Sunday, October 16, 2005

The double-edged sword of access

Under the rules we used in Afghanistan for embedding the media, reporters were allowed to see classified documents in that environment as long as they cleared anything the were going to release about what they heard. This wasn't an editing process on our part, just a reporter saying "Is it all right if I say x" and we'd say, "Well, I'd leave the names out of that" or "You'll have to wait until after the event," etc., a simple, understandable deal we made to keep soldiers safe.

So why did Judy Miller need a security clearance? Here's a guess: She was seeing some crazy shit.

You see, if a reporter were to break the deal they signed and release classified information--like, say, Geraldo did when he drew that stupid-ass map in the sand--they're supposed to lose their accreditation and be disallowed from traveling with the military. (This didn't happen to Geraldo, I heard, because Roger Ailes made some calls.)

The loss of accreditation might not be enough of a threat to someone seeing some major stuff, though. Let's put some things together here.
  1. We know that the military does not, as a rule, embed journalists with teams gathering human intelligence. I, for one, never saw that rule broken in the year I served in Afghanistan.

  2. Judy Miller was embedded with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, which became, according to one Army officer the "Judy Miller team." The unit went beyond its mandate of searching for evidence of WMDs and started gathering human intelligence, a mission for which they were not trained.

  3. Miller at least claimed to have ties to Donald Rumsfeld or Doug Feith, threatening to call them when soldiers got in the way of her team. She would also threaten to use the power of the press. In response to MET A being called to Talil after it was discovered they had interrogated Saddam's son-in-law, she wrote in an e-mail that she intended "to write about this decision in the NY Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made." They were not recalled.

  4. If Judy Miller's connections to Doug Feith exist in any meaningful way, then it's likely that she has also been in contact with Stephen Cambone, who joined the Bush administration as Feith's deputy.

  5. Cambone was instrumental in kicking off Rumsfeld's "special access programs" that many consider the seeds for the torture at Abu Ghraib. One intelligence official said the SAPs had a very easy to remember mission: "The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’"
So here's my simple theory. Judy used her connections to keep MET Alpha in the field. Rumsfeld or Cambone or Feith took up her cause and, in the process, explained to MET Alpha the new rules governing HUMINT. Perhaps they knew she was on their side or perhaps they were fearful of her writing the threatened article. Either way, they realized that they were going to need more power over Miller than simply pulling her credentials. So they made a deal. She'd sign an non-disclosure agreement which would actually bind her legally. Now, if she told what she knew, she wouldn't be kept out of humvees but, instead, could be sent to Leavenworth.

As Bill Lynch writes here (link via Atrios), Judy Miller has both compromised and embarrassed herself. One has to wonder what she was seeing that other journalists weren't in order to make the DoD feel she needed a clearance. Did Judy Miller see the kinds of actions that we first got glimpses of in the release of Abu Ghraib photos but have come to find out were much more pervasive than first believed? We can't say for sure and we'll probably never know. Miller's allowed herself to be gagged.


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