I apologize for the Judy obsession. But hey, Judy obsession is all the rage these days. And while I'll leave Arianna to gather gossip about Judy's special relationship with the leader of the unit she embedded with...
And no fewer than four sources have either e-mailed, called, or, in one case, run up to me on the street to tell me that what I termed Miller's "especially close relationship" with Chief Warrant Officer Richard Gonzales, the leader of the WMD-hunting unit Miller was embedded with during the war, might have been, well, very close indeed.
...I'd like to look more closely at what Judy seemed to be doing in Iraq--on her day job. Because whether or not Judy was involved in the Plame Affair, she certainly was involved in a parallel pursuit, managing the public's expectation that we would find WMDs.
Judy embedded with a group that was poorly-prepared to hunt down WMDs--but was given the central role in the first days of the war nevertheless. While there, she engaged in a pattern--announcing a big find, then quietly rescinding that claim shortly thereafter. She also used her influence (including her direct influence on Gonzales, apparently) to shift the unit's focus away from examining suspected WMD sites to finding Iraqi officials, most supplied by Ahmed Chalabi, who offered convenient excuses for the absence of WMDs. Meanwhile, over the course of her embed, Judy set the foundation--and created excuses--for the Bush Administration's "surprise" realization that they might not find WMDs in Iraq.
Judy arrives in Iraq after stops in northern Iraq, to cover a meeting of Iraqi opposition leaders (basically the INC) and then Kuwait, to cover some of the preparations. Her first article on the disarmament teams appears on March 19 on the first day of the war. Her first report of a possible find (supposed indications that bio or chemical agents may have been stored in Najaf) appears on March 27. Her first profile of the 75th Exploitation Force--her embed unit--appears on March 31. From this point forward, Judy spends the month of April hunting down lead after lead.
One note about this timing. Judy arrives in Iraq after the the IAEA has cast doubt on the Niger documents and after Cheney's group is reported to have started its work-up on Wilson, both of which took place in early March. So whatever Judy's doing in Iraq, many of her favorite sources are in DC trying to silence doubts about the evidence used to make the case for war, based on WMDs.
Judy Burns a Source
On April 5, Judy co-bylines an article with Doug Jehl, describing increasing doubts in DC that arms will be found. I talked briefly about this article here. The remarkable thing about this article is not the content--it seems likely that Jehl did most of the work, interviewing people in DC. Rather, it's the effort Judy makes (misquoting a source and then releasing her name) to give a name and a voice to increasing doubts that the Americans would find WMDs. And why would Judy be interviewing people in DC, anyway? This burn is honestly something I don't understand. But it seems that, before Judy even begins her series of "finds," she is advancing the notion that the Americans might not find WMDs.
Series of "Finds" followed by "Backtracks"
The first part of Judy's embed, she seems to establish a pattern where she announces a find, then a few days later refutes or drops that find. First, it's equipment for bio- or chem-warfare production in Karbala (found April 11, April 12; withdrawn April 16). Then it's radioactive materials at Tuwaitha (found May 4, never actually withdrawn, but we know this site was the IAEA supervised site). Then a chemical warehouse in Baghdad (found April 24, withdrawn April 28). Perhaps the most ridiculous Judy "Find-Backtrack" was a Chalabi tip about an ancient Jewish text (found May 7, May 9)--to which I'll return. Needless to say, there ended up being no ancient text. The last of Miller's major "finds" is the mobile weapon lab, about which she first publishes an article May 8, then May 11, and then, with William Broad, May 21; the claim would be retracted on June 7, after Judy had returned to the States.
You might be able to attribute these false alarms to the nerves of being in a war zone or the anticipation for a big find. But the standards of logic Judy's unit used are really astoundingly bad. Regard their process of eliminating any legitimate possibilities for the "mobile weapons trailer":
He said the team had tried to eliminate other possible explanations for the lab. First, they discounted the possibility that the lab was intended to be a decoy. They also dismissed the possibility that it was a nuclear reactor on wheels, or that it held any other nuclear-related equipment. Also discounted was the theory that the lab was intended to produce missile fuel, propellant or explosives. The equipment was not appropriate for those functions, they said.
Nuclear reactor on wheels???!?! Except for the decoy possibility, all of these possibilities would indicate some kind of illicit purpose. Did they even consider allowed purposes? Well, the bio-expert did, but then assumed the presence of scrubbers had to indicate a desire for secrecy. And what of the Iraqis' explanation, that it was used for producing hydrogen balloons (the purpose, of course, that US experts finally decided the trailer served). Well, the Americans ignored the Iraqis. And then there's this little bit of evidence,
The lab was mobile, the team concluded, despite the fact that zthere [sic] were no shock absorbers between the tires' rubber and the lab floor.
And out of this evidence, we get this kind of certainty:
All three Team Charlie members said they were certain that future tests would confirm that the trailer was evidence of a weapons program.
I don't know if we can blame Judy for the credulity of her unit. But these people were clearly inclined to see WMDs hiding under every bush.
Shift to HumInt, Courtesy of Ahmed Chalabi and Judy Miller
But soon, these futile investigations of WMD sites prove too unproductive. And, apparently at the intervention of Judy, part of the unit shifts its focus away from investigating suspected sites to interviewing Iraqis associated with WMD programs. Here's how Judy's article describes this shift.
"The paradigm has shifted,'' said a member of the Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha, an American military team hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq. ''We've had a conceptual jump in how we think about, and what we look for in Iraq's program. We must look at the infrastructure, not just for the weapons.'' [is this Gonzales? Sounds like it might be.]
The team member spoke to this reporter, who was accompanying the group.
Now, it appears that this shift is the troop movement Howard Kurtz tells us Judy intervened in. We know Judy was working with Chalabi on April 21, because that's when he turns over Saddam Hussein's son-in-law to her group. And that is the same day she writes a note to complain about the troop pull-back.
"I see no reason for me to waste time (or MET Alpha, for that matter) in Talil. . . . Request permission to stay on here with colleagues at the Palestine Hotel til MET Alpha returns or order to return is rescinded. I intend to write about this decision in the NY Times to send a successful team back home just as progress on WMD is being made."
And it is just two days before she publishes the article describing this paradigm shift. But paradigm shift is not how people interviewed by Kurtz describe it.
"Our desire was to pull these guys back in," said an officer who served under McPhee, adding that it was "quite a surprise" that the order was reversed.
As for MET Alpha's seeming independence, this officer said: "The way McPhee phrased it for [staff] consumption was, 'I know they have gone independent, I know they have gone rogue, but by God at least they're doing something.' But if they're doing something, where's the meat? It didn't pan out." [my emphasis]
They've "gone rogue." Judy and some members of the unit she has embedded with have "gone rogue." Which makes it an entirely different issue that she was invoking the name of Rummy and Feith to be able to remain rogue.
One military officer, who says that Miller sometimes "intimidated" Army soldiers by invoking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld or Undersecretary Douglas Feith, was sharply critical of the note. "Essentially, she threatened them," the officer said, describing the threat as that "she would publish a negative story." [my emphasis]
Judy threatened to appeal to Rummy or Feith not just to keep troops in a particular location. No, she invoked Rummy's name to keep a group in Baghdad, working with Chalabi, pursuing a task for to they were neither trained or assigned.
But they were not just working with Chalabi. They were working with Chalabi contacts as well, just as Judy (and the OSP) had done in the run-up to war. Some of these contacts are real targets, and Judy's access to them serves to make Judy, and her close "friend" Richard Gonzales, look good. Here Judy describes Gonzales taking Saddam's son-in-law into custody.
After the two men arrived at Mr. Chalabi's temporary residence here, they were questioned by an American intelligence official and then handed over to Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzales, the leader of a Pentagon Mobile Exploitation Team that has been hunting for unconventional weapons in Iraq. Mr. Gonzales, who happened to be meeting tonight with Mr. Chalabi to discuss nonproliferation issues, turned the two men over to military command headquarters at Baghdad's international airport.
[This article appeared on April 21, the day Judy objects to being pulled back from Baghdad.]
So this Chalabi connection was somewhat legitimate, even if Judy's unit had no experience in interrogation. Anyway, as one of Chalabi's aide said (in Kurtz' June article), it's a good story.
A top aide to Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, Zaab Sethna, said he didn't know whether Miller arrived that day "because she's old friends with Dr. Chalabi or because she wanted to introduce that team she was working with to the INC." But he said the idea of transferring Sultan to the MET Alpha squad originated in a conversation with Miller.
"We told Judy because we thought it was a good story," Sethna said. "We needed some way to get the guy to the Americans."
Next Installment: Judy's sources get weird