|28/05/03||Newspaper reporters in row over Chalabi By Howard Kurtz|
May 28 2003
A row between two New York Times reporters over a story on an Iraqi exile leader raises questions about the paper's coverage of the search for weapons said to be hidden by Saddam Hussein.
An internal email by Judith Miller, the paper's reporter on bio-terrorism, acknowledges that her main source for such articles has been Ahmad Chalabi, an exile leader who is close to senior Pentagon officials.
The connection surfaced when John Burns, the paper's Baghdad bureau chief, scolded Miller over her May 1 story on Chalabi without clearing it with him.
Miller replied: “I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him. . . . He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD [weapons of mass destruction].” She said the army unit she was with “is using Chalabi's intell and document network for its own WMD work. . . . Since I'm there every day, talking to him . . . I thought I might have been included on a decision [for another reporter to write about Chalabi].”
Andrew Rosenthal, the paper's assistant managing editor for foreign news, said it is “a pretty slippery slope” to publish reporters' email and “reveal whatever confidential sources they may or may not have”.
“Of course we talk to Chalabi,” Rosenthal said. “If you were in Iraq and weren't talking to Chalabi, I'd wonder if you were doing your job.” According to the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress was a key source of information about weapons for the Pentagon's intelligence unit – information sometimes disputed by the CIA. Chalabi may have been feeding the Times and other news organisations the same disputed information.
Miller has been criticised for her reporting on the hunt for Iraqi weapons while she was embedded with the army unit. In an April 21 story, she said a leading Iraqi scientist claimed Iraq had destroyed chemical and biological weapons days before the war began, according to the army team.
Behind that story was an interesting arrangement. Under the terms of her accreditation, Miller wrote: “This reporter was not permitted to interview the scientist or visit his home”. Nor was she permitted to write about the discovery of the scientist for three days, and the copy was then submitted for a check by military officials. Since then, no evidence has surfaced to support these claims and the Alpha search team is preparing to leave Iraq without having found weapons of mass destruction.
Copyright (c) 2003. The Sydney Morning Herald.