Jacob Siegal, writing for The Daily Beast, misses an opportunity to shine light on the 2012 declassified Defense Intelligence Agency document foretelling the rise of “an Islamic State”, instead, opting to mock those reporting and attempting to interpret its contents.
In his June 6 article, The ISIS Conspiracy that ate the Web, Siegal devotes the majority of his words not to careful analysis of the document, but instead to consigning all those, like Seamus Milne of The Guardian, who dare take the document as a serious and newsworthy revelation worthy of public scrutiny, with the label of partisan conspiracy theorist (the Daily Beast article itself is categorized under the heading “Conspiracy Theory”):
If you’re looking for a single, simple explanation for the rise of the Islamic State that flatters your pre-existing politics, you’ve hit pay dirt.
He begins by holding up the admittedly nutty Pamela Geller as somehow representative of the DIA document’s early reporting, though she had nothing to do with either reporting or analyzing the document, instead merely copying the entirety of my own original article to her website many days after its release and adding her own brief commentary (while never seeking my permission), such as the simplistic: “Look at what Obama and his party of treason have unleashed on the world.”
The Pamela Gellers of the world will always have ultra-partisan, self-serving interpretations of what is fundamentally real, newsworthy information, but presenting her and others like her as actually representing the reporting that “ate the Web” is a sloppy attempt to obfuscate the valid conclusions being drawn and circulated as a result of this truly significant document. Siegal would like us to conclude, like Juan Cole, that there is really “nothing to see here folks, move it along, etc…” by first presenting and debunking “low hanging fruit” that is irrelevant to how the story originally spread.
I appreciate that at the very least my own reporting is held up as serious and credible with the lines in the end paragraphs, “The DIA could do itself and the public a favor by addressing the 3 year-old declassified report instead of responding to inquiries with variations on no comment as it did when approached by journalist Brad Hoff.”
I wholeheartedly agree, but it strikes me as odd and inconsistent that Siegal should first write off Seumas Milne’s excellent piece in The Guardian (which now has over 85,000 Facebook shares alone), taking issue even with the title, Now the truth emerges: how the US fuelled the rise of Isis in Syria and Iraq.
The title of my own May 19 article, West will facilitate rise of Islamic State “in order to isolate the Syrian regime” —which was the first to report and examine the DIA document’s contents in terms of “the West backed ISIS” angle, would no doubt also attract the ire of Mr. Siegal should he have bothered to find out the origin of the viral “conspiracy” that ate the web. And yet, he holds me up as a credible journalist cited just after the following: “The report raises some important questions but it’s a mistake to think it answers them.”
What bothers me is that, as a paid editor and journalist at the The Daily Beast, Jacob Siegal refuses to make use of the significant resources at his disposal to seek answers to the many questions he says the document raises, opting instead to attach a stigma to any reporting or analysis that might actually see the document as evidence of U.S. government wrongdoing or negligence (especially as he informs us he formerly worked as an army intelligence officer, which makes it likely that he’d have helpful contacts that might be useful in actually investigating the document).
But I suppose it’s much easier to do a hit piece on straw man conspiracy theories, as opposed to a careful reading and response to the actual original reporting through which the DIA document went viral.
My own reporting began going viral within days after being published. Investigative journalist and best-selling author Nafeez Ahmed, whose counter-terrorism work gained official recognition by the 9/11 Commission, followed on May 22 with an in-depth investigative piece on the DIA report at INSURGE intelligence, which greatly expanded on my report, putting it into full geopolitical context.
Most significantly, Ahmed was able to get official statement from the British Foreign Office, and his coverage of the DIA document later headlined across leading German daily papers and political magazines. It was this story, copied to Zero Hedge, that Juan Cole dismissed as “just a clickbait story”.
But neither my reporting, nor Nafeez Ahmed’s ever claimed that the DIA document exists as stand-alone “smoking gun” proof of the claims that the West knowingly fueled the rise of Islamic State. As I said soon after writing my report on the Scott Horton show, the DIA document merely “completes the picture”—a picture that many, including Ahmed, have been piecing together for years.
But that the West and the U.S. did fuel the rise of ISIS through political support, weapons, logistical coordination, and supplies given to militants in Syria is hardly the theory of a few independent journalists when you have the likes of former Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford going around confessing that he himself knowingly backed rebels fighting alongside ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Syria (Nusra) in 2013. Remember that Ford was the State Department’s top man in Syria and thus had a key role in the rebel “vetting” process. (As for other former government officials, current politicians, and even FSA commanders that have also said that the West gave political and material support to the then nascent Islamic State…well the list is too long for this column.)
While government officials like to claim that “we didn’t know” or that “we had good intentions,” this DIA document is just additional proof that at the very least, at some official level, they did know. The dynamics of the conflict and potential consequences of the West’s course of action were spelled out in quite precise (and prescient) terms, and put into writing in the form of an information report and circulated widely (the early reporting never claimed the document was itself produced as an active or official policy document).
Considering the fact that the world has been told incessantly that ISIS and their associate jihadi allies represent the single greatest and most brutal terror threat mankind has ever seen (and add to that the CIA and White House claim that they just didn’t see ISIS coming!), you would think that for The Daily Beast this might constitute a major newsworthy scandal worth digging into. But again, Siegal instead chooses to make the story ultimately about the power of “conspiracy theories” that take over the web.
Ironically, he cites the discredited former NSA officer John Schindler to say that the DIA document is largely irrelevant and unimportant based on its redactions as well as our inability to know the level of importance assigned to it within the intelligence community (as its classification is not high level).
While Siegal acknowledges that this “sort of report of regional scope and strategic implications was outside my purview” his guiding assumption is that it couldn’t have been very important: “by itself, it’s only evidence of one analysis among thousands churned out yearly by the various intelligence agencies.”
But Siegal could have and should have consulted former high ranking MI6 spy and Middle East expert Alastair Crooke, who does have the experience and background to know. Crooke’s analysis appeared in his regular Huffington Post column a full five days prior Siegal’s Daily Beast article. As to the DIA document’s level of importance within the intelligence community, Crooke confidently asserts following his main thesis:
Intelligence assessments purpose is to provide “a view” — not to describe or prescribe policy. But it is clear that the DIA reports’ “warnings” were widely circulated and would have been meshed into the policy consideration.
The main indicator affirming that this DIA report was not merely “one analysis among thousands” (and by implication barely visible), is described in a Salon.com article which appeared nine days prior to Siegal’s cries of conspiracy theory:
Few of the reports on these documents have discussed on what terms Judicial Watch received them. The organization received the documents by requesting – among other things — “[a]ny and all records produced by any official of the [Departments of Defense and State] in preparation for, use during, and/or pursuant to any” briefing of Congressional leaders and Intelligence Committee leaders, “on matters related to the activities of any agency or department of the U.S. government at the Special Mission Compound and/or classified annex in Benghazi, Libya.” These reports were important, then, to DOD’s own understanding of events surrounding the Benghazi attack.
As to the content of the DIA document itself, Siegal’s main point (after citing Cole) is that the DIA is actually pointing the finger exclusively at America’s allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, and that “the West” (and U.S.) is somehow wholly separate from its own coalition. Joe Biden’s revealing comments at Harvard University are referenced, but his prior statements regarding support for the Syrian opposition are ignored: “We are working hand and glove with the Turks, with the Jordanians, with the Saudis, and with all the people in the region attempting to identify the people who deserve the help…” (and this is consistent with statements of other U.S. officials).
The idea that U.S. intelligence and military officials were far removed from the situation as allies armed the likes of Nusra, ISIS, and Ahrar Al-Sham, even while those officials all occupied the same “operations command center” (in Jordan and in Turkey), is absurd on its face. American government officials themselves told the New York Times of a joint Saudi/CIA program to arm the rebels beginning in 2012.
The truth is often much more banal than a good conspiracy theory: it often requires knowledge of the alignment of those interests, institutions, historical forces, and guiding ideologies that give birth to a particular horrid consequence. It is the media’s job to investigate and map out those alignments. Such is the case with the swift rise of the monster that is Islamic State. While it would give me great personal comfort to be able to dismiss inconvenient truths as mere conspiracy theory, I would prefer a national media that tells me the hard truth, and never ceases digging until unearthing that truth.
As he admits that the DIA document raises valid questions, my hope is that Jacob Siegal is even now digging, asking tough questions of DIA and other officials, seeking behind the scenes comment, submitting further FOIA requests, etc… This is my sincere hope, but I suppose I shouldn’t hold my breath.