Tuesday, May 12, 2009

O'Toole hit job, part 2

Milton Leitenberg, the author of the "Army War College report," has asked me to put up a few points that he'd like to make about my Tara O'Toole post. Leitenberg's points are below, followed by my comments.

1. Leitenberg says that, in fact, the Army War College did not pay for the study:

There was NO "contract", neither to the University of Maryland, to the institute at which I sit, the Center for International and Security Studies , nor to me. Nor, as is implied by the word "contract", was there any payment for the work, which took about six months to complete. Instead, the editor of the publication series produced by the Strategic Studies Institute at the US AWC solicited the study from me after seeing an earlier conference paper that was published in another book.... In fact the University does not provide me with a salary either. I have been working that way for some years now. (I am 75.5 years in age ....) But I have been working on CBW issues since the mid-1960's. Some of my recent and current work is funded by Foundation grants ( a book about the history of the Soviet BW program) , but some is not , and this was not. In this case, it didn't even occur to me to ask the AWC/SSI if they could provide any funds because I simply assumed that they didn't do that."
2. Leitenberg says it's not unusual for an AWC study to include a disclaimer that it doesn't reflect the views of the Army:
"[T]hat statement and the rest of that page appears in precisely the same format in every AWC publication, even ones written by members of the Army War College faculty, which is the great majority of the cases, and even if those AWC faculty have been there 10 and 20 years. The statement therefore denoted no specific disengagement by the AWC/SSI from my text in any way different from that of any other author whose work they publish . "
3. Leitenberg also feels that I did not do justice to the length and heft of his work:

"Finally, other reviewers have referred to that study as a "book" , but in any case, 115 pages is most certainly not an "op-ed"."
My responses:

1. Leitenberg is correct but off point. The point of my original post was that the Leitenberg report was not "an Army War College report" because it was not written or endorsed by the Army War College. That's true. It was written by Milton Leitenberg, and it reflects his views, not those of the Army War College. Does it matter that Leitenberg was not paid, which is the error Leitenberg is complaining about? I don't see how. It's still a personal opinion piece; indeed, not being paid for the report separates it even further from the Army War College. (Usually, research you pay for is likely to be something you value; getting a research paper for free doesn't imply the same level of interest or commitment.)

2. This is not really a correction but an objection to something I didn't say. I didn't say that the AWC has repudiated Leitenberg, simply that they haven't endorsed him, and thus that it's misleading to call his very strong views, as Wired does, an "Army War College report." Leitenberg's point isn't wrong; it's just not relevant to my post.

3. Again, he's right but off point. The report is long; I'd be happy to call it a short book. A short and highly opinionated book. Which was my point. This is not a careful, even-handed government report, it's the work of a man with a very definite point of view.

And a very particular style of argument. Remember Leitenberg's complaint that the 2002 exercise was unrealistic because one of al-Qaeda's main bioterror researcher's had already been arrested? It was correct but irrelevant to the purpose of the exercise, which was to focus on things al-Qaeda might be able to do, not things it had a verified capability to do on a particular day.

His notes to me are very similar in style. You can't say the criticisms are wrong, exactly; they just sort of miss the point, or bury it in an avalanche of literalism. And they're accompanied by much the same misplaced passion. At one point he calls my original post "completely concocted disinformation," which seems a little overwrought given the irrelevance of the correction.

Now that I've corresponded with Milton Leitenberg, I have more sympathy than ever for Tara O'Toole.

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