Monday, April 10, 2006

NY Times' Dexter Filkins: Propagandist

The Common Ills is right:

If you're going to discuss Iraq, you have to discuss Filkins at some point. I'm aware it's more pleasing to discuss Judith Miller. But if she had a part in getting us over into Iraq, it's the "reporters" like Filkins who keep us there.

How does New York Times Iraq war correspondent Dexter Filkins do that?

From Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi written by Thomas E. Ricks for Monday's Washington Post:

The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.


Some senior intelligence officers believe Zarqawi's role may have been overemphasized by the propaganda campaign, which has included leaflets, radio and television broadcasts, Internet postings and at least one leak to an American journalist.


One briefing slide about U.S. "strategic communications" in Iraq, prepared for Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, describes the "home audience" as one of six major targets of the American side of the war.

One slide in the same briefing, for example, noted that a "selective leak" about Zarqawi was made to Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter based in Baghdad. Filkins's resulting article, about a letter supposedly written by Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq, ran on the Times front page on Feb. 9, 2004.

From Dexter Filkins' selectively leaked 2004 scoop, U.S. Says Files Seek Qaeda Aid in Iraq Conflict:

American officials here have obtained a detailed proposal that they conclude was written by an operative in Iraq to senior leaders of Al Qaeda, asking for help to wage a "sectarian war" in Iraq in the next months.

The Americans say they believe that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has long been under scrutiny by the United States for suspected ties to Al Qaeda, wrote the undated 17-page document. Mr. Zarqawi is believed to be operating here in Iraq.

More from Ricks in today's Post:

Leaks to reporters from U.S. officials in Iraq are common, but official evidence of a propaganda operation using an American reporter is rare.

Filkins, reached by e-mail, said that he was not told at the time that there was a psychological operations campaign aimed at Zarqawi, but said he assumed that the military was releasing the letter "because it had decided it was in its best interest to have it publicized." No special conditions were placed upon him in being briefed on its contents, he said. He said he was skeptical about the document's authenticity then, and remains so now, and so at the time tried to confirm its authenticity with officials outside the U.S. military.

Filkins' reaction to learning that he got Punk'd by military psy-ops is that he was and is skeptical.

This is the only "skeptical" line from Filkins' selectively leaked scoop:

Yet other interpretations may be possible, including that it was written by some other insurgent, but one who exaggerated his involvement.

The rest of Filkins' reporting from February of 2004 was just what his military handlers wanted.

More from Ricks:

"There was no attempt to manipulate the press," Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military's chief spokesman when the propaganda campaign began in 2004, said in an interview Friday. "We trusted Dexter to write an accurate story, and we gave him a good scoop."

Back to Filkins' selectively leaked scoop (in fact...let's cut right to the next immediate paragraph after his one "skeptical" line):

Still, a senior United States intelligence official in Washington said, "I know of no reason to believe the letter is bogus in any way." He said the letter was seized in a raid on a known Qaeda safe house in Baghdad, and did not pass through Iraqi groups that American intelligence officials have said in the past may have provided unreliable information.

More from Filkins' selectively leaked scoop which as Ricks notes "helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks":

Since the war ended, little evidence has emerged to support the allegation of a prewar Qaeda connection in Iraq. Last month, Mr. Powell conceded that the American government had found "no smoking gun" linking Mr. Hussein's government with Al Qaeda.

Back to the Common Ills (a blogger friend who I've often discussed Filkins' propagandistic bullshit with):

Christian Parenti mentioned Filkins last night on The Laura Flanders Show: "Dexter Filkins politics are very different from the Dexter Filkins politics we know in the New York Times. [In person, he's saying] 'Oh it's awful, the situation is totally out of control.'" That's a paraphrase (I've left out a "Dude" among other things).

If that's true, how does Dexter Filkins sleep?


From A Purloined Letter: The Zarqawi Gambit by Greg Weiher written in February of 2004:

The letter confirms all of the fondest theories of the Bush administration about the war in Iraq.

First, it apparently dispels all doubt about an Al Qaeda-Iraq connection by virtue of its authorship (Zarqawi, Qaeda associate) and its destination (Qaeda's "inner circle").

Second, the letter establishes that the insurgency is being carried out by alien jihadis who are planning dastardly deeds.


Third, the letter shows that stalwart American efforts are succeeding in winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.


Wow, what a gold mine!

This is the intelligence mother lode, isn't it? I mean, if you were Karl Rove, you couldn't design a better scenario to validate the administration's slant on the war than this.



Another "special" to the times. It has all the earmarks. Note the lack of citations of any specific CPA or Bush Administration contacts. Note the lack of any confirmation of the authenticity of this letter/CD from experts or authorities aside from "U.S. officials." Note the failure to consult third-party intelligence experts, authorities on Al Qaeda, authorities on wars of national liberation. Note the failure to provide any background on the validity of claims that Zarkawi actually could have written such a letter, is still in Iraq, or collaborated with Saddam Hussein. There is one disclaimer, two lines in a three-page piece: "Yet other interpretations may be possible, including that it was written by some other insurgent, but one who exaggerated his involvement."

Give that political scientist and freelance writer from Houston Texas a prize.

Maybe we should give that man a certain someone's George Polk Award for War Reporting.

More smart bloggers who blasted Filkins in 2004:

Billmon: "Bottom line: I'm fairly convinced the letter is a forgery. This leaves the question, though, of who created it, and who might have the means, the motive and the opportunity to plant a fake CD in the hands of U.S. intelligence and/or a doctored hard copy of that CD in the hands of a New York Times reporter."

Reading A1's Michael: "That's because if the Times reported what they were saying, and that they were saying it to anyone they could manage to buttonhole, it'd be apparent that the document story isn't a pure result of enterprising journalism. It's the product of an Administration propaganda campaign."

In Ricks' Post article Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt is quoted as saying Filkins got a "good scoop." The following are excerpts from a Coalition Provisional Authority Briefing from Iraq held on February 9, 2004 in which Kimmitt - deputy director of operations, Combined Joint Task Force 7 at the time - participated:

Q: Alan Fryer from Canadian Television. General, I'd like to ask you about the report in The New York Times today about this letter that they reported on, purportedly from a high-level al Qaeda person, which essentially lays out a strategy for sparking civil war in this country by targeting Shi'a. How credible is it and how seriously do you take it?

Kimmitt: We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously -- and we take the threat seriously as well.


Q: Kevin Flower with CNN. So back to this letter. Do you think that it is -- is it your belief that Zarqawi is the author of this letter? And who is the letter to? Was it written to al Qaeda operatives outside the country? And finally, can we see the letter? Can we -- can you make portions of it available to us?

Kimmitt: Yeah, we are persuaded that Zarqawi was the author of this letter. It is our understanding that this letter was being taken by a courier outside this country for delivery abroad. And it is our intent and our -- certainly our hope that -- in the near future that this letter can be declassified.

Let me just give you sort of a picture of the 17 pages of it on the screen here, not very -- it's not very clear to you. But we are hoping in the near future to be able to release this, because this document does in fact demonstrate what we have been assessing all along, and the impact of this letter on our operations and as we take operations forward is very, very dramatic.

The next day Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff held a DoD News Briefing which was a helluva lot more skeptical about the Zarqawi letter than the bullcrap that Filkins wrote:

Q: Mr. Secretary, this attack today seems to line up with the plan outlined in that document recovered from Hassan Ghul, the al Qaeda operative who was captured in Iraq.

Rumsfeld: It does.

Q: Do you -- what do you think that document says about the current state of operations, terrorist operations in Iraq?

Rumsfeld: I don't know. I haven't read it. I don't know if it's authentic. People who have read it think it is, but I haven't read it. My friend Dick has read it. Why don’t we ask Dick. (Laughter.)

General? (Laughter continues.)

Myers: Thank you, Mr. Secretary.

You know, authenticity is still being evaluated, okay? So with that caveat -- and this is initial analysis. But I think the obvious points from it are -- one is that the coalition and the Iraqis themselves are being very successful, because one of the things they discuss in the letter is the desperate tactic of trying to get Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence; in other words, incite the Shi'a to attack the Sunni, and -- as a way to ensure that extremism continues, a different brand of extremism than the Ba'athist, but extremism continues in Iraq. So I think that's one of the things you can draw for it. They simply do not -- the other thing I think, the other major point is, that the al Qaeda is clearly involved, if that letter is authentic, that the al Qaeda is involved in this, and has been for some time.

Q: General --

Q: Do you think that letter was heading out to top leaders in Afghanistan or Pakistan, or -- ?

Myers: I'm not going to -- I don't want to discuss it any more.

Q: General Myers --

Rumsfeld: You know, given all the discussion about absolutely perfect precision in any -- every single thing anyone might want to say, I would like to help General Myers and have -- and correct what I said. He probably did not read the letter, because it was in Arabic.

Myers: Good point.

Rumsfeld: I think he probably read a translation of that letter.

Myers: Actually, I read a first translation, and the warning on the first translation was, you better wait for the second translation. (Laughs.) That because they'll -- you know, the first one was done fairly quickly, and there are nuances there that somebody else is going to have to take a look at. So that's why I hit what I thought were the broad themes and not some of the specifics. And -- and --

Rumsfeld: So I don't want someone coming back and saying that we -- that he read the original letter.

Q: You're going to be even more careful with your words now?

Rumsfeld: I've always been careful. I'm going to -- (laughs) -- I'm going to try to be more successful. (Laughter.)

Q: Mr. Secretary --

Q: May I follow up on this letter? This -- you say you're not sure whether it's authentic, or -- you, understandably, if you haven't read it, can't say anything about that. But yesterday General Kimmitt was in Baghdad talking as if it was, and seemed quite confident, commenting on this document. Are you walking this back a bit?

Myers: No. I'm just trying to tell you what I know. And --

Q: But, sir, why would you allow General Kimmitt to go out there and talk about this as if it was fact if you're so unsure, if you think he --

Myers: It wasn't a matter of allowing General Kimmitt to do that.

Q: But certainly --

Myers: People -- people make their own judgments, and --

Q: -- the Pentagon has some say on who goes out and says what, no?

Myers: No.

Rumsfeld: Oh, no. (Cross talk, laughter.) No seriously, we don't talk to him on a daily basis -- say "do this, do that." We just can't. There's too many things going on in our lives. He's a general officer; he's very competent. He makes his judgments. I'm sure he believes what he said. He's probably right. Time will tell.

The next day Kimmitt spoke on the inconsistencies in what Filkins reported and what Safire editorialized about the letter's discovery:

Q Christopher Dickey with Newsweek. Can you tell us a little bit more about how this document was found? The New York Times has carried now two versions. One says the Americans found it directly. William Safire says it was found by the pesh merga. Who found this thing and how was it found?

GEN. KIMMITT: The important thing is that we have this document in our hands. How it was found is not as important as the fact that we have it, we've reviewed it, we understand what it is saying, and we can use it, as Mr. Senor said, to understand the thought process behind the terrorists, so that we can use that in future operations to kill or capture those that would create and conduct anti-coalition and anti-Iraqi operations.

The next day Kimmitt announced some big news (accompanied by CPA Senior Advisor, Daniel Senor):

GEN. KIMMITT: Good afternoon. Today the Coalition Provisional Authority and Combined Join Task Force 7 announce that the award for information leading to the apprehension of Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, a suspected leader of terrorists in Iraq, will increase to $10 million. Abu al- Zarqawi and his organization are closely linked to the al Qaeda terror network. Zarqawi, born in Jordan, is the most capable terrorist in Iraq today and his networks and contacts extend to Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.


MR. SENOR: Over the days ahead the coalition will be launching a public information campaign on Mr. Zarqawi that will be as elaborate and as widespread as the public information campaigns launched with regard to Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay Hussein. Outside we have available to you a number of the products that will be distributed throughout the country. We will be alerting Iraqis to the wild card, Mr. Zarqawi. We will also be ensuring that every Iraqi is intimately familiar with this blueprint for terror in Iraq document, Mr. Zarqawi's memorandum, his action plan to tear this country apart.


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