it's about time. Of course, Antiwar.com has been on that story
since November, followed
by Carl Cameron of Fox
News – and months of an unearthly silence. The story didn't
die, however. I wrote a number of columns exploring the subject over the months, and eventually the
story broke again – overseas, this time, where LeMonde revealed some
of the documentation alluded to earlier by Fox News. In addition,
the contents of government reports providing plenty of details
to IntelligenceOnline, a French newsletter of some repute.
The British press picked it up, as did the American and Canadian
media, and the allegations were treated seriously, although
the resulting news stories were generously salted with quotes
from Israeli spokesmen and US government officials denying
the whole thing. In the general hubbub, Alexander Cockburn,
the idiosyncratic leftie columnist for The Nation,
and editor of Counterpunch, remarked on the story in
his regular piece for
the New York Press:
are a number of stories sloshing around the news now that
have raised discussion of Israel and of the posture of American
Jews to an acrid level. The purveyor of anthrax may have been
a former government scientist of Jewish ethnic extraction
with a record of baiting a colleague of Arab origins, acting
with the intent to blame the anthrax on Muslim terrorists.
Rocketing around the Web and spilling into the press are many
stories about Israeli spies in America at the time of 9/11.
On various accounts of unknown reliability, they were trailing
Atta and his associates, knew what was going to happen but
did nothing or were simply spying on U.S. facilities. Some
posing as art students have been expelled, according to the
AP. Finally, there's Sharon's bloody repression of the Palestinians,
and Israel's apparently powerful role in Bush's foreign policy."
created a certain amount of ire in at least one of Cockburn's
readers, who wrote in demanding that he acknowledge the Israeli
spy ring story had been "discredited." Nonsense,
citing not only my own reporting, but the
work of reporter John Sugg of the Atlanta-based Creative
Loafing alternative weekly chain, and Jane's
Intelligence Digest. (He might also have mentioned
Carl Cameron's four-part
series on Fox News, altogether the single most comprehensive
overview of Israel's secret war, and LeMonde, as well as
the magazine supplement of the Washington Times.) Jane's
put it well, acidly
remarking in a March 15 dispatch:
is rather strange that the US media, with one notable exception,
seems to be ignoring what may well prove to be the most explosive
story since the 11 September attacks - the alleged break-up
of a major Israeli espionage operation in the United States
which aimed to infiltrate both the justice and defence departments
and which may also have been tracking Al-Qaeda terrorists
before the aircraft hijackings took place."
AN ORDINARY DAY
it is strange, yes, but in another sense the burying
of this story is perfectly ordinary: Today the Israelis are
rampaging through Ramallah – but yesterday they were breaking
into US government facilities, including military bases, FBI
offices, DEA offices, and other law enforcement agencies,
going so far as to conduct surveillance activities on US government
officials in their homes. I see a pattern here. The IDF didn't
let the media into Jenin,
where many witnesses claim a massacre took place, and, in that same vein, Israel's amen corner in the US is attempting
a similar cover-up of the spy ring story – with much more
success, at least so far.
prediction that the Israeli spy story would resurface in a
big way has yet to be confirmed, and may just be wishful thinking.
But this doesn't satisfy the amen corner: any mention
of what they regard as a forbidden subject must be punished
if it can't be safely ignored, and Frank Foer of The New
Republic figured he was the man for the job. Cockburn,
in one of his
on-the-road columns, describes his interrogation by Foer:
head off down the road from Greenville, SC, toward Birmingham,
AL, and my cellphone rings. It's a fellow from The New
Republic called Frank something or other, who is eager
to quiz me about some recent remarks of mine about the Internet
being awash with anti-Israeli material. Amid the crackle and
hiss of the ether and the roar of the interstate it's hard
to hear Frank through the no-hands speaker on my dashboard,
but eventually I catch his purpose, and ask him flatly, in
more-or-less these words, 'Frank, is your purpose to accuse
me of disseminating anti-Semitic libels, under the guise of
relaying rumors on the Internet?' Frank allows jovially that
this is indeed his intent. I tell him that in my opinion the
stories about Israeli spies, as categorized in a
DEA report [actually, an inter-agency report –
ed.] discussed on Fox News, by the French site Intelligence
Online and various other news sources including the British
Jane's, are legitimate topics of comment, as are the
stories about anthrax dissemination involving an anti-Arab
but it is not for Cockburn to decide on the legitimacy or
non-legitimacy of a news story. That privilege is reserved
for the self-appointed gate-keepers at The New Republic,
and a very few others. Here in the Gitmo
of the intellectuals, Foer is the inquisitor, and Cockburn
go back and forth on such issues until the static gets too
bad. Later I retrieve a magnanimous message from Frank saying
that he is conferring with associates about whether to deal
with me in The New Republic. So I assume that at some point
Cockburn will be stigmatized yet again as the purveyor of
anti-Semitic filth. It's all pretty predictable."
Predictable – but surprisingly incompetent.
ASSASSINATION A LOST ART
article, "The Devil You Know"
(a witless play on Cockburn's "Beat
the Devil" column for The Nation) is incredibly
– shockingly – shoddy, as hit pieces go. He starts
out by noting that "Alexander Cockburn isn't a big fan
of Israel" – and it's downhill from there, since that's
about the only fact he gets right (and the only one
that means anything to Foer). He casually characterizes Cockburn's
views on Israel as comparable to those found in the pages
of the Final Call, the Black Muslim newspaper, or nameless
"Arabic language newspapers." Huh? The connection
Foer makes between Cockburn and Louis Farrakhan is inexplicably
murky – unless one believes that anyone who quotes Jude Wanniski is, by some mysterious process of
transference, a Black Muslim sympathizer. Talk about "conspiracy theories" – this one is a doozy!
also makes the astonishing claim that one would have to search
far and wide to "find writers who can match Cockburn's
level of virulence" on the question of Israel – although
no examples of Cockburn's vitriol are cited. It is clear,
from the start, that we are dealing here with an intellectual
hooligan: this is not an argument, but the literary equivalent
of a whack across the head with a steel bar. Such methods
disdain the rules of evidence, and ordinary fair play: they
are the methods of fanatics and professional character assassins.
admits that Cockburn has denounced expressions of anti-Semitism
in the past, but that doesn't matter to someone who equates
strong criticism of Israel with hatred of Jews. He largely
ignores most of the content of the column in question: Cockburn's
remarks on the Richard
Nixon-Billy Graham tapes, recently released, wherein the
two were confiding a mutual belief in a "Jewish stranglehold"
over the media. These moguls, Nixon and Graham agreed, were
lefty peaceniks who, the President added, were "an irreligious,
atheistic, immoral bunch of bastards." It is clear, from
the context, where the sympathies of the lefty peacenik Cockburn
lie, but Foer is suspicious: after all, why does Cockburn
of the prime founders of Hollywood, were Polish Jews who grew
up within fifty miles of each other in Galicia"?
OUT THE KNIVES
doesn't bother with whether or not this statement is true.
It is enough that Cockburn mentions it: more than
ample provocation for Foer to whip out his switchblade
and go for the jugular. Citing the paragraph quoted above,
wherein Cockburn brings up the Israeli spy story and the anthrax
conundrum, he writes:
be fair, Cockburn doesn't exactly endorse these theories.
… Indeed, when I reached Cockburn to ask him about these conspiracies,
he insisted he was just reporting what was already in circulation.
'I don't think I said they are true. I don't know there's
enough exterior evidence to determine whether they are true or not.'"
here is poor Cockburn being hectored, trying to get this guy
off the phone – he's on vacation, fer chrissake, and
here he is being pursued down the highway by this disembodied
bore. Cockburn is not even signing on to any of the
particular stories he cites, he is merely averring
that they merit further inquiry. But this first
principle of reason is precisely what enrages his
of course, that last sentence is the giveaway. There most
certainly is enough exterior evidence to determine whether
the stories are true or not. The answer is that they are not.
They are wild rumors circulating, if at all, in some of the
least credible corners of the Internet. No respectable media
outlet has given these stories credence. Merely by stating
that these ideas are in circulation, merely by saying it's
impossible to judge their veracity, Cockburn confers these
ideas with legitimacy."
LET IT BE ME
of the least credible corners of the Internet" – well,
he can't mean Fox News, or LeMonde,
and writers for TNR have
been known to cite the Jane's Intelligence outfit
as a credible source. Gee, let's see, who else covered
Cockburn cited Antiwar.com, and this column specifically,
in his reply to prior criticism, perhaps we can boast of having been indirectly attacked by The New Republic – a magazine with
an unbroken record of warmongering that extends all the way
back to World War I. If so, then I can only say I'm humbled
– really in awe. This is truly a badge of honor, to
be worn only on special occasions.
not, we can always hope that, some day, we'll undergo what
is the equivalent, in the antiwar movement, of being knighted.
If we are ever so lucky as to have baseless slurs flung at
us in the pages of TNR, however, I can only hope they
are more competently executed than those directed at Cockburn.
problem is that he can't seem to get the knack of making a
decent slime-ball, so that when he flings it, it decomposes
in mid-air. "The giveaway," as Foer would put it,
is when we examine his laughably shoddy research methods.
for example, the story about the mad Jew scientists out to
ruin the Muslims. I searched for it on the Lexis-Nexis news
database but came up with nothing--not one single mention
of the story in a mainstream news outlet."
my a**! Someone ought to ask Marty
Peretz why he's paying hundreds of dollars per month for
a database Foer doesn't know how to use properly anyway. Besides,
all Foer had to do was go over to Google.com
– for free! – type in the names of the principals,
and – voila!
come up with no less than four rather lengthy
and detailed stories in the "mainstream" media on
the systematic harassment of one Dr. Ayaad Assaad,
a former Fort Detrick
scientist, who was driven out of his job by people whose hatred
of Arabs seemed to verge on the psychotic. The Hartford Courant
ran two long stories: one
frightening report on how many samples of deadly anthrax
and other bio-terror toxins had gone missing from the Army's
Ft. Detrick facility, and another
on the horrific and vicious campaign against Dr. Assaad
– the connecting tissue being another Ft. Detrick scientist,
Dr. Philip Zack, who was videotaped going into the lab at
night after hours, and was at the center of the anti-Assaad
clique. To give you the flavor of the atmosphere at the Ft.
Detrick lab, here is a snippet of the story:
said he was working on the Saturday before Easter 1991, just
after the Persian Gulf War had ended, when he discovered an
eight-page poem in his mailbox. The poem, which became a court
exhibit, is 47 stanzas – 235 lines in all, many of them lewd,
mocking Assaad. The poem also refers to another creation of
the scientists who wrote it – a rubber camel outfitted with
all manner of sexually explicit appendages.
poem reads: 'In [Assaad's] honor we created this beast; it
represents life lower than yeast.' The camel, it notes, each
week will be given 'to who did the least.'
poem also doubles as an ode to each of the participants who
adorned the camel, who number at least six and referred to
themselves as 'the camel club.' Two – Dr. Philip M. Zack
and Dr. Marian K. Rippy – voluntarily left Fort Detrick soon
after Assaad brought the poem to the attention of supervisors."
sounds like some of those people at the Israel First rally
the other day in Washington, who
booed Paul Wolfowitz when he referred to "the suffering
of the Palestinians."
any rate, the shocking story of Dr. Assaad's ordeal was published
in the Seattle Times [December
19, 2001], as well as the Courant – is that
"mainstream" enough for Foer?
will not , here, go into the details of the anthrax investigation,
and connect it to Dr. Assaad's ordeal, having done that on several occasions already. I will only ask
how Foer also missed the complete
account posted on Salon.com, in a story dated January
26, 2002. Not to mention the Philadelphia Inquirer
story, dated February 28, 2002, with a headline that perfectly
sums up where we are on the question of the anthrax killer's
true identity: "Anthrax Tip
May Yet Help: A letter blamed a scientist. Now a theory is
an anonymous accuser is to blame." *Sigh* Aren't
there any standards left – not even for hit pieces?
also blithely ignores major media coverage of the Israeli
spy story: Fox News, after all, is hardly one of "the
least credible corners of the Internet." Don't they have
researchers at a big outfit like The New Republic?
It's pathetic, really, and a bit embarrassing for this upstart
internet journalist – whose corner of the Internet hardly
measures up to Foer's lofty professional standards – to have
to point out an elementary lesson from Journalism 101: try
doing some research!
Matt Welch, or Ken Layne, or perhaps another of those smart-ass blogger-kids
once put it: "This
is the internet, and we can fact-check your ass!"
GIVES A SH*T?
so who gives a sh*t what Frankie Foer thinks, insofar as he
thinks at all? I mean, why bother refuting this proven liar
who can't even get his facts straight? There is, after all,
something comical, almost endearing in Foer's amateurish smear-job:
he is like a lazy schoolboy who hasn't quite done his homework
and yet is trying to brazen it out, confident that he can
bamboozle his teacher – and, still, he winds up with a failing
to write him off as a naughty schoolboy, and not a very bright
one at that, is to miss the point, which is, in Foer's words:
column goes way beyond legitimate criticism of Israel. It's
akin to the rantings of pitchfork Pat Buchanan, whose anti-Semitism
The Nation has condemned. So you would expect the magazine
to take a tough stance on the anti-Semitism in its own backyard.
But when I asked The Nation's editor, Katrina vanden Heuvel,
about Cockburn, she could only lamely distance herself from
the piece: 'This didn't appear in The Nation. I don't
read CounterPunch.... It's been our experience that we've
had differences with our writers. It's a strength of the magazine
that it accommodates a range of perspectives.' True enough.
But there are some perspectives that shouldn't be accommodated."
Foer is after is that Cockburn should be shunned, ostracized
from polite society, and relegated to a kind of ideological
and literary Coventry.
The Nation, he hopes, will fire Cockburn and deprive
him of a platform: why, how dare he agree with Buchanan
on anything! "There are some perspectives that shouldn't
be accommodated" – especially any view suggesting that
Israel takes billions in "foreign aid" with one
hand, and stabs us in the back with the other. And please
don't bother Foer with the facts: there are some truths that
shouldn't be accommodated. That is really the task of our
Police: to make sure inconvenient truths don't get out.
such policing is really impossible, especially in the age
of the internet. The idea that Cockburn, or Antiwar.com, can
be stopped or discredited by such an obvious ploy – particularly
one authored by such a self-interested and careless would-be
debunker – is soooo old media, and so over.
Foer winds up looking like a pretentious fool rather than
a serious threat either to Cockburn or the spirit of free
Foer and his editors aren't complete idiots: they know
that one little slime-ball isn't going to make a whole lot
of mess. But many slime-balls, volleys of them launched in
unison at selected targets, are bound to smear a lot of dirt
around – and some of it is bound to stick. What Foer and
his careless editors are counting on is the power of intimidation.
The only effective defense is to respond immediately – and
fact-check them within an inch of their lives.
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