Senator Levin owes the Warheads an apology

Ken Allard Retired U.S. Army Colonel
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Nixonesque cover-ups are not normally associated with Senator Carl Levin, the powerful chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Generals and admirals, secretaries of this and CEOs of that, address him deferentially as “Mr. Chairman,” befitting a man at the top of Washington’s interlocking directorates of money and power.

Levin’s is not your typical inside-the-Beltway scandal, in which embarrassing Facebook photos must be spun or campaign cash stashed in the freezer explained away as a security precaution. But last Friday, Rowan Scarborough’s article in The Washington Times confirmed what many suspected: “The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee is intervening with a Pentagon investigator to influence the final wording of a report that exonerates George W. Bush-era officials who gave war briefings to retired military TV and radio commentators.” Although that report is an official investigation by the DOD inspector general, Scarborough’s story contained deeply troubling details. A Levin staffer sent “written communication” to the inspector general’s office “designed to convince [the IG] that wording should be added to the findings that criticize the analyst program devised by staff for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.”

Got that? This is simple manipulation, vital at covering one’s tracks, essential in demonstrating that black is not white but merely a delicate shade of gray. In a court of law, that’s called jury-tampering. But to Carl Levin, it is simply politics-as-usual, the facts-be-damned deference due one of Washington’s most powerful players.

Look more closely and a festival of ironies abounds. The Pentagon IG has a fearsome reputation for independence, from whistleblower programs uncovering contractor waste to inspections throughout the military establishment. Tracing its roots back to General Von Steuben, hero of Valley Forge, the DOD IG is a “just the facts” agency that bristles at attempted political manipulation. Senator Levin’s crude attempt to do just that comes at the conclusion of a two-year re-investigation, performed solely because Levin didn’t like the results the first time.

I apologize for shocking you, but this is another classic instance of tightly orchestrated political-media collusion, specifically between the Democrats and The New York Times. But it is also personal, because I was one of those retired military analysts briefed by Donald Rumsfeld and his Pentagon staff before and during the Iraq war.

While working as a military analyst for NBC News, I shared the insights I gained during those briefings not only with NBC’s global audiences but also in my 2006 memoir Warheads. As a first-person participant, I argued that briefing retired generals or other knowledgeable insiders was standard practice in Washington, where congressional committees, think tanks and advocacy groups constantly compete for public attention. And anyway, the “Warheads” — television military analysts like myself — are notorious for being cantankerous, independent-minded thinkers who won’t stick to party lines.

So I was pleasantly surprised when a New York Times reporter interviewed me extensively about my book, insisting that it was an important story. But when his 7,500-word article appeared in April 2008, it was filled with innuendo, out-of-context quotations, even allegations of conflicts-of-interest. Worse yet, the rest-of-the-story context of Warheads was never mentioned, a serious omission possibly tantamount to plagiarism.

Because every other media outlet yawned, the “expose” might have been a one-day story. But right on cue, over 40 congressional Democrats jumped up to huff, puff and loudly demand full investigations. They soon got them with three separate federal inquiries being empanelled: one by the Federal Communications Commission, one by the General Accounting Office and, of course, one by the DOD IG.

But facts, as John Adams famously pointed out, are stubborn things. After opening their investigation with defamatory statements, the FCC sent me a stern “show cause” letter thoughtfully forwarded through my employer. Shortly thereafter, I left a hospital bed to write an even more defiant response. I was equally blunt with the DOD IG, recommending that its investigation begin with a close reading of Warheads. The GAO and the FCC never apologized but took no action either. In January 2009, the DOD IG concluded that no violations had occurred.

But the fix was still in with Barack Obama safely inaugurated, the real objective all along. Only five days later, The New York Times’s public editor, Clark Hoyt, wrote, “…the inspector general’s report was a highly flawed response to an important piece of journalism.” On cue and on message, Chairman Levin rejected the IG report and demanded the re-investigation. Its exculpatory conclusions, two years and millions of taxpayer dollars later, he now rejects as well.

Until hitting the tripwire of public outrage, the powerful often believe they are immune to ethical standards. Such were clearly the expectations of The New York Times and their Democratic puppet-masters, including Senator Levin. But with these latest revelations, the Warheads deserve an overdue and very public apology. I write as the Benjamin in their midst. But our numbers include such heroes as Barry McCaffrey, one of the most highly decorated solders of the Vietnam War; Don Shepperd, the scary-brave pilot flying the Ho Chi Minh trail upside down; and the late Wayne Downing, whose legendary special-forces leadership helped engineer the encounter between Osama bin Laden and Seal Team Six.

Surely this Veterans Day is the right time to set the record straight once and for all: And next November is the season to redress the arrogance of power.

Colonel (Ret.) Ken Allard rose from draftee to Dean of the National War College. A former military analyst for NBC News, he is a prolific writer on national security issues.