Commentary Magazine


Posts For: November 1, 2007

Like Mother, Like Son

The New Yorker carried a piece last week in its “Talk of the Town” section about a gathering of graying (and not so graying) leftists at a West Village bar, celebrating and commiserating over the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death. Among the luminaries was Tariq Ali, an editor of the New Left Review, the cover of whose book Clash of Fundamentalisms is a case study in the Left’s post-September 11 moral equivalence.

Other such lions of the modern far-Left abounded at this kaffeeklatsch, prominent among them my old Yale chum Chesa Boudin, class of 2003 and “radical chic Rhodes Scholar.” He’s the son of Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, Weathermen terrorists responsible for the deaths of two police officers and a Brinks Security guard killed during a botched 1981 bank heist. Kathy Boudin is herself the daughter of Leonard Boudin, the famous leftist defense lawyer who represented Castro’s Cuba, Paul Robeson, and was a leading member of the fellow-traveling National Lawyers Guild. Chesa’s genealogy would be of little concern were it not for his obnoxious penchant for invoking his parents in the name of his own radical ideology. As he told the New York Times upon winning the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship:

“We have a different name for the war we’re fighting now—now we call it the war on terrorism, then they called it the war on Communism,” Mr. Boudin said. ”My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I’m dedicated to the same thing.”

”I don’t know that much about my parents’ tactics; I’ll talk about my tactics,” he added. ”The historical moment we find ourselves in determines what is most appropriate for social change.”

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The New Yorker carried a piece last week in its “Talk of the Town” section about a gathering of graying (and not so graying) leftists at a West Village bar, celebrating and commiserating over the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s death. Among the luminaries was Tariq Ali, an editor of the New Left Review, the cover of whose book Clash of Fundamentalisms is a case study in the Left’s post-September 11 moral equivalence.

Other such lions of the modern far-Left abounded at this kaffeeklatsch, prominent among them my old Yale chum Chesa Boudin, class of 2003 and “radical chic Rhodes Scholar.” He’s the son of Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, Weathermen terrorists responsible for the deaths of two police officers and a Brinks Security guard killed during a botched 1981 bank heist. Kathy Boudin is herself the daughter of Leonard Boudin, the famous leftist defense lawyer who represented Castro’s Cuba, Paul Robeson, and was a leading member of the fellow-traveling National Lawyers Guild. Chesa’s genealogy would be of little concern were it not for his obnoxious penchant for invoking his parents in the name of his own radical ideology. As he told the New York Times upon winning the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship:

“We have a different name for the war we’re fighting now—now we call it the war on terrorism, then they called it the war on Communism,” Mr. Boudin said. ”My parents were all dedicated to fighting U.S. imperialism around the world. I’m dedicated to the same thing.”

”I don’t know that much about my parents’ tactics; I’ll talk about my tactics,” he added. ”The historical moment we find ourselves in determines what is most appropriate for social change.”

Only in the mind of a closet totalitarian could killing a black police officer be construed as “fighting U.S. imperialism around the world.” This is to say nothing of Boudin’s dishonesty in claiming not to “know that much” about his parent’s tactics, which are a matter of public and legal record. The Boudin family legacy has been one of defending and propagandizing on behalf of despots who rob and murder their own people in the name of “progressive ideals,” and Boudin is doing a bang-up job of carrying forward that tradition. The New Yorker reports on his homilies for Che Guevara:

At seven-thirty, the partygoers gathered in an auditorium to hear from the new guard of Che admirers, including Chesa Boudin, the twenty-seven-year-old son of Kathy Boudin, who was jailed after serving as an accomplice in the 1981 Brink’s robbery. Boudin, a Rhodes scholar, author, and political consultant, had a neat, buzzed haircut and wore a pink lattice-patterned shirt and gray pants. He said that he had to make a 6:30 A.M. flight to Caracas (“I was in twenty-six countries last year”), and he spoke to the crowd about Che’s legacy: “Most of us don’t remember when he was killed. But all of us have seen Che Guevara T-shirts.”

I wrote a piece for the Yale Daily News several years ago about Boudin, after he was quoted in a New York Times story about credulous Westerners traveling to Chavez’s Venezuela in hopes of finding the New Jerusalem.

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Victims of Our Own Success

It is rare that an article in one part of the newspaper refutes another article just a few pages later, but that’s the case with the New York Times today. The op-ed page features this essay by federal Judge John C. Coughenour criticizing Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey for arguing that the ordinary criminal legal system is not up to the challenge of handling terrorism prosecutions. “Courts,” Coughenour writes, “are equipped to meet this challenge.”

That’s not the impression you get from page A3 of the Times, which features this article on the trial of the suspects behind the terrible Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people and wounded another 1,800 in 2004. Three defendants were convicted of murder, but seven others were acquitted and eighteen others were found guilty of lesser charges. Spaniards were shocked that those who were viewed as the masterminds of this attack got off so lightly. The following passages from reporter Victoria Burnett’s dispatch stand in stark counterpart to Judge Coughenour’s contentions:

The counterterrorism experts said the verdicts reflected the challenges faced by police forces and judges as they seek to imprison those accused of international terrorism: the preponderance of circumstantial evidence rather than concrete proof; problems with evidence translated from Arabic and with evidence collected by other countries; unreliable witnesses; and the absence of confessions — none of the 28 defendants confessed.

“It is a point of pride to be able to try people in a courtroom, with full constitutional guarantees,” Fernando Reinares, an expert in international terrorism at the Royal Elcano Institute, said. “But in Spain there is space for debate about whether we need to adapt our judicial legislation and culture to confront international Islamist terrorism.”

Roland Jacquard, head of the International Observatory on Terrorism in Paris, said prosecutors had encountered similar difficulties in countries like Germany, where people accused of complicity in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were acquitted for lack of evidence.

He said: “We need to find a legal formula that would give evidence of the masterminds’ responsibility, and not only of the responsibility of the operatives. It is always easier to arrest someone who has imprints of explosives on his hands.”

So even Europeans are waking up to the fact that they need a new “legal formula” and that they have to “adapt [their] judicial legislation and culture to confront international Islamist terrorism.” If this is becoming obvious in Europe, why is it so many Americans are missing the point?

The only answer I can think of is complacency: We have become victims of our own success in the war on terrorism. Let us hope it doesn’t take another September 11 to awaken us to the urgency of the threat we face and the inadequacy of normal law enforcement procedures for dealing with it.

It is rare that an article in one part of the newspaper refutes another article just a few pages later, but that’s the case with the New York Times today. The op-ed page features this essay by federal Judge John C. Coughenour criticizing Attorney General nominee Michael Mukasey for arguing that the ordinary criminal legal system is not up to the challenge of handling terrorism prosecutions. “Courts,” Coughenour writes, “are equipped to meet this challenge.”

That’s not the impression you get from page A3 of the Times, which features this article on the trial of the suspects behind the terrible Madrid train bombing that killed 191 people and wounded another 1,800 in 2004. Three defendants were convicted of murder, but seven others were acquitted and eighteen others were found guilty of lesser charges. Spaniards were shocked that those who were viewed as the masterminds of this attack got off so lightly. The following passages from reporter Victoria Burnett’s dispatch stand in stark counterpart to Judge Coughenour’s contentions:

The counterterrorism experts said the verdicts reflected the challenges faced by police forces and judges as they seek to imprison those accused of international terrorism: the preponderance of circumstantial evidence rather than concrete proof; problems with evidence translated from Arabic and with evidence collected by other countries; unreliable witnesses; and the absence of confessions — none of the 28 defendants confessed.

“It is a point of pride to be able to try people in a courtroom, with full constitutional guarantees,” Fernando Reinares, an expert in international terrorism at the Royal Elcano Institute, said. “But in Spain there is space for debate about whether we need to adapt our judicial legislation and culture to confront international Islamist terrorism.”

Roland Jacquard, head of the International Observatory on Terrorism in Paris, said prosecutors had encountered similar difficulties in countries like Germany, where people accused of complicity in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States were acquitted for lack of evidence.

He said: “We need to find a legal formula that would give evidence of the masterminds’ responsibility, and not only of the responsibility of the operatives. It is always easier to arrest someone who has imprints of explosives on his hands.”

So even Europeans are waking up to the fact that they need a new “legal formula” and that they have to “adapt [their] judicial legislation and culture to confront international Islamist terrorism.” If this is becoming obvious in Europe, why is it so many Americans are missing the point?

The only answer I can think of is complacency: We have become victims of our own success in the war on terrorism. Let us hope it doesn’t take another September 11 to awaken us to the urgency of the threat we face and the inadequacy of normal law enforcement procedures for dealing with it.

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Remembering Kitaj

The Cleveland-born artist Ronald Brooks (R.B.) Kitaj (1932-2007), who died on October 21, has a new book out from Yale University Press, The Second Diasporist Manifesto. Kitaj’s 1989 First Diasporist Manifesto preceded it as a collection of scattered fragmentary musings about being a Jewish man and artist. Both books declare the author’s principles, as any manifesto should, but neither is a poem, as Kitaj alleges.

The Second Diasporist Manifesto contains 615 numbered observations, which Yale University Press describes as “deliberately echo[ing] the Commandments of Jewish Law.” Of course, 613 and not 615 is the traditional number of commandments in the Torah. Like the Torah’s commandments, Kitaj’s book may be divided into “positive commandments,” about reading authors like Kafka, Gershom Scholem, Benjamin Fondane, and Lev Shestov, and “negative commandments” about those he loathes, like the anti-Semitic T. S. Eliot. There is also the occasional unexpected juxtaposition, such as when it is pointed out that the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer (who founded the Hasidic movement), was a contemporary of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the fashionable British portrait painter.

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The Cleveland-born artist Ronald Brooks (R.B.) Kitaj (1932-2007), who died on October 21, has a new book out from Yale University Press, The Second Diasporist Manifesto. Kitaj’s 1989 First Diasporist Manifesto preceded it as a collection of scattered fragmentary musings about being a Jewish man and artist. Both books declare the author’s principles, as any manifesto should, but neither is a poem, as Kitaj alleges.

The Second Diasporist Manifesto contains 615 numbered observations, which Yale University Press describes as “deliberately echo[ing] the Commandments of Jewish Law.” Of course, 613 and not 615 is the traditional number of commandments in the Torah. Like the Torah’s commandments, Kitaj’s book may be divided into “positive commandments,” about reading authors like Kafka, Gershom Scholem, Benjamin Fondane, and Lev Shestov, and “negative commandments” about those he loathes, like the anti-Semitic T. S. Eliot. There is also the occasional unexpected juxtaposition, such as when it is pointed out that the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Yisroel ben Eliezer (who founded the Hasidic movement), was a contemporary of Sir Joshua Reynolds, the fashionable British portrait painter.

Kitaj himself, as a figurative artist whose images are chock-full of historical and literary content, depicting celebrities from Einstein to Philip Roth, was defiantly unfashionable. Although he was honored with major retrospectives in London and New York, these sparked controversy when critics reacted vituperatively. A 1994 Tate Gallery show enraged the London press, which the artist himself attributed to English “low-octane anti-Semitism.”

Yet Kitaj could appreciate some art critics, like Clement Greenberg and Meyer Schapiro. When the show traveled to the Metropolitan Museum a year later, the New York Times was equally condescending, calling Kitaj a “painter whose ambitions outstrip his art . . . his paintings can sometimes be abstruse and pretentious, and there are too many weak recent pictures on view to come out of the Metropolitan with more than mixed feelings.” As recently as 2005, the Times arts section was still scolding Kitaj, telling him to “calm down and do nothing but paint still-lifes for a while.”

In Kitaj’s art and manifestos, content is hugely important, especially when compared to the work of his friend and colleague David Hockney. Kitaj admired still lifes by his idol Cézanne or the modern Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, but his mission was to express Jewish culture and history in images. As he told one interviewer, “I’d like to do for Jews what Morandi did for jars.” Critics who bash Kitaj because of his content are forgetting E. H. Gombrich’s dictum, “There is no wrong reason for liking a work of art, only for disliking it.” The death of Kitaj’s wife Sandra Fisher (1947-1994), whom he had married at London’s venerable Bevis Marks Synagogue, a Sephardic landmark, was a permanent loss. Also a gifted painter, Fisher was honored last year with an exhibition at the New York Studio School. Whatever critical bile has flowed in the past, the art of Kitaj and Fisher surely will be admired by posterity.

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Michael Scheuer Watch #6: Bad Apples and Basic Questions

Large organizations have difficulty keeping poor performers and misfits out of their ranks. This is often true even in their most mission-critical jobs. There are numerous cases of airline pilots, even on the major airlines, showing up at the cockpit drunk. A NASA astronaut who had won the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal allegedly wore space-flight diapers to drive hundreds of miles non-stop in order to menace or kidnap or murder another astronaut who was a rival in a love triangle.

The CIA has not been exempt from such difficulties. Here is an excerpt from a report by the agency’s Inspector General concerning the case of the Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who steadily rose through the ranks of the mission-critical Soviet division despite some significant performance issues:

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Large organizations have difficulty keeping poor performers and misfits out of their ranks. This is often true even in their most mission-critical jobs. There are numerous cases of airline pilots, even on the major airlines, showing up at the cockpit drunk. A NASA astronaut who had won the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal, and the Navy Achievement Medal allegedly wore space-flight diapers to drive hundreds of miles non-stop in order to menace or kidnap or murder another astronaut who was a rival in a love triangle.

The CIA has not been exempt from such difficulties. Here is an excerpt from a report by the agency’s Inspector General concerning the case of the Soviet mole Aldrich Ames, who steadily rose through the ranks of the mission-critical Soviet division despite some significant performance issues:

[W]e have uncovered a vast quantity of information about Ames’s professional sloppiness, his failure to file accountings, contact reports and requests for foreign travel on time or at all. We have found that Ames was oblivious to issues of personal security both professionally–he left classified files on a subway train–and in his espionage–he carried incriminating documents and large amounts of cash in his airline luggage; he carried classified documents out of CIA facilities in shopping bags; and he openly walked into the Soviet embassy in the United States and a Soviet compound in Rome. We have noted that Ames’s abuse of alcohol, while not constant throughout his career, was chronic and interfered with his judgment and the performance of his duties. . . . By and large his professional weaknesses were observed by Ames’s colleagues and supervisors and were tolerated by many who did not consider them highly unusual for Directorate of Operations officers on the “not going anywhere” promotion track.

Michael Scheuer was also for a time in charge of a mission-critical assignment in the CIA, running the group in charge of countering Osama bin Laden. I have written about his sub-par performance, most recently in The CIA Examines Itself.

How bad apples make their way through organizations large and small is a question that has long fascinated me. And Michael Scheuer is a particularly fascinating case, especially because he responds to my questions, even while seldom if ever answering them.

There are many dots about his life and career that I still intend to connect. And in the interests of piecing together the story, and using the Internet as a form of collaborative journalism, I have been wondering about some basic facts regarding his biography. I hope readers, if they have information, will assist me.

Some questions for today:

1. Wikipedia states that Scheuer resigned from the CIA in 2004 after a 22-year career. Is Wikipedia accurate on this point? If accurate, it would mean that Scheuer began his career in the agency in 1982.

2. But Scheuer earned a Ph.D. degree from the University of Manitoba in May 1986. Did he accomplish this while associated with the CIA? Was he stationed at Langley during this period, or was he based in that hotbed of international intrigue, Winnipeg, Canada?

3. Why did Scheuer choose to attend the University of Manitoba? That, too, seems interesting, and I admit that so far I’m stumped.

I have many more questions, but those are enough unconnected dots for today. If you can help me connect them, write to letters@commentarymagazine.com and put Michael Scheuer Watch in the subject line. Confidentiality is guaranteed. (But see my Why Journalists Are Not Above the Law to understand exactly how far I would go in protecting your identity.)

A complete guide to other items in this Michael Scheuer Watch series can be found here.

 

 

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Michael Scheuer Watch: Some Housekeeping

To avoid confusion, I’ve renamed some of my posts. They now appears as follows:

Michael Scheuer Watch #1: The Jewish Conspiracy

Michael Scheuer Watch #2: Osama bin Laden’s Favorite Pundit

Michael Scheuer Watch #3: Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Michael Scheuer Watch #4: The Danish Affair

Michael Scheuer Watch #5: The Danish Affair, Cont.

Michael Scheuer Watch #6: Bad Apples and Basic Questions

Michael Scheuer Watch #7: Heavy Medal

Michael Scheuer Watch #8: Please Pass the Truth Serum

In addition to posts here on Connecting . . . the Dots, readers can also find my discussion of Scheuer’s book, Imperial Hubris, in What Became of the CIA in the March 2005 COMMENTARY.

Scheuer subsequently responded to that piece, and I then responded to his response, both of which appeared in the correspondence pages of the June 2005 COMMENTARY.

More recently I examined Scheuer’s performance (or malperformance) as a counterterrorism official in The CIA Examines Itself in the September 17, 2007 Weekly Standard.

I will be saying more about why I am devoting so many precious pixels to such a small fry in a later post.

To avoid confusion, I’ve renamed some of my posts. They now appears as follows:

Michael Scheuer Watch #1: The Jewish Conspiracy

Michael Scheuer Watch #2: Osama bin Laden’s Favorite Pundit

Michael Scheuer Watch #3: Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Michael Scheuer Watch #4: The Danish Affair

Michael Scheuer Watch #5: The Danish Affair, Cont.

Michael Scheuer Watch #6: Bad Apples and Basic Questions

Michael Scheuer Watch #7: Heavy Medal

Michael Scheuer Watch #8: Please Pass the Truth Serum

In addition to posts here on Connecting . . . the Dots, readers can also find my discussion of Scheuer’s book, Imperial Hubris, in What Became of the CIA in the March 2005 COMMENTARY.

Scheuer subsequently responded to that piece, and I then responded to his response, both of which appeared in the correspondence pages of the June 2005 COMMENTARY.

More recently I examined Scheuer’s performance (or malperformance) as a counterterrorism official in The CIA Examines Itself in the September 17, 2007 Weekly Standard.

I will be saying more about why I am devoting so many precious pixels to such a small fry in a later post.

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Susceptible to Cyber-Terror

Gabe Schoenfeld has written skeptically about the new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks, especially in light of the fact that so much of our software code is written abroad, “some in countries that may have interests inimical to those of the United States.”

Gabe wonders:

If our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

The short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.

The Financial Times broke the story of one such attack that occurred in 2005. Israeli-Russian mobsters based in Tel Aviv succeeded in hacking into the London offices of the Japanese bank Sumitomo, and almost managed to transfer some $500 million to their own bank accounts. According to one account, this was how the operation was carried out:

Thieves masquerading as cleaning staff with the help of a security guard installed hardware keystroke loggers on computers within the London branch of Sumitomo Mitsui, a huge Japanese bank.

These computers evidently belonged to help desk personnel. The keystroke loggers captured everything typed into the computer including, of course, administrative passwords for remote access.

By installing software keystroke loggers on the PC’s that belonged to the bank personnel responsible for wire transfers over the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) network, the thieves captured credentials that were then used to transfer 220 million pounds (call it half-a-billion dollars).

These thieves were nabbed in time by Scotland Yard, but if they had succeeded it would have been the greatest bank robbery of all time.

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Gabe Schoenfeld has written skeptically about the new Defense Science Board study, which raises alarms about the Department of Defense’s vulnerability to cyber-attacks, especially in light of the fact that so much of our software code is written abroad, “some in countries that may have interests inimical to those of the United States.”

Gabe wonders:

If our adversaries are as good as we are saying they are at exploiting vulnerabilities in our technology, why are their brilliant programmers not going off on freelance missions to tap in, say, to the electronic systems of a Goldman Sachs and transferring its assets to themselves?

The short answer is they are doing precisely that. It’s just that the public doesn’t hear much about it because the targeted institutions want to keep as quiet as possible for obvious reasons, so as not to encourage copycats and not to endanger the confidence of their clients, investors, and counterparties.

The Financial Times broke the story of one such attack that occurred in 2005. Israeli-Russian mobsters based in Tel Aviv succeeded in hacking into the London offices of the Japanese bank Sumitomo, and almost managed to transfer some $500 million to their own bank accounts. According to one account, this was how the operation was carried out:

Thieves masquerading as cleaning staff with the help of a security guard installed hardware keystroke loggers on computers within the London branch of Sumitomo Mitsui, a huge Japanese bank.

These computers evidently belonged to help desk personnel. The keystroke loggers captured everything typed into the computer including, of course, administrative passwords for remote access.

By installing software keystroke loggers on the PC’s that belonged to the bank personnel responsible for wire transfers over the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) network, the thieves captured credentials that were then used to transfer 220 million pounds (call it half-a-billion dollars).

These thieves were nabbed in time by Scotland Yard, but if they had succeeded it would have been the greatest bank robbery of all time.

There are also, of course, countless cyber-attacks being carried out every day against the information infrastructure of the U.S. and our allies. The most famous of these was the assault by Russian hackers on Estonia’s computers earlier this year. (For details, see here.)

The U.S. is just as vulnerable to such an attack. In fact, as Ralph Peters argues in this New York Post column, our reliance on computer networks and satellites constitutes one of our biggest strategic vulnerabilities. He calls it a “ ‘high-tech’ Maginot Line,” and I would have to agree with him.

The comparison may seem overwrought, but only because no enemy has tried to exploit this vulnerability in a major way. Yet. We do know, however, that China, Russia, and various non-state actors are working to ramp up their capabilities in this sphere. We’d better step up our defenses, or else face the prospect of many of our super-expensive weapons and surveillance systems being rendered useless in a war. There is also the very real threat of cyber-terrorism wreaking havoc with our financial systems. Just imagine what would happen if the fidelity of banking or trading records were compromised on a massive scale: That could be a more severe blow to our economy than the loss of the World Trade Center.

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What the Army Wants You to See

Some colleagues, readers, and friends have suggested the dispatches I published from Iraq as an embedded reporter might not be reliable, even if true, because I only saw what the United States Army wanted me to see. CBS news anchor Katie Couric said as much about her own coverage when she first arrived in Baghdad in September.

I’ve had the same thoughts myself, and I quietly wondered if I should disclose them. I chose not to, though, because my experience, as it turned out, didn’t actually warrant it.

The Army hooked me up with the 82nd Airborne Division in the Graya’at district of Baghdad in July. There hadn’t been any violence there since early in 2007. The soldiers hadn’t suffered a single casualty—not even one soldier wounded. How convenient, I thought, that the Army sent me to such a place. I appreciated not being thrown into a meat grinder and shot or blown up, but Graya’at did strike me as a dog-and-pony-show sort of location. Maybe it was. It could certainly function as one, if that’s what the Army intended.

I had to check myself, though. Embed coordinators asked me what kind of stories I wanted to cover. I explicitly said I wasn’t there to chase car bombs. The world doesn’t need yet another reporter on that beat. Also, I told them, access to Iraqi civilians is important. Reporting strictly from inside a military bubble is hardly better than filing reports from the Al Rasheed Hotel in the Green Zone. Graya’at, then, was the right place to embed me.

You could just as easily say the coordinators did exactly what I asked them to do instead of accusing them of sending me on a happy tour to skew coverage in the Army’s favor. The worst you could fairly say is that their interests and mine were in alignment.

Baghdad isn’t the only place I went in Iraq with the Army. I also went to Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province and the scene of the some of the most vicious fighting of the entire war.

Captain Phil Messer asked me what I wanted to see when I arrived at his outpost.

“Destruction,” I said, because I hadn’t seen much of it yet and needed some photos. So far my only pictures of war damage were taken from inside a Humvee while driving past on the way somewhere else.

“Whatever you need,” he said. “It’s my job to help you do your job and take you where you need to go.”

Some of the destruction he showed me was total. All of it was horrific. Two American colonels in the area compared the battle of Ramadi to Stalingrad. What Captain Messer showed me made that sound credible. You can see some of the photographs here.

He didn’t know who I was or what I would do with those pictures. I told him nothing about my “agenda” or why I wanted a tour of the damage. I could have used those photos as evidence of wanton American destruction of civilian neighborhoods had I so chosen. Many of those buildings were destroyed by American firepower, but others were destroyed by insurgents. BCIED’s—Building Contained IED’s, or building bombs—exploded all over that city. IED’s buried deep under the roads tore the streets and the sewer system to pieces. Car bombs blew windows out everywhere. It wouldn’t be right to blame it all on the Americans, so I didn’t. Captain Messer, though, didn’t know what I was up to. If it was his job to show me only what the Army wanted me to see, he is not very good at his job.

He did, however, show me what I needed and wanted to see. That was his job, or at least part of it. Plenty of officers in the Army understand that. Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman at the Blue Diamond base in Northern Ramadi defended the media’s often negative coverage point blank when I asked him what he thought of it. “It’s true that the media doesn’t have the same agenda in Iraq that we do,” he said, “but I’m not sure it’s the media’s job to have the same agenda in Iraq that we do.”

What ultimately convinced me that the Army didn’t send me off on a Potemkin tour of Iraq was Major Mike Garcia’s suggestion that I visit the small town of Mushadah just north of Baghdad. The Army can’t order me to go anywhere, but he said he could arrange it for me if I was interested. I had not heard of the place until he mentioned it to me, and would never have ended up there on my own.

What I found there was dispiriting, to say the least. He warned me that it was bad news up there, and he was right.

Humvee convoys from Camp Taji to Mushadah were hit with IED’s every day. It was too dangerous for dismounted foot patrols. Captain Maryanne Naro warned me not to step outside my up-armored Humvee for any reason unless something catastrophic happened to it. Half the Iraqi Police officers at the station were too afraid to go out on patrols, and the other half, or so I was told, worked with al Qaeda. I didn’t meet a single American soldier in the area who thought things were going well there, and I wrote a gloomy essay about the experience which you can read here.

The Army never would have put me in a Humvee to Mushadah if their goal was to control what I saw so they could gin up positive stories.

I don’t know why Major Garcia thought I should go to Mushadah, and I didn’t ask. I am grateful, though, for the suggestion and the experience. It provided some necessary balance for the good news I found and reported elsewhere in the country.

Some colleagues, readers, and friends have suggested the dispatches I published from Iraq as an embedded reporter might not be reliable, even if true, because I only saw what the United States Army wanted me to see. CBS news anchor Katie Couric said as much about her own coverage when she first arrived in Baghdad in September.

I’ve had the same thoughts myself, and I quietly wondered if I should disclose them. I chose not to, though, because my experience, as it turned out, didn’t actually warrant it.

The Army hooked me up with the 82nd Airborne Division in the Graya’at district of Baghdad in July. There hadn’t been any violence there since early in 2007. The soldiers hadn’t suffered a single casualty—not even one soldier wounded. How convenient, I thought, that the Army sent me to such a place. I appreciated not being thrown into a meat grinder and shot or blown up, but Graya’at did strike me as a dog-and-pony-show sort of location. Maybe it was. It could certainly function as one, if that’s what the Army intended.

I had to check myself, though. Embed coordinators asked me what kind of stories I wanted to cover. I explicitly said I wasn’t there to chase car bombs. The world doesn’t need yet another reporter on that beat. Also, I told them, access to Iraqi civilians is important. Reporting strictly from inside a military bubble is hardly better than filing reports from the Al Rasheed Hotel in the Green Zone. Graya’at, then, was the right place to embed me.

You could just as easily say the coordinators did exactly what I asked them to do instead of accusing them of sending me on a happy tour to skew coverage in the Army’s favor. The worst you could fairly say is that their interests and mine were in alignment.

Baghdad isn’t the only place I went in Iraq with the Army. I also went to Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province and the scene of the some of the most vicious fighting of the entire war.

Captain Phil Messer asked me what I wanted to see when I arrived at his outpost.

“Destruction,” I said, because I hadn’t seen much of it yet and needed some photos. So far my only pictures of war damage were taken from inside a Humvee while driving past on the way somewhere else.

“Whatever you need,” he said. “It’s my job to help you do your job and take you where you need to go.”

Some of the destruction he showed me was total. All of it was horrific. Two American colonels in the area compared the battle of Ramadi to Stalingrad. What Captain Messer showed me made that sound credible. You can see some of the photographs here.

He didn’t know who I was or what I would do with those pictures. I told him nothing about my “agenda” or why I wanted a tour of the damage. I could have used those photos as evidence of wanton American destruction of civilian neighborhoods had I so chosen. Many of those buildings were destroyed by American firepower, but others were destroyed by insurgents. BCIED’s—Building Contained IED’s, or building bombs—exploded all over that city. IED’s buried deep under the roads tore the streets and the sewer system to pieces. Car bombs blew windows out everywhere. It wouldn’t be right to blame it all on the Americans, so I didn’t. Captain Messer, though, didn’t know what I was up to. If it was his job to show me only what the Army wanted me to see, he is not very good at his job.

He did, however, show me what I needed and wanted to see. That was his job, or at least part of it. Plenty of officers in the Army understand that. Lieutenant Colonel Mike Silverman at the Blue Diamond base in Northern Ramadi defended the media’s often negative coverage point blank when I asked him what he thought of it. “It’s true that the media doesn’t have the same agenda in Iraq that we do,” he said, “but I’m not sure it’s the media’s job to have the same agenda in Iraq that we do.”

What ultimately convinced me that the Army didn’t send me off on a Potemkin tour of Iraq was Major Mike Garcia’s suggestion that I visit the small town of Mushadah just north of Baghdad. The Army can’t order me to go anywhere, but he said he could arrange it for me if I was interested. I had not heard of the place until he mentioned it to me, and would never have ended up there on my own.

What I found there was dispiriting, to say the least. He warned me that it was bad news up there, and he was right.

Humvee convoys from Camp Taji to Mushadah were hit with IED’s every day. It was too dangerous for dismounted foot patrols. Captain Maryanne Naro warned me not to step outside my up-armored Humvee for any reason unless something catastrophic happened to it. Half the Iraqi Police officers at the station were too afraid to go out on patrols, and the other half, or so I was told, worked with al Qaeda. I didn’t meet a single American soldier in the area who thought things were going well there, and I wrote a gloomy essay about the experience which you can read here.

The Army never would have put me in a Humvee to Mushadah if their goal was to control what I saw so they could gin up positive stories.

I don’t know why Major Garcia thought I should go to Mushadah, and I didn’t ask. I am grateful, though, for the suggestion and the experience. It provided some necessary balance for the good news I found and reported elsewhere in the country.

Read Less




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