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NYT article appears to violate policy on using unidentified sources; Gates: 'Pretty good evidence' Iran behind Iraq bombs
Ron Brynaert
Published: Saturday February 10, 2007
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A front page article in Saturday's New York Times which claims that there is "broad agreement among American intelligence agencies" that Iran has been supplying Iraqi Shiite militias with explosively formed projectiles (or EFPs) appears to violate the paper's policy on using unidentified sources, RAW STORY has found.

The article, "Deadliest Bomb in Iraq Is Made by Iran, U.S. Says," written by Times military affairs correspondent Michael R. Gordon, refers to "civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies" but only identifies one original source used on the record, Lt. Col. James Danna. However, Danna provides no quotes about any Iranian involvement with the EFPs. Gordon's article also refers to public statements made by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

In February of 2004, the paper issued a "restatement" of its "sourcing policy," after controversies arose regarding its coverage of the Bush Administration's pre-war WMD claims about Iraq and the scandal surrounding Jayson Blair, who was discovered not only to have plagiarized many of his articles but also to have invented sources.

According to the confidential news sources policy, the New York Times has "long observed the principle of identifying our sources by name and title or, when that is not possible, explaining why we consider them authoritative, why they are speaking to us and why they have demanded confidentiality."

The statement continued, "In the last few months, readers and our professional colleagues have asked for additional assurances — that we heed our own guidelines uniformly and that we are accountable for compliance. This restatement of our sourcing policy adds those elements. The rules are effective on March 1, 2004, and will become part of a revised Integrity Statement to be issued in the coming months."

"The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers reliable and newsworthy," according to Times policy. "When we use such sources, we accept an obligation not only to convince a reader of their reliability but also to convey what we can learn of their motivation — as much as we can supply to let a reader know whether the sources have a clear point of view on the issue under discussion."

Gordon's article doesn't contain any explanation why his sources were unidentified, nor does it even come out and explicitly say that anonymity was granted.

"Whenever anonymity is granted, it should be the subject of energetic negotiation to arrive at phrasing that will tell the reader as much as possible about the placement and motivation of the source — in particular, whether the source has firsthand knowledge of the facts," the Times policy states.

The policy notes that "some readers" are suspicious when anonymous sources are cited.

"In any situation when we cite anonymous sources, at least some readers may suspect that the newspaper is being used to convey tainted information or special pleading," the policy continues. "If the impetus for anonymity has originated with the source, further reporting is essential to satisfy the reporter and the reader that the paper has sought the whole story."

RAW STORY made multiple phone calls to the Times, including to the paper's Public Editor, Byron Calame, to inquire why the front page article appears to violate the paper's policy, but, as of yet, none have been returned. RAW STORY will update this article if any responses are obtained.

Editor & Publisher notes that Gordon is "the same Times reporter who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion."

Those same articles led to the "restatement" of Times policy on unnamed sources.

Greg Mitchell writes for Editor and Publisher: "When the Times eventually carried an editors’ note that admitted some of its Iraq coverage was wrong and/or overblown, it criticized two Miller-Gordon stories, and noted that the Sept. 8, 2002, article on page one of the newspaper 'gave the first detailed account of the aluminum tubes. The article cited unidentified senior administration officials who insisted that the dimensions, specifications and numbers of tubes sought showed that they were intended for a nuclear weapons program.'"

"This, of course, proved bogus," Mitchell adds.

That editor's note, published in May of 2004, focused the blame on editors rather than "individual writers."

"Editors at several levels who should have been challenging reporters and pressing for more skepticism were perhaps too intent on rushing scoops into the paper," the Times editors wrote. "Accounts of Iraqi defectors were not always weighed against their strong desire to have Saddam Hussein ousted. Articles based on dire claims about Iraq tended to get prominent display, while follow-up articles that called the original ones into question were sometimes buried. In some cases, there was no follow-up at all."

A diarist at Daily Kos wonders if the latest article proves that the "administration knows how to play the NY Times like a harp."

Last week, an analysis written by Tom Raum for the Associated Press noted that "President Bush's tough new stance on Iran and his military buildup in the Persian Gulf recall some of the drumbeats that preceded the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003."

"As then, the Bush administration is making allegations about Iran without providing proof," Raum wrote. "It is suggesting Iran is sending weapons to Iraq, yet offering no evidence the supplies can be traced to Tehran."

At his blog, Unclaimed Territory, Glenn Greenwald observes that "with the exception of one cursory note buried in the middle that the Iranian Government denies supplying Shiite militias with weapons, every paragraph in the article -- every one -- simply echoes accusations by military and other Bush officials that Iran is behind the attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq."

Times 'in contrast' to other media outlets

Greg Mitchell also contrasts the Times' coverage with that of one of its major national competitors, the Washington Post.

"Today, in contrast to the Times' report, Dafna Linzer in The Washington Post simply notes, 'Yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said serial numbers and markings on some explosives,'" Mitchell writes.

Also, in contrast to the Times, Linzer provides an explanation of why some sources weren't named in the Washington Post article.

"Five administration officials were made available for interviews for this story on the condition that they not be identified. Other officials who spoke without permission -- including senior officials, career analysts and policymakers -- said their standing with the White House would be at risk if they were quoted by name," Linzer reported.

As blogger Glenn Greenwald notes, "Over the past few weeks, The Los Angeles Times has published several detailed and well-documented articles casting serious doubt on the administration's claims that Iran is fueling the Iraqi insurgency with weapons."

"But today, The New York Times does precisely the opposite -- it has published a lengthy, prominent front-page article by Michael Gordon that does nothing, literally, but mindlessly recite administration claims about Iran's weapons-supplying activities without the slightest questioning, investigation, or presentation of ample counter-evidence," Greenwald writes. "The entire article is nothing more than one accusatory claim about Iran after the next, all emanating from the mouths of anonymous military and 'intelligence officials' without the slightest verified evidence, and Gordon just mindlessly repeats what he has been told in one provocative paragraph after the next."

Gates: 'Pretty good evidence' Iran behind bombings

Gordon's article briefly mentions comments recently made by two top officials which refer to Iranian ties to the EFPs.

"Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates appeared to allude to this intelligence on Friday when he told reporters in Seville, Spain, that serial numbers and other markings on weapon fragments found in Iraq point to Iran as a source," Gordon writes.

Gates made his remarks at the North Atlantic Council Defense Ministers meeting in Seville, Spain.

"In terms of the particular, it's the sophistication of the technology," Gates said. "I think that there are some serial numbers."

Gates continued, "There may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found. I'm just frankly not specifically certain myself of the details, but I understand there is pretty good evidence tying these EFPs to the Iranians."

Pace's quotes in Gordon's article come from a Feb. 2 Department of Defense news briefing he held with Gates, who stated then that "the president has made clear; the Secretary of State has made clear; I've made clear -- nobody is planning -- we are not planning for a war with Iran."

Gates added, "What we are trying to do is in Iraq, counter what the Iranians are doing to our soldiers, their involvement in activities, particularly these explosively formed projectiles that are killing our troops, and we are trying to get them to stop their nuclear enrichment. We are doing the latter strictly through the diplomatic process. It seems to be showing some progress. At least we -- the diplomatic process is working, and I think that that's where we are relying."

The Defense Secretary was then asked by a reporter to "tell us what evidence, proof or information you have has Iran now been directly responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq."

"I think the principal area where we have seen evidence of Iranian involvement is in providing these EFPs, these very powerful IEDs, to the -- either or both the technology and the weapons themselves that have been killing American soldiers," Gates said. "And so our effort is aimed at uprooting the networks that are providing these EFPs. We're also trying to uproot the networks that provide the IEDs as well that are being provided -- or being used by al Qaeda and others."

Gates added, "These darn things account for about 70 percent of our casualties. And so there's a huge effort under way to try and uproot these networks and try and stop this. So that's the principal area."

"As you know, MNF-I (Multi-National Forces, Iraq) has been working on a briefing to provide some specifics about the Iranian supply of these weapons," Gates continued. "Frankly, we have caused them to delay that because I and Secretary Rice and the National Security Adviser want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is absolutely accurate and is dominated by facts -- serial numbers, technology and so on. And so we just want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is completely reliable."

Pace added, "I think the secretary said it exactly right with regard to the networks. We are working day and night to disassemble these networks that do everything from bring the explosives to the point of construction, to how they're put together, to who delivers them, to the mechanisms that are used to have them go off. And we do that without regard to nationality but just with regard to who our enemies are. It is instructive that at least twice in the last month, that in going after the networks, we have picked up Iranians."

Excerpt from Gates' remarks to press in Seville, Spain:

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Mr. Gates, there's been a lot of increased rhetoric in Washington about the activities in Iran, in Iraq and around the world. Yesterday there were a couple of provocative acts, but you said it was just another day in the Persian Gulf.

Do you think that the rhetoric in Washington is sometimes harmful and that maybe it should be toned down a little bit?

SEC. GATES: Well, I -- my impression, frankly, in the last few weeks is that there's been an effort in Washington actually to tone down everybody else. I don't know how many times the president, Secretary Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iraq -- Iran; that the second carrier group is there to reassure our allies, as well as to send a signal that we've been in the Persian Gulf for decades and we intend to stay there. And I think these are fairly modest statements, frankly.

Q Well, was there some kind of recognition that the amount and the number of statements coming out from the different parts of the administration were having some kind of negative effect --

SEC. GATES: I think that there was a combination of events that created a stir. One was the news about the second carrier battle group going out there; another was the fact that, as General Pace testified in one of our hearings, that in a couple of the sweeps where we going after the IED networks, we swept up some of these Iranians, and that was news in itself. And the fact that we picked them up was news.

But I think we weren't specifically targeting Iranians when we made those raids, and I can't speak for everybody, but I think some of us were kind of surprised we actually did find Iranians involved in that. So I think all those -- those things and so probably created more of a stir.

Q As a follow-up on that, I'm surprised to hear you say that some people were surprised -- (off mike) -- we've heard for months from Pentagon press officials that Iran is playing a very large role in what's going on in Iraq. And so do you -- (off mike) --

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that Iran is very much involved in providing either the technology or the weapons themselves for these explosively foreign projectiles. Now they don't represent a big percentage of the IED attacks, but they're extremely lethal, and I don't think there was surprise that the Iranians were involved. I think there was surprise we actually picked up some of them.

So I -- you know, I think that, as you've heard, people have been pretty well convinced for months that the Iranians were involved in providing assistance in Iraq to those who are coming after American troops. That's not new by any means, but I think that the fact that in a couple of these sweeps we picked them up at least surprised me.

Q Mr. Secretary, has there been any evidence of a Iranian involvement in that attack in Karbala?

SEC. GATES: As I indicated when we had our roundtable, I guess, last Friday morning, I haven't seen anything subsequent to that, to the effect that what I've seen is very ambiguous and does not provide any conclusive proof at this point.

Q Sir, can I follow up on that a little bit, about EFPs? You've mentioned that there is evidence tracing them to Iran. Could you be more specific about that, what particular evidence there is?

SEC. GATES: Well this is what -- the specifics on this is what MNFI is working on in terms of the briefing that I think they're going to present. In terms of the particular, it's the sophistication of the technology. I think that there are some serial numbers. There may be some markings on some of the projectile fragments that we found. I'm just frankly not specifically certain myself of the details, but I understand there is pretty good evidence tying these EFPs to the Iranians.

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Excerpts from Gates' and Pace's remarks at Feb. 2 Pentagon news briefing:

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Q: Mr. Secretary, can I take you back to Iran? I think the word you just used a minute ago was "counter," that you wanted to counter Iran's -- what they're doing inside Iraq. Can you spell out for us what is -- you know, either of you gentlemen -- what is the military strategy to counter Iran's activities inside of Iraq? And can you tell us what evidence, proof or information you have has Iran now been directly responsible for the deaths of American troops in Iraq?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the principal endeavor -- and again, I'll invite the chairman to comment.

I think the principal area where we have seen evidence of Iranian involvement is in providing these EFPs, these very powerful IEDs, to the -- either or both the technology and the weapons themselves that have been killing American soldiers. And so our effort is aimed at uprooting the networks that are providing these EFPs. We're also trying to uproot the networks that provide the IEDs as well that are being provided -- or being used by al Qaeda and others. These darn things account for about 70 percent of our casualties. And so there's a huge effort under way to try and uproot these networks and try and stop this. So that's the principal area.

As you know, MNF-I (Multi-National Forces, Iraq) has been working on a briefing to provide some specifics about the Iranian supply of these weapons. Frankly, we have caused them to delay that because I and Secretary Rice and the National Security Adviser want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is absolutely accurate and is dominated by facts -- serial numbers, technology and so on. And so we just want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is completely reliable.

Q: A follow-up, sir?

SEC. GATES: Let me ask the --

GEN. PACE: I think the secretary said it exactly right with regard to the networks. We are working day and night to disassemble these networks that do everything from bring the explosives to the point of construction, to how they're put together, to who delivers them, to the mechanisms that are used to have them go off. And we do that without regard to nationality but just with regard to who our enemies are. It is instructive that at least twice in the last month, that in going after the networks, we have picked up Iranians.

Q: May I just clarify one point, though, sir? I apologize. When you say all this, just to be clear, do you have evidence that you can share or a statement; do you believe that these Iranian-supplied weapons, that that is sanctioned shipments by the central government of Iran? Is the government behind it? Is it rogue elements? Is it just the Al-Quds Revolutionary Guard? Or is the government of Iran shipping weapons into Iraq that are killing Americans?

SEC. GATES: I don't know that we know the answer to that question.

Q: Until recently, I think most people have assumed when an IED -- a roadside bomb has gone off in Iraq, that the Sunni insurgency or al Qaeda has been behind it.

In recent weeks, we've heard more about Iranians and explosively foreign projectiles. Is there any number of sense of scale of what percentage of the roadside bombs are attributable to Shi'ites or Iranians as opposed to al Qaeda or Sunnis?

GEN. PACE: I don't have that fidelity in my head. I think the reason you're hearing more about Iranian involvement is because, as I said, twice within the last 30 to 40 days in going after the networks, we have ended up policing up those who are Iranians. So that's why you're hearing more talk about it, because they happen to be policed up amongst the bad guys.

But with regard to exactly how many are Shi'a, how many are Sunni, I don't have that. I'll see if we can get that.

SEC. GATES: I don't have a specific number, but my impression is that the percentage of IED attacks that involve these explosively foreign projectiles is a relatively small percentage of the overall number of attacks, but they are far more lethal. They can -- I've been told when I was out there that they can take out an Abrams tank.

Yes, sir.

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