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Miller's Security Clearance (update 4)

By October 21, 2005

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Update - 21 October:
Jay Rosen reports at PressThink that the NY Times has failed to answer repeated questions about the nature of Judith Miller's security clearance. He hypothesizes why. None of it is pretty.

16 October
One eye-opening revelation in Judith Miller's confessional is that the Pentagon "gave" her a security clearance while she was an embedded reporter in Iraq in 2003. Discussion over at Press Think and BuzzMachine suggest this is an aberration, and, as such, is "news." Equally disturbing, she didn't know if she still had clearance when she was meeting with Libby the summer of 2003.
During the Iraq war, the Pentagon had given me clearance to see secret information as part of my assignment "embedded" with a special military unit hunting for unconventional weapons.

Mr. Fitzgerald asked if I had discussed classified information with Mr. Libby. I said I believed so, but could not be sure. He asked how Mr. Libby treated classified information. I said, Very carefully.
There is an inherent contradiction in her last two statements. How could she know if Libby treated classified information "carefully," if she wasn't sure whether or not she had "discussed classified information" with him?!?

But there is more to this than her discussions with Libby. According to the Defense Security Service :
A security clearance investigation is an inquiry into an individual's loyalty, character, trustworthiness and reliability to ensure that he or she is eligible for access to national security information. The investigation focuses on an individual's character and conduct, emphasizing such factors as honesty, trustworthiness, reliability, financial responsibility, criminal activity, emotional stability, and other similar and pertinent areas. All investigations consist of checks of national records and credit checks; some investigations also include interviews with individuals who know the candidate for the clearance as well as the candidate himself/herself.

Security clearances may be requested on individuals in the following categories whose employment involves access to sensitive government assets:

- Members of the military;
- Civilian employees working for the DoD or other government agencies;
- Employees of government contractors
As a reporter for the New York Times, Miller fit none of these categories.

A 2004 article for certified IT professionals details the process of obtaining a security clearance, noting the different levels: primarily confidential, secret, top secret and sensitive compartmented information (SCI). According to this article, it is your employer who makes the request for the clearance.

Applicants must complete a 13-page document, SF-86, which designed to eliminate anyone who is not "reliable, trustworthy, of good conduct and character, and loyal to the United States." The article also asserts that this process "can take many months -- sometimes longer than a year -- and cost several thousands (even tens of thousands) of dollars. The more sensitive the job, the deeper -- and the costlier and more time-consuming -- the investigation."

Questions: How many reporters got Pentagon security clearances before being embedded (basically government employees) in the Iraq War? How long did the process take: in other words, how far in advance was the planning for this war or was the security process short-circuited? Who made the request -- the media organization or the Pentagon? What level of security clearance was granted? How long was the clearance good for?

Given the detail involved in completing an SF-86, I now find another part of Miller's tale colored with incredulity: she says she "didn't know" if she was still cleared to discuss classified information when she met with Libby.

Can anyone truly be this ditzy?

I've identified more blogs talking about security in my round-up.

Jim Romenesko posts this from Poynter Forums: There's a scandal hidden in Miller's report:
There is one enormous journalism scandal hidden in Judith Miller's Oct. 16th first person article about the (perhaps lesser) CIA leak scandal. And that is Ms. Miller's revelation that she was granted a DoD security clearance while embedded with the WMD search team in Iraq in 2003.

This is as close as one can get to government licensing of journalists and the New York Times (if it knew) should never have allowed her to become so compromised. It is all the more puzzling that a reporter who as a matter of principle would sacrifice 85 days of her freedom to protect a source would so willingly agree to be officially muzzled and thereby deny potentially valuable information to the readers whose right to be informed she claims to value so highly...

If Ms. Miller agreed to operate under a security clearance without the knowledge or approval of Times managers, she should be disciplined or even dismissed. If she had their approval, all involved should be ashamed.
Update 2:
Writing in New York Magazine in July 2004, Franklin Foer shed light not only on Miller's reporting techniques (strictly based on relationships) but also on her status as an embedded reporter in Iraq -- a position which was approved by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and which required that she agree to let DoD censor every story, which the NYT did not tell its readers: (emphasis added)
Miller had helped negotiate her own embedding agreement with the Pentagon -- an agreement so sensitive that, according to one Times editor, Rumsfeld himself signed off on it. Although she never fully acknowledged the specific terms of that arrangement in her articles, they were as stringent as any conditions imposed on any reporter in Iraq. “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored,� [Eugene] Pomeroy [public-affairs officer for MET Alpha] told me... Before she filed her copy, it would be censored by a colonel who often read the article in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. (When reporters attended tactical meetings with battlefield commanders, they faced similar restrictions.)

As Miller covered MET Alpha, it became increasingly clear that she had ceased to respect the boundaries between being an observer and a participant. And as an embedded reporter she went even further, several sources say. While traveling with MET Alpha, according to Pomeroy and one other witness, she wore a military uniform...

When the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman overlapped in the unit for a day, Miller instructed its members that they couldn’t talk with him. According to Pomeroy, "She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t." (One other witness confirms this account.)
Update 3:
From Sisyphean Musings: in the August/September 2003 issue of AJR, Charles Layton writes: (emphasis added)
In the weeks leading up to the war, Miller pulled off a journalistic coup that took her competitors by surprise. She talked her way into getting a secret clearance from the Pentagon and then being embedded with the 75th Exploitation Task Force in Iraq, whose teams were specially trained and equipped to look for germ, chemical and nuclear-related materials. In March, when Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times began seeing Miller's stories about the activities of this special unit, he realized that "she was in a great position to get the initial confirmation in the field" when Saddam's weapons of mass destruction were found, as everyone assumed they would be
See The Blogosphere on Miller, Editor & Publisher: Fire Miller, Miller and Plame: One More, Miller Talks; Confessional Contradicts Prior Reports of Libby's Role, Plame Timeline.

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October 17, 2005 at 11:23 pm
(1) Pat - CA says:

I just finished your timeline of the Plame story and I was amazed and horrified to read that Karl Rove worked for Donald Segretti during the Nixon years. That could explain a LOT.

I’ve always felt that G.W. Bush is Nixon revisited.

But I really doubt that Segretti was considered Nixon’s “chief” political strategist. In fact, if you go back and look at Woodward and Bernstein’s book where Segretti is mentioned, you may see that he was one of the ‘dirty tricks’ guys. Re-read All the President’s Men — that’s my only source on this.

Having said that, I see the irony in the fact that maybe the ‘dirty tricks’ were the chief strategy?

Maybe you could do more on this topic….Segretti-Rove-dirty tricks.

Was Rove actually fired from Bush Sr.’s campaign for leaking to Novak?

Does lightening ever strike twice in the same spot? (Yes.)

I noted also that you are using Plame-gate to encompass the entire story. I find that regrettable because as far as I can tell she’s the only one involved who is totally NOT involved except for the leak of her name to discredit her husband.

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