Will the Times pay for its crimes?
By Ahmed Amr
In a recent Guardian article titled 'Prime Time for Liars and Sleaze Artists' (3/8/2004), Peter Preston quotes Kurt Eichenwald, a New York Times reporter. "Pathological liars are pathological liars. They lie. I have come across more than my share of Blair-type liars. They are all the same. Once they are caught, they pretend to be confessing - then lie all over again ... And all of them - as you dig deeper into their false confessions - are thoroughly, thoroughly unrepentant ...". Over at Salon.com, another NYT reporter, Judith 'WMD' Miller was still defending the lies of the Times in her insistent way: "I was fucking right".
Kurt Eichenwald is well advised to stop preaching on the pages of the Guardian and start giving sermons in Times Square. After his indignant outburst in an English paper, it would be interesting to hear Kurt's critique of the lame mea culpa that his employer published just last week.
In what appeared to be a genuine display of contrition, the New York Times decided that it was "past time we turned the light on ourselves". The publisher, Sulzberger, demonstrated how serious he was by choosing a three-watt light bulb for the task. Even so, before flipping the switch, the Times wanted to congratulate itself on "an enormous amount of journalism that we are proud of".
It didn't take long to scan this well crafted Times apologia for the name of the prime suspect responsible for systematically confusing the public about Iraq's none existent WMDs. But Judith Miller's name was nowhere to be found. This was not some casual oversight by Sulzberger's lads at The New York Times. The folks at the Daily Ruse must have agonized for weeks before deciding against a public reprimand of Judith 'WMD' Miller. Instead they chose to blend her canards with the foul produce of a gaggle of New York Times reporters who were supposedly taken in by a few shady Baghdad bad boys. The only apparent error that the editorial assigned to its WMD crew was that they "painstakingly extracted (information) from intelligence agencies that were themselves dependent on sketchy information."
The lords at the 'paper of record' had a ready explanation for how little Miss Miller got duped. She apparently depended on a "circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on regime change in Iraq." How could Judith possibly doubt the credibility of a rascal like Ahmad Chalabi? The editorial, published on May 26th, stated that Chalabi's record "has come under increasing public debate in recent weeks?" Nice try, Sulzberger. But Chalabi's lack of credibility has been part of the public record for over a decade. The Daily Ruse staff should stop debating Chalabi's credibility and read all about it in a real newspaper.
The editors and publishers of the Daily Ruse didn't just blame Ahmad Chalabi, the designated fall guy for this "intelligence failure". The Times had another excuse for Miller's misfortune. "Complicating matters for journalists, the accounts of these exiles were often eagerly confirmed by United States officials convinced of the need to intervene in Iraq. Administration officials now acknowledge that they sometimes fell for misinformation from these exile sources."
Now, I am just guessing that the unnamed government officials being referred to are not Post Office employees and do not work for the Department of Health. Maybe the Times could narrow down this category to 'a rogue intelligence unit jointly operated by the Vice President's office and senior Pentagon Officials'. Like other parts of the Federal Bureaucracy, this 'rogue' operation might even have a proper name like 'The Office of Special Plans'. I will go out on the limb here and suggest that the Administration officials in question go by names like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Elliot Abrams and Lewis Libby.
A number of respected journalists have invested considerable time and effort in demonstrating that this anemic mea culpa from the wizards at the New York Times does not even begin to reflect the magnitude of deception and outright lies that were fed to the public by Miller and Company. No amount of apologies can begin to make up for the resultant cost in blood, treasure and national reputation. It is not the intent of this article to duplicate the magnificent analysis of Alexander Cockburn, Amy Goodman, Norman Solmon and many others who have refused to wade in the river of crocodile tears shed by Sulzberger and his WMD brigades. Soon enough, the value of their commendable work will become apparent and should guide responsible authorities in the right direction.
I have an entirely different take on the conduct of the Times. I say it was an illegal act that should earn both Sulzberger and Miller a good stint in a Federal Penitentiary. Bad journalism is just fine. Most journalism qualifies as bad or worse. Sloppy sourcing is also no crime. A lot of journalists just dish it out without so much as a second thought about second sourcing. Stupid and ignorant journalists can be found all around the globe and across the span of history. If stupidity and ignorance were made a crime, half the country would be locked up for life and the rest of us would be under investigation. And given the nature of American jails, we would no doubt end up with a long laundry list of Abu Ghraibs.
Newspapers lie all the time. We sort of expect them to. Journalism is not exactly considered the most reputable of professions. These days, journalists compete with politicians, circus barkers and prostitutes for the bottom rung of the evolutionary ladder.
But Miller isn't just a bad, stupid, ignorant and foul-mouthed journalist who likes to bully American officers by threatening to take her complaints to Rummy when they disobey her marching orders. She and her employer might very well be guilty of conspiring with certain elements in the intelligence community to disseminate propaganda to an unsuspecting American public. Such activities just happen to be in violation of federal statutes.
The problem here is not Miller's lack of character or the institutional lack of integrity that plagues The New York Times and other mass media empires. This is still a free country and the First Amendment allows you to tell any tall tale a sucker will listen to. Even war mongering yellow journalism is not a crime. You have the god given right to be as jingoistic as you want to be. You want total war all the time? If that makes you happy and you know it, clap your hands. Rupert Murdoch does it all the time. Every Americans has a right to an opinion about war and peace. You can publicly agitate for new wars or dissent against whatever war we happen to be involved in at the moment. Free speech is grand and freely available to all Americans, be they peacemakers or warmongers.
But believe it or not, the undiluted right to free speech does not extend to the intelligence community. See, the CIA and other intelligence units are perfectly entitled to spread whatever kind of propaganda they want to the heathen foreigners. But they are strictly prohibited from using their resources to spread similar material to the domestic market. That constitutes interference in our internal affairs.
There is a good reason for this prohibition. You wouldn't want the CIA Director to do a few 'misinformation' favors for a sitting president during a re-election campaign in exchange for a 50% pay raise or a little job security. And you wouldn't want a Republican dominated CIA to use their considerable propaganda skills to bring down a Democratic president. This is America, not Chile. By law, the intelligence community can conduct misinformation campaigns any place on the planet, except the United States.
Of course, the grown ups in the CIA and DIA know all about these 'red lines' and are all pledged to uphold the constitution and the law of the land, including the statutes that specifically prohibit them from using propaganda as a tool to mess with American minds. That might help explain part of the reason why the CIA and the DIA kept such a safe distance from Chalabi.
But a little known intelligence unit called the Office of Special Plans (OSP) didn't give a rip about the law of the land. Their staff was made up mostly of neo-con contractors loaned out from various Likudnik front operations that specialize in doing chores for Ariel Sharon. It was the OSP that passed around Chalabi to the media monopolies to amplify the latest fantasy cooked up by the Iraqi National Congress and The American Enterprise Institute. The AEI is a pro-Israeli think tank that had a symbiotic relationship with the OSP. For the record, the AEI publicly boasts about its connections in high media places where they have well placed assets like Judith Miller, Charles Krauthammer, William Safire and Thomas Friedman. What better way to deceive Americans than to brand propaganda with the corporate logo of The New York Times, The Daily Ruse.
Notice that no mention is made of the OSP in the NYT apologia. Most of the blame is placed on Chalabi and certain unidentified 'intelligence agencies that were themselves dependent on sketchy information'. That doesn't sound like the CIA or the DIA. But it is a perfect description of the OSP, which was set up by Wolfowitz and his neo-con pals at the Pentagon to bypass the 'timid' output of the mainstream intelligence community.
The NYT mea culpa, if swallowed whole, leaves us with an unidentified WMD reporter and a generic intelligence outfit who inadvertently collaborated in producing a major 'intelligence failure'. The Times only names Chalabi. This is no accident. All this dodging and weaving probably was painstakingly worked out with the paper's lawyers. Unlike his daddy, Sulzberger, the publisher, isn't out to get legal advice on whether to publish the Pentagon Papers. More likely, he wants his lawyers to lend a hand with the shredder.
Now you might still believe there was a genuine 'WMD intelligence failure' and that a notorious convicted bank embezzler just took in the amateurs hired by the OSP. And you might even buy into the notion that our 30 billion-dollar annual intelligence machinery just had a major breakdown. So at this stage, it is important to remove the CIA and DIA from the short list of suspects responsible for producing this deliberate 'intelligence failure'.
Both agencies were pretty much neutralized by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz in favor of the more glamorous OSP. The Office of Special Plans was supposedly more 'agile' than the stodgy crew in Langley. It was also more mobile. So mobile that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz managed to make it vanish shortly after the war started. Like Bush, the OSP put up a 'mission accomplished' sign and then just melted away.
Both The CIA and DIA appear to have resisted the temptation to participate in 'domestic propaganda'. The CIA and other members of the mainstream intelligence community disdained Chalabi, the OSP staff, Judith Miller and other neo-con media operatives. And they didn't like the CIA much either. Miller's reports are full of snipes at the CIA. Her columns would often contain pokes in the eye like "spokesmen for the CIA and DIA refused to comment about Mr. Saeed or whether they had interviewed him". Now, was that some kind of problem with the CIA or with Miller?
It is fair enough to ask if Saeed was one of the "circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles" that the New York Times is now moaning about. Is that why their legal staff recommended that they make reference to generic 'intelligence agencies' instead of the OSP. If you actually go back and read her garbage, you will discover that it was Miller who was marketing these suspect exiles to the mainstream intelligence community not the other way around.
Miller had plenty of room in her columns for other neo-cons who disdained the CIA. In a major column (1/23/2003), Miller struts out Richard Perle who was then the Chief of the Defense Policy Board. She quotes Perle as saying that "until recently, CIA officials were so hostile to defectors brought out of Iraq by the Iraqi National Congress, the umbrella opposition group, that they refused to interview them and even tried to discredit their information.' Oh, the nerve of those folks at Langley.
On a triumphal note, Perle wanted it known that his neo-con cabal had licked the CIA and the DIA. "ultimately, the flow of information was so vital and so overwhelming that they could no longer ignore it." So, just a few weeks before the start of the war, we have the CIA resisting the urge to take Chalabi and his clowns seriously. 'Not ignoring' is a huge distance from swallowing and propagating.
Once you remove the CIA out of the 'intelligence failure' business, you are left with a very short list made up of Judith Miller, the Office of Special Plans and Chalabi. Miller and the OSP now both claim to have been force-fed lies by Ahmad Chalabi.
By Miller's own account, she verified her Chalabi scoops by checking with senior administration officials. And the OSP, in turn, backed up their Chalabi fiction by citing reliable media sources like the 'unimpeachable' New York Times. So, the only way that Chalabi could get away with his scheme was if the OSP and Miller were unaware that they were getting their information from the same source. How likely is that?
Miller often quoted unidentified 'senior officials' in her articles. The ombudsman at the Times is now suggesting that she should identify the rascals who misled her. But their identities are an open secret in the Beltway. Once again, the evidence points to Paul Wolfowitz, Lewis Libby and Douglas Feith. All three of these confirmed Likudniks along with Vice President Cheney and his wife are associated with the AEI neo-con cabal. The AEI sponsored Chalabi from when he was just a wee little over paid public relations gimmick. The public record is clear on the AEI's frantic efforts to promote this war. In fact, the entire neo-con movement was mobilized to launch volley after volley of Weapons of Mass Deception against a defenseless American Public.
So, who was playing whom? Or were they all playing together against another team, the people of the United States.
Ahmad Chalabi is a crafty operator who was privately tutored in the ways of Washington by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz. When he fell on his sword as a 'hero in error', he did it for his neo-con mentors and his other partner in crime, The New York Times. He was practically screaming "leave my people alone. I was the one who lied about Saddam chopping down that tree. If that's what it takes to be the George Washington of Baghdad, sue me." But no matter how many times Chalabi falls on his sword for his neo-con pals, he can't take the blame for the Yellow Cake Uranium scam and the outing of Valerie Plame. That was the exclusive handiwork of the OSP.
Notice that the only people still rooting for Chalabi are hard-core neo-cons like William Safire of the New York Times, a man who publicly boasts about being a ghostwriter for Ariel Sharon. Safire just recently wrote a nasty editorial attacking the CIA on behalf of the man who gave his paper all the WMD 'scoops'. Wolfowitz continues to rave about the quality of Chalabi's information. Richard Perle and other neo-cons were so insulted by the attack on their man in Baghdad that they barged into Condi's office in the White House to indignantly demand an end to what they called a 'CIA smear campaign'.
Once you stop accepting the ruse that Chalabi duped either the New York Times or the OSP, you are left with The Office of Special Plans as the tip of the spear in a plot to bombard the American people with Weapons of Mass Deception.
Which means that a major crime has taken place. If the OSP deliberately funneled propaganda to an unsuspecting Judith Miller, they stand accused of using intelligence assets to spread propaganda on the soil of the United States of America. To be specific, the OSP is in violation of Title 50, Chapter 15, Section 413b (f) of the US CODE, which prohibits covert actions intended to influence United States political processes. One doesn't have to be a lawyer to understand this law which reads "No covert action may be conducted which is intended to influence United States political processes, public opinion, policies, or media". Of course, a more likely scenario is that the OSP and the New York Times launched this whole scam as a joint operation. This does not absolve the OSP. It just implicates the New York Times as a co-conspirator in this rogue intelligence operation.
It would not be the first time that these very same neo-con operatives at the Pentagon were suspected of violating of the law. Douglas Feith is still a prime suspect in L'affaire Valerie Plame. That particular felony was conducted in partnership with the Washington Post.
A few felons are still roaming the corridors of power at the Pentagon and the New York Times. Even the shrinking number of Americans who still believe that this Iraqi venture is a 'good war' should be up in arms and demand an investigation. It would be a dangerous precedent to allow a taxpayer financed intelligence unit to wage a propaganda campaign to skew a vital domestic debate on the wisdom of launching an unnecessary preemptive war of choice.
The American families who lost loved ones in this war or who will spend a lifetime caring for a wounded soldier should be paying close attention as this case develops. If the New York Times is found guilty of conspiracy in this OSP scam, individual and class action civil law suits are sure to follow. By joining hands with the felons at the OSP, the Times stands accused in the wrongful death and injury of thousands of Americans and Iraqis. Financial compensation will not settle accounts for the families of those who lost lives and limbs in this war of choice. But, we might just get the Times to pay an even stiffer price for their lies and criminal conspiracy. Seeing Miller and Sulzberger behind bars with the OSP crew would be compensation enough for many Americans.
Editor's note: The President of the United States and other members of the executive branch are obliged by law to report illegal intelligence operations to Congress. We should also note, that unlike the Jayson Blair affair, other major media monopolies have refrained from piling on the wagon to condemn the New York Times. There is an obvious explanation for why other media sharks are not eager to attack the 'paper of record'. The OSP operation also worked with key neo-con operatives at CNN, FOX, The Washington Post, MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal. A partial list of suspects includes Charles Krauthammer and Dana Priest at the Post, Wolf 'war room' Blitzer and Aaron 'arson' Brown at CNN. They too should pay a price for the willful deception of the American people.
Ahmed Amr is the editor of NileMedia.com, This article can be distributed at will.
Want to help spread quality independent journalism?
Donate to NileMedia and watch us grow.