I used to try to keep track of the significant national security questions which appear to have been spiked by some sort of editorial consensus in the mainstream media, on the theory that what they choose not to report tells us at least as much about the editorial state-of-mind as what they report. So here’s my missing news items report for the month of January.
Eyeless in Gaza
Israeli pressure brought to bear on the Hamas Government in Gaza is reported under the same-old, same-old category, and draws little attention. But in the last week something very unusual happened. Reacting to the embargo placed upon them that left Gaza residents without electricity, food, gas and medicine—and was, in short, life-threatening—Hamas blew holes in the barrier that separates Gaza from Egypt on Wednesday morning. Thousands stormed across the frontier to do their daily shopping in Egypt.
For the mainstream press in the United States, this was a wild and spontaneous shopping spree. That’s how they reported it. Of course you can count on it that some of the people moving across that frontier were carrying things other than pita bread and humus. But what transpired had deeper long-term political significance.
Israeli strategy at least from the time of Sharon, and now picked up by Olmert and Barak, has been clear. Gaza as a self-governing entity is a nightmare that can’t be grappled with effectively. The solution would be simple enough—restore the status quo ante from the period before the Six Day War, when Gaza was administered by Egypt. Let Mubarak deal with Hamas and the rest of the violent Islamic menagerie, goes the thinking—we’re capable of dealing with Mubarak.
Of course, the Israeli press fully understands this whole game and they’ve reported on it. But the American press’s coverage of things flutters about the high school newspaper level of comprehension. The only spot in the U.S. press where I see anything even approaching sensible analysis of what’s going on is found in Pierre Heumann’s report running this morning in Salon.com:
So what is Israel doing about it? The open border to Egypt should surely be a security nightmare for the country. Terrorists are now more free to bring weapons and ammunition into the small coastal strip, which is controlled by the militant Islamist Hamas movement. Not all Palestinians who are going into Egypt, one suspects, are bringing back only bread and butter. The Israeli military is also worried that militant Palestinians could now leave Gaza to go to terrorist camps for training in weapons and explosives.
But politicians in Jerusalem have been reacting with remarkable restraint. The truth is, the Israeli government doesn’t regard the opened border as a new threat. After all, there are thought to be hundreds of tunnels linking the Gaza Strip and Egypt through which weapons and ammunition have been smuggled for years. These entrances are so cleverly concealed that they have only seldom been discovered by the Israelis. “What has been happening underground in the Gaza Strip is now happening aboveground,” one government spokesman said.
In Jerusalem the opening of the border with Egypt is even being greeted with some relief. “Cairo now has to solve the humanitarian problem that we have been dealing with until now,” said an Israeli official. Foreign Ministry spokesman Arye Mekel told reporters last Wednesday: “It’s the responsibility of Egypt to ensure the border works properly,” pointing to the agreements signed between the two countries. As Jerusalem sees it, Egypt now has responsibility for more than just the Gaza Strip’s southern border. “The opening of the border relieves us of our responsibility for Gaza,” a government official said, “and if the international community demands that the Israeli border with Gaza be opened, we will now point to the Egyptian role.” This view was echoed on Thursday when Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said that Israel wanted to “disconnect” from Gaza. He told Army Radio: “We are responsible for it as long as there is no alternative.”
Indeed, the opening of the Egyptian border is being seen as a blessing in disguise, according to one diplomat here. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that he would not allow the situation in the Gaza Strip to turn into a humanitarian crisis. But he has also insisted that the inhabitants there cannot expect a normal life so long as Israel is being pounded by rockets coming from Gaza.
I’d put Israel well on track to accomplishing their objective: ending Gaza’s status as an autonomous and self-administered entity and making the Egyptians take ownership for it. And whatever else you might think about this step, it will surely count as another obstacle in the path of any long-term peace plan involving the Palestinian Authority and Israel.
Spy and Counterspy
An FBI counterintelligence translator working in the most sensitive of positions knows something which is deadly dangerous. The FBI itself goes into a cold sweat panic. She is the target of a series of obnoxious tricks perpetrated in part through the legal system, including a Constitution-defying gag-order. When she brings claims for wrongful termination, ex parte meetings occur between the Government and judges and her case is shut down. The sort of thing that happens in totalitarian states, and now, courtesy of the Bush Administration, the United States. What did Sibel Edmonds know that was so threatening? And why was the United States media afraid of her? In fact, it’s hard to explain their attitude other than as fear—of course it is not actually fear of her, it is fear of the blow-back they will get from the Bush Administration for publishing any part of her tale.
In the meantime, Europeans and particularly Britons, know all about Sibel Edmonds and what she uncovered. It’s a widespread and alarming story of betrayal and compromise involving household names close to the pinnacles of power in Bushdom, and the spread of nuclear weapons. The story has been substantially corroborated. And even though this has the makings of a modern spy thriller and it threatens to end several prominent careers, the story is unreported in the United States mainstream media. This is the most curious case of a spiked story I’ve seen in a couple of years—not quite as significant as the U.S. press’s decision to spike the Downing Street memos, but getting close to that magnitude of self-censorship.
The story came out in one of Britain’s best known and most conservative quality papers, The Times (London). Here are some of the key graphs:
A whistleblower has made a series of extraordinary claims about how corrupt government officials allowed Pakistan and other states to steal nuclear weapons secrets. Sibel Edmonds, a 37-year-old former Turkish language translator for the FBI, listened into hundreds of sensitive intercepted conversations while based at the agency’s Washington field office. She approached The Sunday Times last month after reading about an Al-Qaeda terrorist who had revealed his role in training some of the 9/11 hijackers while he was in Turkey.
Edmonds described how foreign intelligence agents had enlisted the support of US officials to acquire a network of moles in sensitive military and nuclear institutions.
Among the hours of covert tape recordings, she says she heard evidence that one well-known senior official in the US State Department was being paid by Turkish agents in Washington who were selling the information on to black market buyers, including Pakistan. The name of the official – who has held a series of top government posts – is known to The Sunday Times. He strongly denies the claims.
However, Edmonds said: “He was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives.” She claims that the FBI was also gathering evidence against senior Pentagon officials – including household names – who were aiding foreign agents. “If you made public all the information that the FBI have on this case, you will see very high-level people going through criminal trials,” she said.
Her story shows just how much the West was infiltrated by foreign states seeking nuclear secrets. It illustrates how western government officials turned a blind eye to, or were even helping, countries such as Pakistan acquire bomb technology. The wider nuclear network has been monitored for many years by a joint Anglo-American intelligence effort. But rather than shut it down, investigations by law enforcement bodies such as the FBI and Britain’s Revenue & Customs have been aborted to preserve diplomatic relations.
So the story of a massive scheme to steal nuclear secrets involving ostensibly friendly foreign powers. This is, of course, far more than merely plausible. It has strong elements of credibility about it. And it involves a number of high ranking government officials who vehemently deny the charges. It’s possible though far from certain that these individuals were involved in a government sting operation. And it’s possible that Edmonds misunderstood the conversations. But the Bush Administration’s attitude towards this whole affair is so heavy-handed and manipulative that it only serves to have us all anticipate the worst. And Senator Charles Grassley, the Iowa Republican, among others in oversight who have heard Edmonds’s account, offer strong testimonials for her veracity.
This last weekend, The Times continues its reporting on Edmonds with an account of how a high-level State Department official (not identified in the story, but whose identity is known to me) tipped off Turkish authorities to the fact that they were dealing with a U.S. intelligence service project designed to counter nuclear proliferation. The agent whose cover was blown was Valerie Plame. The official is described as arranging at one point to pick up a $15,000 bribe. The individual in question has departed his high-ranking position and now works with a well-known defense contracting and consulting firm.
Amidst its massive foreign policy machismo, the Bush Administration has been grossly derelict in a series of basic national security matters. High up the list is nuclear proliferation. While Bush has talked incessantly about the specter of nuclear weapons in the hands of governments in the volatile Middle East, he has done more to make that nightmare a reality than any prior administration.
But how do we account for the total disinterest shown by the U.S. mainstream media, which have collectively ignored this whole matter? It’s a vitally important story. It reflects very negatively on the Bush Administration and the conduct of key actors in it. And it is highly credible. They’ve decided to spike it, which is exactly what the Bush Administration wants them to do.
Once more, American readers who want to learn about vital national security matters within the United States need to focus on newspapers in Britain. Let’s call them Radio Free America.