Cross posted at Daily Kos

This is the second in a series of diaries that analyses the birth of a disinformation campaign in late 2001, the objective of which was to ensure public backing for the invasion of Iraq.

The story so far…

In Part I: Cheerleading for War, I introduced you to reporter Tom Mangold who in October 2001 produced an hour long report for the flagship BBC current affairs programme Panorama, the transcript of which demonstrates Mangold’s chummy relationship with past (James Woolsey) and future (Porter Goss) directors of the CIA and shows him claiming as fact an over-arching conspiracy theory in which Hussain was actively involved with Islamic terrorism and biological WMD developments.

But while you might think from this he’s already gone far enough to "prove" links between Anthrax, Iraq and 9/11, Tom Mangold is only just getting into his stride……….

Note: As before, unless otherwise indicated all the blockquotes that follow are extracted from the BBC transcript. As this is a simple text file with no HTML tags or other markers you may find it easier to keep it open in a separate tab for reference. Any emphasis of text is mine unless otherwise stated.

For ease of reference we have just reached the point where Mr Woolsey makes his "Brooklyn Bridge" remark:

JIM WOOLSEY Director, CIA, 1994-95
Saddam succeeded in keeping all biological agents and all actual material away from the inspectors, probably so they couldn’t analyse it and type it, and he said that he destroyed all of his biological weapons and material for it, and if you believe that, as we say over here, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

Now read on……

1) Clap Hands, Here Comes Chalabi

So you may have noticed the broadcast has turned into a sort of "greatest hits" package for Saddam Hussain related conspiracy theories, many of which would not actually get extensive airplay in the media for several more months after its transmission on the BBC in October 2001. We’ve had the hidden weapons program, secular Saddam helping Islamist Al Qaeda, deceiving the UN weapons inspectors….but something seems to be missing here – and steady fella, I’m not just talking WMDs now!

For all Tom Mangold’s efforts to convince us about the threat posed by Iraq, they simply won’t convince without testimony from a source on the inside. If only Panorama could be supplied with, say a defector in hiding for Tom to interview that could set out the full extent of the danger from first hand knowledge.

Oh, hang on a second….

MANGOLD: This is Salman Pak, a secure peninsular near Baghdad, home of the biological weapons programme. A clue has come from a senior Lieutenant General in Iraq’s Intelligence Services who’s just defected to the West. He worked at Salman Pak and was debriefed last week by American Intelligence.

Panorama has the defector’s name but he needs to remain in hiding. He spent several years attached to Saddam’s innermost intelligence unit Fedayeen Saddam. He’s also spoken at length to Nabeel Musawi, the London representative of the Iraqi Opposition National Congress who seeks Saddam’s overthrow.

Wow, that’s a terrific break for Panorama isn’t it? An actual interview with a senior defector who worked at the heart of the Iraqi regime and is ready to spill the beans! Well, maybe not a first-hand interview, as such, but I’m sure that nice Mr Musawi of the INC will accurately convey his message to us:

NABEEL MUSAWI: He witnessed on many occasions Arab Afghans going in and out of the camp in Salman Pak, but specifically he saw the training of Arab Afghans by an Iraqi intelligence officer, another Lieutenant General who was training them on hijack and the protection of planes on a Boeing 707 used in the same camp.

MANGOLD: The Intelligence Officer was stationed in a part of Salman Pak close to Saddam’s continuing biological warfare activities. This gave him access to an incident which showed how Iraq was trying to deceive the UN weapons inspectors.

MUSAWI: But he was certainly involved in the hiding of the biological and chemical weapons after the Gulf War, and there was a specific incident in 1995 that involved the UN where they, for a whole night, they were shipping biological and chemical material out of the camp through the Tigress River to another location because they received a tip off that the UN will turn up the next morning – which it did.

MANGOLD: So they were hiding bacterial agents from United Nations’ inspectors.

MUSAWI: That’s correct.

MANGOLD: And he said that was a success?

MUSAWI: That was an absolute success.

MANGOLD: Like Jim Woolsey, the Iraqi national congress seeks the opportunity to produce evidence against Baghdad, but does this colour the truth? The Iraqi National Congress has a very clear political agenda which is to get the West involved in an attack on Iraq.

MUSAWI: That’s right, but I mean we’re presenting evidence and we let people draw their own conclusions from the evidence that we’re presenting. We are not presenting the conclusion. We’re just presenting the defectors and the information.

And what could be fairer than that, eh? Quite a lot as it turns out!

Well to be more precise there are only two complaints to be made about this segment of the broadcast, the lesser of which is the fact that, and I’m putting this as delicately as I can, the alleged "defector" was a complete fake, one who would be touted across numerous news outlets with varying degrees of success from the Autumn of 2001 onwards by the INC’s leader Ahmed Chalabi!

The full details of this utter debacle were exposed in a 2006 Mother Jones article entitled Heroes in Error: How a fake general, a pliant media, and a master manipulator helped lead the United States into war, which revealed how Chalabi had coordinated a massive dis-information campaign encompassing the cream of Western news reporters, including the likes of Lowell Bergman the former 60 Minutes producer immortalised by Al Pacino in The Insider:

(This) tale was one of 108 stories the INC placed in the American and British media between October 2001 and May 2002. We know this to be true because, in a particularly audacious boast, the INC submitted a list of these stories to Congress to convince lawmakers that it should continue to receive funding. The revelation of this memo provoked soul-searching within the media. The New York Times has since admitted faults with its prewar reporting. But though the Times’ rather tepid mea culpa alluded to the Ghurairy story, it stated only that the story had “never been independently verified.”

And guess who allegedly helped bolster the defector story that Chalabi was touting?

(Bergman) says he tried to verify the general’s bona fides with former CIA director James Woolsey, who had taken an interest in the defector’s story….he now recalls that Woolsey told him that the FBI had met with the general in Ankara.

Although the INC list starts in October 2001 this edition of Panorama isn’t included on it, even though it obviously falls into the same category. Perhaps it was excluded because only a small segment of the finished programme contained the defector material. Or did the INC have some other reason for not wanting to draw attention to this specific example? Either way, to my knowledge neither Tom Mangold nor the BBC have ever directly admitted since that they had been similarly duped during this particular broadcast.

But as Joe E. Brown might say, "nobody’s perfect". Why should Mangold be singled out here when, as Mother Jones outlined above, so many other reporters had been taken in by the same scam? That may well be a reasonable observation to make in isolation, but that’s why I described this as the lesser of his problems. So allow me to explain why Mangold cannot avoid taking direct personal responsibility for this particular failing in his report. Unless that is, he was suffering from a peculiar case of short-term memory loss……

2) Oversight. Overlooked. Over Here.

Apart from his fig-leaf caveat about the INC’s political agendas (which really is a case of too little, too late by this stage in proceedings), Mangold makes no attempt in this broadcast to suggest any other viewpoint existed regarding the performance of the UN weapons inspectors in Iraq in the 90s. Yet on 19th October 2001, over a week before the Panorama transmission, Scott Ritter had published an article on the Anthrax mailings in The Guardian newspaper entitled Don’t blame Saddam for this one that directly – and strongly – contradicted this assertion:

….fears that the hidden hand of Saddam Hussein lies behind these (Anthrax) attacks are based on rumour and speculation that….fail to support the weight of the charge.

First, there is the history of UN weapons inspections in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. It is true that Iraq has not fully complied with its disarmament obligation, particularly in the field of biological weapons. However, this failure does not equate to a retained biological weapons capability. Far from it. Under the most stringent on-site inspection regime in the history of arms control, Iraq’s biological weapons programmes were dismantled, destroyed or rendered harmless during the course of hundreds of no-notice inspections. The major biological weapons production facility – al Hakum, which was responsible for producing Iraq’s anthrax – was blown up by high explosive charges and all its equipment destroyed….

…..While it was impossible to verify that all of Iraq’s biological capability had been destroyed, the UN never once found evidence that Iraq had either retained biological weapons or associated production equipment, or was continuing work in the field.

Ritter’s article makes further compelling arguments against a link between the Anthrax mailings and Iraq both on forensic and political grounds (arguments that of course turned out to be validated by the subsequent events in the case) – so if Mangold had been sincere about presenting a balanced report then Scott Ritter would have been an ideal candidate to even out the debate a little. But he was never even mentioned in this broadcast, let alone seen on camera.

Why should it be such a grievous failure to overlook this specific individual you ask? Quite simply because Tom Mangold had been very happy indeed to interview Ritter at length for an edition of Panorama broadcast just two years earlier, on the subject of….the performance of UN Weapons Inspectors in Iraq!

But in this previous report viewers were told a very different story about the UN Inspectors’ effectiveness against Saddam Hussain’s regime!

Unscom, the now-defunct UN weapons inspection programme in Iraq, was "infiltrated and fatally compromised" by the American and British intelligence agencies – according to a report by the BBC’s Panorama programme…….

Using interviews with former weapons inspectors, and with Unscom chief Richard Butler, investigative journalist Tom Mangold alleges that:

* The infiltration began in 1996 when weapons inspectors grew impatient with Iraqi efforts to "lie, cheat and deceive".

* American and British inspectors began to take over specific Unscom operations, thereby compromising the UN’s independence.

* In one case, codenamed "Operation Teacup", a team of Unscom personnel – who were in fact working for US and British intelligence – thwarted an Iraqi attempt to obtain banned material in Romania.

* US intelligence agents succeeded in smuggling into Baghdad a large and sophisticated listening device known as "Stephanie". The device was kept in the office safe of American weapons inspector, Scott Ritter.

The story Mangold tells in this earlier broadcast is of pro-active UN inspectors successfully overcoming the Iraqi efforts to "lie, cheat and deceive" with the help of US and UK intelligence efforts, leading to successes like Operation "Teacup" described above. He even includes a quote from Dr David Kelly that "these were truly on site inspections, highly intrusive, highly robust inspections".

But the mission collapsed when the intelligence gathered from the UN inspectors was used by British and American forces to directly target Iraqi military facilities – a complete violation of the UNSCOM charter.

Mangold signed off this earlier report with a hand-wringing comment about how with the inspectors gone, Hussain was now free to resume his weapons programmes unobserved but pointedly NOT that the inspectors had failed in their original mission!

However an obvious (intended?) side-effect of the story promoted by Mangold here would be to make it highly unlikely the Iraqis would ever agree to let UNSCOM back in again. And indeed so it would turn out, at least until the extreme circumstances of the lead-up to the invasion.

And when that did finally happen guess who popped up again to try throwing another spanner in the works? According to the Mother Jones article cited above:

Chalabi again reached out….the story (he) was trying to push was that U.N. inspectors were spying for various governments.

The transcript of this earlier broadcast titled Secrets, Spies and Videotape also reveals Mangold to have possessed a highly detailed knowledge of the innermost workings of the inspectorate, as this brief snippet of his interview with Ritter shows:

MANGOLD:What was the briefing you gave your inspectors when they went in on an assignment? Remind me what you said.

RITTER: I said a number of things.

MANGOLD: Remind me what you said about the alpha dog.

RITTER: I said we are the alpha dogs.

MANGOLD: And?

RITTER: When we go in, we’re in charge.

MANGOLD: And?

RITTER: If they growl, we growl louder.

MANGOLD: And?

RITTER: We will be in total respect of the dignity, sovereignty and national security interest of Iraq.

MANGOLD: You’ve left out one clause haven’t you? What was the alpha dog do when he gets in there?

RITTER: I said the alpha dog lifts his leg and pees all over the wall, and when we leave a site they’re going to know we were there.

No doubt it is co-incidental this interview was conducted in 1999 at about the same time Ritter was being wooed by prominent members of PNAC including …James Woolsey and Ahmed Chalabi.

But we must now return to our scheduled transmission of Tom Mangold’s report from October 2001 because there is one final flourish that Tom has ready for us that would be criminal to ignore.

3) It’s Still the Same Old Story

Do you recall the Atta in Prague story (as alluded to by Donald Rumsfield in the ABC News interview highlighted by Glenn Greenwald that I discussed in Part I of this diary)? It seems to be the only one of the "greatest hits" that Mangold hasn’t played yet. But never fear, Tom’s cover version has introduced a whole new twist into the arrangement:

MANGOLD: Half a world away, in central Europe, there’s now another curious link between Iraq and the September 11th terrorists. This one begins in Prague, capital of the Czech Republic, a nation whose links with Iraq go back many years to when both were Communist nations….

In June last year Mohamed Atta travelled from Germany to the United States, but he did so going via Prague to stop off for a very important meeting. He spent time with Saddam Hussein’s spy master in Prague, one Ahmed Khalil Samir Al-Ani……

Whatever brought them together must have been powerfully important. The reason we know the terrorist and the Iraqi spy met here at Prague Airport on at least one occasion is because they were photographed together by the Czech Security Services on the day that Atta flew to the United States. But what was Mohamed Atta plotting, and why did he have to come so far out of his way just to meet the man who was Saddam Hussein’s station chief in Prague?

JIM WOOLSEY:It looks extremely suspicious and I doubt very seriously if Mr Atta was in that lovely city of Prague as a tourist and just happened to chance upon an Iraqi intelligence officer as his tour guide on two occasions, and I also.. I rather doubt that his interest in crop dusting was at that point because he was interested in a second career. He knew he had no second career. Those are both extremely suspicious acts on his part.

Suspicious indeed – if it had actually happened. Today this story has been thoroughly debunked not least by the official 9/11 commission and even when it first broke in Oct 2001 doubts were being expressed as to its veracity.

You may also be puzzled by the way Woolsey here refers back to the old crop-dusting story that kicked off this broadcast. Well the reason becomes immediately clear as Mangold now goes far further than any other contemporaneous report with an extra-ordinary follow-up to Woolsey’s remarks that almost seems to present the ultimate "unified field theory" of ties between AQ terrorism and Saddam Hussain:

MANGOLD: One explanation could lie with this small Czech flight trainer. In 1990 Saddam ordered a crash programme for his biological warfare teams to adapt the tiny jet into a crop dusting system which could spray bacterial agents of villages and towns. And now the dots form a circle to take Mohamed Atta back to where we first found him, in Florida. We know he came here to this crop dusting field after his meetings in Prague. We know that Iraqi intelligence runs Iraq’s biological warfare programme, that Baghdad had converted crop dusters into lethal drones of death………………..

There’s no doubt that qualified technicians could have converted the tanks and spray nozzles of these crop dusters into an horrific biological weapon, the technology had already been mastered in Baghdad.……

By my estimate Mangold has now spent the entire first half of his hour long report (which remember, is supposedly an enquiry into "how…major cities would cope with the threat of biological attack") joining dots with a frenzy unseen since the birth of Pointillism, reeling off a laundry list of virtually every conspiracy story connecting AQ to Iraq to Saddam Hussain that we would hear about in the run-up to the invasion.

It’s almost, dare I say weapons-grade stuff and certainly puts "journalistic pioneer" Brian Ross to shame! But before finally moving on to discuss disaster preparedness, the putative subject of his report, Tom signs off this section with one final flourish, the icing on the cake as it were, by relating an incident that might almost be described as metaphorical:

MANGOLD:……One final dot completes the pattern. It took Atta to Delray Beach in Florida and a pharmacy in the centre of town. This is where Atta lived for a while. He went into this pharmacy together with colleague who was spotted by the pharmacist Greg Chatterton who has since formally identified him.

GREG CHATTERTON Pharmacist, Delray Beach, Florida
There are two fellows, well dressed, and I asked if there was anything I could do to help them. And the one fellow, Otto (sic?), turned over to me and he showed me his hands, and he said "They’re itching and they’re burning, do you have a cream for this?" His hands were red from this area down (indicating from wrist down) on both of his hands, they were red. Not the normal colour you and I would have from just being like this, but they were red. They weren’t blistering – they were simply red. They were red as if you had taken your hands and dunked them in a bucket of perhaps bleach or something…….

Do you get it? He was caught RED HANDED see? Beyond that, it is difficult to know what exactly to make of Mr Chatteron’s anecdote – a year after 9/11 he related much the same story to a local Florida paper covering the first anniversary of the terror attacks which stated

By his count, Chatterton has told that story to reporters 112 times. It has given rise to the theory that Atta irritated his hands while handling anthrax.

To be fair to Mr Chatterton, he himself did not believe the symptoms described by Otto/Atta were indicative of Anthrax exposure (ironically he was more suspicious in hindsight about the persistent cough Atta’s colleague sought treatment for). But the real point to take from this almost forgotten incident today is that one of the very first of these "112 interviews" to "give rise" to the connection between Atta and Anthrax was conducted for Tom Mangold at a time when the ink had barely dried on the first newspaper accounts of the incident.

But as we shall see Mr Mangold’s talents stretch beyond merely catching a scoop. Because even though the focus of this broadcast does now shift to discussion of disaster preparedness, by far the most noteworthy element of Tom Mangold’s reporting has yet to be revealed. That will form the subject of the next entry in this series Anthrax and Iraq Part III: The Curious Case of the Prescient Reporter. Stay tuned……

JohnDrake

JohnDrake

4 Comments