The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, December 19, 2003
 

Telegraph intelligence scoops flaking into dust


First, there was the 45 minute source supposedly unearthed by the intrepid Con Coughlin (December 10) as revealed in a piece which looked likely at any minute to collapse under the weight of its supposedly corroborative detail.

Then, Coughlin produces a piece (December 13) saying that
Iraq's coalition government claims that it has uncovered documentary proof that Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks against the US, was trained in Baghdad by Abu Nidal, the notorious Palestinian terrorist.

Needless to say, the usual suspects were up and running: William Safire and Mark Steyn for instance; and lesser hacks like David Reinhard - me, neither... - were bashing anti-war folk with the stunning news.

Except that the Atta story looks as flaky as the 45 minute one.Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball on the Newsweek site (December 17) have had a little inside information themselves - from U.S. law enforcement officials - to the effect that the FBI's timeline for Mohamed Atta's movements don't tie in with what Coughlin says his documents say. They make the story highly unlikely to be true.

While anonymous source evidence even from within USG is not exactly guaranteed reliable, a measure of the lack of credibility to be accorded the Coughlin story is the fact that Ahmed Chalabi - no mean spinner of tales himself - says the memo detailing Atta's supposed visit to Baghdad as
clearly nonsense

(Josh Marshall has more.)

There is a testy little piece (December 19) in Editor & Publisher under the head When Will Press Stop Circulating Dubious Iraq Claims? which slates the Coughlin Atta piece in particular.

And what, you might ask, has Coughlin to say for himself?

Contacted by Newsweek, The Sunday Telegraph's Con Coughlin acknowledged that he could not prove the authenticity of the document. He said that while he got the memo about Mohammed Atta and Baghdad from a "senior" member of the Iraqi Governing Council who insisted it was "genuine," he and his newspaper had "no way of verifying it. It's our job as journalists to air these things and see what happens," he said.

Throw it against the wall and see if it sticks.

Hacks - dontcha love 'em...


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