Accuracy in Media

In a very strange column entitled “Public Secrets,” Robert Kaiser of the Washington Post asks, “Why does The Washington Post willingly publish ‘classified’ information affecting national security?” He put the word “classified” in quotes, as if there is really no such classification and that any attempt to prosecute the paper for publishing classified information is doomed. He goes on to praise the media for revealing various secrets, including that “the United States established secret prisons in Eastern Europe for terrorism suspects.” In a major gaffe, Kaiser was apparently not aware that an extensive investigation into the so-called “secret prisons” by a European named Dick Marty had failed to confirm their existence.

On the matter of where the story came from, Kaiser said, “I am not going to disclose Priest’s sources (I don’t know who they were), but I do know there were many of them.”

Now think about that statement. He doesn’t know who the sources are but knows there were many of them. How does he know that? He doesn’t say.

He went on to say, “I know that she traveled extensively to report the story. I know that her article, like virtually all the best investigative reporting on sensitive subjects that we publish, was assembled like a Lego skyscraper, brick by brick. Often the sources who help reporters with this difficult task don’t even realize that they have contributed a brick or two to the construction. Typically, many of the sources who contribute know only a sliver of the story themselves. A good reporter such as Priest can spend weeks or months on a single story, looking for those bricks.”

How does he know all of this? He doesn’t say.

But that’s not all. “I want to add, immodestly, that The Post’s record on stories of this kind is good. I don’t know of a single case when the paper had to retract or correct an important story containing classified information,” he says.

Perhaps that is because the Post refuses to retract even when the evidence is lacking. That is the case with the “secret prisons” story.

But there’s hope: the Sunday Herald, a Scottish newspaper, is now reporting on an “intercepted top-secret fax contained information” allegedly confirming the existence of these prisons and naming their locations. It is described as being sent by the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, in Cairo, to his ambassador in London. Reporter Neil Mackay, “investigations editor” for the paper, says, “The fax, intercepted by Swiss intelligence, indicates that Egypt has such proof. It is headed: ‘The Egyptians have access to sources which confirm the existence of American secret prisons.'”

It is quite extraordinary that such statements were put in a top-secret fax. I asked Mackay for a copy, since it wasn’t published with his on-line story, and he responded that it is in the possession of the Swiss intelligence service and that he only saw “the few sections” he quoted.

It looks like the “secret fax” is in the same category as Dana Priest’s “secret prisons.” She thinks they exist  but has no proof to offer us.

Neil Mackay also “broke” the story in 2002 of “A secret blueprint for U.S. global domination.” He identified the blueprint as a document entitled, “Rebuilding America’s Defences: Strategies, Forces And Resources For A New Century,” and written in September 2000 “by the neo-conservative think-tank Project for the New American Century.”

The “secret” document, available to the public, is on the group’s web site.

Mackay in 2004 supplied written testimony to the Brussels Tribunal on “Questioning the New Imperial World Order,” with an emphasis on undermining the U.S. liberation of Iraq.

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