Profile: Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri
Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri was a participant or observer in the following events:
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
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]
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]
The White House publishes a 26-page government white paper titled, “A Decade of Deception and Defiance,” which seeks to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein represents a serious and imminent threat to the United States. The report, written by White House Iraq Group member James Wilkinson, relies primarily on public sources, including reports that have been published by human rights groups and the State Department, as well as various newspaper articles, including two by the New York Times. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 48] Section 5 of the report deals with “Saddam Hussein’s support for international terrorism,” though it makes no attempt to tie Hussein’s government to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden. It lists six points linking Saddam Hussein to terrorist activities, some dating as far back as the ‘70s. One of the points criticizes Iraq for its ties to the Mujahadeen-e Khalq Organization (MKO), an obscure militant Iranian dissident group whose main office is in Baghdad. The report says: “Iraq shelters terrorist groups including the Mujahedin-e-Khalq Organization (MKO), which has used terrorist violence against Iran and in the 1970s was responsible for killing several US military personnel and US civilians.” The paper notes that the US State Department classified MKO as a “foreign terrorist organization” in 1997, “accusing the Baghdad-based group of a long series of bombings, guerilla cross-border raids and targeted assassinations of Iranian leaders.” [Newsweek, 9/26/2002 Sources: Richard Durbin] The administration is quickly ridiculed for making the claim when, two weeks later, Newsweek reports that MKO’s front organization, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, has a small office in the National Press Building in Washington, DC. It is also reported that only two years beforehand this very group had been supported by then-Senator John Ashcroft and more than 200 other members of Congress. On several issues the senator and his colleagues had expressed solidarity with MKO at the behest of their Iranian-American constituencies. [Newsweek, 9/26/2002] Another allegation included in the paper states that Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a civil engineer, “had visited twenty secret facilities for chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons.” According to the White House dossier, Haideri “supported his claims with stacks of Iraqi government contracts, complete with technical specifications.” Ten months earlier, the CIA had debriefed Haideri in Bangkok and concluded from the results of a polygraph that Haideri account was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). [Executive Office of the President, 9/12/2002 ]
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
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