Judy Miller's Security Squirrels

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Josh Marshall has been tracking down one of the more bizarre details to come out of this weekend's Judith Miller tranche over at The New York Times—namely, Miller's claim that

During the Iraq war, the Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment "embedded" with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons.

A reporter with a security clearance? Marshall points to this June 2004 New York article by Frankline Foer, which said:

According to [former National Guard spokesman Eugene] Pomeroy, as well as an editor at the Times, Miller had helped negotiate her own embedding agreement with the Pentagon–an agreement so sensitive that, according to one Times editor, Rumsfeld himself signed off on it. Although she never fully acknowledged the specific terms of that arrangement in her articles, they were as stringent as any conditions imposed on any reporter in Iraq. "Any articles going out had to be, well, censored," Pomeroy told me. "The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the 'Secret Squirrels,' and their 'sources and methods' had to be protected and a war was about to start." Before she filed her copy, it would be censored by a colonel who often read the article in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth.

No surprise at this point that Miller wouldn't divulge to her readers the price paid for her access. But then it gets even more telling:

While traveling with MET Alpha, according to Pomeroy and one other witness, she wore a military uniform. […]

Miller guarded her exclusive access with ferocity. When the Washington Post's Barton Gellman overlapped in the unit for a day, Miller instructed its members that they couldn't talk with him. According to Pomeroy, "She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn't." (One other witness confirms this account.)

As any child of the Aerospace Belt can tell you, hell hath no bullshitter like a G.I. Joe wannabe with a Security Clearance. The kids in school used to call it "Engineer's Disease," or ED for short—the belief that a 5 percent advantage in Access magically translated into 100 percent Omniscience on all subjects under the sun, even (or especially) in fields wholly unrelated to the engineer's competence. Any dinner-table anecdote beginning with "The boys over at Security" would trigger automatic eye-rolling; every discussion about so-and-so's Clearance would evoke memories of schoolyard arguments between Boy Scouts over who had the biggest patches.

Fetishizing Access, and subsuming yourself under the higher authority of martial patriotism (Miller told her colleagues that she hopes to cover "the same thing I've always covered—threats to our country"), is not exactly a short-cut to the truth, and makes you particularly vulnerable to the dazzling B.S. of those with decoder rings even more powerful than your own. Viddie the poignant, fan-boy self-importance of this Miller statement:

Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I had discussed classified information with Mr. Libby. I said I believed so, but could not be sure. He asked how Mr. Libby treated classified information. I said, Very carefully.

Incredible. No wonder Libby began his prison mash-note to Miller with the soon-to-be classic line:

Your reporting, and you, are missed.

I'll bet they are.

NEXT: Gillespie on C-SPAN's 25th Anniversary (Oct. 8 Edition)

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  1. Matt, are you and Ken Layne having a crush-off on Judy? 😉

    Any educated thoughts on what the upshot (upchuck?) from all this will be?

  2. viddie?

  3. Sweet, sexy Judy in a military uniform…

    BTW, based only on the excerpts provided, it isn’t clear that the interpretation provided is correct. She could have been warning others that “Bart” didn’t have the same clearance as she did because she didn’t want them saying something that he hadn’t been cleared for.

  4. Item! This just in: Bush administration treats classified status as a weapon for political infighting.

    You may now return to your regularly scheduled program-related activity.

  5. I think we’ve found our “awesome joe post of the month”.

    Nice.

  6. hindsight is 50/50, been nice if reason had actually done some objective, investigative journalism on a wanker like Miller before the war instead of puffing of the chest after the fact and after very few people actually care…

  7. “…been nice if reason had actually done some objective, investigative journalism…”

    Yeah, I thought every journalist–or every pair of journalists–was supposed to have secret sources in the Pentagon and the Shadow Government! …If you’re a journalist, the source is supposed to meet you in the bottom of a parking garage and give you half-clues about things like Judith Miller, her double-secret security clearance, whether the President wears boxers or briefs and–I dunno–stuff about alien spacecraft!

    …I mean, why didn’t you guys use your double-secret sources? …don’ch y’all have secret sources from the Shadow Governmnet? Huh? …Well?

  8. bobderfisch,

    ‘Viddie’, meaning to see, look or watch, is just one of the many delightful expressions to come from “A Clockwork Orange”.

    According to at least two glossaries of the topic it is actually spelled ‘viddy.’

  9. I hear sex is hotter with a security clearance. Guess I should’ve taken that Raytheon job.

  10. No one seems to call her Judith anymore. I thought “Battle Ax” when I saw her picture recently.

  11. Interesting. Now we have a reporter who believes she is more qualified than career SF officers to make tactical decisions in the field. If you don’t listen, she’ll run to other officers who have no business interfering to get what she wants. And you’d better do it or she’ll make sure “you never work in this town again, buster”.

    Some of this falls in the “so what” category. I seem to recall that most, if not all, embedded reporters wore military uniforms (i.e: desert camo uniforms).

    Ms. Miller seems to indulge in the favorite indoor sport of fringe participants in the special ops/intelligence field: making great, big, steaming mountains of bullsh*t out of little, tiny molehills.

    One wonders how this relates to Nora Dunn’s opening scene in “The Three Kings”.

  12. Winger: What’s worrisome is that she didn’t just THINK it — it actually happened. She DID run over the head of actual officers, and DID get their orders changed.

    I’m more than a bit curious as to how a reporter manages that sort of influence in the miltary.

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