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The Alternative to NYT’s Subservience: Actual Journalism

The Guardian has its version of the Arthur Brisbane article approving of NYT’s decision to withhold all mention of Raymond Davis’ identity. One of the two main reasons why the Guardian chose to publish even as CIA and MI5 were warning that that might endanger Davis is the one I keep pointing out: all the people who might harm Davis already knew he was some kind of spook.

But the deciding factor was that Davis’s CIA link wasn’t actually a very big secret in Pakistan. For days newspapers had been describing him as a spy; by Sunday morning, 20 February, the headline in one of Pakistan’s national newspapers, The Nation, was “Raymond Davis linked to CIA”.

“Those who might wish to harm Davis – inside the prison, or outside – had already made up their minds about who he was or what he represented. They don’t need our story to motivate them,” our correspondent said.

The Guardian, it seems, actually thought through the logic behind the claim that revealing Davis’ identity would endanger him and, like me, found it dubious.

But the other reason is even more interesting, given the NYT’s claimed helplessness in the face of the government request that it sit on the story: the Guardian did additional reporting to check the claims of the government agencies.

The Guardian’s correspondent in Islamabad, an experienced journalist, investigated and wrote the story. He said:

“We took the CIA’s suggestion that Davis would be at risk if we ran the story very seriously. I interviewed the Punjab law minister, Rana Sanaullah, who described the conditions of Davis’s incarceration. He said there were teams of dedicated guards and Punjab rangers deployed outside the prison, and visits from embassy personnel. I also interviewed a senior intelligence official who said ‘all possible measures’ were being taken to ensure his safety, including moving 25 jihadi prisoners to other facilities.”

Our correspondent also spoke to human rights groups about the conditions in the prison and what was happening in there.

In other words, having been told something by people in authority, the Guardian’s reporter actually checked the truth of the matter, and assessed the government’s claims against that truth.

Last I checked, that’s what newspapers are supposed to do. The NYT, by contrast, describes only having assessed whether the State Department’s warnings were “credible” or not.

As profoundly unpalatable as it is, I think the Times did the only thing it could do.

[snip]

In military affairs, there is a calculus that balances the loss of life against the gain of an objective. In journalism, though, there is no equivalent. Editors don’t have the standing to make a judgment that a story — any story — is worth a life. I find it hard to second-guess the editors’ assessment that the State Department’s warning was credible and that Mr. Davis’s life was at risk in a country seething with anti-American feeling.

And, having been told Davis’ life is at risk (an assessment I agree with), the NYT didn’t think further to weigh whether his life would be at increased risk if NYT’s American readers knew what Pakistanis already knew, that he is a spook.

Such critical thinking, apparently–along with the extra work to check official government sources that the Guardian did–appears to no longer be the job of the NYT.

NYT: All the News That’s Fit to Authoritatively Quash

There are a couple of funny things about NYT’s public editor Arthur Brisbane’s article approving the NYT’s decision to sit on news of Raymond Davis’ CIA affiliation. Check out whom he consults for guidelines on what the NYT should or shouldn’t publish.

Bob Woodward, who wrote about secret operations in Pakistan in his recent book “Obama’s Wars,” described for me the competing priorities in play in this situation. On one hand, he said, the Davis affair is just the “tip of the iceberg” of intensive secret warfare the United States is waging in the region. “I think the aggressive nature of the way all that is covered is good because you are only seeing part of the activity, ” said Mr. Woodward, who also is associate editor of The Washington Post.

“But you just don’t want to get someone killed,” he added. “I learned a long time ago, humanitarian considerations first, journalism second.” [my emphasis]

If you’re asking Woodward–the guy who withholds everything until he can package it into a semi-official narrative, the guy whose reporting is all officially sanctioned at this point–whether to withhold news or not, you might as well be asking State Department spokesperson PJ Crowley himself for guidelines.

They’re both government flacks, after all.

But what I find really amusing is the logic that went into NYT’s decision to withhold Davis’ affiliation. Brisbane reveals the content of Crowley’s call to Keller.

Mr. Davis was charged with murder after shooting two Pakistani men in Lahore on Jan. 27. The Times jumped on the story, but on Feb. 8, the State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley, contacted the executive editor, Bill Keller, with a request. “He was asking us not to speculate, or to recycle charges in the Pakistani press,” Mr. Keller said. “His concern was that the letters C-I-A in an article in the NYT, even as speculation, would be taken as authoritative and would be a red flag in Pakistan.”

In other words, Crowley called Keller and told him that if the NYT published what newspapers in Pakistan were already publishing, it would be regarded as “authoritative.”

Note, NYT’s crack public editor didn’t bother to explain who would regard it as authoritative. Nor did he explain how that would add to the considerable danger to Davis’ life. Crowley apparently just said someone might die, and the NYT decided not to report without, apparently, thinking through the logical problem with Crowley’s claim (though if they were so worried about people dying, maybe they shouldn’t have ginned up a war against Iraq?).

Now, I fully acknowledge that a great number of people here in the US have ignored the last decade of the NYT’s coverage and thus still regard it as “authoritative.”

But those people are here in the US.

Furthermore, an entire group of people who pose a threat to Davis–the people protesting–would only even see the NYT article if they happen to have InterToobz access and reasonably good English. (And it doesn’t matter anyway, given that they already fully believed Davis was CIA or Blackwater. Hell, many of them probably believe the NYT is CIA too.)

The other people who pose a threat to Davis–his jailers–already had all the confirmation they needed he was a spook in the equipment he had when they arrested him.

So basically, Crowley’s request represented a big handjob to the NYT’s inflated self of its own “authoritativeness,” and because the NYT found it credible or at least flattering that their alleged authoritativeness would endanger Davis in a way that all the reporting in Pakistan didn’t already, they withheld publication.

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When Militaries Conspire to Ignore the Will of the People

The story of the day is from Michael Hastings, fresh off winning a Polk Award for his reporting on the insubordination of key members of Stanley McChrystal’s staff. In today’s story, he describes how Lieutenant General William Caldwell ordered a PsyOp unit to manipulate Senators–including John McCain, Carl Levin, Jack Reed, and Al Franken–to support increased troops and funding for training Afghan soldiers. When the commander of that unit objected, he was investigated and disciplined. (See Jim White’s post on it here.)

It’s a troubling picture of the extent to which individual members of our military will push the war in Afghanistan, knowing how unpopular it is in the States.

But there’s an equally troubling story reporting on the disdain with which our military treats public opinion. Josh Rogin reports on a regularly scheduled meeting between the Pakistani and American military in Oman that took place on Tuesday; because of the Raymond Davis affair, the meeting had heightened importance. The US was represented by, among others, Admiral Mullen and Generals Petraeus, Olson (SOCOM) and Mattis (CENTCOM).

As Rogin describes it, the Americans, whose views were represented in a written summary from General Jehangir Karamat with confirmation from another Pakistani participant, believed the two militaries had to restore the Pakistani-American relationship before it got completely destroyed by the press and the public.

“The US had to point out that once beyond a tipping point the situation would be taken over by political forces that could not be controlled,” Karamat wrote about the meeting, referring to the reported split between the CIA and the Pakistani Inter-services Intelligence (ISI) that erupted following the Davis shooting.

[snip]

“[T]he US did not want the US-Pakistan relationship to go into a free fall under media and domestic pressures,” Karamat wrote. “These considerations drove it to ask the [Pakistani] Generals to step in and do what the governments were failing to do-especially because the US military was at a critical stage in Afghanistan and Pakistan was the key to control and resolution.”

“The militaries will now brief and guide their civilian masters and hopefully bring about a qualitative change in the US-Pakistan Relationship by arresting the downhill descent and moving it in the right direction.” [my emphasis]

In short, the US military wants to make sure that military intervenes to counteract the fury of the people and the press over the Davis affair.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’d rather have the military ensure close relations with this nuclear-armed unstable state. I’m cognizant of how, in different situations (notably the Egyptian uprising), close ties between our military and others’ have helped to foster greater democracy. As Dana Priest’s The Mission makes clear our military has increasingly become the best functioning “diplomatic” service we’ve got. And though I think a great deal of stupidity and arrogance got Davis into the pickle he’s in, I certainly back our government’s efforts to get him returned to our country (Rogin also provides details of the plan to do that).

But particularly coming as it does in the same theater and on the same day as news of PsyOps being waged against my Senator, I’m troubled that our military isn’t more concerned with reining in the behavior that has rightly ticked off so many Pakistanis, rather than coordinating with the Pakistani military to make sure the people of Pakistan’s concerns are ignored.

Thousands of Spooky Americans Doing Who-Knows-What in Pakistan?

As I have followed the Raymond Davis saga, this passage from an early Jeremy Scahill story on the CIA/JSOC/Blackwater programs operating in Pakistan, has haunted me.

The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

[snip]

The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.

That is, back in November 2009, even the Americans claimed not to be sure what people like Davis were doing.

There are a number of versions of stories talking about both the Pakistanis and Americans being clueless about what Raymond Davis was doing, as in this Daily Beast story suggesting the drone strikes halted to give the Americans time to figure out what we were doing in Pakistan.

The U.S. government also has its own questions about what Davis and other shadowy Americans are up to in Pakistan. According to the senior Pakistani official, the U.S. government has only a sketchy notion of what Davis and other security contractors and intelligence agents are actually doing on the ground. As a result, the CIA’s activities in Pakistan have more or less been temporarily shut down, according to the official, while a review of the agency’s activities is carried out. Hence the temporary drone freeze, since the drone program is under the direction of the CIA.

And admittedly, both parties have an incentive to plead ignorance. Plausible deniability, after all.

But what’s striking about this AP version pleading ignorance is the sheer numbers involved.

The ISI fears there are hundreds of CIA contracted spies operating in Pakistan without the knowledge of either the Pakistan government or the intelligence agency, a senior Pakistani intelligence official told the AP in an interview. He spoke only on condition he not be identified on grounds that exposure would compromise his security.

Pakistan intelligence had no idea who Davis was or what he was doing when he was arrested, the official said, adding that there are concerns about “how many more Raymond Davises are out there.”

[snip]

The ISI is now scouring thousands of visas issued to U.S. employees in Pakistan. The ISI official said Davis’ visa application contains bogus references and phone numbers. He said thousands of visas were issued to U.S. Embassy employees over the past five months following a government directive to the Pakistan Embassy in Washington to issue visas without the usual vetting by the interior ministry and the ISI. The same directive was issued to the Pakistan embassies in Britain and the United Arab Emirates, he said.

Within two days of receiving that directive, the Pakistani Embassy issued 400 visas and since then thousands more have been issued, said the ISI official. A Western diplomat in Pakistan agreed that a “floodgate” opened for U.S. Embassy employees requesting Pakistani visas. [my emphasis]

In other words, some time back in September or thereabouts, the Pakistani government opened the floodgates for a bunch–hundreds or thousands–of spooky types who would not be vetted.

Back in the 60s in Vietnam, they called those hundreds and thousands “advisors,” I think.

In any case, at this point, the Pakistanis are making a concerted effort to make it clear (or claim) that they let these thousands into the country with no vetting without first ascertaining what they would be doing. Mind you, they probably did know, at least vaguely. But if these numbers are true, the sheer scope of this program may be one of the big sources of the embarrassment here.

It’s Not the Pakistanis from Whom Papers Were Withholding Davis’ CIA Affiliation

Glenn and I both complained after the US media admitted yesterday it had been sitting on the very obvious news that Raymond Davis was a spook. But I got a number of questions from people who seem to miss the point. Why did I argue for years that Bob Novak shouldn’t have published Valerie Plame’s identity, yet was now arguing that newspapers should have revealed Davis’ affiliation? This article from Michael Calderone gets closer to–but does not directly address–what I think the difference is.

Consider the whole reason why–at least as far as our government claims–we keep spies’ identities secret. It’s to make sure our adversaries don’t know who we’ve got spying on them. Just as random example (just about all these cautionary claims use a similar formulation), here’s what Robert Gates said about the danger that Wikileaks would reveal the identities of our sources to (in this case) our enemies in Afghanistan.

Intelligence sources and methods, as well as military tactics, techniques and procedures, will become known to our adversaries.

The whole point is to keep spies and their sources’ identities secret from our enemies. (In spite of what some have reported about Aldrich Ames and Valerie Plame and Brewster and Jennings, CIA documents I’ve seen in the Plame case made it clear that the Agency believed Plame’s identity was still secret when Novak published her identity; I also suspect that B&J’s cover role was misunderstood.)

But consider this case. From the very earliest reports on Davis in Pakistan, he has been alleged to be a spook and/or Blackwater. Indeed, as Calderone points out, the people protesting in the streets of Pakistan have long been operating on the assumption that he is a spy.

But the shooting had already sparked a diplomatic crisis, with Pakistani protesters calling for violent retribution against Davis and burning American flags and an effigy of the CIA agent on the street. (The protest against Davis pictured above took place a week ago). And in the Pakistani media—where conspiracy theories involving the CIA are commonplace—Davis had already been pegged as a spy.

Furthermore, we have every reason to believe that Pakistani intelligence (replete with its ties to Al Qaeda and the Taliban) know and knew who Davis is. Members of the ISI have said as much, for starters. Plus, there are the many allegations that the two men whom Davis killed had ties to ISI; if, as it appears, the ISI was tracking Davis, then it’s a sure bet they knew before he was arrested that he was some kind of spook. And if they didn’t know before they arrested him, then there are the items they captured with him, not least his phone, which allegedly had numbers of people in the tribal regions. Thus, regardless of what Davis has said, the ISI likely already has a good idea who his sources are.

So almost all the people we’d like to keep Davis’ identity secret from–the Pakistani government and the Pakistani people–already either knew or have been operating based on the assumption that he is a spy. The one exception, of course, is the Taliban or other extremists, who would no doubt like to know whom Davis was speaking to in their ranks. But to the extent they haven’t already guessed those details, the Pakistani government now must be trusted to keep them secret, if they will. There’s no more or less that the Taliban and Al Qaeda will learn about Davis based solely on US reporting confirming he is a spy.

In other words, had they revealed his CIA affiliation, American newspapers would not have revealed anything to the key people we’re supposed to be protecting Davis’ identity from; those people already knew or assumed it.

So the people from whom American newspapers were withholding the truth about Davis’ identity were not America’s adversaries, but the American readers who hadn’t already read all the Pakistani coverage on Davis.

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Raymond Davis: Diplomatic Immunity v. US Impunity

What happens with the Raymond Davis case, in the end, will likely not have very much to do with the Vienna Conventions. For that matter, we likely will never have enough of the unadulterated facts to know what should happen under the Vienna Conventions. But let’s suspend reality and see where an examination of the Vienna Conventions and the competing facts in the Davis case might take us.

As several reports have pointed out, there are numerous Vienna Conventions and the two that are likely to apply to Davis are the Vienna Convention of 1961 on Diplomatic Relations and the Vienna Convention of 1963 on Consular Relations. The VCs get wrapped in and out of discussions of passports and visa – so let’s separate and reassemble.

Diplomatic Passport. Our State Department issues passports needed for travel to other countries. Because of the State Department’s sole control over this document, it is looked at skeptically by Pakistanis in the Davis matter. The US says that, while it was not on him when he was captured and while it may have some discrepancies with other documents, Raymond Davis has a US issued diplomatic passport. Some have gone so far as to make this the equivalent of having diplomatic immunity, without anything more.

But that’s not how it works. Diplomatic immunity is derived, under VC 1961, by being validly attached to the embassy (mission) of a nation in which the “diplomat” is located. A diplomatic passport has no effect to attach someone to an embassy or mission. For example, a diplomat validly attached to the embassy in Iraq could travel to Germany on a diplomatic passport, but would not have immunity in Germany if they were not validly attached to the German embassy. So the question isn’t whether or not Davis had a diplomatic passport (or whether, if so, it was issued to an alias or issued after the fact), but whether he was validly attached to the US embassy at the time of his altercation in Pakistan.

Attachment to the US Mission/Embassy. For someone other than the head of mission, the general rule is that the sending nation (US) can “freely appoint” diplomats to its mission staff (Article 7), with a few caveats, and are then merely required to notify the receiving nation’s foreign ministry of the appointment/addition. The first caveat, also in Article 7, is that if the person being appointed is a military Read more

Raymond Davis’ Work “with” the CIA

After the Guardian confirmed for the Anglo-American world what the rest of the world had already concluded–that Raymond Davis is some kind of spook–the government gave the American outlets that have been sitting on this knowledge the go-ahead to publish it.

The New York Times had agreed to temporarily withhold information about Mr. Davis’s ties to the agency at the request of the Obama administration, which argued that disclosure of his specific job would put his life at risk. Several foreign news organizations have disclosed some aspects of Mr. Davis’s work with the C.I.A., and on Monday, American officials lifted their request to withhold publication.

Yet even though the NYT claims they have been cleared by the government to describe Davis’ “specific job,” the article does no such thing.

Note how none of the usages in the story make it clear whether Davis works for the CIA, for Blackwater, for his own contracting company, or for JSOC:

The American arrested in Pakistan after shooting two men at a crowded traffic stop was part of a covert, C.I.A.-led team of operatives conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country, according to American government officials.

[snip]

carried out scouting and other reconnaissance missions for a Central Intelligence Agency task force

[snip]

Mr. Davis has worked for years as a C.I.A. contractor, including time at Blackwater Worldwide, the controversial private security firm (now called Xe)

[snip]

The officials gave various accounts of the makeup of the covert task force and of Mr. Davis, who at the time of his arrest was carrying a Glock pistol, a long-range wireless set, a small telescope and a headlamp. An American and a Pakistani official said in interviews that operatives from the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command had been assigned to the group to help with the surveillance missions. Other American officials, however, said that no military personnel were involved with the task force.

[snip]

Even before his arrest, Mr. Davis’s C.I.A. affiliation was known to Pakistani authorities, who keep close tabs on the movements of Americans.

[snip]

American officials said that with Pakistan’s government trying to clamp down on the increasing flow of Central Intelligence Agency officers and contractors trying to gain entry to Pakistan, more of these operatives have been granted “cover” as embassy employees and given diplomatic passports.

[snip]

American officials said he operated as part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Global Response Service in various parts of the country, including Lahore and Peshawar.

[snip]

It is unclear when Mr. Davis began working for the C.I.A., but American officials said that in recent years he worked for the spy agency as a Blackwater contractor and later founded his own small company, Hyperion Protective Services. [my emphasis]

This article leaves open every single possibility–CIA, Blackwater, other contractor, JSOC–with the least likely being that Davis is an employee of the CIA (not least because according to the Pakistanis he makes $200,000). Though the article does make it clear we’re now extending official cover to contractors.

The most likely, I’d guess, is that we’re using Blackwater to employ JSOC folks to get around legal niceties.

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Spy v. Spy: Unmasked?

From the very first reports of Raymond Davis’ killing of two Pakistanis and subsequent arrest, the insistence he was just a consular employee was obviously just polite fiction. The Guardian has stopped sustaining that fiction.

Based on interviews in the US and Pakistan, the Guardian can confirm that the 36-year-old former special forces soldier is employed by the CIA. “It’s beyond a shadow of a doubt,” said a senior Pakistani intelligence official. The revelation may complicate American efforts to free Davis, who insists he was acting in self-defence against a pair of suspected robbers, who were both carrying guns.

[snip]

The Pakistani government is aware of Davis’s CIA status yet has kept quiet in the face of immense American pressure to free him under the Vienna convention. Last week President Barack Obama described Davis as “our diplomat” and dispatched his chief diplomatic troubleshooter, Senator John Kerry, to Islamabad. Kerry returned home empty-handed.

Yet even as Pakistani officials now willingly admit they’ve known all along that Davis is a spook, it’s still unclear to what degree the press is sustaining further fictions.

Consider the ABC report that the two men in the rescue vehicle that attempted to pick Davis up had “slipped out” of the country.

A Pakistani court has demanded the arrest of a second U.S. official in connection with a deadly shootout in Lahore, Pakistan, last month, but that official, as well another American official involved in the incident, have already slipped out of the country and are back on American soil, a senior U.S. official told ABC News.

Which gives the Guardian’s source the opportunity to admit — shockers! — they’ve escaped.

The US refused Pakistani demands to interrogate the two men and on Sunday a senior Pakistani intelligence official said they had left the country. “They have flown the coop, they are already in America,” he said.

FB Ali, at Pat Lang’s blog, reports that these men flew back to the US on John Kerry’s CoDel plane.

The US, concluding that playing the heavy wasn’t achieving much, sent in the ‘good cop’, in the person of Senator Kerry, co-author of the 7.5 billion Pakistan aid bill. He expressed public regret for the deaths, held out the assurance that Davis would be criminally investigated back in the US, and met with the principal Pakistani players. His whirlwind one-day tour didn’t achieve much beyond smuggling out of the country on his plane the three Americans who had been in the backup van (and were being sought by the police and the courts).

Which sort of makes you wonder whether the Pakistanis are so shocked that these men “flew the coop.”

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Lindsey Graham Calls Raymond Davis an “Agent”

AFP has a report (notably picked up by Pakistan’s Dawn) on the Senate’s hand-wringing over whether we should tie aid to Pakistan to the release of Raymond Davis, the “consulate employee” who shot two alleged Pakistani spies. Here’s what Lindsey Graham had to say:

But Senator Lindsey Graham, the top Republican on Leahy’s subcommittee, strongly warned against any rollback of assistance to Pakistan, citing the need for help in the war in Afghanistan and the hunt for suspected terrorists.

“Our relationship’s got to be bigger than this,” Graham said.

“This is a friction point, this is a troubling matter, it doesn’t play well in Afghanistan. We can’t throw this agent over, I don’t know all the details, but we cannot define the relationship based on one incident because it is too important at a time when we’re making progress in Afghanistan,” he said. [my emphasis]

Lindsey, Lindsey, Lindsey! Under Ben Cardin’s proposed law criminalizing leaks (and, frankly, under existing law), you could go to jail for such honesty. Good thing you have immunity as a member of Congress.

Though in the spirit of Bob Novak–who claimed to be thinking of a political professional running congressional campaigns in Dick Cheney’s state when he called Valerie Plame an “operative”–I suppose Graham could claim he just thought Davis serves some kind of service employee at the consulate, one of the “agents” that help with visas or some such nonsense.

Not that that’ll help the tensions over this incident in Pakistan at all.