The Times Scoops That Melted
Cataloging the wretched reporting of Judith Miller.
The Pseudonymous Ahmed al-Shemri
The Back Story: In "U.S. Says Hussein Intensifies Quest For A-Bomb Parts," Sept. 8, 2002, Miller and Michael R. Gordon publish the allegations of the pseudonymous Ahmed al-Shemri, who claims he was "involved" in chemical weapons production in Iraq before his defection two years prior. He claims that Saddam continued to develop, produce, and store chemical agents in secret mobile and fixed sites, many of them underground, in violation of weapons sanctions.
" 'All of Iraq is one large storage facility,' said Mr. Shemri, who claimed to have worked for many years at the Muthanna State Enterprise, once Iraq's chemical weapons plant."
Shemri speaks of secret labs in Mosul, of the production of 5 tons of liquid VX between 1994 and 1998, and says that it could make at least 50 additional tons of liquid nerve agent. Also, Shemri discloses that Iraq has invented a new solid form of VX that makes decontamination difficult. Both Russian and North Korean scientists are assisting Iraq. Shemri has also heard tell that Iraq stockpiles "12,500 gallons of anthrax, 2,500 gallons of gas gangrene, 1,250 gallons of aflotoxin and 2,000 gallons of botulinum throughout the country."
Miller Caveats: "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.' "
Suggested Remedial Action: Shemri should drop his pseudonym to make his background more transparent and lead the Times to the Mosul lab. He should also introduce his former colleagues to WMD inspectors.
The Bush Administration Case
The Back Story: Miller and Gordon report the Bush administration's findings in "White House Lists Iraq Steps To Build Banned Weapons," Sept. 13, 2002. According to the government, Iraq is attempting to purchase aluminum pipes to assist its nuclear weapons program as well as trying to develop mobile biological weapons laboratories. It also wants to obtain poison gas precursors. And it is trying to hide activities at plants in Fallujah and three other places where poisonous chlorine is made. The report alleges the plants have excess capacity and the Iraqis are diverting chlorine to the military.
Iraq continues to develop missiles banned under the 1991 cease-fire, according to the administration, and is doing prohibited research at its Al Rafah North complex. At the demolished Al Mamoun facility, where the Iraqis intended to make engines for long-range missiles, the Iraqis are rebuilding.
Miller Caveats: Some experts wonder if the aluminum tubes might be for rocket systems, not nuclear weapons work.
Suggested Remedial Action: A Times visit to Fallujah, Al Rafah North, Al Mamoun, and other sites alluded to is called for. Maybe the Times can find evidence that supports or discredits the administration's claim.
Khidhir Hamza, Nuclear Mastermind
The Back Story: Miller gives credence to the views of Khidhir Hamza, a leader of Iraq's nuclear bomb project until his 1994 defection in "Verification Is Difficult at Best, Say the Experts, and Maybe Impossible," Sept. 18, 2002.
He estimates that Iraq is within two to three years of mass-producing centrifuges for the enrichment of weapons-grade uranium, a more alarming estimate than that offered by former inspectors. Hamza's book Saddam's Bombmaker details Iraq's proficiency in concealing its nuclear program, Miller writes.