A bizarre, unsolicited e-mail from Gen. Petraeus’ spokesman

An e-mail I received this morning from Col. Steven Boylan is heavy on petty insults but extremely light on the issues that actually matter.

Topics: Washington, D.C.,

(Updated belowUpdate IIUpdate IIIUpdate IVUpdate VUpdate VIUpdate VIIUpdate VIII)

I received this morning an unsolicited email from Col. Steven A. Boylan, the Public Affairs Officer and personal spokesman for Gen. David G. Petraeus (see UPDATE III below). The subject line of the email — which I am publishing in full, unedited form here — is “The growing link between the U.S. military and right-wing media and blogs,” which is the title of the post I wrote earlier this week regarding the politicization of the Army in Iraq, as evidenced by its constant coordination with, and leaking to, the likes of Matt Drudge, The Weekly Standard, and the most extremist right-wing blogs — in the TNR/Beauchamp case and also more generally.

I had a prior e-mail exchange with Col. Boylan several months ago when I requested an interview with Gen. Petraeus after he had granted an exclusive interview to far-right partisan Hugh Hewitt (author of the 2006 prescient tract: Painting the Map Red: The Fight to Create a Permanent Republican Majority). In terms of whether the U.S. Army under Petraeus and Boylan is, in fact, becoming a political actor, I’ll let multiple passages from Boylan’s email to me this morning speak for itself:

The issues of accuracy, context, and proper characterization is something that perhaps you could do a little research and would assume you are aware of as a trained lawyer.

I do enjoy reading your diatribes as they provide comic relief here in Iraq. The amount of pure fiction is incredible. Since a great deal of this post is just opinion and everyone is entitled to their opinions, I will not address those even though they are shall we say — based on few if any facts. That does surprise me with your training as a lawyer, but we will leave those jokes to another day. . . .



You are either too lazy to do the research on the topics to gain the facts, or you are providing purposeful misinformation — much like a propagandist. . . .

Sorry to burst your bubble, but a little actual research on your part would have shown that [Cheney P.R. aide Steve Schmidt] is actually not here, but that would contradict your conspiracy theory. . . . .

I am curious as to when you think the media relations or operations changed here in Iraq. I in fact do know exactly the day and time that it changed and want to see if you are even in the same ballpark as reality. . . .

For the third matter concerning the Beauchamp investigation and the documents that were leaked — it is very unfortunate that they were — but the documents are not secret or classified. So, there is your third major error in fact. Good thing you are not a journalist. . . .

As for working in secret with only certain media is laughable. The wide swatch of media engagements is by far the most diverse it could be. But you might not think it that way since we chose not to do an interview with you. You are not a journalist nor do you have any journalistic ethical standards as we found out from the last time I engaged with you.

As we quickly found out, you published our email conversation without asking, without permission — just another case in point to illustrate your lack of standards and ethics. You may recall that a 30-minute interview was conducted with the program that you claim to be a contributor. So instead of doing the interview with you, we went with the real talent, Alan Colmes. . . .

I invite you to come see for yourself and go anywhere in Iraq you want, go see what our forces are doing, go see what the other coalition forces are doing, go hang out with the reporters outside the International Zone since that is where they live and work and see for yourself what ground truth is so that you can be better informed. But that would take something you probably don’t have.

Steve

Steven A. Boylan

Colonel, US Army

Public Affairs Officer

Everyone can decide for themselves if that sounds more like an apolitical, professional military officer or an overwrought right-wing blogger throwing around all sorts of angry, politically charged invective. Whatever else is true, it is rather odd that this was the sort of rhetoric Col. Boylan chose to invoke in service of his apparent goal of proving that there is nothing politicized about the U.S. military in Iraq.

As for the specifics of Col. Boylan’s claims, such as they are, I’ll simply note the following:

(1) Col. Boylan does not deny the central point of my post, because he cannot: namely, throughout the Beauchamp matter, the U.S. Army has copied almost exactly the standard model used by the Republican Party’s political arm in trying to manage news for domestic consumption: namely, they deny access to the relevant information only they possess while selectively leaking it to the most extremist and partisan elements of the right-wing noise machine: in this case, the Drudge Report, Weekly Standard, and right-wing blogs.

As TNR‘s Franklin Foer wrote on Friday, the documents leaked by the Army to Drudge were the very same documents which TNR had repeatedly tried to obtain, but was denied access to them by the U.S. Army. As Foer documents, that is a continuation of a pattern that has repeated itself throughout this “controversy”: namely, the Army blocks TNR from obtaining key information and then proceeds to leak it selectively to the most partisan appendages of the right-wing noise machine. That behavior, which Col. Boylan does not deny, by itself is rather compelling — and self-evidently disturbing — evidence of how politicized at least certain factions within the U.S. Army have become.

(2) Col. Boylan also does not deny, indeed says nothing about, the other vital piece of evidence I cited, one I believe to be even far more troubling than anything they have done in the Beauchamp case. Specifically, after months of boisterous accusations from right-wing bloggers such as Michelle Malkin and Charles Johnson that AP photojournalist Bilal Hussein’s coverage of the war was sympathetic to Terrorists, the U.S. military detained the AP journalist with no charges (and, a year-and-a-half later, continues to detain him with no charges), refused to provide any information about this to the press (even including AP), but then leaked news of his detention to Michelle Malkin, who then blogged about it.

The evidence for all of this is abundant and was all linked in my original post. Those matters are far more significant and serious than any of the petty insults Col. Boylan hurled in his email, and I wish he had chosen to address those matters instead.

(3) As for Boylan’s complaint that I published the prior emails we exchanged without his permission, that is nothing short of bizarre, though quite revealing. I’m not Tim Russert; therefore, I don’t consider discussions with government officials presumptively confidential, to be used only if they give me permission. I honor (though try to avoid entering into) explicit agreements to keep communications off-the-record, but since Col. Boylan never requested that and I never agreed to that, it is absurd to suggest that I had some obligation to keep our communications secret.

We communicated as part of a matter of public interest about which I was writing — namely, Gen. Petreaus’ selection of blatant right-wing hacks as his interviewers. Of course I was going to write about the communications I had with his spokesman on that issue — that was the whole point of my writing to him — and unlike Tim Russert, I don’t write about things I learn only after I first obtain the permission of government and military officials. The fact that Boylan expects journalists (or anyone else) to keep what he says a secret unless he gives permission speaks volumes about the state of our “political press.”

(4) Most of Col. Boylan’s claims of inaccuracy in what I wrote are grounded in his invention of “facts” that I did not assert. I never, for instance, said that Steve Schmidt (the Bush/Cheney P.R. flack and ex-Cheney “communications” aide) was currently on staff with the U.S. military in Iraq. Rather, I linked to an interview given to Hugh Hewitt by Mike Allen of The Politico, in which Allen reported that it was Schmidt who was sent to Iraq to improve the political efficacy of the U.S. military’s war communications in Iraq:

HH: Why don’t they put [Steve Schmidt] in charge of war message management, because the Bush White House is just not good at this.

MA: Right, and this is part of the talent drain that’s occurring in this White House –

HH: Yeah.

MA: – because as you know, Steve was a very high official in the Vice President’s office –

HH: Right.

MA: And he also went over to Iraq to look at the communications capabilities, and he came back with a number of recommendations about even some of the logistical things to help people get those stories out. Now I think the military’s getting smarter about it, as you know. . . .

HH: Yeah.

MA: The military organized the O’Hanlon-Pollack tour, and I didn’t know until I read your interview with Mike O’Hanlon that they’d had an interview with General Petraeus . . . .

HH: Right.

MA: That had not been reported before. That was very fascinating. But I think that shows you that the military’s getting better at this.

The fact that the White House dispatched to Iraq a pure political hack — the former Bush/Cheney ’04 communications official — to incorporate into the U.S. military those communications techniques is obvious evidence of the White House’s deliberate effort to politicize the military’s war communications.

Similarly, my reference to Gen. Bergner was linked to a report by The Washington Post‘s Dan Froomkin — entitled “Bush’s Baghdad Mouthpiece” — which documents the numerous ways in which the claims of the U.S. military in Iraq have become more political ever since Bergner was dispatched by the White House to take over the military’s messaging machine. While casting all sorts of aspersions about “inaccuracies,” Boylan denies none of that, choosing instead to attack and deny statements I never made.

Many people, including myself, have documented in detail the palpably increased politicization of the military’s war claims this year, ever since the “surge” began under Gen. Petraeus and former White House aide Gen. Bergner took over its communications arm. In this space, I have written about the incomparably propagandistic one-hour exclusive “interview” which Petraeus gave to Fox News’ Brit Hume when he was in Washington to testify, as well as what Sen. Jim Webb calls (along with others) the highly coordinated “dog and pony shows” Gen. Petreaus has spent much time performing for the likes of Michael O’Hanlon. Moreover, Gen. Petraeus received a stern warning from GOP Sen. John Warner earlier this year for having made (with Joe Lieberman’s prodding) blatantly political and inappropriate statements while testifying.

The leaks by someone in Col. Boylan’s Army of highly sensitive documents to Matt Drudge is an extremely serious matter. The same is true for similar, prior leaks — including ones containing apparently false information — to The Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb, along with “exclusive interviews” given by the Army about Beauchamp to the hardest-core partisan right-wing bloggers.

I’m hardly the only one to observe that this behavior smacks of the sort of politicization that has infected all of our government agencies under this administration — an infection that is far more disturbing and dangerous when the politicized arm in question is the U.S. military. As Think Progress reported the other day, the military had even been providing conference calls and other briefing sessions seemingly reserved exclusively for right-wing, pro-war bloggers (at least until TP’s report). At Harper’s, both Scott Horton and Ken Silverstein have previously detailed similar, highly inappropriate political steps taken this year by the U.S. military in Iraq.

I would think Col. Boylan would have more important matters to attend to than writing me emails about how Alan Colmes is the “real talent” and how I lack the balls to go visit him in Iraq — beginning with finding out who has been working secretly with right-wing outlets in the Beauchamp and Bilal Hussein matters, if he does not already know. The linchpin of a republic under civilian rule — as well as faith in the armed services by a cross-section of Americans — is an apolitical military. Like all other branches of the government intended to be apolitical, this linchpin is eroding under this administration, and that ought to be of far greater concern to Boylan and Petraeus than hurling petty insults.

UPDATE: For obvious reasons, several commenters have questioned the authenticity of the e-mail. The email address from which it was sent is the same (iraq.centcom.mil) email address as Col. Boylan used to send his prior emails (not knowing if that address is public or private, I didn’t include it in the full e-mail I published in order to prevent him from receiving a deluge of emails).

Additionally, all of the adornments (titles and pre-programmed signature lines and the like) and formatting are identical. Most convincingly (to me), Col. Boylan has, as I noticed during my prior email exchange with him, a — how shall we say? — idiosyncratic grammatical style that is quite recognizable though difficult to replicate, and the e-mail I received this morning — from start to finish — is written in exactly that style. I don’t see any reason at all to doubt its authenticity.

UPDATE II: If you are well-versed in analyzing IP addresses, email headers and the like, please email me (GGreenwald@salon.com).

UPDATE III: The following email exchange has now ensued with Col. Boylan:

GG to Col. Boylan:

Col. Boylan – Could you just confirm that this email [email forwarded] is authentic, written by and sent from you?

Thanks –

Glenn Greenwald

Col. Boylan to GG:

Glenn,

Interesting email and no. Why do you ask?

Steven

GG to Col. Boylan:

Only because it comes from your email address, is written in your name, and bears all of the same distinguishing features as the last emails you sent to me:

steven.boylan@iraq.centcom.mil

Did you really not notice that?

Col. Boylan to GG:

Well, since they were on the web, not surprising. If you do a search on the web, you will also see that I have been a victim of identity theft of late in Vermont and at least two other places trying to rent property and that person identified themselves as me and thankfully the State Police were able to get in touch with me about it while I am sitting here in Baghdad.

GG to Col. Boylan:

Well isn’t it of great concern to you that someone is able to send out emails using your military email address? Do you plan to look into that?

And you labelled the email I recieved “interesting.” What does that mean? Do you agree with its content, have any comments about it?

I’ll post more as I receive it. Anyone who would like to have forwarded to them a copy of the email I received originally can email me and I will send it. It contains exactly the same header information as Col. Boylan’s emails to me from several months ago (Boylan, Steven COL MNF-I CMD GRP CG PAO (steven.boylan@iraq.centcom.mil) and, when one hits “reply,” it sends to his email address. None of that was published “on the web,” at least not by me. He seems awfully indifferent about the fact that someone is impersonating him, sending email from what certainly appears to be his official military email address.

Independently, all of my points regarding the politicization of the military still stand, and I’m happy for the opportunity to have written again about this under-discussed topic. If the email I received is not, in fact, from Col. Boylan, then the parts of this post regarding him specifically (and there were very few such parts) would obviously be retracted. But the substantive points about the behavior of the U.S. Army in the Beauchamp and other matters would not be altered in the slightest.

UPDATE IV: After a crash course in tracing email headers and IP addresses and the like, the following appears to be the tracking information for the original email I received this morning from the email Col. Boylan is claiming is fake:

Return-Path:

Received: from 02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil

(02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil [214.13.200.111]) by rich.salon.com (8.12.11/8.12.11) with ESMTP id l9SBFSff004148 for ;

Sun, 28 Oct 2007 04:15:36 -0700

Received: from INTZEXEBHIZN01.iraq.centcom.mil ([10.70.20.11]) by 02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959);

Sun, 28 Oct 2007 14:15:05 +0300 Received: from INTZEXEVSIZN02.iraq.centcom.mil ([10.70.20.16]) by INTZEXEBHIZN01.iraq.centcom.mil with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959);

Sun, 28 Oct 2007 14:15:05 +0300

From: “Boylan, Steven COL MNF-I CMD GRP CG PAO”

To: (ggreenwald@salon.com)

X-OriginalArrivalTime: 28 Oct 2007 11:15:05.0804 (UTC) FILETIME=[CAF430C0:01C81953]

The IP address — 10.70.20.11 — does not appear to be recognizable from various IP locator programs. Time zones appear to be different, but the IP address on the original email I received matches the IP address used to send to me the following: (a) the emails today from Col. Boylan denying that the original email was his; (b) the emails I received back in July from Col. Boylan regarding an interview with Gen. Petraeus; and (c) the forms sent to me [at Col. Boylan's request (though not at mine)] for a Media Embed Credentials form. All three of those sets of emails came from the same IP address — 10.70.20.11 — as the original email I received today, so clearly that is an IP address used by the U.S. military in Iraq.

Here is the tracking information from the emails sent to me from Col. Boylan today denying the authenticity of the original email, which matches the prior ones I received from him back in July:

Return-Path: (steven.boylan@iraq.centcom.mil)

Received: from 02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil (02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil [214.13.200.111]) by rich.salon.com (8.12.11/8.12.11) with ESMTP id l9SFwT1S017514

for (ggreenwald@salon.com); Sun, 28 Oct 2007 08:58:33 -0700

Received: from INTZEXEBHIZN01.iraq.centcom.mil ([10.70.20.11]) by 02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959);

Sun, 28 Oct 2007 18:58:11 +0300

Received: from INTZEXEVSIZN02.iraq.centcom.mil ([10.70.20.16]) by INTZEXEBHIZN01.iraq.centcom.mil with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959);

Sun, 28 Oct 2007 18:58:11 +0300 Date: Sun, 28 Oct 2007 18:58:11 +0300

The IP addresses appear to be the same. There’s a whole industry of IP address theories around and I’m the last person who is going to claim any expertise in that. I have no basis for claiming or suggesting that Col. Boylan is being anything but truthful in denying that he sent this email this morning. But all appearances — including the IP address — had the mark of authenticity, and I posted all relevant information, including his denials, as soon as I received them.

Finally, I received this email from Col. Boylan as I was writing this:

I am interested in this issue. What I am doing about it does not concern you. Interesting is what I find it.

Whether I agree with what the email says or not is not an issue I wish to discuss with you, as I decided after our last exchange that I would not take the time or efforts to engage with you.

Is there a reason why you posted this?

I’ll just note again that he seems awfully blithe about the fact that someone is sending around emails in his name. Maybe he’d be willing to discuss with someone else the fact that someone seems to be sending out emails under his name, with his e-mail address, using his IP address. And the hostile attitude he is projecting here (which wasn’t actually expressed this way in the last exchange I had with him back in July) does not seem all that different from — actually, it seems quite similar to — the original email which began today’s process.

I’ll continue to post all relevant information, from Col. Boylan and otherwise, and let everyone make up their own minds.

UPDATE V: The full, unedited email headers for every email I have ever received from Col. Boylan and/or MNF-Iraq is now published here. The IP address on each email is the same.

UPDATE VI: Several commenters and emailers have questioned whether Col. Boylan ever clearly denied having written the first email. To rectify that, I sent him the following email:

Just to be clear, since a lot of people are writing to say that it isn’t: you do deny that you had anything to do with the sending of that first email that I sent to you at the start of this process today?

I have not received any reply, but will post one if and when I receive it.

UPDATE VII: Peter Boothe, a PhD student in the University of Oregon Computer Science Department, specializing in Internet topology, has published an analysis of the email tracking information and “conclude[d] that these two emails [the "fake" one and the real one] were written by the same person. Or, someone has hacked into the military infrastructure in an effort to discredit this one Colonel by sending cranky emails to bloggers. But one of the two, certainly.”

I have received numerous emails from people with varying degrees of IP expertise, and there are numerous comments, suggesting the same thing. Some say that the information is inconclusive, but most reach the same conclusion Boothe has reached. I have nowhere near the knowledge necessary to form an opinion on any of that and offer this solely in the interest of enabling everyone to make up their own mind.

On a different note, John Cole highlights the key point here that should not be lost. Independent of the authenticity of the first email, Col. Boylan’s subsequent emails to me were snide, hostile and nonresponsive (“What I am doing about it does not concern you”). Whatever else one might think about the views I have expressed, I don’t think anyone can say I was anything but professional and civil in all of my interactions with him, yet his responses today were roughly the same as the ones encountered by The New Republic: arrogant and obstructionist stonewalling (Franklin Foer noted “a months-long pattern by which the Army has leaked information and misinformation to conservative bloggers while failing to help us with simple requests for documents”).

As Cole notes, that behavior stands in stark contrast to the extremely eager and cooperative conduct in which they engage when passing on information to the right-wing blogs and pundits whose political views are apparently aligned with theirs. That takes us back to the first and most important point — the U.S. military, which has an obligation to conduct itself apolitically and professionally, appears in many cases to be doing exactly the opposite.

UPDATE VIII: More here.

Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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