Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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Turn Up the Propaganda, Please

| Wed Sep. 27, 2006 11:35 AM EDT

Apparently not satisfied that U.S.-funded broadcast services including Radio Farda and the Voice of America are targeting Iran with a sufficient level of propaganda, a Pentagon report, prepared at the behest of an interagency committee known as the Iran Steering Group, has charged "that U.S. international broadcasts into Iran aren't tough enough on the Islamic regime," according to McClatchy Newspapers.

The report appears to be a gambit by some officials in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's office and elsewhere to gain sway over television and radio broadcasts into Iran, one of the few direct tools the United States has to reach the Iranian people.

U.S. broadcasting officials, according to McClatchy, view the report as a power play intended to usurp the independence of U.S.-sponsored news outlets. They also say the report is filled with errors. As Kenneth Tomlinson, the chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, put it, "The author of this report is as qualified to write a report on programming to Iran as I would be to write a report covering the operations of the 101st Airborne Division."

That brings us to the author of the report, who sources told McClatchy is a Pentagon official and Iran specialist named Ladan Archin. Back in May Laura Rozen identified Archin as one of three officials who previously worked in the notorious Office of Special Plans, a clearinghouse for manipulated intelligence on Iraq, and are now working in the Pentagon's recently established Iran directorate. (Read Kevin Drum's take on all of this here.)

In recent months, the U.S. has stepped up so-called democracy promotion campaigns targeting Iran as a means to bolster the opposition and undermine the regime, including an $85 million State Department program to prop up dissident groups and ramp up anti-Iran propaganda efforts. As the U.S. and Iran continue on a collision course, expect the propaganda war to heat up.

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Remember the Anthrax Investigation?

| Tue Sep. 26, 2006 10:52 AM EDT

Remember the anthrax investigation? The probe into the individual (or individuals) responsible for sending a wave of anthrax-laced letters through the mail just days after 9/11? After the initial flurry of media attention died down little was written about the case, but the FBI has quietly continued to investigate the attacks. Now, The Washington Post, among other news outlets, is reporting that there's been a new -- and somewhat discouraging -- development in the case:

Five years after the anthrax attacks that killed five people, the FBI is now convinced that the lethal powder sent to the Senate was far less sophisticated than originally believed, widening the pool of possible suspects in a frustratingly slow investigation.
The finding, which resulted from countless scientific tests at numerous laboratories, appears to undermine the widely held belief that the attack was carried out by a government scientist or someone with access to a U.S. biodefense lab.

It was originally believed that the agent used in the attacks was a rare, weaponized variety of anthrax known as the Ames strain, which could only be found in a handful of labs, among them the U.S. Army's Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) on the Fort Detrick base in Frederick, Maryland. "In my opinion, there are maybe four or five people in the whole country who might be able to make this stuff, and I'm one of them," former U.N. bioweapons inspector Richard O. Spertzel said in 2002. "And even with a good lab and staff to help run it, it might take me a year to come up with a product as good."

The alleged grade of the material and the significant expertise needed to refine it led the FBI to zero in on government biodefense researchers, in particular Steven J. Hatfill, a former researcher at USAMRIID who the Bureau designated a "person of interest" in the case. (Hatfill has sued The New York Times and Vanity Fair for defamation and the Justice Department for violating his constitutional rights in leaking confidential information to the press.)

Now, according to the Post:

The prevailing views about the anthrax powder, meanwhile, have been coalescing among a small group of scientists and FBI officials over several years but rarely have been discussed publicly. In interviews and a recently published scientific article, law enforcement authorities have acknowledged that much of the conventional wisdom about the attacks turned out to be wrong.
Specifically, law enforcement authorities have refuted the widely reported claim that the anthrax spores had been "weaponized" -- specially treated or processed to allow them to disperse more easily. They also have rejected reports that the powder was milled, or ground, to create finer particles that can penetrate deeply into the lungs. Such processing or additives might have suggested that the maker had access to the recipes of biological weapons made by the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.

If this is true, then it complicates the investigation significantly and makes the list of potential suspects much longer. The FBI, for its part, has described its suspect list as "fluid." This development also begs the very important question of how so many experts could have been so wrong for so long.

Senator Holding Back Anti-Pork Bill Unmasked

| Wed Aug. 30, 2006 5:09 PM EDT

In mid-August we reported that shortly before Congress recessed an anonymous senator placed a hold on widely popular anti-pork legislation introduced by Senators Barack Obama and Tom Coburn. The bill, which has backers on both sides of the aisle, would create a publicly accessible database that tracks federal contracts, loans, and grants, giving taxpayers the opportunity to actually see how their tax dollars are spent –- and, all too often, misspent.

After we broke the story, a grassroots campaign began in earnest to unmask the offending legislator, with citizens around the country contacting their senators. Well, the anonymous senator is no longer anonymous. TPMmuckraker is reporting that Senator Ted Stevens, the Alaska Republican, is holding the bill back from floor consideration. Yes, that's the same Ted Stevens who earmarked more than $200 million to build the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere," which would connect Ketchikan, Alaska, a city of 8,900, with the its airport on Gravina island, home to all of 50 inhabitants. There's speculation that Stevens may have blocked this important legislation simply out of spite for its co-sponsor, Tom Coburn. Last fall, it was Coburn who led the charge to block Stevens' outlandish earmark, suggesting that the money be spent instead on rebuilding a Louisiana bridge damaged during Hurricane Katrina. When Coburn's proposal was considered, Stevens "threw the senatorial version of a hissy fit," as The Washington Post described it, during which he bellowed this warning to his fellow senators: "I will put the Senate on notice -- and I don't kid people -- if the Senate decides to discriminate against our state and take money only from our state, I will resign from this body." As the Post put it, and no doubt many would agree, that "sounds awfully tempting to us."

Update: This is rich. Stevens' spokesman, Aaron Saunders, is now saying that the senator placed a hold on the bill because he's concerned about its potential cost. Stevens "wanted to make sure that this wasn't going to be a huge cost to the taxpayer and that it achieves the goal which the bill is meant to achieve," Saunders said. The whopping price tag of the database: about $15 million, which is approximately $208 million less than the amount Stevens earmarked for the "Bridge to Nowhere."

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