Washington Post staff writer Howard Kurtz's March 18 article reports that an alleged Pentagon cable obtained by Washington Times national security correspondent Bill Gertz, which indicates that the Defense Intelligence Agency suspects NBC News military analyst William M. Arkin of spying for Saddam Hussein, is a forgery. The revelation apparently marks the second time in two months that Gertz and the Times have obtained false documents that discussed purported Pentagon investigations of Arkin.
While Gertz and the Times had yet to report on the Iraqi espionage allegations, Kurtz noted that a column Gertz did recently publish -- reporting that Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was investigating Arkin over disclosures in his recent book, Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World (Steerforth Press, January 2005) -- is false.
Media Matters for America has found that Gertz's February column about Arkin's book also appears to have been based on a fake Pentagon cable. Gertz and the Times' Pentagon correspondent, Rowan Scarborough, wrote in their February 4 "Inside the Ring" column:
The Joint Staff at the Pentagon last week ordered an investigation into the compromise of several programs that were revealed in a book by author William Arkin. According to a Jan. 25 cable from the Joint Staff to 14 military units, most of them involved in special operations, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has asked for an "opsec" or operational security assessment of possible national security damage to special access programs and other "operational compromises" in the book, "Code Names."
Contradicting Gertz, Kurtz reported on March 18: "A spokesman for Myers, Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, said: 'There is no investigation that General Myers initiated on the Joint Staff that I can find or that I even know about, prompted by him or by anybody else.' " The fact that Gertz appears to have obtained two fake Pentagon cables raises questions about whether he has an ongoing relationship with a source who is acting to smear Arkin, a vocal critic of President Bush's foreign policy.
Regardless of Gertz's source, however, his debunked February column was not the first instance of conservative media figures smearing Arkin, who has worked for two progressive think tanks, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Center for Defense Information; two environmental groups that also study military affairs, Greenpeace and National Resources Defense Council; and the human rights group Human Rights Watch. He has written columns for the Los Angeles Times, Washingtonpost.com, and the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists.
Arkin was the original source of video and audiotapes, portions of which NBC News first aired on October 15, 2003, in which Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, now deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, made controversial statements casting the war on terrorism as a clash of religions.
Conservative radio host and Weekly Standard contributing writer Hugh Hewitt wrote a hit piece on Arkin on October 23, 2003, accusing him of taking Boykin out of context and refusing to provide complete transcripts of Boykin's remarks at various church services and prayer breakfasts, which NBC News drew on for its report. Hewitt called Arkin a liar:
Arkin also wrote that "Boykin has made it clear that he takes his orders not from his Army superiors but from God -- which is a worrisome line of command." This statement ... appears to be pure fiction. But we can't know for sure because Arkin hasn't released the full transcripts of the talks Boykin gave. Arkin promised to do so when I interviewed him, but has since told my producer he won't be providing them because I have misquoted him on my website--another lie from Arkin, to go along with his broken promise of full disclosure.
Fox News managing editor Brit Hume picked up on Hewitt's unverified allegation on the "Political Grapevine" segment of the October 23, 2003, edition of Special Report with Brit Hume:
HUME: The speech excerpts on NBC last week portraying Lt. Gen. William Boykin as an intolerant, religious zealot were furnished by William Arkin, a columnist for the L.A. Times and a consultant for NBC. In addition to the excerpts on tape, Arkin says he has transcripts of Boykin's full remarks. But despite promises to release those transcripts, Arkin has declined to do so.
For the record, before the L.A. Times, Arkin worked for the Institute for Policy Studies -- a self-described "progressive think tank" run by, among others, outspoken war critic Harry Belafonte. And for Greenpeace -- the militant environmental group. And for Human Rights Watch -- the vehemently anti-war organization.
On the same day, Frank J. Gaffney Jr., Washington Times columnist and president of the conservative Center for Security Policy, also attacked Arkin for his role in the Boykin story. Gaffney labeled Arkin "an inveterate leftist activist-turned columnist and TV commentator" in his October 23, 2003, column.
Arkin also sparked attacks from conservatives, including Gertz and Gaffney, when he co-authored a 1991 report for Greenpeace that concluded, based on interviews and published reports, that U.S. military, Iraqi civilian, and Iraqi military casualties in the first Gulf War were higher than earlier estimates.
In a January 20, 1991, Washington Times article titled "15,000 Civilian Dead? Greenpeace's Gulf war estimate repudiated," Gertz wrote: "Critics on both the left and the right are challenging an estimate by the radical environmental group Greenpeace that up to 15,000 Iraqi civilians were killed by allied bombing in the Persian Gulf war, a war the group described as the most destructive conflict in history." The article quoted Gaffney attacking Arkin's credibility:
Former Pentagon policy-maker Frank Gaffney said the Greenpeace report is suspect because its primary author is William Arkin, a former Army intelligence analyst whose past writings have become causes celebres for the political left. ...
"I viscerally distrust everything Bill Arkin writes," said Mr. Gaffney, director of the Center for Security Policy, a pro-defense research group.
Arkin's study, which is not available online, is titled On Impact--Modern Warfare and the Environment: A Case Study of the Gulf War. The other authors were Damian Durrant and Marianne Cherni.
Kurtz wrote a profile of Arkin on May 24, 2002.