Monday, November 17, 2008

The Sleazy Underbelly of DC Diplomacy

A quick post amidst the sniffles and the piles of work at the new job to point readers to two great new items to read on the dark corners of DC diplomacy:

1) Laura Rozen -- proprietress of the amazing War and Piece blog -- has a wonderful new article up at Mother Jones (where she's a star at the magazine's powerhouse DC bureau) on Shlomi Michaels -- a former Israeli commando who seems to turn up in the oddest places in US foreign policy. For instance, in the spring of 2004, Rozen reports that Michaels met with a former CIA agent in the office of GOP string-puller Ed Rogers, bringing along material that he claimed might help George W. Bush get reelected. Rozen writes that:

He had a well-placed Iraqi source—a former officer in an Iraqi military psychological operations unit, he said—who had gathered hundreds of pages of contracts, maps, and photographs documenting meetings between Iraqi and Ukrainian officials. The information, Michaels said, would prove that Iraq had pursued a covert chemical weapons program. Michaels wanted Bruner to set up a meeting for him and the Iraqi source with the CIA. To turn over the whole dossier, he wanted $1 million.

Rozen weaves a fascinating story about the nexus between spooks and security and reconstruction and runaway capitalism that draws in former CIS director James Woolsey and former FBI director Louis Freeh. It's terrific journalism. Read it here.

2) Ken Silverstein -- the Washington editor at Harper's magazine -- caused a stir in July 2007 when he published a devastating article that showed Washington lobbyists at their absolute worst.

What Silverstein did was undercover muckraking at its very best:

(a) He crafted a fictitious interest group.
(b) He chose a vicious repressive regime that the imaginary firm wanted to rehabilitate. In this case, it was the Stalinist Central Asian "republic" of Turkmenistan.
(c) He went looking for lobbying help to burnish the Turkmen regime in Washington's corridors of lobbying power.

Surprise, surprise. Silverstein found DC lobbying firms jockeying madly to help out a nation firmly on every world human rights watch, despite the odious nature of the regime and the flimsy cover story he concocted to seek their help.

Equally unsurprising is the fact that media scolds --led by lead scold Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post -- actually pilloried the messenger. As Silverstein noted in a follow-up piece, "Earlier this year, when I was working with my editors to plan out a story about lobbyists willing to work for the Stalinist regime in Turkmenistan, I predicted that after the story was published Washington Post columnist Howard Kurtz would write a hand-wringing, tut-tutting column about my tactics. Right on schedule, Kurtz delivers his opinion. 'No matter how good the story,' he writes, 'lying to get it raises as many questions about journalists as their subjects.'"

Yep, that's just the kind of nonsense you'd expect from a media columnist whose wife is a media spinner and lobbyist largely associated with conservative causes. Oooh, pity the poor lobbyists busted as they salivate over Stalinist cash by journalists with gumption and a knack for exploiting the greed and gullibility of the powerful.

Anyway, Silverstein's article is now a terrific book called Turkmeniscam (Random House). You can get a sense of how it's being received in this online book forum at Firedoglake, hosted by journalist Lindsey Beyerstein. You can also buy Turkmeniscam here. Do so.

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