Wednesday, August 06, 2008 

The "smoking gun" Iraqi memo and Con Coughlin.

Continuing with the theme of hackery, although on a scale far, far removed from that involving Peaches Geldof, comes the allegations from Ron Suskind in his latest book that the White House ordered the CIA in the middle of 2003 to forge a letter from Iraq's former intelligence chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush, which was subsequently used as the smoking gun to prove links between Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaida. The letter claimed that Mohamed Atta, the ringleader of the September the 11th attackers, had trained in Baghdad at the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal's camp, and that the Iraqi regime was deeply involved in the 9/11 plot.

The letter was the crudest of forgeries and has subsequently been exposed as such. It is however the first time that allegations have been made that the forging of the letter was authorised at the very highest levels of both the US government and the CIA itself. Suskind minces no words and suggests that is impeachment material. All sides, it must be said, have denied it, and there are reasons to believe, as suggested in the Salon review of Suskind's book, that this might be one of those stories that seem too good to be true because they are, more of which in the conclusion.

The same must be said for those who believed the provenance of the letter, especially considering which journalist was responsible for its publishing. Rather than going to an American source with the letter, perhaps considering the fallout that was yet to come over the leaking of dubious intelligence to Judith Miller of the New York Times and others, the memo was given to a British journalist, the Telegraph's Con Coughlin.

It's by no means the first time that Con Coughlin has been linked either with the security services or with putting into circulation dubious material which subsequently turned out to be fabricated or inaccurate. Back in 1995 Coughlin claimed that the son of the Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi was involved in an attempted international currency fraud. Served with a libel writ, the Telegraph was forced to admit that its source for the story was none other than MI6, with the paper first being informed of the story during a lunch with the then Conservative foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind. Coughlin was briefed further by another MI6 officer on two occasions before the story was subsequently published.

Despite in this instance Coughlin's links with the security establishment coming back to haunt him, neither did it seemingly alter his friendly relations with them nor their apparent diligence in supplying him with little more in some circumstances than open propaganda. As well as being handed the forged smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaida, he also happened to come across the fabled source for the claim that Iraq could launch weapons of mass destruction within 45 minutes of an order to use them. To call it a fantastical tale would not put be putting it too histrionically: Coughlin talks of a DHL flight targeted before he landed in Baghdad by "Saddam's Fedayeen (a Wikipedia article worth treating with the utmost scepticism due to the almost complete lack of sourcing)", that almost mythical organisation supposed to fight to the death for Saddam that didn't put up much of a fight during the invasion, let alone in the months following the fall of the Ba'ath party. The Iraqi colonel claims that weapons of mass destruction were distributed to the army prior to the invasion, but were never used because the army itself didn't put up a fight. It's strange that 5 years on none of these batches of WMD have ever been discovered, despite their apparent diffusion around the country.

Since then, Coughlin's sources have been no less convinced that we're all doomed. Back in November of 2006 Coughlin claimed that Iran is training the next generation of al-Qaida leaders, despite the organisation's view that Iran's brand of fundamentalist Shia Islam is heretical. Allegations have been made that Iran has been supplying help to the Taliban, despite previously helping with its overthrow, but even in the wildest dreams of conspiracy theorists and neo-conservative whack-jobs no one seriously believes that Iran would ever help al-Qaida, let alone train its next leaders. The nearest that anyone can really get to claiming links between Iran and al-Qaida is that some of its members are either hiding there or that its fighters have been using the country as a transit point.

In January of last year Coughlin was back with another exclusive, claiming that North Korea was helping Iran get ready to conduct its own nuclear test, after NK's own pitiful attempt had gone off "successfully" the previous October. This one was not quite as fantastical or laughable as the one linking Iran and al-Qaida, but was still murky in the extreme. The NIE intelligence assessment the following November concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear programme 4 years previously. That said, we should be cautious: the Israeli attack on the supposed Syrian nuclear processing plant came after evidence that it was modelled on the North Korean plant, and there are allegations along with that of heavy North Korean involvement in the operating and building of the plant, if it indeed, it must also be said, it was a nuclear site at all.

The latest revelations that Coughlin's 2003 report may well have originated from the very highest levels of US government only increases the level of scepticism with which any of his articles should be treated. At times journalists have to rely on security service figures to break stories which would otherwise never set the light of day, but as David Leigh wrote in an article from 2000, the very least that they should do if this unavoidable is be honest about the origins of such reports. It's one thing to get into bed temporarily with the intelligence community, it's quite another to act for years as their voice in the press, as Coughlin certainly appears to have done, spreading the most warped and questionable of their propaganda. As the Guardian reported in 2002 after the Telegraph admitted to the role of MI6 in their story on Ghaddafi, Coughlin was likely to recover from the indignity due to his good contacts within MI6. That certainly seems to have been exactly the case. Most humourously though, this was how Coughlin opened his commentary on the 2003 Iraqi memo:

For anyone attempting to find evidence to justify the war in Iraq, the discovery of a document that directly links Mohammed Atta, the al-Qaeda mastermind of the September 11 attacks, with the Baghdad training camp of Abu Nidal, the infamous Palestinian terrorist, appears almost too good to be true.

As Coughlin must have certainly knew it was. Just how too good to be true has been left to Ron Suskind to expose.

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Saturday, June 07, 2008 

Terrorists have personalities too!

Amazingly, according to the Telegraph. Jihadist wit is also the same as every other sort of wit:

Ali Abd al-Aziz Ali, a 30-year-old Kuwaiti said to have sent £60,000 to the 19 suicidal terrorists, made the press gallery snigger. Told by the judge that US military lawyers were being provided free of charge, he snapped back that America "tortured me free of charge, too".

You can't argue with that, can you?

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Saturday, February 23, 2008 

Say no to 24 hour thinking!

24-hour drinking fuels rise in crime, sighs the Telegraph. Nowhere in the article is the obvious pointed out: that because the change in the law has meant that the pubs/clubs now don't chuck out all at the same time, i.e. 11pm or 2am, it means that the police have been much better able to deal with offences that would have previously overwhelmed them.

As an actual police officer wrote on the Mailwatch blog:

The licensing act (24 hour) has also helped a great deal. Instead of kicking-out time for everywhere at 11pm, we’ve got slow dispersement into the night, so the police haven’t got a great mass of people all at once. Crime has ’shot up’ after the licensing Act because we CAN detect, arrest and deal with more people, rather than be swamped and therefore unable to arrest/detect any crime at all! This ‘crime-spike’ was intended by the Home Office and the police as a result of the above reason, but you won’t read that in the Daily Mail!

Nor in the Telegraph.

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Saturday, November 24, 2007 

Lord Guthrie treats Telegraph readers like fools.

Charles (Lord) Guthrie today authors a comment piece for the Telegraph:

Since I voiced my criticisms of government policy towards our Armed Forces during Thursday's defence debate in the Lords, many people have asked whether the five former defence chiefs who stood up were taking part in a planned ambush against the Government. They seem to think we all met up at Starbucks and plotted to give everyone in it a bloody nose.

In fact, the opposite happened. Far from being a co-ordinated plot, this was a spontaneous eruption from a group of people who find themselves at the end of their tether regarding the treatment of our Armed Forces.

As I wrote yesterday, all five of the Lords who spoke up in the debate on Thursday are either patrons or vice-presidents of the United Kingdom National Defence Association (a full list of its patrons, vice-presidents and policy board members is available from their website in a PDF).

I cannot of course prove that all five Lords did actively conspire to do what they did in the Lords on Thursday, or that it was, in Guthrie's words, anything other than a "spontaneous eruption," and so in these litigious times cannot come right out and call Guthrie a liar. He doesn't however deign to mention in his article the existence of the UKNDA, his patronship of it, or that all five of his fellow former chiefs of defence staff belong to it in their various guises. You can however make your own minds up about his less than honest disclosure.

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Friday, July 13, 2007 

Good riddance to Black rubbish.

Shed a tear then for poor, misunderstood clearly innocent Conrad Black. He faces a likely sentence of between 15 and 20 years in prison, after being convicted on three counts of mail fraud and one of obstructing justice. He was acquitted of nine other charges, among them wire fraud and racketeering.

The rise and fall of such haughty, arrogant and at times seemingly invincible public figures is always something to behold. While Black's denouement has nothing on when
Cap'n Bob went for a unplanned dip in the Atlantic, to see him brought to account for his crimes while Maxwell's were only discovered after his death ought to gladden the hearts of all those who've previously found themselves defrauded by the uncaring corporate face of capitalism.

Unlike Maxwell however, the establishment chose to ennoble, recognise and salute Black. While Maxwell won the support of the electorate of his constituency for the duration of his six-year stay in parliament, it was that paragon of virtue Tony Blair that saw fit to elevate Black into the Lords. Black jumped through hoops, renouncing his Canadian citizenship, in order to sit in that most regal and outdated of chambers and become Baron Black of Crossharbour in Tower Hamlets. It was a cruel irony, and typical of the contempt that both New Labour and the Telegraph group which he once owned have for the poor that this most opulent, extravagant and decadent of press barons was in effect representing the most economically deprived borough in the country.

Questions will now again be raised of whether those within the Telegraph during Black's ignoble reign either knew what he was doing, or if they were over protective and unwilling to question their quick to anger and dismissive boss. Even now under Barclay brothers, the paper has still gone out of its way to be accommodating to its former owner, allowing him to write a riposte to
Tom Bower's biography, the prose marked by the Telegraph's own description as in Black's "characteristically pugnacious manner". Others might call it his narcissistic unwillingness to accept any criticism of either himself or his gorgeous, pouting wife, Barbara Amiel, who once boasted that her own extravagance knew no bounds, since passed off as "self-satire". Even if she was being self-deprecating, that doesn't alter the fact that in a profile of her in Vogue the reporter drooled about her belongings:

"a fur closet, a sweater closet, a closet for shirts and T-shirts and a closet so crammed with evening gowns that the overflow has to be kept in yet more closets downstairs".

And there was more - a dozen Hermès Birkin bags, 30 or 40 handbags made by Renaud Pellegrino, and more than 100 pairs of Manolo Blahnik shoes.

Additionally, unlike Maxwell, who despite being a disastrous businessman, union basher and in the 60s declared unfit to head a public company was still a Labour supporter, Black turned the Telegraph and its titles even further to the right, introducing such calm and measured minds as Mark Steyn, currently convinced that Europe is about to be taken over by the Muslim hordes, and err, Barbara Amiel, given a whole page of broadsheet to pen her diatribes about how evil the BBC's coverage of Israel/Palestine is and why Ariel Sharon should have hit the Palestinians even harder than he dared. The editorial line on the same issue was almost as harsh, while support for war in Iraq was enthusiastic, although in mitigation the Tories' themselves were if anything more gung-ho in 2003 than Labour was.

His conviction ought to give us hope that more of the unaccountable, greedy and misleading purveyors of pure shit morning, noon and night can be brought down to size.
Roy Greenslade, in a piece of apologism for Black which the lying, stealing bastard doesn't in the slightest deserve points out that he was not the worst of newspaper owners. True. Many of us can't wait for the day that Rupert Murdoch finds himself in the cell next to Black. Who will complain to us in print that they're like holiday camps then?

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Friday, February 23, 2007 

Pedants corner.

It's a small thing, but why is it that newspapers often refer to women as girls? The above is typical of the Daily Mail in general, referring in the same sentence to men as men but to ladies' tennis players as girls. It's not even correct technically, as Wimbledon also runs a junior boys and girls tournament, who definitely won't be receiving the same prize money as those who win the adult championship. The Telegraph did the same thing yesterday. Is it too much to ask for sub-editors not to go along with their newspaper's general stance on the sexes?

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