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Analysis of under-reported news, updates on previous Monitor stories


[Editor's note: Before there were blogs, there were the Monitor "404 Reports," which began in 1997 as a forum to offer updates on previous Monitor stories and discuss items in today's news that deserved greater media attention. Significant additions or changes to the Albion Monitor site will also be announced here. Do not bookmark this page, as the 404 Reports address will change with each edition.]

The (fake) good news from Iraq

  + BATHOS, THY NAME IS KALOOGIAN     Election-year political seasons never lack for bathos, so rarely can we declare a Bathetic League grand champ even before the first vote is cast. While league rules require nominations to remain open all the way through November, it's hard to imagine that any other political athlete will come close to matching the performance of Howard Kaloogian.

Kaloogian is one of 14 Republicans on the April special election ballot for the former House seat of Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who's now serving 8+ years in prison for collecting $2.4 million in bribes. Kaloogian doesn't mention his baker's dozen of Repub rivials in his prolific e-mail pleas for campaign donations -- much less that he's currently a distant 4th in the race -- but he often mentions his opponent on the Democratic side, "anti-war extremist" Francine Busby. His appeals often break new and exciting ground into the meaning of the word, shrill; one moment Kaloogian whines that liberals are plotting to "steal" the election by winning it, the next moment he's throwing Nixonian fits over their audacity to campaign. "It's not just that's gotten involved in this race. Photographs obtained by the Kaloogian for Congress committee show Democrat National Committee Chairman, Howard Dean, stumping with anti-war activist, Francine Busby. You know what Howard Dean's hateful, far-Left agenda is. You know how he has undermined the mission of our troops and assailed our Commander in Chief. And now, he's made the election of Francine Busby one of his top priorities." Oh, what consensus-building skills would this fellow bring to Congress.

"We took this photo of dowtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq. Iraq (including Baghdad) is much more calm and stable than what many people believe it to be. But, each day the news media finds any violence occurring in the country and screams and shouts about it - in part because many journalists are opposed to the U.S. effort to fight terrorism."
The Kaloogian controversy isn't over his sweaty, apoplectic rhetoric, however; it's over something he wrote about somewhere he was -- because it turns out the place wasn't there at all.

When he's not kicking Democrats in the shins for running against him, Kaloogian postures as the champion of every conservative cause that defibrillates the elderly hearts of Fox News fans, particularly hyper-patriotism for the war in Iraq. On his campaign website, Kaloogian had a page showing his support that began, "I've been a supporter of our troops and the U.S. military all my life. I just returned from a 10-day trip to Iraq to talk to our soldiers and Marines about their experiences in the war against terrorism..." Included was the photo and caption shown at right.

It was scarcely 24-hours before every claim about the picture began to crumble under scrutiny from the blogosphere. He hadn't "just returned" from Iraq, but visited in July 2005 as part of a "Truth Tour" with other conservatives. He admitted he actually had nothing to do with the image or its caption -- the photographer was another member of his party (he wasn't sure who) and that the description was written by a staffer maintaining his web page. And as for the picture itself, it wasn't even taken in Baghdad -- it was a street scene from a suburb of Istanbul, a city that Kaloogian didn't even pass through. "You're being really picky on this stuff," Kaloogian told a reporter at before he clammed up. "It's not that big a deal. It was a mistake. I'm sorry." (MORE)

"We originally posted a photograph not of Baghdad, Iraq but from Istanbul, Turkey where our delegation traveled on the way home to the United States. We apologize for this mistake. We have corrected it with a photograph we took from Baghdad. We took this photo of downtown Baghdad while we were in Iraq..."
Shortly after the fraud was exposed, the photo was replaced with one that Kaloogian presumably did personally take (although the caption still uses the royal "we"); it was a panoramic view of smoggy Baghdad -- which bloggers soon determined was taken from a hotel secure in the Green Zone -- where everything was so teeny-tiny and blurry that even cars and trucks are hard to identify. But hey, give the guy credit for finally depicting the right city in the right country. A few days later that one was replaced with an even more generic snapshot of far-away apartment buildings and office buildings, blankly captioned, "A photograph taken by our delegation as we traveled through Baghdad."

If l'affair Kaloogian ended there, fair-minded folks might view the whole incident as an unfortunate SNAFU, and probably have a measure of sympathy for the guy. Misteaks happen. But what wins him the Bathos Award is what he told the San Franciso Chronicle: "the military asked us to use our discretion and put things on the Internet that were nondescriptive ... (because) if we posted something that was easily identifiable, it could be a target." In other words, Kaloogian revealed he was told that Baghdad was far from "calm and stable" -- the place was so volatile that simply posting a snapshot at a website could incite violence.

For once, the clueless candidate was probably telling the truth. Just a few days before, CBS News chief foreign correspondent Laura Logan said on CNN's Reliable Sources, "You don't think that I haven't been to the U.S. military and the State Department and the embassy and asked them over and over again, let's see the good stories, show us some of the good things that are going on? Oh, sorry, we can't take to you that school project, because if you put that on TV, they're going to be attacked about, the teachers are going to be killed, the children might be victims of attack."

But Kaloogian isn't alone in using photographs to mislead about the situation in Iraq. For the last year or more, there's been a growth of websites and chain e-mail letters pushing "good news" images the media is supposedly suppressing. (See examples here, here, here, for ex.) The Albion Monitor receives at least one of these every few days. The pictures are mostly drawn from the same small pool of images; almost always there's the picture of a woman wearing an abaya holding a sign reading, "Iraqi people happy today" and the boy hanging out of a car window with a neatly-written "Thank You Very Much Mr. Bush" poster. Also usually sent are photos of a circle of soldiers huddled in prayer and a soldier in heavy combat gear cradling a small child.

Yet never are those popular images identified or dated -- which is no surprise, because they're all years old, taken during the very first days of the 2003 invasion. The prayer circle is Army Chaplain Major Juan Crockett with members of the 3rd Infantry on the eve of the attack on Baghdad. The kid in the car window? He's 9 year-old Meer Akio Ali in Sulaymaniya, a northern Kurdish town on April 9. The soldier with the tot was photographed earliest of all, on March 29, just after U.S. troops entered Iraq. All of these images were widely published back in 2003; the soldier/child was a particular favorite, appearing on the cover of many newspapers and magazines, and later chosen as a Pulitzer Prize finalist. The "liberal media" didn't bury any of these photos; anyone who makes that complaint is either misinformed or deceitful.

None of these photos has been as badly misused as the picture of the soldier and child, however. As PRWatch recently found, the partisan Iowa Presidential Watch PAC (motto: "Holding the Democrats Accountable") lifted the image without credit, replaced the baby's head to make it appear to be gazing adoringly at the soldier, and turned it into a pro-war poster. (MORE)

Had any of these war propagandists bothered to research the picture, they might have found its context placed it more on the peacenik side of the fence. The soldier holding the child was Navy Hospital Corpsman Richard Barnett, who told the full story to the Ventura County Star a few months later. He was the medic for a company of Marines that were at the forefront of the push from Nasiriya to Baghdad. "We were literally the tip of the spear," Barnett recalled. The boy and his family were in a sedan driving towards them with an Iraqi army truck close behind. They were human shields. After a gun battle, the Iraqi soldiers fled into the desert -- but no one emerged from the bullet-riddled car.

2004 Pulitzer Prize finalist photo by Damir Sagolj/Reuters
INSERT: Doctored photo made for Iowa Presidential Watch PAC

"They looked in the vehicle and they found a family," Barnett said, tears reddening his eyes at the memory. "They were horrified by what they found. They were all hit."

The agonized cry of the Marines who found the mother, father, and two children still haunts Barnett.

"It was that horrifying a cry," Barnett said.

The first victim the Marines carried back to the medics was a little girl about 6 years old who had been struck in the head and chest. As the medics worked to stabilize the little girl, they realized that the entire family had been hit from behind, meaning the Iraqi soldiers had fired on their own human shields.

Barnett immediately tended to the next young gunshot victim, a boy of about 3 or 4.

"The little boy I was holding was covered in blood, just covered in blood," Barnett remembered. "He was stiff as a board, like a frightened animal, breathing 100 miles an hour."

It was this moment that was captured by the photographer, Barnett told the Ventura County Star. He examined the boy, but could find no wounds. "Then we realized that the blood had come from someone else." The child was drenched in his dead mother's blood. Barnett still wept as he remembered the scene months later.

An embedded reporter from his hometown paper was also on hand that day as Barnett watched a MEDIVAC helicopter take away the boy and his injured sister and dad. "If anything good comes from this nonsense, I haven't seen it yet," he said.

As this image apparently is a great favorite with Pentagon brass, wouldn't it be nice if each copy of the picture included that quote?

And finally, a footnote rich in irony: Barnett lives in Camarillo, California, part of the state's 50th district -- and where Kaloogian is seeking office. Perhaps the candidate will knock on Dr. Barnett's door in these final days before the election, and the good doctor will invite him in for coffee. Then gung-ho Howard can explain what noble cause was served that morning when he sat cross-legged in the desert, holding a baby soaked in his mother's blood.   (March 31, 2006)

The militarization of America's skies

  + ALWAYS LOOKING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION     Immortal humorist Robert Benchley penned in the early 1930s a classic titled, "Johnny-on-the-Spot" where he noted that in every news photo of cataclysmic events, there's always one clueless soul who is looking in exactly the opposite direction.
Photographs which have come up from Cuba lately, and even those of the wildest days in Russia during the Reign of Terror -- photographs taken at the risk of the lives of the photographers themselves -- all show, somewhere in their composition, an area of complete calm in which at least one man is looking at his watch or picking his teeth.

In one which I have before me from Havana we see crowds of people fleeing before machine-gun bullets, soldiers dashing hither and yon with uplifted sabres, puffs of smoke stippling the background, and down in one corner, by a news kiosk, a man in his shirtsleeves looking up at a clock.

It's easy to make Mr. Clueless a metaphor for the Bush admin, which always seems to be caught looking the other way at crucial times -- such as reading 13 year-old threat assessments about Saddam instead of a newer memo titled, "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." Other examples abound: Bush was also looking the other way during Bin Laden's escape from Tora Bora, the growth of the Iraq insurgency, the collapse of New Orleans, etc, etc, etc. It's a long list. But if the White House isn't paying attention to the important stuff, what's the wrong thing that's the subject of their mistaken focus? In Bush world, some of their misdirected gaze is upon the mythic risk of terrorist pilots.

Even as the issue of slim-to-nonexistent security of America's ports made headlines in late February, Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff told USA TODAY that the nation's aviation system remains "the #1 target" for terrorists, despite the lack of any evidence whatsoever of terror schemes involving airplanes since 2001, and the unlikely possibility that al Qaeda would try the commercial-jet-as-missile trick again. Chertoff was appealing in Feb. for another billion dollars for Transportation Security Administration (TSA) airport screeners, but he also has the goal of a permanent lockdown of the airspace over the Washington D.C. - Baltimore metro area -- and probably all other American cities as well.


The President's Protective Bubble

Notes From The Homeland Security State

Two Years Later Nuclear, Chemical Plants Still Vulnerable

A recent 404 report detailed the related topic of the abuse of presidential and vice-presidential TFRs (Temporary Flight Restrictions) since 9/11. There always have been rules on how close an aircraft can come near the president and veep, but after 2002, that no-fly zone around Bush was streched from 3-5 nautical miles across to typically 60 nautical miles. As our 404 item documented, this played havoc with relief workers trying to get into the New Orleans area following hurricane Katrina; whenever Bush dropped by for a little PR tour of destruction, flights were cancelled or rerouted to distant airports. In one instance at the peak of the crisis, three tons of food and water had to be unloaded from a plane bound for New Orleans, which delayed delivery of the emergency supplies for hours more as the trucks crawled through the traffic gridlock on the main bridge.

The Bush administration has played other maddening games with TFRs, such as proclaiming a permanent 1-mile radius TFR over St. Michaels, Maryland, where the Cheneys are buying a home (you heard right -- it's a permanent temporary flight restriction). Pilots view TFRs as a hassle, like exasperated drivers become frustrated over red cones closing highway lanes for no apparent reason, but they find workarounds, usually by delay or detour. What really worries air buffs, however, are the changes in Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) perimeters.

ADIZ normally refers to the airspace border surrounding the U.S. and Canada. Any aircraft wanting to cross that border needs to first get clearance with the FAA (Transport Canada for their country) or risk being considered an enemy threat and forced down by military fighter jets or Blackhawks. Nothing wrong with any of that, of course; borders must be protected. But early in the morning of February 10, 2003, ADIZ airspace was declared over the entire Washington-Baltimore region, New York City, and downtown Chicago. In essence, the skies over these three cities were now to be treated as if they belonged to seperate nations within our nation.

The justification was "Operation Liberty Shield," part of the Bush administration strategy in the run-up to invading Iraq. Announced by the new Department of Homeland Security the day after Bush gave Saddam his get-out-or-else ultimatum, the plan also established TFRs over Disneyland and Disney World and called for the Coast Guard to protect offshore oil wells, 5,000 FBI agents to monitor suspicious characters around the country, asylum seekers to be investigated, and the EPA to prepare decontamination teams for fast deployment, among other defense goals.

(In retrospect, it looks more like "Operation Liberty Shield" was part of the Roveian strategy to scare war critics into submission and silence. In the following days, administration officals spoke of the "near certainty of an attack," and then-Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge warned that the upcoming invasion of Iraq would be the trigger. "We have again not only continued credible information from within the intelligence community but bin Laden himself has said in recent weeks that military action in Iraq would be a rallying cry, a potential call to others, not just to al Qaeda but to others.")

The Chicago and New York ADIZ were lifted shortly thereafter, but the TFRs over the Disney theme parks remained, as did the ADIZ around Washington. Then last August came the shocker: Homeland Security moved to make the restrictions over the 3,000 square nautical mile DC-Baltimore region permanent.

Private pilots and aviation enthusiasts, who were upset over the ADIZ when it was still expected to be lifted, are up in arms now that it is about to be made permanent. Besides the three big airports in the region where the commercial jets land and take off, the ADIZ also covers 16 smaller public-use airports that are now virtually shut down; flight-related companies in the area, such as fuel sales and flight schools, report business is off by about half in the three years since they've been under the ADIZ blanket. Four out of five helicopter charter companies have gone out of business. Many of the 10,000+ pilots in the area have moved to airports that are 75 miles away or more, and who can blame them? Even innocent mistakes within the ADIZ are treated as potentially hostile acts, with the risk of being being forced down for the slightest procedural error -- a nerve-making experience like having a SWAT team itching to pounce on drivers who forget to use a turn signal. And despite the drop-off of air traffic, mistakes are common; there were about 4 incidents per day between 2003 and mid-2005, and "government asset" intercepts happened about five times a week, all but one of these incidents inadvertent. Of course, jetliners buzz in and out of the area without such hot scrutiny, even though it was shown last week that federal agents could still carry do-it-yourself bomb kits aboard the big commercial carriers without detection.

But even if you're not in the DC area and not personally inconvenienced by the restrictions, there's still reason for alarm. The airspace over a large metropolitan area in the United States has been effectively taken out of civilian hands and turned over to the military, and all without ruling from a court, passage of a law, debate by Congress, or even a single public hearing. Oh, wait, there was a public hearing in January -- but you're not allowed to know what was said there. The Pentagon and the Transportation Security Administration quickly ordered the 369-page transcript yanked from the FAA website.

In the only news coverage of this incident outside of the aviation trade press, reporter Declan McCullagh was told by a NORAD spokesman that the transcript was suppressed because "there were some operational security concerns revealed" by a speaker at the meeting who said something "which we think was out of line. The disclosure of that information could go directly to national security concerns."

Did some traitorous bastard disclose top-secret information that compromises national security, such as radar blind spots? Security codes or passwords? A back-door vulnerability, à la the innocuous exhaust port that Luke Skywalker used to blow up the Death Star? Not at all; apparently the excuse for squelching all public comments was that one pilot dared to reveal that a real terrorist could follow all the rules and still be over the capitol before anyone could stop them. As reported in Aviation Week shortly after the public hearing:

Tom Bush, a U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet pilot who flies into the area when he has work with the National Reconnaissance Office, outlined an approach into Dulles Airport that he frequently takes. He noted a point where he takes a left turn to make a final approach into Dulles. He said a terrorist -- who up until then might be complying with all of the requirements of the ADIZ -- could make a right-hand turn at that same point and be over downtown D.C. within four minutes. Administrative procedures, he said, do not ensure security. "Freedom and security are polar opposites, and I am not willing to give up my freedom for the sake of terrorists," he said.
Many in the aviation community -- hardly your conspiracy-minded folks -- think that Homeland Security used the "operational security concerns" in fighter pilot Tom Bush's comments as an excuse to censor the entire hearings because speaker after speaker insisted that the ADIZ actually offers no security improvements at all. As Phil Boyer, president of AOPA, the largest flyer's organization said later, anyone with a map could easily figure out how long it would take to fly from Dulles Airport to downtown Washington. "What an absurd waste of security resources to try to unring the bell and edit what was said in a public meeting in front of TV cameras," he said.   (March 19, 2006)

More on "rocket fuel" pollution coverup


White House Stonewalls FOIA Request For Perchlorate Data

Track Rocket Propellant Cleanup, GAO Says

  + WHITE HOUSE BLOCKS EXPLOSIVE REPORT     Update to a 404 report last March on the Bush administration's shroud of secrecy over pollution health risks: Now it appears that the administration has gone farther and is trying to actually suppress research by government scientists. The Risk Policy Report newsletter reported Feb. 28 that the White House Office of Science & Technology Policy is twisting arms to delay the release of a study on the effect of perchlorate in humans.

Often misleadingly called "rocket fuel," perchlorate is a solid propellant used in air bags, matches, fireworks, and road flares, although it's most often associated with every military thing that goes "boom." It is known to have contaminated water in at least 35 states, and small-scale surveys last year found it in breast milk as well as every human urine sample tested. But there are currently no state or federal standards on how much exposure is safe; the EPA under Bush has stonewalled release of any data it has on perchlorate dangers -- while at the same time raising the safety margin from 1 part per billion (ppb) to 24.5 ppb. Perchlorate is known to damage thyroid function and is linked to thyroid cancer, as well as causing mental retardation, blindness, deafness, and neurological problems in children.

The study that the White House wants blocked is from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Unlike the earlier little surveys on the substance by universities and state agencies, NHANES is one of the primary sources of government data, surveying thousands of Americans for almost 50 years. Should perchlorate be found in NHANES blood samples, there will be no disputing it represents a widespread danger, leaving the White House unable to stall further via the usual excuse that the topic "needs further study." And sure enough, the newsletter reports that the suppressed survey finds levels of perchlorate that "leave no margin of safety" for the public.

The NHANES data will inevitably set the stage for the Mother Of All Liability Suits against the federal government, since most of the known contamination comes from the 12,000 military sites that have been used for training with live explosives. Also on the hook would be defense contractors who have schemed with this administration to block regulation; the Natural Resources Defense Council was stymied in its FOIA request last year to see the hundreds of pages of documents that the contractors have secretly provided to officials, but discovered that they were working so closely together that a manufacturer of perchlorate was even writing White House talking points. A conspiracy and coverup trial with these documents as evidence might prove explosive, indeed.   (March 9, 2006)

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