Why Didn't Judy Flog the Purported Iraq-Al Qaeda Connection?

President Bush’s claim the other day that no one ever claimed a connection between Iraq and 9/11 got me thinking. Judy Miller reported extensively on Al Qaeda before 9/11–both the previous World Trade Center bombing and on terrorist financing. We know she tried to report on imminent threats from Al Qaeda in summer 2001. She did some of the most celebrated reporting on Al Qaeda just after the attack. And even in fall 2002, she continued to report on Al Qaeda threats that had nothing to do with Iraq–the discovery of possible weapons lap in Kandahar and a report on Saudi financial ties to Al Qaeda. But she never made the claim of an Al Qaeda-Iraq link.

That’s particularly remarkable considering her famous September 8, 2002 article on aluminum tubes (actually her article co-author Michael Gordon apparently got the aluminum tube leak first) included every other complaint the US had against Iraq. That article describes Iraq’s purported nuclear program, chemical and biological weapons programs, and its missiles capabilities. In the article, she listed almost exactly the same things administration officials (Condi, Rummy, Dick, and Powell all appeared) did on the Sunday shows the morning her article appeared and almost exactly the same things that would appear in the NIE written a month later. Almost exactly … except administration officials included claims about an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. (I’ll lay this all out in a future post, but for now, you’ll have to take my word for it.)

The administration did have a shill to publish these claims for them–the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes. But it wasn’t until November 2003 that he published the (classified) memo Dougie Feith had written alleging a whole range of Al Qaeda-Iraq connections.

So I’m wondering–why didn’t they launder the Al Qaeda claims through Judy as well?

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  1. Jeff says:

    One possible factor: Suskind’s book makes it look like CIA, seemingly led by Jami Miscik (who is obviously a big source for the book), pushed back harder and more consistently against the administration’s efforts to publicly vent claims about an Iraq- Al Qaeda connection. The purported intel on the connection also was originating in Feith’s office and OVP, so there was less ability to rely on the relatively decentralized or compartmentalized nature of the intel evidence on WMD within the intel community as a guarantee that overblown public claims couldn’t be easily contradicted by the intel community.

  2. William Ockham says:

    I think the reason is simple. For all her faults, Judith Miller really did know a little bit about the Middle East. She knew that the Iraq-Al Qaeda connection was completely bogus. Unlike her involvement in the WMD stories, where the leaks fed her inflated sense of expertise, she wouldn’t have been willing to play stenographer for the Al Qaeda claims.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I actually think you’re right, WO. She had too much knowledge about Al Qaeda to buy their crap about Saddam. Which makes me curious about the negotiation surrounding it. I mean, did they just not even TRY to float those rumors to her? Did she just leave them out of her stories? Interesting, too, that she still remained their first choice for laundering this stuff, even if she wouldn’t propagate one whole premise of their â€argument†for war. Wasn’t there anyone who could be a one-stop shop?

    Jeff, though the thing about Judy is that she always had access to the fluff. She was the one the laundered most exiles through, for example. And she certainly had ties to some in Rummy’s shop, not least Harold Rhode.

  4. Jeff says:

    ew

    My point, or rather my guess, is basically just that her sources thought they were less likely to be able to get away with laundering that crap with Miller, and more likely to be undermined publicly by it.

  5. mainsailset says:

    Judy’s been around the block, she used and she’s been used. It is curious that she would choose to write the WMD story when elements of it were outside her realm of exertise instead of choosing the area of AQ connections and lack of connections to Iraq. Part of me things she was seduced by an admin who appeared as well connected movers and shakers, secretive and willing to allow her to be embedded, get nat’l security clearance. That key to their secret passage overrode her job description.

  6. William Ockham says:

    I’m going to guess that Libby et.al. tried to float the link crap to Miller. It’s clear to me that he floated everything else that Cheney spouted off about. Look back at how Miller describes her cozy breakfast meeting. At least in her mind, she was willing to push back against some of the Administration’s bogosity. It is actually important to the Administration’s news shills to maintain their own inner perceptions of independence. It makes it easier for them to self-justify the crap they do publish. And from Pincus’ account, we know that various Administration officials have no problem spouting off about things that they should know he wouldn’t ever publish. Their general approach is to throw out as much stuff as they can and see what the hopeless rubes of the media will run with. Surely by now it is obvious to everybody that most folks in the media have no ability to evaluate the reliability of sources based on past performance.

  7. DeanOR says:

    As an aside, I was struck in the press conference Monday by Bush’s claim that Saddam’s Iraq was â€an ally of Al Qaeda.†I haven’t seen anyone picking up on this.
    Also, he said no one in BushCo claimed that Saddam â€ordered†the 9/11 attack, which I think is true in a literal sense, but it’s slippery Rovian language that sets up a strawman. They did link Iraq and 9/11.
    That Iraq had â€nothing†to do with 9/11, as Bush said, and the no WMD, are not news to us, but the statements apparently would be news to a great many Americans according to polls. So why are these Bush statements not in huge headlines? I’d sure like to see these admissions publicized for the elections. Voters really don’t like being misled and lied to, and there appear to be a substantial number who haven’t yet figured out that they were bamboozled.

  8. SaltinWound says:

    I think it’s harder to be skeptical when you’re a non-scientist writing about issues such as WMDs. The Iraq-Al Qaeda connection or lack thereof is more graspable. (trying madly not to type about corn)

  9. Jeff says:

    polly I’ve expressed my heated and long-winded agreement with you back in the Armitage thread.

  10. JohnLopresti says:

    Then we have the hurrying generation who see a story the first paragraph of which if speedread seems to say most people believe Saddam ordered 911, and in the deadtree edition the story wraps around a photo of missles in the woods. Thing is, if you read the story it actually is a chronicle debunking misrepresentations by the administration. This is from a newspaper owned by the NYTimes, but whose circulation in hardcopy relies on a lot of less educated people, and people in a hurry. I think it is a conscious effort by the newspaper to garner sales by seeming to say both things at once, reinforcing the myth that the Republican voters will like, while actually describing in some specificity the speciousness of the lexicons and syntax the administration is using. This is a notch below Judy, who holds mostly intellectual appeal; mostly. Here is the article link; to the effete culturati who read it, it is a brazen debunking; but to the undiscriminating casual observer it reinforces the jingoist myth. NYT should have more control over these formatting issues of its subsidiaries. This paper is a lot better than it was before NYT bought it, but it is a little bit of layout legerdemain, to me.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’m thinking that they knew, even then, that they would be better off letting the Iraq/Al Qaeda connection be by vague implication rather than direct assertion. Had they used Miller, it would have been a public statement that might be rigorously questioned. I recall trying to say, â€Iraq? Why is he talking about Iraq?†back in those days and getting nowhere. The implied connection was firmly embedded without them ever having to commit.

  12. DeanOR says:

    Cheney liked to say that Iraq was the â€geographic base†of the terrorists behind the attacks on New York and Washington. If a citizen did not realize that the person saying those words is as trustworthy as a snake, the citizen would think that he/she was just told that the 9/11 terrorists came from Iraq. There are so many examples like this. It should still be â€news†when Bush people later deny the message that they obviously intended to convey and that Americans believed and many still believe. It drives me crazy that they get away with this deceit unchallenged by the press corpse. I think Mickey is right that the lying BushCo creeps wanted this to be â€deniableâ€.

  13. Sara says:

    I think it important to remember Judy’s pre 911 credentials were mostly connected with her work in the late 90’s on Bio-weapons. She did a long NYT series, a book, and participated in a Frontline program. She also was the first reporter given a one on one interview with Clinton after the Senate vote on Impeachment — subject, Bio-Weapons. She did considerable favorable reporting on things Clinton was trying to do in this area. Clinton also apparently gave her access to the many scientists he considered leaders around this issue.

    I suspect the Bush WH communications people understood clearly the kind of source-reporter relationship Judy had during the Clinton administration, and in effect they wanted to appropriate it. Judy had had full access to Sandy Berger and Richard Clarke in the 90’s, and both her bio-weapons and her al-Qaeda reporting reflected these sources, much more than anything from the Bush Senior Circle. So in essence they reproduced the form or the source-reporter relationship, but pushed the content of Saddam’s Nuclear interests, which for Judy was new content.

    Had they tried to push Saddam + al-Qaeda, they would know full well that Judy could call up Clarke or Berger and ask background questions, and they would have jinxed any story.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Sara

    Judy was reporting on Al Qaeda in the late 1990s–certainly with Clarke as a source. But she was already doing the Saddam thing, again, in the 1990s (but also with her Benador friends). So her earlier work really doesn’t explain why she wasn’t flogging the purported connection.

    She first reported on Khidir Hamza with James Risen in 1998–that is, AFAIK, the first in her long series of exile postings. ANd she did an article on Iraq’s nukes something like a decade earlier.