Moment of Triumph: Plame Blame Dame's Lost her Game
The scenario sounds somehow familiar: in support of a somewhat loopy Republican president's campaign against an Arab dictator, Judith Miller was willing to plant official US disinformation in the New York Times.
The year was 1986.
Nine years into her tenure at the New York Times, she participated in John Poindexter's disinformation campaign against Libya for the Reagan administration. As Bob Woodward later revealed in the Washington Post, Miller planted Poindexter's propaganda in her own writings: claiming that el-Khadaffi was being betrayed from within his own country, that he had sunk into depression, and had turned to drugs. Miller went on to claim Khadaffi had tried to have sex with her, but lost interest when she claimed Jewish heritage.
Khadaffi, you'll remember, was the 80's Saddam Hussein (back when Saddam Hussein was still cool). Muammar was Reagan's "Mad Dog of the Middle East," which is kinda weird when you consider that Libya is in North Africa. As you'll see at the bottom of this article, there was no event on earth that Republicans would not attach to his name for the sake of justifying what they wanted to do in the region anyway. He was our blame-sink at that time. Other Muslims have since taken his place. It's all still the same game, and Judith has been playing it since the days of skinny ties and perms.
And so now, with the First Amendment drama playing out, a quick review of the material that's been building up on this woman for the last two years on the blogsphere reveals a much longer but very consistent career. Judith Miller has been and probably still is an informal asset not of our government but of an American political faction. From North Africa to the Mesopotamian, she has provided copy to support imperial adventures. Perhaps she thinks her powerful patrons will protect her, perhaps she knows too much, or perhaps she's just too old to start over and simply needs to protect her accustomed sources. Her access to them is what's made an otherwise utterly undistinguished career. If it weren't for her usefulness as a propaganda outlet, over three decades, she'd have no content at all.
This is not a question of freedom of the press, unless by "freedom" you mean the "freedom" to pass on government propaganda, which is a very strange notion of "freedom" outside of, say, North Korea.
Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?
There used to be a carefully run but outwardly informal network of US intelligence operatives working in academia and journalism and in many other walks of life. Volunteers, amateurs, ready to be tapped for some fragment of a mission they did not understand, led otherwise unremarkable lives.
Judith is one of those people. Trust an amateur's sense of the dramatic to get the better of them. The fact that she received a doomed David Kelly's final, forboding message and that she was one of the fake anthrax terrorist's targets would only further have convinced her that she was some Secret Agent, involved in a dangerous game with international implications. It seems she went somewhat soft, as a result.
After all, the perqs were outstanding. One of the things that's always struck me about these pawns is how easy it is to beguile them. Life is a party, whatever their party's moral pretentions may be. Ehrenstein dug up the goods from old print sources a while back. We rejoin our heroine shortly after she's earned her bat's wings on Libya, where she has learned that she'd been sitting on her real talent all along. Access was, after all, a two-way street:
... in the October 1989 issue of the much-missed mag:
There was every reason to believe that when Judy Miller was moved from her post as deputy Washington bureau chief late last year, her long-standing custom of getting indecorously close to highly placed male sources would end. She is attracted more to the power the men in her orbit have than to the men themselves; her first words upon entering a room are often "Okay, who’s important here?" The list of middle-aged, quasi- available powerguys from Judy's colorful past is a long one, incorporating everyone from guitar-picking Republican national chairmen to anchorgirl-dating former assistant secretaries of State.
Such interpersonal skills Judy no doubt put to good use in her days as a corre-spondent in Paris, Beirut and Cairo. Regarded by her peers as a dogged, talented journalist, she received more ambivalent reviews for her after-hours work. Fellow female correspondents in Beirut had a very rough nickname for Judy - "Egregious Cunt" - which some of them abbreviated (E.C.) and had silk-screened onto T-shirts.
Judy's living accommodations in those far-flung outposts were ripe topics of conversation. Her bedroom in Cairo, for instance, had white shag carpeting and bedspread and curtains in an electric- blue-and-orange design. When a fellow correspondent took over her apartment in Beirut, it was discovered that although the place was to be let furnished, there were no sheets available. When news of this reached the city's press community, one unkind journalist commented, "She didn't want anyone to see her notes."
These kinds of connections, of course, would not last forever since the coin of her trade was, erm, declining in value. Judith could, however, actually work to preserve her role as preferred input valve for random bullshit on the Arab boogeyman of the week. She began cultivating new kinds of relationships with conspiracy nut Mylroie as well as with Pipes' unsavory thinktank. In short, she found work in the Islamic Threat Industry where she had cut her teeth. And business was good.
When the full history of the Iraq war is written, one of its most scandalous chapters will be about how American journalists, in particular those at the New York Times, so easily allowed themselves to be manipulated by both dubious sources and untrustworthy White House officials into running stories that misled the nation about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction.
The reporter on many of the flawed stories at issue was Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and authority on the Middle East. The Times, insisting that the problem did not lie with any individual journalist, did not mention her name. The paper was presumably trying to take the high road by defending its reporter, but the omission seems peculiar. While her editors must share a large portion of the blame, the pieces ran under Miller's byline. It was Miller who clearly placed far too much credence in unreliable sources, and then credulously used dubious administration officials to confirm what she was told.
And of all Miller's unreliable sources, the most unreliable was Ahmed Chalabi -- whose little neocon-funded kingdom came crashing down last week when Iraqi forces smashed down his door after U.S. officials feared he was sending secrets to Iran.
One might have hoped that American journalists would have been at least as skeptical as the State Department before they burned their reputations on Chalabi's pyre of lies. But even the most seasoned of correspondents and the most august of publications, including the Times and the Washington Post, appear to have been as deftly used by Chalabi as were the CIA, the Department of Defense and the Bush administration.
What? These journalists aren't old enough to remember the 80s?
Miller refused to say who some of those other sources were, claiming their identities were sacrosanct. Nonetheless, her reportage appeared to reflect Chalabi's intelligence gathering and his political cant. At his behest, she interviewed defectors from Hussein's regime, who claimed without substantiation that there was still a clandestine WMD program operating inside Iraq. U.S. investigators now believe that Chalabi sent these same Iraqi expatriates to at least eight Western spy agencies as part of a scheme to persuade them to overthrow Saddam. An unknown number of them appear to have stopped along the way to speak with Miller.
If the double-agent spy business had a trophy to hold up and show neophyte spooks what happens when their craft is perfectly executed, it would be a story by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon that appeared on the front page of the New York Times on a Sunday morning in September 2002. The front-page frightener was titled "Threats and Responses: The Iraqis; US Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts." Miller and Gordon wrote that an intercepted shipment of aluminum tubes, to be used as centrifuges, was evidence Hussein was building a uranium gas separator to develop nuclear material. The story quoted national security advisor Condoleezza Rice invoking the image of "mushroom clouds over America."
... as if ... we'd been infiltrated ... by foreign agents ... using our news media as a weapon ... ?
"I had no reason to believe what I reported at the time was inaccurate," Miller told me. "I believed the intelligence information I had at the time. I sure didn't believe they were making it up. This was a learning process. You constantly have to ask the question, 'What do you know at the time you are writing it?' We tried really hard to get more information and we vetted information very, very carefully."
But Miller's entire journalistic approach was flawed. A few months after the aluminum tubes story, a former CIA analyst, who has observed Miller's professional products and relationships for years, explained to me how simple it was to manipulate the correspondent and her newspaper.
"The White House had a perfect deal with Miller," he said. "Chalabi is providing the Bush people with the information they need to support their political objectives with Iraq, and he is supplying the same material to Judy Miller. Chalabi tips her on something and then she goes to the White House, which has already heard the same thing from Chalabi, and she gets it corroborated by some insider she always describes as a 'senior administration official.' She also got the Pentagon to confirm things for her, which made sense, since they were working so closely with Chalabi. Too bad Judy didn't spend a little more time talking to those of us in the intelligence community who had information that contradicted almost everything Chalabi said."
Her long career as a propaganda outlet hardly distinguishes her, even in this period. She's merely one among many. Other examples (.pdf) include:
Michael Reese, "Uniting Against Libya,"
Newsweek, October 19, 1981, p. 43. An excerpt:
NEWSWEEK has also learned that Kaddafi . . . [is] ordering the assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Italy. . . . U.S. intelligence also picked up evidence that Kaddafi had hatched yet another assassination plot -- this time against President Reagan.
Fay Willey, "Kaddafi's Latest Plot," Newsweek, November 9, 1981, p. 29. An excerpt:
U.S. intelligence believes that Libyan strongman Muammar Kaddafi is planning terrorist attacks on four American embassies in Western Europe.
John Brecher, "New Threats From Kaddafi," Newsweek, November 30, 1981, p. 51. An excerpt:
[S]enior American officials told NEWSWEEK, Kaddafi's talk appears to be more than bluster. These officials say Kaddafi has expanded his hit list to include Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger -- and that he has equipped special assassination squads with bazookas, grenade launchers and even portable SAM-7 missiles capable of bringing down the President's plane.
"The Kaddafi Hit Squad At Large?," Newsweek, December 14, 1981, p. 36. An excerpt:
[A]n assassination squad dispatched by Libyan strongman Muammar Kaddafi [has] entered the United States.
David M. Alpern, "Coping With a Plot to Kill the President," Newsweek, December 21, 1981, p. 16. An excerpt:
Security around [President Reagan] tightened amid intelligence reports that placed his potential assassins either in the country or on its borders preparing to strike.
Duncan Campbell and Patrick Forbes, "Tale of Anti-Reagan Hit Team Was 'Fraud'," New Statesman (U.K.), August 16, 1985, p. 6 (reporting that a secret official U.S. list of fourteen alleged "Libyan terrorists" was in fact a list of prominent members of the Lebanese Shiite party Amal, including its leader Nabih Berri and the religious leader of the Lebanese Shiite community, with most of the rest being aging Lebanese politicians; to compound the absurdity, the Amal party is passionately anti-Libyan)
On a later Reagan administration claim that Libya was planning to overthrow the government of the Sudan, see for example
Bernard Gwertzman, "Shultz Asserts Libyan Threat Has 'Receded,'" New York Times, February 21, 1983, p. A1. An excerpt:
Secretary of State George P. Shultz said today that what the Reagan Administration believed last week was a military threat by Libya against the Sudan had now "receded. . . ." Mr. Shultz, in his television appearance, said, "The President of the United States acted quickly and decisively and effectively, and at least for the moment Qaddafi is back in his box where he belongs." His comments were in line with the White House effort Friday and Saturday to convince reporters privately that Mr. Reagan was actually in charge of the operation, even though at his news conference on Wednesday he made factual errors. . . .
Administration officials have said the Awacs [that attacked Libya] were sent at the explicit request of President Mubarak, but Egyptian officials and news organizations have denied in recent days that any such request was made or that any threat to the Sudan exists. The Libyans have denied any plans to attack the Sudan [across six hundred miles of desert]. The lack of any tangible threat from Libya was reminiscent of the Administration's problems in late 1981 when it aroused considerable agitation in Washington over reports of a Libyan "hit squad" being sent to the United States to try to kill high officials. Nothing happened, and it was unclear whether the publicity forced cancellation of the Libyan plans or whether the Administration's information was faulty in the first place.
For a later exposure of some of the U.S. government's disinformation campaigns, see
Jonathan Alter, "A Bodyguard of Lies," Newsweek, October 13, 1986, p. 43. An excerpt:
[I]n August national-security adviser John Poindexter sent President Reagan a memo outlining what Poindexter called a "disinformation program" aimed at destabilizing Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi by generating false reports that the United States and Libya were again on a collision course. . . . Evidence that the disinformation campaign was under way first turned up on Aug. 25 in The Wall Street Journal. . . .
"We relied on high-level officials who hyped some of this," [Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Albert] Hunt says. . . . [The lies] were profoundly disturbing, even to journalists hardened by a lifetime of covering dissembling officials.
Edward P. Haley, Qaddafi and the United States Since 1969, New York: Praeger, 1984, pp. 257-264 (bitterly anti-Qaddafi study, summarizing the various stages of the "propaganda campaign designed to discredit the Libyan leader and turn him into an international outlaw"; making a praiseworthy effort to take the comedy seriously)
Is this starting to sound familiar?
posted by Grand Moff Texan @ 8.7.05 1 comments
At 08 July, 2005 22:16, Anonymous said...
Tremendous post! Submit this to Huffington as your story, or see if they'll link your thread, Texan!
The Italy reference for Khadaffi probably mirrors the sdame people they used for Niger yellowcake(Ms.Ledeen).
I have a dkos diary that touches on this point. Each time I try and link the page loses. Some kind of explorer bug. I'll post this, try and get my link ready to send you. See if you can use it to make the rest of the Huffington piece.