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New Bush leak scandal: Creating a bogeyman in Iraq

Will Bunch

APRIL 9, 2006

On Feb. 9, 2004, the New York Times splashed a story on the front page that suggested strong ties between the then-(and still-)growing insurgency in Iraq and al-Qaeda. The story received big play even though reporter Dexter Filkins was careful to couch what he'd learned:

American officials here have obtained a detailed proposal that they conclude was written by an operative in Iraq to senior leaders of Al Qaeda, asking for help to wage a "sectarian war" in Iraq in the next months.

The Americans say they believe that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who has long been under scrutiny by the United States for suspected ties to Al Qaeda, wrote the undated 17-page document. Mr. Zarqawi is believed to be operating here in Iraq.

The document was made available to The New York Times on Sunday, with an accompanying translation made by the military. A reporter was allowed to see the Arabic and English versions and to write down large parts of the translation.

Tomorrow, the front page of a different paper, the Washington Post, will tell the rest of the story: That the Filkins "scoop" was part of a coordinated campaign of leaks aimed at convincing both Iraqis and -- more importantly in that presidential election year -- Americans back home that Zarqawi was more important than he really was. It's very significant, because the Pentagon is not allowed to aim its so-called "psy-ops" at controlling or changing opinions domestically.

Put another way, for the second time in less than a week, we are seeing quite clearly how the Bush administration tries to control the flow of information, by restricting what should be made public and then aggressively leaking the more dubious documents that back up its dubious policies.

Already, many are calling President Bush the "leaker-in-chief" because he reportedly acted to declassify and encourage the leaking of 2003 intelligence reports that seemed to support his shaky rationales for invading Iraq. The new Post report says that the Pentagon followed up with leaks of an even more questionable nature, aimed at helping to conflate Iraq with al-Qaeda in the public's mind:

The military's propaganda program largely has been aimed at Iraqis, but seems to have spilled over into the U.S. media. One briefing slide about U.S. "strategic communications" in Iraq, prepared for Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, describes the "home audience" as one of six major targets of the American side of the war.

That slide, created by Casey's subordinates, does not specifically state that U.S. citizens were being targeted by the effort, but other sections of the briefings indicate that there were direct military efforts to use the U.S. media to affect views of the war. One slide in the same briefing, for example, noted that a "selective leak" about Zarqawi was made to Dexter Filkins, a New York Times reporter based in Baghdad. Filkins's resulting article, about a letter supposedly written by Zarqawi and boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq, ran on the Times front page on Feb. 9, 2004.

Leaks to reporters from U.S. officials in Iraq are common, but official evidence of a propaganda operation using an American reporter is rare.

Leaking information is one thing, but there's reason to wonder if the information given Filkins in bunk. He wonders the same thing:

Filkins, reached by e-mail, said that he was not told at the time that there was a psychological operations campaign aimed at Zarqawi, but said he assumed that the military was releasing the letter "because it had decided it was in its best interest to have it publicized." No special conditions were placed upon him in being briefed on its contents, he said. He said he was skeptical about the document's authenticity then, and remains so now, and so at the time tried to confirm its authenticity with officials outside the U.S. military.

It makes us wonder about another supposed letter from al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to Zarqawi, that was widely reported last year and has been cited several times by Dick Cheney as evidence of the al-Qaeda terrorist's prominent role inside Iraq. It sure sounded fake to us at the time:

However, one line near the end of the letter seemed to put into question who the letter was addressing. "By God, if by chance you're going to Falluja, send greetings to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi," the letter said.

By all means, read the entire Post story, but the gist is that the U.S. has been overstating the role and importance of Zarqawi and his "foreign fighters" in order to downplay the fact that much of the insurgency involves native Iraqis, the people who were supposed to greet us with rose petals exactly three years ago to this day. It's just one more layer of the lies -- like the forged Nirger uranium documents -- aimed at constantly confusing and bamboozling the American people about our real purpose in Iraq.

The only good news here is that the lies aren't working like they used to.


:: Article nr. 22418 sent on 10-apr-2006 21:40 ECT

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