Sunday, August 19, 2007

Taking It For Granted At The NYT

By Cernig

New York Times public editor Clark Hoyt has a piece today which is more critical of his colleagues, reporter Michael Gordon and executive editor Bill Keller, than he was the last time he was called to spin Gordon's blatant hackery in writing about alleged Iranian EFPs in Iraq. But not by much.
there are special lengths that The Times — or any other news organization — must go to when dealing with an issue so protracted, so complicated, and so politicized. It must take pains when reporting today’s events to add yesterday’s perspective. It must attribute information exhaustively to keep sources’ credibility and motives in view. And it must be willing to revisit old ground when new developments change the context.

The recent article demonstrates some of the pitfalls. I think it had avoidable problems that helped lead to the eruption of criticism, a view vehemently disputed by Bill Keller, executive editor of The Times, and Michael Gordon, who wrote the piece.

Readers said that, at a time of growing tensions between the United States and Iran, the article failed to offer persuasive evidence that Iran was the source of the bombs, known as explosively formed penetrators, E.F.P.’s, which can go through the armor of Humvees.

In fact, strong evidence was provided in a 2,600-word article by Gordon and Scott Shane, published March 27, and Gordon said, “I do sort of assume that readers will have some familiarity with the body of our coverage over the past few months.” I don’t think that’s a reasonable assumption, and I believe The Times could have found a way to remind skeptics of the essentials in the March article without repeating it in its entirety.
The article cited is a Times Select one, but rightwing blogger Tigerhawk helpfully and approvingly cites the "evidence" part for us.
American intelligence analysts say the first detonation of an E.F.P. in Iraq may have come in August 2003. But their view that Iran was playing a role in the attacks emerged slowly. American officials said their assessment of Iranian involvement was based on a cumulative picture that included forensic examination of exploded and captured devices, and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iraq and devices used in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.

''There was no eureka moment,'' said one senior American official, who like several others would discuss intelligence and administration decision-making only on condition of anonymity.

The entire E.F.P. assembly seen repeatedly in Iraq, including the radio link used to activate it and the infrared sensor used to fire it, had been found only one other place in the world, American officials say: Lebanon, since 1998, where it is believed to have been supplied by Iran to Hezbollah.

According to one military expert, some of the radio transmitters used to activate some of the E.F.P.'s in Iraq operate on the same frequency and use the same codes as devices used against Israeli forces in Lebanon.

More evidence came from the interception of trucks in Iraq, within a few miles of the Iranian border, carrying copper discs machined to the precise curvature required to form the penetrating projectile. Wrappers for C4 explosive, among other items, were traceable to Iran, officials say.

An important part of the American claim comes from intelligence, including interrogation of captured militia members, about Shiite militants who use E.F.P.'s and maintain close ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah.

The militant groups led by Abu Mustafa al-Sheibani have operated one of the most important E.F.P. networks. According to American intelligence reports, his network has been receiving E.F.P. components and training from the Quds Force, and elite unit of the Revolutionary Guard, and Hezbollah operatives in Iran. He is on the Iraqi most-wanted list and the Iraqi criminal court issued a warrant for his arrest in 2005.

Ahmad Abu Sajad al-Gharawi, a former Mahdi Army commander, has been active in Maysan Province. American intelligence officials say his group was probably linked to the attack on British forces that was cited in the American diplomatic protest. He is also on the Iraqi government's most-wanted list, and an Iraqi warrant has been issued for his arrest.

In September 2005, British forces arrested Ahmad Jawwad al-Fartusi, the leader of a splinter group of the Mahdi Army that carried out E.F.P. attacks against British forces in southern Iraq. American intelligence concluded that his fighters might have received training and E.F.P. components from Hezbollah.

Mr. Fartusi lived in Lebanon for several years, and a photograph of him with Hezbollah members was discovered when British forces searched his home. In the view of American officials that may be circumstantial evidence of an Iranian connection, because American intelligence experts say Hezbollah generally conducts operations in Iraq with the consent of Iran.

Last week, American-led forces captured Qais Khazali and Laith Khazali, two Shiite militants who were linked to the kidnapping and killing of five American soldiers in Karbala in January, the United States military said. American officials say they have also trafficked in E.F.P.'s.
I wouldn't characterize that evidence as "strong" unless you are set on deliberately ommitting the counter-evidence of sceptics from the equation - something Michael Gordon obviously wants to do.

There's no mention of the fact that infra-red and radio triggered EFPs have been used in Northern ireland long before the current conflict or that there are reports that the design for EFPs used in Iraq was first seen in Ireland and spread globally by the IRA in trade for weapons and other bomb-making techniques.

No mention that Hezboullah was active in Iraq long before the US-led invasion and it hardly needs an Iranian element to explain their presence.

No mention of reports that detainee interrogations which have produced confessions concerning Irainain involvement have involved the notorious MeK terror group as "translators" or have involved Iraqi interrogators working without US supervision, all amid accusations of torture.

No mention of the evolving tale of "Iranian EFP's" - from "only Iran makes them" to "Iran makes the components" to "Iran makes them better but Iraqis make them too" - as independent experts question each successive version of the "assessments" made by the US military. Indeed, even the latest itteration of the narrative has some serious scientific, technical and logical flaws. Among those are the C-4 explosives mentioned above - which the US military says it knows are Iranian because they're in fake US wrappers - and the supposedly exacting standards of Iranian copper discs, which can be made in any machine shop once the dimensions are known while at the same time the tale of Iraqis making inferior moulded discs doesn't pass basic scientific muster.

No mention of the possibility that less dramatic explanations than an iranian leadership conspiracy are entirely sufficient to explain the evidence. As I wrote when the latest Gordon stenography appeared:
The main thrust of criticism of the narrative is that it violates both logic and good intelligence analysis policy - informal sharing of regional expertise coupled with porous borders, the burgeoning black-market arms trade in the region and widespread corruption in regional militaries are sufficient on their own to explain the current evidence without inventing a high-level Iranian conspiracy.

Gordon is undoubtably aware of all this - he's had plenty of time to play catch-up - but he obviously doesn't care. So he continues to pop out these hacktacular reports, in full knowledge that he has left behind any journalistic integrity.
Now Hoyt, while seemingly giving Gordon a rapped knuckle, is also glossing over the depth of scepticism about the US narrative (both it's evidence and the conclusions drawn from that evidence) by citing Gordon's last article as being a fair representation of that scepticism.

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