Saturday, July 08, 2006

Simon on Emptywheel on Judy. (Still in draft)

(Well, it's been more than three days already. Here's where I'm at.)
(It's a couple of days after that now, just about done but I might add a bit more. Will note it here if I do.)

One of the biggest problems with having a discussion on a blog with people who have themselves spent a lot of time blogging about a specific topic is that you have to go back and review all that they have already said in order not to appear too stupid. In this particular case, Emptywheel has written far more than just quite extensively about Judith Miller. Indeed she goes so far as to apologise for her Judy obsession. It took me several hours to read much that was pertinent, and when I copied her relevant posts across into Word in order to take the time to review them collectively, I ended up with a fully absorbing 137 pages to (hopefully) respectfully critique, this pretty well discounted anything written by Emptywheel exclusively in relation with Judy and the Libby/Plame affair.

So where to start? We had first crossed paths in Luke's 'Rod Barton, Joseph Cirincione' thread, and this content was then moved by our host on up to the 'Judy Judy Miller and David Kelly' post.

Emptywheel had initially commented about the Judy/David Kelly connection after I had said in the earlier thread:

"Emptywheel etc has plenty on the false US claims (yellowcake, aluminium tubes etc) but over here we don't even know what they wanted to, dare I say it, lie about."

She had replied in part:

"And that her (JM) lies are the British lies (well, they were shared lies, but the Brits have the legal exposure here that BushCo doesn't)."

Here, of course, are the cruces of these matters, the lies that took us to war, and then on to Judy's part in them.

The following is my take on what happened, intersperced with Emptywheel's last post to me:


A couple of points. First, Judy was no longer embedded by the time she received the White Paper. She was back in the States, just a few days removed from getting kicked out of Iraq when she tried to reembed to find out more about the trailers.

On this first point I would be interested to know whether she specifically went back to the US to personally receive the first media briefing on the White Paper. As Emptywheel herself stated elsewhere: "It's not entirely clear why Judy comes home when she does." By Judy's account she didn't actually see the paper, but instead spoke to a number of 'officials'. At that point it had already gone to the White House, and they (obviously) wanted the media to rapidly report it as it supported their case for war against Saddam. Judy was, as far as I can see, the best and most experienced on-the-ground WMD reporter from the administration's point of view. The bigger question here is how involved was Judy in the manifestation in the lies of the war? Was she complicit in the production of the lies, or was she just cast into a role where she inadvertently became a mouthpiece for those who were initially pressing for a war, and then later desperately seeking to prove international justifications for that war? Either way, her embedding status was still in force well past her reporting of the White Paper. Even when she published her so-called 'mea culpa' on June 7, she (or William Broad, her co-writer) still referred to this arrangement, stating: "Her agreement with the Pentagon, for an "embedded" assignment, allowed the military to review her copy to prevent breaches of troop protection and security. No changes were made in the review."

Also, the chronology of the White Paper is significant:

Well, the White Paper was more important than its chronology. It was an early report, and by Dr David Kelly's account a fairly hurried one, one which attempted to demonstrate that what were in reality hydrogen machines were actually most likely mobile biological laboratories. It is quite possible that these machines were something that was completely new to the weapons inspections bodies, being that Iraq had never been under any obligation to previously declare them. No-one seemingly had previous experience of them. As MBLs, they would have carried the case for war, but they had aroused the suspicions of the British from their own examinations of them after they had been transported back to Baghdad International Airport, the home of the base of the weapons search, Camp Slayer.

May 21: Judy publishes details of White Paper that had not yet been published, just as debunking team is about to leave
May 25: Debunking team assmbles in Kuwait
May 27: Debunking team issues their report debunking the claims about the trailers
May 28: CIA publishes White Paper
May 29: Bush publicly uses the trailers as proof of finding WMD

Emptywheel's chronology here does got go back far enough to complete the story.

In her May 10 article Judy clearly states that the labs were first examined by Chemical Biological Intelligence Support Team-Charlie - with the help of British experts. She says some experts were still uncertain but that "they" (presumably T-C but this can be read both ways) were "persuaded" that they were WMD production labs. She also says that a second Pentagon-sent team was arriving that day to survey the 'labs' and to gather additional information.

At this point in time Dr Kelly was not in Iraq, so he could not have been personally involved with the examination. But there was a small British contingent in Iraq at that time. It is possible that this was a NBC detection team, still in Iraq following the invasion, or they might have been sent there to examine any new finds. The Washington Post's Barton Gellman had mentioned them on May 11, stating that there was confusion over their whereabouts whilst in transit from Iraq’s Talil Air Base.

In all there were (according to Judy) at least three groups of experts that examined the supposed trailers, firstly a four-day examination by T-C (with British help), then the Pentagon assembled May 10 team as mentioned above, and after that the May 25 more senior 9-member CIA/DIA "Jefferson Project" team which was primarily American but which also include one Briton (additional reference: Joby Warrick - Washington Post), who then debunked the hydrogen machines for what they were within around 4 hours of seeing them.

Dr David Kelly had already had telephone conversations about these 'labs' with Susan Watts, the BBC's Newsnight Science Editor, going back before Judy's May 10 article, back to May 7. At this point he had stated that the was 90% certain that they were MBLs. She had three conversations with him in May 2003, on May 7, 12 and 30. By May 12 he had changed his expectations to SW, stating that his reading of the matter was now down to a 45% confidence level. For a scientist to ascribe things in such terms (incidentally, he also did whilst in conversation with Andrew Gilligan), this meant that he was far less than convinced that they were what they were portrayed to be.

On May 12 he was currently in London, having recently returned from New York, and he was to return there in the following few days. He was analying information as it was coming back from Iraq, and he must have gathered his doubts from the British team who first examined the 'labs' with 75TFX Team-Charlie.

From Judy's June 7 article:

American and British intelligence analysts with direct access to the evidence are disputing claims that the mysterious trailers found in Iraq were for making deadly germs. In interviews over the last week, they said the mobile units were more likely intended for other purposes and charged that the evaluation process had been damaged by a rush to judgment.


Now, intelligence analysts stationed in the Middle East, as well as in the United States and Britain, are disclosing serious doubts about the administration's conclusions in what appears to be a bitter debate within the intelligence


One skeptic questioned the practicality of some of the conjectural steps the Iraqis are envisioned as having taken to adapt the trailers to the job of making deadly germs.

"It's not built and designed as a standard fermenter," he said of the central tank. "Certainly, if you modify it enough you could use it. But that's true of any tin can."

Compare this mention of the fermentor with David Kelly's comment to Susan Watts on May 12 (from the evidence submitted to the Hutton Inquiry SWJ/1/0042):

DK…we've seen on the mobile labs the POLITICS of that is so STRONG that it deflects all practical objectivity. (Note by simon - SW's emphasis)

SW Has your assessment of whether that, of how important that is changed - I think was 90 and went down to 45%?

DK In terms of its likelihood of being a fermentor?. . it's still down in 40s

SW Really? It's still that low?

DK oh yes

SW Is that still because you don't have the right information

DK Well I have more than I did before, but I still don't have the right information so until this team reports back and I'm unsighted as to whether they've actually finished their job because I've been in NY. as you know there's team in at the moment - until they come back and actually give their data I think it's actually quite difficult to make that determination but whatever it is it's certainly a very unusual fermentor


DK am I around next week? I'm going back to the states

Given these concerns expressed by David Kelly, it is entirely possible that he relayed the same infomation at some later date to Judith Miller, which she then used in her June 7 piece, especially being as we know they had significant contact. If this was the case then by this time she may have become completely sceptical about the Iraqi WMD claims, something she may have previously believed in. This in turn may have led to the "many dark actors playing games" e-mail comment by him sent to her (by many sources) just a few hours before his death.

On EW's other points:

The orchestration of the White Paper allowed the Administration to make claims that had been debunked.

Yes it did. Herein lies the rub. I think they knew that their WMD evidence was coming apart at the seams. They wanted the exaggerations to stick, and wanted the White Paper out there to back-up their ficticious claims in the wider minds of the general public. They did not want to delay, and to allow the growing dissent space to grow, and then to fester into open dispute in and within the MSM, and likewise within the intelligence community.

EW: Also, there was significant coverage as Kay's interim report came out about why they hadn't leaked it--people in INR and some in DIA said specifically that they weren't releasing early copies of the document because of the way the White Paper had been publicized back in May. Here's one take on it (in a Judy/Jehl NYT article, but it appears in others):

The details of Mr. Kay's findings have been closely held within the administration as part of a strategy that officials said was intended both to prevent unauthorized leaks and to minimize internal disputes about any emerging findings. Issues related to the Iraqi weapons program have been contentious inside the administration as well as outside, with the State Department's intelligence branch and some officials at the Defense Intelligence Agency taking issue with a report made public in May by the C.I.A. that said mysterious trailers discovered in Iraq were used to manufacture biological weapons.

I personally think there is much more to this than first meets the eye. The were two interim reports, firstly David Kay's (which still has not seen the light of day), and then one prepared for/by Charles Duelfer, assisted by Rod Barton. It is in this second one that John Scarlett is alleged to have pressed for the nine 'nuggets' to be included (or re-included?). The real question, being as the statement of David Kay was (with hindsight) so poor, is whether the 'nuggets' (or something close to them) were in fact initially included into his own interim report. If this is the case, it explains why this report has never been leaked or made public. The story that it couldn’t be made public (because of what happened 'before') would be cover for the fact that the report contained details and supposed 'facts' that would quite plainly divide and cause major conflict within the intelligence community and beyond even if released today.

EW: WRT Judy "working" for the Brits--that's perhaps too strong. I brought up Kelly mostly because of Judy's odd reference to one of Kelly's fans discussing his testimony. It's an odd reference regardless of what one thinks of Kelly's death.

I think it is probably too strong also to say even that she was working for the US authorities. My take is that she just got caught up in the WMD merry-go-round due to her unique position and previous reporting record. The 75th XTF were woefully inequipped, both in expertise and in experience of Iraq's WMD programmes. Judy had picked up on this quite early on, and had added her own ideas into the mix in order to, as she saw it, assist them with their mission.

On Dr Kelly and Judy's reference, his fans were those he spoke to and advised and told the truth to. They were supporting him through his ordeal because they knew the truth too. It is possible that Judith Miller was referring to Susan Watts in this exchange.

EW: But mostly, I don't think one can distinguish between the US and the British weapons teams. Professionals from both countries (and Australia) were obviously both working the same issues. And going back to UNSCOM, there was a tolerance at least on the Brits' part to allow the US to play their misinformation games. I suspect that tolerance would be much greater, given that the Brits are the one with the legal problem.

Herein lies one of the biggest issues of all. From Scott Ritter's account it can be seen that there was a concerted US effort to remove Saddam by all possible means. UNSCOM had allowed itself to be completely undermined by a CIA presence that had condoned and then engaged in a completely illegal spying programme. Saddam was fully aware of this, and this had led him to believe that co-operation with weapons inspections was usless in any case because he was never going to be given a clean bill of health, no matter what he disclosed. There were many highly professional WMD experts out there who were not working with a hidden agenda. But they were not allowed, for political reasons, to carry the day and to declare Iraq as no longer a threat to the wider world.

The British (as a whole) had no vested interest in removing Saddam. It must be remembered that they had a great deal to do with modern Iraq since its inception following the First World War, they had held a mandate there from 1920 through to 1958, when the earlier (albeit British imposed) Iraqi monarchy was overthrown. They understood the way things are there because the situation today is very little different from the way it was back then. They had captured Baghdad from the Turks at the cost of 98,000 casualties in 1917, so they had clearly 'been there' before. Thus they had had the experience of Iraq, and the accompanying necessary understanding from a long time ago, something the US did not have, notwithstanding the 1991 Iraq/Kuwait conflict. (This included the knowledge of the fact that Iraq as it exists could only be run under the authority of someone who ruled with an iron fist. No other process or system was or is capable of surviving peacefully and intact there.)

Finally, Emptywheel, from within her most prodigeous output, says: "I don’t know it the Brits find her any more convincing than we do." I can only speak for my (British) self, but I think that Judy has been tarred and feathered as a scapegoat for far more than is and was justified. Those WMD lies were not her lies, they were the lies of an administration which was completely committed to removing Saddam, along with an avaricious Iraqi opposition movement. She reported in the here-and-now, and bearing in mind that there is always a fog that surrounds war, and that first reports are often wrong, she reported (given the circumstances that surrounded her) reasonably concisely and promptly about what she was given by those who were placed at her disposal.

Yes, a lot of it did turn out to be wrong. But she shouldn't be blamed alone and in isolation for that.



Blogger emptywheel said...


I really appreciate your comments--they are very thoughtful.

I need to come back and comment at more length, but I'd make a few preliminary comments.

First, the MBLs were not new with the Iraq war. Scott Ritter admits to telling Chalabi what they suspected about them in 1998.

This should have sent alarm bells sounding in my head. In the intelligence world, one never gives away the complete picture of what you know and what you don't know; this too easily allows you to be manipulated by sources which miraculously "confirm" data you already have while filling in the gaps in the intelligence picture. However, I was under pressure from Charles Duelfer to make this new relationship work, and I proceeded to brief Chalabi on UNSCOM's understand about what Iraq might be hiding. This included speculation about the possible existence of mobile biological laboratories and agent production facilities.

And I'm fairly certain (I'd need to go look for the references) they've been mentioned in UNSCOM papers from the period. They had a fairly formed idea of what they expected, which is where Powell's artist's renderings of them came from, and then they found what they expected.

Second, the quote about the military reviewing Judy's copy doesn't appear in the May 21 or June 7 article (or even the July recap)--it appears in her April 21 article and is referenced by Howard Kurtz. That's important because several events suggest Judy's comments in the April 21 article aren't entirely honest. She says the guy is a scientist, but in her PBS appearance the next day, she reveals they have decided to call him a scientist (and in her recap, she admits that he's Mukhabarat). Now, it's clear she had more interaction with him then she reveals when she says the military wouldn't let her talk to him. She was an active participant in spinning that story, therefore I don't find the rest of her claims in that story credible. And given that her comments related just to that April 21 story, I don't think we can assume the same about her MBL stories.

To support your claim that Judy really is being scapegoated, you'd need to account for a lot of details that you don't mention. Was she unaware that she was being directed to defectors who had been discredited by CIA? Why did she ignore the evidence given by people like David Albright on aluminum tubes, even when they called HER to inform her of the fact? Why did she know that the WMD search was going to switch to HumInt several weeks before her unit did? Was it a coincidence that she met with Chalabi before the war started, then effectively overrode the military command to make sure her unit remained with Chalabi when it became clear there were no WMD? When people like Bolton would call her to publish something so they could pre-empt other policy makers, was she aware of how she was being used? Is she simply stupid, or was she reporting sincerely when she reported the ridiculous logic chain of the first inspectors looking at the MBL?

I am very interested to see where you go with this, because I do think you're raising good points. But I can't imagine any argument that either doesn't hold that she's stupid and was being used, or that she was complicit. There are just too many times when it was clear that she willingly let herself be a mouthpiece for one faction. And she either did it out of ignorance, or willfulness.

She's either a godawful reporter and really naive, or she's complicit.

2:45 PM  

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