In an article today in Slate, Jack Shafer wonders why almost no media outlets outside the Murdoch media empire have picked up on Steve Hayesâ story in the Weekly Standard. Thatâs the story --- âCase Closedâ --- about the Feith Memo and the alleged Saddam-al Qaida connection.
Among the possible explanations Shafer puts forward is the notion that the mainstream press is too invested in the idea that there were no connections at all between Saddam and al Qaida.
But, to me, that explanation doesnât even come close to passing muster. The big papers and cable networks have grabbed on to so many weak but sensationalistic Intel related stories about WMD and Iraq-al Qaida connections --- even since the revelations about the Niger-uranium story --- that I donât find that remotely credible.
A more probable answer --- which I set forth in greater depth today in my column in The Hill --- is that this information is not at all new.
If youâve been following the intel wars you know that the group that put together this dossier started working in Doug Feithâs office shortly after 9/11 and that they presented these findings --- absent a few details subsequently culled from detainee interviews --- at Langley in August 2002. The methods used by Feithâs Pentagon analysis shop were widely panned and the consensus within the intel community was that the findings didnât pass the laugh test.
It is almost certain that the dossier --- or rather the memo summarizing it --- was leaked now because Feith and his ideological soul-mates at the Pentagon are profoundly on the defensive because of the WMD debacle and poor planning for post-war Iraq.
Indeed, even within his group, Feithâs stock is close to its nadir --- partly because of these sorts of mad-scientist shenanigans, but for other reasons too. The Senate intel investigation, of course, looms. And perhaps Sen. Roberts (R-Kans) wonât be able to force all the blame on the CIA.
For all these reasons, they are trying to push back anywhere and everywhere they can.
So thatâs the main reason, I think, that people havenât picked up the story. No liberal media conspiracy. Sorry. Rather, the people who are following the intel story know that this is raw intelligence which the people in a position to know, and with access to all the information, say is either unreliable or doesnât amount to anything.
Part of the difficulty in reporting it out, I suspect, is that the memo includes, say, allegation X. On background people at the CIA might tell a reporter that the report is unreliable. But, because itâs all classified, the reporter canât get the actual details which are that the report that Saddam and bin Laden were brothers separated at birth actually came from Ahmed Chalabiâs auntâs maidâs doorman who offered the scoop in exchange for getting bailed out of prison in Cairo where heâd gotten arrested for fencing gold crenellated TV sets smuggled in from Yemen.
In any case, presumably a different sets of facts, but you get the idea.
Also, having gotten burned so bad on the WMD mumbo-jumbo and earlier al Qaida Saddam stories, reporters are wary of these guys, especially since the hawkers of this stuff are just much better, much more effectively political than their opponents.
Having said all this, letâs get it all out there. I agree with Andrew Sullivan when he says that it would be worthwhile to get out on the record which of the Feith-based claims are utterly without merit (most), which are shaky (some) and which may turn out to be true (a few).
(While we're at it, let's also do some decent reporting into the administration's strenuous and comical warping of the intel process and some decent investigations into the now-well-covered-up Valerie Plame story. Note to Mike Allen: get your source on the phone again. What happened to him?)
It seems clear that there were contacts between Iraq and al Qaida during the 1990s. Yet, in the shadowy world of intel and global nogoodnikism all sorts of people meet up now and then. Meetings, contacts in themselves don't necessarily amount to much. And all that we have been able to verify has been extremely limited --- nothing to merit the claims of active collaboration the Iraq hawks made.
And when you consider that we now essentially own Iraq --- the regime leaders, most all the government records that survive, and so forth --- we shouldnât need to go on hints and allegations. We should know something close to the whole story. And from what we know now, there's not much of a story.