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Profile: William Arkin

Positions that William Arkin has held:

  • NBC News analyst

William Arkin was a participant or observer in the following events:

Air Traffic Controllers on board the USS <i>Enterprise</i> guide strike aircraft on bombing runs into Iraq. Photo taken December 17, 1998.Air Traffic Controllers on board the USS Enterprise guide strike aircraft on bombing runs into Iraq. Photo taken December 17, 1998. [Source: US Navy]The US and Britain launch a joint series of over 250 air strikes against Iraqi military targets, in a campaign dubbed “Operation Desert Fox.” The air strikes are designed to, in the mission statement released by the US Navy, “degrade Saddam Hussein’s ability to make and to use weapons of mass destruction,” to “diminish Saddam Hussein’s ability to wage war against his neighbors,” and to “demonstrate to Saddam Hussein the consequences of violating international obligations.” The air strikes are carried out by US Navy and Marine Corps aircraft from the USS Enterprise, from US and British military bases in the region. The strikes feature, among other weaponry, over 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from naval vessels and US Air Force B-52s. Defense officials say that many of the strikes focus on destroying or damaging targets in southern Iraq, including surface-to-air missile sites, airfields, and command-and-control sites, all with the aim of giving US pilots a “safer corridor” to reach targets in the north. [American Forces Press Service, 12/18/1998; Barletta and Jorgensen, 5/1999; Roberts, 2008, pp. 121; US Department of Defense, 3/7/2008] Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz will later say that at least 62 Iraqis are killed in the strikes. No US or British casualties are reported. [BBC, 2002]
Failure to Comply with UN Inspections - President Bill Clinton explains that the military operation was in response to Iraq’s refusal to comply with UN weapons inspections (see December 16, 1998). “The international community gave Saddam one last chance to resume cooperation with the weapons inspectors,” Clinton says. “Saddam’s deception has defeated their effectiveness. Instead of the inspectors disarming Saddam, the Iraqi dictator has disarmed the inspectors.… Saddam has failed to seize the chance. So we had to act and act now.” Clinton continues, “Saddam Hussein must not be allowed to threaten his neighbors or the world with nuclear arms, poison gas, or biological weapons.” He has used them before, Clinton adds, and “left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.” [American Forces Press Service, 12/17/1998] US Secretary of Defense William Cohen says that the attacks “degraded Saddam Hussein’s ability to deliver chemical and biological weapons,” and defends the US’s right to act unilaterally against Iraq if it is in “our national interest.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair agrees with Clinton’s assessment. “He is a serial breaker of promises,” Blair says. [CNN, 12/16/1998]
Real Aim to Destabilize Hussein? - In January 1999, reporter William Arkin, a defense specialist, will write that he believes the strikes were designed to do far more than punish Iraq for not complying with UN inspections. The extremely specific target listings—down to specific buildings—and the nature of the targets chosen will lead Arkin to believe that Desert Fox was designed to cripple Iraq’s ability to wage war. Only 13 of the 100 or so sites were identified as chemical or biological weapons production or research facilities, Arkin will write. Additionally, Arkin will comment that the US-British strikes were not just to “degrade” Iraq’s military capabilities, but to destabilize the Hussein regime. [Washington Post, 1/17/1999]
Accusations of Political Distraction - Many of Clinton’s political opponents, including Republican lawmakers and conservative commentators and radio hosts, accuse Clinton, both during and after the strikes, of attempting to use a military operation to distract the nation from his admission of a sexual liaison with intern Monica Lewinsky. [BBC, 2002]
Destroys Remainder of Iraq's WMD Stockpiles - In 2004, US weapons inspector David Kay will say that Desert Fox and other 1998 air strikes destroyed the remaining stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons left over from the Gulf War (see January 23, 2004).

Entity Tags: William Arkin, United Nations Special Commission, US Department of Defense, Tony Blair, David Kay, Saddam Hussein, Tariq Aziz, William S. Cohen, Monica Lewinsky, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Global Strike logo.Global Strike logo. [Source: Federation of American Scientists]President Bush signs a classified presidential directive that defines the “Global Strike” program, formalized as Contingency Plan 8022, or CONPLAN-8022, as US policy. Global Strike implements nuclear weapons as part of a possible US preemptive strike against envisioned enemies. In the order, Bush defines Global Strike as “a capability to deliver rapid, extended range, precision kinetic (nuclear and conventional) and non-kinetic (elements of space and information operations) effects in support of theater and national objectives.” He orders that Global Strike be turned over to the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM), the entity in charge of deploying and using the nation’s nuclear arsenal, telling it to “be ready to strike at any moment’s notice in any dark corner of the world.” A month later, General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will tell the House Armed Services Committee, “With its Global Strike responsibilities, the Command will provide a core cadre to plan and execute nuclear, conventional, and information operations anywhere in the world.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 179-180] The plan is not revealed until May 2005, when defense analyst William Arkin writes of the program for the Washington Post. [Washington Post, 5/15/2005] In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write: “Global Strike represented the next—some might say the ultimate—manifestation of this principle [domination and isolationism], allowing for the possibility of purely unilateral military action. There was no need for allies and no need for nation building. Just as missile defense could protect us from having to engage the world, so Global Strike could allow the United States to dominate the world while standing utterly apart from it.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 183]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, George W. Bush, ’Global Strike’, William Arkin, J. Peter Scoblic

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

Military analyst William Arkin publishes 3,000 US military code names along with brief descriptions in his book Code Names: Deciphering US Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World. Included in his list is CONPLAN 8022 (see May 15, 2005), a top-secret pre-emptive plan to take out nuclear facilities and other threats in Iran, Syria, and North Korea. Another plan mentioned is Oplan 4305, which is a contingency plan for defending of Israel. [Arkin, 2005; MSNBC, 2/10/2005; MSNBC, 5/17/2005] Retired CIA officer Bill McNair accuses Arkin of “endangering national security.” [MSNBC, 2/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Bill McNair, William Arkin

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

Washington Post reporter William Arkin reveals that the National Security Agency (NSA) is “building a new warning hub and data warehouse” in Aurora, Colorado, just outside of Denver, on the grounds of Buckley Air Force Base. The agency is transferring many key personnel from its Fort Meade, Maryland, headquarters to Aurora. Arkin calls the new NSA facility, named the Aerospace Data Facility (ADF), “massive,” and says he believes it is the hub of the NSA’s data mining operation (see January 16, 2004). According to Government Executive magazine, the NSA’s new data storage facility “will be able to hold the electronic equivalent of the Library of Congress every two days.” While the NSA explains that the new facility is a cost-cutting measure and part of the agency’s post-9/11 decentralization—“This strategy better aligns support to national decision makers and combatant commanders,” an NSA spokesman tells one reporter—Arkin says that the “NSA is aligning its growing domestic eavesdropping operations—what the administration calls ‘terrorist warning’ in its current PR campaign—with military homeland defense organizations, as well as the CIA’s new domestic operations [in] Colorado.… Colorado is now the American epicenter for national domestic spying.” Arkin notes that previous news reports have said that the CIA is planning to move much of its domestic National Resources Division to Aurora as well. He also notes that Colorado is the home of the US military’s Northern Command (NORTHCOM), the military arm responsible for homeland defense. The move also allows the NSA to better coordinate its efforts with private contractors such as Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman Mission Systems, and Raytheon, all of which have presences in Colorado. Arkin names all three firms as partners with the NSA in building the ADF. Former senior AT&T technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004) will later write, “Over months and years, the database would be huge, ready for data mining whenever the government wants to go after someone.” [Washington Post, 1/31/2006; Klein, 2009, pp. 40-41]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Aerospace Data Facility, Government Executive Magazine, Mark Klein, Northrup Grumman Mission Systems, William Arkin, Lockheed Martin Corporation, Raytheon, US Northern Command

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

William Arkin.William Arkin. [Source: New York Times]Washington Post columnist William Arkin writes that from 1999 until late 2007, he was a military analyst for NBC News, “one of the few non-generals in that role.” Arkin writes that he worked with several generals retained by NBC and MSNBC, “and found them mostly to be valuable.” Arkin writes that “[t]he problem is not necessarily that the networks employ former officers as analysts, or that the Pentagon reaches out to them. The larger problem is the role these general play, not just on TV but in American society. In our modern era, not-so-old soldiers neither die nor fade away—they become board members and corporate icons and consultants, on TV and elsewhere, and even among this group of generally straight-shooters, there is a strong reluctance to say anything that would jeopardize their consulting gigs or positions on corporate boards.”
McCaffrey a Consistent Voice of Criticism - Retired general Barry McCaffrey (see April 21, 2003) stands out in Arkin’s recollection as one of the most consistent critics of the Pentagon, “and to this day he is among the most visible of the paid military analysts on television.” Arkin recalls McCaffrey as well-informed and sincere, but writes that “much of his analysis of Iraq in 2003 was handicapped by a myopic view of ground forces and the Army, and by a dislike of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that was obvious and outspoken. (To be fair to McCaffrey, few former or active duty generals read the war or its aftermath correctly.)”
Analysts 'Invaluable' during Hostilities - In 2003, the reporters and camera crews embedded in the particular military units “gave an almost-live view of a war at the tactical level.” The generals were on the air to make sense of the ground-level tactical information, and translate it into a more general understanding of events and strategies. “The generals would use their knowledge and plumb their contacts to get a sense of what the divisions and corps and the coalition formations were doing at a higher level.” Arkin writes that, considering the obfuscation and deliberate deception routinely practiced by Rumsfeld and US commander General Tommy Franks, “the generals were invaluable. When they made the effort, they could go places and to sources that the rest of us couldn’t. That the Pentagon was ‘using’ them to convey a line is worrisome for the public interest but not particularly surprising.”
Pushing the Pentagon's Viewpoint - Arkin continues: “On the war itself—on the actions of the US military in March and April of 2003—there was an official line that was being pushed by the Pentagon and the White House. I’m not convinced that the generals (at least those who were serving at NBC) were trumpeting an official line that was being fed to them, but neither am I convinced that their ‘experience’ or professional expertise enabled them to analyze the war any better than non-generals or the correspondents in Washington or out in the field.” McCaffrey stands out in Arkin’s mind as one analyst who “publicly lambasted the war plan—during a time of war! In the grand scheme of things, though, I’m not sure that McCaffrey was right—and I’m not sure that having more troops then, given our assumptions about what would happen in postwar Iraq and our ignorance of the country and its dynamics, would have made much of a difference. In other words, we still could have won the battle and lost the war.”
Diminished Value as Occupation Continued - Once “major” fighting was over and other issues besides battlefield outcomes dominated the news—the disastrous occupation, the developing insurgency, the torture of prisoners—“the value of the American generals as news commentators diminished significantly,” Arkin writes. “They were no longer helping us to understand battles. They were becoming enmeshed in bigger political and public policy and partisan battles, and as ‘experts’ on the military, they should have known better not to step too far outside their lane. The networks should also have known this, and indeed they did learn eventually, as there are certainly far fewer generals on the payroll today than there were at the height of the ‘fighting.’”
A Broader Perspective - Arkin concludes: “It’s now clear that in the run-up to the war, during the war in 2003 and in its aftermath, we would have all benefited from hearing more from experts on Iraq and the Middle East, from historians, from anti-war advocates. Retired generals play a role, an important one. But for the networks, they played too big of a role—just as the ‘military’ solutions in Iraq play too big of a role, just as the military solutions in the war against terrorism swamp every other approach.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]

Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Barry McCaffrey, William Arkin, MSNBC, NBC

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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