If one wants to participate in a real-life whodunit, there is ample evidence over at Glenn Greenwald’s blog where he receives a “bizarre” and “unsolicited” email from someone claiming to be Col. Steven A. Boylan.
The basic outline of the story is as follows. Greenwald had an exchange with Boylan a few months ago in regards to Greenwald’s request to do an interview with Gen. David Petraeus. Today, Greenwald received a detailed email from someone claiming to be Boylan in regards to the Greenwald’s post about “The growing link between the U.S. military and right-wing media and blogs.” Certain commenters questioned the authenticity of the email, so Greenwald emailed Boylan for confirmation. Boylan denied writing the original email. Was Greenwald duped? Or is Boylan lying?
Let’s examine the evidence. The email in question is expertly written. It takes issue with specific claims in Greenwald’s post about links between the U.S. military and right-wing media. Specifically, Steve Schmidt and Gen. Kevin Bergner. Here is the context of Greenwald’s post.
Throughout this year, the U.S. military in Iraq has become staffed with pure Republican political hacks — including long-time Bush/Cheney P.R. hack Steve Schmidt and former White House aide Gen. Kevin Bergner
Now, this would lead a reader to believe Schmidt and Gen. Bergner are currently on staff, working for the military in Iraq this year and were primarily put in place to color the news coming out of Iraq. The email sets out to correct those assertions.
The email asserts Bergner was qualified for his past and current position. Namely, the email seems to be of the opinion that Greenwald unfairly characterized the history of Bergner. He had worked as North Assistant Division Commander for more than a year before joining the White House National Security Council. Now, he is back in Iraq as a Military spokesperson.
As for Schmidt, the email claims:
Schmidt was here, but at the time for the vote on the Iraqi Constitution, October 2005 for 30 days. He was never on the MNF-I staff and for that short period was actually detailed to the Department of State.
So Schmidt was never on military staff and in fact was not in Iraq this year.
All the corrections in the email to Greenwald’s post appear to be correct. So, the picture goes something like this. In order for Boylan’s claim of not writing the original email to be correct, someone would need fairly expert knowledge in the military to correct specific statements about obscure government officials to a blogger. Not only that, these corrections claim to come from another relatively obscure government official that is intimately familiar with all the facts. A person whose very job it is to correct mischaracterizations of the military in the media. An email that is not only likely to represent his knowledge and viewpoint but also manages to fit his writing style. In fact, the email headers (the electronic history of the paths the emails took) match all the previous emails Greenwald has received from Boylan. Not just superficially, but down to network topology, likely software configurations of servers that handled the messages and IP address ranges of the servers in question that can be confirmed using other public information. We are talking about what has to be one of the greatest electronic mail forgeries in history of the Internet. In this case, for these purposes, it is safe to say that didn’t happen. It would take a skill on the order of the Flying Spaghetti Monster to conduct such a widespread deception, about issues that are specific and limited to a vast minority of the population.
The other scenario is much more likely. Boylan doesn’t like Greenwald. He thinks that he plays fast and loose with the facts and is especially upset about two things. One, that despite the plea from the beginning of the email that
I am not sending this as anyone’s spokesperson, just a straight military Public Affairs Officer, with about 27 months overall time in Iraq who is concerned with accuracy, context and characterization of information and has worked with media of all types since joining the career field in 1991. The issues of accuracy, context, and proper characterization is something that perhaps you could do a little research and would assume you are aware of as a trained lawyer.
Then Greenwald subsequently titles the post “A bizarre, unsolicited email from Gen. Petraeus’ spokesman.” Col. Boylan made it clear he wasn’t serving in a official capacity, but rather a concerned citizen. There is a difference. For example, I work for a company, let’s call them Company X. Nothing I say on this blog is as a spokesperson of the company. Let’s say I respond to someone attacking Company X on some random blog. I’m not authorized to do so in any official capacity, and it would be a huge mistake if I tried. But, if the error was so blatant, the conspiracy theory conclusions were so off-the-wall and the site popular enough, I would tempted to write something to correct it. Even though, I knew I shouldn’t. Now, let’s say the person I tried to correct completely mischaracterized what I said and titled it “Bizarre and Unsolicited email from Company X Spokesperson.” I might be a little upset. Especially, if I considered, like the writer of the email did, to a basic privacy of exchanges unless both people agree to post it openly.
Despite Boylan’s claims of identity theft, the two incidents are unrelated. It would be like saying I must have been a victim of arson, because someone stole my bike. Identity theft has a clear motive for the thief, writing a well researched email does not. Especially when it so convoluted to dupe a blogger into thinking it was you, but wasn’t, however it confirms your point of view.
One thing that someone else noted is that Greenwald lists the originating IP address as 10.70.20.16. They are correct that 10.70.20.16 is a private IP address. Anyone can claim to be 10.70.20.16, just like anyone can claim to be 192.168.1.1. However, that is missing a key piece of evidence. I’ll trim the header for the relevant information.
Received: from rich.salon.com (rich.salon.com [22.214.171.124]) by mailer.salon.com (8.13.6/8.13.6)
Received: from 02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil (02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil [126.96.36.199]) by rich.salon.com (8.12.11/8.12.11)
Received: from INTZEXEBHIZN01.iraq.centcom.mil ([10.70.20.11]) by 02exbhizn02.iraq.centcom.mil with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959);
Sun, 28 Oct 2007 14:15:05 +0300Received: from INTZEXEVSIZN02.iraq.centcom.mil ([10.70.20.16]) by INTZEXEBHIZN01.iraq.centcom.mil with Microsoft SMTPSVC(6.0.3790.3959);
The key piece is the 188.8.131.52. That is a public address. You can use nslookup to verify it. Heck, you can look up who owns the 214 address chunk. Here is a hint:
214/8 Mar 98 US-DOD
The email got routed through a US-DOD server, that is not something that one can just do. You would need to compromise the server to forward the email. The choices are clear, either a government official lied because he didn’t like what a blogger was writing about and got more upset by what he saw as unfair and unprofessional behavior or someone pulled off a hoax. A hoax with the unusual property that the more evidence that comes to light, the more convincing it becomes. I think it is safe to say Boylan lied, but more importantly I love mysteries.