Ron Rosenbaum, Writer

June 30, 2008

Does Sy Hersh Understand The N.I.E?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 9:50 am

Yes, in some respects Sy Hersh is a great reporter, he’s broken big stories. But like many reporters who often (over)reach for the brass ring on every story–and who make themselves a willing conduit for their sources’ agenda–he’s made a lot of high profile mistakes that are somehow rarely recalled. His falling for an imposter in The Sampson Option affair, his falling for a fake Marilyn Monroe document in his JFK biographical adventure, most recently both his New Yorker pieces on the Israeli raid on the Syrian nuclear facility.

In the first piece, his anonymous sources (see Roger L. Simon’s post on the subject of Hersh’s sources, a post I was unaware of when beginning this one, i.e. no collusion) led Hersh to strongly imply that either there was no raid at all, or the raid wasn’t about a nuclear installation but about testing Syrian (and Iranian) electronic defenses for an attack on iran, or that if there were an attack on an installation it wasn’t nuclear.

If he believes any of that now he is pretty much alone. What are you gonna belive though, photograhic evidence or Sy’s “sources”?

And now in his latest “we’re about to attack Iran” piece, Hersh may or may not have reliable sources, but he’s unreliable on one key fact. A fact that is at the very heart of the reason for the controvesy over Iran: The 2007 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iranian nuclear aspirations.Of course he’s not alone in getting it wrong; most of the media misread it as well, and its authors admit it was written for nuclear insiders. But aren’t reorters, particularly Sy Hersh, who cover these things supposed to be sophisitcated enough to get something like this right. Especially after their error was pointed out to them two months ago.

Here’s how Hersh describes the NIE:

“The request for funding [covert ops inside Iran] came in the same period in which the Administration was coming to terms with a National Intelligence Estimate, released in December, that concluded that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003. The Administration downplayed the significance of the N.I.E., and, while saying that it was committed to diplomacy, continued to emphasize that urgent action was essential to counter the Iranian nuclear threat. President Bush questioned the N.I.E.’s conclusions, and senior national-security officials, including Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, made similar statements. (So did Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee.)”

First sentence: wrong. The N.I.E. did not conclude to even the most naive reader that Iran had “halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003”. It concluded it had halted one previously hidden program on the development of nuclear warheads. Nuclear weapons programs consist of three aspects: 1) warhead design 2) production of nuclear fissionable warhead fuel either plutonium or highhly enriched uranium and 3)delivery systems such as ballistic misiles.

Warhead design is the easiest of the three, the if the program had been halted in 2003–that is if you believe U.S. intelligence on this question. (True, it has been wrong on about everything else in the WMD area in that period, but here it’s politically convenient to make it the Gold Standard.) Nut the halt inthe 2003 warhead program says nothing about the other two aspects of the program, and in fact the 2007 N.I.E. acknowledges uranium enrichment and weponisation has continued as has ballistic missile work. And warhead work may have been halted because there was little else left to do.

Hersh sentences two and three:wrong. the Bush Administration didn’t down play the signficance or question the conclusions of the N.I.E.–the implication being there are critics within the Bush administration of the NIE, who argue, contra the NIE, that Iran had not abandoned its nuclear weapons program. No: he gets what the NIE says all wrong. The N.I.E. did not say Iran had abandoned its weapons program. One hesitates to say it but that Hersh paragraph means he either didn’t understand or deliberately misrepresented the N.I.E.

Any one who has read the background briefing on the Israeli/Syrian September 6 raid (which can be found here downloadable under “ODNI Syria briefing pdf” (as Hersh must have, to be taken seriously on this subject) will see where and why Hersh gets it wrong.

I’m specifically referring to the reply to reporters on pp. 15 and 16 of the briefing, where a “senior intelligence official” responsible for the NIE says: “The unfortunate choice of words in our NIE caused you all in the press to misrepresent what we were trying to explain. {There are] three parts of the [Iranian] program; they halted one narrow piece of it which was a secret prgram–weapons-head design. They continue with fissile material [highly enriched “bomb grade’ uranium]; they continue with ballistic missile systems for delivery. So we don’t know where it [the Iranian nuclear weaons prgram] is at the moment.”

At last someonne in the “intelligence” community willing to say “I don’t know”!

Their explanaition for the”misrepresentation” “all of you in the press” were guilty of: “We had not planned to make unclasssified key judgments available to the public therefore we wrote our estimate for a very sophisticated audience, believing or understanding that they understood…”

But shouldn’t reporters like Hersh who make sweeping statements about these matters have a “very sophisticated” understanding of them?

Evidently not.


June 29, 2008

Distinguishing Dylan and Springsteen: One Theory

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 8:01 am

It’s a perennial, never to be resolved debate. Although I don’t think it has to be a debate! I don’t think you have to choose sides! You can choose both. Although I do believe that you have to recognize there are, I’m not sure how to put it precisely, different levels of imaginative incandesence.

Here’s my friend Elizabeth Wurtzel writing in The Guardian about why some of us can love some Bruce, without diminishing the stature of Bob.

It’s mostly about Bruce but here’s her conclusion which turns upon the distinction between Bruce and Bob:

“Never quite the genius of language that Bob Dylan is – no one is nor will anyone ever be – what Springsteen lacks in lyricism, he makes up for in communication: he is among us in a way that Dylan is forever separate. Bruce is always hoping his audience will get it; he’s going for comprehensibility in all the places where Dylan might be looking for his own laughable obfuscation. That’s the richness in all Springsteen lyrics: the narrator feels for everybody – the good and the bad, the ugly and the gorgeous – and most especially for the person out there who happens to be listening to, or reading, the words. Bruce Springsteen is, above all, a songwriter of the people, for the people, by the people”

There’s a lot about that I’d agree with, although I tend to think that Dylan’s love songs are among the most oure comprehenible, almost primal even written. Think of “I’ll Keep It With Mine”, “If You See Her Say Hello”.

What I suggested to Elizabeth was another possible way of distinguishing them, one that overlaps in a way with hers. Earnestness and irony. I’d say that Bruce is always earnest. Bruce gives earnestness a good name, an urgency; he understand sthe true imortance of being earnest. . Dylan is sometimes earnest (in the love songs and some of the protest songs0 but never far from irony.

In fact the one time Bruice went for irony “Born inthe U.S.A.”, a lot of people misunderstood, calling it a patriotic anthem. Ron Kovic wrote a book that became an Oliver Stone movie, both withthat titlem nobody understood them as
“patriotic anthems”, but Bruce had the ability to invest the grandiosity he meat as ironic with an inerradicable earnest sincerity that made the irony easier to mishear. (Dylan is capable of misleading you with his beguiling melodies:It took me a while to realize that “Positively Fourth Street was a bitter insult revenge song because it’s melody was so (ironically I now realize) cheery and catchy.

I think another way they part profoudnly is the way they write about loneliness. Bruce makes it seem like all loneliness is alike (like all happy familes). for Dylan almost all loneliness is different. (“The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”)

I wonder if readers can suggest other distinctions–or convergences– in the comments.

June 26, 2008

Secret of Universe, Explained: A New Way of Disputing the "Strong" Version of Intelligent Design

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 7:53 am

Okay, it’s been a while, but I made a vow never to post something just for the sake of posting, and isn’t one really important Big Idea worth several less consequential ones?

So I was at a “retreat”, up the Hudson at a strange Shining like resort called “Mohonk Mountain”. It’s the sort of place non-New York tourists don’t tend to go, but I’ve found it fascinating. spooky, increasingly intruiging the past couple of years. In the dim corridor outside my room this time were sepia toned pictures of dignataries from the past two centuries who had stayed in these rooms. Across the corridor from me was a photo of the son of the founder of the Baha’i faith (much persecuted for it tolerance) who attended a conference here in 1912 of the International Arbitrtration Association (not a good year for arbitrting as it turned out). The palque next to the photo said he’d delivered a talk on “The Oneness of Human Reality”. And then there were these two pale little twin girls I kept seeing in odd corners of the hotel (kidding!)

Get the picture, though: Washington Irving, Hawthorne,Stephen King, Edith Wharton. the Oneness of Human Reality. Which is why, I think, walking one of the endless mazy corridors I came up for some reason an idea about Many Worlds Cosmology theory and its relationship to the controversy over “Intelligent Design”.

If you’re familiar with the Many Worlds variation of the Coenhagen School of quantum reality (and if not, why not: it’s only the key debate about the nature of Being and “human reality”)–that there is no “causality” in the sense of “Hidden Variables” that explain subatomic events. We only know that statistically a certain number of alpha particles in somme unstable larger atoms will decay but which ones? Nobody know why one and not another. What makes this particle decay and the one next to it not.Einstein hated it, this causeless casuation; he wanted to find hidden variables. But most of the physics world now agrees with his Copenhagen opponent, Niels Bohr.

But in the Many Worlds school of thought, every time a particle decays it creates a separate universe in which it decays and the others don’t, but there are a virtual infinite number of other universes in which a virtual infinite number of differnt particles decay.We just happen to live in the one arranged like this, but there could be other arrangements or at least other subatomic outcomes.

In a sense, everything comes true in one of the Many Worlds or another. All kinds of universes are created every moment and some never last more than an instant.

Where does “Intelligent Design” come in. It grew out of a resistance to randomness, to causeless causation, to the idea that random particle collisions could cause life and random mutations could shape and fine tune evolution. There has to be designer or at least a Design if not a God.

But the “Many Worlds” theory provides an explantion for the problem of the apparent evidence of design in our universe, and the evolution of creatures to apprehend it: It just happens that we live in one of the many, many, many worlds in which there is apparent evidence of design. But there may be no design and no designer we just lucked out into living in one of the Many Worlds that created us by chance but surrounded us with apparent but not real evidence of design and designer. The chance of our world existing and looking so well (or stably) designed is infinitesimal but when you’re dealing with an infinite number of worlds, the chance is virtually certain.

So those who believe that we live in a world that sems to contain evidence of intelligent design are right intheir observations of the evidence, but wrong about the source of the evidence. it’s like the lineinthe Dylan song “The bricks lay on Grand Street…they all fell there so perfectly, it all seemed so well timed.”

We’re in the universe where the “bricks” just happened to falll into what look like well designed patterns. “It all seemed so well timed.” But it was just luck.

Anti evolutionists like to use the argument thta random mutatins are so unlikely to have created a feature as “irreducibly complex” as the eye. They compare it to a tornado going through a junkyard and leaving behind a perfectly micro engineered tv set. Unlikely. But in the Many Worlds theory, we just happen to live in a world where a (metaphorical) tornado did just that.

, But that doesn’t say anything one way or another as to whether there is or was an Intelligent Designer.

Just thought you’d want to know.

June 17, 2008

Today's Moment of Beauty

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:16 pm

it’s a song called “True Love Will Never Fade” that opens Mark Knopfler’s (You know, ex-Dire Straits) new album called Kill to Get Crimson (don’t ask me why).

It’s a simple sly heartbreaking thing, that I’ve been playing on CD-repeat for hours. (Here are my thoughts on binge listening.

“True Love Never Fades”: On the surface a story about a tatoo artist who falls for a girl who I think wants him to ink “True Love Will Never” on her along with a picture of them. (Or maybe it’s just about the way a tatoo is a way of tryng to stave off fading through it’s sharp etched permanence. It opens with the tatoo artist wondering whether there’s an afterlife–“I don’t know if there’s a forever”–or everything, implicitly, fades away.)

Aside from conjuring up (as every fade away reference must) Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” (and the Stones cover), it makes you think. If love has been true than even if it comes to an end, the truth of it when it was there will won’t fade away. It exists for all time, just as it was. Love is love, not fade away.

But all of this is beside the point. It’s just an amazingly, ravishingly beautiful song and made me realize how many amazing songs Knopler has written.

I mean I’ve been a life long sucker for “Roller Girl” (She’s Makin’ Movies). Anyone have any other Knofpler or Dire Strait faves?

June 16, 2008

CIA Hails One of its Most Pathetic Follies as a Triumph

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 2:20 pm

I have to admit I was stunned to read this astonishingly self-congratulatory declassified memo on the offical CIA website, trying to recast one of their biggest most embarrassing and damgaing failures as some kind of heroic achievment. And pulling the rug out from under themselves in the very same document. I can only assume my favorite website Arts&Letters Daily ( linked to this as further evidence of how incompetent our intelligence agency is.

It’s a long account, written in tones of heroic triumphalism of the building of the Berlin spy tunnel, the one that stretched underground from Allied West Berlin into East Berlin and tapped into Soviet and East German communications at the height of the Cold War.

Listen to the extraordinary dim witted (or blatantly dissembling) author as he congratulates himself and his co-workers:


Over the years, the Berlin Tunnel project has been heatedly debated. Opinions have ranged widely—some favorable, some resentful of its success, some political, and many just plain wrong. Most of the controversy has centered on differing interpretations of net intelligence value of this costly, time-consuming, and technically challenging project. The simple truth, however, is that Leslie M. Gross and his Army Crops of Engineers staff, along with the British sappers, built the tunnel and tap chamber in SECRET!!

Hand salute, gentlemen, hand salute.”

No not hand salute, at least not that kind. To use his deluded caps, IT WAS NOT SECRET!!It’s now widely known that the entire tunnel project was “blown” as they say, made known to the Soviets by a British mole George Blake from the very beginning. Any “intelligence” we obtained from the riduclously expensive tunnel boondoggle was intellligence the Soviets wanted us to know, or disinformation.

And yet look how fraudulently the author presents the controversy over the tunnel:

“Opinions have ranged widely—some favorable, some resentful of its success, some political, and many just plain wrong.”

Um, there’s one opinion missing there, the historically correct one: that it was a pathetic, counter productive failure.

So you have to love that line about “some resentful of its success”. No, you fool, it wasn’t a success, it wasn’t done in secret, it was a titanic failure. It’s hard to believe this omisssion is pure stupidity, or that the intellligence of its officer is representative of the typical “intelligence” agent the CIA employs–although the fact that the agency has been 180 degrees wrong on just about every major issue it’s weighed in on for the past half century–from the Bay of Pigs to Iraq–might suggest so.

What makes you wonder if mere stupidity or something more inept or devious is involved is that the author includes the refutation of his enitre “hail success” “hand-salute” self administered hand job in the footnotes.

Footnote 3 for instance:

“3. Accounts of the tunnel project covering its conception and execution, its compromise by British spy George Blake, and Moscow’s delay in closing it down include: David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors (New York: Harper & Row, 1980); Peter Grose, Gentleman Spy: The Life of Allen Dulles (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994); David E. Murphy, Sergei A. Kondrashev, and George Bailey, Battleground Berlin: CIA vs. KGB in the Cold War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997); and David Stafford, Spies Beneath Berlin (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, 2003).”

Do you see that: “Accounts of the tunnel project covering…its compromise by British spy George Blake.”

In other words he acknowledges the tunnel was a monumental intelligence failure (I’ve read all but the last book cited and there’s no doubt the Soviets were tipped off about it).

What kind of idiot writes thousands of words congratulating himself and the CIA for a triumph and somehow ignores the fact that a footnote pulls the rug out from under it.

It reallymakes you despair that the Agency that allowed this piece of supremely deluded account to be declassified, not only continues to make mistakes, not only refuses to recognize them–but because of that is clearly incapable of learning from them.

it would be sad if such a blatant self contradicting piece of pseudo history was not tragic, a symptom of all the more murderous failures.

June 15, 2008

My Father, the Empire State Building and Me

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 11:59 am

You know, I enjoyed writing about the Chrysler Building (see previous post) and my connection to it and I thought maybe I could revisit a few more of my connections to some famous and some little known New York City landmarks and the memories they evoke. .

Maybe, since it’s Father’s Day I should start with Chrysler’s longtime rival The Empire State Building. It’s a famous landmark to everyone but a landmark to me in a personal way. My father worked there. For thirty years. On the 39th floor. He was a purchaisng agent for a liquor company, who bought printing material for labels and office supplies for, well, the office.

He didn’t live in the city. He was a commuter. Every morning he’d take a 7 o’clock train in to the city and getting back around 7. My sister and I would always drive tothe station with my mother to pick him up. He didn’t like the commute, but he did it because he grew up in a Brooklyn apartment building and always dreamed of having his own home and when he got out of the Army after WWII the G.I. Bill let him buy a house with a lawn in the suburbs which he loved to return to, and the boring job in the city paid for it.

Some of my earliest memories of growing up are riding the Long Island Railroad with him from Bay Shore to Penn Station, then walking cross town to Fifth Avenue and 34th Street, the Empire State building corner.

I loved the fact that he worked in the world’s tallest building, one King Kong couldn’t conquer. It gave me a sense of distinction (however illlusory) that I other- wise lacked as a kid. (well except for having red hair).

I’d go up to Empire State’s observation tower and, um, observe the whole wide world through the giganto-robotic like telescopes they had. Then I’d join him for lunch in a smoky grill in the basement of a building nearby that I’ve since come to believe was the one in Gatsby.

Some parts of his job were interesting. He used to take me to printing plants where he’d explain (and I’d never quite understand) the mechanics of color lithograhy, but I’d thrill to roar of the huge rotating printers. But mainly he just spent most of his life commuting to a job that didn’t challenge him and that he couldn’t improve upon, because he had to drop out of college during the Depression and without a degree never could make the transition from white-collar worker to executive.

But there was one quality he did have which no degree could confer and which I still treasure and feel was part of his gift to me, which was his sense of humor. He had an incredibly silly sense of humor, but one which had a sublime touch of the abusrd to its silliness. A philosophical silliness that was always skeptical fo Big Shots and Big Money and Big Mouths. And always receptive to bad puns.

I remember during my visits to his Empire State office how he’d send a lot of time hanging out with the secretaries and how they all cracked each other up with long running jokes that I sometimes couldn’t follow. But he had created his own little empire of laughter in the Empire State building, and one for his family at home. and I still feel his spirit–I still feel in-spired–every time I glimpse the Emire State spire.

I’ve never said this in print before. Maybe that’s one of things that makes having a blog worthwhile, you can say things like this: I miss you Dad.

June 12, 2008

Dear Abu Dhabi, Don't Dare…

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 1:50 pm

…turn out the lights in the Chrysler Buiding spire.

That was my first thought when I read about the acquisition of the great New York skyscaper by an Abu Dhabi-based investment consortium. That lighted spire–the fact that its lovely light-sabres, those illuminated hierogylphics–light up the night from dusk to dawn is one of my most treasured achievements as a writer/columnist. Don’t take it away from me, don’t take it away from the city or its visitors.

Here’s the story: almost ten years ago I moved into an apartment that had a wonderful bedroom window view of the Chysler Buiilding. It’s not the tallest, but to me it’s the most beautiful New York skyscaper, and nothing more beautiful than its graceful spire lit at night with glowing tubes of light. In-spiring!

Up to a point. That point being 2 a.m. when the then-owner of the building ordered that the lights of the spire be shut off every night. It was shocking, dispiriting. it threw cold watr, a bleak shroud of darkness over the most romantic stretch of the night. It robably deepened the dark night of the soul of the depressed and despairing who saw it shut off. It made a mockery of the the line in that annoying but iconic Sinatra song: “I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps”.

Fortunately I had a city-oriented column at the time, in The New York Observer, and I when I learned that the Chrysler tower had a new owner, I initated a crusade to get them to change the stingy, mingy old policy, return tothe way it had been when the building had just been built and keep the lights on all night long. I asked readers to write in. I talked about the way those lights were symbolic of the thrilling comsmopolitanism of the city.

And guess what? It worked! The new owner Tishman-Speyer changed the old policy and kept the lights on all night long sometimes outglowing the dawn when they were swtiched off at 6 a.m.

I’ve always felt this was my most cherished contribution to the city inwhich I was born and lived most of my life. I imagined lovers and drunks out in the hours betwen 2 and 6 a.m., looking up at the spire and thanking me for the glow of romance or consolation.

Will the new owners keep the lights burning? Last time I checked Abu Dhabi was not suffering from an energy shortage, so let’s not hear any energy saving nonsense. Sometimes astonishihg, unique beauty that millions can behold for free is worth the cost. If you don’t believe inthis principle than you should favor turning off reading lights in libraries, you philistines.

I think that before the sale is finalized to the Abu Dhabi owners, the sellers ought to insist, on behalf of the people of New York City, indeed the people of America, that they sign a codicil pledging to maintain that early morning skyine glow that is such an ethereal but essential part of the city’s beauty.

Don’t cross me on this, Abu Dhabi.

June 7, 2008

Which Mattered More in Obama vs. Clinton: Racism or Sexism?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ronrosenbaumwriter @ 2:09 pm

I was crossing the street in 100 degree heat we’re having here in New York City and perhaps because of heat derangement it occurred to me that every blogger is required to have an opinion on this racism vs. sexisim question. This was shortly after listening to Hillary Clinton’s putatively final concession speech. (If you want to know the truth I don’t think the ambiguity over whether she has “released” her delegates or wants a nominating speech and a roll call vote for “history” has been resolved and I have a feeling it will become an attention grabbing issue between now and the convention. And that she’s still hedging against the possibility of “somethng happening” and not dismissing her troops between now and August. Anyone who’s read Prince John’s dirty trick in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 2 will know what I’m talking about.)

But to return to the racism versus sexism question. I’ve read a lot of blogs claiming how terribly Hillary Clinton was hurt by sexism, and there were many ugly instances indeed, but in fact I think she benefitted more from the fact that she was a woman, which allowed her candidacy to become a cause that transcended the other part of her identity: her the corrupt legacy of Clintonism, of both Bill and Hill. I think she gained more votes because of her sex than she lost because of it. While the stunning drop off in white votes for Obama after Super Tuesday makes clear that he lost more votes because of his race than he may have gained.

I think his winning the nomination was a civil rights landmark even if he loses the election–sometimes progress comes in stages. But I also think the primary election process revealed something ugly about the perisistence of racism in America, particularly in the Democratic Party, even among so called liberals, as anyone who spent time reading some of the comments on the pro-Hillary blogs, and pro Hillary comments on pro Obama blogs can testify.

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