We received an email from a Mr. Jack Stokes with an Associated Press email address, containing a statement from Ms. Linda Wagner, Director of Media Relations & Public Affairs, Associated Press. The subject line of the email from Mr. Stokes' is:
AP Statement/Blog "Spy" Accusations/American Thinker
so one must assume the statement is responding to our weekend item referring to the captured document containing the phrase,
"We were informed from one of our sources (the degree of trust in him is good) who works in the American Associated Press Agency ...."
However, Ms. Wagner's statement does not refer to The American Thinker or any other site by name, lumping all together under the label "blogs." Following our publication of the document's phraseology, other sites, most of them blogs, did comment.
In the interest of fairness, we reproduce Ms. Wagner's statement here:
To: All interested parties
From: Linda Wagner, Director of Media Relations & Public Affairs, Associated Press, firstname.lastname@example.org
All the information in a handwritten Arabic document from Iraq that some blogs claim to be evidence that an AP employee worked for Saddam Hussein was actually published and distributed worldwide as a wire story by Associated Press two weeks prior to the date on the document.
Since the information in this AP story was distributed worldwide, it would be absurd to consider its substance as espionage. Speculation by the blogs rests entirely on use of the term "one of our sources" in the Iraqi document. However, an AP employee who provides a government official in any nation with a copy of a published AP story is providing public information, not espionage services.
A number of blogs have posted items with speculative headlines such as: "Did The AP Have A Spy For Saddam?" and "Hussein's AP Spy?" and "The AP Gave Saddam Information."
The source for these speculative headlines is a document that has been posted by the U.S. Foreign Military Studies Office Joint Reserve Intelligence Center as one in a collection of unclassified documents from Iraq, captured by the U.S. military. The document's description on this government site is "Correspondence and Handwritten Intelligence Reports Issued by Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) regarding UNMOVIC training on inspection of Iraqi weapons." The document, dated July 25, 2000, is handwritten in Arabic, and is posted on the U.S. site at: http://126.96.36.199/Released/07—25—06/ISGQ—2005—00026108.pdf
This U.S. military site is an unsecured public web site that can be found at: http://188.8.131.52/. According to a prominent disclaimer on the site's home page:
At the request of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office has created this portal to provide the general public with access to unclassified documents and media captured during Operation Iraqi Freedom. The US Government has made no determination regarding the authenticity of the documents, validity or factual accuracy of the information contained therein, or the quality of any translations, when available. The ODNI press release and public affairs contact information is available at http://www.odni.gov/
AP's own translation of the Arabic in the document indicates that all the points of information in it come from the AP wire story below, which was distributed worldwide on July 12, 2000. The sources for nearly all the information in the AP story were U.N. officials, except for one sentence about the reaction of Iraqi officials to a potential U.N. inspection.
In the Iraqi document, an introductory sentence written in Arabic and translated by AP, states:
"We have learned from one of our sources (in whom the degree of trust is good) who works for the American news agency Associated Press that the agency transmitted the following through the computer system in its branches in the countries of the world:"
Following is the AP story that was the source of the information in the handwritten Iraqi document:
The AP story which follows is posted with a copyright notice at the top, so we will not reproduce it. No link is provided to a site where readers could see it via a subscriber to AP's service. However, we stipulate that the intelligence report contained only information which AP reported to the public.
We published the document without commentary, but other sites did make comments. John Hinderaker of Powerline, for example, noted,
It is very interesting because it shows that Saddam's regime had a source or agent of some kind inside the Associated Press. Given what we have seen in recent weeks relating to employees of news services in the Middle East, this raises obvious questions. We should note, though, that there is nothing secret about the information provided by the source in this instance; it presumably was about to be published by the AP. The memo also does not say whether the source was a reporter or some other category of employee. So it is impossible to say, based only on this document, what significance this source may have had, either in terms of the AP's reporting on Iraq, or in terms of funneling information that should have been confidential to Saddam.
Ed Morrisey of Captain's Quarters wrote,
The AP has earned plenty of mistrust for its slanted reporting over the years, but I don't think this adds significantly to that record. First, the memo doesn't describe the nature of its source. It could have been a reporter, but could just as easily could have been a copy desk employee or some clerical worker within the office with access to inbound information from their reporters. Second, reporters from all news sources had made a number of contacts with the Saddam regime, and if anyone thinks that information only flows in one direction in those relationships, they are pretty naive.
The date of the memo also calls into question the usefulness of the source. The memo was written on July 24, 2000. However, the UN commissioned UNMOVIC in 1999, eight months earlier. Hans Blix got the assignment as UNMOVIC chief in March 2000, four months prior to the memo. The group began its training for new inspectors on July 11th, almost two weeks prior to the memo. While the AP may or may not have reported the information in this memo publicly, Reuters did on July 14 —— ten days before the memo was written.
I saw this last night and thought it looked too thin for comment.
Mark Tapscott, of Tapscott's Copy Desk, wrote:
Morrissey and Hinderaker are two of the people I most admire and trust in the Blogosphere and they both make strong points here. Even so, I still think this revelation is significant for these reasons:
First, if Hussein had one source — regardless of the postion held by the individual —in a major U.S. news organization, we have to consider that possibility that there were also others within AP and/or other news organs.
This is a topic that is virtually never discussed but it doesn't take much reflection to realize the value of knowing how a story is going to be played before the rest of the world sees it in print. Or to be able to spike or otherwise shape it in some fashion. We ought not assume that it is impossible for there to be people with unseen loyalties in and about newsrooms around the world.
Mark notes his use of the important qualifier "if" in the second paragraph quoted above. It is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility that the Iraqi intelligence officer claimed to have an inside source, and was merely passing along published data, as if it were secret, in effect justifying his salary and perhaps payments to a phantom source or sources which he pocketed himself. Such things have been known to happen in realms where receipts are not normally provided for services rendered.
Nevertheless, what we reported was quite literally true and we stand by our report. The captured document did claim that an AP source was providing data to Saddam's agents, and did note that the source was trusted by Iraqi intelligence. Someone who provides data to intelligence agencies and is trusted as a source is normally called a spy. Even when the data is from published sources.
There can be no definitive conclusions drawn from the captured document by itself, but it is a data point, to be considered along with the body of reporting AP has provided over the years. If one believes that the Associated Press has been scrupulously fair in its reporting, then the data point fits into no discernible pattern and can be dismissed as insignificant, and possibly the claim of a rogue intelligence officer.
There have been no admissions from the AP like CNN's confession that it maintained a bureau in Saddam's Baghdad on the condition of its reports meeting the approval of that regime. Nor has AP been found to have provided digitally—altered photographs, as its competitor Reuters has.
Like all other news sources, the AP provides ongoing evidence for readers to make their own judgments on the matter of its fairness. The captured document says what it says. AP reports, you decide, to borrow and adapt a catch—phrase from Fox News.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.