Accuracy in Media

Writing in the Washington Post, Tina Brown said that Dan Rather came across in the CBS panel report on the “Rathergate” scandal as “an empty trench coat” because he had very little to do with the actual report that went on the air. It seems clear she didn’t read it. In a bombshell ignored by most media, the report reveals that Dan Rather personally assured CBS News President Andrew Heyward that the discredited Bush National Guard story was not only true but “very big.”

The report, prepared by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and Louis D. Boccardi, former president of The Associated Press, says that Rather assured Heyward that he, Rather, had not “been involved in this much checking on a story since Watergate.” The report says that Rather assured Heyward that the bogus story was “thoroughly vetted,” or documented and verified.

In another bombshell, the report reveals on page 130 that CBS News producer Mary Mapes, one of four fired because of the scandal, had documented information in her possession before the controversial September 8 broadcast that George W. Bush, while in the Texas Air National Guard, “did volunteer for service in Vietnam but was turned down in favor of more experienced pilots.” This information is critical because Rather, in the broadcast, insinuated that Bush was among the “many well-connected young men [who tried to] pull strings and avoid service in Vietnam.”

This means that Mapes, who was very close to Rather and enjoyed his confidence, had the evidence exonerating Bush of the malicious charge of going into the National Guard to avoid Vietnam. The report shows that there were multiple credible sources to prove that he was in fact willing to go to Vietnam as a pilot. However, CBS News deliberately kept this information from its viewers and conveyed an opposite impression. Rather, Mapes & Company were trying to depict Bush as a coward who, as Commander-in-Chief, was sending American soldiers to their deaths in Iraq.

The report also says that while Rather told Heyward the Bush story was big, he told Heyward it wasn’t “as big as Abu Ghraib,” the Iraqi prisoner abuse story used by CBS and other media to blacken the reputation and image of the United States around the world.

Rather’s reference to Abu Ghraib, in the context of preparing the bogus attack on Bush, demonstrates that the agenda was not only to sabotage Bush’s re-election campaign but to undermine the war in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib story on CBS inflamed the Arab/Muslim world against the U.S., inevitably costing the lives of more American soldiers in Iraq at the hands of fanatical Muslim terrorists. 

What’s more, it turns out that David Hackworth, a controversial retired colonel who has emerged as a strident opponent of how the Iraq war is being conducted, was a key source for canned CBS producer Mapes in both stories.

In what can only be seen as a major blow to his credibility as a spokesman on military affairs, the CBS report (page 96) says that Hackworth was interviewed by Rather for the Guard story “as an expert to evaluate the documents that Mapes obtained from Lieutenant Colonel Burkett.” Bill Burkett is the discredited “source” who now says he got the documents from yet another “source” who cannot be located. Burkett admits lying about his “source.”

Hackworth’s Role

Hackworth, the report says, concluded the phony documents were “genuine,” and Rather thought Hackworth was a “strong and valuable expert witness.” Mapes also thought Hackworth “was important for the segment” that aired on September 8, the report says, but the Hackworth excerpts were “ultimately cut from the final script” for reasons that aren’t explained.

In the Abu Ghraib story, Hackworth also played a controversial role, arranging for a soldier subsequently found guilty of abusing Iraqi prisoners in the Abu Ghraib scandal to funnel information through a relative to Rather, Mapes and CBS. The 60 Minutes Abu Ghraib story aired in April 2004. The soldier, Staff Sgt. Ivan “Chip” Frederick, wanted to blame his own criminal conduct on higher-ups. Taking a similar approach, Hackworth accused “the very top of the Pentagon” of “covering up obscene behavior” at Abu Ghraib “while placing the sole blame on Joe and Jill Grunt.”

In fact, a commission run by former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger investigated the controversy and found that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other military leaders did not set policies that approved or condoned torture and other abuse.

USA Todaygate

While Hackworth is now scrambling to explain his role in the story, another terrible performance was turned in by USA Today. In covering the release of the CBS report, USA Today ran three items?a front-page story by Peter Johnson, “CBS Fires 4 over Bush Guard Story,” a story by Peter Johnson and Mark Memmott, “CBS firings should go higher up, critics say,” and an editorial, “CBS’s rush to air a story produces fiction, firestorm.” None of the stories or editorials mentioned that USA Today had run a story based on the same documents on September 9, one day after the CBS Report aired. USA Today used the CBS broadcast as proof that the documents were genuine.

After AIM issued a press release on this matter, media reporter Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post picked up the story and asked USA Today editorial page editor Brian Gallagher whether he needed to address his own paper’s role. “We think the editorial covered everything it needed to cover,” he told Kurtz.

Responding to another press release issued by AIM on the scandal, White House correspondent John Roberts claimed that he didn’t know that the documents he provided to the White House about the President’s National Guard service were questionable and came from Burkett.

AIM had noted that Roberts was the personal representative of CBS News in a meeting with White House communications director Dan Bartlett, at a critical time when CBS News was developing its fake “story.” In the meeting with Roberts, Bartlett was told that he was supposed to confirm or deny authenticity of the National Guard documents that turned out to be bogus. When Bartlett did not immediately denounce them as forgeries, Roberts provided that information to 60 Minutes producer Mapes. This was seen as the critical green light for Mapes and Rather to go ahead with the smear.

Ignorance Is Bliss

Roberts now insists that “I should point out that at the time I interviewed Dan Bartlett, I was NOT AWARE that the documents had come from Bill Burkett. In fact, I did not find out that particular gem of information until I read about it in Newsweek magazine some time later. I was never informed by Mary Mapes at any time of the source of the documents a point I made clear to the Thornburgh/Boccardi investigating panel.”

AIM countered that Roberts should have known or should have asked about the source of the documents.  The main problem, however, was that the White House received the documents only three and one-half hours before Bartlett was interviewed by Roberts about them. That was unfair and Roberts knew it. He should have refused to play a role in this ambush. He then told Mapes & Company that the Bartlett interview, such as it was, went well!

Roberts, Heyward and Rather should all be held accountable in the scandal. But they have escaped punishment.

By Kenneth J. Dillon*

* Kenneth J. Dillon is a former State Department intelligence analyst who now runs a medical device company.

A leaked top secret Canadian Security Intelligence Service report may provide the missing piece of evidence needed to identify the long elusive anthrax mailer. While confirmation is still lacking, we now have enough shreds of evidence to piece together a theory of the case that would resolve key anomalies. In turn, that theory can point us toward where we might find confirmatory evidence.

According to an August 27, 2004 article in Canada’s National Post, Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, a 22-year old Canadian, told interrogators that he had heard from Abu Abdelrahman, who worked for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, that the November 12, 2001 crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in New York was the result of an al Qaeda shoe bomb. The bomber was “Farouk the Tunisian.” Newspaper photographs showed him to be Abderraouf Jdey, a 36-year old Montreal-based Canadian of Tunisian origin.

Jdey is one of the seven al-Qaeda terrorists listed in the FBI’s plea for information from the public in May, 2004. He had emigrated to Canada in 1991, gained citizenship in 1995, and then traveled to Afghanistan where he trained as one of the ten substitutes for the 9/11 attackers. According to KSM, Jdey was slated for pilot training and was to be in the second wave of attacks. Jdey recorded a martyrdom statement in a video later found by American forces in Afghanistan. He returned to Montreal in summer 2001.

A Theory Of The Case

Al Qaeda had a history of interest in biological weapons. There is evidence that the 9/11 attackers had anthrax in their possession during the months preceding September 11, 2001. They were evidently seeking a way to use a crop-duster to spread anthrax over an American city. A medical doctor who treated a future hijacker for a skin lesion has stated that the lesion he treated was consistent with one caused by anthrax. A pharmacist reported to the FBI that Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 attacks, had sought a remedy for skin irritation on his hands, which were red from the wrists down. An accompanying fellow terrorist sought a remedy for a cough.

If the 9/11 attackers possessed anthrax, they would have had to hand it off to another al-Qaeda operative before September 11. Otherwise the precious vials of anthrax, the first and only weapon of mass destruction that al Qaeda had ever possessed, would have been wasted.

But they wouldn’t necessarily trust just any al-Qaeda operative to safeguard and perform with the anthrax, and perhaps they knew very few of al Qaeda’s sleepers in North America anyway. They would want to give the anthrax to an operative they knew and trusted, one who would use it to the best effect.

Abderraouf Jdey appears to have been exactly such a person. He stands out from the nine other 9/11 substitutes. He was older, from a different country of origin, with Canadian citizenship, with semi-sleeper status, and with a clear designation as part of the second wave. He had trained in Afghanistan simultaneously with Mohammed Atta. He was also well enough educated to have been slated for pilot training.

So Jdey was the logical person for Atta to hand off the anthrax to. We can also identify the logical time and place for such a transfer to have occurred.

One of the unexplained anomalies in the hijackers’ story has been why Atta and a fellow hijacker travelled from Boston to Portland, Maine on September 10. Taking a feeder flight from Portland to Boston on the morning of September 11 caused Atta nearly to miss his connection, and he and his companion had to pass through security questioning twice rather than once, at a significant added risk of detection.

So Atta must have had some reason to go to Portland that outweighed such risks. The most obvious explanation would be that he had an important meeting on a subject that required face-to-face contact, not just a veiled telephone conversation. A transaction with someone coming from the North, arranged for outside of Boston, would lessen the risk of surveillance.

Clearly, Jdey would be a very likely “someone,” and handing over the vials of anthrax would furnish a compelling reason for their otherwise risky meeting.


If we assume that Jdey indeed was the recipient of vials of anthrax, in Portland or by some other means, then subsequent events could have followed this course:

While the 9/11 hijackers had sought access to a crop-duster to spread the anthrax over an American city, Jdey presumably saw that receiving training at an American flight school was not in the cards after 9/11. So he had to resort to another method of distributing the anthrax.

He decided to mail it. The first mailings took place in September immediately after the initial U.S. Air Force’s first bombings in Afghanistan, presumably as a response to them. The second mailings, to Senators Daschle and Leahy, occurred in October and included ultrahigh-quality anthrax. Driving (or taking a train) hundreds of miles from Montreal to Trenton to mail the letters made sense because it perfectly disguised Jdey’s Canadian base.

The anthrax letters do not show any obvious Gallicisms that would betray that they were from a fluent French-speaker, which Jdey presumably was. But they are consistent with a person who has acquired English as a second language, and there is nothing in them that is inconsistent with Jdey as author. In fact, Jdey is a very plausible author of the anthrax letters.

One of the main characteristics or anomalies of the anthrax mailer case has been how remarkably elusive the mailer was both during his period of activity in autumn, 2001, and thereafter. Despite a massive FBI investigation backed by hundreds of thousands of tips from the American public, the mailer has succeeded in hiding his tracks. Being based in Canada, contrary to every expectation, would nicely explain his elusiveness during his period of activity.

The leaked Canadian intelligence report from 2002 provides a plausible explanation for the lack of information about Jdey’s whereabouts since then (as well as for the cessation of the anthrax mailings): Jdey committed suicide on Flight 587 on November 12, 2001.

Why might Jdey be a likely candidate to do this, quite aside from the Jabarah account?

If he was indeed the anthrax mailer, he was a hard-headed man of action. Instead of dreaming about impractical schemes of sowing the anthrax in the skies above a city, he realized that he had to use it before being captured. So he mailed it. Thus, too, in early November, 2001, he recognized that as the anthrax mailer he was likely to be arrested at any moment, so he would do well to act on his pledge of martyrdom by turning himself into a shoe bomber. The first success of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, backed by the U.S. Air Force, could have triggered his decision to leave Canada in early November (the Canadian intelligence report has him leaving Canada in November, though the date is not provided). On November 12 he showed up at Kennedy International Airport and boarded Flight 587.

No Canadian passport holders are listed on the final passenger list of Flight 587. Possessor of many aliases, Jdey presumably had several other passports. A number of the passengers were plausibly francophones; perhaps one of them was Jdey.

Jdey would presumably have handed whatever remained of the vials of anthrax to a fellow operative in Canada or the northeastern United States.

The cessation of the mailings after October, 2001 after their initial success is a third anomaly neatly explained by this account. A fourth anomaly, of course, is that Flight 587 disintegrated and crashed.

Seeking Confirmation

The scenario sketched out above has the virtue of conforming to the evidence available in a logical manner. Three main perceptions support it: 1) it would powerfully explain Atta’s mysterious Portland trip; 2) it would show why the mailer has proven so elusive and why the mailings ceased; and 3) it fits very well the characteristics that caused Jdey to stand out among the substitute hijackers, and indeed that differentiated him from the actual hijackers as well.

Of course, there are major gaps in the evidence. The putative Portland meeting may never have occurred. The cause of the crash of Flight 587 remains controversial. According to the official inquiry, there was no evidence of an explosion on board. Accounts of eyewitnesses from the ground, however, are highly consistent with a shoe-bomb explosion. The explosion could have been small enough to be masked by wake turbulence from the preceding JAL aircraft. The co-pilot’s frantic manipulation of the rudder would thus have been a hopeless attempt to rescue a doomed aircraft.

We don’t know when Jdey crossed the border. We have no proof that he ever was in Trenton. It is conceivable that he used messengers to meet with Atta and mail the letters. In short, we don’t know a lot that we need to know.

So it is necessary to seek evidence that would confirm, refute, or modify this account. Here are some ways to do so:

  • Review the security videos from Kennedy International Airport.

  • See if the ticket agents recognize Jdey’s photo.

  • Check the backgrounds of the likely suspects from the final passenger list.

  • Check both Canadian and U.S. border-crossing records.

  • Test Jdey’s apartment for anthrax.

  • Test any vehicles he owned or rented for anthrax.

  • Interrogate al-Qaeda detainees regarding Jdey, shoe bombs, and anthrax. Richard Reid, whose unsuccessful shoe bombing attempt occurred just one month after the Flight 587 crash, might know something relevant.

  • Hunt through Jdey’s background. Was he educated as a chemical engineer, for instance? Had he served in the Tunisian police or army? What kind of a person was he?

  • Publicize Jdey and his photo more widely than at present, in hopes of finding further evidence from the public.

The publicly available evidence suggests that Abderraouf Jdey brought down Flight 587 with a shoe bomb. Was he also the anthrax mailer?

Evidence and logic make him the leading suspect.

What You Can Do

Send the enclosed cards or cards and letters of your own choosing to Senator Bill Frist and Douglas H. McCorkindale and Louis D. Boccardi of Gannett Inc.

Ready to fight back against media bias?
Join us by donating to AIM today.


Comments are turned off for this article.