In recent days, leading national newspapers have published a number of spirited defenses of Morton Halperin, President Clinton’s controversial nominee to be the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Democracy and Peacekeeping. By and large, these have taken the form of editorials, columns and op.ed. articles sharing a common theme: Halperin has been unfairly portrayed — "smeared" is the preferred term — by his critics as unfit for this senior Pentagon position through distortions of his past writings and recommendations.
Then, on Saturday, 6 November, the New York Times took the extraordinary step of moving this partisan contention off the editorial pages (where the Times has given it prominent treatment both in an unsigned editorial and in a recent column by Anthony Lewis) and treating it as fact by reporting it as a news item. Not surprisingly, the New York Times reporter who perpetrated this remarkable feat of journalistic legerdemain was none other than Tim Weiner — the same reporter whose ill-concealed political agenda resulted this summer in a sensational, but ultimately discredited, series of articles alleging misconduct in the SDI test program.(1)
Now, in a 1,738-word report on the difficulties the Halperin nomination has encountered, Weiner gives transparently sympathetic treatment to the nominee and his defenders. Particularly noteworthy in this regard are statements attributed to Arnold Kanter, a former Under Secretary of State in the Bush Administration, whose Republican associations have made him an especially valuable point man for Halperin’s partisans:
"[Halperin’s] published works show him to be politically moderate, said Arnold Kanter….’His writing on national security, peacekeeping and multilateralism is conventional, mainstream, right down the middle,’ said Mr. Kanter, ‘and that comes from someone who served four years under President Bush.’"
Not content with leaving this highly debatable assertion unchallenged, Weiner abandons any vestige of objectivity by asserting that:
"While Mr. Halperin’s opponents have excerpted his published writing and public testimony to suggest that he is a dangerous leftist, a close study shows that those accusations are either demonstrably false or based on statements wrenched from their contexts." (Emphasis added.)
What ‘Close Study’?
In the process of trying to substantiate this sweeping claim, Weiner goes on to demonstrate anew his own propensity to publish demonstrably false statements and/or to wrench accurate statements from their context. Consider the three examples he cites — examples that ostensibly reflect his "close study" and that he seems to believe substantiate claims of those like Arnold Kanter that Halperin is really "politically moderate":
- Weiner incorrectly attributes to a "1973 textbook" a quote which he goes on to say wrongly depicts Halperin "as a pro-Soviet apologist." He asserts that "the context of the sentence as written was the late 1940s, in the immediate aftermath of World War II, not the entire Cold War, as strongly implied in letters and memorandums circulated in the Senate."
- Weiner assails a "memorandum by the staff of Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) [which] under a caricature of Mr. Halperin sporting a beard and pony tail (he has neither), called him a ‘security risk,’ saying he [Halperin] believed that ‘CIA operatives should be publicly identified."
- Weiner contends that an unidentified passage written by Halperin in 1976 — to the effect that "The CIA should be broken up into two separate organizations: one an intelligence-evaluation organization and the other a small unit engaging in covert operations" — disproves the claim made in a memorandum circulated by Sen. Lott’s office that "Halperin is opposed to all covert intelligence collection."
In the first instance, the quote comes from a book by Halperin entitled Defense Strategies for the Seventies published in 1971 and reprinted in 1982. Second, it is now clear from archival material emerging from the old Soviet empire that the quote was wrong even if it had applied only to the immediate post-war era. But third and most telling point is that a fuller rendering of the context for this statement (found on page 60) is as follows (the part in bold being the only section cited by Weiner):
"The Soviet Union apparently never even contemplated the overt use of military force against Western Europe….The Soviet posture toward Western Europe has been, and continues to be, a defensive and deterrent one. The positioning of Soviet ground forces in Eastern Europe and the limited logistical capability of these forces suggests an orientation primarily toward defense against a Western attack." (Emphasis added.)
It is hard to construe even a not-very-close-reading of this quote as other than one that reflects a longstanding misapprehension on Halperin’s part about the offensive and dangerous nature of the Soviet threat. What is more, this particular statement, expressed relatively early in the Cold War, is consistent with many statements subsequently issued by the nominee.(2)
Setting aside the fact that Halperin did in the past sport a beard and long hair, Weiner seriously misrepresents Halperin’s views on legislation that would have made the unmasking of U.S. intelligence operatives a felony offense. Notably, in January 1980, Halperin testified before the House Intelligence Committee and argued that the Intelligence Identities Protection Act should penalize only former government officials who learned the names of agents in their official capacity. He argued against penalizing those who had not been in the government but engaged in a pattern of activity to identify American agents.(3)
Subsequently, in June of 1980, moreover, Halperin complained in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, about the language in the Intelligence Identities Protection bill that was then being considered by the Senate. He said:
"Most of the problems that we have identified could be eliminated by returning to language…which would have provided criminal penalties only. Any bill which goes beyond that would go too far in chilling important public debate and therefore should be rejected."(4) for the release of names in a situation where the release was done deliberately for the purpose of placing the life of the individual in jeopardy and where the release-of the name did, in fact, have that result
When legislation was ultimately enacted over these objections — and despite Halperin’s efforts to adulterate its impact — he announced that the ACLU would provide legal assistance to "those whose ability to speak or write is threatened by this legislation or effort[s] to enforce it by the Justice Department."(5)
Any reading — close or otherwise — of Halperin’s writings, particularly those from the 1970s, makes clear that he believes "Secret operations are anathema to democracy"(6)(7) Indeed, in the very year Weiner points to — 1976, Halperin authored a book with several certifiable extremists (Robert Borosage, Jerry Berman and Christine Marwick) entitled the Lawless State: The Crimes of U.S. Intelligence Agencies which said, in part: and "Secrecy…does not serve national security."
"Spies and covert action are counterproductive as tools in international relations. The costs are too high; the returns too meager. Covert action and spies should be banned and the CIA’s Clandestine Services Branch disbanded." (p. 262)
The Bottom Line
The Center for Security Policy looks forward to hearings that will apparently begin next week on the Halperin nomination. Contrary to repeated assertions in the press, the Center and other knowledgeable critics of this nomination have not wanted to deny the nominee an opportunity to address his record — and what it suggests about his flawed judgment and his unsuitability for a senior and highly sensitive Pentagon post. Given the efforts of those like Tim Weiner to misrepresent the facts in these areas, a rigorous congressional review seems the only way to ensure that the truth is available to those who must act on the Halperin nomination.
The truth of the matter is that the delay to date in holding such hearings is directly attributable to the Clinton Administration’s failure to provide information requested months ago about the nominee, his FBI background investigation, his conduct since returning to the Pentagon after the 1992 election and other issues. Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee are entitled to have such information before considering this candidacy. The unwillingness of the Administration to provide any of the requested materials — until yesterday (at which point a few classified and unclassified documents were made available to the Committee) — raises serious questions about both what has been withheld and the integrity of those who attribute the delay to Halperin’s opponents.
This is particularly true in light of the nominee’s own strongly held views that any and all "information necessary to congressional exercise of its constitutional powers…to approve official appointments" must be subject to "automatic release" to the Congress.(8) It is astounding that an individual who has purported to be committed to transparency in government would have been party to an apparently systematic effort to prevent the Congress from obtaining the information it believes necessary to consider his official appointment — and then have the temerity, through proxies at least, to blame others for the attendant delay.
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1. See in this regard the Center for Security Policy’s Decision Briefs dealing with the Weiner campaign against the SDI program: All the ‘News’ That Fits the Times’ Political Agenda: Latest Assault on SDI Unfounded, Indefensible (No. 93-D 70, 18 August 1993); ‘Paper Trail’ Confirms New York Times’ Agenda, Sloppy Reporting on Recent ‘Conspiracy’ Allegations (No. 93-D 71, 26 August 1993); Center to New York Times: How About An Apology Now That the Pentagon Has Debunked False Claims About SDI Test? (No. 93-P 77, 9 September 1993).
2. For example, in an article published by Halperin entitled "American Military Intervention: Is It Ever Justified?" in the 9 June 1979 edition of The Nation, he apologized for Soviet and Cuban conduct in Africa, stating categorically that:
…Every action which the Soviet Union and Cuba have taken in Africa has been consistent with the principles of international law….The American public needs to understand that Soviet conduct in Africa violates no Soviet-American agreements nor any accepted principles of international behavior. It reflects simply a different Soviet estimate of what should happen in the African continent and a genuine conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union." (Emphasis added.)
3. "Proposals to Criminalize the Unauthorized Disclosure of the Identities of Undercover United States Intelligence Officers and Agents," Hearings before the Subcommittee on Legislation of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. House of Representatives, 30 January 1980, p. 66.