Accuracy in Media

In July 2001, the British government restored diplomatic relations with Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, convinced that he wanted to rejoin the “international community.” Six months later, the British discovered that SCUD missiles capable of hitting targets in Europe with chemical or biological warheads were being smuggled to Libya through Britain from China. The British have now convinced President Bush that Gadhafi has changed for the better and that he is really going to give up his weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, programs.

Liberals and conservatives in the media have hailed the Libyan offer, as if it is authentic and can be verified. Unfortunately, our media are not very adept at spotting Libyan disinformation. After the recent Libyan announcement, we found several stories repeating the erroneous claim that President Reagan’s bombing of Libya in 1986 had killed Gadhafi’s adopted daughter.

Back in 1986, before the bombing of Libya, Time magazine had carried a photograph of Gadhafi and “three of their sons” but no daughter. After the raid, Time said that an 18-month-old girl, reportedly his adopted daughter, had been killed. The New York Times reported that she was 15 months old. The Washington Post said she was a year old. No picture of her or her dead body was published anywhere.

The conclusion is inescapable that the story was made up to generate sympathy for Gadhafi. Yet our media today continue to repeat the disinformation. Going over the history of U.S.-Libyan relations, a Daniel Williams story on December 27 in the Post said that the 1986 attack “killed 37 people, including a daughter of Gadhafi.” A December 10 AP story by Jennifer Loven and a December 20 Knight-Ridder Newspapers story said that the bombs killed his “young adopted daughter.” A January 2nd Washington Times column by Arnaud de Borchgrave said the dead girl was three years old.

Regarding Gadhafi’s latest offer, recall that retired 38-year-old former Air Force Master Sergeant Brian P. Regan, who was working at the National Reconnaissance Office, the NRO, was convicted of spying last year. The NRO operates U.S. government spy satellites. Regan, who had a top-secret security clearance, was initially accused of passing classified documents and photos to Libya. Experts speculated that Libyan intelligence was interested in U.S. overhead coverage and reporting of Libya’s WMD programs.

Curiously, Regan was acquitted of spying for Libya, but was convicted of trying to sell classified information to Saddam Hussein and Communist China. Yet his computer contained a letter to Gadhafi offering satellite intelligence that could help Libya hide its WMD programs. Regan also had confidential documents about Libya’s biological warfare program. More recently, Gadhafi’s regime was caught providing American Muslim activist Abdurahman Alamoudi with $340,000 in cash. If Gadhafi did get access to Regan’s classified information, perhaps in exchange for cash, he may feel confident he can fool the U.S., Britain and the U.N. inspectors about his WMD programs.

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