Covert_Briefs by Terry Allen

THE PUBLIC'S RIGHT TO BELIEVE Congress has justly taken much of the rap for failing to oversee and rein in the CIA, but the media deserve a chunk of the blame. Reporting on intelligence often spans the arid gulch between lazy and self-serving; between sycophantish and collusive. Recently, a panel of the Council on Foreign Relations recommended that the CIA take the gloves off, run more covert ops, and perhaps dump the 1977 ban on using journalists and clergy as non-official cover. It turns out that the CIA, using a secret loophole, has been selectively circumventing that ban all along.

Dangerous and despicable as the policy of using reporters is, the ways in which media routinely carry the agency's foul water are more subtle and pervasive, but little less servile.

Old intelligence beat specialists like Walter Pincus do get some great inside stuff, but, no doubt, in part because they have established a relationship of confidence and trust with the intelligence community. And one has to wonder, what does it mean if the spooks confide in you, but you, the reporter do not have the same relationship with the reader?

Writing for the Washington Post - which officially discourages anonymous sourcing - Pincus relies on a bevy of nameless insiders. On Jan. 13, he reported that until recently, the CIA had no formal structure in Bosnia (citing a high-ranking intelligence officer ). But now, the CIA is establishing a significant clandestine presence for the first time in Bosnia to track the activities of political and military opponents of the Dayton peace accord ... ( intelligence sources ). The operation would also provide the agency with an opportunity for the Directorate of Operations to get back in favor with Director John Deutch ( one source familiar with the Bosnian operation ).

Other sources for this article:

  • intelligence sources here
  • officers there
  • military and intelligence sources
  • (just plain) sources
  • a top CIA official
  • current and former government officials
  • a current official
  • a former high-ranking intelligence officer
  • active and retired intelligence officials
  • former State Dept. official
  • an officer associated with the program
  • former intelligence official
  • And when Pincus couldn't think of another appellation for his unnamed sources, he fell back into the hack-haven of the passive voice as in: The non-Bosnian Muslim fighters ... have been seen as a potential threat.

    This kind of reporting asks readers to take on blind faith the writer's word that the sources are reliable and gives no opportunity to assess who is grinding which ax to put in whose back and why.

    In addition, Pincus rests his premise on the wiggle phrase that no formal structure existed. He goes on to reassure readers of the benevolence (to say nothing of the competence) of the CIA which will deal with the bad guys and keep track of good police and interior types ( a government intelligence official ) perhaps using the same team that branded Haiti's Aristide a psychopath and put Emmanuel Constant on the agency payroll to tell the good guys from the bad, and the bad guys from the good old boys (one cynic in the CAQ office).

    The Post's blind spots can become black holes capable of sucking in all meaning. It recently reported on a Haitian gang believed to be part of the Red Army that operates in the slums of Cité Soleil: The group armed with machine guns and other weapons, is demanding jobs and improved living conditions but is not believed to have an ideological agenda.

    CAQ reported last issue that Newt Gingrich, an ex-officio member of the House Intelligence Committee, was pushing an $18 million covert operation to change the nature of the government of Iran. On New Year's eve, the program was quietly incorporated into the 1996 intelligence spending bill, buried in a secret part of the military authorization bill. When the news surfaced, Teheran, predictably, responded to the threat. It appropriated $20 million to uncover and neutralize the US program by among other methods arresting and executing opponents on charges of espionage. On Jan. 23, Iran announced that three jailed Iranians charged with spying for the US would be executed.

    After Newt Gingrich whined that Clinton had snubbed him on the plane ride to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral, Rep. Pat Schroeder stood up in Congress to offer the Speaker a mock Oscar for Best Performance by a Child Actor.
    The $.07 a maquila worker gets for sewing a pair of Pocahontas PJs, is one half of one percent of $11.97 that Wal-Mart charges the US consumer. According to the National Labor Committee (NLC), Haitian workers sewing Pocahontas and Mickey Mouse pajamas and other garments for export to the US are forced to endure starvation wages, are robbed of benefits, and routinely face inhuman production speed-ups, forced overtime, filthy working conditions, and gross sexual abuse. Although former Pres. Jean-Bertrand Aristide raised the minimum wage to $2.40 a day, employers circumvent even this base through setting unrealistic, illegal quotas and paying by the piece.

    They are abetted by the Agency for International Development which had fervently promoted foreign investment in Haiti's assembly industries during the Duvalier dictatorship. When Aristide was elected president, however, AID abruptly halted support and undercut his ability to enforce reform.

    The NLC, which recently forced the GAP clothing company to allow independent monitoring of labor standards of its suppliers throughout Central America, calls for living wage standards as a condition for world trade. Said Charlie Kernaghan, director of NCL, Haiti proves again that the so-called corporate codes of conduct policed by the companies themselves are pure PR. Further, how does it help the US people when when companies like JC Penney and Walt Disney pay starvation wages in Haiti? How can you have free trade with a country that pays its workers $.30 an hour.

    Accusation of torture can just ruin a bureaucrat's day: There are all those stubborn blood stains to scrub off the national image and costly PR campaigns to muffle the screams.

    Israel, which has long been accused of routinely torturing prisoners, mostly unruly Palestinians, has launched a cleanup of its image. A new proposal would impose a 10-20- year prison term on civil servants who torture or authorize torture, unless the pain and suffering [is] inherent in interrogation procedures or punishment according to the law. And the law, governed by a set of 1987 guidelines, neatly excepts interrogators who use a moderate measure of physical pressure, not reaching the level of torture.

    Whoever writes Tel Aviv's doublespeak also deserves a heartfelt mazeltov for this little triumph in the delicate art of self-serving dissembling. Israel finally paid a financial settlement to the widow and two children of Ahmed Bouchikhi. In 1973, the Moroccan immigrant was working as waiter in Norway when Mossad agents, mistaking him for a terrorist, gunned him down. Israel described the payment, made 22 years later, as a way of thanking Norway for its role in the peace process and not as an admission of guilt. Said Prime Minister Shimon Peres: Israel will not take responsibility because Israel is not a killing machine. Bouchikhi was not available for comment.

    One of the main arguments liberals mounted for supporting Clinton in the '92 elections was the president's ability to appoint judges. How has Clinton done? The Alliance for Justice reported that Clinton has shied away from putting bona fide liberals on the federal bench. (Al Kamen of the Washington Post, missing the point that Clinton is not a liberal himself and therefore would be unlikely to appoint them, surmised that the president was motivated by fear of tangling with Senate Republicans. )

    What about minority appointments? Clinton started well, with 25% in 1993, and 36.5% in '94, but the number fell last year to only 15%. Also revealing was that of Clinton's 185 federal appointments, 53 had experience as prosecutors, while only two had been public defenders. But in the end, money talks and class outs: A third of his appointments a higher percentage than either Reagan or Bush achieved were millionaires.

    While possessing five grams of crack will get you a mandatory five years in prison, ordering up a batch of the bubonic plague bacterium that wiped out one-third of 14th-century Europe, turns out to be perfectly legal. So is holding even more dangerous pathogens such as anthrax and ricin botulinal toxin, called the most lethal substance known.

    When white supremacist Larry Wayne Harris complained that the FedEx shipment of plague for which he had paid $240 was late, someone at the Rockville, Md.-based American Type Culture Collection grew suspicious and notified the Centers for Disease Control.

    Soon the FBI, police, public health officials, and emergency workers in spacesuits were knocking at his door. In the house they found smoke grenades, blasting caps, almost a dozen M-1 carbines, and white separatist literature. In the glove compartment of his car, parked in his driveway, sat the three vials of plague still packed in two layers of glass, absorbent foam and a sealed metalcanister. They were labeled infectious substance as required by federal regulations. But in the end, all they could pin on the certified microbiologist and Aryan Nations member was a single charge of wire fraud for giving his home address instead of that of the lab listed on his permit.

    Rather than mingle with the people who waited hours in the bitter cold for tickets and then jostled for a place before the paintings CIA head John Deutch got in early to see the Johannes Vermeer exhibit at the National Gallery. Explained his spokesperson, It's a little-known fact that art lovers pose a significant threat to the national security. Jesse Helms would no doubt agree.

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