Accuracy in Media

By Wes Vernon

Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz has said that it is “absolutely relevant information” that fired CIA officer Mary O. McCarthy was a major financial contributor to Democratic Party causes. He made the statement because of criticism of a Post profile of McCarthy, which curiously omitted that information.

Strangely, however, Kurtz had been listed at the end of that article as a staff writer who contributed to that report. But he says he had nothing to do with the finished product. Kurtz said, “I had nothing?zero?to do with that story. I was asked to make some calls from home and not a syllable of my material was used. I did not read it before publication and had no idea what was going to be in it.”

Kurtz added, “I think it was a mistake not to include Mary McCarthy’s Democratic contributions as a detail that might provide a clue about her motivation.”

If politics motivated McCarthy, could politics have motivated Dana Priest? Priest is the Post reporter who wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning story on “secret CIA prisons” in Europe but refuses to say whether McCarthy was one of her sources. The Priest story, based completely on anonymous sources, has not been confirmed.

We do know that Priest authored a vicious attack on Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), a major critic of the intelligence community who supported CIA director Porter Goss’s effort to reform the agency and fire leakers to the press. 

As we noted in our August-B, 2005 AIM Report, Priest authored the attack on Weldon without contacting the congressman and the paper refused to print a letter to the editor from Weldon rebutting the Priest article.

Weldon has called on his congressional opponent, Joe Sestak, to return campaign contributions from McCarthy,  the fired CIA officer ($350); Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, who pleaded guilty to illegally taking and destroying classified documents  ($1,000); and Clinton CIA Director John Deutch, who admitted mishandling classified documents ($500). Berger also hosted a fundraiser for Sestak in the offices of Harold Ickes, a close associate of Hillary Clinton and billionaire George Soros.

Sestak, who is also backed by John Kerry, replies he won’t give the money back to his “friends.” Weldon counters that accepting money from “criminals and convicted felons” raises character and security issues.

The Hillary Factor

Other contributions to Sestak came from Hill PAC, Hillary Clinton’s political action committee; Clinton Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; Clinton Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick; and Clinton chief of staff John Podesta.

One thing is certain: don’t look for any investigative stories from the Post into the intervention of the intelligence community into the media and politics.

While the media have played a nefarious role, officials of the Bush and Clinton administrations are scrambling to silence those, led by Weldon, who are asking tough questions about the performance of the intelligence community. Weldon, for example, wonders how it could happen that  lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta was not arrested even though he had been identified as a dangerous terrorist by the Able Danger military intelligence unit well before the terrorist attacks.  He and at least three other members of an al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn, NY were known as dangerous terrorists more than a year before the planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field.

With notable exceptions (see below), powerful media outlets are ignoring or ridiculing those who are trying to expose the scandal of what at best can be categorized as incredible incompetence. At the moment, their target is Congressman Weldon, Vice Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the Homeland Security Committee.

Weldon and 248 of his colleagues in both parties are demanding a no-holds-barred investigation. There was one congressional hearing in February?followed by minimal news coverage?with other Capitol Hill investigations possibly in the offing. Congressman Todd Tiahrt, a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, said he could not comment when AIM asked if that panel planned hearings on Able Danger. Most of the Intel committee’s hearings are behind closed doors.

In an updated interview with AIM (his first was with Editor Cliff Kincaid months ago), Weldon noted that at the hearing “five very senior, very trustworthy and well respected leaders in our military establishment” swore under oath that the Able Danger team identified the cell members (including Atta) “in January of 2000 and that in September of 2000 made three attempts to transfer the data to the FBI and were denied each time.” Then-FBI Director Louie Freeh recently stated that if he had known of that Able Danger material, the FBI may well have stopped the 9/11 attacks from ever happening.

Weldon also told us “the 9/11 Commission said that the Able Danger task force members did not identify Mohammed Atta [even though] five people have testified under oath that they did.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer in the congressman’s backyard is part of the media whitewash. That liberal paper is trying not only to discredit Weldon and the Able Danger team itself, but also other threats the congressman has exposed over the years.

The Inquirer on March 15 ran two articles by reporters Chris Mondics and Steve Goldstein casting doubt on the Able Danger findings. The central focus of these pieces?which landed in the front section rather than on the editorial page where they arguably belonged?was that Weldon’s charges were “unraveling” because a limited search by the Department of Defense has recovered no documentary evidence backing the “allegation.”

The congressional hearing belies any claim that the scandal is “starting to unravel.” One would think the hearing only a month prior to the articles had never taken place. Never mind that the head of the Able Danger team and others with impeccable credentials had revealed without any equivocation that they had in fact identified Mohammed Atta and his terrorist cell long before 9/11. They had identified his picture. His name specifically came up in the review of the 1999-2000 data. To believe the Inquirer, one would have to argue with a straight face that every one of these experts?all five of them?had somehow “confused” Atta with someone else.

The Paper Trail

The newspaper makes much of the absence of a paper trail on Mohammed Atta, while totally ignoring testimony that the U.S. Army was ordered to destroy all Able Danger materials. As Weldon points out, the congressional hearings established that those at the Pentagon charged with finding the Able Danger materials “did not know some of the most basic facts about the program, including a possible repository of material in Garland, Texas.”

At the February 15 House hearing, the Pennsylvania congressman announced that Able Danger records had been found showing hundreds of references to Mohammed Atta prior to the 9/11 attacks. Mondics and Goldstein either were unaware of or ignored the fact that Weldon was working to get the documents declassified. The Inquirer reporters write as if they had been on another planet when all this happened.

The Inquirer alleges then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley now says, contrary to Weldon’s claims, that he (Hadley) never saw Atta’s picture. After the Able Danger story broke last year, Weldon repeatedly said he gave a copy of the chart with Atta’s picture to Hadley.

Weldon’s insistence on this is entirely credible. On August 25, 2005, NewsMax reported viewing a video of Weldon’s speech to the Heritage Foundation on May 23, 2002. While the video camera did not focus in on the chart clearly enough to positively identify Atta’s picture, reporter Carl Limbacher wrote that “it’s clear from Weldon’s comments that the chart [with Atta’s picture] is the one currently being sought.”

Under orders, Able Danger members are not speaking publicly pending an Inspector General’s investigation of the scandal and the cover-up. However, well-placed intelligence sources flatly tell AIM that at least one member of the team was present at Weldon’s White House meeting with Hadley in late September 2001?shortly after the terrorist attacks, and that the congressman’s version of the meeting is accurate. 

Further, Able Danger members have searched all available records and have found no evidence that Hadley, who is now National Security Adviser, ever made any statement contradicting Weldon’s description of their late 2001 meeting.” Though the Inquirer says Hadley disputes Weldon regarding the meeting, the story did not include any direct quote from him.

In his May 2002 speech to Heritage, Weldon described the document as “the unclassified chart that was made available that was done by the Special Forces Command briefing center one year before 9/11.” He describes Hadley as “stunned” after viewing the al-Qaeda-Atta document.

“This is unbelievable?where’d you get this?” he wanted to know. When Weldon said the material was prepared a year before 9/11, Hadley said?according to Weldon in 2002? “I’ve got to show this to the man”?apparently meaning President Bush.

Weldon also said General Hugh Shelton, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Clinton, received a briefing on the same chart in the final weeks of the Clinton Administration.

The Inquirer takes on faith the claims by 9/11 commission staffers that they had not been informed of any verifiable evidence concerning the Able Danger chart.

Able Danger team member Lt. Col Anthony Shaffer and his whistle-blowing colleague Navy Capt. Scott Philpott have stated they did offer such information to commission investigators. So what happened?

Sabotage

Weldon notes that the top 9/11 staffer who steered away from his investigators the information offered by Shaffer and Philpott was Dietrich Snell?identified on the commission’s website as its chief counsel. The congressman tells AIM that an upcoming “blockbuster” book by ABC investigative reporter Peter Lance identifies Snell as “the key link in getting the 9/11 commission to ignore certain information that would have embarrassed the Justice Department during the Clinton administration in the early 1990s.”

Snell was closely allied with 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick. She was a top official in the Justice Department in the Clinton/Reno regime. In that position she took the lead in preventing intelligence-sharing among different agencies over and above what were already restrictive requirements in the law. The commission rejected outraged demands that she walk over to the other side of the witness table and answer (rather than ask) some tough questions under oath.

Congressman Weldon asks “How can they (the 9/11 commission) justify hiring 70 people and spending $15 million and not interview one analyst or any of the people who were doing the work of Able Danger? How could they do that? Unless [they] deliberately did not want to pursue the story?”

The commission staff told the congressman they “looked at it [Able Danger]” and “we decided not to go down that route.” He suspects a bipartisan cover-up to avoid “embarrassment to both sides.”

Targeting Weldon

The previously mentioned Inquirer articles slam the Pennsylvania lawmaker on other intelligence-related issues.

“Also remaining to be disproved?or proved,” according to the Inquirer,  “was Weldon’s sensational allegation that the Soviets buried dozens of suitcase-size nuclear devices in the U.S. during the Cold War.” The congressman’s information was attributed in part to high ranking Soviet defectors Stanislav Lunev, Oleg Gordievsky, and Vasili Mitrokhin.

The article goes on to report that “[S]earches have been conducted?.but law enforcement officials have never found such weapons caches, with or without portable nuclear weapons.”

Not true, says Weldon. Caches were discovered?though without nukes?”in NATO Europe.” Others could not be located because “their specific geo-coordinates were not listed.”

So the Inquirer essentially casts doubts on the “suitcase nukes” charge based on the failure to find a needle in a haystack. To toss back at the Inquirer an anonymous quote from a 9/11 commission staffer it cited to ridicule Weldon, “How do you prove that pink elephants did not dance along your back yard last night?”

Among those who came to the congressman’s defense was Lowell L. Wood, Jr., who has outstanding credentials in science, including a stint as a Research Geophysicist at UCLA, and staff member of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Wood wrote the Inquirer that in his professional capacity he had “discourse with some of the Russians involved in the creation of these suitcase-sized nuclear weapons,” and that General Aleksandr Lebed (a security confidante of former President Boris Yeltsin) had testified regarding “the existence of more than 100 soviet suitcase-sized nuclear weapons” about half of which “were unaccounted for.”

Wood added that the essence of remarks on “loose nukes” attributed to Weldon in the Inquirer’s story “are known to be correct and based on documented fact.” In the “pink elephant” category, Wood added that “a fundamental adage” in the “always imperfect” intelligence business is that “the absence of evidence isn’t the evidence of absence.”

Defending Weldon

Jack Caravelli, formerly of the CIA and White House National Security Council staff in the Clinton years, wrote the Inquirer noting that for years Weldon had been right regarding the nuclear ambitions of Iran.

Even the Inquirer concedes Weldon was right in predicting (based on his own secret source, “Ali”) that a little-known hard-liner named Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be elected president of Iran. The CIA would not heed Weldon’s warning. Ahmadinejad was elected last year and is now effectively threatening the world with nuclear annihilation.

The Inquirer ridicules Weldon’s warning of a possible plot to hijack a plane and crash it into a U.S. nuclear power plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire.

But Caravelli points out that 19 Pakistani radicals living in Canada were rounded up by Canadian authorities. They mirrored the description given in Weldon’s book, Countdown to Terror. Caravelli adds there was “compelling evidence that the Toronto 19 were terrorists.” And Weldon says the fact that they were released and deported as illegals in no way disproves the case against them, even though they had become a sympathetic cause c?l?bre in the Canadian media.  They were let go by the liberal Canadian government because?as the congressman words it? “the [Canadian] government would have had to reveal sensitive intelligence sources and methods in order to prosecute.” That regime also was skeptical of the War on Terror.

Congressman Weldon has cited Able Danger as only one of many reasons why the entire bureaucracy of our intelligence agencies should be fired. The recent revelation that CIA Director Porter Goss did fire one such bureaucrat, Mary O. McCarthy, strengthens his case. But her firing was soon followed by Goss leaving the agency, suggesting that the bureaucrats are fighting back.

Congressman Weldon’s secret source?an Iranian exile in Paris code-named “Ali”?has been proven correct in almost all of his information?most conspicuously Iran. The one exception may be Ali’s assertion that Osama bin Laden was dead. That statement was included in the congressman’s interview with Mondics and Goldstein.

On April 28, an audiotape?purportedly of bin Laden speaking of events as recent as mid-March?indicates the al-Qaeda leader is alive.

The congressman’s national security staff adviser Peter Vincent Pry?a former CIA military analyst?says, “Mr. Weldon understood, as the source did, that the information could be disinformation. Or it could be true.” He added terrorists “could be putting out disinformation in the form of the recent tape. You could make a case either way.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s March 15 hit pieces include the name of someone they claim was “Ali.” Weldon says, “I have not and will not identify [my source].” Curiously, the media seem oblivious to the possibility they may have put the man’s life in danger.

Weldon is not alone in alleging that intelligence careerists?mostly politically left-wing?are using their undercover and back-channel skills to bring down a President in wartime. The Wall Street Journal, in an April 26 lead editorial labeled them “Our Rotten IntelligenCIA.” With Goss leaving the CIA in a sudden shake-up, some say that the bureaucracy has struck again.

In another mysterious development, AIM learned that Shaffer, lead member of the Able Danger team, suddenly received two very lucrative job offers. The companies in question were said to have ties to the intelligence community. One wanted him to travel out of town in less than 24 hours and on the very day he was scheduled to testify before Congress in regard to the Able Danger case.

For Weldon, however, the bureaucracy wants him out of his job. That is why McCarthy and so many former Clinton officials are backing his opponent, Sestak.

As for the media, Weldon says  among those following the story like a laser beam?but without the resources for a full-scale investigation?are Lou Dobbs of CNN, Catherine Herridge of Fox News and Tony Snow, the former Fox News radio host who has taken the job as White House Press Secretary. Snow says that he secured a promise he would be brought in on the inner circle policy discussions. Will he be able to push the Able Danger case as vigorously behind the scenes at the White House as he did on the air?

Wes Vernon is a Washington-based writer & broadcast journalist.

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