Profile: Ahmed al-Shemri
Ahmed al-Shemri was a participant or observer in the following events:
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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