A Shaky Briefing on Iran?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, February 12, 2007; 11:56 AM

For a long time now, Bush administration officials have been promising reporters proof that the Iranian government is supplying deadly weaponry to Iraqi militants.

The administration finally unveiled its case this weekend, first in coordinated and anonymous leaks to a trusting New York Times reporter, then in an extraordinarily secretive military briefing at which no one would speak on the record, journalists weren't allowed to photograph the so-called evidence, and nothing even remotely like proof of direct Iranian government involvement was presented.

The result: The White House got the headlines it wanted.

But there is plenty of reason for reporters to be suspicious of the administration's claims.

And looking at the big picture, one can't help but wonder: Is this deja vu all over again? Is the Bush admininistration once again building a faulty case for war, this time against Iran? And is the press going along for the ride?

The Gordon Piece

Michael R. Gordon started the ball rolling in the Saturday New York Times: "The most lethal weapon directed against American troops in Iraq is an explosive-packed cylinder that United States intelligence asserts is being supplied by Iran."

This is about as close as Gordon gets to skepticism: "The assertion of an Iranian role in supplying the device to Shiite militias reflects broad agreement among American intelligence agencies, although officials acknowledge that the picture is not entirely complete."

Gordon acknowledges the obvious context -- "Any assertion of an Iranian contribution to attacks on Americans in Iraq is both politically and diplomatically volatile," he writes -- but then gives his sources a pass: "The officials said they were willing to discuss the issue to respond to what they described as an increasingly worrisome threat to American forces in Iraq, and were not trying to lay the basis for an American attack on Iran."

It was up to Greg Mitchell of Editor and Publisher and blogger Glenn Greenwald to put Gordon's own report in context.

"What is the source of this volatile information?" Mitchell asked. "Nothing less than 'civilian and military officials from a broad range of government agencies.'

"Sound pretty convincing? It may be worth noting that the author is Michael R. Gordon, the same Times reporter who, on his own, or with Judith Miller, wrote some of the key, and badly misleading or downright inaccurate, articles about Iraqi WMDs in the run-up to the 2003 invasion."

Writes Greenwald: "Over the past few weeks, The Los Angeles Times has published several detailed and well-documented articles casting serious doubt on the administration's claims that Iran is fueling the Iraqi insurgency with weapons. . . .

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