Reassessing Judith Miller.

Media criticism.
May 29 2003 7:11 PM

Reassessing Miller

U.S. intelligence on Iraq's WMD deserves a second look. So does the reporting of the New York Times' Judith Miller.

(Continued from Page 1)

Miller also authored a provocative Dec. 3, 2002, story about the late Nelja N. Maltseva, aka "Madame Smallpox." Extensively sourced to "senior American officials," "foreign scientists," "American officials," "an administration official," "administration officials," and "an informant whose identity has not been disclosed," the story reviewed the theory that Maltseva may have given "a particularly virulent strain of smallpox" to the Iraqis. No such smallpox program has been found in Iraq, and Miller's original report looks wrong.

On Sept. 8, 2002, Michael R. Gordon and Miller wrote in the Times, "Iraqi defectors who once worked for the nuclear weapons establishment have told American officials that acquiring nuclear arms is again a top Iraqi priority." The story catalogs various other threats: An unnamed Iraqi defector claims Saddam Hussein is trying to create new chemical weapons. Iraq will quell another Shiite uprising with chemical and biological weapons, according to Iraqi dissident Abdalaziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Hakim reportedly gave U.S. officials a "paper" from Iranian intelligence that authorized such an attack. These reports have yet to be confirmed, and Miller's original report now looks very wrong.

Ahmed al-Shemri, who claims to have worked at Iraq's Muthanna chemical weapons plant, tells Gordon and Miller that "[a]ll of Iraq is one large storage facility" for WMD chemical agents. The Times allowed "al-Shemri" to use a pseudonym and agreed not to name the country in which he was interviewed. The remarkably detailed story continues:

Mr. Shemri said Iraq had produced 5 tons of stable VX in liquid form between 1994 and 1998, before inspectors were forced to leave Iraq. Some of this agent, he said, was made in secret labs in the northern city of Mosul and in the southern city of Basra, which Unscom inspectors confirmed they had rarely visited because of their long distance from Baghdad.

He said Iraq had the ability to make at least 50 tons of liquid nerve agent, which he said was to be loaded into two kinds of bombs and dropped from planes.

Of even greater concern is Mr. Shemri's allegation that Iraq had invented, as early as 1994, and is now producing a new, solid VX agent that clings to a soldier's protective clothing and makes decontamination difficult. …

Mr. Shemri said Iraq had received assistance in its chemical, germ and nuclear programs from Russian scientists who are still working in Iraq. At least two Iraqi scientists traveled to North Korea in early 2002 to study missile technology, he said. …

An [sic] former Unscom inspector called at least some of Mr. Shemri's information "plausible." While he said it was impossible to determine the accuracy of all his claims, he believed that Mr. Shemri "is who he claims to be, and worked where he claimed to work."

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"Shemri's"allegations to date are unsupported by occupation forces, and now Miller's original report looks very, very wrong.

As far back as 1998, Miller advanced the case of Khidhir Abdul Abas Hamza, an Iraqi nuclear scientist who defected in 1994. Hamza immediately went to Chalabi for help. Miller and James Risen gave credence to Hamza's claim that the Iraqi nuclear weapons program could quickly be restarted in the salaciously titled, "Tracking Baghdad's Arsenal: Inside the Arsenal: A special report, Defector Describes Iraq's Atom Bomb Push" (Aug. 15, 1998). No evidence of such a "quick-start" nuclear weapons program has been found.

Miller isn't a patsy for any stray Iraqi defector who might swim ashore. On Jan. 24, 2003, she reports that both the Defense Intelligence Agency and other Iraqi dissidents rejected defector Abdel Jabal Karim Ashur al-Bedani's testimony about chemical weapons.

But none of Miller's wild WMD stories has panned out. From these embarrassing results, we can deduce that either 1) Miller's sources were right about WMD, and it's just a matter of time before the United States finds evidence to back them up; 2) Miller's sources were wrong about WMD, and the United States will never find the evidence; 3) Miller's sources played her to help stoke a bogus war; or 4) Miller deliberately weighted the evidence she collected to benefit the hawks. It could be that the United States inadvertently overestimated Iraq's WMD program. For example, the United States might have intercepted communications to Saddam in which his henchmen exaggerated the scale of Iraq's WMD progress to make him happy.

"The country needs to know if the spy organizations were right or wrong," concludes the Times editorial, a fair and equitable stand. But by the same logic, the country needs to know if Miller and the Times too gullibly advanced the WMD findings of their sources—and if so, why.

******

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