STATEMENT TO ACCOMPANY TESTIMONY
BEFORE THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE,
UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
BY COLONEL KENNETH ALLARD, U.S. ARMY (RET.)
JULY 11, 2012
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, Ladies & Gentlemen: Thank you for the privilege of testifying before this committee. It is an honor for me, a former APSA Congressional Fellow, to return from whence I came – something seldom to admitted back home in Texas.
Our topic today, “Media Ethics and US National Security” is one I can address at several levels. Most of my military career was spent as an intelligence officer, including overseas assignments in the Army’s equivalent of the FBI. As an Army Special Agent, I investigated the national security crimes enumerated by Title 18, US Code, including sabotage, subversion and espionage – all against the deadly serious backdrop of the Cold War. My military career ranged from entry as a draftee to retirement from active duty as a Colonel and Dean of the National War College. Out of uniform, I spent nearly a decade as an on-air military analyst for NBC News, MSBC and CNBC. My media involvement today is principally as a columnist for blogsites ranging from the Daily Caller to the Daily Beast but most recently for the Huffington Post. The author of five books, I am also a featured reviewer for the New York Journal of Books (NYJB).
Based on those experiences, this morning I can suggest to this committee that your misgivings about media bias are well-founded and fully shared by your constituents; that ‘media ethics’ is a term indistinguishable from ‘media self-interest,’ usually in direct support of a pervasive left-wing narrative; and that such self-interests inevitably trump the interests of national security. In short: Media objectivity has been replaced by media advocacy, even at the expense of national security. Let me briefly cite three specific examples in support of that controversial assessment.
First, I was recently assigned by NYJB to review a new book by New York Times reporter David Sanger. Ironically entitled Confront & Conceal (NY: Crown Publishers, 2012), my evaluation as a reviewer is that Mr. Sanger’s book conceals nothing and in fact represents a new low in a scandalous pornography. But this pornography bases its salacious appeal on the revelation and sale-for-profit of the most sensitive American military and diplomatic secrets. Sadly this vice is also habit-forming, since we have now become accustomed to the anarchy of Julian Assange and Wikileaks; and to the repetitive, in-your-face defiance of every defense classification by Bob Woodward – both in his Washington Post columns and his books. But clearly with Mr. Sanger, we have reached a new low-tide in the journalistic gene pool. His book, reveals, among other things, that the Obama White House orchestrated a deliberate, integrated campaign of industrial espionage against Iranian nuclear facilities, including the use of the Stuxnet and Flame viruses.
The danger of those shocking revelations can hardly be over-stated. Not only is industrial sabotage against Iran clearly an act of war, just like a blockade or an aerial bombardment; but such headlines also expose the United States to retaliation from a country whose links to terror are well-established. As the President’s own cyber-czars have repeatedly warned us, the American economy and infrastructure are computer-dependent and therefore uniquely vulnerable to retaliatory cyber-strikes. One of the defining features of cyber-war is the absence of a return address on a worm, a virus or a well-orchestrated computer hack. Yet Mr. Sanger - systematically penetrating the Obama White House as effectively as any foreign agent - removed any conceivable doubt about Stuxnet, Flame or American intentions regarding Iran. I believe that Mr. Sanger violated the Espionage Act, potentially placing him, his superiors at the New York Times and his publishers at Crown Books in jeopardy of forfeiting their liberty and property. Far from advancing our rights as citizens - as a free press should - Mr. Sanger deliberately placed his country at significant risk for his own profit. He might just as well have knocked over a local bank and then claimed a journalistic interest in money supply – his own most of all.
Ever since the articles profiling Mr. Sanger’s book first appeared in the New York Times, the blogosphere has been alive with speculation dominated by one question. Was this expose timed deliberately by the NYT to enhance President Obama’s re-election chances? Were the leaks orchestrated so that officials of the Obama White House, “are practically bragging” as Rich Lowry recently wrote in National Review? (Rich Lowry, “Administration’s leaks amount to brags,” National Review Online, June 20, 2012) President Obama has publically stated that he finds it “offensive” that anyone would dare to suggest “that my White House would purposely release classified national security information.” So let me stress for the record that I do not know if those leaks were deliberate and, until it investigates for itself, neither does this committee. I will return to that issue in a moment.
Second, I can also speak from personal experience as a book reviewer about the slip-shod ethics routinely employed by the NYT to advance its own agenda. Basically, the Times exploits its dominant position in the news industry to promote the views of its own authors – and its own agendas. Mr. Sanger’s front-page articles, for example, were closely timed to his book’s publication date – the better to insure it “flew off the shelves” and increased sales. But so too were those all-important first reviews from the few writers allowed prior access to the book. We at the NYJB were not among them, even though we were willing to sign a pre-release non-disclosure agreement, a common publishing practice. But the NYT does not trust anything it cannot control, a position it strengthens still further by publishing its own book reviews. Naturally, that position also allows it the luxury of chastising its political enemies. Last year, for example, I signed a non-disclosure agreement with his publisher to review the book by former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Known And Unknown. Exactly as agreed, my review appeared at midnight on the book’s publication date – but it was not the first. Days earlier, the NYT also reviewed the Rumsfeld book and, not surprisingly, trashed it. But their dirty little secret: the NYT had somehow obtained a “bootleg copy” of the book from an unscrupulous source - probably paying for the privilege. As most insiders in the publishing community know all too well, the NYT will go to any lengths to insure that their worldview is shouted exclusively from the rooftops. But those publishers also fear being excluded from the Blue Ribbon of publishing - New York Times Best-Seller – so they won’t tell you. Yet I just did!
My third point also results from personal experience. On April 20, 2008, the NYT published a deliberately inflammatory expose: “Behind Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand” by David Barstow. The response to this cause célèbre was so tightly coordinated that there was doubt that their real agenda was election-year politics. Mr. Chairman, I hold a copy of that article. As you can see, the top left corner displays one of the ugliest photos ever taken of me, although four years later, it now seems flattering. But I shared the more distinguished company of some 70 other veterans. Those compatriots included General Barry McCaffrey, the most highly decorated soldier of the Vietnam War; Major General Don Shepperd, veteran of 247 combat missions and one of the famous Misty pilots who flew recon missions over the Ho Chi Minh trail – or as his best-selling book urges, Bury Me Upside Down; and finally, my dear friend, the late General Wayne Downing, father of American special forces. What did these 70 veterans – my fellow Warheads - all have in common? All of us were the military analysts once routinely seen on both the broadcast and cable TV networks, explaining after September 11th the new war we were fighting to a suddenly aroused American public. Yet the Times’ article charged that we had been seduced by access to Pentagon briefings; that some of the military analysts had allowed their ties to defense contractors to influence what they later said on TV (there were even hints of possible kickbacks); but above all, that the military analysts had conveyed to their TV audiences a view of the war secretly shaped by Pentagon propaganda.
Mr. Chairman, let me state unequivocally in this distinguished forum that the New York Times published a story it knew to be either false or badly distorted; that it did so to advance its own parochial agenda; and that it was even willing to tolerate de facto plagiarism to advance that agenda. Here is why I can make those assertions with such confidence.
3. The Times finally published an account of our exoneration, a whiny and transparent rationalization that fooled nobody. More revealing, however, the NYT published their grudging “clarification” – despite those original, black-banner, Sunday-edition headlines - on Christmas Day, deeply buried in an interior section. As the Wall Street Journal commented acidly several days later, the original NYT story, “all fit tidily into the narrative that the war was a conspiracy run by a Dick Cheney-Don Rumsfeld shadow government. Michigan Senator Carl Levin and then-Presidential candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton called for federal investigations. Well, those investigations have now shown that the liars weren't at the Pentagon.”
4. But why do I also argue that the NYT essentially committed de facto plagiarism, particularly in a story that later won the Pulitzer Prize? My college edition of Webster’s defines plagiarism as “to take (ideas, writings, etc) from another and pass them off as one’s own;” but in recent years that strict construction has expanded to embrace the bottom-line responsibility for any writer to identify his sources completely. Failure to do that is investigated as plagiarism, not only at places like West Point with its famous Honor Code but also in educational institutions all across this country that care about integrity. But not, apparently, at the New York Times. As the WSJ pointedly noted, “Then there's the fact that the Pentagon's "hidden" program was publicly known. This was clear at the time—one participant, retired Colonel Kenneth Allard, had written a book about it in 2006—but that didn't stop the myth-makers.”
Mr. Chairman, I hold here the book referred to by the WSJ: Warheads: Cable News and the Fog of War, published in 2006 by the US Naval Institute Press – roughly 18 months prior to the NYT article. From its publication until this morning, I have never mentioned the name of its author, David Barstow, recipient of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize. I have separately provided to the committee’s general counsel the private telephone and cell phone numbers of Mr. Barstow to verify a key fact: I was one of his sources. He contacted me early in 2008. He gushed that he had read Warheads in detail, found its insights extremely valuable on the Pentagon briefing program, and even offered to travel to San Antonio to interview me in detail. Instead, we spoke repeatedly over the next several months. Our conversations often began with references to specific pages and chapters in Warheads. As Mr. Barstow described his own research, he had broken new ground, which I directly acknowledged, then and now. I naively believed he was primarily interested in contributing to an important story: how Pentagon officials adapted to the challenges of explaining counter-insurgency to a public far removed from Vietnam-era conscription.
But our conversations mysteriously ceased in the weeks before the article appeared (April 20, 2008). When it did, it was easy to see why: Barstow’s article was a wordy hatchet job. Largely devoid of context, every other line and most quotations screamed for a “Yes but…!” response. Worst of all from my point of view was that, in the course of a 7500-word article (almost a novella), Mr. Barstow failed to mention Warheads – or even its existence. To have done so would have fatally undercut what the WSJ would later describe as “myth-making.” I have repeatedly made these same points in articles that have widely appeared from newspapers (San Antonio Express News) to well-respected blogsites like Real Clear Politics. When Mr. Barstow was awarded the Pulitzer, I also complained directly to the Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism, which administers the Pulitzer awards committee. I finally complained personally to the New York Times public editor and publisher. All to no avail.
Based on these experiences, I can recommend three specific actions to this committee, especially if you are serious about pursuing today’s topic.
First, it is essential that the Congress take the lead in investigating Mr. Sanger and his White House sources. Who leaked the information, who else was involved and who conspired to publish that information to a global audience? (which certainly included that hostile foreign power known as the Iranian Islamic Republic) Above all, what were the motivations of those in this failure chain: political, economic or ideological? Finally, has Title 18 actually been violated and are criminal charges warranted? I suggest that this determination is one that Congress cannot delegate elsewhere – and certainly not to the independent counsels appointed by an Attorney General already found in contempt of Congress.
Second it is vital that such an investigation also be undertaken to test the Espionage Act. Is this act, passed during World War I, still adequate to protect American secrets in the 21st century –amidst the information revolution? Its provisions clearly apply to anyone employed by our government or holding a government-issued security clearance. But in the brave new world of open-source information, what are the obligations of journalists or those without security clearances? Some argue that we should not criminalize investigative reporting, that some degree of latitude is essential to protect whistleblowers and the usually undefined privilege of the public’s right to know. Bottom line: The Congress and this committee will have to find a new trial balance between freedom and responsibility because it is obvious that the old one has collapsed.
Third, the Congress clearly owes the Warheads an apology for the actions taken in its name and at the direct instigation of some Members still holding office. Not only are some of my brothers authentic heroes but all are distinguished veterans who did nothing to deserve the ignominy heaped upon them by the New York Times – let alone potential indictments. Most Americans live in mortal fear of an IRS audit. What would they say to four Federal investigations being inflicted on the Warheads – each financed by significant outlays from the public treasury?
My conclusion does not take the form of a specific recommendation to this committee, since there can now be little doubt about media bias. Our citizens simply take that bias for granted, considering the New York Times to be one of its more extreme examples. So what do we do about it? Last year, I reviewed a fascinating book, The Deal From Hell, by James O’Shea, former editor of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. (NY: Perseus Books, 2011) Mr. O’Shea makes the sensible point that our media outlets – great and small – depend on popular support, just like any other business. As voters, we freely make choices at the polls. Why then as consumers should we not feel free to boycott particularly obnoxious newspapers like the NYT – or even better, those companies who send their commercial messages through its pages? If the patrons of Starbucks suddenly turn up their collective noses at the aging Grey Lady, franchise owners will quickly find products their customers like better. So too will the Times’ current list of advertisers. Such power to reward or penalize rests solely in the hands of our citizens: but they need leadership and encouragement.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I leave you with a quote from one of my favorite newspaper characters, that all-wise, practical philosopher named Pogo, who famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Never more so than here and now!