In May 2008 I received an email from a former senior intelligence officer who I was working with at that time. The subject line: “same senario like in iraq/big lies.”
Naturally, I was eager to see the details in what turned out to be an analysis of the photographic evidence on the alleged Israeli strike on an alleged nuclear facility in Syria in September 2007.
I had followed this story closely since it was first reported and initially had been very skeptical about the idea that Syria would take the risk of attempting to develop nuclear weapons.
By late April 2008, however, it seemed to me (and many other independent observers) that the evidence supporting most of the allegations was thoroughly convincing. At that time I wrote:
As someone who voiced great skepticism about the initial claims that Israel destroyed a nuclear facility in the Syrian desert on September 6, 2007, I’ll be the first to admit that the evidence provided in the DNI background briefing presents proof that Syria was in fact close to completing the construction of a Calder-Hall type of nuclear reactor producing plutonium.
Even if one was to have dismissed all the intelligence as having been misinterpreted or fabricated, the fact remained that when Syria had the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that it was the innocent victim of an unprovoked act of aggression by its neighbor, Israel — IAEA inspectors could have immediately been called in to certify that the recently bombed site was “clean,” showing no evidence of nuclear materials or construction of a reactor — instead of calling in inspectors, Assad sent in the bulldozers to cover up the remains.
Nevertheless, athough in my mind it seemed like the case was closed, then as always, I was open to consider new evidence — especially if it was being passed on to me by someone who had served and advised at the most senior levels of government and been privy to the highest levels of classified information.
So what kind of “intelligence” did this email contain?
It was an article from a website and the first red flag jumped straight out: Rense.com.
For those who have never come across this site, it’s run by an American radio talk-show host called Jeff Rense. It is notorious for promoting conspiracy theories and the article in question, “Another Fake Syria Nuclear Site Photo?”, was no exception.
The article’s author was a man called Ted Teietmeyer. My immediate reaction to his method of analysis was that he seemed to be approaching this subject in the way someone might argue that the moon landings were faked. Sure enough, Teietmeyer believes that NASA faked the 1969 lunar landing.
Had the former intelligence official been taken in by what to my eye was transparently a bogus piece of analysis, or did he think that I could easily be duped? I’ll never know, because as soon as I told him this was a piece of nonsense he dropped the subject.
What I have observed over the intervening years is that this former intelligence official’s allegiances have become increasingly transparent and this perhaps explains why he sent me that article. He can at this point be fairly described as a loyal supporter of Bashar al-Assad. That’s not a slur — it’s an objective assessment.
Now let’s consider another former intelligence official. This one left a comment here on Tuesday evening. I recognized his name. He used to be a CIA analyst, now has his own blog and based on his style of writing comments, I think he can reasonably also be described as a “troll.”
His comment appeared under the post “Seymour Hersh as Dorian Gray,” where I had written that had such a thinly-sourced report as Hersh’s latest been written by anyone else, the London Review of Books (LBR) wouldn’t have touched it.
Since I have no intention of feeding this troll, his comment will remain in moderation — why should I or anyone else approve being addressed in this way? I did however write directly to the author using the email address he provides on his blog and he swiftly confirmed that he had indeed left the comment. The former intelligence official had commented:
You are a moron. Thinly sourced? Quoting from an actual Top Secret document, which the LRB thoroughly fact checked, is quite a distance from thinly sourced. Further evidence that you are a frigging tool is to assert that Hersh’s article is somehow pandering to the left and Obama supporters. Really? If you had actually read the article you would understand why the left hates him — it is a devastating indictment of Obama as a liar and a fraud.
The first thing I would say to anyone who wants to sustain the brand value of “former intelligence official” is this: It’s probably better to refrain from throwing around insults in public. It detracts from the authoritative voice most people associate or want to associate with those who have been entrusted to maintain national security.
I’ll break down what this former CIA analyst said both in order to address the specifics, but perhaps more importantly to show that when assessing the credibility of what someone says, we should never allow ourselves to be dazzled by their credentials.
I’ll leave it to others to decide whether I’m a moron and move on to the question of sourcing. Hersh, the former CIA analyst says, is “Quoting from an actual Top Secret document, which the LRB thoroughly fact checked” — that’s “quite a distance from thinly sourced.” Right? Not really. Here’s why.
Firstly, to say that this document was thoroughly fact-checked by the LRB implies that the fact checkers were able to confirm that the document was what Hersh claims it to be: a highly classified five-page ‘talking points’ briefing for the DIA’s deputy director, David Shedd.
All that the fact checkers appear to have been able to establish is that the DNI says: ‘No such paper was ever requested or produced by intelligence community analysts.’
Moreover, as the CIA analyst may not be aware but as Hersh revealed in an interview on Tuesday, the LRB did not use its own fact checkers — it relied on fact checkers who came with Hersh from The New Yorker.
However celebrated the latter publication’s fact checking process might be, for the LRB to outsource fact checking in this way seems to defeat its purpose.
During the interview, Hersh brandished the “actual Top Secret document” but since he’s only revealed 134 words from its five pages, I don’t believe that he has in fact advanced much distance from thinly sourced. Wafting around a few sheets of paper hardly compares to reading their contents.
Whoever provided the veteran investigative journalist with this intelligence should be perfectly capable of determining how it might need to be redacted in order to preserve his own anonymity while also protecting national security.
Hersh’s choice to act as an intelligence gatekeeper raises reasonable doubts about whether he’s withholding information that might undermine his own narrative. Only by being able to review the document will we be able to determine whether he cherry-picked his quotations or used the information in a misleading way. Likewise, information he left out including dates, could turn out to be significant. Moreover, only by putting the document in the public domain will it be possible to determine whether it is genuine.
As for the former CIA analyst’s reference to “the left and Obama supporters,” anyone who has read my posts would know that I have not spoken once about Obama supporters. The former analyst’s comment seems to emanate from someone firmly stuck inside the Beltway who imagines that all of politics revolves around Democrats and Republicans.
Finally and significantly, the former analyst who jumped in here belongs to a group that has been promoting a false-flag narrative about the chemical attacks since soon after they occurred.
Like many former officials, they seem to engage in a practice commonplace among people who find it difficult to reconcile themselves with their own diminished status once outside government. They would have their audience believe that even if they no longer hold any positions in any government agency, their informal ties to the intelligence community and the Pentagon, provide them with a level of access and insight into the current workings of government, to which others are not privileged.
The secret that the former whatevers are often most reluctant to reveal is that the former commonly says much more than the whatever.
Those who were once inside the loop but are now stuck on the outside, can contrive all sorts of ways of resuscitating their insider status.
Consider for instance the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS), the group I alluded to above.
On September 6, this group of former intelligence officials took it upon themselves to offer President Obama a briefing about what really happened on August 21 near Damascus.
In several interviews Hersh has portrayed the president as a victim of his own power. Which is to say, everyone around the president only tells him what he wants to hear.
It would appear that VIPS were assuming a role as what might be called intel elders, who hoped they could break through the bubble and inform Obama about what was really going on.
We regret to inform you that some of our former co-workers are telling us, categorically, that contrary to the claims of your administration, the most reliable intelligence shows that Bashar al-Assad was NOT responsible for the chemical incident that killed and injured Syrian civilians on August 21, and that British intelligence officials also know this. In writing this brief report, we choose to assume that you have not been fully informed because your advisers decided to afford you the opportunity for what is commonly known as “plausible denial.”
Now here’s the strangest element in this appeal for sanity. The members of this group supposedly alerting the president, also apparently believed that the United States was implicated in the false flag operation about which they were alerting him.
In their September 6 memorandum to the president, VIPS wrote:
[O]n August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major, irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and Qatari, Turkish and U.S. intelligence officials took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, now used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.
Although these former intelligence officials say they wrote this, it would appear to be more accurate to say they repeated it.
The original author was Yossef Bodansky. In “Did the White House Help Plan the Syrian Chemical Attack?” published on August 28, he wrote:
On August 13-14, 2013, Western-sponsored opposition forces in Turkey started advance preparations for a major and irregular military surge. Initial meetings between senior opposition military commanders and representatives of Qatari, Turkish, and US Intelligence [“Mukhabarat Amriki”] took place at the converted Turkish military garrison in Antakya, Hatay Province, used as the command center and headquarters of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and their foreign sponsors.
It turns out that Bodansky, an Israeli-American who has served as a Defense Department consultant (as did one of Hersh’s sources) also has links to the Assad family.
Foreign Policy reported last September:
pushed him as a potential leader of Syria in 2005. Rifaat is the black sheep of the Assad family: He spearheaded the Syrian regime’s brutal crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s, but then was forced into exile after he tried to seize power from his brother, President Hafez al-Assad, in 1983. Despite his ouster, however, Rifaat is just as hostile to a Sunni Islamist takeover as other members of the Assad family — a position Bodansky appears to share. Ending Alawite rule in Syria, Bodansky wrote on another pro-Assad website, “will cause cataclysmic upheaval throughout the greater Middle East.”Bodansky is an ally of Bashar’s uncle, Rifaat al-Assad — he
While for Hersh, his narrative may seem to go back no further than one or two seemingly well-informed former intelligence officials, the story may in fact trace all the way back to Damascus, not as the center of events but to a factory of a kind; not one in which sarin is produced but one in which “intelligence” gets fabricated.