Someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to produce a document accusing journalist and activist William Arkin of serving as a spy for Saddam Hussein.
The Pentagon says the supposed Defense Intelligence Agency cable is a forgery. Arkin says it's "chilling" and is demanding an investigation. The NBC News military analyst says he became aware of the bogus document when a Washington Times reporter called about the spying allegation and sent him a copy.
"Someone who put this together obviously tried to make it plausible enough to do harm and endanger me," William Arkin says of the bogus document.
(Sarah L. Voisin -- The Washington Post)
"There are a lot of reasons, I guess, why people would want to do me harm," Arkin said yesterday. One, he said, is the recent publication of his book "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World." Another, he noted, is a series of past scoops that embarrassed the Bush administration.
Bill Gertz, the Times national security reporter who called Arkin, did not respond to two messages. Managing Editor Francis Coombs said: "We don't talk about stories we haven't put in the paper. But at this point, we do not have a story scheduled to run."
The document, filled with military jargon and described as "classified," says that "preliminary reporting . . . indicates possible US citizen William Arkin received monthly stipend for period 1994-1998 to report on quote United Nations Special Commission activities unquote. Entry in SSO [special security organization] ledger captured in Baghdad, no additional information."
Arkin said he did look into the U.N. operation known as UNSCOM, but as a consultant to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. "Someone who put this together obviously tried to make it plausible enough to do harm and endanger me," he said. Arkin found, and U.S. officials later confirmed, that the Clinton administration had eavesdropped on Iraqi communications through equipment carried by UNSCOM weapons inspectors.
The purported cable also says that "CIA exploitation of Source 8230 from Office of President SH confirms Arkin traveled to Baghdad February 1998 and November 1998 to provide information about UNSCOM plans and to discuss Desert Fox targeting," a reference to the 1998 U.S. bombing of Iraq. Arkin said he did not visit Iraq in 1998.
At the Defense Department, spokesman Bryan Whitman said: "The Pentagon has looked into this and does not believe the document to be authentic." Larry DiRita, the department's chief spokesman, added that "we certainly appreciated the fact that the journalist who had it in his possession took the time to seek a better understanding of it before filing a story on it."
Arkin cited several technical reasons why the cable is fake, mainly having to do with military addresses and abbreviations, and a reference to "proctor canular procedures." Canular, he discovered through a Google translation service, means hoax in French.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Arkin said: "I am extremely concerned that someone familiar with Defense Department classified reporting has forged this document and given it to the press in the hope that it would be reported as genuine. Such an action raises deeply troubling questions about the integrity of the department's processes and raises the possibility of an organized effort to intimidate me as a journalist."
DiRita said an investigation is "not likely. It is probably not possible to determine the source of such a matter, and I am unaware of any involvement in it by someone inside the department that would warrant a further look."
Arkin, a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Washingtonpost.com, has long been a controversial figure. A onetime Army intelligence analyst now based in Vermont, he has worked for a series of groups in Washington, including Greenpeace, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Institute for Policy Studies. He has also taught at the Air Force's School of Advanced Air Power Studies.
Before the Iraq war, Arkin broke the story of a classified Defense report outlining the obstacles to an American invasion. In his book, he discloses 3,000 military code names and many of the operations behind them, which Arkin calls a protest against excessive government secrecy that he believes contributed to the failure to stop the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Gertz and Arkin have tangled before. Gertz co-authored a Washington Times column last month saying that Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had ordered an investigation of "possible national security damage" from Arkin's book. Arkin called that report "a complete fabrication."
A spokesman for Myers, Navy Capt. Frank Thorp, said: "There is no investigation that General Myers initiated on the Joint Staff that I can find or that I even know about, prompted by him or by anybody else."