The real chain of connection

Dan Rather and CBS News have had a rough couple of weeks coping with the forged Texas Air National Guard document scandal and their subsequent clumsy cover—up.  Richard Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi have been appointed to investigate this mess, but don't expect them to connect the dots any time soon.

In fact, the left is still relying on their standard tactic of allowing that the proof underlying their assertions is 'inaccurate,' but insisting that the fundamental charges are true.  Just last Thursday morning, September 23, on Fox and Friends, Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair was urging the American people to overlook the forged documents and Bill Burkett's increasingly loony behavior.  What was most important he said, was the 'chain of connection' that enabled the young George Bush to "jump to the head of the line" to join the Texas Air National Guard.  The implication was that his peers were forced to sweat out the wait, and if time ran out, they would perhaps be drafted and sent to Vietnam.

Mr. Wolff has identified a useful concept in his phrase, chain of connection. But no real chain of connection is found in the circumstances leading young GW into a woefully under—strength Guard billet, other than the steps of sheer logic. The future President volunteered; TANG was short of qualified recruits for the very demanding fighter pilot program; and young George W. Bush met the stringent educational, physical, intellectual, psychological, and other requirements.

Chain of connection is, however, quite relevant to the CBS scandal. Who forged the documents, and what was the chain of connection conveying the fake papers to CBS? 

Further complicating matters for CBS and Dan Rather, the legacy media has unwittingly opened up another angle on probable malfeasance, when they proudly announced that Rather producer Mary Mapes had been the recipient of sensitive Abu Ghraib investigative documents and photos.  Just as we are unsure of the actual source of the Guard memo forgeries, the same can be said for the source of the Abu Ghraib materials. 

However, a partial chain of connection is revealed upon further examination of contemporary media accounts and the Taguba Report (the high level official inquiry) itself .

The publication of sensitive documents relating to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had all  the marks of a well thought—out information warfare campaign. The legacy media's focus was almost entirely on Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, rather than on the perpetrators themselves or their immediate commanders. Apparently, the instigators of the campaign and their liberal media cohorts thought that the American people would buy off on this disinformation, and would immediately call for Rumsfeld's resignation, thereby damaging the credibility of the Bush Administration.  As it turned out, the vast majority of Americans wanted Rummy to remain as SecDef, and the only people calling for his resignation were a few Democrat congressmen and left—leaning media pundits.

By her own apparent admission to the press, Mary Mapes was the recipient of these materials, but how did she get them?  Ironically, a member of the new media suggests what some of the answers might be, and does this while promoting the imagined investigative prowess of one if its columnists.  Barely a week prior to my original piece on the Abu Ghraib scandal, WorldNetDaily (WND) published an article  about how retired Colonel David Hackworth, helped 'expose the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.'  This sounds similar to Mary Mapes mysteriously 'uncovering' photos and documents of the abuse.  The WND piece reveals that Hackworth was apparently coordinating the transfer of  these sensitive documents, in much the same way that many suspect Bill Burkett may have been the middleman for, if not the creator of, the phony Air National Guard memos.

One passage in the WND piece that requires explanation is how Hackworth came to be involved:

The story began to unravel earlier this year with the actions of Ivan Frederick, father of an Army reservist turned prison guard in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick, who became the target of an investigation for mistreating prisoners.

Staff Sgt. Frederick's concerns during the first part of 2004 make perfect sense, since the Army's CID investigation had already been conducted from October to December of 2003.  The CID investigators had also secured 'numerous' graphic photos and videos concerning the prisoner abuse, likely with the sergeant's face in them.  Translation: Frederick was in deep trouble, and called his Dad for help.

Frederick's father, we are told, called his brother—in—law, William Lawson, who is a retired Master Sergeant, for help; Lawson then immediately emailed Hackworth in March of 2004.  Time was running short for Frederick, because on March 20 charges were officially preferred  (warning: graphic language) under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  [At about the same time, Maj. Gen. Taguba was turning over the classified report of his detailed follow—on investigation to Lt. Gen. McKiernan, the Commander of Coalition ground forces in the Central Region.]  One of Hackworth's associates immediately called Lawson, we are told,  and put him in touch with someone in the CBS News 60 Minutes II program.  According to Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal, this was Rather producer Mary Mapes.

The WND article further states that photos of the abuse 'were beginning to circulate among soldiers and military investigators.'  This factoid seems to be designed to lessen the importance of the evidence in the proceedings which would eventually result in the convictions of several soldiers who committed the abuse.  Naturally, the photos would circulate among the investigators, since the pictures provided the identities of the suspects.  That the digitized photos would have circulated among the solders is a given; they took them after all.  But the important question is did they turn them over to the CID when the investigation was launched, or was key evidence withheld? 

The important consequence is that the chain of custody of the photographic evidence had been compromised, since these materials ended up in the hands of a CBS producer.

Chain of custody is a critical legal and investigative accountability procedure, which stipulates the judicious handling of evidence in a criminal case.  Since the materials will be used in court to try the soldiers in question, a 'custodian' must therefore always have physical possession or positive control of a piece of evidence.  In the military, an MP or duly authorized investigator, or a supervisory non—commissioned officer or officer will assume control of the evidence, document its collection and formally transfer it other law enforcement or military legal personnel.

However, adhering to chain of custody regulations when it comes to digitial media requires a high degree of computer forensic expertise.  Admittedly, this sort of technical and legal discipline cannot be realistically expected in a theater of war, unless an MP unit or the Staff Judge Advocate happens to have the correct people with this skill set available to handle the case.  It is possible, therefore, that the ultimate source of the evidence was the defendants themselves. But none of them were charged with obstruction of justice on the published charge sheets.  This may be a result of the conservative nature of military prosecutors, who generally go for the 'slam dunk' charges, rather than risk having a charge tossed—out based upon insufficient evidence.  However, we do know that at least one of the defendants was charged with making a false statement with intent to deceive, but this was unrelated to withholding of evidence.

The Taguba report is clear on the chain of custody of the evidence that the CID had obtained.  Ultimately, it was secured by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command and by the Coalition Joint Task Force (CJTF) 7 Staff Judge Advocate prosecution team.  Unauthorized persons, including nosy journalists or relatives of the accused, should not have had access to this material.  So instead of publicizing that one of their columnists was instrumental in 'helping' one of the possible perpetrators of the abuse, WND should have been more forthcoming and explain how its military expert coordinated the transmission to CBS News of evidence concerning a criminal investigation, according to their own article.

Further, in an apparent attempt to prove that he was only concerned for the welfare of the troops, and didn't want to let the upper levels of command off the hook, Hackworth wrote a piece slamming the commander of the 800th MP Brigade, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, and criticizing the higher ups for giving her a 'mild slap on the wrist.'  While his evaluation of BG Karpinski's poor command abilities was correct, by exposing the scandal to CBS he may not have helped the lower ranking soldiers at all. In fact, just the opposite.

Initial contact between the links in the chain leading to CBS had been made in late March, and once CBS had analyzed the photos and other documents, Dan Rather was ready blow the story open in mid—April. This was also the time that the battle for Fallujah was raging between US Marines and the terrorists of Abu Musab al—Zarqawi and Baathist die—hards.  In addition, the first battle for Najaf was ongoing. 

By broadcasting these photos, CBS gave an already suspicious Iraqi population in these two towns further cause to oppose the Coalition Authority, supplying visceral visual material to the world media, an extra—important factor in a populace with illiteracy among some segments, and a medieval honor system among men.

While acknowledging the seriousness of the abuse charges, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pleaded with CBS to delay the broadcast:

Myers said he called CBS news anchor Dan Rather, asking that the network hold the story that was due to run on its program "60 Minutes." Myers said he did so after talking with Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command. "I did so out of concern for the lives of our troops," the chairman said. "The story about the abuse was already public, but we were concerned that broadcasting the actual pictures would further inflame the tense situation that existed then in Iraq and further endanger the lives of coalition soldiers and hostages." [emphasis added] CBS did hold off, but then aired the pictures on the "60 Minutes II" program April 29.

Despite the spin from CBS News and the hype from WND last spring, it appears, based on open sources, that a family member of one of the accused, Col. Hackworth, and CBS News worked together to disclose sensitive documents, which were then used to target Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld for extensive legacy media attention, and possibly in the process to get one of the perpetrators off the hook.  Somebody from CBS had to accept these documents, and that somebody seems to have been fingered by the legacy media as Mary Mapes. And, while claiming for years that he is solidly behind the Soldier in the field, Hackworth may have inadvertently given additional motivation to our adversaries while battles were being fought in key cities in Iraq.

For its part, WorldNetDaily appeared to either forget that one of its writers was seemingly a link in this chain of connection, or it chose to avoid the subject. On September 21, the very day that Dan Rather made his on—air non—apology, Editor Joseph Farah's column rightfully criticized Dan Rather and CBS News, while reminding us that this is not the first time that Rather has made up 'news' stories out of whole cloth.  Farah relates how in 1988, Dan Rather had used fraudulent documents to contend that there was widespread atrocities committed by American troops in Vietnam.  In view of these two scandals, Farah says,

They [the scandals] begin to make the case that Rather not only practices bad journalism, but he does it with a purpose, with an agenda, with a mission, at key moments that can impact American politics.

I agree wholeheartedly with that statement, but perhaps it is time for Mr. Farah to re—examine the entire sequence of events in the Abu Ghraib fiasco, and WND's relationship with the agenda—driven old media.

The chain of connection in the Abu Ghraib document disclosures involves a set of people passing along information, which, immediately upon release, was seized—upon by the usual suspects in order to place the blame on Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush .  And, as with the circumstances surrounding Bill Burkett and the forged National Guard memos, the only remaining piece of the puzzle remains the ultimate source of the leak.  A few possibilities come to mind: persons in the CID and/or the CJTF—7 prosecution team may be the source; or the suspects themselves may have withheld evidence from the investigators and given these to unauthorized parties; or, persons in the intelligence services, who were under increasing scrutiny for their actions at Abu Ghraib, may have transferred the materials or aided in the effort.

Unfortunately, the selfish and morally questionable actions of the media and their 'sources' have succeeded in unduly influencing a criminal investigation of US Soldiers, allowing them to be tried in the court of public opinion before they would ever set foot in a military courtroom.  And, they may have provided an additional incentive to the enemy to intensify their barbarous acts of cruelty against our Soldiers and civilians in a theater of war.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent

Dan Rather and CBS News have had a rough couple of weeks coping with the forged Texas Air National Guard document scandal and their subsequent clumsy cover—up.  Richard Thornburgh and Louis Boccardi have been appointed to investigate this mess, but don't expect them to connect the dots any time soon.

In fact, the left is still relying on their standard tactic of allowing that the proof underlying their assertions is 'inaccurate,' but insisting that the fundamental charges are true.  Just last Thursday morning, September 23, on Fox and Friends, Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair was urging the American people to overlook the forged documents and Bill Burkett's increasingly loony behavior.  What was most important he said, was the 'chain of connection' that enabled the young George Bush to "jump to the head of the line" to join the Texas Air National Guard.  The implication was that his peers were forced to sweat out the wait, and if time ran out, they would perhaps be drafted and sent to Vietnam.

Mr. Wolff has identified a useful concept in his phrase, chain of connection. But no real chain of connection is found in the circumstances leading young GW into a woefully under—strength Guard billet, other than the steps of sheer logic. The future President volunteered; TANG was short of qualified recruits for the very demanding fighter pilot program; and young George W. Bush met the stringent educational, physical, intellectual, psychological, and other requirements.

Chain of connection is, however, quite relevant to the CBS scandal. Who forged the documents, and what was the chain of connection conveying the fake papers to CBS? 

Further complicating matters for CBS and Dan Rather, the legacy media has unwittingly opened up another angle on probable malfeasance, when they proudly announced that Rather producer Mary Mapes had been the recipient of sensitive Abu Ghraib investigative documents and photos.  Just as we are unsure of the actual source of the Guard memo forgeries, the same can be said for the source of the Abu Ghraib materials. 

However, a partial chain of connection is revealed upon further examination of contemporary media accounts and the Taguba Report (the high level official inquiry) itself .

The publication of sensitive documents relating to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib had all  the marks of a well thought—out information warfare campaign. The legacy media's focus was almost entirely on Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, rather than on the perpetrators themselves or their immediate commanders. Apparently, the instigators of the campaign and their liberal media cohorts thought that the American people would buy off on this disinformation, and would immediately call for Rumsfeld's resignation, thereby damaging the credibility of the Bush Administration.  As it turned out, the vast majority of Americans wanted Rummy to remain as SecDef, and the only people calling for his resignation were a few Democrat congressmen and left—leaning media pundits.

By her own apparent admission to the press, Mary Mapes was the recipient of these materials, but how did she get them?  Ironically, a member of the new media suggests what some of the answers might be, and does this while promoting the imagined investigative prowess of one if its columnists.  Barely a week prior to my original piece on the Abu Ghraib scandal, WorldNetDaily (WND) published an article  about how retired Colonel David Hackworth, helped 'expose the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal.'  This sounds similar to Mary Mapes mysteriously 'uncovering' photos and documents of the abuse.  The WND piece reveals that Hackworth was apparently coordinating the transfer of  these sensitive documents, in much the same way that many suspect Bill Burkett may have been the middleman for, if not the creator of, the phony Air National Guard memos.

One passage in the WND piece that requires explanation is how Hackworth came to be involved:

The story began to unravel earlier this year with the actions of Ivan Frederick, father of an Army reservist turned prison guard in Iraq, Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick, who became the target of an investigation for mistreating prisoners.

Staff Sgt. Frederick's concerns during the first part of 2004 make perfect sense, since the Army's CID investigation had already been conducted from October to December of 2003.  The CID investigators had also secured 'numerous' graphic photos and videos concerning the prisoner abuse, likely with the sergeant's face in them.  Translation: Frederick was in deep trouble, and called his Dad for help.

Frederick's father, we are told, called his brother—in—law, William Lawson, who is a retired Master Sergeant, for help; Lawson then immediately emailed Hackworth in March of 2004.  Time was running short for Frederick, because on March 20 charges were officially preferred  (warning: graphic language) under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  [At about the same time, Maj. Gen. Taguba was turning over the classified report of his detailed follow—on investigation to Lt. Gen. McKiernan, the Commander of Coalition ground forces in the Central Region.]  One of Hackworth's associates immediately called Lawson, we are told,  and put him in touch with someone in the CBS News 60 Minutes II program.  According to Joe Flint of the Wall Street Journal, this was Rather producer Mary Mapes.

The WND article further states that photos of the abuse 'were beginning to circulate among soldiers and military investigators.'  This factoid seems to be designed to lessen the importance of the evidence in the proceedings which would eventually result in the convictions of several soldiers who committed the abuse.  Naturally, the photos would circulate among the investigators, since the pictures provided the identities of the suspects.  That the digitized photos would have circulated among the solders is a given; they took them after all.  But the important question is did they turn them over to the CID when the investigation was launched, or was key evidence withheld? 

The important consequence is that the chain of custody of the photographic evidence had been compromised, since these materials ended up in the hands of a CBS producer.

Chain of custody is a critical legal and investigative accountability procedure, which stipulates the judicious handling of evidence in a criminal case.  Since the materials will be used in court to try the soldiers in question, a 'custodian' must therefore always have physical possession or positive control of a piece of evidence.  In the military, an MP or duly authorized investigator, or a supervisory non—commissioned officer or officer will assume control of the evidence, document its collection and formally transfer it other law enforcement or military legal personnel.

However, adhering to chain of custody regulations when it comes to digitial media requires a high degree of computer forensic expertise.  Admittedly, this sort of technical and legal discipline cannot be realistically expected in a theater of war, unless an MP unit or the Staff Judge Advocate happens to have the correct people with this skill set available to handle the case.  It is possible, therefore, that the ultimate source of the evidence was the defendants themselves. But none of them were charged with obstruction of justice on the published charge sheets.  This may be a result of the conservative nature of military prosecutors, who generally go for the 'slam dunk' charges, rather than risk having a charge tossed—out based upon insufficient evidence.  However, we do know that at least one of the defendants was charged with making a false statement with intent to deceive, but this was unrelated to withholding of evidence.

The Taguba report is clear on the chain of custody of the evidence that the CID had obtained.  Ultimately, it was secured by the Army's Criminal Investigation Command and by the Coalition Joint Task Force (CJTF) 7 Staff Judge Advocate prosecution team.  Unauthorized persons, including nosy journalists or relatives of the accused, should not have had access to this material.  So instead of publicizing that one of their columnists was instrumental in 'helping' one of the possible perpetrators of the abuse, WND should have been more forthcoming and explain how its military expert coordinated the transmission to CBS News of evidence concerning a criminal investigation, according to their own article.

Further, in an apparent attempt to prove that he was only concerned for the welfare of the troops, and didn't want to let the upper levels of command off the hook, Hackworth wrote a piece slamming the commander of the 800th MP Brigade, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, and criticizing the higher ups for giving her a 'mild slap on the wrist.'  While his evaluation of BG Karpinski's poor command abilities was correct, by exposing the scandal to CBS he may not have helped the lower ranking soldiers at all. In fact, just the opposite.

Initial contact between the links in the chain leading to CBS had been made in late March, and once CBS had analyzed the photos and other documents, Dan Rather was ready blow the story open in mid—April. This was also the time that the battle for Fallujah was raging between US Marines and the terrorists of Abu Musab al—Zarqawi and Baathist die—hards.  In addition, the first battle for Najaf was ongoing. 

By broadcasting these photos, CBS gave an already suspicious Iraqi population in these two towns further cause to oppose the Coalition Authority, supplying visceral visual material to the world media, an extra—important factor in a populace with illiteracy among some segments, and a medieval honor system among men.

While acknowledging the seriousness of the abuse charges, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff pleaded with CBS to delay the broadcast:

Myers said he called CBS news anchor Dan Rather, asking that the network hold the story that was due to run on its program "60 Minutes." Myers said he did so after talking with Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command. "I did so out of concern for the lives of our troops," the chairman said. "The story about the abuse was already public, but we were concerned that broadcasting the actual pictures would further inflame the tense situation that existed then in Iraq and further endanger the lives of coalition soldiers and hostages." [emphasis added] CBS did hold off, but then aired the pictures on the "60 Minutes II" program April 29.

Despite the spin from CBS News and the hype from WND last spring, it appears, based on open sources, that a family member of one of the accused, Col. Hackworth, and CBS News worked together to disclose sensitive documents, which were then used to target Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld for extensive legacy media attention, and possibly in the process to get one of the perpetrators off the hook.  Somebody from CBS had to accept these documents, and that somebody seems to have been fingered by the legacy media as Mary Mapes. And, while claiming for years that he is solidly behind the Soldier in the field, Hackworth may have inadvertently given additional motivation to our adversaries while battles were being fought in key cities in Iraq.

For its part, WorldNetDaily appeared to either forget that one of its writers was seemingly a link in this chain of connection, or it chose to avoid the subject. On September 21, the very day that Dan Rather made his on—air non—apology, Editor Joseph Farah's column rightfully criticized Dan Rather and CBS News, while reminding us that this is not the first time that Rather has made up 'news' stories out of whole cloth.  Farah relates how in 1988, Dan Rather had used fraudulent documents to contend that there was widespread atrocities committed by American troops in Vietnam.  In view of these two scandals, Farah says,

They [the scandals] begin to make the case that Rather not only practices bad journalism, but he does it with a purpose, with an agenda, with a mission, at key moments that can impact American politics.

I agree wholeheartedly with that statement, but perhaps it is time for Mr. Farah to re—examine the entire sequence of events in the Abu Ghraib fiasco, and WND's relationship with the agenda—driven old media.

The chain of connection in the Abu Ghraib document disclosures involves a set of people passing along information, which, immediately upon release, was seized—upon by the usual suspects in order to place the blame on Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush .  And, as with the circumstances surrounding Bill Burkett and the forged National Guard memos, the only remaining piece of the puzzle remains the ultimate source of the leak.  A few possibilities come to mind: persons in the CID and/or the CJTF—7 prosecution team may be the source; or the suspects themselves may have withheld evidence from the investigators and given these to unauthorized parties; or, persons in the intelligence services, who were under increasing scrutiny for their actions at Abu Ghraib, may have transferred the materials or aided in the effort.

Unfortunately, the selfish and morally questionable actions of the media and their 'sources' have succeeded in unduly influencing a criminal investigation of US Soldiers, allowing them to be tried in the court of public opinion before they would ever set foot in a military courtroom.  And, they may have provided an additional incentive to the enemy to intensify their barbarous acts of cruelty against our Soldiers and civilians in a theater of war.

Douglas Hanson is our military affairs correspondent