In its effort to vet one of the leading GOP presidential candidates, Dr. Ben Carson, the New York Times didn’t properly vet its primary source in this vetting, former CIA officer Duane Clarridge—an indicted liar and overseer of Contra death squads in Central America.
While the Times‘ Trip Gabriel briefly notes the former, he completely omits the latter, instead offering this starry-eyed description:
Mr. Clarridge, described by Mr. Carson’s top adviser, Armstrong Williams, as “a mentor for Dr. Carson,” is acolorful, even legendary figure in intelligence circles, someone who could have stepped out of a Hollywood thriller. He was a longtime CIA officer, serving undercover in India, Turkey, Italy and other countries, and sprinkles his remarks with salty language.
As head of Reagan’s CIA division in Latin America in the 1980s, Clarridge took part in the effort to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government by illegally supplying funds and arms to the Contras—a right-wing terrorist movement thatcommitted brutal war crimes. This was not an unforeseen consequence, but the point of the operation; asked by CIA Director William Casey to come up with a strategy for dealing with the Sandinista revolution, Clarridge writes in hismemoir A Spy for All Seasons:
Take the war to Nicaragua.
Start killing Cubans.
Clarridge acknowledges that his plan, “stated so bluntly, undoubtedly sounds harsh.”
He also boasts of having come up with the idea of mining Nicaragua’s harbors to interfere with shipping:
I remember sitting with a glass of gin on the rocks, smoking a cigar (of course), and pondering my dilemma, when it hit me. Sea mines were the solution…. To this day I wonder why I didn’t think of it sooner.
The mines were, as conservative icon Sen. Barry Goldwater pointed out, an “act of war”—and predictably resulted in the deaths of civilians, something that doesn’t trouble Clarridge overly much. Or, apparently, the New York Times.
The Times vaguely alludes to the Iran/Contra scandal but without mentioning what it entailed, namely that Clarridge had an operational involvement with terrorist death squads.
In addition to this bloodsoaked past, Clarridge has more recently been a freelance hit-list generator for the Defense Department in Afghanistan (New York Times, 3/14/10)–part of what the Times referred to as “an off-the-books spy operation.”
The kid-glove treatment would even extend to ethnic slurs, which the Times glosses over without citing specifically. Gabriel quotes Clarridge dismissing the notion—spread by right-wing media—that there are Chinese troops in Syria, “using an ethnic slur for the Chinese.” If a top adviser to a leading presidential candidate is referring to Chinese people as “Chinks”—or the equivalent—isn’t that a newsworthy fact that the New York Times ought to report?
It’s not a surprise a New York Times Beltway insider like Trip Gabriel would whitewash Clarridge’s brutal resume to the point of unrecognizability, but it doesn’t make using a grotesque violator of human rights and a known liar to kneecap Carson any less sleazy. On the issue of policy knowledge, it is more than fair to point out Carson’s shortcomings. But the bigger story here—that a leading candidate’s primary international adviser is a CIA goon with a bloody (or as the Times would put it “colorful”) past—is buried in a story about a routine DC pissing match.
This is how America’s war crimes are laundered, by absorbing the most complicit and criminal into respectable circles by passing them off as “experts” with “legendary” pasts. The Times would have better served its readers by pointing out, in clear and honest terms, what this “colorful, even legendary” past amounted to. It would help put Clarridge’s testimony—and Carson’s potential nomination—into historical and moral context.
Adam H. Johnson is an associate editor at AlterNet and writes frequently for FAIR.org. Follow him on Twitter at @adamjohnsonnyc. Jim Naureckas is the editor of FAIR.org.
You can send a message to the New York Times at email@example.com, or write to public editor Margaret Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org (Twitter:@NYTimes or @Sulliview). Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective.