Judy Miller, Barabara Starr, and an Influx of Intelligence

I’m going to disappoint Jim by not dedicating a full post to Judy Miller’s graceless rant about the AP’s Pulitzer win, in which she whines that the AP hasn’t taken Ray Kelly’s insistence that his NYPD’s spying is legal seriously enough. I already had to fisk Miller’s credulous regurgitation of Ray Kelly’s defense of the NYPD here and then remind her that journalists should be in the business of sorting out false claims from true ones here. Given her past failures to write credibly on the AP’s NYPD series, I trust no one will make the mistake of doing anything but dismissing everything she has to say about the AP series.

But since I’ve already started a post about mouthpieces for those in power, maybe I should take a look at what Miller’s close kin, Barbara Starr, had to say about expanded drone strikes in Yemen.

The lead in Greg Miller’s story on this emphasized how little intelligence we would have on the expanded drone strikes.

The CIA is seeking authority to expand its covert drone campaign in Yemen by launching strikes against terrorism suspects even when it does not know the identities of those who could be killed, U.S. officials said.

Securing permission to use these “signature strikes” would allow the agency to hit targets based solely on intelligence indicating patterns of suspicious behavior, such as imagery showing militants gathering at known al-Qaeda compounds or unloading explosives.

Compare that with the headline and lead in Barbara Starr’s version.

Intel influx leads to increased U.S. strikes in Yemen

The increased pace of counterterrorism strikes in Yemen by U.S. drones and aircraft is a result of what U.S. military and intelligence officials describe as improved intelligence about the leadership of the al Qaeda movement in that country.

Now, Starr doesn’t mention the term “signature strikes” at all in this piece. and technically, she seems to be addressing only the increased pace of strikes that has already happened, not the plans to increase them still more. At that level, this story appears to be a shiny object, one designed to respond to Williams’ story, to try to assert we engage in “surgical targeting” (a term that appears in both stories; it is attributed to a senior Administration official in Miller’s), without addressing the possibility we’ll be targeting based solely on patterns of suspicious behavior soon.

Which leaves the one piece of actual  news in Starr’s report: the claim that we’ve found the new targets as a result of the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.

The target list of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula terrorists the United States has developed has emerged since an American drone killed Anwar al-Awlaki last year in Yemen. Al-Awlaki was identified as a key operative, and the United States has focused on trying to determine the leadership structure that has emerged since his death.

Now, the entire premise of the Awlaki strike is that he was the guy in AQAP who kept insisting on launching attacks outside of Yemen, targeted at the US (though the government occasionally admitted that Ibrahim al-Asiri liked to do that too, which is good since source have said he was more central to the toner cartridge plot that targeted the US).

Awlaki. The guy.

The claim was you kill him and those in AQAP who want to focus on establishing control over parts of Yemen will have ascendancy. And yet … Starr’s sources still insist that we’re only hitting those with “a ‘direct interest’ in attacking the America.” [sic]

In short, in addition to the debate in the Administration over whether to start killing bearded men with guns in Yemen because they look dangerous, Starr seems to have unwittingly documented how the goalposts on “direct interest in attacking the America” [sic] have moved.

And that, my friends, is apparently what constitutes an influx of intelligence.

Update: Edited for clarity.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

15 replies
  1. PeasantParty says:

    Excellent reporting, EW. Call out the Propagandists and let everyone know they are lying to Americans.

    As I have been reading the updates from you and Jim on the Yemen situation I kept thinking that I remembered some kind of agreement with them. So first I went to the State Dept.:
    http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35836.htm

    After that I went to other links in my search and this one caught my eye: http://www.worldtribune.com/worldtribune/WTARC/2009/me_yemen0880_11_11.asp If you can read that one, good for you. It appears to be like a FOIA document.

    This one gives the Yemen Leader and his family complete immunity while the US and it’s Military do whatever they wish in the country: http://www.wsws.org/articles/2011/dec2011/yeme-d02.shtml

    So they did sign an agreement with the US Military as seen in this link too: http://www.eagleworldnews.com/2009/11/11/us-yemen-sign-military-cooperation-agreement/

    Could the CIA be attempting to get the same or a similar agreement? Maybe the CIA and the Military are butting heads with intelligence and Drone usage?

    Judy Miller and Starr won’t tell us because they never bother to investigate.

  2. harpie says:

    I don’t watch CNN or know anything about its personel. It seems weird that Barbara Starr calls the Department of Defense the Defense Ministry.

    Starr: “According to two Defense Ministry officials, at least 11 U.S. attacks were conducted on Yemeni soil over the past week alone.”

    So, there were 11 US drone “attacks”, five of which killed six suspected al Qaeda militants.

    Did these five “attacks” hit nothing else? Did the remaining six “attacks” hit nothing at all?

  3. pdaly says:

    Just to clarify definitions.

    We’ve seen drone strikes in the recent past that were “personality” strikes–the extra-judicial assassinations of pre-indentified, named people that the US President or the president’s minions/cooperating heads of state claimed is a terrorist.

    “Signature” strikes, by contrast, are extra-judicial drone kills of nameless civilians. The reason given for being able to kill these civilians is that these persons, by their actions, give off the “signature” of being a terrorist. Once again no proof of terrorism needs to be made.

    So with “signature strikes” now an active new tool in the war on terror, I’m willing to bet that the term collateral damage will be retired.

  4. Jeff Kaye says:

    The number of journalists who are, wittingly or unwittingly, essentially US government assets is quite large, though still a minority of the corps of journalists working in this country. But they are in key positions, and they are supported online by a vociferous social networking apparatus run by the intelligence agencies.

    Control of the media has always been a signature aspect of the struggle for and against tyranny. Marat was assassinated over two hundred years ago because he published a popular and incendiary anti-monarchial newspaper. Today, journalists in countries overseas are routinely shot or disappeared because they strive to get out the truth. Even in the US, journalists who tell the truth have met with blacklisting or firings.

    Some day there will be a statue in memory of the heroic journalist Gary Webb, and Miller and Starr’s names will be expletives.

  5. seedeevee says:

    “Now, Starr doesn’t mention the term “signature strikes” at all in this piece.”

    What is she saying here? Did something change?

    “The Washington Post reported Thursday that the CIA is seeking permission to conduct so-called “signature” strikes, which generally are aimed at targets or compounds involving suspicious behavior. CNN has not be able to confirm the report.” — http://security.blogs.cnn.com/2012/04/19/intel-influx-leads-to-increased-u-s-strikes-in-yemen/

  6. rugger9 says:

    Barabara, is that some kind of journalmalism disease? Kind of like beriberi where you can’t walk straight, one has a permanent skew to the stenography. Pulitzer time, bay-baeeee! Even with all of the stenography [as well as the weird silence on Iran’s alleged peccadillos lately from the usual suspects] there doesn’t seem to be the appetite for fighting like we had in 2003, quagmires can do that y’know.

    OT [but still related to “reporting”, so there], I see our friend George Z has a new photo up, which shows blood trickling down the back of his head. There’s a fix in, because no one so far has explained where this picture was that was supposedly taken 3 minutes after the event has been all of this time, completely unnoticed. Nor does any reporting explain the video which does not show any blood or stains on the shirt [which would still be there even if GZ was cleaned up], or that the detective didn’t buy the story GZ was selling at the time until his brass overruled him. Those inconsistencies are very important here, and the timing of the release was just too convenient combined with the fact that both sides already are vouching for its accuracy and relevance. The fix is in to let GZ walk in my humble opinion.

  7. rugger9 says:

    The shirt he’s wearing in the photo looks like the one in the video from SPD, however, the cuts aren’t there. Nor is the broken nose that GZ’s dad testified to in court at the bail hearing.

  8. Jim White says:

    @rugger9: Meh. Head and facial wounds are notorious for bleeding profusely while still quite minor. I had already spotted that bit of a bruise on the back of Z’s head when they released the police station video. That there is no bandage on his head, though, after the fire rescue folks cleaned up the wounds, argues strongly against Z’s claim that he probably needed stitches. It is entirely consistent that he could have had a minor scratch that produced the blood in the photo but didn’t leave a large enough wound to show up later in the video.

    The photo is from the iPhone of a neighbor who came out to check the commotion.

    Has anyone seen a nose photo from that same time period? I haven’t seen one of those yet.

    I also still maintain that fire rescue should have taken photos to document the wounds they treated.

  9. rugger9 says:

    @Jim White: #11
    If there’s a iphone photo of the back of the head there is probably one of the nose as well, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t support GZ’s story so we will never see it. I will say after 15 years of playing rugby that I never saw a broken nose heal so completely and quickly as this allegedly did [note the booking photo, not even any swelling or angularity], and we have no indication that Trayvon Martin caused the injury, unprovoked, just GZ’s word. Perhaps it is merely a scratch from a hand, and that could be either of them.

    I still don’t know why this turned up only now, did the neighbor hold on to it or the SPD? Given how hard the defense [and SPD brass] has been working their various coverup angles, their gracious word needs serious corroboration. It could also be from some other time when GZ wore the same outfit, are there other pictures that establish the time this was taken? The SPD video is clear on those counts, the iphone video not so much. I’m still concerned about the alacrity that the prosecution accepted the evidence as gospel before delving into the inconsistencies and the discovery delays.

  10. Jim White says:

    @rugger9: I agree completely on the claim of a broken nose not being consistent with the booking photo or police station video. That’s one reason I keep harping on what records fire rescue might have, especially photos. They would have had a good idea of the extent of the injury.

    I’m less creeped out by the blood photo just now coming out. All it does is confirm a tussle. It says nothing about how the tussle started.

  11. rugger9 says:

    @Jim White: #13
    I’m not so sure it does confirm a tussle, GZ could have done it to himself. If TM had done it, GZ’s DNA and skin would be under TM’s nails, but I’m pretty sure the medical examiner didn’t look for it at all.

    Also, this:
    http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/04/20/1084972/-Zimmerman-s-Wife-Admits-Z-Used-Self-Defense-Excuse-Years-Ago

    We have the “little younger than me” claim today contrasted with the “teenager” on the 911 tape. This will be a sign for the prosecution’s willingness to pursue rather than showboat, whether GZ gets grilled for that.

  12. rugger9 says:

    @rugger9: #14
    I’m wondering whether GZ’s appearance at the hearing means the prosecution can call him as a hostile witness later on. He may not be forced to testify outside of the Fifth, per se, but couldn’t the prosecution force him to explain his discrepancies at the hearing vs. the 911 tape?

    Otherwise, it seems to me he got to influence the jury pool with the “I’m sorry” defense that Monty Python ran a sketch about. IANAL, what say the legal beagles?

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