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Joseph A. Palermo

Joseph A. Palermo

Posted: October 15, 2007 09:55 AM

Memo to David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti of The New York Times


Yesterday's lead story in The New York Times by David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti entitled, "Analysts Find Israel Struck A Syrian Nuclear Project: U.S. Officials See Early Stages of a Reactor, Possibly of a North Korean Design," is yet another example of Judith Miller/Michael Gordon-style stenography that serves the Bush Administration's foreign policy goals.

Memo to Sanger and Mazzetti:

You're terrific reporters, and I'm sure you're reporting exactly what was told to you. But your sources are unnamed intelligence officials and diplomats from the United States and Israel. Their task is not to tell people the truth but what they want people to hear. You've got to understand that any report from an unidentified intelligence or diplomatic source is what they want you to believe. It may not be true.

Officials leaking intelligence to favored reporters that bolsters the Israeli case for a pre-emptive air strike against Syria's "nuclear" site legitimizes pre-emption as a doctrine, and indirectly strengthens the case for a U.S. pre-emptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. This outcome could be the aim of the officials' willingness to divulge "secret intelligence" at this time to Sanger and Mazzetti so that their case for pre-emption ends up on the front page of The New York Times. Like Michael Gordon's stories about "explosively formed penetrators" entering Iraq from Iran, Sanger and Mazzetti's story might be planted to further the Bush Administration's belligerent aims toward Iran.

I don't think I would be as trusting as Sanger and Mazzetti are of their sources:

Paragraph 1: "American and foreign officials with access to intelligence reports";
Paragraph 2: "American officials said";
Paragraph 3: "Bush administration officials said";
Paragraph 4: "American and foreign officials said";
Paragraph 5: "Secrecy is restricted to just a handful of officials";
Paragraph 6: "Officials made clear";
Paragraph 7: "The officials did not say";
Paragraph 8: "One American official familiar with the intense discussions";
Paragraph 11: "A senior Israeli official";
Paragraph 12: "Were described by government officials and nongovernment experts";

In paragraph twelve, Sanger and Mazzetti tell their readers why their sources must keep their identities secret: "All insisted on anonymity because of rules that prohibit discussing classified information." (Gosh, I feel better already. Surely, our honorable intelligence officials would never lead a couple of New York Times reporters astray, just ask Judith Miller and Michael Gordon.)

Sanger and Mazzetti claim to have talked to officials on both sides of the "debate," but we subsequently learn that the "debate" is between officials who see the problem as an "urgent concern" and those who "described themselves as neutral." That's a pretty damn narrow "debate." But it gives the readers the feeling the authors are being "balanced" and "critical," when they are neither.

Their sources continued:

Paragraph 13: "Dana Perino said";
Paragraph 17: "According to American officials";
Paragraph 18: "Some American and Israeli officials believe";
Paragraph 19: "President Bush issued a specific warning";
Paragraph 21: "American and foreign officials would not say";
Paragraph 22: "According to two senior administration officials";
Paragraph 23: "Mr. Cheney, in particular, officials say";

In paragraph twenty-three, we're told that "behind closed doors" Vice President Dick Cheney "and other hawkish members of the administration" want to use the recent Israeli attack on Syria as a means to derail possible negotiations with both Syria and North Korea and ratchet up tension with Iran.

If Sanger and Mazzetti were not just shilling for their powerful friends, guarding their cherished sources, and accepting the Bush Administration's assertions as fact, they might have at least considered the possibility that Cheney and other hawks, such as Elliot Abrams, might be selectively leaking "intelligence" to serve their own purposes.

Why is it that whenever Michael Gordon and others like him, including now David Sanger and Mark Mazzetti, get a hold of a real "scoop" from anonymous intelligence insiders the thrust of the story always moves the debate closer to the hawks' position in the Administration who are calling for an attack on Iran?

Of course, Sanger and Mazzetti, the new Judith Miller-Michael Gordon team, never ponder this question.

Does anyone at the Times remember the vast quantities of biological and chemical weapons, aluminum centrifuge tubes, yellow cake uranium, and all of the other weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein possessed? We learned about all of that stuff via anonymous intelligence sources too.