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Context of 'July 25, 2003: Slate Reporter Slams Miller’s Erroneous WMD Reporting'

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After fleeing Iraq, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, 43, defects to the US. Before he is debriefed by the CIA, he spends several days in a Bangkok hotel room being coached by Zaab Sethna, the spokesman of the Iraqi National Congress, on what he should tell his debriefer. On December 17, he meets with a CIA official who questions him. Strapped to a polygraph machine [Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005] , al-Haideri proceeds to tell the agent he is a civil engineer who helped hide Iraq’s illicit weapons in subterranean wells, private villas, and even beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital. After reviewing the polygraph, which was requested by the Defense Intelligence Agency, the intelligence debriefer concludes that Haideri made the entire story up. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Zaab Sethna, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Zaab Sethna of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) arranges for Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri to be interviewed by Judith Miller of the New York Times. Miller, who has known Chalabi for about eight years (see May 1, 2003), immediately flies out to Bangkok for the interview. Her story is published on December 20, just three days after Haideri told his story to a CIA agent who subjected him to a polygraph and determined Haideri’s story was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). Miller’s front-page article, titled “An Iraqi defector tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites,” reports: “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer, said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” If verified, Miller notes, “his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so.” Sethna also contacts freelance journalist Paul Moran. Moran is a former employee of the INC and has been employed for years by the Rendon Group, a firm specializing in “perception management” and which helped develop the INC (see May 1991). Moran’s on-camera interview with Haideri is broadcast worldwide by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; SBS Dateline, 7/23/2003; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005] Reporter Jonathan Landay will later say that he and others were skeptical from the outset: “There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd—the enemy of Saddam—had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.” Landay’s partner Warren Strobel will add, “The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be—journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the New York Times reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the administration…” [PBS, 4/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Zaab Sethna, Warren Strobel, Jonathan Landay, Judith Miller, Paul Moran, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Ahmed Chalabi, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Khidir Hamza.Khidir Hamza. [Source: Radio Bremen]Khidir Hamza, “who played a leading role in Iraq’s nuclear weapon program before defecting in 1994,” tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that according to German intelligence, Iraq has “more than 10 tons of uranium and one ton of slightly enriched uranium… in its possession” which would be “enough to generate the needed bomb-grade uranium for three nuclear weapons by 2005.” He says that Iraq is “using corporations in India and other countries to import the needed equipment for its program and channel it through countries like Malaysia for shipment to Iraq.” He also claims that Iraq is “gearing up to extend the range of its missiles to easily reach Israel.” The testimony is widely reported in the media. [CNN, 8/1/2002; Guardian, 8/1/2002; Daily Telegraph, 8/1/2002] Hamza, however, is considered by many to be an unreliable source. David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected “he went off the edge” and “started saying irresponsible things.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/12/2002; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors at the time of his defection, as well as US and British intelligence, that Hamza was not a reliable source (see August 22, 1995). [Kamal, 8/22/1995 pdf file; New Yorker, 5/12/2003] The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will say in 2004 that before the US invasion of Iraq, it had warned journalists reporting on Iraq’s alleged nuclear weapons program that Hamza was not a credible source. “Hamza had no credibility at all. Journalists who called us and asked for an assessment of these people—we’d certainly tell them.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004 Sources: Unnamed IAEA staff member]

Entity Tags: David Albright, Hussein Kamel, Khidir Hamza, International Atomic Energy Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Judith Miller.Judith Miller. [Source: Washington Post]Judith Miller and Michael Gordon of the New York Times report in a front page story that Iraq is trying to obtain materials to build a nuclear weapon. Citing unnamed senior administration officials, they break the story of the aluminum tubes that were confiscated in Jordan in July 2001 (see July 2001) and write that both “American intelligence experts” and top officials believe the tubes were meant to be used as centrifuge rotors in a nuclear enrichment program. “In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium,” reports the newspaper. “The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq’s nuclear program….” Officials cited in the article warn that the US must not wait for more evidence before taking action to disarm Iraq because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a mushroom cloud. [New York Times, 9/8/2002] (The “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” analogy was conceived by presidential speech writer Michael Gerson a few days earlier; see September 4, 2002 for details.) What Gordon and Miller’s sources did not tell them, and what they neglected to find out on their own, was that the country’s top nuclear experts do not believe the tubes are suitable for rotors (see, e.g., July 2001-March 2003, August 17, 2001, and Late 2001). For example, Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist, filed a report with the US government more than a year before (see August 17, 2001) concluding that the tubes were not meant for centrifuges. When he reads the New York Times story, he is shocked. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation more than a year later, he will recount his initial reaction: “My first thought was, ‘This must be some new tubes,’ you know. And then… and then when I realized that these were the tubes that I had been looking at a year before, I was just… I was… I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe that, you know, here we were, saying that these tubes were, you know, the same tubes that I’d come to the conclusion a year before were not valid for centrifuges, and here they’re saying they are. So, er… that was a real surprise.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] In subsequent stories about the tubes, the Times will note that there is a debate, however these reports will appear in the back pages of the newspaper (see, e.g., September 13, 2002). [New York Times, 5/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Gordon, Judith Miller, Houston G. Wood III

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The New York Times publishes a second article reporting that the Bush administration believes a shipment of aluminum tubes destined for Iraq, intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July (see July 2001), was intended for use in a gas centrifuge. Unlike the Times’ previous report, this article, appearing on page A13, mentions that there is a debate over the tubes between the Energy Department and CIA. It says that according to an unnamed official “[T]here have been debates among intelligence experts about Iraq’s intentions in trying to buy such tubes.” The article says that the official claims “the dominant view in the administration was that the tubes were intended for use in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium.” Another official interviewed by the newspaper claims that Energy’s alternative view “is a footnote, not a split.” One administration official is even quoted by the paper falsely asserting “that the best technical experts and nuclear scientists at laboratories like Oak Ridge supported the CIA assessment.” [New York Times, 9/13/2002; New York Times, 10/3/2004] After the article is published, the Energy Department releases a directive forbidding employees from discussing the issue with reporters. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), US Department of Energy, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The New York Times publishes an article by Judith Miller entitled, “Verification Is Difficult at Best, Say the Experts, and Maybe Impossible.” Miller quotes a number of officials and former inspectors who claim that UN inspectors would face nearly insurmountable obstacles if they return to Iraq. But the sources chosen seem to be selected to agree with Miller’s position. For instance, she quotes David Kay at length, and he says “their task is damn near a mission impossible.” She describes Kay as “a former inspector who led the initial nuclear inspections in Iraq in the early 1990s,” but in fact Kay only spent five weeks as an inspector, in 1991. She also quotes Iraqi defector Khidir Hamza, who she says “led part of Iraq’s nuclear bomb program until he defected in 1994.” Hamza claims that Iraq is getting close to developing a nuclear bomb, and the Iraqi government “now excelled” in hiding its nuclear weapons program. But in fact Hamza resigned from Iraq’s nuclear program in 1990 and had no firsthand knowledge of it after that. Hamza moved to the US and worked for David Albright’s Institute for Science and International Security, but by 1999 Albright could no longer stand Hamza’s exaggerated claims and fired him. Hamza then published a book that contained “many ridiculous claims,” according to Albright (see November 2000), who will also say that Hamza’s claims are “often inaccurate.… He sculpts his message to get the message across.… [He] wants regime change [in Iraq] and what interferes with that is just ignored.” Of Miller, Albright will later claim: “She should have known about this. This is her area.” One International Atomic Energy Agency staff member will later say: “Hamza had no credibility at all.… Journalists who called us and asked for an assessment of these people—we’d certainly tell them.” [New York Times, 8/18/2002; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 252]

Entity Tags: Khidir Hamza, David Kay, International Atomic Energy Agency, David Albright, Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

A typical atropine auto-injector as provided for the US military.A typical atropine auto-injector as provided for the US military. [Source: King Pharmaceutical]White House officials report that Iraq has ordered a million doses of atropine, a drug used as an antidote to sarin and VX nerve agents. Iraq has also ordered a million auto-injectors, designed to inject the material into a person’s leg. Both orders were made with suppliers in Turkey, who are being pressured to abort the sales. White House officials say that the quantities ordered by Iraq are far larger than any amount they might need for normal hospital use. “If the Iraqis were going to use nerve agents, they would want to take steps to protect their own soldiers, if not their population,” an official says. “This is something that US intelligence is mindful of and very concerned about.” Iraq claims to have destroyed its stockpiles of sarin and VX, but US intelligence officials doubt this. US soldiers carry atropine and auto-injectors in first-aid kits in case of chemical attacks. One official notes that Iraq has also ordered another antidote for chemical weapons, obidoxime chloride. Officials admit that atropine is commonly used in hospitals and clinics to resuscitate patients who have suffered heart attacks: “Atropine and auto-injectors are common products,” an official says. Auto-injectors commonly inject five times as much atropine as is usually used for heart attack victims. [New York Times, 11/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

An enhanced photo of the variola virus, which causes smallpox.An enhanced photo of the variola virus, which causes smallpox. [Source: University College London]New York Times reporter Judith Miller reports that the CIA is investigating an anonymous report that Iraq has obtained a virulent strain of smallpox from a Russian scientist. According to the anonymous informant, the smallpox may have come from Nelja N. Maltseva, a virologist who worked for over 30 years at the Research Institute for Viral Preparations in Moscow before her death in 2001. The CIA has briefed President Bush about the investigation, though, as Miller notes, “The attempt to verify the information is continuing.” Maltseva visited Iraq in 1972 and 1973, according to intelligence officials, and may have visited as recently as 1990. The facility where she worked housed what Russia has claimed was its entire national collection of some 120 strains of smallpox. Miller writes, “[S]ome experts fear that she may have provided the Iraqis with a version that could be resistant to vaccines and could be more easily transmitted as a biological weapon.” In response, the White House may decide that 500,000 military personnel and another 500,000 civilian medical workers should be vaccinated against smallpox, a disease officially eradicated in 1980. The White House says that despite promises made by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Russia has not cooperated with US requests for information about its smallpox strains. “There is information we would like the Russians to share as a partner of ours,” says William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “Because if there are strains that present a unique problem with respect to vaccines and treatment, it is in the interests of all freedom-loving people to have as much information as possible.” Recently declassified Soviet-era records show that in 1971, Maltseva was sent to Aralsk, a port city in what was then the Soviet republic of Kazakhstan, to help stop an epidemic of smallpox. That outbreak was possibly the result of open-air tests of a Soviet smallpox strain. Some scientists worry that Maltseva may have shared the Aralsk strain with Iraqi scientists in 1990, according to administration sources. David Kelly, a former United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, says there was a “resurgence of interest” in smallpox vaccine in Iraq in 1990, “but we have never known why.” Both Maltseva’s daughter and her deputy in the Moscow laboratory deny that Maltseva ever went to Iraq. [New York Times, 12/3/2002]

Entity Tags: William Winkenwerder Jr., Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, David Kelly, George W. Bush, Judith Miller, Vladimir Putin, Research Institute for Viral Preparations, Nelja N. Maltseva

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, photographed at Chalabi’s ANC headquarters on April 21, 2003.Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, photographed at Chalabi’s ANC headquarters on April 21, 2003. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]New York Times reporter Judith Miller is embedded with Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (MET Alpha), a US Army unit charged with trying to find weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq. Miller had written a number of front-page Times stories before the war, strongly suggesting Iraq was pursuing WMD programs; all those stories will later be proven incorrect (see November 6-8, 2001, September 8, 2002, April 20, 2003, September 18, 2002, and July 25, 2003). Miller plays what the press will later call a “highly unusual role” with the unit. One US official will later claim that she turns the unit into a “rogue operation.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Accepting Military Restrictions - Miller accepted an unusual set of restrictions from the military in order to embed with MET Alpha. Most embedded journalists agreed not to report on forthcoming military tactics and to conceal sensitive information about troop movements and positions. Miller, on the other hand, agreed to allow the military to censor her work, and agreed not to publish items until they were approved by military officials. MET Alpha public affairs officer Eugene Pomeroy, who works closely with her, will later recall the agreement, saying that Miller helped negotiate the terms, and will recall the agreement being so sensitive that Defense Secretary Donal Rumsfeld signed off on it. According to the agreement, Pomeroy will recall: “Any articles going out had to be, well, censored. The mission contained some highly classified elements and people, what we dubbed the ‘Secret Squirrels,’ and their ‘sources and methods’ had to be protected and a war was about to start.” Miller’s copy is censored by a colonel, presumably MET Alpha commander Colonel Richard McPhee, who, according to Pomeroy, often reads her work in his sleeping bag, clutching a small flashlight between his teeth. Sometimes, while traveling with the unit, Miller wears a military uniform. [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Threats and Connections - Miller, who has the reputation of being a “diva,” is friends with powerful neoconservatives such as Rumsfeld, his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and other figures in the Pentagon and the Bush administration. One military officer will later claim Miller sometimes “intimidated” Army soldiers by mentioning her relationship to Rumsfeld or Feith, saying, “Essentially, she threatened them,” to get the unit to do her bidding. Another officer says Miller “was always issuing threats of either going to the New York Times or to the secretary of defense. There was nothing veiled about that threat.” This officer adds that MET Alpha “was allowed to bend the rules.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005] In 2005, reporter Franklin Foer will write: “While Miller might not have intended to march in lockstep with these hawks, she was caught up in an almost irresistible cycle. Because she kept printing the neocon party line, the neocons kept coming to her with huge stories and great quotes, constantly expanding her access.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Influences Where the Unit Will Go - On April 21, MET Alpha is ordered to withdraw to the southern Iraqi town of Talil, but Miller objects in a handwritten note to two public affairs officers. Her note says: “I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil.… Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel till MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the [New York] Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made.” Miller challenges the plan to go to Talil, and takes her concerns to Major General David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne. Petraeus does not have direct authority over McPhee, the commander of the 75th Exploitation Task Force, which contains the MET Alpha unit. But McPhee rescinds the withdrawal order after Petraeus advises him to do so. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003; New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Redirecting the Unit's Mission - Miller is also friends with Iraqi National Congress (INC) leader Ahmed Chalabi, who gave her leads for many later-debunked stories. More than half a dozen military officers will later claim that Miller acts as a go-between between Chalabi and the unit. On one occasion in April she takes some unit leaders to Chalabi’s headquarters, where the unit takes custody of Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, number 40 on the US’s most wanted list. She also sits in on his debriefing. None of the members of the unit have any experience in interrogation. Several US military officials will say they are upset that completely untrained officers led the debriefing of Tikriti. One Chalabi aide will explain why they turned Tikriti over to the MET Alpha unit instead of using the ANC’s usual contacts with the US miliary, saying, “We told Judy because we thought it was a good story.” When Miller later writes a story about Tikriti’s capture, she will claim that the handover was pure coincidence, as leaders of the unit “happened to be meeting” with Chalabi to “discuss nonproliferation issues.” One official will later complain that the unit became the “Judith Miller team” when she effectively redirected it from finding WMDs to holding and interrogating high-ranking prisoners. A military officer will later say: “This was totally out of their lane, getting involved with human intelligence.… [Miller] came in with a plan. She was leading them.… She ended up almost hijacking the mission.” A senior staff officer of the 75th Exploitation Task Force will similarly complain, “It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact she had on the mission of this unit, and not for the better.” [Washington Post, 6/25/2003]
Guarding Her Access - Pomeroy and another witness will recall Miller jealously guarding her access from other reporters. In one instance, when Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman travels with the unit for a day, Miller orders the unit’s troops not to speak to him. According to Pomeroy, “She told people that she had clearance to be there and Bart didn’t.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
Miller Has Unit Investigate Dubious Tips from Chalabi - In other cases, the unit apparently follows leads given to Miller by Chalabi or his aides. For instance, it discovers Iraqi intelligence documents and maps related to Israel, and Miller writes a story about this. Chalabi aide Zaab Sethna will later say: “We thought this was a great story for the New York Times.… That came from us.” While embedded with the unit, Miller writes stories for the Times strongly suggesting the unit has discovered WMDs. For instance, one of her headlines is “US Analysts Link Iraq Labs to Germ Arms,” and another is “US Experts Find Radioactive Material in Iraq.” But like her pre-war stories about WMDs in Iraq, these stories also will be completely discredited. It is unclear how long Miller hijacks the MET Alpha unit for, but the Washington Post will publish an expose about these connections in late June 2003. [Washington Post, 6/25/2003] In late 2003, Miller will say that her reliance on Chalabi’s information is “exaggerated.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004] In 2005, Foer will call Miller one of “Chalabi’s credulous allies” along with a number of Bush administration officials. The Times will not acknowledge the breadth of Chalabi’s influence on the reports it published by Miller until May 2005, but will refuse to connect Chalabi and Miller. Foer will note that although Miller had more access to MET Alpha than any other reporter, “she was the only major reporter on the WMD beat to miss the story so completely.” [New York Magazine, 5/21/2005]
A Mouthpiece for the Administration? - In 2004, Miller tells columnist and media expert Michael Massing that as an investigative reporter in the intelligence area, “my job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Massing will write, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]
Admission of Error - In late 2005, Miller will admit that her reporting on Iraqi WMD issues was almost “entirely wrong” (see October 16, 2005).

Entity Tags: Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, Richard McPhee, Michael Massing, Ahmed Chalabi, Jamal Mustafa Sultan Tikriti, Iraqi National Congress, David Petraeus, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, Judith Miller, Franklin Foer

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

New York Times reporter Judith Miller speaks about her reporting on PBS.New York Times reporter Judith Miller speaks about her reporting on PBS. [Source: PBS]New York Times reporter Judith Miller, embedded with the Army’s 101st Airborne Division south of Baghdad, writes that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the days before the March 2003 invasion.
Single Unidentified 'Scientist' as Source - Miller’s source is identified as an Iraqi scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq’s chemical weapons program for over a decade; this scientist is said to have told an American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq, the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, or MET Alpha (see April-May 2003), of the stockpiles. According to MET Alpha, the scientist has taken the team to a supply of material he buried in his backyard—“precursors for a toxic agent”—as evidence of Iraq’s illicit weapons programs. The scientist also claims that Iraq sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, and has been cooperating with al-Qaeda. In the last years of the Hussein regime, Miller reports the scientist as claiming, Iraq “focused its efforts… on research and development projects that are virtually impervious to detection by international inspectors, and even American forces on the ground combing through Iraq’s giant weapons plants.” MET Alpha refuses to identify the scientist, saying to do so would imperil his safety, and does not take Miller to see the scientist’s buried supply of materials. According to Miller, the team describes the scientist’s assertions and his cache of materials as “the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons.” Moreover, Miller writes that the discovery “supports the Bush administration’s charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.”
Military Controlled, Vetted Report - Miller admits to not interviewing the scientist, not being permitted to write about the scientist for three days, and having her report vetted by military officials before submitting it for publication. She says that portions of her report detailing the chemicals located by the MET Alpha team were deleted, again for fear that such reporting might place the scientist in jeopardy. Neither Pentagon officials in Washington nor CENTCOM officials in Qatar will verify that the scientist is actually working with American forces. Miller’s only contact with the scientist is viewing him “from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried,” where he wore a baseball cap and pointed at spots in the sand where he claimed chemical weapons materials were buried.
'Incalculable Value' - Miller quotes the commander of the 101st Airborne, Major General David Petraeus, as calling the potential of MET Alpha’s work “enormous.” Petraeus adds: “What they’ve discovered could prove to be of incalculable value. Though much work must still be done to validate the information MET Alpha has uncovered, if it proves out it will clearly be one of the major discoveries of this operation, and it may be the major discovery.” [New York Times, 4/21/2003] The day after her report is published, Miller will tell a PBS interviewer: “I think they found something more than a smoking gun.… What they’ve found is… a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we’ve called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them firsthand, and who has led MET Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions.” Asked if the report will confirm “the insistence coming from the US government that after the war, various Iraqi tongues would loosen, and there might be people who would be willing to help,” Miller responds: “Yes, it clearly does.… That’s what the Bush administration has finally done. They have changed the political environment, and they’ve enabled people like the scientists that MET Alpha has found to come forth.” [American Journalism Review, 8/2003; Huffington Post, 1/30/2007]
Report Almost Entirely Wrong - Miller’s reporting will be proven to be almost entirely wrong. Neither Miller nor MET Alpha will ever produce any tangible evidence of the scientist’s claims, including the so-called “evidence” he claims he buried in his backyard. And, Miller will later admit, the “scientist” was actually a former Iraqi military intelligence officer with no connection to Iraq’s WMD programs (see July 25, 2003). [Slate, 7/25/2003] Other reporters, such as the Washington Post’s Barton Gellman and the Associated Press’s Dafna Linzer, report that teams such as MET Alpha have found nothing of use. Linzer will soon report that nothing the Iraqi scientist claims can be verified. And Miller will admit that much of the information she has published in the Times has come from Iraqi National Congress head Ahmed Chalabi (see May 1, 2003), a known fabricator (see 1992-1996, (1994), November 6-8, 2001, Summer 2002, Early 2003, and July 9, 2004). Miller will continue to insist that her reporting is accurate. [American Journalism Review, 8/2003]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Dafna Linzer, David Petraeus, Bush administration (43), Barton Gellman, Ahmed Chalabi, Judith Miller, US Central Command, US Department of Defense, Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The New York Times’s Judith Miller, an outlet for information planted in the media by the Bush administration in he run-up to the Iraq war (see December 20, 2001, August 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 18, 2002), now reports the number of suspected WMD sites in Iraq as 578—a figure far lower than the 1,400 she had reported during the first hours of the war (see March 19-20, 2003). Miller blames the US failure to find any WMD on Pentagon ineptitude: “chaos, disorganization, interagency feuds, disputes within and among various military units, and shortages of everything from gasoline to soap.” Deeper in the story, she writes, “To this day, whether Saddam Hussein possessed such weapons when the war began is unknown.” [New York Times, 7/20/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 101]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Judith Miller, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Slate reporter Jack Shafer lambasts New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s record of error as the Times’s primary chronicler of the claims for Iraqi WMD. Miller has just written an article backing away from her previous claims (see July 20, 2003), but blaming the failure to find WMD on everything from “chaos [and] disorganization” to “flawed intelligence[,] interagency feuds,” and the wrong choice of people to head the US searches. Shafer responds: “Judith Miller finds everybody associated with the failed search theoretically culpable except Judith Miller. This rings peculiar because Miller, more than any other reporter, showcased the WMD speculations and intelligence findings by the Bush administration and the Iraqi defector/dissidents. Our WMD expectations, such as they were, grew largely out of Miller’s stories.” He notes that Miller’s reports were largely based on assertions from sources affiliated with Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC), and writes, “If reporters who live by their sources were obliged to die by their sources… Miller would be stinking up her family tomb right now.” Shafer goes on to note that Miller’s words were always carefully selected to ensure that the sources, not Miller herself, painted a picture of Iraq teeming with WMD. “[I]f Miller got taken by her coveted sources, so did the reading public, and the Times owes its readers a review of Miller’s many credulous pieces,” Shafer writes. Since the Times has yet to provide such a review, Shafer says, he has done some of the initial work for it.
'The Renovator, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri' - Shafer begins with an Iraqi civil engineer, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, who, thanks to the INC (see December 17, 2001), provided Miller with the information required for stories describing the secret renovation of facilities to store and develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons (see December 20, 2001). Shafer notes that al-Haideri, who now lives in the US, has boasted of his willingness to return to Iraq once Saddam Hussein is out of power; he suggests that the Times send him back to Iraq “where he can lead them on a tour of the 20 sites and 20 installations” that he claims housed WMD.
'The Pseudonymous Ahmed al-Shemri' - In September 2002, Miller and her colleague Michael Gordon wrote that Iraq was continuing to develop, produce, and store chemical agents in secret mobile and fixed weapons laboratories, many underground, in defiance of UN weapons sanctions (see September 8, 2002). The allegations, made as part of a much broader story, were based on the allegations of Ahmed al-Shemri, the admitted pseudonym of an Iraqi who claimed to have been “involved” in chemical weapons production in Iraq before his defection in 2001. “All of Iraq is one large storage facility,” al-Shemri told Miller. He also told her of the existence of large, secret labs in Mosul, those labs’ production of 5 tons of liquid VX nerve agent, and their ability to produce far more if requested. And, he told her that Iraq had created a new solid form of VX that makes decontamination difficult. Russian and North Korean scientists were assisting the Iraqis, al-Shemri asserted, and told of stockpiles of “12,500 gallons of anthrax, 2,500 gallons of gas gangrene, 1,250 gallons of aflotoxin, and 2,000 gallons of botulinum throughout the country.” Shafer suggests that al-Shemri “drop his pseudonym to make his background more transparent and lead the Times to the Mosul lab.”
Making the Case for the White House - On September 13, 2002, Miller and Gordon printed a story titled “White House Lists Iraq Steps to Build Banned Weapons” (see September 13, 2002). The story related the White House’s claims of Iraq’s attempt to purchase aluminum tubes to be used in building nuclear missiles, its development of mobile biological laboratories, its attempt to buy poison gas precursors, and the secret development of chlorine gas at Fallujah and three other locations. Also, the article noted, Iraq was constructing missiles in violation of the 1991 cease-fire agreement, was conducting prohibited missile research, and was rebuilding a destroyed facility once used to build long-range missile engines. Shafer suggests that the Times send a delegation of reporters and experts to the sites noted in the article, saying, “Maybe the Times can find evidence that supports or discredits the administration’s claim.”
'Khidir Hamza, Nuclear Mastermind' - Miller has written extensively of the claims of former Iraqi nuclear bomb expert Khidir Hamza (see July 30, 2002), who defected in 1994. Perhaps her most influential story was printed on September 18, 2002 (see September 18, 2002), where she reported Hamza’s claims that Iraq was within two to three years of mass-producing centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium. Shafer suggests that Hamza “take the Times on an Iraqi atomic tour.”
Proclaiming the Defectors' Accuracy - In October 2002, Miller wrote that al-Haideri and Hamza complained that US intelligence was not taking them seriously. She quoted Chalabi and Pentagon adviser Richard Perle’s enthusiastic support for the two defectors’ claims, along with their vociferous attacks on the CIA, and wrote: “The INC has been without question the single most important source of intelligence about Saddam Hussein.… What the agency has learned in recent months has come largely through the INC’s efforts despite indifference of the CIA.” Shafer writes: “Either the INC was wrong or the CIA was wrong. If the INC was wrong, the Times should feed Perle’s words back to him with a fork and spoon.” Miller wrote another story quoting an administration defender of the defectors in January 2003, this time Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. Shafer says “[t]he Times should review the credibility of all the Iraqis who defected to Miller. Who are the defectors? What did they tell the United States? How much of it was true? How much was blarney?”
Atropine Auto-Injectors - In November 2002, Miller wrote that, according to White House officials, Iraq had ordered “large quantities” of atropine auto-injectors (see November 12, 2002). Atropine is an antidote to sarin and VX, two lethal nerve agents. Shafer says “[t]he Times should track the atropine order to the source, if possible, to see if the request was in preparation for a chemical weapons attack.”
Russian Smallpox Allegations - In December 2002, Miller wrote that a Russian scientist may have provided a virulent strain of smallpox to Iraqi scientists (see December 3, 2002). Shafer notes that it is clear Miller does not know who the source for the allegation was, and the Times should now reinvestigate the story.
Miller's Mobile Exploitation Team Scoop - Shafer writes that Miller’s “biggest scoop” was an April 20, 2003 article titled “Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, an Iraqi Scientist Is Said to Assert” (see April 20, 2003 and April-May 2003). Miller reported on an Iraqi scientist in the custody of a US Mobile Exploitation Team (MET) in search of WMD. The scientist said that Iraq destroyed large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons just before the invasion, and he led the MET to buried precursor materials from which illegal weapons can be made. Moreover, the scientist alleged that Iraq sent its remaining stockpiles of WMD to Syria in the mid-1990s, where they remain hidden to this day. Iraq provided some of those weapons to al-Qaeda, and has focused heavily on researching new and more powerful weapons. Miller wasn’t allowed to name the precursor element the scientist had named, but wrote that it could be used to create a toxic agent banned under chemical weapons treaties. She was not allowed to speak to the scientist himself, nor could she reveal his name. And, she noted, she agreed to allow the military to review her story, and held off publishing it for three days. In return, the military allowed her to look at the scientist from a distance, as he pointed at spots in the desert where he said the precursor elements were buried. One day after the article appeared, Miller went on PBS, where she called her reporting the “silver bullet” in the WMD search. The next day, she published another article announcing a “paradigm shift” by investigators as a result of what they’d learned from the Iraqi scientist. But neither Miller nor any of the METs actually found anything concrete as a result of the scientist’s allegations. She later admitted that the “scientist” was actually a military intelligence officer, but continued to stand by his original allegations. Shafer suggests that Miller persuade the military to allow her to identify the so-called “precursor” substance, and explain the deceptive portrayal of a military intelligence officer as a scientist familiar with Iraqi WMD programs.
Impact and Consequences - Shafer says that the most important question about Miller is, “Has she grown too close to her sources to be trusted to get it right or to recant her findings when it’s proved that she got it wrong?” He continues: “Because the Times sets the news agenda for the press and the nation, Miller’s reporting had a great impact on the national debate over the wisdom of the Iraq invasion. If she was reliably wrong about Iraq’s WMD, she might have played a major role in encouraging the United States to attack a nation that posed it little threat. At the very least, Miller’s editors should review her dodgy reporting from the last 18 months, explain her astonishing credulity and lack of accountability, and parse the false from the fact in her WMD reporting. In fact, the Times’ incoming executive editor, Bill Keller, could do no better than to launch such an investigation.” [Slate, 7/25/2003]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Ahmed al-Shemri, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Bush administration (43), Paul Wolfowitz, Iraqi National Congress, Judith Miller, Jack Shafer, Michael Gordon, Khidir Hamza, Richard Perle

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Arianna Huffington.Arianna Huffington. [Source: Boston Globe]Liberal blogger Arianna Huffington slams the perception that New York Times reporter Judith Miller is, in Huffington’s words, “a heroic martyr, sacrificing her freedom in the name of journalistic integrity” by going to jail to protect her White House sources in the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see July 6, 2005). Huffington speculates that Miller is herself the source she is trying to protect. It was Miller, Huffington theorizes, who found out from “her friends in the intelligence community” that Plame Wilson was a covert CIA agent, and subsequently told White House official Lewis Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Miller’s motivation was to protect her own rapidly deteriorating reputation as a purveyor of manipulated and deceptive information to promote the Iraq invasion (see July 6, 2003 and July 25, 2003). “Maybe Miller tells [White House official Karl] Rove too—or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell [reporters Robert] Novak and [Matthew] Cooper. The story gets out. This is why Miller doesn’t want to reveal her ‘source’ at the White House—because she was the source.… This also explains why Miller never wrote a story about Plame, because her goal wasn’t to write a story, but to get out the story that cast doubts on Wilson’s motives. Which Novak did” (see July 14, 2003). [Huffington Post, 7/27/2005] When Miller learns of Huffington’s article, via her lawyer Saul Pilchen, she is horrified. Pilchen, himself taken aback by Huffington’s vociferous and unsourced assertions (which Huffington called “a scenario” and not established fact), will later tell reporter Marie Brennan: “It was my first experience with the blog culture. It was astounding to me how little constraint the bloggers had. They were passing off speculation as fact, and it read to me like pure character assassination.” Miller considers the Huffington piece certainly mistaken, and possibly libelous. But, as Brennan will later observe, the discussion and debate generated by Huffington and many others in the “blogosphere” make it difficult for fellow journalists to defend Miller. Reporter Lowell Bergman, a Miller defender, will later tell Brennan that it quickly became clear that Huffington’s idea of Miller being part of a White House conspiracy “was a fantasy fed by the deep animosity of people toward Judy.… It was a surrogate for what they all wanted to do to the Bush administration.” [Huffington Post, 7/27/2005; Vanity Fair, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Marie Brennan, Bush administration (43), Arianna Huffington, Judith Miller, Lowell Bergman, Valerie Plame Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Saul Pilchen

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The New York Times again finds itself apologizing for its failures in covering the outing of Valerie Plame Wilson and its handling, or lack of handling, of the newspaper’s star reporter, Judith Miller, who recently testified as to her knowledge of the matter (see September 30, 2005). It also admits that much of Miller’s prewar reporting on Iraq was “totally wrong.” Although the paper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger, and its executive editor, Bill Keller, supported Miller’s decision to go to jail rather than reveal the source of her knowledge about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity (see July 6, 2005), neither knew many details of Miller’s conversations with her source, former White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Neither knew, for example, that Miller’s claim of not learning Plame Wilson’s identity from Libby was undermined by her own notes. Ultimately, both Sulzberger and Keller left most of the decisions on how to handle the situation to Miller herself. “This car had her hand on the wheel because she was the one at risk,” says Sulzberger. While Miller continues to portray her decision to go to jail as one rooted in principle, critics say that she and the Times were not protecting a whistleblower, but an administration source bent on crushing dissent. Asked what she regretted about the Times’s handling of the matter, managing editor Jill Abramson says, “The entire thing.”
'I Got It Totally Wrong' - Many in the newsroom and in the editorial staff believed that Miller’s prewar articles on Iraq’s WMD—articles that have long been proven to be based largely on false information from unreliable Iraqi defectors (see December 20, 2001, September 18, 2002, March 19-20, 2003, July 25, 2003, and Autumn 2003)—unfairly advanced the administration’s case for war. Miller operated with a level of autonomy other reporters found unusual and distressing, especially since many of them believed her reporting verged on administration propaganda. Investigative editor Douglas Frantz recalls that Miller once called herself “Miss Run Amok”; when he asked her what she meant, she replied, “I can do whatever I want.” Miller now admits her reports were largely specious. “WMD—I got it totally wrong,” she says. “The analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them—we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could.”
Not a Clear-Cut Decision to Fight - Keller says: “I wish it had been a clear-cut whistle-blower case. I wish it had been a reporter who came with less public baggage.” Times reporter Todd Purdom says: “Everyone admires our paper’s willingness to stand behind us and our work, but most people I talk to have been troubled and puzzled by Judy’s seeming ability to operate outside of conventional reportorial channels and managerial controls. Partly because of that, many people have worried about whether this was the proper fight to fight.” For her part, Miller says she intends to take some time off and perhaps write a book about her ordeal. She says she wants to get back into investigative reporting, and continue to cover “the same thing I’ve always covered—threats to our country.” [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
Criticism of Miller, Times - The next day, columnist Norman Solomon will write, “It now seems that Miller functioned with more accountability to US military intelligence officials than to New York Times editors.” Solomon also notes that in her July 8, 2003 meeting with White House official Lewis Libby (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003), Miller expressed frustration at the government’s refusal to allow her “to discuss with editors some of the more sensitive information about Iraq.” Solomon writes: “There’s nothing wrong with this picture if Judith Miller is an intelligence operative for the US government. But if she’s supposed to be a journalist, this is a preposterous situation—and the fact that the New York Times has tolerated it tells us a lot about that newspaper.” Solomon also notes that Miller’s claim of “analysts, the experts, and the journalists who covered them” were “all wrong” about Iraqi WMD is itself wrong. “Some very experienced weapons inspectors—including [the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency] Mohamed ElBaradei, [former chief UN weapons inspector] Hans Blix, and [former UN weapons inspector] Scott Ritter—challenged key assertions from the White House,” he writes. “Well before the invasion, many other analysts also disputed various aspects of the US government’s claims about WMDs in Iraq.… Meanwhile journalists at some British newspapers, including The Independent and The Guardian, raised tough questions that were virtually ignored by mainstream US reporters in the Washington press corps.… [T]he Times did not ‘fall for misinformation’ as much as jump for it. The newspaper eagerly helped the administration portray deceptions as facts.” [CounterPunch, 10/17/2005] Liberal columnist and blogger Arianna Huffington provides a long list of reporters and publications who “didn’t get it wrong” on Iraqi WMD. She quotes reporter Joe Lauria, a veteran foreign affairs reporter who writes for the London Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph, and the Boston Globe, who told her: “I didn’t get it wrong. And a lot of others who covered the lead up to the war didn’t get it wrong. Mostly because we weren’t just cozying up to Washington sources but had widened our reporting to what we were hearing from people like Mohamed ElBaradei and Hans Blix, and from sources in other countries, like Germany, France, and Russia. Miller had access to these voices, too, but ignored them. Our chief job as journalists is to challenge authority. Because an official says something might make it ‘official,’ but it doesn’t necessarily make it true.” [Huffington Post, 10/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Douglas Frantz, Bill Keller, Arthur Sulzberger, Arianna Huffington, Jill Abramson, Judith Miller, Norman Solomon, New York Times, Todd Purdom, Joe Lauria

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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