Hello, Mr. Narrative, I’ll be controlling you now…
In the spring of 2021, I very much began to toy with the idea of engaging the press on the DIA case. My objectives of the press course of action were generally this:
–Demonstrate that as a member of the military, you are allowed to speak to the press, and encourage others to do so,
–Shed light on the dysfunction of the Agency, and encourage others to do so, and,
–Get the Congress’ attention so as to energize them into action.
I had a suspicion that getting the story in the mainstream media would garner the DAS affair some much-needed attention, but I was concerned about the downsides of that route, to include:
–The press spinning it back on me somehow,
–The cost, whatever that would be, not being worth any “gains” made,
–The story not hitting the mark, and,
–Violating any military laws or rules.
I need to start with the last item in that list: rules for military members as it pertains to the press. I’ve had a few discussions with officers that were under the absurdly false assumption that they were not allowed to speak to the press. Not shockingly, these people were still in DIA and I surmise DIA doesn’t actively dispel this rumor. DIA, please allow me the pleasure of setting the record straight. Military folks, you still are afforded rights under that pesky document called the Constitution – you know, the thing we swore to defend. Our rights are limited, however, that is also true. You cannot leak classified information – that’s a crime. Also, you must abide by Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice; essentially you cannot make contemptuous remarks about certain people within our government: the President, VP, secretaries, members of Congress. It’s all listed in Article 88, but the allowances are fairly liberal. Can you appear in uniform? Also, yes. Can you be ordered to not speak to the press? Maybe. That gets murky quickly. My advice: ask your Judge Advocate and Public Affairs Office for boundaries. Ask only them. (Funny aside, well after I left DIA, I called them to tell them I was going to go to the press to blast them. They told me I should abide by any DIA guidance when speaking to the press. When I asked them to provide me that guidance and in writing: crickets. Rule by hearsay and courses of performance, right?)
When I began to shop the DIA exposé around to national media outlets, the reaction was fairly tepid to say the least. At that point, it was late summer 2021 and I had not yet put all the pieces together about how wide and deep the DAS affair was. At that juncture, I only had the recently-completed Congressional report, but I knew the story wasn’t going to make the cut at the national media level because of two main issues: 1) the details were very nuanced and 2) it wasn’t salacious enough. However, with every line of effort (IG, Congress, etc.) stalling on every front, I was convinced the press was the necessary route to go. With the case languishing, I assessed that if I could not get the story in the papers, the whole thing was going to die on the vine. Needless to say, when the Wall Street Journal agreed to the story in the fall of that year, I was re-energized. The story, however, was still a long way away from a slam dunk. In order to get the exposé “over the hurdle” and past the editors’ desk, it needed to show that the issues I had raised in the Congressional report were not isolated to certain areas within DIA and that the wrongdoings occurring would be of interest to the Journal’s audience. It was a heavy lift and a lot of effort and at a very low point in January of 2022, I got a note from one of the journalists telling me the story wasn’t going to go further because I had not been able to satisfy the two aforementioned needs of the paper. One week after that discussion, serendipity: the DIA climate assessment report landed in my inbox.
A brief walk back in time…
On June 9th, 2021, I sent an email to 170 members of the Defense Attaché Service asking for their witness statements. Within 45 minutes of sending that email, I received a call from an unlisted number. The person on the other end started off by saying “you don’t know me, but…” They then went on to describe how the DAS had administered a climate assessment in the fall of 2020 and that the results were abysmal. They then continued by reporting that the Director of the DAS had received the results and essentially covered them up. Looking at the documents in retrospect, this person was right. The results were abysmal and the leadership’s response to them was borderline negligent. I hung up the phone and immediately filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the climate assessment results.
Fast forward 6 months and 2 weeks back to January 2022: the climate assessment arrives. I forward it to the journalists and faster than you can say “widespread workplace hostility” the story was back on. It was published February 19, 2022.
The story itself served its function: to get the military’s and Congress’ attention as to all the unethical and immoral shit transpiring in the Agency. My concerns I had about going to the press did not come to fruition, thanks in large part to the professionalism of the Journal. In my July 2021 report to Congress, I collated 31 witness’ statements. In the month that followed the article, I collated an additional 34. When I sent the final report to Congress in March 2022, it was a summation of 65 witness’ statements alleging 150+ counts of wrongdoing. Many of the people I spoke to in that very busy 4-week period of February 20th – March 20th attributed their willingness to speak on the record to the publication of the article. We had achieved our very important objective.
The DIA director, following the publication of the article was reported to have said “what keeps me up at night are Wall Street Journal articles about toxicity in the DAS.” The timeline of events would sadly lend themselves to making us believe it is the bad press and not the issues themselves which seem to concern the leadership of the Agency (the same issues reported in the WSJ article were made known to Agency leadership almost one year prior in May 2021). Regardless, the story is out and, as you read in “Tactic, Countertactic”, was the checkmate move to topple any monopoly the DAS cabal once had on the narrative. The sky is green no more, my friends.