Wednesday, February 03, 2010


Last week the Washington Post published an extraordinary number of articles on bioterrorism. Extraordinary not because of the information they delivered, but outstanding because they were very bad. And all written by reporter Joby Warrick, seemingly synchronized to lead up to the Graham-Talent special interest group's critique of the Obama administration on preparedness.

Today, the Post's Fred Hiatt continues the atrocity on the editorial page.

One of last week's particularly bad pieces of reporting concerned ex-CIA man Rolf-Mowatt Larssen's Harvard-issued 'study' on al Qaeda and WMDs.

It was an example of astonishingly poor work and it was destroyed by DD here in a piece entitled The Busted Watch of US Threat Assessment.

Another copy was posted at GlobalSecurity.Org here.

The Mowatt-Larssen report -- entitled Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality? could not even get the simple facts concerning a policeman's death right in the famous case of the alleged London ricin ring. And this was information published countless times in newspapers all over the United Kingdom.

That was hardly all that was wrong with the Mowatt-Larssen report. But readers can skip back to the original posts to get the details on this shabby piece of work.

One of the major problems with such poor analysis from high places is that it continues to drive opinion, more news stories and, eventually, policy. Once it is embedded in a place like the Washington Post it becomes very damaging. It actively impedes legitimate efforts to educate the public on issues and reality in the so-called war on terror. It serves only as another citation for those writing more things asserting that one needs to be very afraid.

And today, Hiatt's opinion piece, the WaPo man cites Mowatt-Larssen right off the bat. Mowatt-Larssen, Hiatt implies, has shown we ought to still be alarmed.

"Three thousand people were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks," writes Hiatt. "More than 300,000 could be dead within one week after a modest attack with biological weapons.

"For most people, the thought of such an attack is an unthinkable horror. For al-Qaeda, it is a lingering dream and one that it is working diligently to achieve ... Al-Qaeda is engaged in a 'long-term, persistent and systematic approach to developing weapons to be used in mass casualty attacks,' writes Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a senior fellow at Harvard's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs ...'

"Mr. Mowatt-Larssen is not the only one sounding an alarm."

It is a textbook pathological case of argument from authority without any vetting of that authority.

And it was part of an argument Hiatt used to belt the Obama administration over the head, chiding it to act quickly to remedy the nation's unpreparedness so that the people would be protected from deadly bioterrorism.

This is not a new song. Played literally thousands of times in the last few years it has worn out its ability to enlighten, if it ever had much of that precious quality in the first place. Now it exists only to hector and terrorize.

Jason Sigger at Armchair Generalist sees the problem clearly, too, and it's not us or our inability to see the obvious.

He writes, in this case addressing some information concerning the Graham-Talent special interest group:

"Bad enough that Hiatt joins those who would continue overstating the actual threat of terrorists using nuclear or biological weapons to cause mass casualties. I thought newspapers were supposed to, you know, report facts. But pinning the G-T commission's report on the Obama administration runs counter to what the commission said - that this was a report on the government's efforts over a period of time, not within the last year ..."

Continuing note to regular readers:

DD's three and a half year-long battle with Blogger is slowly coming to an end. At the end of March, the service will discontinue its FTP-publishing service to remote domains. At that point, this blog will have joined the Google cloud or switched to WordPress or another blogging application in a different directory at with a redirect.

Consequently, the WordPress blog is again active, containing the same updates as here.

For example, you can also read this post here.

Doesn't that look nice? For the moment, anyway.

Dealing with Blogger has been as much an ache for me as it has for them to have to have supported the FTP-publishing option. And the continued friction over the issue with the end of the battle in sight and me with the butter side down on the floor does not do anything to make one like the famous home-journalizing agency more.

One does, however, get fond of the look of a certain place. And I liked this one.

More details are here from yesterday and at Prisoner of Blogger on el Reg.

Stay tuned. I'm sure there will be much more happiness in store.


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