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Monday, September 11, 2006

AP Issues Statement On Iraqi Document Noting Source in the News Organization; The American Thinker's Lifson Responds

For reasons known only to AP's flak, the following statement was posted as a comment in the comments section of Tapscott's Copy Desk, rather than being emailed to me with a request that it be published.

Since the statement is now a stand-alone post here, I have removed it from the comments section of the original post on this issue.


Readers are encouraged to note three key things about the AP flak's opening two paragraphs. First, the AP flak says "all of the information" in the translated document was actually published by AP two weeks prior to the document's date.

In fact, the document's characterization of the Iraqi source was not part of the prior AP story. That may seem obvious, but the opening sentence of the AP statement could be read as saying that everything contained in the translated document was actually published beforehand by the news service.

Second, the AP flak addresses at the very outset of her statement a document that
"some blogs claim to be evidence that an AP employee worked for Saddam Hussein."

In fact, the original author of the Iraqi document in question described the individual as
"one of our sources (the degree of trust in him is good) who works in the American Associated Press Agency."

So the description of the individual as working for AP originated with the Iraqi document, not "some blogs."

Third and most important, the AP flak asserts that
"speculation by the blogs rests entirely on use of the term 'one of our sources' in the Iraqi document." In fact, as far as my analysis of the translated document is concerned, the document is significant only because it describes its source as "working for the American Associated Press Agency."

If the document didn't describe its source as working for the AP, it would be of no particular significance, at least in my judgement. But I'm a journalist and any document written by any government official anywhere that describes somebody working for a news organization as a trusted source automatically gets my attention.

It's easy to understand why an AP flak would prefer to shift the focus to material that was clearly published beforehand by AP, but that is not the issue that gives rise to the present controversy. What makes it a controversy is the statement by an Iraqi intelligence operative that somebody working at AP was a trusted source.

The AP statement follows, reproduced exactly as it was received:

"To: All interested parties
"From: Linda Wagner, Director of Media Relations & Public Affairs, Associated Press, info@ap.org

"All the information in a handwritten Arabic document from Iraq that some blogs claim to be evidence that an AP employee worked for Saddam Hussein was actually published and distributed worldwide as a wire story by Associated Press two weeks prior to the date on the document.

"Since the information in this AP story was distributed worldwide, it would be absurd to consider its substance as espionage. Speculation by the blogs rests entirely on use of the term 'one of our sources' in the Iraqi document. However, an AP employee who provides a government official in any nation with a copy of a published AP story is providing public information, not espionage services.

"Additional background:

"A number of blogs have posted items with speculative headlines such as: "Did The AP Have A Spy For Saddam?" and "Hussein's AP Spy?" and "The AP Gave Saddam Information."

"The source for these speculative headlines is a document that has been posted by the U.S. Foreign Military Studies Office Joint Reserve Intelligence Center as one in a collection of unclassified documents from Iraq, captured by the U.S. military. The document's description on this government site is "Correspondence and Handwritten Intelligence Reports Issued by Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) regarding UNMOVIC training on inspection of Iraqi weapons." The document, dated July 25, 2000, is handwritten in Arabic, and is posted on the U.S. site at: http://70.168.46.200/Released/07-25-06/ISGQ-2005-00026108.pdf

"This U.S. military site is an unsecured public web site that can be found at: http://70.168.46.200/. According to a prominent disclaimer on the site's home page:
At the request of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office has created this portal to provide the general public with access to unclassified documents and media captured during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The US Government has made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, validity or factual accuracy of the information contained therein, or the quality of any translations, when available. The ODNI press release and public affairs contact information is available at http://www.odni.gov/
"AP's own translation of the Arabic in the document indicates that all the points of information in it come from the AP wire story below, which was distributed worldwide on July 12, 2000. The sources for nearly all the information in the AP story were U.N. officials, except for one sentence about the reaction of Iraqi officials to a potential U.N. inspection.

"In the Iraqi document, an introductory sentence written in Arabic and translated by AP, states:
"We have learned from one of our sources (in whom the degree of trust is good) who works for the American news agency Associated Press that the agency transmitted the following through the computer system in its branches in the countries of the world:"

"Following is the AP story that was the source of the information in the handwritten Iraqi document:

"Copyright 2000 Associated Press
"All Rights Reserved
"Associated Press Worldstream

"July 12, 2000; Wednesday

"SECTION: International news

"LENGTH: 386 words

"HEADLINE: New U.N. weapons inspection agency for Iraq starts training staff

"BYLINE: EDITH M. LEDERER

"DATELINE: UNITED NATIONS

"BODY:
"The new U.N. weapons inspection agency for Iraq has started its first training program for new staff, who could be deployed in late August if Baghdad drops its opposition to inspections, according to U.N. officials.

"The Security Council created the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, to replace the U.N. Special Commission whose inspectors left Iraq in December 1998 ahead of U.S. and British airstrikes.

"Rolf Ekeus, the first executive chairman of UNSCOM, and Charles Duelfer, its last acting chief, spoke to the 44 UNMOVIC staff members from 19 nations during Wednesday's closed-door training session.

"Richard Butler, the outspoken Australian arms expert who replaced Ekeus and left when his contract expired in June 1999, was not invited to participate, U.N. officials said.

"The four-week training course, which began Tuesday, will cover historical, legal, administrative and political issues related to weapons inspections and monitoring activities in Iraq. It will also include the historical and cultural background of Iraq, with guest lecturers from Columbia University, the U.N. officials said.

"The 44 trainees including between six and eight who served with UNSCOM will all get general training, including a three-day safety course set up by the U.S. government, the U.N. officials said. Afterwards, they will get specialized training on ballistic missile, biological and chemical weapons, and issues related to arms exports and imports.

"U.N. officials and diplomats said UNMOVIC's executive chairman, Hans Blix, told the Security Council when he delivered his first report in June that he would probably be able to send a small inspection team to Iraq at the end of August.

"The focus of initial inspections would be to examine the sites that UNSCOM had been monitoring, the U.N. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"Iraq barred UNSCOM from returning, and top Iraqi officials have said Baghdad would not accept new weapons inspectors from UNMOVIC, but others have left open the possibility of compromise.

"U.N. economic sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait can only be suspended if Iraq cooperates with the new inspectors, and can only be lifted if Iraq is declared free of its weapons of mass destruction."

UPDATE: The American Thinker responds to AP

Thomas Lifson, editor and publisher of The American Thinker reproduces the AP statement , notes my response to AP and himself responds on behalf of his site:

"Mark notes his use of the important qualifier 'if' in the second paragraph quoted above. It is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that the Iraqi intelligence officer claimed to have an inside source, and was merely passing along published data, as if it were secret, in effect justifying his salary and perhaps payments to a phantom source or sources which he pocketed himself. Such things have been known to happen in realms where receipts are not normally provided for services rendered.

"Nevertheless, what we reported was quite literally true and we stand by our report. The captured document did claim that an AP source was providing data to Saddam’s agents, and did note that the source was trusted by Iraqi intelligence. Someone who provides data to intelligence sources and is trusted as a source is normally called a spy. Even when the data is from published sources.

"There can be no definitive conclusions drawn from the captured document by itself, but it is a data point, to be considered along with the body of reporting AP has provided over the years. If one believes that the Associated Press has been scrupulously fair in its reporting, then the data point fits into no discernible pattern and can be dismissed as insignificant, and possibly the claim of a rogue intelligence officer.

"There have been no admissions from the AP like CNN's confession that it maintained a bureau in Saddam's Baghdad on the condition of its reports meeting the approval of that regime. Nor has AP been found to have provided digitally-altered photographs, as its competitor Reuters has.

"Like all other news sources, the AP provides ongoing evidence for readers to make their own judgments on the matter of its fairness. The captured document says what it says. AP reports, you decide, to borrow and adapt a catch-phrase from Fox News."