The State Department and the CIA seem to have grabbed the wheel at the New York Times, with successive front-page stories last week on Wednesday and Thursday, first smearing Iraqi Governing Council member and longtime U.S. ally Ahmed Chalabi, then his allies in the administration.
Perhaps it sacrificed its journalistic integrity in exchange for the first pass at leaks from State and CIA, or perhaps the paper and the paper-pushers united because of a common goal: the defeat of George W. Bush this November.
To appreciate how surreal the Times? stories were last week, consider the underlying facts. Chalabi is accused of telling Iran that the U.S. had broken its secret code. Then there?s the kicker.
Upon being told that his country?s code had been compromised, an Iranian intelligence agent turned around and sent a message back to the mullahs that the U.S. had cracked the code?by using the cracked code.
Never mind that the message could have been delivered by hand following a 2-hour drive.
Knowing that your code has been cracked is about the best gift that can be given. The potential for misinformation is enormous. Any Iranian intelligence agent would have had common sense enough not to slaughter the golden goose before it had been given the chance to lay any eggs.
That ?intelligence officials? (who can be found at both CIA and State) felt strongly enough to go the Times means one of two things: 1) they didn?t believe that Chalabi had actually done anything, but exploited it anyway to achieve a long-sought goal (squashing Chalabi), or 2) they are pitifully, disturbingly gullible.
More offensive, though, was that the Times bit.
The previous week, the paper had run a series of stories, first an attack on Chalabi with vague accusations of passing intelligence to Iran, and then an attack on Chalabi?s strongest supporters, the hawks in the administration, specifically at the Pentagon. The pattern was repeated one week later.
The paper even went so far as to do its best to explain away the transparently goofy scenario. In the article, Iran?s transmission of Chalabi?s supposed leak was rationalized as the agent ?possibly not believing Mr. Chalabi's account? after a single test message was not seized upon. But common sense dictates that far more than one test would have been sent before revealing to the U.S. that Iran knew its code had been broken.
But here?s where the Times story gets downright contemptible. The article states that the administration had requested that news agencies hold off on the ?code? story, ?citing national security concerns,? and ?the Times agreed.? Except there was nothing secret about the ?code? story.
This journalist alone, in the first weekend after the raid, was involved in more than a handful of conversations with people outside of government where those specific allegations were discussed. Several people have expressed similar experiences, making it some ?secret? indeed. Most simply viewed the ?allegations? as laughable, not publishable.
And, for the record, the charges were published by National Review Online the Monday after the raid, fully nine days before the Times was given the government?s ok to release the information.
Much to the delight of State and CIA, the Times allowed the agencies to create two separate news cycles: before and after specific charges were announced. And within each cycle, the paper further granted the bureaucrats the ability to spread the smear to Bush?s political appointees at the Pentagon, who are Chalabi?s chief allies.
The day after reporting the ?code? allegations, the lead of a front-page story announced, ?Federal investigators have begun administering polygraph examinations to civilian employees at the Pentagon.? Problem is, those same ?civilian employees? adamantly insist?to this journalist and any other?that no polygraphs had been administered, yet the Times egregiously omitted this.
Smearing Chalabi and administration hawks has the clear effect of undermining, in the public?s eye, the justification and legitimacy of the war. Consequently, President Bush gets hammered, since his support is pegged to the war?s.
And that?s the point, at least for State and CIA, populated mostly by careerists with no loyalty to President Bush. Maybe that?s why the New York Times has given such carte blanche to State and CIA.
Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.
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