Dual Loyalties

My opinion on the people who shape our world

Friday, December 10, 2004

Maloof - Spying, Gun Running Perle Protégé

Whiskey Bar: The World Turned Upside Down: "The World Turned Upside Down
The New York Times is a vastly overrated paper -- obtuse, pompous, bureaucratic, ridiculously inbred. But for all its flaws, it's still a journalistic icon, and the heir to a great tradition: from the paper's early coverage of the civil rights movement, to David Halberstam's reporting in Vietnam, to the Pentagon Papers, the Karen Silkwood story, Ray Bonner in El Salvador -- even Tom Friedman in Beruit, back before he became such a caricature of the windbag op-ed pundit.

USA Today, on the other hand, is a piece of crap -- an egomaniacal publisher's demented idea of a "popular" newspaper, produced by a souless corporate machine, possessing about as much intellectual content as your average styrofoam hamburger carton. Utterly without redeeming social value.

And yet, today we see an amazing role reversal. The Times -- the proud paper of record -- once again gets suckered into advancing the bureaucratic objectives of the Pentagon's neocon cabal. Meanwhile, USA Today -- the corporate dumpster -- takes a brutally honest look at the intelligence war the Coalition is waging, and losing, in Iraq. Go figure.

First the Times:

Iraq Said to Have Tried to Reach Last-Minute Deal to Avert War

As American soldiers massed on the Iraqi border in March and diplomats argued about war, an influential adviser to the Pentagon received a secret message from a Lebanese-American businessman: Saddam Hussein wanted to make a deal.
Josh Marshall has already jumped all over this one. The "influential advisor," he notes, is in fact a Richard Perle protege who was stripped of his security clearances almost two years ago, triggering a nasty little fight deep in the bowels of the national security state.

The Times managed to bury that little piece of information in the 44th paragraph. It also also neglected to mention why the Perle protege (a Lebanese American defense analyst named F. Michael Maloof -- was deprived of his clearances.

It turns out Maloof's contact -- the "Lebanese-American businessman" -- is a close associate of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian thugocrat, and is currently under federal investigation for allegedly running guns into Liberia.

The Times reporter wouldn't have had to meet anyone in a dark garage to find this out: Knight Ridder had the story back in August:

U.S. revokes security clearance for Pentagon employee

A veteran Pentagon employee who was a key player in the effort to find links between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida has been stripped of his security clearance, according to senior U.S. officials.
The employee, F. Michael Maloof, is associated with a Lebanese-American businessman who is under federal investigation for possible involvement in a gun-running scheme to Liberia, the West African nation embroiled in civil war. The businessman, Imad El Haje, approached Maloof on behalf of Syria to seek help in arranging a communications channel between Syria and the Defense Department.

Sob Story

That last -- completely unsourced -- sentence is particularly interesting. It looks like somebody (paging Mr. Richard Perle; Mr. Richard Perle please meet your party in the parking garage) wanted to create the impression that Haje is a big wheel, a guy with contacts, somebody an analyst like Maloof would have a legitimate reason to schmooze.

Likewise, somebody also wanted very much to create the impression that the entire affair is political -- bureaucratic retaliation against a bold iconoclast for having dared to question the CIA's conventional wisdom:

Those close to [Maloof] contend that his clearances were pulled in retaliation for challenging the official assessment that there were no operational terrorist links between al-Qaida and Iraq.

Maloof was part of a two-man team created at the Pentagon after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks to find such links. The team was a predecessor to the Pentagon's controversial Office of Special Plans.

I think you probably get the picture by now. Maloof's appeal of his security revocation was denied in May. And since then, not a shred of evidence has come to light to support his views on the purported links between Al Qaeda and Saddam. In other words, his government career is ruined -- all that's left is the customary cubbyhole at the AEI nut house.

And then a great big story hits the front page of the New York Times, casting Maloof has the central figure in a web of mysterious behind-the-scenes talks that might have headed off a war. If only the fools had listened!

As Josh Marshall rather delicately observes:

If I'm on the line for these unauthorized contacts with the gun-running businessman, wouldn't it be a lot harder to punish me for it if it looked like that contact almost allowed me to secure a deal that would have averted the need for war?
And if that's the case, wouldn't it be cool if my buddies and mentors went to the press with the story of how I almost saved the day?

Personally, I think even single-celled organisms should be able to figure out that there was never any chance the Bushies were going to call off their war, and certainly not because a suspected Lebanese gun runner passed along some alleged feelers from Saddam.

The whole story smells like a rotten fish. It has disinformation written all over it -- the latest product of the neocon fantasy factory. If so, it has to be considered at least mildly remarkable that the neocons woud intentionally float a story that makes United States look (to the non-GOP fraction of the world, anyway) like a irredeemable war monger, just to salvage the hide of a lower-level member of the cabal.

In any case, you would think that after Judith Miller and the WMD debacle, Times reporters and editors would be at least a little more skeptical of "scoops" thrown their way by the neocons and their motley Middle Eastern entourage (Chalabi, Hage, etc.)

But apparently not. It seems the only way the Pentagon Papers could get in the New York Times these days would be if they were leaked by the American Enterprise Institute.

Score One for McPaper

USA Today, on the other hand, seems to have forgotten that its main contribution to American journalism is suppose to be providing the late sports scores. Today's Today gives us a vivid account of the underground war raging between the Coalition and the insurgents. For a bunch of supposedly "desperate" bitter enders, they seem to have developed some impressively deadly intelligence capabilities:

Insurgents gain a deadly edge in intelligence

U.S. forces are losing the intelligence battle in Iraq to an increasingly organized guerrilla force that uses stealth, spies and surprise to inflict punishing casualties.
U.S. military, intelligence and law enforcement officials say that after six months of intensifying guerrilla warfare, Iraqi insurgents know more about the U.S. and allied forces — their style of operations, convoy routes and vulnerable targets — than the coalition forces know about them. Indeed, U.S. intelligence has had trouble simply identifying the enemy and figuring out how many are Iraqis and how many are foreign fighters.

In today's authoritarian political climate, it takes a certain amount of guts for a mass circulation paper to admit that America is "losing" anything, much less a crucial battle in a major war -- especially when one of your main sources is a former Iraqi intelligence official:

A former senior director in the Iraqi intelligence service says the Americans are right to be anxious.
"The intelligence on the Americans is comprehensive and detailed," says the Iraqi, who insisted on not being identified and spoke to a reporter in a private home rather than at a restaurant or hotel to avoid being observed. He says Iraqi guerrilla forces get detailed reports on what is going on inside the palace grounds occupied by Paul Bremer, the chief U.S. civilian administrator in Iraq, Bremer's staff and the Governing Council.

The implications are pretty grim for an occupation force that increasingly is going to have to rely on Iraqi collaborators for basic intelligence and counterintelligence functions. If the Coalition's security arrangements have already been penetrated, how much worse will it get once the war has been fully "Iraqified"? The story doesn't delve into those issues -- this is still USA Today, after all -- but it at least raises them.


Unfortunately, I don't think today's disturbance in the Matrix will last very long. This isn't a case of a new journalistic star rising as an old one falls. I fully expect USA Today to return to its customary diet of Brittney Spears, business travel tips and basketball scores. The New York Times no doubt will continue to function as a part-time appendage of the AEI press office. And everybody -- save for a few old lefty cranks like me -- will be content.

Especially Brittney.

Posted by billmon at November 6, 2003 12:42 PM | "


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