"Weapons of Mass Deception"


WMD: Weapons of Miller’s descriptions

Spoon-fed information about Iraq's WMDs, New York Times reporter Judith Miller authored many stories later found to be misleading or downright false.

By Herbert L. Abrams
July/August 2004 pp. 56-64 (vol. 60, no. 04)

y June 3, 2003, according to a Harris Poll, 35 percent of Americans believed that weapons of mass destruction (WMD) had been found in Iraq, while 10 percent were not sure; in October, 30 percent were still persuaded, although six months of searching had failed to uncover any such weapons. How could so many have been convinced in the face of the total absence of evidence?

Selected comments from New York Times reporter Judith Miller's dispatches from December 2001 through June 2003 provide part of the answer. [1]

Miller, with a special knack for writing what the Pentagon liked to read, was the sole reporter embedded with the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which operated Mobile Exploitation Teams (MET Alpha, MET Bravo) hunting for WMD in Iraq. Her stories, which were widely reprinted or reported in other newspapers, on cable TV, and on talk radio, helped convey the impression to the nation that illicit weapons had been found in Iraq, supposedly validating the decision for war.

As she and others have explained, Ahmad Chalabi, an Iraqi expatriate, was the source of much of her information; some of the time she credited him directly. [2] She had mentioned him much earlier: In an interview in 1998, shortly after Operation Desert Fox (four nights in which the United States and Britain bombed numerous targets in Iraq), she said that Chalabi told her he had been given only "a few hours' notice" of the impending attack. [3]

On December 20, 2001, she wrote at length about Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed Al Haideri (made available by Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress) who "personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons. . . . [His] account gives new clues about the types and possible location of illegal laboratories, facilities, and storage sites." As Knight-Ridder's Jonathan Landay noted on May 18, 2004, this article was published three days after CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency officers rejected the defector's account as "unreliable" on the basis of a failed lie detector test. Miller admitted, "There was no means to independently verify Haideri's allegations."

On September 18, 2002, Miller's piece on the U.N. Monitoring, Verification, and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) cast doubt on its ability to uncover Iraqi WMD. She quoted David Kay as believing that U.N. inspectors were on a "mission impossible." "They are weaker" than an earlier inspection team, according to former inspector Richard Spertzel. Inspectors claimed that Hans Blix, UNMOVIC head and the chief chemical and biological weapons inspector, "had eliminated many of the more aggressive inspectors from his organization."

Emphasizing the flaws of the new inspection regime, its inability to detect "cheating," and predicting its failure to find WMD was central to the Bush administration's marginalization of Hans Blix; it also supported the administration's argument that it needed to move beyond diplomacy to assure Iraqi compliance.

On November 12, 2002, Miller highlighted the preparation for, and likelihood of, Iraqi use of poison gas. "Iraq has ordered large quantities of a drug that can be used to counter the effects of nerve gas," she wrote. According to administration officials, "'If the Iraqis were going to use nerve agent, they would want to take [such] steps to protect their own soldiers.'"

On December 3, the threat was biowarfare: "Iraq obtained a particularly virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist," she wrote, citing an unnamed informant.

Nine weeks before the attack on Iraq, on January 12, 2003, Miller described the war to come. "President [George] Bush told Iraqi opposition figures on Friday that he favored . . . a short military occupation after Saddam Hussein is out of power. . . . The dissidents assured him that [American soldiers] would be greeted with 'sweets and flowers.'" Referring to an opposition meeting to be held in northern Iraq, she quoted Ahmad Chalabi: "This will be an in-your-face-Saddam gathering."

On January 24, Miller alluded again to the impotence of the international inspection regime, and the usefulness of Chalabi's defectors. Because international inspectors were unlikely to find evidence that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction, she said, the Bush administration was preparing its own assessment that would rely heavily on Iraqi defectors. Some of the most valuable information came from a contractor who fled Iraq in 2001, she wrote. This informant, Haideri, whom Miller had discussed at length on December 20, claimed "that chemical and biological weapons laboratories were hidden beneath hospitals and inside presidential palaces." (As Landay pointed out in May 2004, when taken back to Iraq in early 2004 by the Iraq Survey Group, Haideri was unable "to identify a single site associated with illegal weapons.")

Miller added that the White House asked that the information from the defectors be used as "part of a 'bill of particulars'" to convince skeptical allies and the American public that Iraq's behavior warranted military action. The bill of particulars "may be incorporated into President Bush's State of the Union address."

Reporting on an interview with Hans Blix on January 30, 2003, she noted his contradiction of Secretary of State Colin Powell's claim that the inspectors "had found that Iraqi officials were hiding and moving illicit materials. . . . He had seen no persuasive indications of Iraqi ties to Al Qaeda. . . . [Blix] challenged President Bush's argument that military action is needed. . . . Scores of samples his team had taken across Iraq had turned up 'no trace' of chemical or biological agents."

Miller and co-author Julia Preston concluded, however, that Blix's report to the United Nations was less important for its failure to find evidence of WMD than for its "key" finding that Iraq had not provided "wholehearted" cooperation.

Reports from the search team?

Miller's first report as an "embed" (specifically assigned to travel with MET Alpha) came from Kuwait on March 19, the day before the war began. The administration has deployed mobile labs to help in the search for WMD, she wrote. "The discovery of such arms, officials said, would vindicate the administration's decision to go to war."

Five days later, on March 24, Miller depicted the mission of the search teams as the collection and analysis of samples "intended to prove to the court of world opinion . . . that Saddam Hussein, as President Bush alleges, has been hiding unconventional weapons." Still in Kuwait on March 27, she described an ammunition storage facility south of Baghdad that "remained suspicious" because chemical or germ weapons might have been made or stored there, although none were found. A senior Iraqi official said that there were "special bunkers"; a team found a biological hazard sign; experts found Soviet-style gas masks.

A few days later, a military inspection team returned to Kuwait from "its first foray" into southern Iraq having found "tons of [conventional] weapons" but "no trace of chemical or biological weapons." The experts "were not surprised," she wrote on April 2, because most of the WMD facilities are "closer to Baghdad."

By April 4, two weeks into the war, the headline was "A Nation at War: Illicit Arms." The text: "The United States has searched fewer than a dozen of several hundred sites. . . . Few, if any, have been sites at the top of the American list."

But now the war's purpose was beginning to change. On the second day of the war, Rumsfeld listed finding Iraq's WMD as second only to the goal of toppling Saddam, Miller wrote.

A week later, capturing "'terrorists sheltered in Iraq'" and collecting "'intelligence on terrorist networks'" topped Rumsfeld's list before the goal of securing Iraq's supposed WMD. Meanwhile, Miller was still in Kuwait. On April 4 she told CNN's American Morning host Bill Hemmer, "The key to this whole venture is really Iraqi scientists."

Finally, on April 10, Miller reached southern Iraq. At a suspect site, "sensors registered the presence of chemical agents. . . . The agricultural site was first reported as suspicious on April 6 after soldiers became nauseated and noticed welts on their hands. . . . The Iraqis had gone to great lengths to hide 11 or so 20-gallon drums . . . of a thin clear liquid." The liquid in the barrels turned out to be an organophosphate, used in pesticides, "though a sophisticated detector showed the presence of a nerve agent."

The next day, Miller reported that in Karbala a team of military experts began examining a cache of "sophisticated equipment" buried at an ammunition plant. "Much of the equipment could be used for multiple purposes, some peaceful, some not," she wrote of the experts' evaluations. But it was unclear if the equipment was intended for use in any weapons program, she added. A few days later, on April 16, she reported that the team had discovered "some suspicious items" but no "'smoking gun.'" "The team found radioactive material . . . and 'dual use' biological equipment that could be used for peaceful or military purposes," she wrote. Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzales remained optimistic: "'We are not going to find just a smoking gun, but a smoking cannon. . . . It's only a matter of time.'"

Then, on April 21, south of Baghdad, Miller's "Eureka!" moment arrived. An Iraqi scientist (whom, she admitted, she had not been allowed to interview) claimed that "Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began. . . . [He] led Americans to a supply of material that proved to be the building blocks of illegal weapons." According to Miller's report, Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, and it was now cooperating with Al Qaeda.

"The discovery of the buried material, the most important discovery to date . . . supports the Bush administration's charges that Iraq continued to develop weapons and lied to the United Nations." It also provided an explanation for why U.S. forces had not yet turned up banned weapons in Iraq. [4]

But by Miller's next dispatch on April 23, the object of the exercise had suddenly shifted. According to a member of the search team, "We've had a conceptual jump. . . . We must look at the infrastructure, not just for the weapons."

"The truth is not perishable," Maj. Gen. David Petraeus told her, "but timeliness is important."

Miller's first dispatch from Baghdad, published on April 24, dutifully reported what unnamed sources had told her, not what she had seen. "American-led forces have occupied a vast warehouse complex in Baghdad filled with chemicals where Iraqi scientists are suspected of having tested unconventional agents. . . . [Officials described] it as filled with broken parts and remnants of equipment consistent with a full-scale laboratory. This reporter was not permitted to visit the warehouse." Officials believed the information seemed to provide corroboration to accounts that Saddam Hussein continued expanding his weapons programs while claiming to have dismantled them, Miller wrote.

Three days later, on April 27, her account featured Nissar Hindawi, "a leading figure in Iraq's biological warfare program in the 1980s," who claimed Iraq had "'produced huge quantities'" of liquid anthrax and botulinum toxin. This informant had left the program in 1989, before the first Gulf War, and was described as "now in the protective custody of the Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi."

Grasping at straws

By April 28, there seemed to be a note of irritation in Miller's reporting. "There are no chemical weapons at a site where American troops said they had found chemical agents and mobile labs." Repeatedly, early reports of discoveries "come to naught." The elaborate system created by Pentagon planners "has not worked out," she wrote.

On May 3, Miller reported that radioactive materials had been detected at a nuclear research facility. "What was found at Tuwaitha was the 'largest amount of radiological materials that has been found at a nuclear site in Iraq.' . . . [It] was consistent with industrial or research use . . . looters may have taken anthrax samples."

Two days later, on May 5, Miller reported that a biologist, Huda Salih Mahdi Ammash, who had worked in Iraq's suspected biological warfare program, had "generated considerable excitement among weapons inspectors here in Iraq. . . . A mission was begun today to survey a mysterious white powder." The following day, she wrote that a "top-secret intelligence memo [was] found in a room" in secret police headquarters. The memo described an offer by a "holy warrior" to sell uranium and other nuclear material to Iraq--presumably lending support to Powell-Bush claims that Iraq had attempted to buy yellowcake from Niger, a claim later proved to be derived from clumsily forged documents. The search began when 16 soldiers "teamed up" with members of the Iraqi National Congress, headed by Ahmad Chalabi.

On May 8, Miller provided cover for Powell's description of Iraqi mobile bioweapons laboratories, which he had offered in a speech to the United Nations in February 2003. "A joint British-American team of experts had concluded that a tractor-trailer truck found in northern Iraq several weeks ago could be a mobile biological weapons lab," Miller wrote. A defector said it was for the production of biological agents. "The discovery would support the Bush administration's claims that Iraq continued to pursue weapons of mass destruction." The labs had been "designed" to produce germ warfare agents, she wrote. "American forces had collected much 'documentary evidence' that 'suggests there was an active program' for weapons of mass destruction."

On May 9, Miller reported: "A team returned today to Iraqi secret police headquarters [where the supposed offer to sell uranium had been found] . . . to find that someone had been picking through the basement. . . . Members of the Iraqi National Congress, led by Ahmad Chalabi, managed to secure the equipment." Outside the building, intelligence analysts found a section of a manual about administration plans to defend Americans against unconventional attacks. The material had been faxed from Iraq's United Nations office in New York, Miller wrote.

Two days later, the tractor-trailer had become a "smoking gun." Miller wrote that experts had concluded that "a trailer found near Mosul in northern Iraq in April is a mobile biological weapons laboratory . . . [although] some experts were still uncertain. . . . There might be as many as eight mobile labs in Iraq," a clear violation of United Nations sanctions, she wrote. This was just "the kind of 'smoking gun' . . . to substantiate the Bush administration's allegations." The configuration of the trailer was similar to the lab described by Secretary Powell in his speech to the United Nations in February, Miller wrote.

On May 12, Miller's last dispatch from Iraq recorded the discovery of "the strongest source of radiation found so far in Iraq, at a long-abandoned test range near Amiriya. . . . [The material] could be used to make 'dirty bombs.'"

A different story

During the period from March 18 to May 12 (when Miller was embedded), "unilateral" or non-embedded reporters conveyed a flavor somewhat at variance with hers. The Washington Post's Barton Gellman wrote a series of dispatches during this period. An early headline on March 30 read: "Special Search Operations Yield No Banned Weapons." His copy read, "U.S. forces have tested 10 of their best intelligence leads . . . [and] 'all the searches have turned up negative.'" On April 5, a Gellman report was headlined: "Suspicious Sites Provide No Proof Yet." He reported that components found there struck experts as ambiguous at best. Two days later, Gellman and co-author Rich Atkinson wrote: "The U.S. Army said today it had tentatively identified nerve and other chemical agents." But several suspect discoveries have proved to be false alarms, they added. On April 22, in "Hunt for Iraqi Arms Erodes Assumptions," Gellman reported that analysts were increasingly doubtful.

On May 10, Gellman reported that what had happened to uranium stores or other chemicals was unclear. "Seven nuclear facilities in Iraq have been damaged or effectively destroyed by looting," he wrote. The next day, the headline on his article read: "Frustrated, U.S. Arms Team to Leave Iraq. Task Force Unable to Find Any Weapons." "Erroneous intelligence and poor site security--dealt the severest blows to the hunt," inspectors told Gellman.

Back in New York, on May 21, little more than a week following the Gellman headline "Unable to Find Any Weapons," Miller and William J. Broad co-authored a report claiming that Iraqi germ-weapons production units had been discovered. "United States intelligence agencies have concluded that two mysterious trailers found in Iraq were mobile units to produce germs for weapons," Miller and Broad wrote. The "judgment would support some of the evidence that Secretary Powell presented on February 5 to the United Nations . . . a centerpiece of their argument that Iraq had a well-concealed germ weapons program." They added, though, that Iraqi scientists insisted the units were merely "mobile plants to make hydrogen for filling weather balloons."

Two and a half weeks later, on June 7, Miller and Broad reported that their "smoking guns" had gone up in smoke. "American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs. . . . [The analysts said] the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment."

At long last, the Times inserted a footnote to this piece, revealing that Miller's "agreement with the Pentagon, for an 'embedded' assignment, allowed the military to review her copy. . . . [But] no changes were made in the review." The last sentence is ambiguous: The June 7 article was itself a lengthy review of the issue. Did the editors mean that the review was unchanged? Or that none of Miller's numerous reports had been altered by military censors? On April 21, readers were told that the dispatch was held up for three days and then "submitted for a check by military officials." "Those officials asked that details of what chemicals were uncovered be deleted," wrote Miller. Are readers to understand that a deletion is not a change?

The critics

Over time, Miller's reporting from Iraq attracted increasing attention. On April 21, Jack Shafer of accused her and the Times of shortchanging readers by neglecting to detail the terms of censorship--or "accreditation to report" as Miller called it--that they had accepted. Nevertheless, Shafer credited her with a scoop for her report on the Iraqi scientist who witnessed the Iraqi destruction of WMD.

But the scoop, which was never verified, was described by one of Shafer's e-mail respondents as "unsubstantiated hearsay, speculation; possibly completely made up." Shafer, in a July 25 piece titled "The Times Scoops That Melted," suggested that the executive editor of the Times should launch an investigation: Had Miller "grown too close to her sources to be trusted . . . or to recant?"

The identical suggestion--that the Times undertake a critical review of its WMD reporting--was made a month later in Editor and Publisher. [5] The Times eventually did.

On May 13, the World Socialist Web site ( posted a long piece characterizing Miller's April 21 story on the Iraqi scientist as "seemingly a stunning vindication of the Pentagon and the Bush administration." Yet, as author Bill Vann pointed out, Miller's only source "was the U.S. military," and she had done nothing to verify the claims she repeated. Vann suggested that Miller's listing as a speaker for the Middle East Forum, a right-wing lobbying group, could be a violation of Times ethics guidelines, which barred reporters from participating in groups that seek to shape public policy.

Soon after, Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post reported on a conflict within the Times staff. Quoting an irate e-mail from Baghdad bureau chief John Burns concerning a Chalabi story that he had assigned to another reporter, Kurtz included some of Miller's response, shedding even more light on how dubious her sources might have been: "I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years. . . . He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper." More troubling still, it turned out, the army unit in which she was embedded was "using Chalabi's Intel and document network for its own WMD work." [6]

By early June 2003, according to Barton Gellman of the Washington Post, it became apparent that Task Force 20, a covert army Special Forces unit drawn from Delta Force, had been performing a major role in the search for Iraqi WMD. It was able to work more rapidly, with better communication, more Arab linguists, less chance for site-looting, strong detector technology, and full-time access to more technologically advanced helicopters. Members of Task Force 20 frequently reached sites ahead of the military site survey team to which Miller was assigned. Nonetheless, they had come no closer to finding WMD than did Miller's unit, MET Alpha. [7]

Articles critical of Judith Miller's reporting appeared in rapid succession in the Columbia Journalism Review, the New York Observer, The Nation, on the Internet, and in the New York Post. [8] The Washington Post published a detailed account depicting Miller's use of her leverage as the Times representative to serve as "middleman" between MET Alpha and Chalabi. According to a senior staff officer, she had an enormous impact on the unit's mission, "'and not for the better.'" "The unit was turned into what one official called a 'rogue operation.'" Miller's presence was "'detrimental'" and she "'was always issuing threats of going to the New York Times or to the Secretary of Defense.'" [9] A New York Times insider was quoted portraying her reporting as a "train wreck," adding, "she's considered an embarrassment." [10]

Miller's frustration at the final emptiness of the powerful, misleading rhetoric of her reports, as well as of the critical chorus, boiled over on July 20 in a report that she labeled "A Chronicle of Confusion in the U.S. Hunt for Hussein's Chemical and Germ Weapons." She found fault in everything but herself. "Chaos," she wrote, "disorganization, interagency feuds, disputes within and among various military units, and shortages of everything from gasoline to soap plagued the post-war search for . . . unconventional weapons. . . . The Bush administration used flawed intelligence" that "was often stunningly wrong."

"Promising sites were looted. . . . Special Forces alienated potential Iraqi sources. . . . The Pentagon [was] reluctant to make the mission an urgent priority. . . . The Pentagon initially erred in putting a field artillery brigade in charge. . . . Former inspectors from UNSCOM [the pre-1998 U.N. inspection unit], especially those who had interviewed Iraqis . . . should be involved." The task force had few analysts who knew Iraq or its weapons programs well, she wrote.

If readers were misled, it was all the fault of the U.S. military and surely Miller would share no blame. In this curiously indignant exercise, Miller both revealed and excused the limitations of her accounts.

Duty to readers?

On September 25, Miller reported that David Kay, head of the Iraqi Survey Group, had issued his interim report. "His team had not found any of the unconventional weapons cited by the Bush administration as a principal reason for going to war," she reported along with Douglas Jehl.

But the weapons had to be found. On October 2, Miller and co-author James Risen wrote: "The Bush administration is seeking more than $600 million from Congress to continue the hunt. . . . The total price tag for the search will approach $1 billion." And while the task force with which Judith Miller was embedded had worked out of an abandoned palace, "the Iraq Survey Group apparently spent its first weeks installing air-conditioned trailers, a new dining facility, state-of-the-art software, and even a sprinkler system for a new lawn." After three months' work by the new search team, no illegal weapons had been found, but the group had discovered some intent to develop such weapons, according to Kay.

William E. Jackson Jr. wrote three accounts of Miller's reporting that appeared on the Editor and Publisher Web site on July 2, September 23, and October 2. Jackson described Miller's reports as a "series of exaggerated stories" that merely endorsed the Bush administration's claims on WMD in Iraq. Miller, he concluded, had "crossed the line from that of reporter to that of a member of a team she referred to as 'my unit.'"

"There is the smell of compromised reporting," he wrote, "tainted Iraqi sources . . . surrendering detached judgment to the Pentagon." He was puzzled that a star reporter caught in highly misleading reporting on WMDs would be so protected from the consequences of her actions. After all, she was the "'drop' of choice for a politically motivated leaker."

Jackson added that military officials and journalists in Iraq believed Miller "had an exclusive deal with the Pentagon." And, he asked, did she "break credible hard news--or only flack for hawks in the government, an all-too-familiar role for her over the last two years?"

Other Jackson conclusions: "When her work is examined systematically, it is frequently found to be simply wrong on the facts." And "Miller is not a neutral, nor an objective journalist." Or as Slate's Shafer suggested in his August 19 report "Judith Miller: Duped?" Miller had swallowed the claims of unreliable Iraqi defectors, and the Times had given them great prominence.

A detailed analysis in the August/September 2003 American Journalism Review summarized many of the Miller articles and quoted Miller deriding the complaints about her stories as "sour grapes."

In February 2004, Michael Massing wrote a passionate evocation of the media's failure to record the doubts of many informed sources about the evidence of WMD before the war. Journalists like Judith Miller, he wrote, "were far too reliant on sources sympathetic to the administration." In an interview, Miller had said, "My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq's arsenal." Massing suggested that it was also a journalistic function to evaluate official claims. While his focus was primarily on the pre-war period, he alluded to some of the criticism of Miller's depiction of the search for WMD during the war. [11]

It seems apparent that Miller was well-positioned to view an inept search by inexperienced members of the armed forces who were poorly trained, poorly equipped, and ill served in the chase by uncertain and inaccurate intelligence. Instead of relaying that message, she filled her days with "suspicions" rather than facts, chattered repeatedly about MET Alpha and MET Bravo units, and made it clear that spectacular discoveries of illicit weapons would soon be achieved. The "smoking gun" was always about to be uncovered.

Miller's early enthusiasm for the search was stimulated by her unusual access to Chalabi's various "defectors" and "informants," allowing her to weave a fabric full of rhetorical triumphs of exaggeration, while protecting her integrity by the high art of attribution to sources unknown. [12] Of her best-known source, Chalabi, it has recently been stressed that "officials warned in May 2002 that some of the information might be unreliable or fabricated." A favorite of pro-war Pentagon officials, he is "deeply distrusted by many rank-and-file professionals in the CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and State Department." [13]

One analysis of the information furnished to Miller by defectors concluded that it "proved ultimately useless." [14] A second summarized the discrediting of Miller's source and story on aluminum tubes for centrifuges for a new "nuclear weapons program" in Iraq. [15] The Defense Intelligence Agency had already concluded that "much of the information it received from Iraqi defectors, including information provided by the Iraqi National Congress [Chalabi's group], was of little or no use." [16] (In the last few months, Chalabi, a member of the American-appointed Iraq Governing Council, has come under increasing criticism for his ties to the Iranian government and possible misuse of U.S. government financial support.)

The Times ultimately agreed that some of its reports had depended too heavily on information from Iraqi defectors and specifically named Chalabi in a May 26 "editors' note" in which it acknowledged its faults. "Looking back, we wish we had been more aggressive in re-examining the claims as new evidence emerged--or failed to emerge. . . . Editors at several levels . . . should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism," the note read.

No accountability--not then, not now

As Vice President Dick Cheney candidly admitted during the first Gulf War, when he served as defense secretary, "I do not look on the press as an asset. Frankly, I looked on it as a problem to be managed." [17] During the second Gulf conflict, more than 600 reporters were "managed" as "embeds," agreeing to sign contracts with the military limiting when and what they could report. Each was able to provide a small slice of the war almost instantaneously; access was good, and the general feeling was that it worked well for both sides. [18] But were they able to draw the line between propaganda and journalism?

Or did the 2,100 "unilaterals"--independent reporters whose movements were relatively unrestricted--provide more objective, accurate dispatches? The analysis that would answer this question has not been performed. What seems clear is that if the war had extended well beyond three weeks, with greater casualties among the troops and the embeds, there might have been a significant clash between the need for accurate reporting and the Pentagon's public relations goals.

On January 29, 2004, David Kay, in his final appraisal, told the Senate that "we were all wrong," and that the Iraq Survey Group had found no WMD in Iraq. His conclusion makes it all the clearer how unconfirmed reports helped to justify a "preemptive" war, seemed to document intelligence that, in the words of David Kay, was "wrong," and served to support a false assertion of a grave threat to the United States.

When Kay resigned, the administration quickly replaced him with Charles Duelfer, who redefined the mission. "In its simplest terms," he told Congress on March 30, 2004, "my strategy is to determine the regime's intentions."

In her preference for hyperbole over dispassionate reporting, Miller made a choice. It was not that she created the news she reported, but rather that she evoked a tone and urgency that were unwarranted by the fragility and self-interestedness of her sources. She was careful to include caveats, qualifiers, disclaimers, and occasional doubts as an index of balance. But justifying the war and confirming her pre-war claims appear to have been more important to her than serving the interests of her readers. And it is not a trivial issue if these motives were "at odds with [her] professional duties." [19]

Unfortunately, it is likely that Miller, who seems to have been unconcerned about even the appearance of conflict of interest, will continue to consider any allusions to her problematic reporting--as in the foregoing pages--unwarranted. "I'm very comfortable with all of my reporting and very proud of it," she has said. [20] She stands by her dispatches and her view that critical comments about them are "beat[ing] up on the messenger" who willingly relayed unverified government handouts without making independent checks or sometimes even issuing necessary retractions. [21] It is even more unfortunate that it took her editors so long to acknowledge their failure in the matter.

1. The words in quotations contained in Miller's articles were usually attributed to poorly identified sources such as: "senior Bush officials," "an official," "one official," "experts," "White House officials," "foreign scientists," "an informant whose identity has not been disclosed," "Iraqi participants," "dissidents," "Iraqi defectors," "Iraqi scientists," "intelligence officials," "British planners and experts," "an Iraqi general," "a site survey team," "the team leader," "an elite American team," "the team's chemical expert," "the exploitation team," "weapons experts," "the biological specialist," and so on. All of these and many other nameless sources fed a constant stream of information to Miller that frequently ended up on the front page or in the front section of the New York Times. On rare occasion she would describe a site or a discovery without attribution, presumably indicating she had observed it herself.

2. Howard Kurtz, "Intra-Times Battle Over Iraqi Weapons," Washington Post, May 26, 2003.

3. Interview with Diane Dimond, CNBC Upfront Tonight, December 29, 1998. Chalabi was considered the favorite Iraqi expatriate of the Pentagon and the administration.

4. Nine and a half months later, James Woolsey cited Miller's report to explain David Kay's failure to find WMD. There had been a "last minute cleaning up" (Wall Street Journal, Feb. 2, 2004). Woolsey had claimed in 2001 that the United States could equip an Iraqi opposition force to overthrow Saddam in a matter of months. "We would have to have some forces in . . . we will be very popular." Interview with Chris Matthews, CNBC, December 20, 2001.

5. William E. Jackson Jr., "Real NY Times Scandal: Hyping WMDs in Iraq," www.editor, June 17, 2003.

6. Kurtz, "Intra-Times Battle."

7. Barton Gellman, "Covert Unit Hunted for Iraqi Arms; Amid Raids and Rescue, Task Force 20 Failed to Pinpoint Weapons," Washington Post, June 13, 2003.

8. John R. McArthur, "The Lies We Bought," Columbia Journalism Review, May/ June 2003; Sridhar Pappu, New York Observer, June 22, 2003; Russ Baker, "Scoops and Truth at the Times," The Nation, June 27, 2003; Steve Gilliard, "So, Judith Miller Works for the New York Times and Not D.O.D., Right?" Daily Kos, June 25, 2003; Keith J. Kelly, "Times Brass Puts Leash on Miller," New York Post, June 29, 2003.

9. Howard Kurtz, "Embedded Reporter's Role in Army Unit's Actions Questioned by Military," Washington Post, June 25, 2003.

10. Keith J. Kelly, "Times Brass Puts Leash on Miller," New York Post, June 29, 2003.

11. Michael Massing, "Now They Tell Us," New York Review of Books, Feb. 26, 2004, pp. 43-49.

12. Geneva Overholzer, ombudsman at the Washington Post, believes that one of the most important preventive measures against deception and fraud in the media would be "less frequent use of anonymous sources." PBS's News Hour, March 22, 2004.

13. Jonathan S. Landay, "Key Source on Iraqi Bioweapons Was Deemed Dubious," Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 6, 2004.

14. Jack Shafer, "Judith Miller: Duped?", August 29, 2003.

15. Massing, "Now They Tell Us."

16. James Risen, "Data from Iraqi Exiles Under Scrutiny," New York Times, Feb. 12, 2004.

17. Bill Katovsky and Timothy Carlson, Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq (Guilford, Connecticut: Lyons Press), p. XII.

18. Tiffany Ayers, "The War in Primetime," Military Officer, February 2004.

19. Judith Lichthenberg, "Truth, Neutrality, and Conflict of Interest," Business and Professional Ethics Journal, Spring-Summer, 1990, pp. 75-78.

20. Kelly, "Times Brass."

21. Massing, "Now They Tell Us."

© 2004 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

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