There you go. David Axe, the blogger who got a lot of stick (including here) for his report that BG Neil Tolley said US and ROK SOF were conducting SR missions inside North Korea, must be feeling well — if belatedly — vindicated right now.
Speaking to CNN, BG Tolley said: “After further review of the reporting, I feel I was accurately quoted. In my attempt to explain where technology could help us, I spoke in the present tense. I realize I wasn’t clear in how I presented my remarks.” Mr Axe has updated a previous post to note that BG Tolley made a similar statement to NPR.
We apologize to Mr Axe for impugning his integrity. He and the speaker agree about what was said at the conference, so just because it wasn’t true is no reason to assume that the general had it right and the reporter had it wrong. In this case, as BG Tolley admits, he misspoke and left any listeners who took his words literally with a completely false impression.
In this case of Media vs. Military, it’s Media 1, Military 0.
For the record, US and ROK SR teams have not been going North. That would be an act of war, and the conditions under which it would happen are extremely narrowly defined (but a student of these things might presume that it would only occur when the balloon was already up, or at least fully inflated and straining at its guy wires). BG Tolley confirmed that, too, to Paula Hancocks of CNN. She didn’t quote him but did write: “He insisted, however, that the United States has at no time sent special operations forces into North Korea.”
There are many ways to gather intelligence from a denied area. SR teams are a high-risk method to be used on hard cases while an actual shooting war is underway — think of the SOG teams that infiltrated Laos and Cambodia, or the SF teams that hunted Scuds and monitored choke points in the 1991 Desert War. You don’t put those teams in at D-180, let alone at D-[war's-on-the-horizon]. If we’d been there, we’d have taken BG Tolley’s statements as hypotheticals, as, for example, Howard Altman of the Tampa Bay Online site/newspaper did. But then, we have inside knowledge of SR doctrine and practices, dating back to the bad old SICTA days.
This raises some uncomfortable questions about the media vs. special operations. We can’t, at the same time, beat up reporters for publishing secrets and discourage people with inside knowledge for “leaking” to them on the one hand, whilst crucifying the reporters who don’t have that inside knowledge, on the other. (Well, we do, but we can’t do that honestly). Mr Axe has spent a few days upon the cross and it’s unlikely he’ll come down from that perch burning with desire to write glowing things about us. This is one mechanism which producers reporters who instinctively mistrust the military, but roll over for the spin of military opponents. It’s not just the J-schools with their Boomer professors, and the press industry and culture with its Boomer luminaries whose attitude towards the military was shaped by Vietnam-era moral and physical cowardice. It’s our own distaste for their profession, too.