|Education||Rutgers University (BA)|
|Known for||Reporting on biased FBI training material, 2013 global surveillance disclosures, and Chicago Police detention practices|
|Reign of Terror|
|Awards||2012 National Magazine Award for Digital Media, 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service|
Spencer Ackerman is an American journalist and writer. Focusing primarily on national security, he began his career at the The New Republic in 2002 before writing for Wired, The Guardian and The Daily Beast.
He won a 2012 National Magazine Award for his reporting on the FBI's use of biased training materials and a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for his contributions to the Guardian's coverage of the 2013 global surveillance disclosures by Edward Snowden.
Born to a Jewish family on June 1, 1980, Ackerman graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1998 and Rutgers University in 2002 with a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy.
During the 2000 presidential election, he covered the Bush campaign for Rutgers' student newspaper, The Daily Targum. His coverage of the post election recount earned him a 2002 Certificate of Merit from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association for news writing. While attending Rutgers, Ackerman also worked for the New York Press, a now defunct free alternative weekly that covered New York City. Initially hired to manage incoming mail for the listings section, he later became a fact checker and a writer.
Following is graduation from Rutgers in 2002, Ackerman moved to Washington, D.C. to join The New Republic. He began as a reporter-researcher before being promoted to assistant editor and later to associate editor. Early in his tenure, Ackerman covered national security issues, such as the U.S. War in Afghanistan and the events preceding the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He described that witnessing the September 11 attacks influenced his decision to cover national security, which he viewed most important story facing the nation at the time.
In 2003, along with his then colleague John Judis, he cowrote an article that led to the Plame affair. Alongside Judis, Ackerman also covered the publication of the 9/11 Commission report and its then-unreleased 28 pages as well as the Bush Administration's pressure on Pakistan to apprehend high value targets on behalf of the United States ahead of the 2004 Democratic National Convention. In August 2005, he toured the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, covering detention conditions and the legal proceedings of an unnamed detainee.
He initially supported the invasion of Iraq but became disillusioned and, starting in January 2004, expressed opposition to the conflict in Iraq'd, a blog dedicated to covering post invasion developments in the country, hosted on the The New Republic's website.
Ackerman started a second blog titled Too Hot for TNR in October 2006, where he covered topics not included in his regular writing for the magazine. The blog also included Department of Defense press releases on casualties stemming from the U.S. occupation of Iraq. The same month, Ackerman left The New Republic, claiming to have been fired over irreconcilable ideological differences. Franklin Foer, a then editor at the magazine, claimed he fired Ackerman for insubordination and disparaging the magazine on his blog.
After departing The New Republic, Ackerman began writing for The American Prospect. Initially starting as a blogger before being promoted to senior correspondent, his coverage focused on the continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq. In March 2007, he embedded with the 57th Military Police Company in Iraq, covering U.S. efforts to police Baghdad. During his time at the magazine, he became a frequent participant on the video commentary website Bloggingheads.tv, appearing with Eli Lake, Ross Douthat, Julian Sanchez, and Megan McArdle. Ackerman remained active on the site until 2012.
The same year, Ackerman joined Talking Points Memo as reporter-blogger for TPMMuckracker, a national security and foreign policy blog. His coverage included domestic surveillance, Blackwater contractors' conduct in Iraq, the Thomas Kontogiannis corruption case, and State Department property inventory issues in Afghanistan.
In a column for The Wall Street Journal, Marie Beaudette named Ackerman as part of a "blogging elite" in Washington, D.C. that took up the practice as a hobby or to launch a career. Beaudette also mentioned Sommer Mathis, Ezra Klein, Joshua Micah Marshall, Ana Marie Cox, and Markos Moulitsas.
While at The American Prospect and Talking Points Memo, Ackerman also contributed to the Washington Monthly on national security.
In December 2007, Ackerman joined The Washington Independent as a senior fellow, where he covered national security and foreign policy. Ackerman described the publication as taking a new approach in using the internet to continuously develop and update stories while also providing detailed and innovative coverage on select beats.
Shortly after his arrival, he wrote a series on the Bush Administration's torture policy and use of enhanced interrogation tactics, including the detention of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. In September 2008, he traveled to Afghanistan to embed with the U.S. Army's 1st Cavalry Division. During his embed, Ackerman interviewed several Afghan residents about their security concerns the country and uncovered corruption within the Afghan police units jointly patrolling with U.S. forces.
Throughout 2008, Ackerman authored a blog series on the U.S. military's counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan. He explained the debate between Paul Yingling and Gian Gentile, two U.S. Army officers with differing perspectives on military policy in the Global War on Terrorism. Yingling argued the U.S. military must embrace principles of counterinsurgency while Gentile believed the military moved too far in the direction of counterinsurgency while ignoring the limits of U.S. military power. The series profiled General David Petraeus and then Major General Ray Odierno, covering their activities during the Iraq War troop surge of 2007. Ackerman also profiled several women who attained positions at various Pentagon offices related to counterinsurgency, including Janine Davidson, Sarah Sewall, Michele Flournoy, and Montgomery McFate.
Aside from his regular writing for The Washington Independent, Ackerman continued maintaining a personal blog. After ending publication of Too Hot for TNR in April 2008, he started the Attackerman blog at ThinkProgress, which he used to provide additional commentary on national security issues. In June 2008, Ackerman moved the blog to Firedoglake.
In August 2009, Politico reported Ackerman was one of numerous reporters profiled by the Rendon Group in August 2009, a public relations firm hired by the Pentagon to vet journalists requesting embeds with U.S. forces in Iraq. The requests were granted based on whether their coverage of the conflict portrayed the U.S. military in a positive light. While several journalists received copies of their vetting reports, the firm did not provide Ackerman with their report on him. The revelations prompted the military to end their contract with the firm.
Towards the end of his tenure, he toured the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, in April 2010, for the second time. His coverage also included the detention and pretrial proceedings of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen detained by U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
Ackerman joined Wired magazine's Danger Room in June 2010, a blog dedicated to covering national security. Then editor, Noah Shachtman, described the blog as a "less political" and "more geeky" place compared to Ackerman's previous publications. Within months of his arrival, Ackerman covered the numerous WikiLeaks disclosures on Afghanistan, Iraq, and the diplomatic cables. Towards the end of August 2010, he traveled to Afghanistan, embedding with U.S. troops and interviewing David Petraeus.
In July 2010, the The Daily Caller reported on Ackerman's membership in JournoList, a private Google Groups forum for discussing politics and the news media created by Ezra Klein in February 2007. Coverage of the revelations noted Ackerman's comments regarding conservative rhetoric surrounding the Jeremiah Wright controversy, which he made while writing for The Washington Independent. In a column for The Wall Street Journal, James Taranto, criticized Ackerman for "privately strategizing about how to suppress the news." Ackerman faced additional criticism from Ed Morrissey in Hot Air, Andrew Breitbart in BigGovernment, Daniel Foster in the National Review, Matt Welch in Reason, Andrew Sullivan in The Atlantic's Daily Dish, and Sydney Smith in iMediaEthics. Others such as Steve Krakauer of Mediaite and Jonathan Chait of The New Republic questioned whether the forum represented a controversy. Chait also published a specific response to Sullivan's claims regarding the forum as well as Ackerman's involvement, noting that conservative bloggers participate in similar forums. A spokesperson for Wired defended Ackerman, adding the publication was aware of his political views.
Due to his difficulty obtaining permanent press credentials from the Congressional Press Gallery, Ackerman left Firedoglake to independently host his blog, Attackerman, in December 2010. The following year, he moved the blog to a specially built website, where he would continue posting until April 2013.
Following a FOIA request in 2011, Ackerman wrote a series of stories that exposed Islamophobic material used to train recruits in counterterrorism at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. His initial reporting revealed bias in the FBI's guides on Islam before exposing additional materials in the agency's library. Following the revelations, the FBI launched an investigation and turned to the U.S. Army's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point before eventually purging the materials. The series earned Ackerman a 2012 National Magazine Award for Digital Media.
Aside from covering national security for Wired, Ackerman covered developments in military technology. In 2012, he toured the Autonomous Systems Research Lab at the United States Naval Research Laboratory in Washington D.C., covering the development of Octavia, a robot designed to carry out human tasks on naval vessels. He also covered the experimentation and development of the U.S. Army's Active Denial System, a device that projects a heat ray for crowd control. The following year, Ackerman traveled on the U.S.S. George H.W. Bush to cover the launch of the X-47B, the first UAV to take-off from an aircraft carrier.
In a January 2012 column for Tablet magazine, Ackerman expressed disagreement with the use of the term "Israel Firster", writing, "if you can’t do it without sounding like Pat Buchanan, who has nothing but antipathy and contempt for Jews, then you’ve lost the debate." Identifying himself as part of the Jewish left, Ackerman noted that far-right activist Willis Carto first employed the term before neo-Nazi David Duke used it in his propaganda network. The Jerusalem Post editorial board and Commentary's then assistant editor, Alana Goodman came to Ackerman's defense. The column received criticism from Richard Silverstein in Eurasia Review and Philip Weiss in Mondoweiss.
After three years at Wired, Ackerman joined The Guardian as a national security editor, in June 2013, initially at their Washington bureau before eventually relocating back to New York. During his onboarding process, Ackerman's employment orientation turned out to be cover for a briefing on the 2013 Global surveillance disclosures, which the publication had just received from Edward Snowden.
He contributed to several stories that culminated in the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the publication. Alongside Glenn Greenwald, Ackerman's reporting showed the National Security Agency's bulk collection programs continued during the first two years of the Obama Administration after being initiated by George W. Bush. In a piece coauthored with James Ball, Ackerman revealed how loopholes allowed the NSA to legally search for U.S. citizens' email and phone calls without a warrant. As a sole author, he covered the NSA's use of contractors and their access to classified information.
Ackerman, Greenwald, Ball, as well as Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, Dominic Rushe, and Julian Borger, also won the Investigative Reporters and Editors medal for investigative journalism. Additionally, Greenwald, Poitras, MacAskill, Ball, and Ackerman went on to win the 2014 Scripps Howard Foundation Roy W. Howard Award for Public Service Reporting.
Following the publication of series, Ackerman became a speaker on issues of privacy and surveillance, appearing at events hosted by the Cato Institute and Freedom of the Press Foundation.
He toured the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in April 2014, for the third time in his career. His coverage included the legal proceedings of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as well as the ongoing debate on the transfer of detainees out of the facility.
The following year, in February 2015, Ackerman profiled the U.S. military's employment of Richard Zuley, a Chicago Police investigator, to develop interrogation techniques on Guantanamo Bay detainees. During his reporting on Zuley, who was known for extracting confessions using torture, one of Ackerman's sources mentioned the Chicago Police operated a facility similar to a black site. Acting on this information, Ackerman researched and uncovered a previously little known detention facility known as Homan Square, located on the west side of the city. After reporting on facility's existence, Ackerman's investigation found victims that alleged that police interrogators engaged in beating, rape, excessive shackling, denying arrestees access to counsel for extended periods, and denying attorneys access to the facility. Alongside his colleagues, Zack Stafford and Christian Bennett, Ackerman revealed how one arrestee claimed he was rectally penetrated with a metallic object (thought to be a service revolver) while another believed he was being kidnapped by the Islamic State.
In another investigation, in March 2016, he reported the CIA took nude photos of captives and detainees prior to transporting them through extraordinary rendition to foreign countries for interrogation, often under torture in the early 2000s. The story also revealed that, unlike torture videos, the agency retains the photos. Later the same year, in October, Ackerman told to the story of a Tunisian man who claims to have been subjected to an electric chair at a CIA black site.
Following numerous unilateral declarations of anonymity from potential sources throughout 2015, Ackerman attached a statement to his email signature, warning that such requests will not be honored. In an interview with CNN's Brian Stelter on Reliable Sources, Ackerman explained that a reporter should only grant anonymity following a discussion with the source regarding the reasons for anonymity.
In May 2017, Ackerman joined The Daily Beast as a senior national security correspondent, reuniting with his former editor from Wired, Noah Shachtman. In addition to his usual beat, Ackerman's coverage also included homeland security, counterterrorism, and intelligence. Speaking with James Warren of the Poynter Institute, Ackerman explained that he and Shachtman aim to break news rather than rewrite stories published by other news sources.
Ackerman began his tenure covering the Trump-Russia investigation, following the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. His stories included the investigations and testimonies of General Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Ivanka Trump, and then U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Continuing from his previous publications, Ackerman also covered conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, including the first trial of a detainee under then-U.S. President Donald Trump. He covered the trial of Bruce Jessen and James Elmer Mitchell, two psychologists involved in creating the CIA's enhanced interrogation methods. Ackerman's reporting revealed that a filing by Jessen and Mitchell's attorneys portrayed the two psychologists as analogous to those who made the Zyklon B gas used in Nazi concentration camps. Later in the year, Ackerman covered Rosa Eliades and Mary Spears, two lawyers who resigned after alleging the government spied on them during their representation of a Guantanamo detainee facing the death penalty. In a series of related stories, he highlighted the trial, sentencing, and release of U.S. Marine Corps Brigadier General John Baker for the defense of detainee rights.
Following the nomination of Gina Haspel for Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Ackerman published a series of stories on her alleged involvement in enhanced interrogation and detention. His reporting revealed Haspel drafted instructions for CIA officers to destroy videotapes of torturous interrogations at a black site in Thailand. During the nomination process, Ackerman documented the reaction to Haspel's nomination, including former intelligence officers, lawyers, and human rights groups. He went on to cover her confirmation hearings as well.
In 2019, Ackerman covered the investigation and arrest of Christopher Paul Hasson, a U.S. Coast Guard officer accused of planning a domestic terrorist attack as well as his past far-right and Neo-Nazi tendencies.
With his colleague Sam Brodey, Ackerman covered developments related to the Trump–Ukraine scandal, writing a series of articles on the involvement of various administration officials. Ackerman's and Brodey's coverage included the Trump administration's treatment of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, as well as her congressional testimony. They covered the testimony of U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, particularly Vindman's exchanges with Stephen Castor, a lawyer representing the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee. Their coverage also included the testimonies of Kurt Volker, the former U.S. Ambassador to NATO, and Fiona Hill, a former member of the National Security Council.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ackerman looked into how the U.S. Armed Forces responded to the outbreak. With his colleague, James LaPorta, their coverage revealed how the U.S. Navy quarantined sailors on the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. Army's early warning about the virus. Ackerman reported on the termination of Brett Crozier, a navy captain fired for requesting the Roosevelt be evacuated to protect its crew. Ackerman later covered the conditions of Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities holding migrants during the pandemic.
In the wake of the 2020 George Floyd protests, Ackerman focused on the U.S. government's use of Customs and Border Protection officers and U.S. Marshals as well as Drug Enforcement Agency surveillance techniques to maintain public order. His coverage also included the police deployment of former military equipment in response to the protests.
Following the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, Ackerman covered the numerous developments of the Biden transition, including looking into the backgrounds of Lloyd Austin, Avril Haines, Russell Travers, and Michèle Flournoy.
In his final piece on staff at the The Daily Beast, Ackerman covered how the FBI repeatedly searched the NSA's foreign communications troves for information on domestic terrorism without a warrant, despite previous warnings against doing so. On April 30, 2021, he announced his departure and became a contributing editor for the publication.
The Daily Targum
In 2019, Ackerman co-hosted, with Laura Hudson, the “Citadel Dropouts,” a Wired podcast about the final season of Game of Thrones. Since 2018, he has appeared on the Graphic Policy podcast, discussing comics, films, and miniseries. He also made appearances on the Dan O Says So, Going Off Track, The Nib, Cerebro, and Mea Culpa podcasts.
While the media focuses on "the surge," this panel takes a holistic look at Iraq in geopolitical terms for the Middle East, the U.S., and the world. Young turks of the blogosphere Matt Yglesias and Spencer Ackerman are joined by the National Security Network's Ilan Goldenberg and A.J. Rossmiller.
A Brooklyn native, he graduated from Rutgers University in 2002 with a BA in philosophy
SCULLY:What did you study at Rutgers? ACKERMAN:I was a philosophy student at Rutgers.
CM. Spencer Ackerman, "Too Close To Call," The Daily Targum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
My first job in journalism was opening mail for the listings section of the immortal Manhattan weekly New York Press when I was 19. By the grace of Russ Smith, Lisa Kearns, John Strausbaugh, Lisa LeeKing and especially Andrey Slivka and Daria Vaisman, I eventually graduated to factchecker and got to write for the paper.
The New Republic has never been a particularly modest publication; in the mid 90s it claimed to be the “in-flight magazine of Air Force One.” The Libby indictment gave rise to a new boast: “When The New Republic Makes History, Are You There?” Ackerman wouldn’t be there much longer. Less than a year later, his boss Franklin Foer called and asked him to come in for a talk. Ackerman was working from home that day, maintaining the magazine’s baseball playoffs blog and posting a bit on Too Hot for TNR, his personal blog which he had just set up that weekend. Ackerman says his relationship with Foer had begun to deteriorate eight months before, in March of 2006, when Foer, who was thirty-one at the time, was given the magazine’s top job by Martin Peretz, TNR’s then owner and editor-in-chief.“As I was on the bus on the way down, I thought, ‘This is it. I’m probably going to be fired.’ I’d thought that before, but this felt different,” says Ackerman. This was different. Foer sat Ackerman down and told him that his behavior—both in the office and on his blog—had been unacceptable. His career at the magazine was over.
My departure is pretty mundane: the congressional press galleries are wary of giving me permanent credentials while I’m affiliated here, and I don’t want to impede any of my reporting responsibilities at my day job with Wired‘s Danger Room.
So: here's the rollout of the next generation of Attackerman. We're going back to a stripped-down format, less formal, less torrid.
This blog must die for Attackerman to live. And as of this post, that's exactly what's happening. Starting Monday, this blog will be located -- finally -- at Attackerman.com.
But if you can’t do it without sounding like Pat Buchanan, who has nothing but antipathy and contempt for Jews, then you’ve lost the debate.
“Israel Firster” has a nasty anti-Semitic pedigree, one that many Jews will intuitively understand without knowing its specific history. It turns out white supremacist Willis Carto was reportedly the first to use it, and David Duke popularized it through his propaganda network...Throughout my career, I’ve been associated with the Jewish left—I was to the left of the New Republic staff when I worked there, moved on to Talking Points Memo, hosted my blog at Firedoglake for years, and so on. I’ve criticized the American Jewish right’s myopic, destructive, tribal conception of what it means to love Israel.
On the Jewish website Tablet, left-wing journalist Spencer Ackerman, who said he has criticized the American Jewish Right’s “myopic, destructive, tribal conception of what it means to love Israel,” nevertheless admits that by using the term “Israel-firster” one loses the debate by revealing one’s “antipathy and contempt for Jews.” More profoundly, Ackerman pointed out that many on the Left who are fond of the “Israel-firster” smear and categorically deny its anti-Semitic undertone are “very good at hearing and analyzing dog-whistles when they’re used to dehumanize Arabs and Muslims.”
Spencer’s column is important because it draws a line on the left between acceptable discourse – which includes plenty of discourse that may be stupid or inaccurate – and vulgar anti-Semitic fallacies that should be repudiated by all respectable progressive thinkers and writers. Every once in awhile, these lines need to be drawn.
But no, he has it precisely wrong when he attempts to lay out the “right” and “wrong” way for Jews to argue. I would concede that there are certain terms that are not just offensive, but impermissible in such arguments. Scatology, threats of violence, Nazi references–all are treif whether coming from the left or right. And I’ve censored, moderated and banned comments here on both sides of this debate.
Well Ackerman is wrong. The term Israel Firster was used by a Zionist before it was used by white supremacists. I just got a hold of the American Jewish Committee’s Yearbook for 1961. It cites the use of the term “Israel Firster” by a legendary Zionist, the late Abram Leon Sachar, the leading American historian of Jews and president of Brandeis when he said it.
Others on the team of journalists included Spencer Ackerman, James Ball, David Blishen, Gabriel Dance, Julian Borger, Nick Davies, David Leigh and Dominic Rushe. In Australia the editor was Katharine Viner and the reporter Lenore Taylor.
And as I was discussing this with a Chicago police reform activist, in the course of that conversation, that guy, Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project, mentioned to me that institutional problems with Chicago policing ran so deep that Chicago even operates its own form of a black site. And I was just like, “What? That can’t be right. That doesn’t happen in the United States. That’s nuts.”
That’s right, leading—leading Angel Perez to think that the object used to penetrate him was the barrel of a service revolver, of a gun.
Iacopino has not seen the nude photographs but raised grave concerns. “It’s cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment at a minimum and may constitute torture,” he said.
In some of the photos, which remain classified, CIA captives are blindfolded, bound and show visible bruises. Some photographs also show people believed to be CIA officials or contractors alongside the naked detainees.
Spencer Ackerman, who turned heads when he left Guardian US last week, is moving over to The Daily Beast. He'll be senior national security correspondent for the news organization... covering homeland security, counterterrorism, intel and more... and reuniting with his former colleague Noah Shachtman, who's now the Beast's exec editor. Ackerman says via email: 'The Daily Beast is the place to do the kind of journalism that matters most right now ...'
The Daily Beast as a senior national security correspondent, 'covering homeland security, counterterrorism, intel and more... and reuniting with his former colleague Noah Shachtman, who's now the Beast's exec editor,' CNN's Brian Stelter reported last night
Spencer Ackerman: One other point. Unlike a lot of news organizations, there is an explicit mandate from Noah and (editor-in-chief) John Avlon that we are not in commodity news business. We have to break news. I am not in a position where, like at a lot of other places, I have to rewrite other peoples' stories. It's a seemingly trivial observation but has tremendous amount of impact.
In a recent filing in the case, Mitchell and Jessen’s attorneys portray the two contract psychologists as analogous to those who made the Zyklon B gas used to murder Jews and others in Nazi concentration camps.
Years later, Haspel drafted an instruction to CIA officers in the field to destroy videotapes of torturous interrogations at the site. Though the Justice Department later declined to bring charges, the destruction of the tapes was widely considered in human-rights circles to be a key moment in covering up the torture—and it prompted the Senate intelligence committee’s landmark 2014 investigation, which occurred amid the backdrop of the agency spying on the work product of the Senate investigators.
CM. Spencer Ackerman, "Too Close To Call," The Daily Targum, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ