Insight on the News - World

Issue: 11/11/03




David Kay Rebukes Washington Post Coverage

By Kenneth R. Timmerman

The head of the CIA's Iraq Study Group that is investigating Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) programs issued a stinging rebuke of the Washington Post on Saturday. David Kay alleged that Post reporter Barton Gellman knowingly misrepresented information he had gathered in Iraq about the hunt for Saddam's WMDs and had misidentified a key source as well as the information Kay had provided Gellman in an interview.


Gellman's front-page story, which ran Oct. 26, was titled "Search in Iraq Fails to Find Nuclear Threat" []. Citing unnamed "investigators" as his source, Gellman stated breathlessly that "it is now clear [Saddam] had no active program to build a [nuclear] weapon, produce its key materials or obtain the technology he needed for either."


Gellman alleged that the Iraq Survey Group headed by Kay was keeping secret its most important internal judgments because they disproved the CIA's key prewar contentions and would embarrass the Bush administration. According to Gellman, Kay's men secretly concluded "that Iraq's nuclear-weapons scientists did no significant arms-related work after 1991, that facilities with suspicious new construction proved benign and that equipment of potential use to a nuclear program remained under seal or in civilian industrial use."


To reinforce the seriousness of his charges, Gellman quoted Australian Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Meekin as saying that the aluminum tubes found in Iraq which the CIA had claimed could have been used for uranium enrichment centrifuges were "innocuous." Gellman called that finding "pivotal, because the Bush administration built its case on the proposition that Iraq aimed to use those tubes as centrifuge rotors to enrich uranium for the core of a nuclear weapon."


Gellman used Meekin to debunk Bush administration claims in several different areas, claiming that the Australian commanded "the Joint Captured Enemy Materiel Exploitation Center, the largest of a half-dozen units that report to Kay." The only problem, as Kay wrote to the Post in a comment editors relegated to the "Free for All" section on Saturday [], was that none of it was true.


Meekin, Kay wrote, "does not report, nor has he ever reported, to me in any individual capacity or as commander of the exploitation center." Furthermore, Meekin was not involved in the Iraq Study Group's investigation of Saddam's WMDs. Instead, his outfit was responsible for making a repertory of Saddam's conventional weapons programs. Gellman had no excuse for missing these key facts. Indeed, as Meekin wrote in a separate letter that the Post printed side-by-side to Kay's, he had "stressed on a number of occasions" in his interview with Gellman that he did not report to Kay and that his outfit looked only at conventional weapons. "I did not provide assessments or views on Iraq's nuclear program or the status of investigations being conducted by the Iraqi Study Group," Meekin wrote.


Insight asked Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt why the Post ran the Kay and Meekin letters in the weekend "Free for All" section, instead of on the more prominent op-ed page during the week. "The Free for All page is designed primarily to give space to letters and short pieces that take the Post to task, whereas letters to the editor on the daily letters page may present substantive arguments on issues of the day without representing a complaint about coverage," Hiatt replied. "I do not regard any of these pages as more or less prominent."


Washington Post ombudsman Michael Getler, who worked for the Post as a reporter and editor for 26 years before taking up his current post in November 2000, told Insight he was "looking into" the Gellman/Kay story but would not comment on whether the Post stood by Gellman's reporting. "Anything I do will be in my column this Sunday," he said. So far, he added, he hasn't interviewed Gellman in relation to Kay's complaints of misreporting and misrepresentation. The ombudsman's column is where the Washington Post comments on reports that its news coverage is biased or has contained serious inaccuracies.


Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.