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A First in Washington Journalism

A First in Washington Journalism

Comment (on WashPost article quoted below):
    Ever since the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA employee under
cover--a despicable act involving Rove, Libby, Novak, Armitage and
Woodward--reporters have been careful to offer an explanation as to why
one of their sources insisted on being kept anonymous. This was no doubt
under pressure from their editors and employers but not customarily
because these sources might be under threat of legal jeopardy. The usual
explanations have been "because the matter is sensitive," or "because
the source was not authorized to speak with the press," or "because the
source was not authorized to discuss this subject," or some such hollow
evasion. Now we have, in the eighth paragraph of the following article
by Thomas Ricks, an outstanding and astonishing resort to candor: the
source "spoke on the condition of anonymity because he wants to keep his
job"! That should become the standard explanation for these anonymities,
because it is likely to be true in almost all cases. Stay anonymous and
keep your job! What isn't said is that anonymity also prevents the
reader from questioning the accuracy of the report, and/or the hidden
ulterior motives of the source, and/or the reliability of the source.
What also isn't addressed is whether the source is using the reporter to
"spin" the story, or whether the reporter is using the anonymous source
to promote his own argument or agenda. Anyway, let's all keep our jobs.

Gates: Pakistan an Al-Qaeda Target

By Thomas E. Ricks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 22, 2007; A09

A resurgent al-Qaeda terrorist network has shifted the focus of its
attacks to Pakistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday.

"Al-Qaeda right now seems to have turned its face toward Pakistan and
attacks on the Pakistani government and Pakistan people," Gates told
reporters.

The Pentagon chief did not specify the nature or location of the group's
operations in the South Asian nation, but he went on say that al-Qaeda
has "reestablished itself" along Pakistan's ungoverned area along its
border with Afghanistan.

Gates's assessment of the group's revival echoed the findings of U.S.
intelligence officials this summer that al-Qaeda has gained strength and
established safe havens in western Pakistan where it could plan attacks
and train new recruits. Robert Cardillo, the Defense Intelligence
Agency's deputy director for analysis, at the time blamed the group's
renewal on an agreement Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf made with
tribal chiefs in 2006 to withdraw army units from the border area. But
the notion that the terrorist group is turning its efforts against
Pakistan indicates that the Bush administration views the current tumult
in Pakistan as a battle against al-Qaeda rather than an internal
struggle between Musharraf and other political figures.

Gates also said that the Pakistani army has had "some success" with its
recent fighting against religious militants in the Swat region, also
near the Afghan border but north of the tribal areas. Pakistani military
officials said last week that they had put down a local Islamic
extremist rebellion in that scenic valley.

Experts on Pakistani security affairs had mixed reactions to Gates's
assertions about al-Qaeda and operations in Swat.

"I think Gates is right on this one," said Karl F. Inderfurth, a former
assistant secretary of state for South Asia. "I have little doubt that
al-Qaeda is turning its attention to Pakistan to further destabilize the
chaotic political situation there." He noted that in September, Osama
bin Laden called on Pakistanis to fight Musharraf, his army and his
other supporters.

But a Pentagon specialist on counterterrorism efforts on the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border dismissed the defense secretary's
assessment. "Gates is drinking the . . . Kool-Aid like this
administration has for the last six years," he said. "My info suggests
that [the Pakistanis] are not doing very well in Swat." He also said
that the fighters there are not affiliated with al-Qaeda. He spoke on
the condition of anonymity because he wants to keep his job.

Nor is it clear that al-Qaeda is the real threat in the rest of
Pakistan, said Teresita C. Schaffer, a former deputy assistant secretary
of state for South Asia. "Clearly, extremist violence has emerged as the
biggest danger to the Pakistan state," she said. "I don't know if it is
al-Qaeda or not."

Looking elsewhere in Asia, Gates said the U.S. government was "pretty
annoyed" with the Chinese government's refusal last month to permit a
U.S. aircraft carrier, the USS Kitty Hawk, to make a long-planned port
call in Hong Kong. The surprise move has been variously attributed to
Chinese unhappiness with President Bush's appearance with the Dalai Lama
in October or with how the United States has reacted to the Taiwan
government's plan to hold a referendum in March on whether to apply to
join the United Nations under that name rather than under its official
title, the Republic of China.

Gates attributed the Chinese action to "confusion" in the Beijing
government. There were indications, he said, that "the military may have
made a decision that was not communicated to the political side of the
government."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a prepared statement before her
own news conference yesterday, decried the Taiwanese government's
planned referendum on joining the United Nations as "a provocative
policy." She said the move "unnecessarily raises tensions in the Taiwan
Strait and it promises no real benefits for the people of Taiwan on the
international stage."

Chinese officials have sought a tough statement from the administration
on the referendum, and Rice's remarks came while the United States is
hoping that China would put pressure on North Korea to live up to a
pledge to fully disclose its nuclear programs.

Staff writer Glenn Kessler contributed to this report.


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Robert V. Keeley
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