Follow-up on the Col. Steven Boylan e-mail exchange

There are many significant, unresolved questions left to investigate.


Glenn Greenwald
October 29, 2007 10:27PM (UTC)

(updated below - Update II - Update III)

Howard Kurtz -- who dives head-first into every hysterical controversy manufactured by our nation's right-wing war cheerleaders -- was asked during his Washington Post chat today about the various emails I received from Col. Boylan yesterday (as well as objections raised to my having published the prior emails Boylan and I exchanged), and Kurtz replied (h/t Thomas C):

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It's a very strange tale. I'm not sure what to make of it. I think Boylan's complaint had more to do with the publication of what he contends is a fake e-mail sent by someone else. These days, government officials know that if they send an e-mail to a reporter or commentator it's going to be used, unless specifically marked as an off-the-record communication.

Why isn't Kurtz "sure what to make of it," and why doesn't he do some work and find out? Ultimately, this "strange tale" -- which is a significant story regardless of what actually happened -- is not complicated. There are only two possibilities, both of which are self-evidently newsworthy. Either:

(1) Col. Boylan sent me that first polemical, blatantly politicized email and then falsely denied having sent it, or,

(2) someone has the extraordinary ability to fabricate emails which have every appearance -- even to advanced computer experts -- of being authored by and sent from the computers of some of our highest-ranking military officials in Iraq (or, worse, to obtain direct access to their Centcomm computers), a possibility about which Col. Boylan expressed total indifference and then refused to address.

If someone really is able to replicate emails from high-ranking military officials in Iraq, think about what a serious breach that is. Can the fabricators also send emails to commanders in the field or to political decision-makers in Washington?

If what Col. Boylan claims happened is what really happened, that would be a rather big story. Since Col. Boylan has indicated that he refuses to answer my questions about any of these matters ("What I am doing about it does not concern you . . . I w[ill] not take the time or efforts to engage with you"), shouldn't there be reporters somewhere interested in finding which of those two highly significant events has occurred?

Numerous commentators have suggested that, contrary to Col. Boylan's denials, the facts strongly support the conclusion that he was the author of that email. Numerous others have noted the vital issue which the exchange raises, regardless of whether the first email came from Col. Boylan or someone fabricating emails in his name: namely, the transparent ways in which many high-ranking members of the U.S. military in Iraq have become overtly political, partisan actors.

As Andrew Sullivan put it in his post, entitled "A Malkinized Military?," they are "operating primarily through partisan blogs and partisan journalists" while stonewalling and expressing outright hostility towards citizens and media outlets whose political posture they perceive to be less favorable. And as Digby wrote regarding Col. Boylan's behavior in yesterday's email exchange, including the emails which are indisputably authentic:

The conservative movement's Coulteresque dirty, take-no-prisoners political tactics have become standard operating procedure in every corner of the US Government over the past seven years and it is going to take a gargantuan effort to sweep it clean.

The examples of overt politicization by the U.S. military in the last year alone are numerous and are amply documented in my post from yesterday. In addition to those, as Eric Boehlert has demonstrated, it was the U.S. military which galvanized what was ultimately the right-wing humiliation of shrilly insisting that the Associated Press had fabricated a non-existent source in Iraq, police officer Jamil Hussein, only for it to be revealed that he existed and had served as a source for AP's news stories -- just as AP reported.

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Time and again, the military in Iraq under Gen. Petraeus and Col. Boylan has aligned itself with the most extreme right-wing blogs and plainly partisan "journalists," and has either excluded or expressed outright hostility towards everyone else. It ought not be necessary to explain the significance of that development.

Either way, the bizarre exchange yesterday with Col. Boylan demands further inquiry, and there are several additional facts that are worth noting. The Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum forwarded to me an unsolicited email sent to him last month by Col. Boylan in which Boylan wrote:

I read with interest your latest article ref General Petraeus (General Petraeus's PR Blitzkrieg) and couldn't help but wonder why you chose to use false and inaccurate information without taking the time to do the further research and even contact us for the rest of the story.

I forwarded the tracking information from that email to the University of Oregon's Peter Boothe, who compared the email Drum received to the "fake" one I received and wrote (via email): "The email headers on this one look substantially the same."

Drum, who exchanged a couple of emails with Col. Boylan last month, added via email: "when I first read your post, I immediately recognized his writing style. It's not proof of anything, but there's not much question that it sounds just like him. Weird game he's playing here." Others have advanced and documented the same conclusion.

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On a different note, although Col. Boylan has not answered the last e-mail I sent him (asking him for clarity as to whether he is, in fact, denying that he sent the first email), one reader who e-mailed Boylan to indicate she comes from a military family and was disappointed in his conduct forwarded me (what appears from all indications to be) his response:

Thank you for your note and thoughts. However, as I have stated to Mr. Greenwald, I did not send him the note and only responded to his initial email to me to ask for authentication. I am sorry you feel this way and I thank you and your family for their service to our nation.

Our political press has devoted endless coverage to "scandals" of far less importance than whether Gen. Petreaus' top spokesman either dishonestly denied sending blatantly inappropriate emails or had his computer compromised by someone who did so in his name. From the numerous computer programming and IT experts from whom I heard, simply reviewing email logs and the like would significantly assist in finding out what actually happened here. Finding out from Col. Boylan whether he has launched an "investigation" to find out who the the real culprit was would do the same. For multiple reasons, it seems highly worthwhile to find out.

UPDATE: In assessing whether Col. Boylan was being truthful in denying that he sent that e-mail, one should consider that Col. Boylan regularly sends unsolicited emails to bloggers when they write posts about Iraq that he dislikes. In addition to the email referenced above that he sent Kevin Drum, here he is sending a similar email to a blogger at Wired (h/t Christy Hardin Smith). Additionally, Greg Mitchell of Editor & Publisher forwarded me an email earlier today which he received awhile back from Col. Boylan objecting vociferously to an E&P editorial (as I understand it, Greg will write about that tonight).

On a separate note, as Mona first noted in comments, the original email which Col. Boylan denies he sent contains a fact which only he and I would know (or anyone with whom he spoke) -- namely, that he had not given me permission to publish the original email exchange we had back in July. The fact that the "fake" email contains a fact of which only he and I would have first-hand knowledge is certainly an additional fact to be considered in deciding if his denial is credible.

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Finally, Stephen Bainbridge, a Professor at UCLA Law School, seems to agree that the military is becoming politicized, but says that it's the fault of people in the comment sections of liberal blogs. Referring to exposure of service members to "the fever swamp of the comment section of some leading left-liberal blogs," he says: "It would hardly be surprising if some folks in the military started wondering whether it was really worth risking their lives to protect the freedoms of people who seem to hate them and the cutural (sic) mileu (sic) out of which the soldiers came."

Bainbridge concludes: "If the military is being Malkinized, maybe the Kosites of the world will find an explanation by looking at themselves in the mirror." Col. Boylan clearly spends a lot of time reading liberal blogs, so perhaps Bainbridge is onto something.

UPDATE II: Editor & Publisher's article on this whole affair is now published and is worth reading in its entirety. It details the unsolicted email Col. Boylan sent them and notes:

Knowing that I had a brief exchange of emails with Boylan last spring, I went back and found them, with the Boylan in them sounding an awful lot like the Boylan in the disputed email to Greenwald.

That seems to be a pattern.

UPDATE III: A later edition of the E&P article now contains this passage:

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E&P contacted Boylan for a clarification about the email. Late Monday night he (or someone claiming to be him) replied: "I am denying writing and sending it. I know from past experience with Mr. Greenwald that any email exchange with him would be posted to his site as well as there is no need to discuss anything with him. I would only contact him in response to anything he would directly send to me as he did in this case. I have not contacted Mr. Greenwald since this summer" -- until Greenwald asked him to confirm the Sunday email, when "I told him it was not mine and I did not send it."

Several points to note about that:

(1) Col. Boylan is denying authorship of the original email to me but is acknowledging having sent the subsequent emails, even though the tracing information on all of those emails -- including the "fake" one -- strongly suggest they came from the same computer;

(2) Neither Col. Boylan nor anyone else from the U.S. military has contacted me to request that I send them the "fake" email or provide any other information about it -- something that one would expect if anyone was actually trying to determine what really happened here and find out who is sending extremely authentic-seeming emails in the name of a top military official in Iraq. That suggests there is no effort being made at all by Col. Boylan or the military to find out who the "real emailer" is. Why is that?

(3) In his E&P comments, Col. Boylan repeats one of the principal points of the "fake" emailer (that I published our email exchange without permission, something which only Col. Boylan and his confidants would know) and also echoes the same hostility evident in the "fake" email ("there is no need to discuss anything with him").

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(4) It is, as indicated, quite common for bloggers and other writers to receive unsolicited, critical emails ostensibly from Col. Boylan. Additionally, such emails have played a significant role in various scandals. In the midst of the TNR/Beauchamp "scandal," for instance, The Weekly Standard published a polite, informative email it claimed was from Col. Boylan which falsely stated that the Army was "not preventing [Beauchamp] from speaking to TNR or anyone." In fact, the military was blocking him from speaking to the media at that time. Isn't it important to find out if someone is sending fabricated, false emails in Col. Boylan's name?

(5) The ultimate significance of this matter, which goes far beyond the specific question of what Col. Boylan did or did not do in this case (though that is important in its own right), is articulated perfectly by Zack in this comment. The type of hostility, pseudo-intimidation, and stonewalling expressed by Col. Boylan here (in the emails of undisputed authenticity) is the type to which reporters are frequently subjected when they step out of line, particularly with war reporting. That is one reason why so few of them ever do.


Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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