If you’ve spent any time watching Fox News Channel over the years, you’ve undoubtedly seen a lot of right-wing bomb-throwing disguised as commentary from “terrorism analyst” Wayne Simmons. He claimed to draw on his experience as a 27-year veteran of the Central Intelligence Agency to serve up the kind of warmongering agitprop that the fair and balanced network’s fans love. Well, it turns out that it was all a lie. On Friday, Simmons pleaded guilty to defrauding the government by falsely maintaining that he had been a CIA officer.
Simmons first appeared on Fox News in 2002, on Geraldo Rivera’s weekend show. He claimed to have worked for the CIA from 1973 to 2000 as a member of an “outside paramilitary special operations group,” during which he claimed to have led a number of “deep-cover intel ops against some of the world’s most dangerous drug cartels and smugglers.” Initially appearing on Saturday nights, he began appearing in prime time by 2003. As you might expect for an analyst on Fox News, he became known as an outspoken defender of waterboarding, and was a raving Islamophobe.
By t2005, he’d managed to parlay this into a slot on the Pentagon’s “retired military analysts program,” which invited a number of retired officers-turned commentators to receive regular briefings from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and make trips to Iraq and Gitmo. The program was disbanded after The New York Times exposed it as a propaganda tool to drum up support for the Iraq war.
While a number of the program’s members have since distanced themselves from it, Simmons used it to burnish his credentials as an analyst. Here’s an example of his commentary from 2011, when he told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto that intervening in Libya would merely replace one dictator with another.
He was also a member of the “Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi,” the far-right cabal that was largely responsible for keeping “what about Benghaaazi?” conspiracy talk in the news.
But it turns out that doubts were already cropping up about Simmons’ bonafides. In 2009, he tried to get a job with private security company Triple Canopy–a job that required a top-secret security clearance. That clearance was denied after a State Department background check revealed he never worked for the CIA. However, for whatever reason, no one bothered to notify Fox News about him.
That’s not to say Fox couldn’t have checked him out on its own. A look at his biography would have revealed several obvious red flags. He tried to sign with the New Orleans Saints in 1978, when he was supposedly five years into his CIA career. However, a former Fox News producer says that the network usually doesn’t vet analysts who appear on weekends as closely as those who appear on prime time. Once Simmons became a hot ticket as a “terrorism analyst,” no one thought to check him further.
Later, a number of former intelligence agents thought something didn’t add up about Simmons. Paul Clizbe, a former CIA agent who specialized in ferreting out liars, met Simmons in 2010 and concluded that many of the things he said “were so not CIA.” He and “M,” a 4o-year CIA veteran, confronted him on Facebook and threatened to expose him as a fraud, prompting Simmons to promise he would no longer trade on his supposed CIA credentials.
But when he turned around and told Clizbe he had been a nonofficial cover–the deepest cover the CIA provides–Clizbe alerted the CIA, who in turn forwarded the information to federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia. After a two-year investigation, Simmons was arrested and charged with defrauding the United States, false statements, and bilking his former girlfriend out of $125,000 to invest in a bogus real estate venture. He faced up to 35 years in prison if convicted.
Simmons initially maintained his innocence. However, prosecutors had evidence that he used his supposed CIA ties not only to apply at Triple Canopy, but to land two brief stints with government contractors that would have put him in a position to give intelligence advice. They would have only needed to prove that he’d lied only once to send him to prison for up to 10 years. Faced with this evidence, Simmons pleaded guilty to defrauding the United States and his former girlfriend, as well as to possessing a firearm even though he had several felony convictions on his record.
Fox News claims that since Simmons never drew a paycheck, it doesn’t bear any responsibility. Wrong! Wrong! Wrong! This was a complete breakdown of every safeguard intended to prevent this sort of deceit–and for that, Fox News owes the nation an apology.