UPDATED, to fix the link, to categorize some of the items here, and see below for what we propose to do with this subject as a series of posts throughout the next few weeks or so...
Ultimately, we will never view the words "military analyst" or "retired General" in the same light again. We used to look upon these people as noted experts, members of a small elite of military officers that had perspective that few Americans possessed, and, ultimately, honest brokers of the information that they were sharing with the American people. I'm going to use this article from the New York Times to break down how we have traded the lives of soldiers for access, and how a select group of men have betrayed their country for a few measley dollars.
In April 2006, Pentagon officials, starting with then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, met with various "analyts" who were then appearing on various television networks. These "retired military analysts" were also men who sat on the boards of various defense contractors, and were given increased access to people like Rumsfeld in exchange for properly disseminating a pro-administration view that the war in Iraq was going better than what was really going on. At the time of this meeting, there were generals who were opposed to the war, and opposed to Rumsfeld personally, and they had started what was dubbed a "revolt of the generals" in order to get the message across to the American people that the war in Iraq was going off the rails. When the details of that meeting were leaked, and when they were written about in the New York Times, the American people were only given an inkling of what was really going on--and that is, a major campaign was underway to lie to the American people to give the Bush administration political cover:
In damage-control mode, Pentagon officials scrambled to present the meeting as routine and directed that communications with analysts be kept “very formal,” records show. “This is very, very sensitive now,” a Pentagon official warned subordinates.
On Tuesday, April 18, some 17 analysts assembled at the Pentagon with Mr. Rumsfeld and General Pace, then the chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
A transcript of that session, never before disclosed, shows a shared determination to marginalize war critics and revive public support for the war.
“I’m an old intel guy,” said one analyst. (The transcript omits speakers’ names.) “And I can sum all of this up, unfortunately, with one word. That is Psyops. Now most people may hear that and they think, ‘Oh my God, they’re trying to brainwash.’ ”
“What are you, some kind of a nut?” Mr. Rumsfeld cut in, drawing laughter. “You don’t believe in the Constitution?”
There was little discussion about the actual criticism pouring forth from Mr. Rumsfeld’s former generals. Analysts argued that opposition to the war was rooted in perceptions fed by the news media, not reality. The administration’s overall war strategy, they counseled, was “brilliant” and “very successful.”
“Frankly,” one participant said, “from a military point of view, the penalty, 2,400 brave Americans whom we lost, 3,000 in an hour and 15 minutes, is relative.”
That's right--at that point, only 2,400 US troops had lost their lives, and it was being bandied about as all "relative." Think of how many we could have saved if the American people had been told the truth.
The meeting ended and Mr. Rumsfeld, appearing pleased and relaxed, took the entire group into a small study and showed off treasured keepsakes from his life, several analysts recalled.
Soon after, analysts hit the airwaves. The Omnitec monitoring reports, circulated to more than 80 officials, confirmed that analysts repeated many of the Pentagon’s talking points: that Mr. Rumsfeld consulted “frequently and sufficiently” with his generals; that he was not “overly concerned” with the criticisms; that the meeting focused “on more important topics at hand,” including the next milestone in Iraq, the formation of a new government.
Days later, Mr. Rumsfeld wrote a memorandum distilling their collective guidance into bullet points. Two were underlined:
“Focus on the Global War on Terror — not simply Iraq. The wider war — the long war.”
“Link Iraq to Iran. Iran is the concern. If we fail in Iraq or Afghanistan, it will help Iran.”
But if Mr. Rumsfeld found the session instructive, at least one participant, General Nash, the ABC analyst, was repulsed.
“I walked away from that session having total disrespect for my fellow commentators, with perhaps one or two exceptions,” he said.
Omnitec was a company hire to--get this--measure just how much the military analysts were able to effectively spread the pro-war message that the Pentagon was trying to put out there. Never again will we look at these men without wondering..."who has bought them off? Have they been co-opted? What boards do they sit on? Does the Secretary of Defense have a hand up their back and is he moving their mouths?
Better yet--how did this even happen? Well, without Congressional oversight, this is how it all came to be:
In interviews, participants described a powerfully seductive environment — the uniformed escorts to Mr. Rumsfeld’s private conference room, the best government china laid out, the embossed name cards, the blizzard of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.
“Oh, you have no idea,” Mr. Allard [General Wayne Allard] said, describing the effect. “You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” It was, he said, “psyops on steroids” — a nuanced exercise in influence through flattery and proximity. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’ ” he said. “It’s more subtle.”
One of the Generals who participated in the elaborate shell game that helped cover up just how badly the war in Iraq was going back in 2005 used an apt analogy that should send shivers down the spine of everyone who knows just how badly the American people were manipulated during the Vietnam War:
Mostly the analysts attended briefings. These sessions, records show, spooled out an alternative narrative, depicting an Iraq bursting with political and economic energy, its security forces blossoming. On the crucial question of troop levels, the briefings echoed the White House line: No reinforcements were needed. The “growing and sophisticated threat” described by Mr. Bremer was instead depicted as degraded, isolated and on the run.
“We’re winning,” a briefing document proclaimed.
One trip participant, General Nash of ABC, said some briefings were so clearly “artificial” that he joked to another group member that they were on “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to Mr. Romney’s infamous claim that American officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965, while he was governor of Michigan.
At a time when these men could have--COULD HAVE--stepped up and done something to save the lives of US troops by pointing out the woeful shortages of equipment, these men went before the American people and tried to spin the situation. And I use spin as a euphemism for "fuck the soldiers over to provide political cover for the Bush Administration."
Back in Washington, Pentagon officials kept a nervous eye on how the trip translated on the airwaves. Uncomfortable facts had bubbled up during the trip. One briefer, for example, mentioned that the Army was resorting to packing inadequately armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets. Descriptions of the Iraqi security forces were withering. “They can’t shoot, but then again, they don’t,” one officer told them, according to one participant’s notes.
“I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south,” General Vallely, one of the Fox analysts on the trip, recalled in an interview with The Times.
The Pentagon, though, need not have worried.
“You can’t believe the progress,” General Vallely told Alan Colmes of Fox News upon his return. He predicted the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months.
“We could not be more excited, more pleased,” Mr. Cowan told Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. There was barely a word about armor shortages or corrupt Iraqi security forces. And on the key strategic question of the moment — whether to send more troops — the analysts were unanimous.
“I am so much against adding more troops,” General Shepperd said on CNN.
What is clear from this article is that the silence of the generals equated to a betrayal--a betrayal bought and paid for with dead Americans. Instead of telling the truth, these generals lied to the American people, so that they could hold on to their "access" to key Pentagon officials and the continued flow of money from the Pentagon into the companies they represented:
Some analysts said that even before the war started, they privately had questions about the justification for the invasion, but were careful not to express them on air.
Mr. Bevelacqua, then a Fox analyst, was among those invited to a briefing in early 2003 about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of illicit weapons. He recalled asking the briefer whether the United States had “smoking gun” proof.
“ ‘We don’t have any hard evidence,’ ” Mr. Bevelacqua recalled the briefer replying. He said he and other analysts were alarmed by this concession. “We are looking at ourselves saying, ‘What are we doing?’ ”
Another analyst, Robert L. Maginnis, a retired Army lieutenant colonel who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, attended the same briefing and recalled feeling “very disappointed” after being shown satellite photographs purporting to show bunkers associated with a hidden weapons program. Mr. Maginnis said he concluded that the analysts were being “manipulated” to convey a false sense of certainty about the evidence of the weapons. Yet he and Mr. Bevelacqua and the other analysts who attended the briefing did not share any misgivings with the American public.
Mr. Bevelacqua and another Fox analyst, Mr. Cowan, had formed the wvc3 Group, and hoped to win military and national security contracts.
“There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” Mr. Bevelacqua said. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.”
Some e-mail messages between the Pentagon and the analysts reveal an implicit trade of privileged access for favorable coverage. Robert H. Scales Jr., a retired Army general and analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio whose consulting company advises several military firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, wanted the Pentagon to approve high-level briefings for him inside Iraq in 2006.
“Recall the stuff I did after my last visit,” he wrote. “I will do the same this time.”
Punishment for ANY general who stood up to the Rumsfeld information machine was swift:
On Aug. 3, 2005, 14 marines died in Iraq. That day, Mr. Cowan, who said he had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, called the Pentagon to give “a heads-up” that some of his comments on Fox “may not all be friendly,” Pentagon records show. Mr. Rumsfeld’s senior aides quickly arranged a private briefing for him, yet when he told Bill O’Reilly that the United States was “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq, the repercussions were swift.
Mr. Cowan said he was “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon, he wrote in an e-mail message, “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” The next day James T. Conway, then director of operations for the Joint Chiefs, presided over another conference call with analysts. He urged them, a transcript shows, not to let the marines’ deaths further erode support for the war.
“The strategic target remains our population,” General Conway said. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.”
“General, I just made that point on the air,” an analyst replied.
“Let’s work it together, guys,” General Conway urged.
Finally, and I know this has been one of the longer posts we've done, the major networks have been shamed into silence by the revelations in this story:
CBS News declined to comment on what it knew about its military analysts’ business affiliations or what steps it took to guard against potential conflicts.
NBC News also declined to discuss its procedures for hiring and monitoring military analysts. The network issued a short statement: “We have clear policies in place to assure that the people who appear on our air have been appropriately vetted and that nothing in their profile would lead to even a perception of a conflict of interest.”
Jeffrey W. Schneider, a spokesman for ABC, said that while the network’s military consultants were not held to the same ethical rules as its full-time journalists, they were expected to keep the network informed about any outside business entanglements. “We make it clear to them we expect them to keep us closely apprised,” he said.
A spokeswoman for Fox News said executives “refused to participate” in this article.
CNN requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of income. But like the other networks, it does not provide its military analysts with the kind of written, specific ethical guidelines it gives its full-time employees for avoiding real or apparent conflicts of interest.
All I can add is, shame on these men. Shame on them, and may they never make another nickel off of their access or their use of their background. Congress MUST step in and call these men to appear and hold hearings to determine how much a soldier's life is worth. Apparently, the lives of our soldiers are worthless to men who'd rather trade them for no-bid contracts, a meal with Don Rumsfeld, a free plane ride, and a lucrative gig telling the American people that all is well in a war where we now know, finally, at long last, that all is not well.