The year was 1986.
Khadaffi, you'll remember, was the 80's Saddam Hussein (back when Saddam Hussein was still cool). Muammar was Reagan's "Mad Dog of the Middle East," which is kinda weird when you consider that Libya is in North Africa. As you'll see at the bottom of this article, there was no event on earth that Republicans would not attach to his name for the sake of justifying what they wanted to do in the region anyway. He was our blame-sink at that time. Other Muslims have since taken his place. It's all still the same game, and Judith has been playing it since the days of skinny ties and perms.
And so now, with the First Amendment drama playing out, a quick review of the material that's been building up on this woman for the last two years on the blogsphere reveals a much longer but very consistent career. Judith Miller has been and probably still is an informal asset not of our government but of an American political faction. From North Africa to the Mesopotamian, she has provided copy to support imperial adventures. Perhaps she thinks her powerful patrons will protect her, perhaps she knows too much, or perhaps she's just too old to start over and simply needs to protect her accustomed sources. Her access to them is what's made an otherwise utterly undistinguished career. If it weren't for her usefulness as a propaganda outlet, over three decades, she'd have no content at all.
This is not a question of freedom of the press, unless by "freedom" you mean the "freedom" to pass on government propaganda, which is a very strange notion of "freedom" outside of, say, North Korea.
Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?
There used to be a carefully run but outwardly informal network of US intelligence operatives working in academia and journalism and in many other walks of life. Volunteers, amateurs, ready to be tapped for some fragment of a mission they did not understand, they led otherwise unremarkable lives.
Judith is one of those people. Trust her amateur's sense of the dramatic to get the better of her. The fact that she received a doomed David Kelly's final, forboding message and that she was one of the fake anthrax terrorist's targets would only further have convinced her that she was some Secret Agent, involved in a dangerous game with international implications. It seems she went somewhat soft, as a result.
After all, the perqs were outstanding. One of the things that's always struck me about these pawns is how easy it is to beguile them. Life is a party, whatever their party's moral pretentions may be. Ehrenstein dug up the goods from old print sources a while back. We rejoin our heroine shortly after she's earned her bat's wings on Libya, where she has learned that she'd been sitting on her real talent all along. Access was, after all, a two-way street:
Such interpersonal skills Judy no doubt put to good use in her days as a corre-spondent in Paris, Beirut and Cairo. Regarded by her peers as a dogged, talented journalist, she received more ambivalent reviews for her after-hours work. Fellow female correspondents in Beirut had a very rough nickname for Judy - "Egregious Cunt" - which some of them abbreviated (E.C.) and had silk-screened onto T-shirts.
Judy's living accommodations in those far-flung outposts were ripe topics of conversation. Her bedroom in Cairo, for instance, had white shag carpeting and bedspread and curtains in an electric- blue-and-orange design. When a fellow correspondent took over her apartment in Beirut, it was discovered that although the place was to be let furnished, there were no sheets available. When news of this reached the city's press community, one unkind journalist commented, "She didn't want anyone to see her notes."
These kinds of connections, of course, would not last forever since the coin of her trade was, erm, declining in value. Judith could, however, actually work to preserve her role as preferred input valve for random bullshit on the Arab boogeyman of the week. She began cultivating new kinds of relationships with conspiracy nut Mylroie as well as with Pipes' unsavory thinktank. In short, she found work in the Islamic Threat Industry where she had cut her teeth. And business was good.
The reporter on many of the flawed stories at issue was Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and authority on the Middle East. The Times, insisting that the problem did not lie with any individual journalist, did not mention her name. The paper was presumably trying to take the high road by defending its reporter, but the omission seems peculiar. While her editors must share a large portion of the blame, the pieces ran under Miller's byline. It was Miller who clearly placed far too much credence in unreliable sources, and then credulously used dubious administration officials to confirm what she was told.
And of all Miller's unreliable sources, the most unreliable was Ahmed Chalabi -- whose little neocon-funded kingdom came crashing down last week when Iraqi forces smashed down his door after U.S. officials feared he was sending secrets to Iran.
One might have hoped that American journalists would have been at least as skeptical as the State Department before they burned their reputations on Chalabi's pyre of lies. But even the most seasoned of correspondents and the most august of publications, including the Times and the Washington Post, appear to have been as deftly used by Chalabi as were the CIA, the Department of Defense and the Bush administration.
What? These journalists aren't old enough to remember the 80s?
If the double-agent spy business had a trophy to hold up and show neophyte spooks what happens when their craft is perfectly executed, it would be a story by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon that appeared on the front page of the New York Times on a Sunday morning in September 2002. The front-page frightener was titled "Threats and Responses: The Iraqis; US Says Hussein Intensifies Quest for A-Bomb Parts." Miller and Gordon wrote that an intercepted shipment of aluminum tubes, to be used as centrifuges, was evidence Hussein was building a uranium gas separator to develop nuclear material. The story quoted national security advisor Condoleezza Rice invoking the image of "mushroom clouds over America."
... as if ... we'd been infiltrated ... by foreign agents ... using our news media as a weapon ... ?
But Miller's entire journalistic approach was flawed. A few months after the aluminum tubes story, a former CIA analyst, who has observed Miller's professional products and relationships for years, explained to me how simple it was to manipulate the correspondent and her newspaper.
Her long career as a propaganda outlet hardly distinguishes her, even in the 1980s. Among these examples (.pdf) you'll notice that the same story keeps being told about different people to justify the same policies:
Newsweek, October 19, 1981, p. 43. An excerpt:
NEWSWEEK has also learned that Kaddafi . . . [is] ordering the assassination of the U.S. ambassador to Italy. . . . U.S. intelligence also picked up evidence that Kaddafi had hatched yet another assassination plot -- this time against President Reagan.
U.S. intelligence believes that Libyan strongman Muammar Kaddafi is planning terrorist attacks on four American embassies in Western Europe.
[S]enior American officials told NEWSWEEK, Kaddafi's talk appears to be more than bluster. These officials say Kaddafi has expanded his hit list to include Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State Alexander Haig and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger -- and that he has equipped special assassination squads with bazookas, grenade launchers and even portable SAM-7 missiles capable of bringing down the President's plane.
[A]n assassination squad dispatched by Libyan strongman Muammar Kaddafi [has] entered the United States.
Security around [President Reagan] tightened amid intelligence reports that placed his potential assassins either in the country or on its borders preparing to strike.
On a later Reagan administration claim that Libya was planning to overthrow the government of the Sudan, see for example
Secretary of State George P. Shultz said today that what the Reagan Administration believed last week was a military threat by Libya against the Sudan had now "receded. . . ." Mr. Shultz, in his television appearance, said, "The President of the United States acted quickly and decisively and effectively, and at least for the moment Qaddafi is back in his box where he belongs." His comments were in line with the White House effort Friday and Saturday to convince reporters privately that Mr. Reagan was actually in charge of the operation, even though at his news conference on Wednesday he made factual errors. . . .
Administration officials have said the Awacs [that attacked Libya] were sent at the explicit request of President Mubarak, but Egyptian officials and news organizations have denied in recent days that any such request was made or that any threat to the Sudan exists. The Libyans have denied any plans to attack the Sudan [across six hundred miles of desert]. The lack of any tangible threat from Libya was reminiscent of the Administration's problems in late 1981 when it aroused considerable agitation in Washington over reports of a Libyan "hit squad" being sent to the United States to try to kill high officials. Nothing happened, and it was unclear whether the publicity forced cancellation of the Libyan plans or whether the Administration's information was faulty in the first place.
For a later exposure of some of the U.S. government's disinformation campaigns, see
[I]n August national-security adviser John Poindexter sent President Reagan a memo outlining what Poindexter called a "disinformation program" aimed at destabilizing Libyan leader Muammar Kaddafi by generating false reports that the United States and Libya were again on a collision course. . . . Evidence that the disinformation campaign was under way first turned up on Aug. 25 in The Wall Street Journal. . . .
"We relied on high-level officials who hyped some of this," [Wall Street Journal Washington Bureau Chief Albert] Hunt says. . . . [The lies] were profoundly disturbing, even to journalists hardened by a lifetime of covering dissembling officials.
Is this starting to sound familiar?