“Obama’s Wars”: The Real Story Bob Woodward Won’t Tell

Just one year before the publication of “Obama’s Wars,” Bob Woodward became a player in his own book-in-progress. He morphed into his true identity: Warrior Bob. Actually, there’s an even deeper persona, Agent Woodward—but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In June of 2009, Woodward traveled to Afghanistan with General Jim Jones, President Obama’s National Security adviser, to meet with General Stanley McChrystal, then the commander of forces there. Why did Jones allow this journalist to accompany him? Because Jones knew that Woodward could be counted on to deliver the company line—the military line. In fact, Jones was essentially Woodward’s patron.

The New Republic‘s Gabriel Sherman wrote at the time that

…Jones was a guest of Woodward at his wife Elsa Walsh’s fiftieth birthday party held at Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee’s house. He and Elsa were glued to Jones at the cocktail party before the dinner started…

In September of last year, McChrystal (or someone close to him) leaked to Woodward a document that essentially forced President Obama’s hand. Obama wanted time to consider all options on what to do about Afghanistan. But the leak, publicizing the military’s “confidential” assertion that a troop increase was essential, cast the die, and Obama had to go along. Nobody was happier than the Pentagon—and, it should be said, its allies in the vast military contracting establishment.

The website Firedoglake chronicled the developments in a pungent essay:

Apparently General McChrystal and the Petraeus cabal aren’t willing to wait for their Commander in Chief to set the strategy. Prior to the President’s interviews, McChrystal’s people were already telling journalists that they were “impatient with Obama” as Nancy Youssef reported. This “Power Play,” as I mentioned last night, included a veiled threat that McChrystal would resign if he didn’t get his way.

And sure enough, just hours after the Commander in Chief was on the airwaves, somehow McChrystal’s classified report hit the Washington Post … compliments of Bob Woodward no less.

Wow, what a coincidence!

This episode highlights a crucial aspect of Bob Woodward’s career that has been ignored by most of the media. Simply put, Woodward is the military’s man, and always has been.

For almost four decades, under cover of his supposedly “objective” reporting, Woodward has represented the viewpoints of the military and intelligence establishments. Often he has done so in the context of complex inside maneuvering of which he gives his readers little clue. He did it with the book Veil, about CIA director William Casey, in which he relied on Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, a rival of Casey’s, as his key source. (Inman, from Texas, was closely identified with the Bush faction of the CIA.) The book was based in part on a “deathbed interview” with Casey that Casey’s widow and former CIA guards said never took place.

Typically, Woodward uses information he gets from his main sources to gain access to others. He then gets more secrets from them, and so on down the line.  His stature—if that’s the word—as a repository of this inside dope has been key to the relentless success machine that his media colleagues have perpetuated. The New York Times review of his Obama book laid out the formula:

In Obama’s Wars, Mr. Woodward, as usual, eschews analysis and commentary. Instead, he hews to his I Am a Tape Recorder technique, using his insider access to give readers interested in inside-the-Beltway politics lots of granular detail harvested from interviews conducted on background, as well as leaked memos, meeting notes and other documents. Some of this information is revealing about the interplay of personality and policy and politics in Washington; some of it is just self-serving spin. As he’s done in his earlier books, Mr. Woodward acknowledges that attributions of thoughts, conclusions or feelings to a person were in some cases not obtained directly from that person, but from notes or from a colleague whom the person told— a questionable but increasingly popular method, which means the reader should take the reconstructed scenes with a grain of salt.

And then, thanks to all this attention, and even with that grain of salt, the book went to #1.

But might there be more to Woodward and his oeuvre than just questionable work practices? Well, let’s see. Woodward granted former CIA director George H.W. Bush a pass by excluding him from accounts of Iran-Contra, which occurred while the notorious intriguer was vice president under the notoriously hands-off Ronald Reagan. (When I asked Woodward about this for my book Family of Secrets, he replied, “Bush was…What was it he said at the time? I was out of the loop?”) Later Woodward got exclusive access to H.W.’s son. He spent more time with George W. Bush than did any other journalist, writing several largely sympathetic books about his handling of Iraq and Afghanistan before playing catch-up with prevailing sentiment and essentially reversing course.

Now, for a bit of cognitive dissonance. Woodward’s signature achievement - bringing down Richard Nixon - turns out not to be what we all thought. If that comes as a surprise, you have missed a few books, including bestsellers, that put pieces of this puzzle together. (Family of Secrets has several chapters on the real Watergate story, but there are others that present detailed information, including those by Len Colodny and Robert Gettlin, James Rosen, Jim Hougan and others.)

Here’s the deal: Bob, top secret Naval officer, gets sent to work in the Nixon White House while still on military duty. Then, with no journalistic credentials to speak of, and with a boost from White House staffers, he lands a job at the Washington Post.  Not long thereafter he starts to take down Richard Nixon. Meanwhile, Woodward’s military bosses are running a spy ring inside the White House that is monitoring Nixon and Kissinger’s secret negotiations with America’s enemies (China, Soviet Union, etc), stealing documents and funneling them back to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They then give what they stole to columnist Jack Anderson and others in the press.

That’s not the iconic Woodward of legend, of course—so it takes a while for this notion to settle in the mind.  But there’s more—and it’s even more troubling. Did you know there was really no Deep Throat, that the Mark Felt story was conjured up as yet another layer of cover in what became a daisy chain of disinformation? Did you know that Richard Nixon was loathed and feared by the military brass, that they and their allies were desperate to get Nixon out and halt his rapprochement with the Communists?  That a bunch of operatives with direct or indirect CIA/military connections, from E. Howard Hunt to Alexander Butterfield to John Dean—wormed their way into key White House posts, and started up the Keystone Kops operations that would be laid at Nixon’s office door?

Believe me, I understand. It sounds like the “conspiracy theory” stuff that we have been trained to dismiss. But I’ve just spent five years on a heavily documented forensic dig into this missing strata of American history, and I myself have had to come to terms with the enormous gap between reality and the “reality” presented by the media and various establishment gatekeepers who tell us what’s what.

Given this complicity, it’s no surprise that when it comes to Woodward’s latest work, the myth-making machine is on auto pilot. The public, of course, will end up as confused and manipulated as ever. And so things will continue, same as they ever were. Endless war, no substantive reforms. Unless we wake up to our own victimhood.

Image Credit:  (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/09/07/entertainment/main6841974.shtml)

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  • Marycat Knapik-Dague

    I do not like being confused. Thank you for shedding light on something I never really understood.

  • http://www.newcombat.net William Johnney

    Bradlee’s own career was underpinned by “intelligence.”

    He was hired by Phil Graham (co-founder of CIA’s Operation Mockingbird, for which the Washington Post was home). Graham himself is best thought of not as a CIA “asset” but colleague.

    Bradlee was suddenly transferred from Wash Post to the US Information Agency (a CIA affiliate) and sent to Paris, where he led the program to destroy the reputation of the Rosenbergs in the press as their trial and execution set off anti-american (ie, “pro communist”) waves across Europe.

    Mission accomplished, Bradlee was then transferred back to the Private Sector — and given the plum DC-bureau chief job at Newsweek — which was owned by career CIAist Richard Helms’ grandfather but shortly thereafter sold to the Post company.

    Bradley was, then, more than a Mockingbird-type CIA asset. He was much more active than that. And upon return to DC lived next door to Senator Jack Kennedy.

    Deborah Davis details all this in her must-read book, KATHARINE THE GREAT. Bradlee has twice, to my knowledge, responded to her charges but never with detail and never rebutting them.

    Postscript. David Talbot in his recent Kennedy book, BROTHERS, asks Bradlee why, especially given his friendship with JFK, he didn’t pursue, as a journalist, the story of his assassination.

    Bradlee responds that he was just another reporter knocking around DC. Referring to the 60s.

    Talbot never asks (in the pub’d book) the obvious question: Why during the 70s, post Watergate, when Bradlee was the most powerful journalist in the country and the House Committee on Assassinations was mounting an effective investigation of the murder … Why then didn’t Bradlee pursue the story?

    The answer I’m afraid is that from the day he was hired by Phil Graham in the early 50s he was an Asset of the Company. And the Company’s fingers, if not hands, were dirty in the murder.

  • http://www.newcombat.net William Johnney

    Having also spent many years inside Watergate and related, I agree with much of you write above on that.

    However I find Jim Hougan’s SECRET AGENDA something of a good and necessary tonic to SILENT COUP, the latter of which is uneven and, in my eyes, is basically a CIA publication doing it’s best to defuse the Hougan research by casting eyes and aspersions toward the Pentagon (rather than Langley).

    Together the two books are very valuable.

    Another: Carl Oglesby’s great book on Watergate and JFK: THE YANKEE AND COWBOY WAR. One of the best books about Washington of the postwar era.

  • http://www.newcombat.net William Johnney

    I’ve never seen a good argument or evidence that Mark Felt was not DT. Can you point to your reason for saying so?

  • http://familyofsecrets.com Russ Baker

    Mr. Johnney, have you read Family of Secrets? That would be a good start for you. Even Woodward’s own literary agent says there was no Deep Throat. And, of course, Felt himself never claimed to be DT, as he was unable to speak for himself. We are merely told that he claimed to be the source. And in fact, Woodward dealt with many “sources”–but right from the start, only a single story line.

  • Richard Cummings

    Carl Bernstein, himself, said that Deep Throat was a composite. After he said it, the business with Felt came out.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/realist Realist

    Who cares whether or not Felt was Deep Throat?

    Isn’t the real issue how we are going to regain control of the military from the warmongering capitalists who are using it to further their campaign of global colonialism?

    Most of us already know the old saying about money talking, and those who don’t will soon enough, thanks to the Citizens United ruling. Somehow this undue and unbalanced influence has to be countered among the average people, or else the corporatist agenda cannot be thwarted – at least not by American citizens.

    Somewhere down the road, the US merchantilists will collide with the Chinese, and the next world war will commence over which of the conflicting agendas will dominate world commerce. We can count on any and every weapon being used in the service of one economic system against the other. How quickly one side succumbs to the other will determine whether mankind can survive, even in small numbers. I am not very hopeful. We seem determined to destroy the entire planet in the pursuit of the last dollar, and no single person’s life is seen as being worth that much to the plutocracy.

  • Frank Betz

    In my advancing years I am finding ever more conspiracy theories valid, and these allegations about Woodward seem fully plausable.
    Your history of the CIA going back to John McCloy and earlier to the OSS was stunning investigative journalism.
    I’m as fully paranoid as anyone by now as anyone, including my suspician that William Casey did not die of a brain anurism in Bethesda Naval Hospital and that Vincent Foster didn’t commit suicide. So what really happened? This stuff is all way above my pay grade, and I really don’t need to know, because too much knowledge can be bad for one’s health.

  • http://www.bowstring.net Sterling Seagrave

    During the several years in the 1960s that I worked in the Washington Post newsroom, I was told repeatedly by senior staff members that “all” the top brass at the newspaper had served with Phil Graham in the OSS, or military intelligence. And that was how and why they were appointed by him to run the paper after the war. So I was not surprised to learn recently that Woodward had been a spook before he was hired, then given fast-track handling moving up. Thanks, Russ, for drawing attention to this curious bedfellow relationship. Too bad these covert relationships between reporters and the alphabet agencies are not common knowledge.

  • http://trineday.com Robert Millegan

    Let’s mention the fact that Woodward, besides his military background is also a member of the Order of Book & Snake a sister society to Yale’s Order of Skull & Bones. Ex CIA chief Porter Goss is also a member of Book & Snake.
    Of course these are just college clubs and have nothing to do with anything, nor do the Bushes or S&B have any ties the illegal drug trade.

  • Anoni-mouse

    I am coming to a close on the book “Family of Secrets”. It has taken me 4 months to read this front to back & every single citation in back of book. I researched many of the citations to understand it all even more. I am of the 1970’s days during the Kennedy conspiracy ideas. I watched Nixon resign. The CIA stuff and the idea that 1% of the wealthy basically ran America. It seems to be true enough. I’ve choked and sputtered my way through the “Baby”Bush era of 2000-2008: The “Family of Secrets”, written by Russ Baker, clarifies and adds to the gut sense I’ve had and have been exposed to of wrong doing in the country. Are there no consequences?
    I remember the days of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstien, the investigative reporters who wrote “All The President’s Men”. We ate it up..finally, someone told the story of corruption in the White House…How little we knew that Bob Woodward was in on the whole plot the whole time. What does he say for himself now. These people have no sense of honor, duty or shame. They all should lose their ‘recess ‘ for the rest of their lives. =>on the bench to major time out. Shame on them. shame on the Bush family clan for bringing this country to its knees. Dirty people.
    Can it be that being so dirty can get you places you want to be?

  • James Fredericks

    An interesting notion for the CIA/military to install stooges, moles even, high in the liberal “establishment” to bring down erring conservatives and those that have outlived their shelf life, and to otherwise spread credible disinformation.

    The conspiracy within conspiracy aspects of this makes my eyes water. It’s hard enough to establish when there was a single layered conspiracy – look at the disdainful skepticism of alternate 9/11 conspiracy theories (the official theory is a conspiracy theory after all) by the likes of Chomsky, Monbiot and Galloway who should be all over it like a rash.

  • McCloud

    Well, if Woodward really has been an asset of the MIC all these years right under the nose of Bernstein and all the communist sympathizers associated with the media industrial complex he’s done a helluva job and really deserves his spook creds. Slam dunk, hehe.

  • Jed

    I just want to thank Russ for helping to peel away the facade of what is perceived history and calling out an operative like Woodward.

    Funny, one has ask what Carl Bernstein must think or know of all this. He must obviously be suspect as one half of the mythical “WoodStein”. But…..after he left the Post in ’77 he wrote an in depth article for Rolling Stone showing direct CIA complicity within major US media outlets after WW2. Russ covers this well in his book. It was and still is a stunning expose on our so-called free press. Chilling in the most Orwellian sense.

    Again Russ points this out and I just took another quick look and barely a mention of the Post and our cast of merry characters. I guess that’s not a big surprise but if he was in on the fix with Woodward why the big CIA/media expose just a few years later. Curious contradiction it seems. Anything to add Carl?

    Dark times indeed. Then again looking back, it was “in-the-dark” times.

    I’m going to see James Douglass of ‘JKF and the Unspeakable’ fame this week in Worcester Mass. Highly recommended and goes well next to ‘Family of Secrets’.

    Also, Project Censored has now seen the light and is challenging hard for 911 Truth in their latest edition.

  • Cat

    Nice article, Russ! I am going on Wednesday to get your book!

  • Skeptic

    Thanks for the amusing essay. I think you’re trying to ascribe way too much of an ideological mission to Bob Woodward’s work. Here’s the way it’s always looked to me:

    1. Woodward has an omnivore’s appetite for Beltway scoops. He’ll chat up all sorts of people in the power pyramid, in hopes of getting the next one.

    2. Some people in the military/intelligence community have figured out that if you think hard about what you want to tell Bob, and then tell him something genuinely newsy that fits your needs, being interviewed by him can be a profitable experience.

    3. This insight is freely available to anyone in Washington who can figure out how to make it work. It’s surprising how many people over the years — of all political persuasions — have acquired the knack. It’s even more surprising how many haven’t.

  • Kathleen O’Neill

    Thanks to you Russ for the article and the posters for their very interesting comments. I’ve read many of the pieces cited (Bernstein’s article about CIA infiltration of the media, Hougan’s Secret Agenda and Oglesby’s Yankee and Cowboy War) and it’s time to read your book now. I think one of the reasons Obama has not prosecuted the Bush regime for war crimes is because he knows his presidency would not survive. We are in a very bad place morally, spiritually and ethically..

  • Fredrick

    Bravo again, Russ. I love your site and turn on many people to it. Your writing on many of the topics covered in your book “Family Secrets” are coming on strong to many people, judging by the responses. Basically, it rings true for anyone with a longer than one-minute attention span and a penchant for real HISTORY!.

    It’s great to have a blog that people can write about how they, too, have also seen the path of the corruption in our country and its consequences.

    It’s a dark, deep and unsettling place, and Woodward’s shilling for the military/industrial complex, and the Post, dear Lord, the Grahams and all, make for a very interesting history of history making media, or shall we say, media making (fake) history.

    Nice work on your book. It’s exactly the same way that I saw, during my own personal, intensive reading and curiosity that something was seriously wrong.

    I, born in ’52, and was into JFK big time, even at my young age. I have gone through what you write about in your book, post JFK assassination, and noted through reading, the dots connecting to the same powers that are still around today, ruining the country with guns, drugs and oil corruption.

    I have been telling my friends, speaking some truth on the radio…. and many people for years about the real news behind the news. From JFK, to RFK, to MLK to the 60s and beyond, it’s the unfortunate history that you have exposed. It’s the both the tip and the iceberg. It all lines up. You’re a good compiler of information. Keep it up. The worm hole is pretty large when you get the big picture.

    Thanks Mr. Baker for your work and telling it in a chronological way so to connect the dots.

  • marcel b

    noted, keep up great work = marcel and minnie

  • Jed

    Fortunate enough to see James Douglass(“JFK & the Unspeakable”) last night. I feel his work gets right to the core of the issue – out of control Military Industrial(Media) Complex. JFK rebuked the National Secuirty state – fired A.Dulles, created back channel alliances with our adversaries to avert war and paid the ultimate price. Douglass also framed the talk around what Obama faces today when dealing with the generals – and caving in, for now at least. He pointed to Woodward’s Obama book(as Russ did) for evidence that the generals did not even give Obama the choices that he asked for. Not enough time last night to get into Woodward’s manipulations though.

    Douglass has hope(slim) that maybe, like JFK, Obama can recognize the forces at work and resist.

    When asked, he also had high praise for David Ray Griffin and his many books on the 911 truth issues. He knows him personally and said he was a great man and theologian.

    It’s all part of the same continuum.

  • sgt_doom

    There have been some truly sterling comments here (especially from William Johnney and Sterling Seagrave: much thanks) — and deservedly so, given Russ Baker’s outstanding blog post, but I would like to address several remarks made (which suggest ongoing befuddlement at the constant conspiracy within conspiracies design).

    The Realist says:

    “Somewhere down the road, the US merchantilists will collide with the Chinese, and the next world war will commence over which of the conflicting agendas will dominate world commerce.”

    Again, let’s examine the situation a bit closer. The Chinese mining companies mine copper in Afghanistan, under the protection of the US military, said copper then transported to those factories and production facilities which manufacture those multinationals’ products in China.

    Those pipelines built, or being built, to run across Afghanistan and end in India, will supply gas and oil for those facilties and infrastructure in India to the profit of those multinationals who own and profit from them.

    Just as the oil in southern Iraq principally goes to China, to keep those factories and facilities humming for the profit of the multinationals.

    To Mr. Johnney:

    As for former FBI asst. director Felt being DT — an impossibility. Nixon had the Oval Office swept daily for bugs, once by the Secret Service and a second time by a private firm he had brought in personally. How could Felt have possibly come by this information.

    Woodward, on the other hand, had contacts there going back to his time there when he was an office in the Naval Investigation Service.

    One of Woodward’s duties was performing background checks on members of the White House Communications Agency — you know, those tech types responsible for the phones, intercoms and comm equipment in the White House bunker.

    Now those were some real contacts!

  • sgt_doom

    Sorry, one other comment I forgot to include.

    While it pains me greatly to mention this, I strongly believe that speech writer Ted Sorensen falls into the same category as Ben Bradlee.

    One need only examine his actions after the assassination of JFK, what organizations he later belonged to, his remarks on Peter G. Peterson’s retirement as chairman of the Council on Foreign Relations, etc.

    Sorry to say, the Financial-Intelligence Complex had things diabolically well covered.

  • Tarl

    I recommend Richard Thornton’s The Nixon-Kissinger Years for an interesting take on Watergate. Just to tantalize you with one of the ideas from this book — Deep Throat is not a person.

  • Rich

    It’s a small point, but, according to Wikipedia, Bob Woodward did apply for a job at the Washington Post upon his discharge from the Navy in August, 1970. Metropolitan Editor Harry M. Rosenfeld gave him a two-week trial, but decided not to hire him due to his lack of experience. Woodward then wrote for the Washington Sentinel, a weekly publication in the DC suburbs. After a year there he was hired by the Post in September, 1971.

  • http://familyofsecrets.com Russ Baker

    RIch, Wikipedia can be useful, but it is hardly the definitive source for those seeking deeper research. For more on this topic, may I refer you to my book, Family of Secrets, where I go into the background to Woodward’s hiring and for whom he was working when he went into journalism?

  • rich

    Tnx Russ. I’ve already put in a reserve request for your book at my library.

  • Rich

    I emailed the Washington Sentinel (now two weeklies, the Montgomery Sentinel and the Prince George’s Sentinel) which was followed up by a phone conversation with the publisher, Dr. Bernard Kaplioff. Dr. Kaplioff said Bob Woodward worked for his publication for a “short period of time”. The publication was sued for libel for something Woodward wrote. It was the only libel case the paper has ever lost. Dr. Kapiloff seemed especially upset because Woodward never showed up in court.

  • Rich

    I stand corrected on the above statement. The Sentinel won the libel case after taking it all the way to the Supreme Court. It was in fact the only libel charge in the history of the publication. If you Google in Dunn vs Sentinel you can find a Time Magazine article about the case.

  • Hawkeye

    Yes, we’ve been trained to laugh at and deride conspiracies. That’s intentional. I’ve always wondered why a conspiracy is so far fetched and ludicrous to the average person. When I mention conspiracies, people chuckle, and then I ask them, well, why not conspire? I’d conspire with like minded people in a heartbeat if it meant anything.

    People never give me a good answer.

  • http://www.bowstring.net Sterling Seagrave

    Bradlee, Graham, and Woodward (and all of Graham’s wartime cronies), can’t be seen as something new at the WashPost. Kay Graham inherited the paper from her father, Eugene Meyer, who had a long history of involvement both with the spook establishment and the Fed/fiat currency conspiracy out of Jekyll Island. He worked with Colonel House to “guide” Woodrow Wilson, held key posts at the World Bank, and was as involved as the Mellons, etc., in setting up the OSS, with Donovan in charge. And so on, ad nauseum. So Woodward’s spook past was far from unusual at the Post.

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