The Times scoop that melted.

The Times scoop that melted.

The Times scoop that melted.

Media criticism.
July 25 2003 6:49 PM

The Times Scoops That Melted

Cataloging the wretched reporting of Judith Miller.

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Suggested Remedial Action: It's clear from Miller's wording that she didn't know the identity of the informant. Now that Iraq is beaten into the ground, surely no intelligence sources and methods would be compromised by the government revealing its informant. At the very least, a Times reporter should reinvestigate both the Russian and Iraqi ends of this story.


The Defectors, Again

The Back Story: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz publicly credits the Iraqi defectors who have told the United States about Iraq's secret chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and the efforts to conceal them in Miller's "Defectors Bolster U.S. Case Against Iraq, Officials Say," Jan. 24, 2003.

Miller Caveat: Only a dozen defectors are thought to be reliable, and of them only three or four have been offered asylum.

Suggested Remedial Action: The Times should review the credibility of all the Iraqis who defected to Miller. Who are the defectors? What did they tell the United States? How much of it was true? How much was blarney?

The Mobile Exploitation Team Scoop

Miller files her biggest scoop ever: "Illicit Arms Kept Till Eve of War, An Iraqi Scientist Is Said To Assert," April 21, 2003. Traversing Iraq with a Mobile Exploitation Team in search of WMD, they tell her of the extraordinary claims by an Iraqi scientist in their custody. They say he claims Iraq destroyed chemical weapons and biological warfare equipment just before the war started and that he has led them to buried precursor materials from which illegal weapons can be made.

And more! He says Iraq secretly sent its unconventional weapons and technology to Syria in the mid-1990s; it had recently been cooperating with al-Qaida and turning its focus to weapons R & D and concealment. These are described to Miller by officials as the most important discoveries in the WMD hunt so far.

The precursor elements unearthed can be used to create a toxic agent banned under chemical weapons treaties, Miller alleges, although she is barred from naming the precursor, speaking to the scientist, or visiting his home. Miller reports that she also submitted her story to the military for review and agreed not to publish her findings for three days. The military allows her to view the baseball cap-clad scientist from a distance as he points at spots in the sand where he says precursor compounds are buried.

Miller Caveats: Close to none. Speaking on The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer the next day, she says the scientist is more than a "smoking gun." Investigators regard him the "silver bullet" in the WMD search.

Suggested Remedial Action: See below.

The Scoop Melts

Just two days later, Miller's incendiary scoop begins to fade. In "Focus Shifts From Weapons to the People Behind Them," April 23, 2003, Miller announces a "paradigm shift" by investigators. A new emphasis on uncovering the Iraqi WMD infrastructure now takes precedence over finding the weapons because of what they've learned from the scientist, a theme she revisits on April 24 in "U.S.-Led Forces Occupy Baghdad Complex Filled With Chemical Agents." Iraq, the scientist tells investigators, has reduced its stockpiles while increasing its ability to develop new weapons.

The Mobile Exploitation Team and Miller continue to putter around Iraq, searching for intelligence documents and a missing Talmud, investigating tips about mobile germ labs to no avail, and finding a suspicious store of radioactive cobalt-60 *, which is used in X-ray machines. But neither Miller nor any of the Mobile Exploitation Teams canvassing Iraq find anything in the way of WMDs.