On Friday, March 20th, I spoke at the University of the District of Columbia Law School in Washington, D.C., as part of a series of teach-ins about peace organized by SpringRising.org. While there, a young man in a suit with a Russian accent approached me. He gave me his card, which says at the top "Embassy of the Russian Federation." It identifies him as a Major and as The Air Attache Assistant. His name: Alexsei G. Padalko. The card includes the address of the Russian Embassy in Washington, two phone numbers, a fax number, and a gmail email address. His name appears on lists of diplomats on the websites of the Russian Embassy and the U.S. State Department.
Alexsei bought one of my books, which I signed, but he said he had another he hadn't brought with him and wanted signed, and he wanted to discuss working together for peace. I said I'd meet him the next day at a coffee shop. When we met, he began talking about having information about Ukraine. He wanted to slip me articles already written and pay me to publish them under my name. He claimed a personal interest in peace and a desire to keep this secret from his employers. It was fine to email him, he said, but he'd have to give me the articles in person. I told him that I would not post articles as by me if not by me, and I would not post them with a pseudonym for someone working for the Russian (or American or any other) military, but if he wanted to give me information to report on under my name in articles I researched with multiple sources, I would keep the confidentiality of any source entirely. I, of course, had told him I wouldn't take any money for anything. And he didn't explain where the money would have come from. He said the information was not secret. He had no interest in using secret email. Nothing was less than above board, he said. But then why the secrecy? And who would be writing the articles? (This man's English was not up to the job.) I told him what I considered proper journalistic behavior and he expressed surprise and concern that I would bring up journalism since I was a blogger. Apparently a blogger is someone you can feed propaganda to, while a journalist is someone who's out to get you. I tried to tell him I was actually interested in communicating the facts about Ukraine to the U.S. public and that I thought that doing so would benefit both Russia and peace. We parted with the understanding that I would email him a time to meet in Washington, and that he would give me information that I could use as a reporter.
I gave it some thought. I could not believe that he was acting against the wishes of his employers. Where was the money to have come from? Who was writing the articles? Why so openly give me his card and meet with me? And what would he want known in the interests of peace that his employers wouldn't? No, he was doing his job. I decided that I would avoid any of the secrecy, and if he wanted to tell me anything that I could report he could do that openly. I would, of course, seek to confirm it with other sources, give the State Department its chance to comment, and report it.
Later that same day I emailed him this:
"I'd like to write an article on Ukraine that includes Russian points of view, regarding any of the following: the history of NATO expansion, the coup, Malaysian Flight 17, Crimea, recent conflict, U.S. and NATO allegations, possible peaceful resolution.
"If you or anyone you know can provide any perspective on the matter, please just email or call."
"No problem, deal"
Late that night, I wrote:
"Also, would Ambassador Kislyak like to explain Russia's view of Ukraine on a radio show that airs on lots of stations? See http://TalkNationRadio.org I'm the host, and the shows are pre-recorded by telephone at the guest's convenience. An interview can be anywhere from 1 to 28 minutes. I recommend 28 minutes. I would simply ask him for his view of the situation in Ukraine and let him talk. You can just let me know a day and a time and a phone number."
Alexsei has not yet replied to that offer.
Now, I'd like to call the Russian Embassy's main number and ask to be connected to Alexsei and make sure it's the same person. But a friend warns me that doing so produces "meta-data" to be used in framing people with crimes. And I don't seriously doubt the man's identity.
I write this in order to protect myself from any misunderstanding or frame-up, and in order to offer my unsolicited advice to the Russian government: My friends, independent media and small media outlets that are interested in the truth and in considering your points of view are in that position because of their honesty. When you approach them with secrecy and money you ruin the opportunity to have information shared in a credible and effective way. I and countless other bloggers and freelancers who could never bring ourselves to write the Pentagon propaganda that passes for journalism in major U.S. newspapers are not on your team. We're on the side of truth and the side of peace.
Many of us are well aware of the lie that NATO and the U.S. told Russia upon the reunification of Germany to the effect that NATO would not expand eastward. We're outraged by the expansion to your borders. We condemn the U.S.-backed violent coup in Kiev. We denounce the Nazi and foreign-imposed government of Ukraine. We oppose the U.S. arms shipments, the U.S. "National Guard" now guarding the wrong nation, the war games, the baseless characterizations of Russia's behavior, the lies about your aggression.
But you can't fix lies about your aggression by behaving aggressively. If the truth is on your side, don't imagine that it can't be reported and understood at least by some.