PIN THE TALE ON THE ZARQAWI: The favorite game of journalists who don't like reading intelligence reports
"9/11 -- The Movie -- And the Cynical Tragedy of Zarqawi" whined Rolling Stone's National Affairs Daily
on the 11th.
What did the ABC's "Path to 9/11" have to do with al Zarqawi? Nothing, as far as I could tell and I sat through all but the last five or ten minutes of it.
For Rolling Stone
, it was just a lead-in for what reporter Tim Dickinson really wanted to address. Bush didn't bomb al Zarqawi when he had a chance!
Although the Senate intelligence report, released last Friday, contained much ammunition to add to the assault on the administration, the music magazine's journalist, who maybe didn't bother to read it, instead resorted to a story that was wretched in 2004.
What it boils down to is this: Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction, but Zarqawi did! And Bush wouldn't launch missiles at him!
One news story in 2004 is the touchstone for the mythology.
Everyone who wants to bash the Bush administration over the head on al Zarqawi links to it: Jim Miklaszewski's "Avoiding attacking suspected terrorist mastermind," here.
A brief one source item, the meat of it from Richard Clarke associate Roger Cressey, it is written around the premise that Zarqawi was making poisons -- weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration, it was said, was presented with intelligence on this, and failed to act because it was more "obsessed" with Hussein.
" . . . intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin for attacks in Europe," reads the NBC piece.
If you try this convenient DD blog-approved search string,
the Miklaszewski article is at the apex, the font from which all mythology on the matter must flow.
In April of this year, before the US military offed the terrorist, Harry Reid issued a press release clubbing the Bush administration
" . . . intelligence showed Zarqawi was planning to use ricin in terrorist attacks in Europe," read Reid's release, reiterating from Miklaszewski.
"In January 2003, the threat turned real. Police in London arrested six terror suspects and discovered a ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq."
Except it's not true. As GlobalSecurity.Org Senior Fellow, DD has gone over the subject repeatedly. I was a consultant to the so-called "ricin lab connected to the camp in Iraq" trial.
The linkage Colin Powell made between al Zarqawi, an alleged detained al Qaeda man, and a "UK poison cell" did not exist. It's detailed most recently, here.
Historically, it was destroyed in 2005 by the verdicts and results from the actual trial of the UK poison cell.
In the trial, prosecutors desperately tried to link a group of Algerians associated with a loner named Kamel Bourgass to al Qaeda. And they failed. A jury found everyone but Bourgass not guilty. A subsequent prosecution set to run and predicated upon favorable results from the first then collapsed.No ricin
was found at Wood Green, the haunts of the alleged poison ring. Early news from the site had indicated a ricin positive but a scientist from Britain's biodefense laboratory, Porton Down, found it to be a false positive soon after, a fact that was never actually conveyed to the media
What was present? Only a jewelry tin of castor seeds. And this did not emerge until the end of the trial in 2005.
There was no link to al Zarqawi. There was Kamel Bourgass, a loner, convicted of the charge of conspiracy to create a nuisance with poisons and explosives, and guilty of murdering of a police officer, during his arrest.
DD blog contacted Reid's office over the press release and asked about the material. All a Reid staffer could do was point lamely to the NBC news piece.
Did Reid's office know the results of the London ricin trial? Did it know no ricin had been found in London, just a lame handful of castor seeds? No, of course not! Staffers couldn't talk about that. It contradicted the attack plan.
But US journalists, politicians and bloggers love to keep coming back to the myth of Zarqawi and poison plots in Britain or Europe.
Perhaps it is because they never actually covered the London ricin trial in any significant way, or because the material is very complicated. To try and evaluate it requires drawing together different sources of hard intelligence and evidence presented in a terror trial -- not just reading whatever comes up first in Google and judging its worth by how many people requote from it.
And it doesn't lend itself to simple assertions and pleasing terror stories, like theirs and Colin Powell's, that the now dead terrorist was a poison spider sitting in a web in northern Iraq, obviously pulling strings to launch attacks in Europe.
But back to Rolling Stone
Dickinson quotes from another alleged grail, Michael Scheuer, from a single newspaper article in Australia.
“Mr Bush had Zarqawi in his sights almost every day for a year before the invasion of Iraq and he didn’t shoot… Almost every day we sent a package to the White House that had overhead imagery of the house he was staying in. It was a terrorist training camp … experimenting with ricin and anthrax … any collateral damage there would have been terrorists.”
That Zarqawi was experimenting with "anthrax" is also an interesting claim. The comprehensive report from the Iraq Survey Group, a better source than a short newspaper article, found no anthrax
anywhere in Iraq. But it's a long and heavy treatise so perhaps this is why many journalists and bloggers, who quote from the Scheuer-talking-to-an-Australian-newspaper piece, prefer the latter.
Hard evidence on Zarqawi's production of alleged weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as opposed to short bits of journalism and opinion on the subject, is extremely thin. For example, "overhead imagery" can't tell you whether anthrax, ricin or Boone's Farm are being made at any compound. And as for newspaper reports on production of biological and chemical weapons in Iraq, one name suggests why, as a practice, they should not often be taken too seriously: Judith Miller.
In any case, the first section of the Roberts/Kennedy report on Iraq intelligence returned to the matter of al Qaida's alleged training and development in chemical and biological weapons. DD blog discussed it last week and republishes pertinent snapshots from the documents.
The relevant quotes: "A variety of reporting led CIA analysts to believe that al Qaeda maintained a toxins laboratory in Sargat . . . Abu Taisir [who was associated with Zarqawi in Iraq in Powell's presentation to the UN Security Council] reported was preparing contact poisons and ingestible compounds consistent with cyanide and possibly ricin."
At this point, while provocative, the intelligence is not firm. "[V]ariety of reporting" is simply not conclusive in the milieu of Iraq prior to the US invasion, particularly in the absence of hard physical evidence and the now known unreliability of sources.
The report continues " . . . there was no evidence explicitly linking the facility to the production of toxic substances." (Note: INR is an acronym for the State Department's intel operation.)
However, when the US invasion destroyed the Hussein government, it was possible for a variety of teams, like the Iraq Survey Group and others, to enter the country and search areas of interest for evidence of chemical and biological weapons.
In this case, "The DIA reported that the exploitation of the Sargat site revealed the presence of cyanide salts, which seems to confirm suspicions of work on cyanide-based poisons . . . "
No evidence of ricin production by Zarqawi is included in the report. And while the presence of cyanide salts is potentially troublesome, it is not remarkable. Grasping the elements of cyanide production is not indicative of any special capability in chemical weaponry, particularly when contrasted with the reality on the ground in Iraq. Where the weapon of choice is improvised explosives.
In fact, no chemical or biological attacks have as yet been reported in Iraq.
Interesting review in the Los Angeles Times
Calendar section today of Frank Rich's book, "The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina."
Reviewer Tim Rutten lauds the book. And he makes an enticing argument for something DD blog might like to read. But the message seems to be that "truthy" stories replaced "truth" following 9/11, and that it was primarily the active business of the Bush administration and its advisors and fuglemen in the newsmedia.
Naturally, there seems to be -- hah-hah -- quite a lot of truth to the assertion.
But today's blog shows there's a certain percentage of those on the other side of the political fence who also have no problem with "truthy" stories.
And it's by no means a recent phenomenon. The Cardiff Giant lives. It is a "peculiarly American superstition that the correctness of a belief is decided by the number of the people who can be induced to adopt it."