The quality of antique media's reporting on "domestic spying" stories is abysmal. There seems to be something about the phrase "domestic spying" that sets reporters aquiver, so that they can neither keep facts straight nor separate their feelings from their reporting. The latest example is this Newsweek story by Michael Isikoff on a Pentagon program that keeps track of anti-military demonstrations.
The first absurdity is the headline: "The Other Big Brother." The first "Big Brother" is the NSA's international intercept program. But the suggestion that monitoring international communications between al Qaeda and its American contacts is equivalent to the totalitarian state depicted in 1984 is laughable. The "Other Big Brother," the subject of Newsweek's article, is the Defense Department's Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) program.
Newsweek begins by describing a demonstration of "peace activists" outside Halliburton's Houston headquarters, on which someone in the Defense Department wrote a report. Newsweek then characterizes CIFA as one of several "secret government programs that spy on Americans in the name of national security." But wait! Where is there any evidence of "spying"? Since when is writing a report on a demonstration "spying"?
Newsweek compounds its sloppy reporting with misleading metaphors: "It isn't clear how many groups and individuals were snagged by CIFA's dragnet." Which summons up images of innocent citizens being dragged off the street and jailed; the definition of "dragnet" is "A system of coordinated procedures for apprehending criminal suspects or other wanted persons." But these antiwar demonstrators have not been apprehended or arrested. All that has happened is that someone wrote a report about the demonstration.
What's more, it appears that the information that goes into CIFA's reports comes mainly from the internet. That's right--the Defense Department is surfing the web, and identifying antiwar and antimilitary demonstrations that might be linked to domestic terror threats! This is what passes for "spying" in Newsweek's world.
Newsweek's main source for its story is William Arkin, whom the magazine describes blandly as "a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who writes widely about military affairs." This is, to put it mildly, a tendentious description. Arkin is a vitriolic critic of the Bush administration, and an alumnus of such far-left organizations as Greenpeace. Hugh Hewitt researched Arkin two years ago, and wrote an article in the Daily Standard titled "Who Is William Arkin?". Hugh describes a speech that Arkin gave in 2002:
"In his lengthy and vitriolic attack on the Bush administration, Arkin admitted to feeling "cynical about the fact that we are going to war to enhance the economic interests of the Enron class," and declared that "the war against terrorism is overstated." Arkin believed, in fact, that the war "is not the core United States national security interest today." He rhetorically asked the audience: "Aren't I just another leftist, self-hating American?" and condemned the administration for taking "enormous liberties with American freedoms.""
So William Arkin is a bitter anti-Bush partisan; yet Newsweek takes his words at face value and describes him only as "a former U.S. Army intelligence analyst who writes widely about military affairs."
Of course, notwithstanding Newsweek's breathless and misleading prose, there is nothing illegal or improper about writing reports on anti-military demonstrations. Whether it is worth the effort to write such reports is debatable, but that's another question. And Isikoff offers no evidence that more than a de minimis effort is devoted to keeping track of the military's critics. The "blockbuster" revelation supporting Newsweek's "Big Brother" characterization is that the Defense Department violated its own regulation by inadvertently retaining the names of some individuals who participated in anti-military demonstrations for more than 90 days. (Such names have now been ordered deleted.) Wow, think of that! Reminds you of Stalin, doesn't it? Well, no; but apparently that's the association--"Big Brother"--that Newsweek makes.
If the Defense Department ever starts shooting or arresting (DoD has no such power, of course) participants in anti-military demonstrations, Newsweek will have a genuine civil liberties scandal to report on. But that hasn't happened and isn't going to happen. No matter how the magazine tries to color the facts, there simply isn't anything wrong with writing reports on demonstrations.
Finally, Isikoff can't resist a parting shot at the first "Big Brother" program, NSA's international electronic intercepts:
"[T]he White House has spent weeks in damage-control mode, defending the controversial program that allowed the National Security Agency to monitor the telephone conversations of U.S. persons suspected of terror links, without obtaining warrants."
Note the inaccurate description of the NSA program. The NSA was not "allowed...to monitor the telephone conversations of U.S. persons suspected of terror links." It was allowed to monitor electronic communications of al Qaeda members overseas, including their communications with persons in the U.S. And the suggestion that the White House is in "damage control mode," defending a "controversial" program, is mere wishful thinking. It would be more accurate, based on poll data, to call the NSA program "wildly popular" than "controversial." And the administration has been on the attack, defending the NSA program aggressively and confidently, hardly in "damage control mode." But when antique media reporters describe the world, they all too often describe what they wish for, not what they see. "
tha nks for posting the excellent powerline rebuttal
Who Is William Arkin?
A look at the Greenpeace activist cum L.A. Times military affairs columnist who's taking after Gen. Jerry Boykin.
by Hugh Hewitt
10/23/2003 12:00:00 AM
Hugh Hewitt, contributing writer
WHO IS WILLIAM ARKIN?
For starters, he is the scribbler who launched the assault on Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin a week ago by providing NBC with tapes of Boykin speaking in churches, and then followed with a Los Angeles Times op-ed that accused the general of being "an intolerant extremist" and a man "who believes in Christian 'jihad'" (Arkin later admitted on my radio program that Boykin never used the term "jihad").
Arkin also wrote that "Boykin has made it clear that he takes his orders not from his Army superiors but from God--which is a worrisome line of command." This statement, like the "jihad" quotation appears to be pure fiction.
But we can't know for sure because Arkin hasn't released the full transcripts of the talks Boykin gave. Arkin promised to do so when I interviewed him, but has since told my producer he won't be providing them because I have misquoted him on my website--another lie from Arkin, to go along with his broken promise of full disclosure.
SO WHO IS ARKIN? That has proven to be a difficult thing to determine, for while Arkin is a prolific writer, his biography is hard to assemble, and maybe intentionally so.
Arkin is a veteran of four years in the Army (he served from 1974 to 1978) and many of his bylines from the past two decades described him as a "military intelligence analyst" during his service (his rank and units are not readily apparent). He received his BS from the University of Maryland.
His employment since leaving the service is easier to trace. Arkin cut his teeth with the lefty Institute for Policy Studies, and went from there to positions with Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Human Rights Watch. He has been a regular columnist for the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. In recent years he has taken more mainstream work as a senior fellow at the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University (he appears to do most of his writing not from the SAIS campus, but from his home in Vermont).
He is also the regular military affairs columnist for the Los Angeles Times (what a surprise that the Times employs a Greenpeace alum as its military guru) and a commentator for MSNBC.
ARKIN TOLD ME he got his tip on Boykin's faith talks from a Pentagon source, which suggests that the general has an enemy inside the Pentagon. But if, as most of Boykin's critics have argued, the danger presented by the general's private talks about his faith is their effect on the Islamic world, then why did Arkin rush to publicize these private, little-noticed talks that he believes will hurt the U.S. abroad?
The answer is best found in Arkin's own speech to an audience at the U.S. Naval War College on September 25, 2002. In this lengthy and vitriolic attack on the Bush administration, Arkin admitted to feeling "cynical about the fact that we are going to war to enhance the economic interests of the Enron class," and declared that "the war against terrorism is overstated." Arkin believed, in fact, that the war "is not the core United States national security interest today." He rhetorically asked the audience: "Aren't I just another leftist, self-hating American?" and condemned the administration for taking "enormous liberties with American freedoms."
"The war against terrorism," he said, "if it is a war at all, is not World War II or the Cold War, and it is grasping at empty patriotism to claim that it is." He warned of "our tendency to fall back upon secrecy and government control." And he concluded by warning that our foreign policy "convey[s] the wrong message, which is that we have no values, that we are for sale":
Bush and company call the war on terror open ended. Such a characterization reveals a lack of ability to foresee an outcome and betrays a muddled sense of strategy, strategy that is based on American values and our aesthetic and our way of life. It is for that reason that they need help in seeing what they are doing. They hardly have all the answers.
You can read the lengthy speech here. I was tempted to leave out the link in the hopes that Arkin would claim his quotes were taken out of context, but I'm willing to let the audience judge for itself, a courtesy that Arkin is unwilling to do for Boykin. I continue to suspect that there is much in the Boykin transcripts that would undercut Arkin's story line, and thus that he intends to conceal. The Los Angeles Times, so much ridiculed in recent weeks, doesn't appear in a hurry to produce the full transcripts either.
ARKIN SET OUT to damage an administration he unquestionably loathes, and found an exposed target in Boykin. The usual suspects have gathered round to stone the general on the basis of edited reports compiled by an obvious ideologue, and despite the fact that the his talks were expressions of a deeply-felt faith delivered to audiences of fellow believers. There is no evidence that these talks had caused even a ripple of controversy until Arkin launched his well-orchestrated--and quite manipulative--campaign to bring the general down.
If the assault on General Boykin is successful, it is the beginning of the end for expressions of personal faith by public officials.