- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 6, 2004

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 Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi Governing Council member and longtime U.S. ally (but the State Department and CIA’s longtime enemy), then his allies in the administration.

Perhaps the New York Times 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 stories in the New York Times were last week, consider the underlying facts. Mr. Chalabi is accused of telling Iran that the United States had broken its secret code. The kicker, though, is how U.S. officials learned that.

According to the reporting of the New York Times, 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 United States 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” felt strongly enough to go the New York Times means one of two things: 1) They didn’t believe that Mr. Chalabi had actually done anything, but exploited it anyway to achieve a long-sought goal (squashing Mr. Chalabi), or 2) they are pitifully, disturbingly gullible.

More offensive, though, was that the New York Times bit. And then some.

The previous week, the paper had run a series of stories, first an attack on Mr. Chalabi with vague accusations of passing intelligence to Iran, and then an attack on Mr. 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 Mr. 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 United States that the code was broken.

But here’s where the New York 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 described 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 exactly two weeks ago — the Monday after the raid and fully nine days before the New York Times was given the government’s OK to release the information.

Much to the delight of the State Department and the CIA, the New York 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 Mr. Bush’s political appointees at the Pentagon, who are Mr. 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 others — that no polygraphs have been administered (as of Friday morning), yet the New York Times egregiously omitted this.

Smearing Mr. Chalabi and administration hawks has the clear effect of undermining, in the public’s eye, the justification and legitimacy of the war. Consequently, Mr. Bush gets hammered, since his support is pegged to the war’s.

And that’s the point, at least for State and the CIA, populated mostly by careerists with no loyalty to Mr. Bush. Maybe that’s why the New York Times has given such carte blanche to the State Department and the CIA.

Joel Mowbray occasionally writes for The Washington Times.

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