Another NYT-Michael Gordon Special?

Exclusive: The New York Times is at it again with a lead story citing grainy photos from the post-putsch regime in Kiev as proving that Russian special forces are behind the popular uprisings in eastern Ukraine, another slanted story coauthored by Michael Gordon, as Robert Parry reports.

By Robert Parry

There is now a pattern to New York Times “investigative” stories that seek to pin the blame on some nefarious foreign enemy, as in the 2002 article on Iraq buying aluminum tubes for nuclear centrifuges; the 2013 “vector analysis” tracing sarin-laden rockets to a Syrian military base; and now a photographic analysis proving that Russian soldiers are behind unrest in eastern Ukraine.

All these stories draw hard conclusions from very murky evidence while ignoring or brushing aside alternative explanations. They also pile up supportive acclamations for their conclusions from self-interested sources while treating any doubters as rubes. And, these three articles all involved reporter Michael R. Gordon.

From the New York Times graphic package of photos in support of its article accusing Russia of sending special forces soldiers into eastern Ukraine.

From the New York Times graphic package of photos in support of its article accusing Russia of sending special forces soldiers into eastern Ukraine.

The infamous aluminum tube story of Sept. 8, 2002, which Gordon co-wrote with Judith Miller, relied on U.S. intelligence sources and Iraqi defectors to frighten Americans with images of “mushroom clouds” if they didn’t support President George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. The timing played perfectly into the administration’s advertising “rollout” for the Iraq War.

Of course, the story turned out to be false and to have unfairly downplayed skeptics of the nuclear-centrifuge scenario. The aluminum tubes actually were meant for artillery, not for centrifuges. But the article provided a great impetus toward the Iraq War, which ended up killing nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

Gordon’s co-author, Judith Miller, became the only U.S. journalist known to have lost a job over the reckless and shoddy reporting that contributed to the Iraq disaster. For his part, Gordon continued serving as a respected Pentagon correspondent.

Gordon’s name also showed up in a supporting role on the Times’ botched “vector analysis” of Sept. 17, 2013, which nearly helped get the United States into another Mideast war, with Syria. That story traced the flight paths of two rockets, recovered in suburbs of Damascus after the Aug. 21 sarin gas attack, back to a Syrian military base 9.5 kilometers away.

The article became the “slam-dunk” evidence that the Syrian government was lying when it denied launching the sarin attack that killed several hundred people.

However, like the aluminum tube story, the Times’ ”vector analysis” also ignored contrary evidence, such as the unreliability of one azimuth from a rocket that landed in Moadamiya because it had struck a building in its descent. That rocket also was found to contain no sarin, so it’s inclusion in the vectoring of two sarin-laden rockets made no sense.

But the Times’ story ultimately fell apart when rocket scientists analyzed the one sarin-laden rocket that had landed in the Zamalka area and determined that it had a maximum range of about two kilometers, meaning that it could not have originated from the Syrian military base.

C.J. Chivers, one of the co-authors of the article, waited until Dec. 28 to publish a halfhearted semi-retraction. [See’s “NYT Backs Off Its Syria-Sarin Analysis.”]

Grainy Photos

Now, the New York Times has led its Monday editions with an article supposedly proving that Russian military special forces are secretly directing the popular uprisings in eastern Ukraine in resistance to the Kiev regime, which took power after the violent overthrow of elected President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22.

The Times based its story on grainy photographs provided by the Kiev regime supposedly showing the same armed “green men” involved in actions with the Russian military earlier and now with the pro-Russian protesters who have seized government buildings in towns in eastern Ukraine.

The Times reported, “Now, photographs and descriptions from eastern Ukraine endorsed by the Obama administration on Sunday suggest that many of the green men are indeed Russian military and intelligence forces, equipped in the same fashion as Russian special operations troops involved in annexing the Crimea region in February. Some of the men photographed in Ukraine have been identified in other photos clearly taken among Russian troops in other settings.”

The Times apparently accepts the photos as legitimate in terms of where and when they were taken, but that requires first trusting the source, the post-coup regime in Kiev which has a strong motive for making this argument as a prelude to violently crushing the eastern Ukrainian protests.

Secondly, one has to believe that the fuzzy photographs of the circled faces are the same individuals. They may be, but it is difficult to be sure from what is displayed. The principal figure shown is a man with a long beard and a cap sometimes pulled down over his forehead. He could be a Russian special forces soldier or a character from “Duck Dynasty.”

And the resemblance of some uniforms to those worn by Russian soldiers is also circumstantial, since military gear often looks similar or it could have been sold to civilians, or the men could be veterans who kept their old uniforms after leaving the military. The fact that these men are adept at handling weapons also could mean that they have prior military experience, not that they are still active.

For the Times to cite the Obama administration’s endorsement of the Kiev regime’s claims as some kind of verification is also silly. Anyone who has followed the Ukraine crisis knows that the U.S. government is wholeheartedly on the side of the post-coup regime, trumpeting its propaganda and dismissing any counterclaims from the Yanukovych camp or from Moscow.

Masked Men

There’s other silliness in the Times article, such as the notion that the Russians are unusual in “masking” their special forces when U.S. military and intelligence services have been doing the same for decades. In contradicting Russian denials that the Kremlin has dispatched undercover soldiers, the Times wrote:

“But masking the identity of its forces, and clouding the possibilities for international denunciation, is a central part of the Russian strategy, developed over years of conflict in the former Soviet sphere, Ukrainian and American officials say.”

Is it possible that the Times’ reporters, including Pentagon correspondent Gordon, don’t know that U.S. Special Forces and CIA officers routinely grow beards and wear local garb to blend in when they are operating in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Central America, etc.?

When I was covering Central America policy in the 1980s, I knew American mercenaries, including former U.S. Special Forces soldiers, who provided training and other assistance to the region’s security forces. Sometimes, these veterans coordinated their actions with the U.S. government and sometimes they were simply making money.

More recently, there have been the various permutations of Blackwater, a private security firm that employs former U.S. military personnel and makes them available to governments around the world, sometimes in support of American interests but sometimes not.

All these are factors that should be considered when making claims about whether military men who show up in Kiev or eastern Ukraine or anywhere else are on assignment for a specific government or are working for a local “oligarch” or are simply inspired by nationalism. But these nuances are missing from the Times story as it jumps to its preferred conclusion.

Plus, you have to wonder how skillful the Russians really are at “masking” if they have their special forces troops wear uniforms that can be so easily traced back to Russia.

That is not to say that these “green men” might not be Russian special forces. I have one longtime source who is convinced that they are Russian soldiers (though he has not seen any proof), and another source who insists that the Russian government did not want the uprisings in eastern Ukraine and did not dispatch these men.

But the Times should have learned from its previous blunders and taken care to include alternative scenarios or point to evidentiary holes in what the Kiev regime claimed. Instead, the Times has again acted like a prosecutor determined to make a case, not a fair-minded judge weighing the evidence.

It is also an indictment of the Times’ professionalism that this newspaper of record can’t seem to detect neo-Nazis in the post-coup regime, when some have open histories of pro-Nazi behavior, while it goes to dubious lengths to discredit the eastern Ukrainians who are resisting the imposition of authority from an unelected administration in Kiev.

Just like the “aluminum tube” story that justified killing so many Iraqis and the “vector analysis” that almost unleashed a devastating U.S. bombing campaign on Syria, the Times’ “green men” piece may be the prelude to a bloodbath in eastern Ukraine. [For more on the U.S. propaganda, see “Ukraine. Through the US ‘Looking Glass.’”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

11 comments for “Another NYT-Michael Gordon Special?

  1. Darwin26
    April 29, 2014 at 03:34

    thank you for the memories of fish wrap and bird cage liners past. I can’t wait for them to be burned down as the mouth pieces of the US Fascists

  2. lumpentroll
    April 21, 2014 at 17:58

    Just caught David Brooks on Charlie Rose (60 seconds was all I could take). His conclusion: “…we need to worry less about freedom and more about law and order…”

    Post Passover, the jackboot is coming down.

  3. LucasFoxx
    April 21, 2014 at 14:04

    There certainly are a lot of them. And they seem to be uniformly provisioned. Hard to believe a grassroots uprising could be so well organized.

  4. Sylvia Vasquez
    April 21, 2014 at 14:00

    At least one of the photos is from Slavianski, not Russia!
    Note that the grainy picture supposedly taken “in Russia” is available
    uncropped and at high resolution here:

    The guy in the middle (blue/black cap and jacket) is Ponomaryov
    “people’s mayor” of Slaviansk, easily identifiable in crisp version,
    but not grainy version.

    The same guys in the same uniforms, probably the same day can be
    seen in this photo
    guarding the Slaviansk administration building (idenfiable from the

  5. Andrew Gould
    April 21, 2014 at 13:51

    The original NYT photo supposedly taken “in Russia” can be found here
    NYT version was degraded (so you cannot identify Slaviansk mayor Ponomaryov in
    blue/black cap and jacket) and cropped (so you cannot see the froeground tiles and background buildings that would identify scene as Slaviansk).

  6. Joe Tedesky
    April 21, 2014 at 13:07

    Accountability is missing amongst America’s professional class. When was the last time anyone of the elite paid any price for their lies. In fact they often get rewarded with prestigious medals, or hefty bonuses.

    I saw this NYT article earlier, and due to my lack of faith in our corporate run media I dismissed Gordon’s claim. I also knew that writers such as Mr Parry would shed a different light on this issue. Thank God for the internet!

    NBC is struggling to make David Gregory (Meet the Press) relevant. What NBC fails to realize is American’s aren’t stupid. American’s know some of what’s going on, they just don’t know what to do about it. I have noticed though, most people are not up to par with what is happening in the Ukraine. This is because many American’s are being lied to by our Main Stream lackeys. Given the lies we are told the bigger problem is the hopelessness we all feel towards making any positive changes. What must happen before we see a new dawn?

  7. William Jacoby
    April 21, 2014 at 12:38

    Careful, Robert,

    I think outing a CIA agent is a crime, isn’t it?

    Seriously, keep up the good work, even though each of your reports is heart-breaking.

    I would call out Mr. Gordon in a letter to the Times, but they don’t publish my letters any more. Not surprising, since they don’t even react to your reports.

  8. Jay
    April 21, 2014 at 12:14

    Judith Miller was fired for her part in the Valerie Plame disclosures; Miller carried water for Cheney and his chief of staff, Scooter Libby.

    Miller was NOT fired for her advocacy reporting in favor of invading Iraq.

    Immediately suspected the Gordon article this morning, but my low speed web connection wasn’t displaying the photos, mostly because the Times has weighed its website down with move java script. So thank you, Robert Parry–again.

      April 21, 2014 at 12:40

      Jay, I’m sorry but your point is not correct. There were a combination of factors involving her close ties to the Bush administration’s neocons. But a major element was her role in pushing the WMD hoax. She never actually wrote about Plame though she was given information from one of her close sources, Libby. It was her intimacy with the WMD issue and related behavior that soured her relations with senior NYT executives.
      Robert Parry

      • Jay
        April 21, 2014 at 16:22

        Nope, then Gordon would have been fired too.

        I realize Miller never wrote about Plame, but that’s not the point she covered up the favors for Cheney.

        I’m not privy to the debates of the senior types at the Times. So I guess anything is possible. Remember Miller was fired by the Times years after the WMD lies had become in undeniable. She wasn’t simply fired in the summer of 2003.

  9. Larry
    April 21, 2014 at 11:27

    It’s not known as the Neocon New York Times for nothing. The owning family always has in place the perfect cutouts for any job, both editors and reporters. I’m thinking now of Bill Keller when he was the tenured go-to provocateur. Looking at his post-editorship columns for the Times, it’s apparent he’s both a rather stupid man of limited logical abilities and a dyed-in-the-wool ideologue of some bizarre hybrid nature domestically as well as internationally, a species of well-suited functionary (thinking here also of Chomsky’s “intellectual class” which he decries as mostly worse than useless) typical of the NYT – just smart enough to do the mechanics of the job and plenty twisted enough to send a fellow shill to do the dirty work and consider himself doing a yeoman’s job. In any era, whoever is in titular charge in editorial and reportage is doing the bidding of the ownership family and its deep Wall Street financial and law firm connections. Even when exposing the Pentagon Papers and other ‘decent’ work, always few and far between, they’ve been favoring one major faction of the corrupt oligarchy or another.

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