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The ghost of William Arkin past.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

HH: Joined now by William Arkin. He’s a senior fellow at the Center For Strategic Education at Johns Hopkins University. He is also an NBC News analyst on military affairs, a frequent contributor to the Los Angeles Times on the same subject, the author of the op-ed in the Los Angeles Times today about General Boykin. Welcome to the program, Mr. Arkin, thanks for joining us.

WA: Thank you very much. Thank you.

HH: I’d like to begin with how the story came to be, because there are conflicting reports. MSNBC is reporting that you were working for the L.A. Times, the L.A. Times suggested in its story today that you were working for MSNBC. Give us the background.

WA: Well, I write a column for the L.A. Times, but I’m also a military analyst for NBC. So in an unusual twist of fate, the two actually were able to cooperate. I wrote a column in the L.A. Times on the op-ed page today, I normally write in the Sunday paper. The L.A. Times did a news story on the front page, and NBC did a piece last night on the Nightly News, so it was all coordinated, and I think that NBC’s contribution was really its ability to showcase the video and audio of General Boykin, which I think is much more powerful than anything I could put into words on paper.

HH: So the Los Angeles Times agreed to let NBC go first?

WA: Yes.

HH: Okay. How did you come up with the story?

WA: Well, you know, I had never really heard of General Boykin prior to this event, and about two months ago or so, it became evident to me that he was going to be a key player in this newly established office of intelligence in the Pentagon. And then it became clear that he also had a very strong and important role in the reinvigoration of the so-called high value target plan after the Iraq war, that is focusing special operations and intelligence on the big three, Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. And so I started looking into his background, and while it was interesting enough to begin with, because he is quite an important figure in the history of special operations and counterterrorism from the Iranian hostage rescue attempt in 1980, all the way through failed mission in Somalia and Grenada, Panama, Colombia…I mean, he’s been there and he’s done that.

HH: He’s a warrior’s warrior, is I think…

WA: Oh, I would say that he certainly is. But then, strangely enough, what started coming up was people talking about his strong religious beliefs, and his outspokenness, and I found that he had not only been speaking in Churches throughout the country, but had done so since he had been appointed the deputy undersecretary, and had addressed issues that it seemed to me were completely and utterly incompatible with a policy making position in the Pentagon.

HH: How did you find out about that?

WA: Well, you know, ironically, it was a lot of Church newsletters, efforts on the part of Evangelical Churches to sell videos and audios of his appearances…

HH: Did anyone tip you off to him? Did someone write to you and say…

WA: My source that had talked to me about Boykin and his role felt like there was something that needed to be looked into, but…

HH: Someone inside the Pentagon tipped you?

WA: Yes, yes.

HH: Someone in that office?

WA: Someone in the Pentagon.

HH: Is it a civilian or a military?

WA: Oh, I wouldn’t want to say that.

HH: Oh, that’s not revealing the source, Bill. Come on.

WA: And so, I think that I wanted to…it was clear that it was worth looking into, and once I started looking, I started seeing.

HH: Is it possible that your source intended to knock Boykin out?

WA: No, I don’t think so.

HH: What do you think the motive was?

WA: Look, I think that it was that there was a plan. In fact, the original…our original plan was to just do a story on Boykin’s role in the reinvigorated high value target plan. It wasn’t about Boykin’s political views at all.

HH: So the L.A. Times suggested that story, and you ran…

WA: No, no. I suggested the story. I mean, this is my initiative, and I’m just saying that the original plan was to merely look at this sort of not very well known, yet important figure, and the fact that he had been put in this central position in the war on terrorism.

HH: And as you investigated, you found someone who didn’t like his religious…

WA: Yes.

HH: …proselytizing.

WA: Well, no, I found that I didn’t like his religious associations and views. I mean, let’s be clear. I mean, I sunk my teeth into this story, because I was alarmed by the fact that somebody with these views could rise to such an important policy making position in the Pentagon.

HH: That’s what I want to get to now. That’s clear from the story. Before we do, one more question. So the L.A. Times, did they pay you for it? Or is it and NBC…

WA: I’m a columnist for the L.A. Times.

HH: So this…you got no extra pay for this? But when you presented it, did it go up the editorial chain? Did they…how did it get to the front page, because it’s an op-ed?

WA: Well, a news story was written about my op-ed piece. That’s how it happens.

HH: But who assigned that? Who said this is newsworthy?

WA: Well, the L.A. Times decided it was newsworthy.

HH: Was it John Carroll? Was it Dean Baquet? Was it, you know, did you talk to any of those guys about it?

WA: Not directly, no. But this is not the first time that there’s been a news story written off of one of my columns, because I tend to break hard news in my commentaries, and so therefore, we have established a well-worn way of dealing with that within the L.A. Times.

HH: All right, there is a line in your piece I want to focus on. “Boykin is in a senior Pentagon policy making position, and it’s a serious mistake to allow a man who believes in a Christian jihad to hold such a job.” Was he quoted, actually, as calling for Christian jihad?

WA: No, that’s my term. I think it’s in quotes.

HH: That’s why I thought maybe it was a direct quote.

WA: Yeah…no, no. I think that that’s a characterization of what it is that he’s referring to here.

HH: So he’s never called, he never actually used the word jihad?

WA: No, he hasn’t, no.

HH: All right. When you say he’s an intolerant extremist who has spoken openly about how his belief in Christianity has trumped Muslims and other non-Christians in battle, do you think he’s significantly more Christian than the President of the United States?

WA: Well, I don’t know the President of the United States, and I don’t know Boykin for that matter. But I have over a hundred pages of transcripts of his audio and video presentations, and so therefore, I can at least familiarize myself with his view in some depth. I mean, to some degree, Boykin delivers a boilerplate speech. But beyond that, you have a sense of what it is that he believes, because he repeats it over and over and over again. So…

HH: Are you going to make the transcripts available online so people can view them?

WA: I think there are excerpts of those transcripts already available online on MSNBC.

HH: How about the entire transcripts?

WA: Well, no one has asked me for them.

HH: I’d love to have them.

WA: That’s great.

HH: I think it’s very important, because I don’t think that I can really judge this guy outside of the context of the entire speech.

WA: I think that’s fair enough. I think that’s fair enough.

HH: How do people get them?

WA: Well, they would have to e-mail me and ask for it.

HH: All right, we’ll give you back to Duane, well get it. I’m sending everyone to the website to read it. But just so I get…make sure I’m sure about this, John Carroll, Dean Baquet, they knew the article was coming, they knew they gave it to MSNBC first, correct?

WA: I wouldn’t be able to tell you whether they personally knew, but I deal with my bosses who are editors in L.A., and I’m sure that they dealt with their bosses as well.

End of interview.

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