Dowd | Iran, Al Qaeda and Weapons of Mass Destruction
Maureen Dowd: Iran, Al Qaeda and Weapons of Mass Destruction
By Maureen Dowd
The International Herald Tribune
Monday 26 May 2003
Hawking the next regime change
WASHINGTON: The CIA is snooping around itself and other spy agencies to see if prewar reports of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda were exaggerated. The suspense is killing me. The delicious part is that the review was suggested by Donald Rumsfeld, a main culprit in twisting the intelligence to justify a strike on Baghdad. It's like O.J. vowing to find the real killer. When the CIA reports weren't incriminating enough about Saddam Hussein last autumn, Rummy started his own little CIA within the Pentagon to ferret out information to back up the hawks' imperial schemes. It will be interesting to see how a man who never admits he's wrong wriggles out of admitting he's wrong, after his investigation fingers him for hyping.
When Colin Powell went to the UN in February to make the case for attacking Iraq, he raised the specter of 25,000 liters of anthrax, tons of chemical weapons and a dictator on the brink of a nuclear bomb.
Flash forward to May. Stymied U.S. arms inspectors are getting ready to leave Iraq, having uncovered moldy vacuum cleaners, pesticides and playground equipment, but nary a WMD. One of the weapons hunters compared his work to a Scooby-Doo mystery - stuff seems pretty scary at first, but then turns out to be explainable. Even before the war, some CIA analysts and British spymasters were complaining of puffed-up intelligence. Now Congress wants to know if it was flawed as well. As Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, put it: "This could conceivably be the greatest intelligence hoax of all time." Her innocence is touching. The Iraq WMD's and ties to Al Qaeda were merely MacGuffins, as Alfred Hitchcock called devices that drove the plot but were otherwise inconsequential.
The plot was always to remake the Middle East, while remaking a George W. Bush into a Ronald Reagan. And the Bushies were not above playing on American fears and desire for 9/11 payback.
Far from being chagrined about the little problem of having no casus belli, and no plan for smoothly delivering Pax Americana to Iraq and Afghanistan, the hawks are hawking the next regime change. If Iraq was not harboring Al Qaeda and going nuclear, then certainly Iran is.
"Of course, they have senior Al Qaeda in Iran, that's a fact," Rummy said at the Pentagon briefing on Wednesday. "Iran is one of the countries that is, in our view, assessed as developing a nuclear capability, and that's unfortunate."
Bushies were also hinting that Iran may have been involved in the attack on a Western compound in Saudi Arabia - before our intelligence sources are sure. And the United States cannot let Iran foment desire in Iraq for a Shiite fundamentalist government.
Citing newspaper reports that said one of the organizers of the Saudi attacks was hiding in Iran, Bill Kristol beat the drum on Fox News: "Indeed, bin Laden's son is probably in Iran. And that looks like the place where they are reconstituting Al Qaeda. Plus, Iran has been a larger sponsor of terror, including perhaps the terror, indirectly at least, that hit Jerusalem today. Are you willing to get serious about Iran?" (Mr. Kristol is obviously ready to watch another war from his living room.)
The administration is panicky about Iran's nuclear program, which the mullahs threw into overdrive after America attacked Iraq. Some neo-cons would like Israel to take out Iran's nuclear reactor, as it did Iraq's in '81; but Israel wants America to do it. Some are pushing shah nostalgia, suggesting that Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last shah of Iran, could be the next Chalabi.
The Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurgent; Afghanistan and Iraq are a mess; the vice police are back arresting women in Afghanistan and looters are tearing up archeological sites in Iraq; Saddam and Osama are still wanted, dead or alive. Yet the MacGuffin has moved on.
It is paradoxical that the hawks were passionate about breeding idealism by bringing democracy to the Middle East, but are unconcerned about breeding cynicism by refusing to admit mistakes or overreaching.
By the time the CIA delivers its report, it will be time to investigate how our intelligence was hyped in the prelude to the strike on Iran.
Editor's Note | Read this closely, for it is quite important. The Ombudsman at a newspaper answers reader questions and complaints on the editorial pages every so often. Below is an article by the Ombudsman for the Washington Post. It is answering concerns from readers about using 'unnamed sources' and 'anonymous administration officials' to report on issues like Iraq's weapons programs. The concerns of the Ombudsman are so acute that he acknowledges his paper's needs to revise the way they report on these stories. - wrp
According to Someone
By Michael Getler
The Washington Post
Sunday 25 May 2003
The recent problems at the New York Times involving a reporter with a long record of plagiarizing and fabricating stories have touched a nerve with readers of other newspapers, including The Post. Readers who have been writing or calling me say they don't suspect the same kind of brazen, large-scale deception by a troubled individual. But their concerns add up to a real and growing credibility problem for news organizations, especially in today's environment.
That environment includes what seems to me, and a fair number of readers, to be a steady increase in the number of major stories attributed to anonymous sources and a sense that intelligence information is being politicized and that reporters aren't probing hard enough against the defenses of an administration with an effective, disciplined and restrictive attitude toward information control.
The elements of the complaints are these: The United States has just carried out a quick and militarily successful attack on Iraq. Yet major justifications for the attack -- the existence of weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's link to the al Qaeda terrorist network that carried out the 9/11 attacks -- have not been confirmed. Before the war, many stories -- some from the administration on the record but others from unnamed sources -- pointed with certainty to the existence of these weapons.
In recent weeks, several articles have included allegations against Syria and Iran that are similar to the allegations against Iraq that preceded the war. Another string of stories in a number of papers reported allegedly unfriendly acts by France, which led the opposition to the war.
Some of these stories were based on sources identified only as "intelligence officials" or "senior administration officials" or other such useless descriptions. One Post reader called attention to the administration's policy on preemptive war, which was used against Iraq and could be used again against Syria or Iran.
Another charged that The Post was, perhaps unwittingly, "abetting the campaign to vilify Iran and to indirectly propagandize the public to accept violence against that country. The campaign is distressingly similar to the run-up to the invasion and occupation of Iraq: possession of weapons of mass destruction, harboring of terrorists including members of al Qaeda and having an undemocratic government. In view of the seriousness of these charges and the intent of the sources, The Post should not permit 'intelligence sources' or 'administration sources' to pass muster."
Another asked: "Why do you believe the intelligence reports that claim al Qaeda is responsible for a certain event? Why not at least a disclaimer that these are the same sources that gave you [information on the existence of] weapons of mass destruction?" The Post has done a good job in reporting the denials of these accusations by Syria, Iran and France. Of course, some or all of the allegations may turn out to be true, and conclusive evidence of weapons of mass destruction may be found in time. But some readers are greatly skeptical, and that skepticism is being reinforced by a lack of confidence caused by the extent of anonymous sourcing.
The Post, like other major news organizations, has rules about sourcing. It is naive to think that very sensitive material can be ferreted out without sometimes allowing sources anonymity. But The Post's guidelines call for reporters to make every effort to get the material on the record and, failing that, to report the reason for not disclosing identities and to provide as much other information about identity and motivation as possible. My impression is that these rules have largely fallen by the wayside, along with demands by editors to know sources' identities, because the use of unnamed sources has become so routine. The administration wins simply by refusing to allow the use of any attribution other than "senior administration officials."
Several other readers believe that The Post "has some problems of its own with the veracity of its reporting," as one put it. He was referring to the paper's exclusive April 3 front-page account of how Army Pfc. Jessica Lynch, according to "U.S. officials," fought during an Iraqi ambush, continued firing after sustaining multiple gunshot wounds and being stabbed, and shot several Iraqi soldiers before running out of ammunition. This account, which has remained exclusive to The Post, is by far the story that readers continue to question most. I wrote a column about this on April 20, but the questioning, which has nothing to do with Pfc. Lynch but everything to do with anonymous news sources, continues. In fact, it is increasing as journalism is put in the spotlight. If there is a different version, or a confirming version, of this that is authoritative, I hope somebody will write it, along with a more probing account of her rescue.
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