Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Colonel/Bullshit Artist And The Blogger

Howard Kurtz -- who dives head-first into every hysterical controversy manufactured by our nation's right-wing war cheerleaders -- was asked during his Washington Post chat today about the various emails I received from Col. Boylan yesterday (as well as objections raised to my having published the prior emails Boylan and I exchanged), and Kurtz replied (h/t Thomas C):

It's a very strange tale. I'm not sure what to make of it. I think Boylan's complaint had more to do with the publication of what he contends is a fake e-mail sent by someone else. These days, government officials know that if they send an e-mail to a reporter or commentator it's going to be used, unless specifically marked as an off-the-record communication.

Why isn't Kurtz "sure what to make of it," and why doesn't he do some work and find out? Ultimately, this "strange tale" -- which is a significant story regardless of what actually happened -- is not complicated. There are only two possibilities, both of which are self-evidently newsworthy. Either:

(1) Col. Boylan sent me that first polemical, blatantly politicized email and then falsely denied having sent it, or,

(2) someone has the extraordinary ability to fabricate emails which have every appearance -- even to advanced computer experts -- of being authored by and sent from the computers of some of our highest-ranking military officials in Iraq (or, worse, to obtain direct access to their Centcomm computers), a possibility about which Col. Boylan expressed total indifference and then refused to address.

If someone really is able to replicate emails from high-ranking military officials in Iraq, think about what a serious breach that is. Can the fabricators also send emails to commanders in the field or to political decision-makers in Washington?

If what Col. Boylan claims happened is what really happened, that would be a rather big story. Since Col. Boylan has indicated that he refuses to answer my questions about any of these matters ("What I am doing about it does not concern you . . . I w[ill] not take the time or efforts to engage with you"), shouldn't there be reporters somewhere interested in finding which of those two highly significant events has occurred?

Numerous commentators have suggested that, contrary to Col. Boylan's denials, the facts strongly support the conclusion that he was the author of that email. Numerous others have noted the vital issue which the exchange raises, regardless of whether the first email came from Col. Boylan or someone fabricating emails in his name: namely, the transparent ways in which many high-ranking members of the U.S. military in Iraq have become overtly political, partisan actors.

As Andrew Sullivan put it in his post, entitled "A Malkinized Military?," they are "operating primarily through partisan blogs and partisan journalists" while stonewalling and expressing outright hostility towards citizens and media outlets whose political posture they perceive to be less favorable. And as Digby wrote regarding Col. Boylan's behavior in yesterday's email exchange, including the emails which are indisputably authentic:

The conservative movement's Coulteresque dirty, take-no-prisoners political tactics have become standard operating procedure in every corner of the US Government over the past seven years and it is going to take a gargantuan effort to sweep it clean.

The examples of overt politicization by the U.S. military in the last year alone are numerous and are amply documented in my post from yesterday. In addition to those, as Eric Boehlert has demonstrated, it was the U.S. military which galvanized what was ultimately the right-wing humiliation of shrilly insisting that the Associated Press had fabricated a non-existent source in Iraq, police officer Jamil Hussein, only for it to be revealed that he existed and had served as a source for AP's news stories -- just as AP reported.

Time and again, the military in Iraq under Gen. Petraeus and Col. Boylan has aligned itself with the most extreme right-wing blogs and plainly partisan "journalists," and has either excluded or expressed outright hostility towards everyone else. It ought not be necessary to explain the significance of that development.

Either way, the bizarre exchange yesterday with Col. Boylan demands further inquiry, and there are several additional facts that are worth noting. The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum forwarded to me an unsolicited email sent to him last month by Col. Boylan in which Boylan wrote:

I read with interest your latest article ref General Petraeus (General Petraeus's PR Blitzkrieg) and couldn't help but wonder why you chose to use false and inaccurate information without taking the time to do the further research and even contact us for the rest of the story.

I forwarded the tracking information from that email to the University of Oregon's Peter Boothe, who compared the email Drum received to the "fake" one I received and wrote (via email): "The email headers on this one look substantially the same."

Drum, who exchanged a couple of emails with Col. Boylan last month, added via email: "when I first read your post, I immediately recognized his writing style. It's not proof of anything, but there's not much question that it sounds just like him. Weird game he's playing here." Others have advanced and documented the same conclusion.

On a different note, although Col. Boylan has not answered the last e-mail I sent him (asking him for clarity as to whether he is, in fact, denying that he sent the first email), one reader who e-mailed Boylan to indicate she comes from a military family and was disappointed in his conduct forwarded me (what appears from all indications to be) his response:

Thank you for your note and thoughts. However, as I have stated to Mr. Greenwald, I did not send him the note and only responded to his initial email to me to ask for authentication. I am sorry you feel this way and I thank you and your family for their service to our nation.

Our political press has devoted endless coverage to "scandals" of far less importance than whether Gen. Petreaus' top spokesman either dishonestly denied sending blatantly inappropriate emails or had his computer compromised by someone who did so in his name.
From the numerous computer programming and IT experts from whom I heard, simply reviewing email logs and the like would significantly assist in finding out what actually happened here. Finding out from Col. Boylan whether he has launched an "investigation" to find out who the the real culprit was would do the same. For multiple reasons, it seems highly worthwhile to find out.

UPDATE: In assessing whether Col. Boylan was being truthful in denying that he sent that e-mail, one should consider that Col. Boylan regularly sends unsolicited emails to bloggers when they write posts about Iraq that he dislikes. In addition to the email referenced above that he sent Kevin Drum, here he is sending a similar email to a blogger at Wired (h/t Christy Hardin Smith). Additionally, Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher forwarded me an email earlier today which he received awhile back from Col. Boylan objecting vociferously to an E&P editorial (as I understand it, Greg will write about that tonight).

On a separate note, as Mona first noted in comments, the original email which Col. Boylan denies he sent contains a fact which only he and I would know (or anyone with whom he spoke) -- namely, that he had not given me permission to publish the original email exchange we had back in July. The fact that the "fake" email contains a fact of which only he and I would have first-hand knowledge is certainly an additional fact to be considered in deciding if his denial is credible.

Finally, Stephen Bainbridge, a Professor at UCLA Law School, seems to agree that the military is becoming politicized, but says that it's the fault of people in the comment sections of liberal blogs. Referring to exposure of service members to "the fever swamp of the comment section of some leading left-liberal blogs," he says: "It would hardly be surprising if some folks in the military started wondering whether it was really worth risking their lives to protect the freedoms of people who seem to hate them and the cutural (sic) mileu (sic) out of which the soldiers came."

Bainbridge concludes: "If the military is being Malkinized, maybe the Kosites of the world will find an explanation by looking at themselves in the mirror." Col. Boylan clearly spends a lot of time reading liberal blogs, so perhaps Bainbridge is onto something.

UPDATE II: Editor & Publisher's article on this whole affair is now published and is worth reading in its entirety. It details the unsolicted email Col. Boylan sent them and notes:

Knowing that I had a brief exchange of emails with Boylan last spring, I went back and found them, with the Boylan in them sounding an awful lot like the Boylan in the disputed email to Greenwald.

That seems to be a pattern.
A disturbing email allegedly sent by a top U.S. military spokesman to a leading blogger at Salon.com this past weekend is just starting to draw mainstream attention. Howard Kurtz at The Washington Post mentioned it today, for example. It requires a good deal of background information to fully appreciate it, so I will provide a link to Glenn Greenwald’s blog page at Salon where he has extensive postings (and updates) Sunday and today about the email purportedly from Army Col. Steven Boylan. But E&P has its own correspondence from Boylan, and I want to focus on that.

The long and short of the Greenwald postings: For months the popular blogger -- a former attorney and author of the recent bestseller "A Tragic Legacy" -- has criticized the growing “politicization” of the military attached to Iraq, starting earlier this year and peaking around the appearance of Gen. David Petraeus before Congress (and the media) in September. This was even before William Safire declared, this past weekend, that the general ought to be considered as a running mate for a Republican candidate for president next year.

In the past, Greenwald had received, and printed, emails from Boylan, a public affairs officer and chief spokesman for Gen. Petraeus, denying this trend and/or defending the general. So when he received an angry email from Boylan yesterday, he posted much of it on his blog (and linked to the entire message), while asserting that the views and language in it proved his point about “politicization.”

Then it got really interesting. Boylan in another note to Greenwald seemed to deny that he wrote the email, while denouncing Greenwald for publishing it. But he did not state this clearly and refused to respond to Greenwald’s subsequent request for clarity. Meanwhile, various purported computer experts compared past and present emails from Boylan to Greenwald and suggested (to the latter) that they did seem to come from the same military email address. But no one was certain and, at the least, it raised troubling questions about someone "hijacking" the email account of Gen. Petraeus's chief spokesman.

E&P contacted Boylan for a clarification about the email. Late Monday night he (or someone claiming to be him) replied: "I am denying writing and sending it. I know from past experience with Mr. Greenwald that any email exchange with him would be posted to his site as well as there is no need to discuss anything with him. I would only contact him in response to anything he would directly send to me as he did in this case. I have not contacted Mr. Greenwald since this summer" -- until Greenwald asked him to confirm the Sunday email, when "I told him it was not mine and I did not send it."

You can catch the whole thing (surely Greenwald will soon respond to the above) at:


Knowing that I had a brief exchange of emails with Boylan last spring, I went back and found them -- with the Boylan in them sounding an awful lot like the Boylan in the disputed email to Greenwald.

I had drawn Boylan’s attention with a May 9, 2007, column that followed an appearance by Gen. Petraeus, via a video feed from Baghdad, at the Associated Press annual meeting in New York, which I attended. This is what I wrote then: “Reporters should also ask Gen. David Petraeus, who is directing the ‘surge’ effort in Iraq, why he lied in responding to a reporter's question this week concerning widespread abuse by U.S. troops.”

A reporter on stage at the gathering asked about a U.S. Army Surgeon General study of over 1,300 troops in Iraq, released last week, which showed increasing mental stress -- and an alarming spillover into poor treatment of noncombatants. Petraeus, who said he had read the report, asserted that the survey showed that only a "small number" admitted they may have mistreated "detainees" -- a profoundly misleading statement.

Actually, the study found that at least 10% of U.S. forces reported that they had personally, and without cause, mistreated "noncombatants" (not detainees) through physical violence or damage to personal property.

The survey also noted that only 47% of the soldiers and 38% of marines agreed that noncombatants should be treated with dignity and respect. More than 40% said they backed torture in certain circumstances. Even worse, nearly one in five said that all noncombatants "should be treated as insurgents."

About 30% said their officers had not made it clear that they should not mistreat civilians.

Only 40% of American marines and 55% of soldiers in Iraq said they would report a fellow service member for killing or injuring an innocent Iraqi. “Of course, this only guarantees that it will happen again, and again,” I observed.

That sparked an email from Boylan in Baghdad the next day. “I found your latest column to be less than fair and as many editorials, lacking context,” he wrote. “I find it insulting that you would even consider saying that General Petraeus lied to the gathering during the AP hosted event Monday. Simply put, you are in error and as such you even pointed it out in your own column….

”Because you don't agree with his words, detainee vice [sic] civilians, you are saying that he has lied. I am not sure how you come to that conclusion that he has lied? Would you be willing to explain that? I assume you could disagree on what is a small number or it is that you don't like his choice of words by using detainee.

”I am pleased that you can offer such a misinformed opinion based on one-hour event.”

I wrote back to him: “Surely you understand the difference between a ‘detainee’ and a ’noncombatant.’ Presumably Petraeus does as well. He said he'd read the report, where it clearly stated that the actions carried out by the 10% were against civilians or their property and without cause.”

In other words, Petraeus was suggesting to the media – if not directly starting -- that it wasn’t so bad a problem because it was (presumably guilty enemy) prisoners who were mistreated, not run-of-the-mill civilians. I didn’t even raise the issue in my email to Boylan of whether 10% was an acceptable, or appalling, number of bad actors. Petraeus had called this a “small number.”

Anyway, Boylan wrote back right away: “Yes, I clearly know the difference between the two, however, it was clear that he was saying and thinking detainee when he made his statement. I have not read the report, but either way, to state that he lied is at a minimum disingenuous and at worst, flat wrong on your part without even asking the questions, but making unfounded assumptions. I expect better professionalism from someone of your position based on your publication.”

So Boylan, who admitted he had “not read the report,” did not let that stop him from lecturing me and defending the misuse of its contents by Petraeus, who said he did read the report. Petraeus, at least, faced facts a short time later, writing a letter to his troops refreshing their memories about the requirement that they not abuse friendlys.


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