Nasty old colonels normally appear before Congress only to answer for past misdeeds. But I testified last week on Stuxnet and the White House leaks because of personal experience with something people in Washington often prefer to forget: The New York Times spies, lies and routinely distorts the truth.
A former Army special agent with Cold War counter-espionage experience, I quickly recognized the covert techniques employed by New York Times journalists like David Sanger to penetrate an Obama White House pathetically eager to please its media allies. As I told the House Judiciary Committee last week, it was as if a team of KGB moles had burrowed into the West Wing, except that the newspaper was better organized and far more profitable.
Yet even the most ambitious KGB agent could scarcely imagine Mr. Sanger’s most breathtaking revelation. Stuxnet was only part of a sophisticated campaign of industrial sabotage by the United States against Iranian nuclear facilities. Got that? Sabotage is an act of war, just like a blockade or a blitzkrieg, inviting cyber-retaliation against America’s notoriously delicate electronic infrastructure.
So forget about the Valerie Plame affair or even Bob Woodward’s repetitive defiance of every government classification: Mr. Sanger compromised the most vital of all American secrets, among other things, to enhance book sales and profits. Artfully coordinating front-page stories, fawning reviews and agenda-driven media buzz, the New York Times acted as a fellow traveler and conspirator.
But the second reason for my testimony was to remind Congress that we have seen this kind of thing before. In 2008, the newspaper published a Pulitzer Prize-winning expose about the military analysts you used to see on TV. In a 7,500-word article, the paper charged that those 70 analysts, all veterans and some with distinguished war records, had been seduced by privileged access and closed-door Pentagon briefings. There were even hints of kickbacks from defense contractors, that these privileged insiders had sold their souls or been hijacked into being apologists for the Rumsfeld Pentagon.
Great story had it been true. The problem was, I was one of those military analysts and had written a book, “Warheads,” about the Pentagon briefing program and my decade with NBC News. I had even given hours of interviews about its insights to David Barstow, a New York Times reporter. But when his story appeared, it never once hinted at the existence of “Warheads.” Was this simple plagiarism or simply a masterpiece of distortion?
I raised those questions repeatedly during four separate federal investigations kicked off by the article, angrily demanded by House Democrats as well as Sen. Carl Levin, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and then-Sen. Barack Obama. It took almost four years, at least $2.3 million taxpayer dollars and three government agencies: the Government Accountability Office, the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Defense inspector general (IG). None found any violation of law, regulation or even policy. One IG investigator quietly told me, “Colonel, we also read your book.”
If this sounds familiar to readers of The Washington Times, it is because this newspaper focused on the larger story — the progressive discrediting of the New York Times expose — in a series of articles by Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough. Mr. Scarborough even exposed Mr. Levin’s scandalous efforts last fall to influence the final report of the Pentagon IG, the political equivalent of jury-tampering. Historians may eventually agree that this was the most disgraceful episode in military-media relations since Vietnam. But the Wall Street Journal put it more simply: “The [real] liars weren’t at the Pentagon.”
Although the trip to Capitol Hill was at my own expense and not the taxpayers, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to confront Congress with one simple fact: Whether exposing vital national secrets or subjecting distinguished veterans to potential indictments, the only constant is the agenda of the New York Times. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith and Ranking Minority Member John Conyers Jr. have already taken the first steps toward issuing subpoenas, a significant step toward restoring bipartisan consensus and curbing media excesses. Equally important is updating the 1917 Espionage Act to deal with a dysfunctional classification system and information-age realities like open-source intelligence. Though insufficient, Congress should apologize to the “warheads” for the damages done in its name to our honor and reputation.
I also have a persistent fantasy of the government billing the New York Times for the costs of those investigations but would be satisfied if their Pulitzer Prize was simply rescinded.
Col. Ken Allard, retired from the Army, is a former NBC News military analyst and author on national security issues.