This is the second part of a multi-part series exploring what Judy did while embedding in Iraq. The first post is here.
Summary of the Series: 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 withdrawing 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, some 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.
When we last saw Judy, she had gone rogue and reunited with her favorite source, Ahmed Chalabi, in Baghdad. Joining up with Chalabi gave Judy's good friend, Richard Gonzales, the opportunity to take one of Saddam's sons-in-law into custody. But things were looking bleak for Judy and her band of WMD hunters, because every find they had turned out to fizzle within a few days.
Then, on roughly April 17 and April 25, MET Alpha found two Iraqis who explained the failure to find WMDs. The first, an unnamed man first introduced as a scientist but later alleged to be an Iraqi intelligence officer, I'll call Yankee Fan (according to Judy, he wears a baseball cap). The second, Nissar Hindawi, was a biologist in Iraq's bio-warfare program in the 1980s.
Judy Finds a Scientist
Judy first reports on finding Yankee Fan on April 21. It turns out MET Alpha had found him three days earlier; I'll get to how they found him below. The important thing, for Judy, is that Yankee Fan offered a ready explanation for why MET Alpha and the other weapons hunters hadn't found anything in Iraq. In fact, Yankee Fan told Judy just about everything she wanted to hear.
A scientist who claims to have worked in Iraq's chemical weapons program for more than a decade has told an American military team that Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment only days before the war began, members of the team said.
They said the scientist led Americans to a supply of material that proved to be the building blocks of illegal weapons, which he claimed to have buried as evidence of Iraq's illicit weapons programs.
The scientist also told American weapons experts that Iraq had secretly sent unconventional weapons and technology to Syria, starting in the mid-1990's, and that more recently Iraq was cooperating with Al Qaeda, the military officials said.
As Judy points out, in case you hadn't already noticed, Yankee Fan answers all of the questions people were asking about WMDs as a justification for the war.
The officials' account of the scientist's assertions and the discovery of the buried material, which they described as the most important discovery to date in the hunt for illegal weapons, supports the Bush administration's charges that Iraq continued to develop those weapons and lied to the United Nations about it. Finding and destroying illegal weapons was a major justification for the war.
The officials' accounts also provided an explanation for why United States forces had not yet turned up banned weapons in Iraq. The failure to find such weapons has become a political issue in Washington. [my emphasis]
What a remarkably lucky find, huh? Perhaps not surprisingly, as soon as Judy learns of this scientist, she rushes to tell the American people about him, not just in her article in the NYT, but also on TV.
Judy Does TV
She does this in an April 22 interview with Ray Suarez on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Judy calls finding this scientist the silver bullet, better than a smoking gun, definitive proof of Saddam's WMD program.
JUDITH MILLER: Well, I think they found something more than a "smoking gun." What they've found is what is being called here by the members of MET Alpha-- that's Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha-- what they found is a silver bullet in the form of a person, an Iraqi individual, a scientist, as we've called him, who really worked on the programs, who knows them firsthand, and who has led MET Team Alpha people to some pretty startling conclusions that have kind of challenged the American intelligence community's under... previous understanding of, you know, what we thought the Iraqis were doing. [my emphasis]
You'll see why Judy qualifies Yankee Fan's job title below. In any case, based on the word of this one guy, Judy declares the Americans will not find any WMDs.
But those stockpiles that we've heard about, well, those have either been destroyed by Saddam Hussein, according to the scientists, or they have been shipped to Syria for safekeeping.
So wait a second. If threatening to invade was enough to convince Saddam to get rid of his WMDs, then we didn't really have to invade, did we? We could have just gone and found someone--as Judy had--who would vouch they all had been eliminated. Right?
Wrong. Judy is clear. We still had to go into Iraq. After all, she argues, Blix' inspectors would never have been able to get the kind of intelligence she and her MET unit just got (and she continues on at greater length later in the interview). Here's Ray, leading the witness:
RAY SUAREZ: Does this confirm in a way the insistence coming from the U.S. government that after the war, various Iraqi tongues would loosen, and there might be people who would be willing to help?
JUDITH MILLER:Yes, it clearly does. I mean, it's become pretty clear to those of us on the ground that the international inspectors, without actually controlling the territory and changing the political environment, would never have been able to get these people to step forward.
So the discovery of this WMD scientist explains it all, the real reason why the WMD hunters hadn't found anything in Iraq.
Chalabi finds Judy a bio-weapons expert
But Judy doesn't have to rely on just Yankee Fan to make her case. Happily, her buddy Ahmed Chalabi finds her another expert, this time a bio-weapons expert, who attests that the Iraqis had been lying to the UN Weapons Inspectors. As she describes,
Nissar Hindawi, a leading figure in Iraq's biological warfare program in the 1980's, says the stories and explanations he and other scientists told the United Nations about the extent of Iraq's efforts to produce poisons and germ weapons ''were all lies.''
Hindawi tells a story not dissimilar from Yankee Fan's story. There were weapons, unimaginable quantities of them. But, you don't have to worry about them anymore. They're gone.
He said that while he worked in the program or was ordered to brief the inspectors on it, Iraq made 8.9 cubic meters of concentrated liquid anthrax, one of the deadliest and most durable germ weapons, and even larger quantities of botulinum toxin, one of the most lethal poisons.
Even so, he added, there is little need for concern if American military teams hunting for unconventional weapons stumble across such stockpiles. The arsenals would have degraded quickly, he maintains.
''Even if it's all kept until now, don't worry about it,'' he said.
And the missing WMD scientists? They're in Syria, probably with the WMDs Yankee Fan told Judy about.
Although there has been no public word from American authorities on their whereabouts, Dr. Hindawi said that he had been told that both women were hiding in Syria, as other Iraqi scientists, Baath Party members and military officers are said to be.
So how trustworthy is this guy and how much does he really know about Saddam's WMD program?
Well, first of all, it turns out Hindawi hadn't worked on Saddam's WMD programs
regularly for quite some time--not since 1989, before the first Gulf
War. After that, he was primarily used to lie to weapons inspectors about the program.
Hindawi says he kept up on the program, though, through some of his
students who we still involved.
Also, throughout this article, there's some question about Hindawi's veracity. He says the Iraqis never made dried anthrax (Hindawi, you see, made sure Saddam never learned the method); the UN inspectors suspect Iraq did get the technology to weaponize anthrax. Likewise, Hindawi says he had no choice but to work in the WMD program; UN inspectors question that claim. Hindawi explains that he sent several of his WMD papers to Lybia in hopes of getting a visa to the US; Saddam said Hindawi was sharing military secrets and imprisoned him for 17 months
And one more strike against Hindawi's credibility?
Dr. Hindawi, 61, is now in the protective custody of the Iraqi opposition leader Ahmad Chalabi.
Did I say Judy finds a scientist? I'm sorry, I meant she finds a military intelligence officer
You thought Hindawi was a questionable contact? Take a closer look at Yankee Fan.
Yankee Fan's credibility should have been questioned by PBS' schedulers as soon as they read Judy's April 21 article. In it, she admits she hasn't talked to this guy directly.
Under the terms of her accreditation to report on the activities of MET Alpha, this reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials.
Those officials asked that details of what chemicals were uncovered be deleted. They said they feared that such information could jeopardize the scientist's safety by identifying the part of the weapons program where he worked.
While this reporter could not interview the scientist, she was permitted to see him from a distance at the sites where he said that material from the arms program was buried.
Clad in nondescript clothes and a baseball cap, he pointed to several spots in the sand where he said chemical precursors and other weapons material were buried. This reporter also accompanied MET Alpha on the search for him and was permitted to examine a letter written in Arabic that he slipped to American soldiers offering them information about the program and seeking their protection. [my emphasis]
Well, okay, no big deal right? I mean, we're at war. So it's okay if Judy writes stories about things that she has no way of verifying, right?
Judy's peculiar embed agreement has been the source of many journalists' skepticism about Judy's reporting. And it clearly prevents her from acting as an objective journalist. But in my opinion, the story about Judy's peculiar embed restrictions are just cover which give her an excuse not to do the bare minimum that a reporter would do with this guy.
Like reveal Yankee Fan's identity. All over Iraq at this time, there were Jacks of Diamonds and Sixes of Clubs and Tens of Spades, all with their name identified for anyone to learn. And each time a scientist got taken into custody--like Hindawi--we'd learn that scientist's name. But not Yankee Fan. In Judy's first article,
MET Alpha, which found the scientist, declined to identify him, saying they feared he might be subject to reprisals.
Judy also doesn't really explain this guy's background. In Judy's first article, she describes him as a chemical scientist. But in an article published July 20, Judy admits he's actually an intelligence officer.
Administration officials said MET Alpha's second source -- a man who originally identified himself as a scientist but who turned out to be a military intelligence officer who said he oversaw part of Iraq's chemical weapons program -- remained one of the highest-ranking Iraqis to volunteer to help the United States government in its search for unconventional weapons.
No explanation, though, about how she learned about his new job description.
Over the course of three articles, Judy does explain how Yankee Fan came to MET Alpha. First, apparently Yankee Fan reached out to what turned out to be the 101st Airborne. From Judy's paradigm shift article of April 23,
As troops from the division moved through a small town in southern Iraq nearly two weeks ago, the Iraqi scientist slipped a note in Arabic to an ambulance driver in a military convoy. The driver passed the note to his unit's chemical officer, but its significance was almost overlooked.
Written under a pseudonym, the note said its author had proof that information was kept from international weapons inspectors. Beside stating that Iraqi officials had destroyed chemical weapons and equipment just before the war, and that they had tested biological agents on animals, the note asked for a meeting with a ''qualified'' scientist. It also asked for appropriate security provisions and for immunity from prosecution for the Iraqi informant.
Although the unit sent an officer and a translator to contact the Iraqi, the note -- and a report on the meeting -- never made it to the group charged with vetting such tips. [emphasis mine]
Then, apparently MET Alpha got a tip from unnamed officers in the 101st Airborne (the anonymity of these officers is notable, as Judy had just identified a different tipster by name in the previous paragraph). From Judy's April 21 article,
Other officers mentioned that a man who said he was an Iraqi scientist had given troops a note about Iraq's chemical warfare program. No one had yet followed up the report, they said, because of the fighting and also because similar tips had failed to produce evidence of unconventional weapons.
Keep in mind, this is General Petraeus' unit, Judy's friend who reccomended that the 75th Exploitation Task Force commander, Colonel Richard McPhee, change his orders to accommodate Judy's instructions. And Petraeus seems to be thrilled with MET Alpha's work.
The potential of MET Alpha's work is ''enormous,'' said Maj. Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the 101st Airborne Division.
And then, Judy's close friend Richard Gonzales takes over the search for Yankee Fan (again from Judy's April 21 article).
The scientist was found by a team headed by Chief Warrant Officer Richard L. Gonzales, the leader of MET Alpha, one of several teams charged with hunting for unconventional weapons throughout Iraq. Departing from his team's assigned mission, Mr. Gonzales and his team of specialists from the Defense Intelligence Agency tracked down the scientist on Thursday through a series of interviews and increasingly frantic site visits.
So let me get this straight. This guy is one of the few Iraqis in all of Iraq who cannot be named. His job title appears to change from week to week. And he was found based on a pseudonymous letter...he was using a pseudonym, mind you, but he apparently provided enough information for Richard Gonzales to find him? Oh, and did I mention, this pseudonymous letter just happened not to get vetted by the proper authorities, like maybe people who were experienced in HumInt?
And one more odd detail. I can't be sure, but it appears as if Yankee Fan is the senior Mukhabarat official who leads Judy on a crazy adventure in early May (you've got to wait for the 4th Installment of my Judy series for the story). The punchline?
A former senior official of the Mukhabarat, Saddam Hussein's secret police, had told the opposition group a few days earlier that he had hidden the ancient Jewish book in the basement of his headquarters. The building had been badly damaged by coalition bombing, said the man, who is now working for the Iraqi National Congress, but he was still willing to take a group there to recover it. [my emphasis]
By early May, someone who appears to be Yankee Fan is working for Chalabi's INC.
But even with all the weirdness associated with Yankee Fan, this guy's testimony is what Judy describes as persuading Bush to rethink the presence of WMDs (from Judy's July 20 article).
On April 24, less than a week after the Iraqi met with American officials in Baghdad and White House officials were given a report about his claims, President Bush said publicly for the first time that the military might not find Iraqi unconventional weapons stockpiles because they they might have been destroyed.
Next Installment: Judy poaches another reporter's story