8/16/2005

Daily Kos: What Judy Miller Did as an Embed, Conclusion

let's go back to that April 21 article and look at what they had censored...The scientist's identity. Any details that might help a reader judge the provenence of the scientist's story.... And that's because Ahmed Ahmedizzet, as described by Finn, couldn't know what Yankee Fan claims to know, which is what Saddam was doing with WMDs right before the war, because Ahmed Ahmedizzet had been in exile in Norway since 1998. Protecting Ahmedizzet's identity allows Judy (or the military) to obscure any clues that their "silver bullet" is a fake, that either he or the military is lying about what he had to say... all leads me to conclude that Judy's embed agreement wasn't about secrecy and protecting sources. Rather, it was about hiding the lengths she would go to to tell the story the Pentagon wanted to tell--up to and including lying.

* emptywheel's diary :: ::
*
This is the last part of a six-part series exploring what Judy did while embedding in Iraq. The other posts are Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and Part Five. Plus my excursion into Chalabi's activities during the time when Judy was in Iraq.

I should start with a warning. In the rest of this series, I tried to stick very closely to Judy's stories and other reporting. I speculated at times, but largely about how details in the articles lined up, such as which articles Judy tried to suppress and the identity of the Iraqi I called Yankee Fan. In this post, though, I'm going to try to summarize and extrapolate to understand what Judy was doing in spring and summer 2003, before the Plame outing. I will still stick with the facts that we know. But I will be speculating more than I was. It will be informed speculation, mind you. But it will be speculation. If that kind of thing aggravates you, you might want to skip this post.

In any case, I'll show that, from the spring on, Judy's reporting was doing the same thing the Neocon's attack on Wilson and eventual outing of Plame was doing--both were trying to sustain the claims for WMDs made to justify the war. Further, Judy was actively assisting Defense in its battle against State and CIA over control of Iraq. Judy twice did things even more closely related to the Plame Affair--trying to discredit someone based on his association with CIA, and trying to pass off what I believe to be another Niger forgery.

What was the nature and purpose of Judy's embed?

Judy makes a little slip in her recap article of July 20, 2003. She says,

Interviews with soldiers and government officials over three months with the Pentagon's 75th Exploitation Task Force, known as the XTF

Thing is, she wasn't embedded for three months. She was embedded with XTF from March 19 (or thereabouts) to May 12 (or thereabouts). less than two months, not three. But now that I've reviewed the timeline of Chalabi's early months in Iraq--in addition to that of the XTF, I've been wondering whether Judy just forgot who she was supposed to be embedded with. Because she started working with Chalabi in Feburary, and was working with Chalabi for large periods until May, when she left. Three months. Not just with the XTF, but with Chalabi too.

If her embed was with Chalabi and the XTF, then we can think of the scope of her embed as defined by her objective, not one particularly military unit. Rummy sent Judy to Iraq to make sure events on the ground in Iraq didn't totally discredit the excuse for the war, the WMDs. Embedding Judy with the 75th XTF was an important way to help Judy manage WMD expecations. But she needed Chalabi's help to thoroughly craft expectations.

Rummy prepared to fight two wars in Iraq (and did not, as we now know, prepare for the reconstruction). The first, the battle to topple Saddam's governent, was going to be easy. The story they needed to tell about that war was easy--Jessica Lynch and toppling statues and lots of things to make the red state voters at home feel good and manly about their little war. "America, fuck yeah!"

The second war was not so easy. That war was a fight to make sure Neocons at Defense and their allies would be able to stay in Iraq and control the future of Iraq. They were battling against a number of enemies here. Most obviously, they were fighting aggressively with State over who would manage reconstruction in Iraq. Not least because State had a plan to actually reconstruct Iraq, rather than occupy it under the fig leaf of a friendly leader. So part of this war involved undercutting State (and their allies supporting a realistic reconstruction, CIA) at every opportunity.

This second war also involved telling a story to the American people. But it was a different story than the Jessica Lynch story. In this story, Defense had to sustain the fear about the WMDs that had been the primary excuse for the war, while gently shifting the expectation we would find the masses of WMDs Colin Powell promised we'd find during his UN speech. If America figured out the WMD rationale was a lie early in the process, then Neocons risked losing support for an aggressive reconstruction. And in the medium term, if America figured out that the war was based on a lie before the presidential election, the Neocons risked losing their seat of power itself.

This second story--the WMD story--was a pretty delicate story to tell. You had to simultaneously pump up the fear about WMDs while you shifted the story slightly to the promise of WMDs, rather than their actual presence.

Which is why they got Judy Miller.

Judy was more experienced than anyone else at telling evil scary stories about WMDs. Judy had also proven, over the course of the previous several years, to be a very reliable story-teller for the Neocons. Her ideological allegiances made her trustworthy. Plus--and this was an important plus--Judy had worked extensively with Ahmed Chalabi. She had pretty much staked her career (unwisely) on his credibility. She'd be the perfect person to help make Chalabi a viable General in the war against State for control of Iraq.

Which is why I don't think Judy was censored in the sense we have understood it.

Judy's embed rules were not developed by military censors. Rather, they came from an agreement she personally struck with Rummy. And the reason why is that the unit includes "Secret Squirrels" who need to be protected.

But let's go back to that April 21 article and look at what they had censored. The names of the precursor chemicals the "scientist" digs up. The scientist's identity. Any details that might help a reader judge the provenence of the scientist's story.

Now, as I've said in Parts Two, Four, and my Chalabi post, I think this scientist (I call him Yankee Fan) is the Mukhabarat officer who leads Judy on a search for an ancient Talmud. And I think Yankee Fan is also Ahmed Ahmedizzet, a former colonel in the Mukhabarat who returns to Baghdad with Chalabi's Free Iraqi Fighters militia. If I'm right, then it appears Ahmedizzet's identity wasn't so important to protect when Peter Finn named him on April 17; it wasn't Ahmedizzet's association with Chalabi and the US Forces that endangered him. Keeping his identity secret only became important four days later, when Judy writes about him as the "silver bullet" that explains the absence of any WMDs in Iraq.

And that's because Ahmed Ahmedizzet, as described by Finn, couldn't know what Yankee Fan claims to know, which is what Saddam was doing with WMDs right before the war, because Ahmed Ahmedizzet had been in exile in Norway since 1998. Protecting Ahmedizzet's identity allows Judy (or the military) to obscure any clues that their "silver bullet" is a fake, that either he or the military is lying about what he had to say.

I assume it works the same with the chemical precursors. Judy published specific details on the materials they found in two articles on radiation finds (both sites known to the IAEA). But she doesn't here. The difference, I suspect, is that the radiation sites actually exist, whereas the precursors were just a staged find. Judy withheld the details because they would have made it easier to refute the story.

One more objective that Judy's supposed secrecy restrictions serve. It allows her to construct a very managed view of the soldiers in MET Alpha (primarily). Throughout her articles, Judy only quotes from a few members of 75th XTF: Gonzales, McPhee, a DIA officer, and a few members who remain completely anonymous (who therefore could be one of these three people off the record). The rest remain silent, occasionally described, but never quoted. Contrast that with Barton Gellman's article on May 11, which I describe in Part Five and which Judy may have tried to prevent Gellman from reporting. Gellman. In a May 9 article, Judy quotes Gonzales speaking in very measured tones about having had important evidence apparently removed in the past 48 hours.

''It is clear that in the past 48 hours, someone has removed many of the most critical items that we had hoped to salvage,'' said Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzalez, the team's leader.

Gellman quotes Gonzales speaking 4 days earlier, sounding much more human--and more discouraged:

"Why are we doing any planned targets?" Army Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzales, leader of Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, said in disgust to a colleague during last Sunday's nightly report of weapons sites and survey results. "Answer me that. We know they're empty."

Judy had told members of MET Alpha that Gonzales didn't have clearance to talk to them. But they weren't talking about classified information. They were complaining. It seems like Judy didn't want them talking to Gonzales because she didn't want an accurate portrayal of their frustration and doubts to appear.

Which all leads me to conclude that Judy's embed agreement wasn't about secrecy and protecting sources. Rather, it was about hiding the lengths she would go to to tell the story the Pentagon wanted to tell--up to and including lying.

Daily Kos: What Judy Miller Did as an Embed, Conclusion

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