Published on Tuesday, March 16, 2004 by Knight-Ridder
Iraqi Exile Group Fed False Information to News Media
Global Misinformation Campaign was Used to Build Case for War
by Jonathan S. Landay and Tish Wells
WASHINGTON - The former Iraqi exile group that gave the Bush administration exaggerated and fabricated intelligence on Iraq also fed much of the same information to leading newspapers, news agencies and magazines in the United States, Britain and Australia.
A June 26, 2002, letter from the Iraqi National Congress to the Senate Appropriations Committee listed 108 articles based on information provided by the INC's Information Collection Program, a U.S.-funded effort to collect intelligence in Iraq.
The assertions in the articles reinforced President Bush's claims that Saddam Hussein should be ousted because he was in league with Osama bin Laden, was developing nuclear weapons and was hiding biological and chemical weapons.
Feeding the information to the news media, as well as to selected administration officials and members of Congress, helped foster an impression that there were multiple sources of intelligence on Iraq's illicit weapons programs and links to bin Laden.
In fact, many of the allegations came from the same half-dozen defectors, weren't confirmed by other intelligence and were hotly disputed by intelligence professionals at the CIA, the Defense Department and the State Department.
Nevertheless, U.S. officials and others who supported a pre-emptive invasion quoted the allegations in statements and interviews without running afoul of restrictions on classified information or doubts about the defectors' reliability.
Other Iraqi groups made similar allegations about Iraq's links to terrorism and hidden weapons that also found their way into official administration statements and into news reports, including several by Knight Ridder.
Knight Ridder, which obtained a copy of the INC letter, reviewed all of the articles in what the document called a "summary of ICP product cited in major English language news outlets worldwide (October 2001-May 2002)."
The articles made numerous assertions that so far haven't been substantiated 11 months after Baghdad fell, including charges that:
According to the letter, publications in which the articles appeared included The New York Times, The Washington Post, Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly, The Times of London, The Sunday Times of London, The Sunday Age of Melbourne, Australia, and two Knight Ridder newspapers, The Kansas City Star and The Philadelphia Daily News. The Associated Press and others also wrote stories based on INC-provided materials.
Other U.S. and international news media picked up some of the articles. By mid-January 2002, polls showed that a solid majority of Americans favored military force to oust Saddam.
Many of the stories noted that the information they contained couldn't be independently verified.
In at least one case, the INC made a defector available to a journalist before his information had been fully reviewed by U.S. intelligence officials.
The defector, an engineer, Adnan Ihsan al Haideri, claimed in a Dec. 20, 2001, New York Times article by Judith Miller that there were biological, nuclear and chemical warfare facilities under private villas, the Saddam Hussein Hospital and fake water wells around Baghdad.
Senior U.S. officials said U.S. arms inspectors have found no fake wells or a laboratory under the hospital. Some secret rooms have been located under villas, mosques and palaces, but the officials, who asked not to be identified, said they weren't among locations that al Haideri claimed to know about.
Several requests to The New York Times to speak to Miller were not answered.
INC leader Ahmad Chalabi and other officials have insisted that the group screened all defectors as thoroughly as they could.
U.S. intelligence officials have determined that virtually all of the defectors' information was marginal or useless, and that some of the defectors were fabricators or embellished the threat from Saddam.
Many of the articles relied on interviews with the same defectors, who appeared to change facts with each telling. For instance, one defector first appeared in several stories as an Iraqi army former captain, but a later story said he was a major.
Another defector told one interviewer that the aircraft fuselage on which Islamic extremists received training in hijacking belonged to a Boeing 707 and was quoted in a later story as saying that it came from a Russian-made Tupolev.
Intelligence debriefers look for such differences when trying to determine the reliability of defectors, who sometimes exaggerate their importance or try to tell interviewers what they think the interviewers want to hear.
The Information Collection Program (ICP) was financed out of the more than $18 million that Congress approved for the Iraqi National Congress, led by Chalabi, now a member of the Iraqi Governing Council, between 1999 and 2003. The group remains on the Pentagon's payroll.
The INC letter said that it fed ICP information to Arab and Western news media and to two officials in the offices of Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, the leading invasion advocates.
The information bypassed U.S. intelligence channels and reached the recipients even after CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency and FBI officers questioned the accuracy of the materials or the motives of those who supplied them.
Some of the information, such as the charge that Iraq ran a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, found its way into administration statements, including a Sept. 12, 2002, White House paper.
The CIA and the State Department had long viewed the INC as unreliable.
Some articles cited in the INC letter were based on transcripts the INC provided. An article in The Kansas City Star, for example, quoted an unidentified INC member as saying he had information that Speicher was seen alive in Baghdad in 1998.
A March 17, 2002, Sunday Times of London article on Saddam's alleged illicit weapons was based on a 3,000-page transcript of the preliminary INC debriefing of al Haideri.
The article also reported claims in a videotaped interview made by unnamed Iraqi opposition officials with a second defector that Saddam had mobile biological warfare laboratories disguised as milk and yogurt trucks. Such vehicles have yet to be found.
Marie Colvin, a co-author of the article, said the INC insisted to her that all defectors were scrutinized as fully as possible before being passed on, and that it was up to reporters to decide how to use their information.
"I believe they acted in good faith," she said. "Over seven years, I would not say there was a story I was fooled on."
Many articles quoted defectors as saying that Saddam was training extremists from throughout the Muslim world at Salman Pak, outside Baghdad.
"We certainly have found nothing to substantiate that," said a senior U.S. official.
Instead, he said, U.S. intelligence analysts believe that Iraqi counterterrorism units practiced anti-hijacking techniques on an aircraft fuselage at the site.
An Oct. 12, 2001, Washington Post opinion piece by columnist Jim Hoagland quoted an INC-supplied defector, Sabah Khalifa Khodada Alami, as saying that Salman Pak offered hijacking and assassination courses.
The article, which urged the Bush administration to examine possible Iraqi complicity in Sept. 11, said Alami was a former military instructor and ex-army captain whom the INC tracked down to Fort Worth, Texas, where he settled in May 2001 as a refugee.
Hoagland's column said the defector should not be automatically believed. Hoagland said he wrote it to call attention to "the difficulties that two defectors had in receiving an evaluation from the CIA."
In a Nov. 11 story in the Observer of London by David Rose, Alami was quoted as saying that "the method used on 11 September perfectly coincides with the training I saw at the camp."
The article said Alami was assigned to Salman Pak between 1994 and 1995.
However, a Nov. 8, 2001, New York Times article said Alami worked at Salman Pak for eight years.
The Oct. 12, 2001, Washington Post piece also cited an INC claim that an unnamed former Iraqi intelligence officer claimed that "Islamists" were trained at Salman Pak on a U.S.-made Boeing 707.
In a later article, which appeared to be based on an interview with the same man, the aircraft was identified as an old Russian-made Tupolev.
That defector complained in The Washington Post column that CIA interrogators in Ankara had treated him "dismissively" earlier that week.
The Nov. 8, 2001, New York Times article featured an interview in an unidentified Middle East country that was arranged by the INC with an unidentified Iraqi lieutenant general who said he'd been interviewed by the CIA in Ankara the previous month.
He and an unidentified Iraqi intelligence service sergeant claimed they worked at Salman Pak for several years and that trainees were being prepared for attacks on neighboring countries and possibly the United States.
The unnamed lieutenant general appears to have been the defector of the same rank, code-named Abu Zeinab, who was featured in the Nov. 11, 2001, Observer article.
The newspaper said the defector was interviewed by telephone, and that it was also given details of an interview that two London-based INC activists had conducted with Abu Zeinab at a safe house in Ankara, Turkey.
Abu Zeinab claimed that trainees were instructed in hijacking aircraft.
The defector's full name, Abu Zeinab al Qurairy, was revealed in a February 2002 article in Vanity Fair magazine that was also written by Rose, who declined to comment.
The defector said the Islamists at Salman Pak pledged to obey orders to carry out suicide attacks and that those who flunked training were "used as targets in live-ammunition exercises."
Al Qurairy said in one exercise, students had to land helicopters on a speeding train and then hijack it.
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List of articles cited by the Information Collection Program (ICP)
Summary of ICP product cited in major English-language news outlets worldwide (October 2001-May 2002)
1. Sunday Times (London), May 26, 2002, Sunday, Saddam's men kill 40 in mosque fight. Marie Colvin
2. The Observer, Sunday May 26, 2002, Don’t wag your finger at us, Mr. Bush
3. Agence France Presse, May 22, 2002, Iraq's new Tunis envoy linked to al-Qaeda: opposition
4. Agence France Presse, May 13, 2002, US stepping up contacts with Iraqi opposition groups: paper, WASHINGTON
5. Time, May 13, 2002, Inside Saddam's World; The U.S. likes to portray Iraq's regime as shaky. But TIME's reporting inside Iraq suggests Saddam isn't losing his grip
6. Time, May 13, 2002, WORLD/Inside Saddam’s World; What Saddam's Got, Much of his chemical and biological weaponry remains unaccounted for, and he’s working nukes, by Josh Tyrangiel.
7. Time, May 13, 2002, WORLD/Inside Saddam’s World; "We're Taking Him Out", His war on Iraq may be delayed, but Bush still vows to remove Saddam. Here's a look at White House plans.
8. Agence France Presse, May 10, 2002, Baghdad massing troops at border with Kurdish areas: opposition
9. The Straits Times (Singapore), May 7, 2002, Bad Boys; Playboy sons of world leaders coming under the scrutiny of the law
10. IPR Strategic Business Information Database, May 6, 2002, “Iraqi opposition looks to the future”
11. IPR Strategic Business Information Database, May 6, 2002, Not all asylum-seekers what they appear to be
12. Wall Street Journal, May 2, 2002, The oil “Top-off”: Another way Iraq Cheats UN, by Steve Stecklow
13. The Atlantic Monthly, May 2002, Tales of the Tyrant-The Private Life & Inner World of Saddam Hussein by Mark Bowden
14. Vanity Fair, May 2002, Special Report: Inside Saddam's Deadly Arsenal
15. The Guardian (London), April 30, 2002, G2: The exiles: As the west gears up for another war against Saddam Hussein, one group of people is watching developments more anxiously than most
16. United Press International, April 30, 2002, Feature: The Sun also rises, by John Bloom in New York
17. Czech News Agency, April 29, 2002, Iraq received Czech weapons system
18. Sun Herald (Sydney) , April 28, 2002, Hussein agents among asylum seekers, by Paul Daley in London.
19. Sunday Age (Melbourne), April 28, 2002 Sunday, Saddam agents in Australia: Exiles, by Paul Daley
20. Sunday Age (Melbourne), April 28, 2002, Their mission, topple Saddam, with or without the U.S., by Paul Daley
21. The Daily Telegraph (London), April 27, 2002, Plotter of Saddam's fall pleads case in US, by Toby Harnden in Washington
22. AP Online, April 25, 2002, Iraq Kurds possibly al-Qaida linked by Louis Meixler, Associated Press writer, Ankara, Turkey
23. Middle East News Online, April 19, 2002, Pentagon eyeing Iraq’s weapons development efforts
24. CNN International, April 17, 2002, Wednesday: Q& A with Zain Verjee; A look at the possibility of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
25. BBC Monitoring, April 9, 2002, Analysis: Broadcasts for the Iraqi people
26. The Daily Telegraph (London), April 09, 2002, Tuesday, Pg. 27, 692 words, How Saddam will go
27. NPR-FRESH AIR, April 4, 2002, Mark Bowden discusses Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi leader’s personal life and outlook.
28. The Bulletin's Frontrunner, April 3, 2002, Iraq said to have plotted suicide bombings of U.S. ships
29. Daily News (New York), April 3, 2002, Defector: I bought Iraq nukes by Helen Kennedy
30. The American Enterprise, April 1, 2002, Iraqi partners? Scan; Iraqi National Congress
31. CNBC News Transcripts, Hardball with Chris Matthews, March 26, 2002 Tuesday, guest: Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor, discusses interviews with Iraqi opposition defectors
32. The New Yorker, March 25, 2002, The Great Terror; In northern Iraq, there is new evidence of Saddam Hussein’s genocidal war on the Kurds – and of his possible ties to al Qaeda, by Jeffrey Goldberg
33. Newsweek, March 25, 2002, Iraq in the Balance, by Evan Thomas and Roy Gutman; with Rod Nordland in London, Daniel Klaidman with Cheney, Owen Matthews in Kurdistan and Christopher Dickey in Paris
34. Agence France Press, March 24, 2002, Iraq offers to receive U.S. team to look into fate of missing pilot
35. Agence France Presse, March 22, 2002, Dissident Iraqi officer backs claim U.S. pilot was captured by Baghdad
36. Kuwait News Agency, March 22, 2002, Iraq: Leading Ba'ath Party figure reportedly executed
37. The Guardian (London), March 20, 2002, G2: Does Blair know what he's getting into?, by Christopher Hitchens
38. The Kansas City Star, March 20, 2002, U.S. pilots shot down in Gulf War reported seen in Baghdad in l998, by David Goldstein
39. The Daily Telegraph, March 18, 2002, Saddam 'armed bin Laden and funded al-Qa'eda allies', by Toby Harnden, in Washington
40. The Observer, March 17, 2002, Observer Investigation: News Special: The Iraq crisis: Should we go to war against this man?: As war fever grows in Washington and London we assess the evidence against Saddam Hussein and ask whether he has the will and the weapons to threaten world peace, Special report by Peter Beaumont, Kamal Ahmed and Edward Helmore in New York
41. Sunday Times, (London), March 17, 2002, Saddam’s arsenal revealed, Marie Colvin and Nicholas Rufford.
42. The Guardian (London), March 15, 2002, Special-Report: Iraq: the myth and the reality: As the drumbeat grows louder for a possible attack on Baghdad, we ask arms inspectors and military and foreign affairs experts: is Saddam as dangerous as the US makes out, and what would be the consequences of war?
43. Fox News Network, Fox On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, March 14, 2002, Interview With Sharif Ali Bin Al-Hussein, Sharif Ali Bin Al-Hussein, Greta Van Susteren
44. Insight on the News, March 11, 2002, Nation: The Axis of Evil; Is it Time to Topple Saddam?, by Jamie Dettmer
45. BBC Monitoring International Reports, March 6, 2002, Iraq: Explosions at Iraqi TV Complex – INC opposition cited
46. Kuna news agency web site, 5 Mar 02, Explosions at Iraqi TV complex – opposition
47. Agence France Presse, March 5, 2002, Explosions at broadcasting center near Baghdad, opposition claims
48. The Evening Standard (London), March 5, 2002, Saddam is the next US target; After the deaths of eight American soldiers in Afghanistan, by Christopher Hitchens
49. CBS News Transcripts, 60 Minutes, March 3, 2002, Iraqi National Congress
50. Chicago Sun-Times, March 3, 2002, One man’s strategy for ousting Hussein, by George Will
51. BBC Monitoring International Reports, February 20, 2002, Iraqi opposition says “state of emergency” declared
52. Agence France Presse, February 19, 2002, Iraq places state institutions on high alert: opposition
53. Insight on the News, February 18, 2002, Rogues Lending Hand to Saddam, Kenneth R. Timmerman
54. Agence France Presse, February 12, 2002, Anti-Saddam forces target Iraqi oil installations: opposition
55. The Economist, February 2, 2002, Know thine enemy - Weapons proliferation
56. Vanity Fair, February 2002, Inside Saddam's Regime of Terror, by David Rose
57. Newsweek, January 21, 2002, Next Year in Baghdad, by Christopher Dickey; with Hadani Ditmars in Baghdad and Roy Gutman in Washington
58. BBC Monitoring International Reports, January 2, 2002, Iraq: Explosion in arms depot reported in government-controlled Kirkuk
59. Courier Mail, December 22, 2001, Defector has Iraqi secrets for Australia by Linda McSweeny
60. The Times (London), December 22, 2001, Powell rejects call for war on Iraq by Damian Whitworth in Washington
61. The Weekend Australian, December 22, 2001, Brother fears for Iraqi defector
62. Birmingham Post, December 21, 2001, Friday, Defector tells of Iraqi secret weapons project
63. Calgary Herald, December 21, 2001, Iraqi defector gives chemical weapons details: Tells of secret factories building in residential areas by Damian Whitworth and Tom Baldwin
64. The Daily Telegraph (London), December 21, 2001, Defector tells of Saddam's nuclear arms by Ben Fenton
65. The Express, December 21, 2001, FBI chiefs fear American with a grudge is behind letters that killed five people as U.S. fire bosses face new dilemma; Sacked scientist suspected in hunt for anthrax maniac
66. The Independent, (London), December 21. 2001, Campaign against terrorism: Defector claims he saw Saddam’s bioweapon plants by Andrew Gumbel
67. Investor's Business Daily, December 21, 2001, Today's Main News
68. National Review, December 21, 2001, National Review Online; Guest Comment, Who's Next?, By Eli J, Lake
69. The Nation (Thailand), December 21, 2001, Iraqi weapons informant interviewed in Bangkok
70. The Ottawa Citizen, December 21, 2001, Iraq speeds up chemical weapons: defector
71. AAP NEWSFEED, December 21, 2001, Fed: Iraqi defector tells of chemical, biological weapons
72. Asia Pulse, December 21. 2001, Iraqi defector gives Australian Govt weapons
73. Edmonton Journal, December 21, 2001, Iraqi defector says he renovated Saddam’s secret weapons labs. Testimony confirms suspicions held by weapons inspectors
74. Philadelphia Daily News, December 21, 2001, Defectors: Iraq fixed nuke sites, sent saboteurs
75. The Times (London), December 21, 2001, New whirlpool in store for Saddam, by Bronwen Maddox Foreign Editor
76. The Washington Post, December 21, 2001, Powell Wary of Iraq Move; U.S. Eyes Somalia in Continuing Al Qaeda Hunt, by Alan Sipress and Peter Slevin.
77. The Times (London), December 21, 2001, Iraq 'speeds work on nuclear weapons'
78. Agence France Presse, December 20, 2001, Iraqi defector describes work on secret bio sites
79. AP Worldstream, December 20, 2001, Dateline: New York, Report; Iraqi defector speaks of renovating secret weapons facilities in Baghdad
80. The Associated Press, December 20, 2001, Dateline: New York, Report: Iraqi defector speaks of renovating secret weapons facilities in Baghdad
81. The Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT), December 20, 2001, Defector tells of Iraq N-work
82. Periscope Defense News Capsules, December 20, 2001, Iraq – Defector: Saddam still pursues WMDs
83. Press Association, December 20, 2001, Iraq steps up bio weapons programme – Defector, by Hugh Dougherty
84. United Press International, December 20, 2001, Defector tells of hidden weapons sites
85. The New York Times, December 20, 2001, A nation challenged: Secret sites; Iraqi tells of renovations at sites for chemical and nuclear arms, by Judith Miller
86. The New York Times, December 16,2001, A nation challenged; Intelligence; New clue fails to explain Iraq role in Sept. l1 attack, by Chris Hedges with Donald G. McNeil, Jr.
87. USA TODAY, December 3, 2001, Targeting Saddam: Was there an Iraqi 9/11 link? by Peter Eisler
88. Moscow News, November 28, 2001, Endangered species by Ilya Baranikas
89. Weekly Standard, November 26, 2001, Preparing for Iraq; Is the State Department getting interested in taking on Saddam? by Eli L. Lake
90. Belfast News Letter, November 14, 2001, 81 Kuwaities ‘imprisoned in Iraqi Jail’
91. Birmingham Post, November 13, 2001, War on Terror: Saddam is ‘involved in U.S. attacks’
92. The Orlando Sentinel, November 13, 2001, Iraqi defectors: Kuwaitis in jail
93. The San Diego Union-Tribune, November 13, 2001, Iraq said to hold Kuwaiti prisoners
94. The Seattle Times, November 13, 2001, World Headlines, pg. A7
95. The Washington Times, November 13, 2001, World Scene, pg. A15
96. Western Mail, November 13, 2001, Iraq ‘has 80 Kuwaiti prisoners’; defectors
97. Agence France Presse, November 12, 2001, Iraqi defector talks of terrorist training camps
98. The Associated Press, November 12, 2001, Dateline: Cairo. Iraqi opposition says two former members of Iraqi intelligence report 80 Kuwaitis in secret jail
99. The New York Times, November 12, 2001, Iraqi defectors tell of Kuwaitis in secret jail in Baghdad, by Chris Hedges in Beirut, Lebanon.
100. The Observer, November 11, 2001, Focus Special: The Terrorism Crisis: The Iraqi connection: Iraq is the target of American hawks who see its hand in terrorist attacks. But what is the evidence? After a month-long investigation, David Rose reports on the links between Saddam and the 11 September hijackers
101. The New York Times, November 10, 2001, Iraqi Opposition Says U.S. Denied Money for Intelligence Effort, By Patrick E. Tyler, from Washington
102. The Hamilton Spectator, November 9, 2001, Iraq is training terrorists: defectors
103. The Times (London), November 9, 2001, Saddam's terror training camp teaches hijacking, by Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor
104. The Vancouver Sun, November 9, 2001, Is Iraq, not bin Laden, real force behind terror? By Jonathan Manthorpe
105. The New York Times, November 8, 2001, A nation challenged: The school; Defectors cite Iraqi training for terrorism, by Chris Hedges
106. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 23, 2001, Iraq’s terrorist role must be examined
107. AP Online, October 23, 2001, Ex-CIA chief suggests Iraq involved, by Anne Usher, Associated Press Writer
108. The Washington Post, October 12, 2001, Editorial: What About Iraq?
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