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The Gulf War: Truth was the First Casualty

SYNOPSIS: With the benefit of hindsight, we can safely say the mobilization of U.S. troops in Vietnam, Grenada, and Panama taught us a sobering lesson: When armed conflict is on the horizon, truth is the first casualty. The Gulf crisis indicates the press has still not learned its lesson. Many journalists, carried away by the blare of the bugles in Saudi Arabia, fell into the unseemly role of Pentagon cheerleaders instead of being the honest, skeptical brokers of information they should have been.

As in Panama and Grenada, journalists and news executives took their cues from government officials. Surprisingly, Defense Department spokesman Pete Williams admitted, "the reporting has been largely a recitation of what administration people have said."

While the press was busy labeling Hussein as "the new Hitler," they were slow in uncovering the fact that just days before the invasion of Kuwait, the White House was lobbying Congress not to apply sanctions against Iraq. Further, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, was telling Hussein the U.S. had "no position" concerning Iraq's border dispute with Kuwait- which Hussein interpreted as tacit approval for his actions. Nor was there any coverage of the secret August 23 offer by Iraq to pull out of Kuwait and release all hostages (which President Bush rejected).


UPDATE: Flawed media coverage of the Gulf War was subsequently discussed in a number of stories: revealed how CBS and NBC spiked footage of the Iraq bombing carnage; suggested that there was no evidence of the Iraqi threat to Saudi Arabia that President Bush used to rally the nation to war; revealed how the media lost the information war with the Pentagon; highlighted the media's later shameful handling of the Gulf War Syndrome issue.

In early 1997 the final report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses confirmed the Pentagon was slow in investigating whether chemical weapons could be causing health problems, saying there was no evidence of exposure to chemical weapons (Washington Post, 1/7/97).

It was not until January 21, 1997, that a federal agency, the Department of Veterans Affairs, acknowledged for the first time a direct link between toxic chemicals and Gulf War Syndrome (The New York Times, 1/22/97). Less than a month later, Bernard Rostker, the military's chief Gulf illness investigator, reported the number of U.S. troops that could have been exposed to chemical agents was greater than the 20,800 previously admitted by the Pentagon (USA Today, 2/12/97). In mid-June, 1997, the General Accounting Office released a report linking nerve gas and other chemical weapons to the health problems of the veterans (The New York Times, 6/15/97). Finally in late July 1997, the Department of Defense acknowledged that nearly 100,000 U.S. troops may have been exposed to Iraq nerve gas (USA Today, 7/24/97).

The media were equally slow in reporting the illness itself. Nor were the national media quick to report that geneticist Joshua Lederberg, head of the Pentagon panel that earlier dismissed links between biological weapons and the illnesses of Gulf War veterans, was also a director of American Type Culture Collection, the institute that had exported anthrax to Iraq (Newsday, 11/27/96).

As for April Glaspie, after some inconclusive congressional hearings- where she denied her statements to Saddam Hussein, she disappeared into obscurity as an ambassador-in-residence at a San Diego university. In 1993, she returned to active duty at the State Department's Bureau of African Affairs where she was criticized for provoking Somalia's warlord Mohammed Aideed's hostility. In January 1995, Glaspie took over operations of the United Nation's Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees in the West Bank (The Independent, 3/13/95). By April 1995, Glaspie was reportedly in a turf battle with the U.N. special envoy responsible for distributing aid in Gaza (The Washington Times, 4/28/96).



The CIA Role in the Savings and Loan Crisis

SYNOPSIS: It is now estimated that some 500 billion taxpayer dollars will be needed to bail out the savings and loan crisis. One very obvious question regarding this scandal is what happened to so much money?

At least one investigative journalist, Pete Brewton, of The Houston Post, believes he has the answer. On February 4, 1990, Brewton wrote, "During an eight-month investigation into the role of fraud in the nation's savings and loan crisis, The Post has found evidence suggesting a possible link between the Central Intelligence Agency and organized crime in the failure of at least 22 thrifts, including 16 in Texas."

It was the first in a series of S&L articles by Brewton that found links between S&Ls, organized crime figures, and CIA operatives, including some involved in gun running, drug smuggling, money laundering, and covert aid to Nicaraguan contras. If S&L funds went to the contras or other covert operations, it would help explain where at least some of the money went.

Despite the blockbuster nature of Brewton's exposes, the major news media have not been quick to follow-up. As Robert Sherrill points out in his extraordinary analysis of the S&L crisis in an unusual single subject issue of The Nation (11/19/90), "Brewton's stories have not exactly stirred the national press to action."

The ominous silence on the part of the press led Steve Weinberg, former executive director of Investigative Reporters and Editors, to investigate the accuracy of Brewton's charges. Weinberg raises two key questions: If Brewton's information is wrong, what should other journalists be doing to set the record straight, and if he is right, why have most news organizations failed to assign their own reporters to the scandal?


UPDATE: Despite the sensational nature of the charges Brewton made, tying the CIA in with the S&L scandal, the major media failed to follow-up on the story. More than two years later, David Shaw, media critic for the Los Angeles Times, reported (10/26/92) that Brewton "wrote many of the best early stories about the S&L crisis." He noted that Jonathan Kwitney, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who had written extensively about the CIA and the Mafia, called Brewton's work "maybe the best job of reporting I had ever seen." Nonetheless, Shaw reported that Brewton and The Houston Post were very much alone in their coverage of the story. One reason for this was offered by Richard Smith, editor-in-chief of Newsweek, who said the national media often have "a kind of dismissive attitude" about stories broken outside the New York-Washington media axis. This is the same attitude that may have led the major news media to disparage the CIA contra drug involvement.



Continued Media Blackout of Drug War Fraud

SYNOPSIS: While the fire and brimstone of the government's drug war rhetoric continues to saturate the mainstream press, high-ranking drug war insiders continue to come forward in attempts to expose the "war" for what it really is: a battle for the hearts, minds, and tax dollars of the American public .

The latest insider to "go public" is Michael Levine, who retired from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) after 25 years as a leading undercover agent for various law enforcement agencies. Over the course of his career Levine personally accounted for at least 3,000 people serving a total of l5.000 years in jail, as well as several tons of various illegal substances seized Upon his retirement, Levine published a critical expose of the DEA in which he documents his journey from true believer to drug war heretic.

Levine documents numerous instances of CIA involvement in the drug trade, State Department intervention, and DEA cooperation with both parties. Levine's story closely parallels that of Richard Gregorie whose defection from the Attorney General's office was the fourth ranked Censored story of 1989.

According to Levine, "The only thing we know with certainty is that the drug war is not for real. The drug economy in the United States is as much as $200 billion a year, and it is being used to finance political operations and pay international debts-all sorts of things."


UPDATE: Michael Levine continues to try to spread the word about the dangers and impact of drugs. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times (8/9/96), Levine charges that drugs are out of control in the United States He and his wife, Laura Kavanau, wrote a novel, Triangle of Death, which one reviewer characterized as "a real story that can't be published as nonfiction because of secrecy laws and because many of the criminals involved are still protected by covert agencies like the CIA and French intelligence" (Toronto Sun, 9/1/96).



What Really Happened in Panama is a Different Story

SYNOPSIS: According to a variety of non-mainstream but authoritative sources, the U.S. invasion of Panama on December 20, 1989, received inadequate and erroneous news coverage. It now appears that the legal implications of the invasion, the Bush-Noriega relationship, and the actual post-invasion conditions in Panama were all misrepresented to the American people. However, perhaps the most fraudulent news coverage dealt with the true numbers of civilian and combat fatalities.

Official accounts spoke of 202 dead Panamanian civilians, 314 dead Panamanian soldiers, and 23 dead Americans. The press was oddly silent two months after the invasion when a Southern Command official acknowledged to the Los Angeles Times that only 50 Panamanian soldiers died. Meanwhile, American soldiers reported that at least 60 to 70 Americans were killed, possibly more. The new findings indicate the U.S. lost more soldiers than Panama.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) challenged the government figure of 202 dead civilians and former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark put the figure at 3,000, using the phrase "conspiracy of silence" to describe efforts to bury the true civilian death toll.
CBS's 60 Minutes, in a September 1990 expose, reported the existence of at least six yet-to-be-exhumed mass graves to conclude that Panamanian civilian deaths could run as high as 4,000. The findings of many watch groups, including the Central American Human Rights Commission, sup port the 60 Minutes casualty report.


UPDATE: In 1992, a powerful award-winning documentary film titled, "The Panama Deception," produced by Barbara Trent, charged: "The U.S. government continues to insist that casualty figures from the 1989 invasion were low and the 'human costs' kept to a minimum...an official lie still endlessly repeated by the U.S. media." The film reported an estimated 20,000 Panamanians were left homeless by American bombing and shelling, 7,000 were detained by military authorities for vague reasons, and as many as 4,000 remained unaccounted for, most of them murdered and buried in mass graves under U.S. military supervision (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/11/92)

The National Censorship Board of Panama banned the release of the documentary in any form in Panama. With a few local exceptions, it was also denied broadcast rights on both commercial and public television stations in the United States. "The Panama Deception" received the Academy Award for Best Feature-Length Documentary from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences on March 29, 1993 (The Humanist, May 1993). While the official number of dead American soldiers is still reported at 23, there has been no updated figure concerning the number of dead Panamanian solders and civilians.


The Pentagon's Secret Billion Dollar Black Budget

SYNOPSIS: Despite the extraordinary changes in international relationships and the end of the Cold War, the Pentagon has a secret stash called the 'Black Budget" that costs taxpayers $100 million a day.

The "Black Budget" funds every program the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense, and the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency want to keep hidden from view; in the past three years, $100 billion has disappeared into the Pentagon's secret cache.

While the money to run America's eleven intelligence agencies has always been hidden in the Pentagon's budget, something new transformed the "Black Budget" when Ronald Reagan took office. A White House obsessed with secrecy began to conceal the costs of many of its most expensive weapons, enshrouding them in the deep cover once reserved for espionage. The "Black Budget" quadrupled in size, reaching $36 billion a year.

The Pentagon keeps this money hidden by keeping two sets of books: one for the general public, one for the generals. Hundreds of "black programs" are concealed in the public budget it submits to Congress, camouflaged under false names, their costs deleted, their goals disguised. The Pentagon simply stamps a secret code on the price of a bomber, a missile or a spy satellite, and open debate ceases. The Pentagon also pads seemingly unclassified programs with billions intended for "black projects. In short, the Pentagon budget, which is nationally debated, is a false document, an elaborate cover story-a lie not exposed by the press.


UPDATE: On July 17, 1993, The New York Times reported that U.S. Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-Arizona), chair of the Senate intelligence Committee, announced the "Black Budget" would now be subject to public debate on the floor of the Senate. Contributing to the new openness approach but with no thanks to the Senate was Steven Aftergood's Secrecy & Government Bulletin (11/4/94), which revealed top-secret, highly classified data about U.S. spy activities in 1994. Believe it or not, the Pentagon simply forgot to delete the secret numbers from subcommittee hearing transcripts before they were made public. For a critical analysis and historical review of "Black Budget" projects and the billions of dollars involved, please see "Black Holes: How Secret Military and Intelligence Appropriations Suck Up Your Tax Dollars," the cover story in the May 1996 issue of The Humanist, and "Special Projects Come Out of the Black," in the May 29, 1996, issue of Jane s Defense Weekly.

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