"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Controversial WMD Reporter and NY Times Divorce

WASHINGTON, Nov 10 (IPS) - Was she an innocent dupe who was played mercilessly by exile chieftain Ahmed Chalabi and his neo-conservative and Pentagon backers who led the march to war with Iraq in March 2003?

Analysis by Jim Lobe

Or was she a co-conspirator in what former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson called a "cabal" that hijacked U.S. foreign policy in order to transform the Middle East, beginning with invasion of Iraq?

Now that the New York Times and its one-time star weapons of mass destruction (WMD) investigative reporter, Judith Miller, have formally divorced over what appear to be irreconcilable differences and the threat of a staff insurrection if her byline should ever appear on the pages of the "Grey Lady" again, that question still hovers over an affair whose lessons will be studied in media, journalism and political communications classes for decades.

Miller, who only six weeks ago was released from jail, where she had been held for 85 days for refusing to testify in a case involving the "outing" of covert Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer Valerie Plame, promised in a "Farewell" printed on the Times' Letters page Thursday to continue speaking out in her own defence at her Web site -- "".

She had chosen to resign, she wrote, "because over the last few months, I have become the news, something a New York Times reporter never wants to be".

For its part, the Times published a news article reporting that both sides had reached a severance agreement, details of which were not disclosed.

And while the executive editor, Bill Keller, and publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. -- whose perceived protection of Miller is widely blamed for the reluctance of her editors to rein her in over much of the past decade -- issued the appropriate eulogies over her past award-winning work, the article also cited a Times spokeswoman as saying, "it had been made clear to Ms. Miller that she would not be able to continue as a reporter of any kind, not just one covering national security".

Indeed, that result was presaged two and a half weeks ago when the Times' Public Editor, Byron Calame, concluded an article entitled "The Miller Mess" with the observation that "...the problems will make it difficult for her to return to the paper as a reporter." A similar point was made in the same Sunday edition by columnist Maureen Dowd in a withering critique entitled "Woman of Mass Destruction".

Miller, of course, was sole or co-author of five of the six big stories about Iraq's alleged WMD programmes published by the Times between late 2001 and early 2003. They were subsequently repudiated in a stunning "Editor's Note" published in May 2004, which most observers interpreted as an oblique apology for having unwittingly contributed to the George W. Bush administration's efforts to rally the public behind war with Iraq.

Two front-page stories, both with Miller's byline, were particularly sensational. One, published Dec. 20, 2001, was based on an exclusive interview in Thailand with a self-described Iraqi civil engineer, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri. He described renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground labs located across the country in private villas and even under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad.

The second, published on Sep. 7, 2002, coincided precisely (or was precisely timed) with the launch of a White House-orchestrated drive to persuade the public that it faced a serious nuclear threat from Iraq which had "intensifie(d)" its efforts to obtain a bomb.

The article, which was co-authored by Michael Gordon, described U.S. intelligence reports that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy thousands of "specially designed aluminum tubes" whose only use, according to U.S. officials, was for building centrifuges to enrich uranium. The report also cited new defectors who spoke of an expanding chemical weapons programme, including the deployment of mobile units.

Other reports would follow, all based either on assertions by alleged defectors or unidentified U.S. officials, and all feeding the notion that Iraq was indeed making rapid progress on acquiring and deploying WMD.

Immediately after the invasion, Miller was even embedded with a special secret Pentagon unit, called Mobile Exploitation Team (MET) Alpha, whose assignment was to scour Iraq in search of the WMD facilities that she had written about. Despite its failure to find anything, Miller's breathless reportage repeatedly suggested imminent success.

Miller's reporting had common elements. Her "defectors" were invariably supplied via the Iraqi National Congress (INC) of Ahmad Chalabi, who is currently visiting Washington as Iraq's deputy premier.

And her unnamed government sources, to the extent the reader could ascertain their affiliation, almost never came from the CIA or the State Department, the two bureaucracies, long considered "enemies" by neo-conservatives, whose experts were most sceptical of claims about Iraq's nuclear programme.

"If your sources are wrong," she later explained, "you are wrong." But that begged the question of why she did not consult dissenting sources of which there were many. As Dowd noted wryly, "...(I)nvestigative reporting is not stenography."

Indeed, based on what is now known, in part due to the Plame case and the resulting perjury and obstruction of justice indictments of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby, it appears that Miller had fallen in with or confined her sourcing to Chalabi's INC.

She also relied on its staunch supporters at the American Enterprise Institute and the Defence Policy Board, and the tight group of neo-conservatives and aggressive hawks in the Pentagon and Cheney's office who promoted it.

This network clearly developed its own "intelligence" and sent it from the INC to two special intelligence units set up under then-undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith to Cheney's office to the White House. It used the Times, and its reputation for authoritativeness, via Miller, to place "facts" in the public and media spotlight that would never have stood the light of day had they been fully vetted by professional analysts.

Indeed, Miller bragged about her close and decade-long relationship with Chalabi in an email message to her editors obtained by The Washington Post. During her controversial "embed" with MET-Alpha, she also repeatedly "intimidated" soldiers by threatening to complain directly to Feith or Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld himself.

In one case, the Post reported that she arranged the surrender to the unit of a scientist who had been held by the INC. And in an echo of her reputation for "sharp elbows" and defiance of editors in her 28-year Times career -- she happily adopted the name "Miss Run Amok" in the newsroom -- she turned the unit into the "Judith Miller team", a "rogue operation" working in close cooperation with Chalabi, according to an officers quoted by the Post.

Similarly, her "entanglement" with Libby, as Keller once put it, suggested that she was particularly close to the hawks and seen by them as a reliable conduit to the media. Libby told Miller about Plame's identity two weeks before he told any other reporter. Although she never wrote about the case, she promised that the information he provided would be attributed to a "former Hill staffer" -- an attribution so misleading that most media watchdogs have called it unethical.

The question remains, however, whether she was duped or whether she was a knowing co-conspirator. Miller herself insists that she is not a "neo-conservative" but holds generally "centrist" views on the Middle East where she served for a number of years.

Full Story: IPSNews

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Milton Frihetsson, 19:02


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