Friday, May 30, 2003

Chalabi's patsies?
Over at Slate, Jack Shafer is continuing to pit-bull Judith Miller's sloppy coverage of the Iraqi WMDs, and he provides a link to this Howard Kurtz article from the Washington Post highlighting a heated exchange of emails at the New York Times between Miller and Baghdad bureau chief John Burns. Evidently Miller filed a piece on Ahmad Chalabi without telling Burns, when she knew the Baghdad bureau was preparing a "major" piece on him.

Burns lambasted Miller, who replied: "I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper." Kurtz noted she also wrote that the army unit she was traveling with, the Mobile Exploration Team Alpha, "is using Chalabi's intell and document network for its own WMD work. . . ."

As Shafer writes, the exchange is significant because it confirms that Miller's source for the WMD stories she filed (in particular one story suggesting that an unidentified Iraqi scientist had key information on the whereabouts of WMDs) was Ahmad Chalabi. The stories have failed to pan out, raising questions as to whether Chalabi manipulated Miller to advance his own agenda.

From the above exchange, conspiracy theorists might also speculate that Miller's pre-empting of the Baghdad bureau story might have been a way of (a) protecting her good access to Chalabi by torpedoing what could have been a critical Times story by another reporter, and (b) paying Chalabi back for the information he had given her.

That leads to the point of this posting. Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress was also the source for the Sunday Times story which reported that three Al-Jazeera employees were on the payroll of the Iraqi intelligence services. A few days ago the station's director-general, Mohammed Jassem al-Ali, was dismissed, leading to speculation that the episode was linked to the Times revelation. However, this link hasn't been substantiated. If Miller was indeed a patsy, it might be time to double check whether the INC, which has no sympathy for Al-Jazeera, also manipulated the British paper when it passed on documents purporting to prove the treachery of the Qatari station's employees.

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