The Spy Who Smeared Me
Is there anything more pathetic than an 80 year old ex-CIA agent running his own home-based spy shop in San Diego? Maybe . . . maybe a professional journalist who takes the private spy seriously enough to write long pointless Exclusives! for Fox News based on the private spy’s “secret intel” alone.
The ex-spook, in this instance, is one Duane “Dewey” Clarridge who served in the CIA during the 1980s as a senior operations officer. Clarridge was indicted for lying to Congress during Iran-Contra hearings, but was pardoned by Poppy Bush during his trial.
Clarridge was forced to resign from the CIA but wasn’t quite ready to quit spying and contracted his expertise out. His story, needless to say, is interesting, in its own right, and anyone who wants to do a deep dive can find long form articles in The New York Times, here and here.
In my opinion, it is enough to say that Mark Mazzetti, of The Times, got it in one when he described Clarridge’s operation as “something of a cross between a Graham Greene novel and Mad Magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy.”
Clarridge communicates with his “field operatives” in Afghanistan and Pakistan—complete with code names like Willi and Waco—via email, then, poolside in San Diego, he compiles the info received into intelligence summaries that he peddles around to a network that includes such intelligence mavens as Oliver North, spy thriller novelist and frequent guest of Glenn Beck, Brad Thor, and, most recently, James Rosen of Fox News.
Which conveniently brings me full circle . . . one of Mr Clarridge’s pet projects over the last few years happens to be particularly newsworthy at the moment. Clarridge decided that as long as he had “agents” “in theater” he would set about to find the missing American soldier, in Afghanistan, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.
Clarridge figured that if he found the missing soldier, DoD would be so impressed that they might award him some government contracts. And, so it is that Mr Rosen’s Exclusive! report is solely sourced by Dewey Clarridge, whose operatives, if they are to be believed, have known all this time where Berghdahl is and what he’s doing on a day to day basis.
Rosen’s lede states: “Bergdahl declared jihad in captivity, secret documents show.” The article and Rosen’s grasp of journalistic integrity goes downhill from there.
With no further ado, and certainly no caveats, Rosen plunges into his version of the Bergdahl story:
U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl at one point during his captivity converted to Islam, fraternized openly with his captors and declared himself a “mujahid,” or warrior for Islam, according to secret documents prepared on the basis of a purported eyewitness account and obtained by Fox News.
So. Right up front, Rosen signals to his journalistic colleagues that his story is based on “secret documents prepared on the basis of a purported eyewitness account.” In journalese that means that Rosen’s source material may as well have been delivered by Miley Cyrus riding Rainbow Dash sidesaddle. But that won’t matter one little bit to Fox News loyal viewers. They are going to lap this up, run for the pitchforks, light the torches and walk all the way to Hailey, Idaho to string up an American Taliban.
Rosen tells us that the reports are “rich in on-the-ground detail including the names and locations of the Haqqani commanders who ran the 200-man rotation used to guard” the dangerous prisoner/converted Islamic jihadist.
Rosen admits that Clarridge’s Eclipse Group is a “shadowy private firm” of former intelligence officers and operatives that once had a DoD contract. What he doesn’t mention is that that contract was procured through a “shadowy” DoD rogue official, Michael D Furlong, who shared Clarridge’s desire to set up his own personal CIA. Furlong referred to his privateers as his Jason Bournes. Furlong, the subject of criminal charges and several investigations, decided [wisely] to resign from the Defense Department.
Some of the “secret documents” turned over to Rosen include such details as Bergdahl playing soccer and taking AK-47 target practice with the Taliban, and greeting his captors with “Salaam’s.”
The documents obtained by Fox News show that Eclipse Group developed and transmitted numerous status reports on the whereabouts of the errant American soldier, spanning a period from October 2009, roughly three months after Bergdahl reportedly walked off his base in Afghanistan and fell into custody of the Haqqani network, up through August 2012.
One might reasonably ask WTF Clarridge was waiting for? Why wouldn’t he have contacted his friends at DoD immediately, announced “mission accomplished” and taken all of the credit for finding Bergdahl?
To his credit, Rosen does suffer a brief spasm of responsible investigation and contacts retired U.S. Marine Corps Gen. James N. Mattis, a 45-year service veteran who served as CENTCOM commander from August 2010 to August 2012 just to see if Clarridge is on the right track:
Mattis was . . . adamant that no one at CENTCOM or within the broader U.S. military or intelligence community—despite intensive investigation of such allegations—ever learned of anything to suggest Bergdahl had evolved into an active collaborator with the Haqqani network or the Taliban. “We were always looking for actionable intelligence,” Mattis said. “It wasn’t just the IC [intelligence community]. We had tactical units that were involved in the fight. We had SIGINT. Any collaborators who were on the other side and who came over to our side. We kept an eye on this. ... There was never any evidence of collaboration.”
So why didn’t that consign this story to the dead file, right then and there, Mr Rosen?
Ah, I see. That whole fact-based line of thought was counterbalanced by the the formidable “experts consulted by FoxNews” and their learned hunch that Bergdahl might be a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, based entirely, of course, on Dewey Clarridge’s famous SITREPS.
The same type of intel that Mark Mazzetti of The Times described thus:
It is difficult to assess the merits of Mr. Clarridge’s secret intelligence dispatches; a review of some of the documents by The Times shows that some appear to be based on rumors from talk at village bazaars or rehashes of press reports.
Rosen closes his article with this odd little disclaimer:
The New York Times, in its 2011 profile of Clarridge, described his agents’ dispatches as “an amalgam of fact, rumor, analysis and uncorroborated reports.” The fabled ex-spook made the more than one dozen SITREPs that Eclipse prepared on the Bergdahl case—all previously unpublished—available to Fox News because he wanted to demonstrate, as he put it: “We know what we’re talking about.”
Poor old Dewey doesn’t seem to realize that, if he knew what he was talking about, he wouldn’t need Fox News to prove it.
In the end, despite all of the hard work and interesting, I’m sure, chats with Dewey, that went into this breathless Exclusive! Mr Rosen has contributed absolutely nothing to the factual record of the Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl story.
If Rosen and his employers accomplished anything at all with this crock it will probably be that he has made the Bergdahl family’s ordeal just that much more insufferable by pimping this groundless, lame-brained piece of character assassination to the gullible knuckleheads who suck up this kind of tripe.
As Simon Maloy of Slate put it so succinctly:
. . . if it turns out that Bergdahl was forced to “convert” and swear allegiance by his captors, then Fox News and every conservative outlet that seized on the story can proudly say they were complicit in spreading Taliban propaganda.