Accuracy in Media

The media have continued their assault on the Bush administration’s use of intelligence prior to the war on Iraq. Repeatedly citing leaks from inside the administration, reporters accuse the administration of politicizing intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and links between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. The leak of a classified Pentagon memo, however, has shed new light on connections between al Qaeda and Iraq. The contents of the memo were revealed in “Case Closed,” an article written by Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard.

Predictably, the liberal media have ignored or downplayed the implications of this leak. According to Hayes, the memo provides an overview of U.S. intelligence reporting that documents contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda dating back to 1990. Writing in the Washington Post, however, Walter Pincus quotes a “senior administration official” as dismissing the memo for providing raw intelligence only. Pincus quotes the official, whose identity he did not reveal, as saying the reports were not analyzed nor were their accuracy verified.

But Hayes writes that the “reporting is often followed by commentary and analysis.” By way of example, he quotes an analysis that accompanied a report about a 1996 meeting between the chief of Iraqi intelligence and bin Laden. The analysis cited the timing of the visit, which occurred shortly after the Khobar Tower bombing, and the fact that the attack occurred on the third anniversary of a U.S. missile strike on Iraqi intelligence headquarters.

According to Hayes, the memo addresses two issues that have become central to the media’s indictment of the administration. First, many reporters bought the assertion that links between the religious fanatic bin Laden and Saddam’s secular regime were illogical. Hayes cites a CIA report that identifies “certain elements” of bin Laden’s “Islamic Army” that did oppose Saddam Hussein. But the report goes on to document bin Laden’s “understanding” with Saddam that his forces would not support anti-Saddam activities. An Internet website, commenting on the controversy, reminds us that in 1998 the Clinton administration indicted bin Laden for the East African embassy bombings. That indictment specifically referred to the “understanding” between al Qaeda and Iraq, which included an agreement to cooperate on “weapons development.”

The second deals with contacts between 9/11 ring-leader Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague. Czech officials have reported that one such meeting took place in April 2001. But the liberal media, supposedly relying on leaks from the CIA, have gone to great lengths to refute that story. Hayes writes that CIA reporting indicates there may have been four such meetings.

Two can be confirmed by U.S. intelligence, and Czech officials continue to stand by their reporting on the April 2001 meeting. More importantly, however, U.S. intelligence reporting indicates that Iraq intelligence officers had approved funding for Atta. Hayes is careful to note that the actual transfer of those funds cannot be confirmed.

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