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 investigatingSaddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) programs issued astinging rebuke of the Washington Post on Saturday. David Kay allegedthat Post reporter Barton Gellman knowingly misrepresentedinformation he had gathered in Iraq about the hunt for Saddam's WMDsand had misidentified a key source as well as the information Kay hadprovided Gellman in an interview.


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


Gellman alleged that the Iraq Survey Group headed by Kay waskeeping secret its most important internal judgments because theydisproved the CIA's key prewar contentions and would embarrass theBush administration. According to Gellman, Kay's men secretlyconcluded "that Iraq's nuclear-weapons scientists did no significantarms-related work after 1991, that facilities with suspicious newconstruction proved benign and that equipment of potential use to anuclear program remained under seal or in civilian industrial use."


To reinforce the seriousness of his charges, Gellman quotedAustralian Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Meekin as saying that the aluminumtubes found in Iraq which the CIA had claimed could have been usedfor uranium enrichment centrifuges were "innocuous." Gellman calledthat finding "pivotal, because the Bush administration built its caseon the proposition that Iraq aimed to use those tubes as centrifugerotors to enrich uranium for the core of a nuclear weapon."


Gellman used Meekin to debunk Bush administration claims inseveral different areas, claiming that the Australian commanded "theJoint Captured Enemy Materiel Exploitation Center, the largest of ahalf-dozen units that report to Kay." The only problem, as Kay wroteto 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, tome in any individual capacity or as commander of the exploitationcenter." Furthermore, Meekin was not involved in the Iraq StudyGroup's investigation of Saddam's WMDs. Instead, his outfit wasresponsible for making a repertory of Saddam's conventional weaponsprograms. Gellman had no excuse for missing these key facts. Indeed,as Meekin wrote in a separate letter that the Post printedside-by-side to Kay's, he had "stressed on a number of occasions" inhis interview with Gellman that he did not report to Kay and that hisoutfit looked only at conventional weapons. "I did not provideassessments or views on Iraq's nuclear program or the status ofinvestigations being conducted by the Iraqi Study Group," Meekinwrote.


Insight asked Washington Post editorial-page editor Fred Hiatt whythe 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 lettersand short pieces that take the Post to task, whereas letters to theeditor on the daily letters page may present substantive arguments onissues of the day without representing a complaint about coverage,"Hiatt replied. "I do not regard any of these pages as more or lessprominent."


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


Kenneth R. Timmerman is a senior writer for Insight.