions of Americans’ telephone and Internet communications and thus illegally invaded its customers’ privacy. It also notes, as did the first article, that Klein had provided some of his documentation “to reporters,” though neither article admits that the Times received the documents months beforehand (see Mid-February - Late March, 2006). The new information in the article is the conclusion of “four independent telecommunications and computer security experts” who examined Klein’s documents “at the request of The New York Times.” According to the four experts, the documents “describe equipment capable of monitoring a large quantity of email messages, Internet phone calls, and other Internet traffic. The equipment… was able to select messages that could be identified by keywords, Internet or email addresses, or country of origin and divert copies to another location for further analysis.” All four experts agreed that the documents proved “AT&T had an agreement with the federal government to systematically gather information flowing on the Internet through the company’s network. The gathering of such information, known as data mining, involves the use of sophisticated computer programs to detect patterns or glean useful intelligence from masses of information.” Brian Reid, the director of engineering at the Internet Systems Consortium, says of the AT&T/NSA project: “This took expert planning and hundreds of millions of dollars to build. This is the correct way to do high volume Internet snooping.” An expert who refuses to be named says the documents are “consistent” with Bush administration claims that the NSA only monitored foreign communications and communications between foreign and US locations, in part because of the location of the monitoring sites. (An expert witness, former AT&T and FCC employee J. Scott Marcus, has given testimony for EFF that flatly contradicts this expert’s assertions—see March 29, 2006). The article notes the Justice Department’s objections to Klein’s documents being filed with the court in the EFF lawsuit, and notes that the department withdrew its objections (see Late March - April 4, 2006). It also notes AT&T’s request for the court to order the EFF to return the documents because they are, the firm claimed, “proprietary” (see April 6-8, 2006). AT&T spokesman Walt Sharp says of Klein and the EFF lawsuit: “AT&T does follow all laws with respect to assistance offered to government agencies. However, we are not in a position to comment on matters of national security.” NSA spokesman Don Weber makes a similar statement: “It would be irresponsible of us to discuss actual or alleged operational issues as it would give those wishing to do harm to the United States the ability to adjust and potentially inflict harm.” [New York Times, 4/12/2006] Klein will write of the story, “Finally it was out there in a major newspaper, though I noticed that the New York Times did not show any images of the actual documents, and never called me back for an in-depth followup story.” [Klein, 2009, pp. 71]
Entity Tags: J. Scott Marcus, Brian Reid, AT&T, Bush administration (43), Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Security Agency, Walter Sharp, Mark Klein, Don Weber, New York Times, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
After several of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s former generals go public with devastating critiques of Rumsfeld’s strategies and planning in Iraq in what comes to be nicknamed the “Generals’ Revolt,” Rumsfeld determines to use the Pentagon’s “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to counter the storm of negative publicity. He has his aides summon a clutch of analysts for a briefing with him (see April 18, 2006); his office reminds one aide that “the boss” wants the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.” Pentagon officials help two Fox analysts, former generals Thomas McInerney and Paul Vallely, write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal entitled “In Defense of Donald Rumsfeld.” Vallely sends an e-mail to the Pentagon, “Starting to write it now,” and soon thereafter adds, “Any input for the article will be much appreciated.” Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwards Vallely a list of talking points and specifics. Shortly thereafter, a Pentagon official reports, “Vallely is going to use the numbers.” But on April 16, the New York Times, which has learned of the plan, publishes a front-page story about it, sending Pentagon officials into damage-control mode. They describe the session with McInerney and Vallely as “routine,” and issue internal directives to keep communications with analysts “very formal.” One official warns subordinates, “This is very, very sensitive now.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008; Washington Post, 4/21/2008]
The New York Times prints a brief editorial in response to its article about AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein and his allegations that the company is colluding with the NSA to illegally wiretap Americans’ communications and compromise their privacy (see April 12, 2006). The editorial recommends: “If AT&T is violating its customers’ privacy rights, it should come clean and stop immediately.… AT&T has a reason to worry if it is participating in illegal domestic spying. In the age of unfettered communication, no company should want to get a reputation for allowing the government to listen in on its customers’ phone calls, read their e-mail, and monitor their Web activity without the requisite legal showing.” [New York Times, 4/17/2006]
Lawyers for NBC News, the New York Times, Time magazine, and Time reporter Matt Cooper file motions to quash the Lewis Libby defense team’s subpoenas (see March 14, 2006). Lawyers for the Times argue that the newspaper “has a substantial First Amendment interest, and common law qualified privilege against compelled production of unpublished information of the kind sought by Libby.” Time magazine notes Libby’s argument that since he believed Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity was well known within the Washington press corps, he needs to show that her employment was discussed by reporters in June and July 2003, when he was meeting with reporters. Time says that the Libby argument should not allow his lawyers to conduct a broad search for potentially helpful evidence. “Although Mr. Libby has claimed a right to know what information the press corps in general possessed concerning Mrs. Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA, under that theory he would be entitled to subpoena all reporters in Washington to learn what they knew, and when they knew it,” Time argues in its motion. “There is no stopping point to this approach.” Other lawyers for the news organizations call the Libby subpoenas “fishing expeditions.” NBC News argues that it has no documents that show that any network employee, including reporters Andrea Mitchell and Tim Russert, knew that Plame Wilson was employed by the CIA before her public exposure (see July 14, 2003). Through his lawyers, Cooper argues that the subpoena from Libby is “materially the same as the subpoena issued to Time Inc.” by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, and is “overbroad, unreasonable, and burdensome… and seeks information protected by the reporter’s privilege that exists under the First Amendment.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 4/18/2006 ; New York Times, 4/19/2006; Washington Post, 4/19/2006]
Progressive columnist, author, and blogger Arianna Huffington writes that the recent motions by the New York Times, Time magazine, and other news organizations to quash subpoenas issued by the Lewis Libby defense team (see April 18, 2006) raise more questions than the organizations may be willing to answer. Huffington says that lawyers for the New York Times and its reporter Judith Miller are correct in calling Libby’s subpoenas a “fishing expedition” and accusing the lawyers of casting an overly “wide net.” However, the Times motion, in conjunction with the original Libby subpoena (see March 14, 2006), reveals that Libby’s lawyers want to know more about the situation surrounding Miller’s July 2003 conversation with Libby, in which he divulged classified information to her in order to influence her reporting on Iraq (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). Specifically, Libby’s lawyers, as well as Huffington and others, want to know if Miller proposed writing a story based on Libby’s disclosures. As Huffington writes: “If she did pitch the story, which Times editor did she pitch it to? What was their reaction? Why did no story result? Had the editors become so suspect of Miller’s sources and reporting that they refused to sign off on the story? Was she officially barred from writing about Iraq/WMD?” Huffington observes that it is obvious the Libby team intends to impugn Miller’s integrity as a journalist, and writes that such a defense tactic “mak[es] it all the more important for the paper to stop operating behind a veil of secrecy when it comes to Miller.” Huffington also notes that Miller has spoken to Times in-house lawyer George Freeman and to Vanity Fair reporter Marie Brenner about Valerie Plame Wilson; Brenner wrote an article saying that Miller had talked to numerous government officials about Plame Wilson’s identity both before and after her outing by columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). [Huffington Post, 4/20/2006] Lawyer Jeralyn Merritt, writing for the progressive legal blog TalkLeft, notes that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is likely very interested in determining which government officials Miller may have spoken to about Plame Wilson, but goes on to write that Miller may have already disclosed that information to Fitzgerald. [Jeralyn Merritt, 4/20/2006]
Entity Tags: New York Times, Jeralyn Merritt, George Freeman, Arianna Huffington, Judith Miller, Marie Brenner, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Time magazine, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Lewis Libby’s defense team files a motion to compel the testimonies of several reporters and news organizations whom it has already subpoenaed (see March 14, 2006). The New York Times, NBC News, Time magazine, and reporters Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, and Andrea Mitchell have already filed motions to quash the Libby subpoenas (see April 18, 2006). Libby’s lawyers argue that the subpoenas are legal and just, and Libby has a right to compel the subpoenaed testimonies. According to the lawyers’ brief, reporters have “no right—under the Constitution or the common law—to deprive Mr. Libby of evidence that will help establish his innocence at trial.” In return, lawyers for the various press outlets say that Libby’s subpoenas are so broad that they threaten the integrity of their news gathering operations by targeting all of their employees, not just the three reporters involved in the case. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/1/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/1/2006 ; Associated Press, 5/2/2006] Author and blogger Marcy Wheeler writes that while the Libby team’s arguments about Cooper and Mitchell are strong, the arguments in regards to Miller are something else entirely. Wheeler accuses Libby, through his lawyers, of “totally mischaracterizing the nature of the lie he is accused of telling to” Miller during their meetings (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). She says that in her view, Miller repeatedly hedged her grand jury testimony (see September 30, 2005 and October 12, 2005) to “protect Libby,” but now Libby is using those hedges “to impugn Judy as a witness.” [Marcy Wheeler, 5/2/2006] Author Jane Hamsher and former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, note with some amusement that the Libby lawyers are relying on a new word: “misrecollected,” as in “whether it is Mr. Libby or the reporters who have misstated or misrecollected the facts,” or “it is Mr. Russert who has misrecollected or misstated the facts.” Hamsher and Smith write: “It’s being employed here for the purpose of avoiding an explicit discussion of what they’re really talking about, commingling under its broad tent two distinct activities: the act of remembering an event but failing to recall certain details, which would also be known as ‘forgetting,’ and the act of remembering things that never actually happened, which would be in effect ‘fabricating.’ They seem to be describing the latter while hoping for the more innocent overtones of the former.” [FireDogLake, 5/2/2006]
At a pretrial hearing on a motion to quash the Libby defense team’s subpoenas of journalists and media organizations (see May 8, 2006), lawyers for the New York Times, Time magazine, and NBC News agree to turn over notes, memos, and documents pertaining to their journalists’ involvement in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. The Washington Post and CNN have already turned over materials requested by the defense. During the hearing, Lewis Libby’s lawyers indicate that their trial strategy will be to attack the credibility of those journalists, and claim that it was the journalists, not Libby, who lied to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigators and the FBI. “I do respect the important role that the press plays in our society but want to give Mr. Libby the information he needs for a fair trial,” Judge Reggie Walton says during the hearing. Robert Bennett, the lawyer representing former Times reporter Judith Miller, says during the hearing that the defense’s efforts amount to nothing more than “a massive fishing expedition.” He adds, “They just want to romp through her records,” and argues that Libby’s lawyers already have all the relevant information, since Miller has already provided some information from her notebooks. “The only thing that has not been produced are things that they are not entitled to” under federal rules of evidence, such as “records of people unrelated to the case and other sources about other subjects. They have everything relevant to this case,” Bennett says. For their side, Libby’s lawyers argue that Libby’s right to a fair trial outweighs any considerations that might be given to journalists’ right to protect their sources. One of Libby’s lawyers, William Jeffress, says his job isn’t to prove anything from either the reporters’ statements or his client’s, but merely to raise “reasonable doubt” in the minds of jurors. In the days after the hearing, Walton looks over notes, drafts, and records from those journalists turned over to him by the Times, Time magazine, and NBC News, in order to find any information related to Libby’s perjury and obstruction case. Walton orders Time to turn over drafts of reporter Matthew Cooper’s first-person account of his grand jury testimony (see May 26, 2006). [Associated Press, 5/13/2006; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 5/17/2006; Washington Post, 5/17/2006; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 11/19/2009]
Entity Tags: NBC News, Judith Miller, CNN, Matthew Cooper, William Jeffress, Robert T. Bennett, Time magazine, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, New York Times, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Reggie B. Walton, Washington Post
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales says that the government has the right to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information. “There are some statutes on the book which, if you read the language carefully, would seem to indicate that that is a possibility,” he says during an ABC News interview. “That’s a policy judgment by the Congress in passing that kind of legislation. We have an obligation to enforce those laws. We have an obligation to ensure that our national security is protected.” Asked if he is considering prosecuting the New York Times for revealing the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005), Gonzales says the Justice Department is trying to determine “the appropriate course of action in that particular case.” He continues: “I’m not going to talk about it specifically. We have an obligation to enforce the law and to prosecute those who engage in criminal activity.” Experts believe that Gonzales is probably referring to the 1917 Espionage Act, which prohibits government officials from passing classified information to anyone without proper clearance; those same experts say that the Espionage Act was never intended to apply to the press. Furthermore, journalists are protected from such prosecution by the First Amendment. Gonzales says that while the Bush administration respects the right of freedom of the press, “it can’t be the case that that right trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity.” [New York Times, 5/22/2006] Thirty years ago, then-White House chief of staff Dick Cheney recommended such prosecution against a journalist who revealed the existence of a Cold War-era submarine program (see May 25, 1975). In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will write that in 1975, the attorney general had scuttled the idea. Now, the attorney general is embracing the idea. [Savage, 2007, pp. 175-176]
Judge Reggie Walton orders the Lewis Libby defense team’s subpoena for former New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s notes and documents to be quashed (see May 16, 2006 and After), a ruling that the Washington Post terms “the latest in a string of court defeats for media efforts to shield news-gathering activities from the legal process.” “The First Amendment does not protect news reporters or news organizations from producing documents when the news reporters are themselves critical to both the indictment and prosecution of criminal activity,” Walton writes. But, he continues, “all other motions [referring to other journalists’ and news organizations’ attempts to quash similar subpoenas] are granted in part and denied in part.” Miller’s notes and records not already in evidence “are simply not relevant” to the case at hand, Walton rules, and chides the Libby defense lawyers for trying to seek unspecified evidence—in essence, demanding materials be turned over in the hopes of finding something useful. “This is not the proper role [such] subpoenas are intended to play in the criminal arena,” Walton writes. “Rather they may be used solely to secure specifically identified evidence for trial that is relevant and admissible.” He agrees with the quash motions that many of the defense’s subpoenas are “fishing expeditions.” Walton withholds final judgment on the relevance of some of the New York Times’s records, though he writes that he doubts the materials will ever prove relevant. He does not approve the subpoenas for records from NBC News and its reporter Andrea Mitchell. Walton does, however, order Time magazine to turn over some documents pertaining to an article written by its reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 13, 2005), saying that “a slight alteration” between information in the drafts could be relevant in Libby’s stated intention to paint Cooper as dishonest. [Bloomberg, 5/26/2006; Washington Post, 5/26/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/26/2009 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/26/2009 ]
At a campaign luncheon for Representative Scott Garrett (R-NJ), Vice President Dick Cheney lambasts the New York Times for reporting information that the administration wants kept secret. “Some in the press, in particular the New York Times, have made it harder to defend America against attack by insisting on publishing detailed information about vital national security programs,” he says. “First they reported the terrorist surveillance program (see March 2002), which monitors international communications when one end is outside the United States and one end is connected with or associated with al-Qaeda. Now the Times has disclosed the terrorist financial tracking program. On both occasions, the Times had been asked not to publish those stories by senior administration officials (see December 15, 2005). They went ahead anyway. The leaks to the New York Times and the publishing of those leaks is very damaging to our national security. The ability to intercept al-Qaeda communications and to track their sources of financing are essential if we’re going to successfully prosecute the global war on terror. Our capabilities in these areas help explain why we have been so successful in preventing further attacks like 9/11. And putting this information on the front page makes it more difficult for us to prevent future attacks. Publishing this highly classified information about our sources and methods for collecting intelligence will enable the terrorists to look for ways to defeat our efforts. These kinds of stories also adversely affect our relationships with people who work with us against the terrorists. In the future, they will be less likely to cooperate if they think the United States is incapable of keeping secrets.” [White House, 6/30/2006]
General John Abizaid testifies before the Senate Armed Forces Committee. [Source: Washington Note]General John Abizaid, the commander of US forces in the Middle East, tells the Senate Armed Services Committee that sectarian violence in Iraq, especially in and around Baghdad, has grown so severe that the nation may be on the brink of civil war. “A couple of days ago, I returned from the Middle East,” he says. “I’ve rarely seen it so unsettled or so volatile. There’s an obvious struggle in the region between moderates and extremists that touches every aspect of life.” He continues, “I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war.” The New York Times reports that “the tone of the testimony at the Armed Services Committee’s three-and-a-half-hour hearing was strikingly grimmer than the Pentagon’s previous assessments, which have sought to accentuate the positive even as officials acknowledged that Iraq’s government was struggling to assert authority and assure security amid a tide of violence.” [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
Harsh Criticism of Rumsfeld - Abizaid is joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and General Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld had initially refused to attend the hearing, but agreed to attend after Senate Democrats criticized his refusal. Neither Rumsfeld nor Pace contradict Abizaid’s assessments, though Rumsfeld emphasizes that the war must not be lost. Pace notes that while civil war is possible, he does not believe it is “probable,” and Abizaid says he is “optimistic that that slide [into civil war] can be prevented.” Some of the harshest criticism of Rumsfeld comes from committee member Hillary Clinton (D-NY), who tells him that he failed to send enough troops to Iraq in the 2003 invasion “to establish law and order,” he erred by disbanding the Iraqi army, he failed to plan adequately for the occupation phase, and he “underestimated the nature and strength of the insurgency, the sectarian violence, and the spread of Iranian influence.” Now, she says, “we hear a lot of happy talk and rosy scenarios, but because of the administration’s strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy. Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now?” Rumsfeld responds, “My goodness,” and then says: “First of all, it’s true, there is sectarian conflict in Iraq, and there is a loss of life. And it’s an unfortunate and tragic thing that that’s taking place. And it is true that there are people who are attempting to prevent that government from being successful. And they are the people who are blowing up buildings and killing innocent men, women and children, and taking off the heads of people on television. And the idea of their prevailing is unacceptable.” Clinton will call for Rumsfeld’s resignation later in the day (see August 3, 2006). [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
'Whack-a-Mole' - Because of the continued instability in Iraq, Abizaid says, there is little possibility that US troops will be able to return home in any significant numbers before at least the end of the year. Instead, he says, more US troops will be deployed in and around Baghdad to contain the worsening violence in the capital, and warns that the US will undoubtedly suffer serious casualties in that operation. Acknowledging the necessity for US soldiers to stay in Iraq for the immediate future, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) finds the military’s practice of moving those soldiers from one violence-ridden part of Iraq to another little more than playing a game of “whack-a-mole.” McCain says, “What I worry about is we’re playing a game of whack-a-mole here,” with insurgent activity popping up in places that troops have vacated. “Now we’re going to have to move troops into Baghdad from someplace else. It’s very disturbing.” McCain will wholeheartedly endorse the idea of a “surge” of more American troops into Iraq (see January 2007 and January 10, 2007). [New York Times, 8/4/2006; Washington Post, 8/4/2006]
Conservative pundits and columnists launch a new barrage of attacks and accusations against former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see July 6, 2003) and his wife, outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). The pundits use the recent revelation that former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage was apparently the first administration official to leak Plame Wilson’s name to the press (see August 22, 2006 and September 7, 2006). They claim that the new information proves that there was never a conspiracy to “out” Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003), but that her status as a covert CIA agent was revealed merely as a result of harmless gossip from Armitage, who is not considered a major part of the neoconservative axis of power within the White House. [Washington Post, 9/1/2006]
Blaming Armitage and the State Department - The Wall Street Journal blames Armitage for allowing the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation to go on while he remained mute, allowing “political opportunism and internal score-settling” to drive the investigation when it never should have taken off. “The White House, in short, was not engaged in any campaign to ‘out’ Ms. Plame [Wilson],” the editorial states. Since the prosecution of Lewis Libby for perjury and obstruction during the investigation is not likely to be dropped, the editorial concludes, President Bush should end it by pardoning Libby. [Wall Street Journal, 8/30/2006] The New York Sun also chastizes Armitage for standing silent “while the president’s critics sullied the good names of Messrs. Cheney, Libby, and Rove.” [National Review, 7/19/2004; New York Sun, 8/30/2006] A similar position is advocated by neoconservative John Podhoretz, writing for the New York Post, who also says that the Armitage revelation should result in special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald dropping all charges against Libby. [New York Post, 8/29/2006] Neoconservative Frank Gaffney, writing for the online political publication TownHall, accuses both Armitage and former Secretary of State Colin Powell, as well as other senior State Department officials, of being “disloyalists” who “wage[d] war” against the Bush administration “from behind enemy lines”—from his position in the State Department, essentially functioning as a saboteur for unnamed liberal interests, and to win ground the State Department lost in conflicts with the White House. Gaffney goes further, accusing other State Department officials of intentionally sabotaging US nuclear negotiation efforts with North Korea (see September 19-20, 2005 and July 15, 2006). He accuses Armitage of “destructive and disloyal behavior” and “appeasement” towards North Korea and other US opponents. [Town Hall (.com), 9/5/2006] San Francisco Chronicle writer Debra Saunders calls the entire affair nothing more than “gossip,” and notes that an admission by White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove that he confirmed Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 10, 2005 and October 14, 2005) is virtually meaningless. The only “abuse of power” that has come to light during the investigation, Saunders opines, is the investigation itself. [Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 9/6/2006]
Libby 'Exonerated' by Armitage Admission - The New Hampshire Union Leader calls the investigation a “non-issue” promulgated by “conspiracy nuts” now proven wrong by the Armitage admission. [New Hampshire Union Leader, 8/30/2006] Syndicated columnist Linda Chavez says the “exculpatory” Armitage revelation exonerates Libby, and calls his prosecution “malicious” and unwarranted. [Creators Syndicate, 8/30/2006]
Wilson, 'Leftists' to Blame - Slate’s Christopher Hitchens goes further, attacking the “Joseph Wilson fantasy” that Iraq had not attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002), calling the idea that the White House deliberately attempted to smear Wilson’s character a “paranoid fantasy” (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006), and concluding that the entire Plame Wilson imbroglio was the result of a “venom[ous] interdepartmental rivalry” between Armitage’s State Department and the White House, blown entirely out of proportion by liberal critics of the Bush administration. [Slate, 8/29/2006] A National Review editorial blames the New York Times editorial board and “shrieking” “leftist adversaries” of the Bush administration for the investigation, and, like Chavez and others, calls for the immediate end of the Libby prosecution. [National Review, 8/30/2006] The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes compiles a “rogues list” of “the Plamegate Hall of Shame,” including Armitage, his former boss Colin Powell, Patrick Fitzgerald, the Justice Department, Joseph Wilson, and the media. “So instead of Cheney or Rove or Libby,” Barnes writes, “the perennial targets of media wrath, the Plamegate Hall of Shame consists of favorites of the Washington elite and the mainstream press.” And like the others, Barnes calls on Fitzgerald to immediately terminate his investigation as well as his prosecution of Libby. [Weekly Standard, 9/2/2006] And the Washington Times’s editor in chief Wesley Pruden rounds off the attacks, rather ghoulishly predicting that the next time Plame Wilson will be mentioned in the press is when “a nice obituary in the Washington and New York newspapers and a few lines of a telegraph dispatch on a page with the truss ads in Topeka” is printed. He calls Plame Wilson, who headed the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq (see April 2001 and After), “the queen of the clipping scissors and pastepots at the CIA” (see September 29, 2003), and calls the leak investigation a “fraud.” [Washington Times, 9/5/2006]
Picked Up by Mainstream Media - Many in the mainstream media echo the new line of attack, with the Washington Post’s editorial board joining the other editorials and columnists in demanding that the Libby prosecution be immediately terminated. Echoing a Wall Street Journal guest editorial from almost a year before (see November 3, 2005), the Post editorial claims that because Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, went public with his knowledge of the Bush administration’s false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), he is ultimately responsible for outing his wife. The Post writes: “Mr. Wilson chose to go public with an explosive charge, claiming—falsely, as it turned out—that he had debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger and that his report had circulated to senior administration officials. He ought to have expected that both those officials and journalists such as Mr. Novak would ask why a retired ambassador would have been sent on such a mission and that the answer would point to his wife. He diverted responsibility from himself and his false charges by claiming that President Bush’s closest aides had engaged in an illegal conspiracy. It’s unfortunate that so many people took him seriously.” The allegation that Wilson had “falsely… debunked reports of Iraqi uranium-shopping in Niger” is itself false, as Wilson’s report further proved that no such deals ever took place (see March 4-5, 2002, (March 6, 2002) and March 8, 2002). [Washington Post, 9/1/2006] The New York Times’s conservative columnist, David Brooks, joins in the attacks, calling the exposure of Plame Wilson a “piffle” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006) blown out of proportion by a group of Congressional Democrats and the 2004 presidential campaign of John Kerry. Like the others, he blames Armitage for “keep[ing] quiet while your comrades are being put through the ringer [sic].” [New York Times, 8/31/2006] Days later, the Post’s David Broder writes that Karl Rove, one of the White House officials who outed Plame (see July 8, 2003 and 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), had been treated badly by reporters and pundits, and deserved a round of apologies. [Washington Post, 9/7/2006]
'Marvel of Wingnut Logic' - Author Jane Hamsher, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, hammers the Post editorial and its presumed author, op-ed editor Fred Hiatt, writing with some apparent outrage: “[T]o argue that somehow this [Armitage] leak—which played no part in the concerted administration effort to bully, intimidate, and punish Joe Wilson—should somehow excuse Scooter Libby and Karl Rove’s subsequent actions is a true marvel of wingnut logic. Incredibly it is somehow okay to rob the liquor store, shoot the owner, rape the cashier, and spatter the walls with blood because someone else was caught shoplifting there the week before. It is the Sistine Chapel of bad faith editorials.” [Jane Hamsher, 9/1/2006]
Comparisons to Soviet Propaganda - Plame Wilson herself is “furious” at reading the Post editorial and other, similar writings. In her 2007 book Fair Game, she will write, “I suddenly understood what it must have felt like to live in the Soviet Union and have only the state propaganda entity, Pravda, as the source of news about the world.” Plame Wilson calls the allegations that her husband is responsible for outing her “flatly untrue,” and shows the writers’ “ignorance about how our clandestine service functions.” She notes that the FBI had known of the Armitage leak since October 2003, and that since “the FBI didn’t shut down the investigation” this indicated “they had good reason to believe that Libby and Rove were lying to them.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 257-260]
Entity Tags: Fred Hiatt, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Christopher Hitchens, Valerie Plame Wilson, Colin Powell, Frank Gaffney, Fred Barnes, Debra Saunders, David Brooks, David Broder, US Department of State, Wesley Pruden, New York Times, John Podhoretz, Richard Armitage, George W. Bush, Joseph C. Wilson, Karl C. Rove, Jane Hamsher, Linda Chavez, New York Sun, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, New Hampshire Union Leader, National Review
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Jonah Goldberg. [Source: MSNBC / MediaBistro (.com)]Conservative columnist Jonah Goldberg, writing for the National Review, compares former ambassador Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003) to self-proclaimed child murderer John Mark Karr, who falsely confessed to raping and killing six-year-old JonBenét Ramsey. After writing that “Wilson is no more a would-be pedophile than Karr is a former diplomat,” Goldberg calls both men “attention-seeking liars who deliberately helped launch criminal investigations that should never have gone as far as they did” and the beneficiaries of “media feeding frenzies that wasted everybody’s time.” In some ways, Goldberg writes, Wilson is worse than Karr: at least when Karr lied to the press, he attempted to fix the blame for his supposed actions for himself. Wilson, on the other hand, was “a one-man sprinkler system of false accusations” against Bush administration officials such as the “falsely accused” Lewis Libby. Goldberg repeats false claims by Republican members of the Senate Intelligence Committee that Wilson’s discoveries in Niger actually bolstered administration claims of Iraqi attempts to buy Nigerien uranium (see July 9, 2004), and repeats discredited claims that Wilson’s wife, exposed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, sent him to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and July 20, 2005). Goldberg calls Wilson “self-lionizing” and “vengeful,” and goes one step further than most of his fellow conservatives (see September 5, 2006), saying, “Indeed, there’s good reason to believe Wilson himself leaked the information that Plame was an undercover agent.” Goldberg advances no information to back this particular claim. Instead of doing its “rightful” job in challenging Wilson’s allegations from the outset, Goldberg writes, the “mob” of “liberal pundits” at the New York Times and other press outlets went “hog wild” in chasing the possibility of wrongdoing performed by Bush officials such as Libby and Karl Rove. [National Review, 9/5/2006]
Abu Bakker Qassim. [Source: McClatchy News]Abu Bakker Qassim, a Chinese Muslim and a member of that country’s Uighur minority, writes a column for the New York Times concerning what he says is his wrongful imprisonment at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. Qassim is writing to protest Congress’s consideration of passing legislation that would deny Guantanamo detainees their habeas corpus right to challenge their detentions in federal court. Qassim says he and 17 of his fellow Uighurs fled Chinese government oppression and went to Afghanistan, where they were captured by Pakistani bounty hunters and “sold… to the United States military like animals for $5,000 a head. The Americans made a terrible mistake.” After he and four other Uighurs were granted court hearings, US authorities deported them to Albania. “Without my American lawyers and habeas corpus, my situation and that of the other Uighurs would still be a secret,” he writes. “I would be sitting in a metal cage today. Habeas corpus helped me to tell the world that Uighurs are not a threat to the United States or the West, but an ally. Habeas corpus cleared my name—and most important, it let my family know that I was still alive.” Qassim says that like his fellow Uighurs, he is “a great admirer of the American legal and political systems.” He continues: “I have the utmost respect for the United States Congress. So I respectfully ask American lawmakers to protect habeas corpus and let justice prevail. Continuing to permit habeas rights to the detainees in Guantanamo will not set the guilty free. It will prove to the world that American democracy is safe and well.” [New York Times, 9/17/2006] Because of this editorial, Qassim and four other Uighurs will be dubbed “returning to terrorist activities” by the Pentagon (see January 13-14, 2009).
The newly passed Military Commissions Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006) gives the executive branch sweeping new powers sought by President Bush and Vice President Cheney since the 9/11 attacks, according to a New York Times analysis. Reporters Scott Shane and Adam Liptak write, “Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely, and interrogate them—albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment—beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners. Taken as a whole, the law will give the president more power over terrorism suspects than he had before the Supreme Court decision this summer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that undercut more than four years of White House policy” (see June 30, 2006). The MCA “does not just allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions; it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation.” Additionally, it gives Bush and his designees the absolute, unchallenged power to define anyone they choose as an “enemy combatant,” thereby stripping them of any traditional US legal protections and placing them under the far harsher and restrictive rubric of the MCA. “Over all, the legislation reallocates power among the three branches of government, taking authority away from the judiciary and handing it to the president.” Law professor Bruce Ackerman notes, “The president walked away with a lot more than most people thought. [The MCA] further entrenches presidential power” and allows the administration to declare even an American citizen an unlawful combatant subject to indefinite detention. “And it’s not only about these prisoners,” says Ackerman. “If Congress can strip courts of jurisdiction over cases because it fears their outcome, judicial independence is threatened.” [New York Times, 9/30/2006]
The New York Times pens an editorial issuing a grim warning about the ramifications of the newly passed Military Commission Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The editorial calls the law’s stripping of habeas corpus rights for so-called “enemy combatants” “undemocratic.” It criticizes the highly charged rhetoric of the Republicans who attacked Democrats in opposition to the law as part of the Republican Party’s “scare-America-first strategy” for the upcoming midterm elections. The Times notes that President Bush misled the country into believing that the MCA is the only way the country has of adequately putting 9/11 suspects on trial: “The truth is that Mr. Bush could have done that long ago, but chose to detain them illegally at hidden CIA camps to extract information. He sent them to Guantanamo only to stampede Congress into passing the new law. The 60 or so men at Guantanamo who are now facing tribunals—out of about 450 inmates—also could have been tried years ago if Mr. Bush had not rebuffed efforts by Congress to create suitable courts. He imposed a system of kangaroo courts that was more about expanding his power than about combating terrorism.” The editorial criticizes Bush’s new “separate system of justice for any foreigner whom Mr. Bush chooses to designate as an ‘illegal enemy combatant,” one that “raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions [and] does not require the government to release prisoners who are not being charged, or a prisoner who is exonerated by the tribunals.” However, the editorial gives false comfort to its readers by asserting that the MCA “does not apply to American citizens, but it does apply to other legal United States residents.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Times Errs in Stating MCA Does Not Apply to US Citizens - Most other mainstream media outlets do not mention the possibility of the MCA applying to US citizens. But on the same day as the Times editorial, author and investigative journalist Robert Parry gives a powerful argument that the MCA can indeed be applied to them. The MCA reads in part, “Any person is punishable as a principal under this chapter who commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures its commission.… Any person subject to this chapter who, in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States… shall be punished as a military commission… may direct.” The legal meaning of “any person,” Parry notes, clearly includes US citizens, particularly those who may act “in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States.” Parry asks, “Who has ‘an allegiance or duty to the United States’ if not an American citizen? That provision would not presumably apply to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, nor would it apply generally to foreign citizens. This section of the law appears to be singling out American citizens.” If an American citizen is charged with a crime under the MCA, that citizen, like the foreign nationals currently laboring under the weight of the law, cannot challenge their detention and charges under the habeas corpus provisions of US law, and cannot expect a fair trial. They will not be given the chance to appeal their convictions until they are prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced. And since the MCA defendant has no right to a “speedy trial,” that defendant cannot expect to be granted an appeal in any reasonable length of time. In effect, an American citizen, like a foreign national charged under the MCA, can be imprisoned indefinitely without recourse to the US judiciary.
Potential to Jail Media Leakers and Reporters - One aspect of the MCA that has not been widely discussed, Parry notes, is the provision that would allow the incarceration of “any person” who “collects or attempts to collect information by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses, for the purpose of conveying such information to an enemy of the United States.” That provision is tremendously vague, and could easily be stretched to fit, for example, the whistleblowers who revealed the existence of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program to the Times (see December 15, 2005) and the reporters and editors who published the story based on those revelations. [Consortium News, 10/19/2006] Six months later, a Justice Department lawyer will confirm that the Bush administration believes MCA does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Army Times logo. [Source: Army Times / Grantham University]An Army Times editorial says that to tell the “hard bruising truth” of the war in Iraq is to conclude that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld must resign. The editorial observes, “One rosy reassurance after another has been handed down by President Bush, Vice President Cheney and… Rumsfeld: ‘mission accomplished’ (see May 1, 2003 and April 30, 2008), the insurgency is ‘in its last throes” (see Summer 2005), and ‘back off,’ we know what we’re doing (see May 2004), are a few choice examples.” Some retired and active generals and military leaders are now beginning to speak out (see April 13-14, 2006, April 14-16, 2006, April 16, 2006, and October 5, 2006). In August, US CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid predicted the possibility of all-out civil war in Iraq (see August 3, 2006). And in mid-October, the New York Times reported on a confidential CENTCOM briefing that called the situation in Iraq “critical,” and sliding towards “chaos” (see October 18, 2006). The Army Times editorial observes that “despite the best [US] efforts… the problem of molding a viciously sectarian population into anything resembling a force for national unity has become a losing proposition.” Bush has vowed to stick by Rumsfeld for the remainder of his second term. The Army Times calls that decision “a mistake.” It explains: “It is one thing for the majority of Americans to think Rumsfeld has failed. But when the nation’s current military leaders start to break publicly with their defense secretary, then it is clear that he is losing control of the institution he ostensibly leads.… Rumsfeld has lost credibility with the uniformed leadership, with the troops, with Congress and with the public at large. His strategy has failed, and his ability to lead is compromised. And although the blame for our failures in Iraq rests with the secretary, it will be the troops who bear its brunt.… Donald Rumsfeld must go.” [Army Times, 11/6/2006] The Department of Defense responds to an advance copy of the Army Times editorial a day before its official publication. The editorial is “inaccurate and misleading,” and took Abizaid’s words “out of context.” The Pentagon claims that Rumsfeld has always presented what it calls a “balanced” picture of Iraq, and has never engaged in “rosy scenarios” to mislead the public (see April 11, 2003, April 12, 2003, Summer 2005, June 25, 2005, November 1, 2005, February 17, 2006, and April 18, 2006). It goes on to call the editorial little more than a rehash of old criticisms, and chides the writer(s) for “insulting military commanders” and “attack[ing]” Rumsfeld. [US Department of Defense, 11/5/2006] Rumsfeld resigns on the same day as the editorial appears (see November 6-December 18, 2006).
Scott Shane. [Source: Charlie Rose (.com)]As the perjury and obstruction trial of former White House aide Lewis Libby gets underway (see January 16-23, 2007), the New York Times publishes a profile of Libby that paints him as a relatively nonpartisan figure with a keen intellect, a literary bent, and a driving interest in upholding the nation’s security. Most of the quotes used in the profile are from members of the Libby Legal Defense Trust (see After October 28, 2005 and February 21, 2006). The profile, written by Times reporter Scott Shane, emphasizes Libby’s complex nature, calling him “paradox[ical]” and contrasting his literary aspirations and buttoned-down demeanor with a fondness for tequila shooters and his use of his childhood nickname, “Scooter.” Shane lines up quotes from Libby’s friends and supporters who express their dismay at the charges he faces, and their disbelief that anyone could conceive of his involvement in any sort of criminal enterprise. “I don’t often use the word ‘incomprehensible,’ but this is incomprehensible to me,” says Dennis Ross, a foreign policy expert and the only Democrat on the Defense Trust board. “He’s a lawyer who’s as professional and competent as anyone I know. He’s a friend, and when he says he’s innocent, I believe him. I just can’t account for this case.” Shane writes that Libby’s friends and former colleagues consider the charges, and the conduct of special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald in prosecuting the case, both “unjust [and] a terrible irony.” Vice President Dick Cheney’s former communications adviser, Mary Matalin, says of Libby, “He’s going to be the poster boy for the criminalization of politics, and he’s not even political.” Matalin notes that Libby was often described as “Cheney’s Cheney,” an “absolutely salient translator” of the ideas and policy initiatives of Cheney, his former boss. But neoconservative Francis Fukuyama, who once worked with Libby in the State Department, says regardless of Libby’s closeness to Cheney, he is not a conservative ideologue. “He never struck me, even knowing him as I do, as an ideologue,” Fukuyama says. “I wouldn’t say I have a particularly good handle on his worldview.” In many ways, Shane notes, Libby was one of the driving forces behind the Iraq war. “Libby didn’t plan the war,” says historian John Prados, one of the few people quoted in the profile who are not close friends or political allies of the former White House aide. “But he did enable the administration to set out on that course. He was the facilitator.” Famed Washington attorney Leonard Garment, who headed a law firm Libby once worked for, calls Libby “reliable, immensely hard working, and guarded.” Garment once represented Richard Nixon during the Watergate investigation (see August 28, 1974). Libby’s friend Jackson Hogen, who describes himself as a liberal Democrat, says that Libby’s wife Harriet is also a Democrat. “She probably cancels his vote every four years,” Hogan says. “It’s a credit to Scooter that he can maintain a friend like me and a wife like her all these years.” Libby’s driving passion, say Matalin and other close friends and colleagues, is the security of the nation. “What animates him is security,” Matalin says. “On 9/12 [the day after the 9/11 attacks], there were but a handful of people who had the strategic grasp of terrorism that he did.” As a person, Hogen says that while Libby “puts up a tough front… there’s a kind human being in there who’s really gotten beat up in this affair.” Shane winds up his profile with a quote from liberal columnist Paul Andersen, who lunched with Libby last summer while Libby was vacationing in Colorado. “I got a feeling for him as a family man, a guy who likes the mountains,” Andersen recalls. “Later, it seemed like he was nursing some serious pain. It seemed a dreadful shame that circumstances can sometimes ruin lives.” [New York Times, 1/17/2007] Author and progressive blogger Marcy Wheeler is contemptuous of the Shane article, writing that it is almost obsequious in its regard for Libby, and notes that Shane’s “profile” of Libby is restricted to those who support him and raise money for his defense fund, including Ross, Fukuyama, and Matalin. Wheeler advises Shane, “[I]f you’re going to do a profile, base it on neutral observers.” Wheeler also speculates that Shane may even be trying to echo the defense’s talking points, observing that at the beginning of a trial that hinges on Libby’s divulging of a CIA official’s covert identity, Shane quotes several people who note how “reserved” Libby is, even quoting one as saying Libby is silent as “a tomb” on security matters. Shane, Wheeler notes, also hits on Libby’s “memory defense” (see January 31, 2006) by quoting several of his friends on his propensity for hard, intense work. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/17/2007]
Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Jackson Hogen, Harriet Libby, Francis Fukuyama, Dennis Ross, Leonard Garment, Scott Shane, New York Times, Paul Andersen, Mary Matalin, Marcy Wheeler, Libby Legal Defense Trust, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Prados, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Author and media observer Eric Boehlert, writing for the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, criticizes the majority of mainstream news reporters and publications for failing to report aggressively and even accurately on the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Boehlert writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “has consistently shown more interest—and determination—in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant DC newsroom of the New York Times. Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid DC press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men—not journalists—who were running down leads, asking tough questions, and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.” While Fitzgerald had subpoena power, Boehlert admits, reporters often had inside information that they consistently failed to reveal, instead “dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House’s obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame” Wilson. Boehlert writes that if not for Fitzgerald’s dogged investigation, the entire leak story would have “simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.”
'Watergate in Reverse' - “In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse,” Boehlert writes. “Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.”
Going Along to Avoid Angering White House - Boehlert believes that in the early days of the investigation, most Washington reporters agreed with President Bush, who said that it was unlikely the leaker’s identity would ever be unearthed (see October 7, 2003). Historically, leak investigations rarely produced the leaker. “So if the leakers weren’t going to be found out, what was the point of reporters going public with their information and angering a then-popular White House that had already established a habit for making life professionally unpleasant for reporters who pressed too hard?” Boehlert asks. Now, of course, the press is pursuing the Libby trial for all it’s worth.
Early Instances of Misleading - Boehlert notes a number of instances where media figures either deliberately concealed information they had about who leaked Plame Wilson’s name, or were transparently disingenuous about speculating on the leaker’s identity. ABC reported in July 2005 that “it’s been unknown who told reporters the identity of Valerie Plame” for two years, an assertion Boehlert calls “silly” (see October 3, 2003). The following Washington journalists all had inside information to one extent or another about the case long before the summer of 2005: Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), Tim Russert (see August 7, 2004), Andrea Mitchell (see July 20, 2003 and July 21, 2003), David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), John Dickerson (see February 7, 2006), Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004), Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). Had they come forward with the information they had, the identity of the various White House leakers would have been revealed much sooner. “[B]ut none of them did,” Boehlert writes. “Instead, at times there was an unspoken race away from the Bush scandal, a collective retreat that’s likely unprecedented in modern-day Beltway journalism.”
Cheerleading for Bush - Many journalists without inside information were openly cheering for the Bush administration and against the investigation, Boehlert contends. They included the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof (see October 1, 2003 and October 25, 2005), Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (see October 1, 2003 and November 7, 2005), Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (see October 13, 2005 and January 30, 2007), fellow Post columnist Michael Kinsley (see October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2007), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (see October 18, 2005), and Post columnist David Broder (see July 10, 2005 and September 7, 2006). Author and liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her book on the Plame affair entitled Anatomy of Deceit, wrote that in her view, the media was attempting to “mak[e] the case that the press should retain exclusive judgment on the behavior of politicians, with no role for the courts.”
Fighting to Stay Quiet during the Election Campaign - Many journalists tried, and succeeded, to keep the story quiet during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Matthew Cooper refused to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury until mid-2005, when he asked for and was granted a waiver from Karl Rove to reveal him as the source of his information that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see July 13, 2005). Boehlert notes that Cooper’s bosses at Time decided to fight the subpoena in part because they “were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year” (see July 6, 2005).
Russert, NBC Withheld Information from Public - Russert also withheld information from Fitzgerald, and the American public, until well after the November 2004 election. Boehlert notes that Russert “enjoyed a very close working relationship with Libby’s boss, Cheney,” and “chose to remain silent regarding central facts.” Russert could have revealed that in the summer of 2004, he had told Fitzgerald of his conversation with Libby during the summer of 2003 (see August 7, 2004). Libby had perjured himself by telling Fitzgerald that Russert had told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, when in reality, the reverse was true (see March 24, 2004). Instead, Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson’s identity during that conversation, or at any other time. But neither Russert nor his employer, NBC News, admitted that to the public, instead merely saying that Libby did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to Russert (see August 7, 2004). Boehlert writes, “But why, in the name of transparency, didn’t the network issue a statement that made clear Russert and Libby never even discussed Plame?”
Woodward's Involvement - Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, an icon of investigative reporting (see June 15, 1974), told various television audiences that Fitzgerald’s investigation was “disgraceful” and called Fitzgerald a “junkyard prosecutor” (see October 27, 2005), and said the leak had not harmed the CIA (see July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Woodward predicted that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great” (see July 7, 2005). While Woodward was disparaging the investigation (see July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 28, 2005), he was failing to reveal that he himself had been the recipient of a leak about Plame Wilson’s identity years before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003), which, Boehlert notes, “meant Woodward, the former sleuth, had been sitting been sitting on a sizeable scoop for more than two years.” Boehlert continues: “If at any point prior to the Libby indictments Woodward had come forward with his information, it would have been politically devastating for the White House. Instead, Woodward remained mum about the facts while publicly mocking Fitzgerald’s investigation.”
Conclusion - Boehlert concludes: “Regardless of the outcome from the Libby perjury case, the trial itself will be remembered for pulling back the curtain on the Bush White House as it frantically tried to cover up its intentional effort to mislead the nation to war. Sadly, the trial will also serve as a touchstone for how the Beltway press corps completely lost its way during the Bush years and became afraid of the facts—and the consequences of reporting them.” [Media Matters, 2/6/2007]
Entity Tags: David Gregory, David Broder, Richard Cohen, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Steve Soto, Tim Russert, Time magazine, Viveca Novak, Andrea Mitchell, Nicholas Kristof, Bob Woodward, Washington Post, Bush administration (43), New York Times, Robert Novak, Michael Kinsley, Chris Matthews, Jacob Weisberg, George W. Bush, Evan Thomas, Eric Boehlert, John Dickerson, Joseph C. Wilson, NBC News, Karl C. Rove, Marcy Wheeler, Matthew Cooper, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Media Matters, Michael Duffy, Judith Miller
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
As the Libby legal team prepares to put on its defense, the New York Times publishes an admiring profile of Lewis Libby’s lead attorney, Theodore Wells. The headline calls Wells “tough but deft,” and introduces him as “a celebrated defense lawyer with a reputation for a sure and supple touch with criminal juries.” The profile, written by reporters Neil Lewis and David Johnston, is based on an interview with one of Wells’s former clients, former Agriculture Secretary Michael Espy. Wells successfully defended Espy against a 30-count indictment of accepting illegal gifts during his tenure in the Clinton administration. The profile also quotes Wells’s legal partner in the Espy case, Reid Weingarten, who says of Wells: “The real truth about Ted is that it’s not about the flash, the geniality, and the big smile. He is a prodigious worker. He loves facts. No one outworks him. No one.” Former federal prosecutor Andrew Luger, who faced Wells in 1991, says Wells is “able to navigate complex issues in a way that made them very understandable to a lay jury.… He was able to do something that not all trial lawyers can do. He can present himself as personally easygoing and yet be very commanding.” The profile notes Wells’s “tall and athletic bearing,” his “skill as a communicator” during his opening statement (see January 23, 2007), and his ability to “strik[e] notes of anger, incredulity, and wounded innocence on behalf of” Libby. The reporters compare him to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, portraying the government’s chief lawyer in the trial as “methodical [and] unemotional.” The reporters also praise Wells’s partner in the trial, William Jeffress, citing Jeffress’s “clarinet-smooth drawl to suggest his disbelief of accounts of several of the prosecution witnesses he has cross-examined, among them Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter” (see January 30-31, 2007 and January 31, 2007). Towards the end of the profile, the reporters note that Wells was unsuccessful in at least one instance of attempting to slow the pace of the trial (see January 25-29, 2007). [New York Times, 2/10/2007]
Entity Tags: Neil Lewis, Andrew Luger, David Johnston, Michael Espy, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Theodore Wells, New York Times, William Jeffress, Judith Miller, Reid Weingarten
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
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