True to form, NBC aired clip of McCaffrey discussing "Afghan security forces" without disclosing ties to company training them

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

In a report on the war in Afghanistan, NBC's Nightly News included a clip of retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey discussing "Afghan security forces." But neither NBC News nor McCaffrey disclosed during the report that he is a member of the board of directors of DynCorp International, which has been awarded a $317.4 million contract with the State Department to "provide at least 580 civilian police advisors to advise, train, and mentor the Afghanistan National Police and the Ministry of Interior." According to the State Department, the "Afghan National Police" are one of two components of the "Afghanistan National Security Forces."

In a November 27 report discussing efforts to "turn around what some military analysts are calling an eight-year stalemate" in Afghanistan, NBC's Nightly News included a clip of NBC News military analyst and retired Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey saying, "The answer is the Afghan security forces, with 40 NATO and allied present supporting elements, but not the U.S. fighting the significant counterinsurgency battle." Neither McCaffrey nor NBC News disclosed during the report that McCaffrey is a member of the board of directors of DynCorp International, according to that company's website. An August 5 DynCorp press release reported that the company had been awarded an 18-month, $317.4 million contract with the State Department to "provide at least 580 civilian police advisors to advise, train, and mentor the Afghanistan National Police and the Ministry of Interior." According to a 2006 State Department "Fact Sheet," the "Afghan National Police" are one of two components of the "Afghanistan National Security Forces."

At the time Nightly News aired McCaffrey's remarks stressing the importance of "Afghan security forces," NBC was aware of McCaffrey's ties to DynCorp. McCaffrey's bio on MSNBC's website reports that he "has been elected to: the Board of Directors of DynCorp International." Additionally, in an April 20 New York Times article, investigative reporter David Barstow detailed the connections between media military analysts and the Pentagon and defense industries, and named McCaffrey as one of numerous military analysts who "have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air." Barstow reported that McCaffrey had his "own consulting firm[]" and "sat on the boards of major military contractors." (Following the Times' article, Media Matters for America conducted a review of appearances between January 2002 and May 2008 by military analysts named in the article, including McCaffrey, and identified more than 600 appearances by McCaffrey on NBC, MSNBC, and CNBC.)

Before Nightly News' November 27 broadcast aired, NBC was also reportedly aware of a then-forthcoming follow-up article by Barstow focusing on McCaffrey's extensive ties to military contractors. In a December 1 post on his Salon.com blog, Glenn Greenwald reported that he had "obtained, from a very trustworthy source" emails dated November 20 and 21 "between NBC News executives and McCaffrey (which cc:d [Nightly News host] Brian Williams), reflecting the extensive collaboration between NBC and McCaffrey to formulate a coordinated response" to Barstow's article, which was published on November 29 and detailed McCaffrey's ties to DynCorp, among other companies.

In his November 29 follow-up article, Barstow wrote that McCaffrey "has immersed himself in businesses that have grown with the fight against terrorism" and highlighted a June 28, 2005, NBC News special report anchored by Williams in which McCaffrey said that "the Iraqi security forces are real," but did not disclose his ties to DynCorp -- the company that trained those forces -- or to Veritas Capital, DynCorp's parent company. According to Barstow, McCaffrey served on DynCorp's board of directors at the time and "owned special stock that allowed him to share in DynCorp's profits, up 87 percent that year largely because of the Iraq war." Forbes.com has previously reported that McCaffrey joined DynCorp's board in 2005. Barstow further reported that McCaffrey has "earned at least $500,000" for his work on the "advisory council" of Veritas Capital.

According to a June 23 company press release, DynCorp has been a "major part of the CIVPOL [International Civilian Police] mission in Iraq since 2003" and has held the contract for the "overall Civilian Advisor Support work" in Iraq since 2004.

Barstow extensively detailed McCaffrey's role with DynCorp in his November 29 Times article, specifically how "when DynCorp executives learned that General McCaffrey was planning to travel to Iraq that June [1995], they asked him to sound out American commanders and reassure them of DynCorp's determination to make things right":

At the same time, General McCaffrey used his access to further business interests, as he did during the summer of 2005, when Americans were turning against the Iraq war in droves.

Veritas had been on a shopping spree, buying military contractors deeply enmeshed in the war. Its biggest acquisition was of DynCorp International, best known for training foreign security forces for the United States government. By 2005 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan accounted for 37 percent of DynCorp's revenues.

The crumbling public support, though, posed a threat to Veritas's prize acquisition. The changing political climate and unrelenting violence, DynCorp warned investors, could force a withdrawal from Iraq.

What is more, some of DynCorp's Iraq contracts were in trouble, plagued by cost overruns, inept work by subcontractors and ineffective training programs. So when DynCorp executives learned that General McCaffrey was planning to travel to Iraq that June, they asked him to sound out American commanders and reassure them of DynCorp's determination to make things right.

"It is useful both ways," Gregory Lagana, a DynCorp spokesman, said in an interview. "If there were problems, and there were, then we could get an independent judgment and fix them."

Mr. Lagana said General McCaffrey had been a troubleshooter for DynCorp on other trips. "He'll say: 'I'm going over. Is there anyone you want me to see?' " Mr. Lagana said. "And then he'd go in and say, 'I'm on the board. What can you tell me?' "

The Pentagon had its own agenda. For eight days, General McCaffrey was given red-carpet treatment. Iraqi commandos even staged a live-fire demonstration for him. But General McCaffrey also was given access to officials whose decisions were important to his business interests, including DynCorp, which was planning an I.P.O. He met with General [David] Petraeus, who was then in charge of training Iraqi security forces and responsible for supervising DynCorp's 500 police trainers. He also met with officials responsible for billions of dollars' worth of contracts in Iraq.

Barstow went on to report that following the June 2005 trip, McCaffrey "undertook a one-man news media blitz in which he contradicted the dire assessments of many journalists in Iraq" and "vouched for Iraq's security forces," including during the June 28, 2005, NBC News special report:

Back home, General McCaffrey undertook a one-man news media blitz in which he contradicted the dire assessments of many journalists in Iraq. He bore witness to progress on all fronts, but most of all he vouched for Iraq's security forces. A year earlier, before joining DynCorp's board, he had described these forces as "badly equipped, badly trained, politically unreliable." Just months before, Gary E. Luck, a retired four-star Army general sent to assess progress in Iraq, had reported to Mr. Bush that security training was going poorly. Yet General McCaffrey now emphasized his "surprising" conclusion that the training was succeeding.

After Mr. Bush gave a speech praising Iraq's new security forces, Brian Williams asked General McCaffrey for an independent assessment. "The Iraqi security forces are real," General McCaffrey replied, without noting the concerns about DynCorp.

His financial stake in the policy debates over Iraq was not mentioned. He did not disclose that he owned special stock that allowed him to share in DynCorp's profits, up 87 percent that year largely because of the Iraq war.

Despite McCaffrey's repeated failure to disclose his ties to military contractors, as exemplified by his appearance on that June 2005 NBC News special report, in which he said that Iraqi security forces (trained by a company whose board McCaffrey serves on) were making progress, NBC defended its actions and those of McCaffrey to Barstow. Barstow reported:

The president of NBC News, Steve Capus, said in an interview that General McCaffrey was a man of honor and achievement who would never let business obligations color his analysis for NBC. He described General McCaffrey as an "independent voice" who had courageously challenged Mr. [Donald] Rumsfeld, adding, "There's no open microphone that begins with the Pentagon and ends with him going out over our airwaves."

General McCaffrey is not required to abide by NBC's formal conflict-of-interest rules, Mr. Capus said, because he is a consultant, not a news employee. Nor is he required to disclose his business interests periodically. But Mr. Capus said that the network had conversations with its military analysts about the need to avoid even the appearance of a conflict, and that General McCaffrey had been "incredibly forthcoming" about his ties to military contractors.

In an April 29 post on his MSNBC.com blog, Williams responded to Barstow's April 20 article, describing McCaffrey and fellow NBC News analyst Wayne Downing, who passed away in July 2007, as "honest brokers" and writing that McCaffrey and Downing were "warriors-turned-analysts, not lobbyists or politicians":

All I can say is this: these two guys never gave what I considered to be the party line. They were tough, honest critics of the U.S. military effort in Iraq. If you've had any exposure to retired officers of that rank (and we've not had any five-star Generals in the modern era) then you know: these men are passionate patriots. In my dealings with them, they were also honest brokers. I knew full well whenever either man went on a fact-finding mission or went for high-level briefings. They never came back spun, and never attempted a conversion. They are warriors-turned-analysts, not lobbyists or politicians.

In asserting that McCaffrey "never gave what I considered to be the party line," Williams' post did not address Barstow's April 20 reporting on McCaffrey's ties to military contractors. According to a Media Matters search, Williams has yet to comment on Barstow's November 29 story.

From the November 27 edition of NBC's Nightly News with Brian Williams:

DAVID GREGORY (guest anchor): When the Afghanistan veterans return to the war zone, they may in fact be using a new strategy to defeat the Taliban. Here's NBC's Jim Maceda.

[begin video clip]

MACEDA: Even on Thanksgiving Day, there was no letup in Islamist attacks on U.S. and Afghan forces. In Kabul, yet another suicide bomber set off explosives, this time outside the U.S. Embassy, just as an American military convoy passed by. None in the convoy was hurt, but the car bomb killed four more Afghan civilians.

With violence escalating, U.S. military commanders are now looking at bolder strategies, like winning over Afghan tribal leaders with money and the promise of political power if they fight against the Taliban -- similar to the game-changing deal struck with Sunni tribes in Iraq -- and investing billions of dollars to beef up the Afghan army and police to some 200,000 forces. In Kandahar, the birthplace of the Taliban, Major John Payne, an embedded police mentor from Brooklyn, New York, shows Afghans how to search cars, interrogate people, and be good cops.

PAYNE: You got 200 liters a month, would that be good?

MACEDA: But he spends a lot of his time on other more basic issues, like helping out when the Afghan police cars run out of gas and keeping their poor living standards high enough to fight off corruption.

PAYNE: Well, we're not talking fancy things. We're talking power, water, and sewer.

MACEDA: But here in Afghanistan, what is often called "the other war" is heating up. Some 10 to 15,000 more U.S. combat forces are expected to deploy here over the coming months to try to turn around what some military analysts are calling an eight-year stalemate. Still, even those who support a surge in Afghanistan say it's not America's war.

McCAFFREY: The answer is the Afghan security forces, with 40 NATO and allied present supporting elements, but not the U.S. fighting the significant counterinsurgency battle.

MACEDA: But with Afghan forces still years from being able to hold their own against the Taliban, U.S. soldiers are likely to mark many more Thanksgivings here. Jim Maceda, NBC News, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.

[end video clip]

Posted In
National Security & Foreign Policy, Defense Funding, War in Afghanistan
Network/Outlet
NBC
Person
Barry McCaffrey, Jim Maceda
Show/Publication
NBC Nightly News
Stories/Interests
Media Ethics
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