Thursday, June 03, 2004

"The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy", Part 4 of 6

So far, "The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy" section of "Let Freedom Ring" has yet to prove anything other than it was poorly researched. Nevertheless, let's push ahead and take a look at the next accusation: that liberals mocked "the CIA's prescient concerns about terrorism".

Hannity says:

The Nation, another leading left-wing magazine, has also long been a foe of the CIA. But a 1998 feature story really takes the cake. Writing just three years before September 11, author Peter Pringle mocked former CIA director John Deutch and his colleagues for warning that "an act of catastrophic terrorism" could "have the effect of Pearl Harbor" and "divide America into a 'before and after.'"

The Nation article conceded that terrorism's toll in the 1990's was rising. "In 1983, 271 Americans were killed by terrorist attacks, most of them in the bombing of the Marine barracks in Lebanon. Then came bombs at the World Trade Center in 1993 (six dead, 1,000 injured), the Oklahoma City federal building in 1995 (168 dead, 500 injured) and the Khobar Towers Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996 (nineteen dead, 500 injured)." But then Pringle sniped, "In the rush to play a new war game there is always a tendency to hype the threat," specifically ridiculing the potential threat of an anthrax attack in Washington. It also quoted a professor who argued that "despite the lurid rhetoric, a massive terrorist attack with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons is hardly inevitable. It is not even likely. ... Terrorists wish to convince us that they are capable of striking from anywhere at any time, but there is really no chaos. In fact, terrorism involves predictable behavior, and the vast majority of terrorist organizations can be identified well in advance."

The article concluded by criticizing Republicans for adding $9 billion to the military budget, "including several additional millions for antiterrorism projects" and suggested the GOP might try to politicize the issue in the future.

Then came September 11 and subsequent anthrax attacks. Did The Nation's staff possess the intellectual integrity to admit or reassess its monumentally flawed judgement? Did it refrain from mocking further the CIA's prescient concerns about terrorism? Did it come to value a strong, vibrant, aggressive CIA to make sure such attacks could never happen again? Hardly.
("Let Freedom Ring" pages 30 - 31)

Since this excerpt comes from a chapter titled "The Left vs. The CIA" and it contains quotes like

"The Nation...magazine...has long been a foe of the CIA...[b]ut a 1998 feature story really takes the cake"


"[after] September 11 and subsequent anthrax attacks[, d]id [The Nation] refrain from mocking further the CIA's prescient concerns about terrorism?"

I guess it would be safe to assume that the article Hannity is quoting from is about the CIA. And was the Pringle article about the CIA? No.

Let's get to parsing:

1.) Hannity says that "The Nation...magazine...has...long been a foe of the CIA" without offering any proof, so I guess we'll just take that on faith. And if we accept that The Nation has been hostile for a long time, saying that the Pringle article "really takes the cake" makes me think that this is going to be some pretty powerful stuff. But consider Hannity's opening remark:

Writing just three years before September 11, author Peter Pringle mocked former CIA director John Deutch and his colleagues for warning that "an act of catastrophic terrorism" could "have the effect of Pearl Harbor" and "divide America into a 'before and after.'"

Now, when you first read this passage, what do you think it means? Sounds like Pringle is ripping the CIA, or at least its director, for warning way ahead of time against a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11. You might think that Hannity called him a "former CIA director" because he's no longer there, not because he made the remarks after he left. Furthermore, if the reader is assuming John Deutch made these comments while still at the CIA, and Hannity says the remarks came from "John Deutch and his colleagues", it's probably not too much of a stretch to say that some readers might assume "his colleagues" were other sitting intelligence officials. Not an unreasonable assumption since Webster's Dictionary defines a "colleague" as "A partner or associate in some civil or ecclesiastical office or employment. It is never used of partners in trade or manufactures." If true, these actions would no doubt indicate a certain hostility towards the CIA, wouldn't they?

Actually, the comments that Pringle is quoting are from an article Deutch wrote for Foreign Affairs magazine after he left office (George Tenet was CIA Director when both Deutch's and Pringle's articles were written in 1998). The article, entitled "Catastrophic Terrorism" was written together with "Ashton Carter, an ex-Pentagon assistant secretary; and Philip Zelikow, a former member of the National Security Council", whom Pringle refers to as its "distinguished authors". True, one could make the argument that these were Deutch's "former colleagues" if the definition is stretched to include the entire administration and they all served at the same time, or "colleagues" since they are all three now professors, though at different colleges, but Hannity was pretty vague.

So vague, in fact, that more than one interpretation of that first accusation can be plausibly defended. Maybe he honestly expected the reader to understand that Pringle was quoting an article written by a former CIA director and other former Administration officials. One part that's especially susceptible to misinterpretation, though, is the mention of "catastrophic terrorism" because Hannity doesn't define the term. Sure, we may think we know what it means. After all, 9/11 seemed pretty catastrophic to all who witnessed it. But for the sake of Pringle's and Deutch's articles, "[c]onventional terrorist weapons are truck bombs filled with fertilizer explosive... [and] catastrophic terrorist weapons [my emphasis] are nuclear, chemical and especially [my emphasis] biological." Which sounds more like 9/11? Catastrophic terrorism is concerned with the use of WMD's by terrorists. Didn't Hannity read the article? Do I always end up asking this question?

2.) I read Pringle's article. While he obviously felt that Deutch had indulged in bit of hyperbole, Pringle didn't seem to doubt that catastrophic terrorism would "have the effect of Pearl Harbor". In fact, he even says that "no one denies the threat of catastrophic terrorism." What Pringle took issue with was the fact that "the pace at which it has taken center stage as the prime threat to US security is almost as unnerving as the threat itself." It wasn't the impact that such an attack would have that Pringle questioned, it was a matter of how imminent such WMD threats really were and how it was leading to calls for the creation of new bureaucracies (something Pringle called "Manhattan Project syndrome"). Focussing much of his attention in the article on biological weapons, Pringle seems to feel that many in the defense industry (whom he called "New Threat merchants") were simply hyping the threat in order to drum up business for themselves at the federal trough.

Pringle says that according to "the government auditor,'s hard to keep track of where all the money is going, let alone whether it is being spent wisely."

3.) As far as mocking Deutch: while Pringle does point out Deutch's vested interests in putting the terror threat in the spotlight and calls him "the quintessential academic/consultant to the Pentagon and the defense industry",
his article for The Nation also says that "[t]he thrust of [Deutch's article] is a grand reorganization of the Pentagon, CIA and FBI bureaucracies to eliminate the perennial agency overlaps and gaps between 'foreign' and 'domestic' terrorism" and that "a new, multi-agency National Intelligence Center, as proposed by Deutch et al. in Foreign Affairs, might not only be a good idea but a necessity".

And in a piece for Slate, Pringle says almost the exact same thing:

Adequate intelligence is one need. And we do know the CIA screwed up over Aum Shinrikyo [(who perpetrated a nerve gas attack in the Tokyo subway)]. In hearings before Congress in 1995, the CIA admitted it had somehow missed the activities of the Aum, even though the event had been reported in the Japanese and European press and even in the U.S.-owned International Herald Tribune. This suggests that a new intelligence center for terrorism, as proposed by former CIA director John Deutch et al. in their Foreign Affairs article on "Catastrophic Terrorism," is not only a good idea but a necessity.

Pringle goes on in his article for The Nation to single out Deutch's article for praise:

In the article on catastrophic terrorism, Deutch et al. mention the proposal of Harvard professor Meselson and his law professor colleague, Philip Heymann, for an international c onvention making it a crime for individuals to engage in the production of biological or chemical weapons. The existing chemical and biological conventions apply only to states. The idea is to deter national leaders, such as Saddam Hussein, and groups such as Aum Shinrikyo, from seeking to develop chemical or biological weapons, and to discourage corporations from assisting them because the scientist or the CEO could be arrested. If such a treaty had existed and been supported by the United States in the eighties when Iraq was using poison gas and developing biological weapons, the suppliers and advisers on whom Saddam depended could have been brought to trial.

4.) Hannity begins the next paragraph by saying that "The Nation article conceded that terrorism's toll in the 1990's was on the rise" and then followed it with a quote from Pringle about the casualties from various attacks. But if you read Pringle's article, you'll see that he starts that paragraph off by saying "in most recent years since 1980 the number of Americans killed by terrorism has been fewer than ten, but the toll can suddenly jump." The list of casualties from terrorist attacks was not indicating a rise in "terrorism's toll" but rather spikes in casualties.

5.) As far as "specifically ridiculing the potential threat of an anthrax attack in Washington", here's the quote from Pringle's article:

In the rush to play a new war game there is always a tendency to hype the threat. Last November Defense Secretary William Cohen appeared on TV holding a bag of sugar claiming the equivalent amount of anthrax spores would be enough to kill half the population of Washington, DC, an illustration that would only be valid if the dispersal were perfect and the wind were always blowing in the right dire ction. Republican Senator Fred Thompson, chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, asked meekly of the terrorist threat, "Is it being overblown?" (The pun was apparently unintended.)

First, this has nothing to do with the CIA, it was the Secretary of Defense making the argument. Second, how is pointing out an exaggeration "ridiculing the potential threat"? Exaggerations don't help inform the public, they merely serve to alarm it. Enough such false alarms and the public becomes desensitized to a legitimate threat.

6.) The professor that Pringle quoted was Ehud Sprinzak of Jerusalem's Hebrew University and he's talking about the threat of terrorists using WMD's, as evidenced by Hannity quoting him as saying that "despite the lurid rhetoric, a massive terrorist attack with nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons is hardly inevitable. It is not even likely."

To quote NPR: "Altogether, the anthrax attacks killed five people and made 17 others ill, according to the Centers for Disease Control."

Obviously, the anthrax attacks aren't something to be taken lightly and were a tragedy for those affected. But they hardly constituted a massive attack. That's not to say it can't happen, just that Hannity's assertion that The Nation should apologize is unfounded.

7.) Pringle did point out at the end of his article that the Republicans added $9 billion to the military budget, but what he was criticizing was the tactics they used to accomplish it: "by emphasizing unpreparedness", playing on the public's fears. What Hannity also forgets to mention, is that the bulk of Pringle's criticism in the article is for the Media and the Clinton Administration whom he sees as guilty of spreading alarm and throwing money around.

He takes issue with Richard Preston of The New Yorker magazine and Diane Sawyer of ABC for promoting the claims of Kanatjan Alibekov, who had worked in the Soviet bio-weapons program. Alibekov, who changed his name to Ken Alibek when he moved to the U.S. (Pringle used the word "defected" even though it happened in 1992 after the Soviet collapse), asserted that the Soviets had developed a vast array of bio-weapons and "had built huge plants for the production of biological weapons....
Alibek claims that the Russians had actually used these [huge] facilities to produce tons of deadly anthrax, some of which had been genetically engineered so that available vaccines were useless, and some of which may have been put into the warheads of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Alibek also asserted that the Russians had experimented with deadly cocktails of smallpox spiked with the Ebola virus, which causes internal hemorrhaging, and with Venezuelan equine encephalitis, a brain virus."

Pringle points out that there were many experts who took issue with Alibek but weren't really heard.

Dr. Peter Jahrling, the chief scientist at the US Army medical research Institute of Infectious Diseases...[and] one of Alibek's original debriefers[, ]told The New Yorker, "His [Alibek's] talk about chimeras [mixtures] of Ebola is sheer fantasy, in my opinion." Preston also consulted Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel Prize–winning molecular biologist and a member of a working group at the National Academy of Sciences who advises the government on biological weapons and the potential for terrorism. Lederberg told Preston, "It's not even clear to me that adding Ebola genes to smallpox would make it more deadly." Putting these comments higher up in the article would have been more responsible journalism, clearly, but it would also have spoiled the story.

I already mentioned Clinton's Secretary of Defense, William Cohen. Bill Clinton himself, whom Hannity accused of turning a blind eye to terrorism in Chapter 1 of "Let Freedom Ring", is also criticized by Pringle:

One of the true believers in the need for elaborate defenses against germ weapons is none other than President Clinton [my emphasis]. He became a convert, and started pushing for stockpiles of vaccines, after reading--among all the intelligence reports on terrorism and the Iraq crisis--a novel titled The Cobra Event [by the same Richard Preston who wrote the New Yorker article on Alibek], about a fictitious germ attack on Manhattan using a mixture of smallpox and cold viruses. Chemical and biological warfare is great fiction material, of course, but are we in danger of being unable to separate fact from fiction?

8.) Where's the CIA in all this? For what's supposed to be an attack on the CIA, Pringle only mentions the agency by name 3 times; and they are hardly attacks. Here's one: "The thrust of [Deutch's article] "Catastrophic Terrorism" is a grand reorganization of the Pentagon, CIA and FBI bureaucracies to eliminate the perennial agency overlaps and gaps between 'foreign' and 'domestic' terrorism." And two: "[A]s a defector who has apparently outlived his usefulness to the CIA's covert intelligence world, [was Ken Alibek] trying to make a buck in civvy street by exaggerating the importance of his information?"

Probably the toughest remark I read about the CIA was number three, which was describing the dash to the federal trough for anti-terror dollars:

The FBI wants to send more agents into embassies abroad and is demanding its own planes to shuttle investigative teams around the world. Local and state governments used to dealing with flu epidemics are preparing for the nightmare gas or microbe attack. And one can only imagine what antiterrorist projects the CIA has been dreaming up with its "black" budget of covert ops.

U.S. and Western intelligence in general, are mentioned several times, and it comes in statements like "building a production line for...[biological] weapons and keeping it in reserve...[is something] the Soviets did--something US intelligence had known about for some time." That is not an attack.

* * *

So here we have an article that is criticizing Washington's rush to embrace a new threat in order to justify spending billions of dollars. I don't see where it mocked "the CIA's prescient concerns about terrorism" or, for that matter, where the CIA's "prescient concerns about terrorism" even appeared in the article.

NOTE: I used the URL "" to look up Pringle's article because the copy in The Nation's archive doesn't seem to show up. The Nation URL is listed as "".