Abolish Tenure at the New York Times (Safire is lying again edition)

Here is a choice passage from William Safire’s latest:

Present and former C.I.A. types, fresh from exacting their vengeance on their hated critic, Ahmad Chalabi, are telling media outlets that Alawi has always been their asset. This boasting by our leakiest intelligence agents is harmful to the presumptive prime minister because Alawi cannot let himself appear to be any outsider’s puppet. But apparently some of our spooks feel that settling scores and falsely claiming credit takes precedence over U.S. and Iraqi interests.

Those rascally devils at the CIA! On Safire’s telling, in a fit of pique they’ve just let on – falsely – that Allawi is their man, which no one would have known had they just kept hush-hush about it.

Is this true? No. No, it is not true. It is demonstrably false. Let us proceed to the demonstration. Let us confirm that Allawi’s association with the CIA was common knowledge long before his appointment as head of the interim government. Let us turn to lexis-nexis:

The New York Sun
November 8, 2002 Friday
HEADLINE: CIA-BACKED IRAQ GROUP DISAPPOINTS
BYLINE: By ADAM DAIFALLAH Staff Reporter of the Sun

Even as President Bush vowed yesterday to bring freedom to the Iraqi people, his CIA director, George Tenet, is backing an opposition group whose tactics are being described as reminiscent of totalitarian regimes. Mr. Bush said yesterday that he had a “deep desire” for “freedom for the Iraqi people.”
. . .
Under Mr. Bush, the CIA is apparently supporting the Iraqi National Accord, an opposition group that is lashing out against those who want a planned November 22 conference in Brussels of the Iraqi opposition to include more advocates of democracy and freedom.
. . .
The CIA declined to comment about how much money the INA receives, and the INA could not be reached for comment. But press reports, sources in the Iraqi opposition, and current and former American government officials say the group has been CIA-funded for years. The group’s leader, Mr. Allawi, was staying at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Tysons Corner, Va. – near the CIA’s Langley headquarters – until October 25, 2002.

Financial Times
Sept. 22nd, 2003.
Warning on swift self-rule timetable IRAQI GOVERNING COUNCIL:

A leading member of Iraq’s Governing Council called yesterday for “gradual, progressive” steps towards full sovereignty and ruled out the rapid timetable for self-rule that has been proposed by France and Germany as part of a new United Nations resolution.

Iyad Allawi, leader of the Iraqi National Accord, a former exiled group that had been backed by the CIA, sought to correct the view that Iraq’s Governing Council had advocated a speedy US exit from the country. . . .

Financial Times
December 12, 2003 Friday
HEADLINE: Rival former exile groups clash over security in Iraq
BYLINE: By NICOLAS PELHAM

. . . The sparring between Mr Chalabi and Mr Allawi dates from the 1990s, when both men led separate attempts to overthrow Saddam Hussein. While Mr Chalabi is close to the Pentagon and advocates redrawing the Middle East political map, Mr Allawi is regarded as closer to the CIA and fears that further upsetting the status quo would inflame the region. . . .

The White House Bulletin
January 5, 2004 Monday
Iraqi Exile Group Source Of Leaks On Saddam’s WMD, Al Qaeda Links
. . . But now a different exile group known for its close relationship with the CIA and Britain’s M.I.6…is the source of recent news leaks hyping similar claims. A Washington, D.C., representative for Iyad Allawi, leader of the CIA/M.I.6- favored Iraqi National Accord, has confirmed that his group originated two fresh leaks about alleged prewar WMD deployments and evidence linking Saddam to 9/11 hijacker Muhammad Atta. . . .

Washington Post
February 1, 2004 Sunday
HEADLINE: A Big Man To Watch In Baghdad
BYLINE: David Ignatius

. . . The CIA embraced Allawi’s plot for a military coup in 1994, giving it the cryptonym DBACHILLES. The agency decided to broaden Allawi’s network into a “Military Committee” that included Iraqi officers from other networks. The idea was that CIA-backed Iraqi generals would lead their units against Baghdad and destroy Saddam.
. . .
Allawi’s experience on the Governing Council has been a frustrating last chapter to this long story of resistance. The body has been hamstrung by bickering and turf warfare. Most of all, it has suffered from the absence of a single leader, around whom Iraqis could rally. Allawi was widely viewed as the CIA’s and State Department’s man; his fellow opposition leader Chalabi was seen as the Pentagon’s favorite. The Bush administration could never choose between the two — nor could it find a charismatic Iraqi alternative. The result was a muddle, in which power flowed to traditional religious leaders such as Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.
. . .
It has been Allawi’s bad luck to be disparaged by almost everyone: by opposition leaders as an ex-Baathist; by ordinary Iraqis as a CIA man or an exile; by the Americans as a critic of Bremer’s tactics; by religious leaders as too secular. And yet, there’s a power to his arguments about how to keep the country from falling apart. . . .

Let’s be clear about this. Safire is lying. He is lying as part of a campaign to discredit the CIA. This isn’t a matter of opinion. He makes a claim which can be overturned by a 5 minute lexis-nexis search.

There is no reason why Safire’s claim should be protected by the conventions of column-writing. Those conventions are intended to foster vigorous debate and strong writing. They were not intended to protect columnists when they lie. At best – and it is unlikely – the Times will force Safire to put a grudging retraction at the foot a future column. But the people at the newspaper who read Safire’s original copy had to have known that he was lying. (The lexis-nexis search confirmed my opinion. Like anyone who follows Iraq closely I knew Safire’s claim was false as soon as I read it.) And yet they still published his nonsense.

Abolish tenure at the New York Times!

(And don’t miss Juan Cole’s criticism of another one of Safire’s claims in the same column.)

Update: And Justin Slaughter at the Columbia Political Review piles on.