The Cloak of Anonymity

Yesterday, during a break in our radio show, the Elder of Fraters Libertas and I were talking about the fact that the Washington Post and the New York Times rely on anonymous sources for their stories more than nearly any other newspaper, especially in the field of intelligence. These papers sometimes seem to treat their sources’ anonymity almost as a guarantee of reliability, as though by quoting unidentified State Department and CIA employees they are bringing us the unfiltered, inside scoop.
But common sense tells us that when we know that we will be held accountable for what we say, we are more careful to be both accurate and truthful. Under the cloak of anonymity, anyone is much more likely to fall into speculation, exaggeration, or outright falsehood.
Coincidentally, this correction appeared in yesterday’s New York Times:

An article on Monday about the Senate intelligence committee report on prewar intelligence about Iraq misstated the relationship between a defector known as Curveball and the Iraqi National Congress. There is no information that Curveball, who worked with German intelligence, was introduced to that service by the I.N.C., which is led by Ahmad Chalabi. (Articles on June 2 and June 4 also described such a connection, attributing that account to American intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. Those officials now say there was no such established relationship.) The Iraqi National Congress has denied any connection whatsoever to Curveball, and the Senate intelligence committee report issued on July 9 did not describe such a relationship.

The Times has gleefully attacked the administration over intelligence failures in Iraq, and has repeatedly attributed those failures, in part, to the administration’s supposedly excessive reliance on Chalabi and the INC. The “Curveball” episode was a signficant part of those attacks, because Curveball, an intelligence asset of the German government, was the main human source for the claim that Iraq was producing mobile biological weapons labs. So in no fewer than three articles, the Times linked Curveball to the INC on the assurance of anonymous CIA sources.
Those sources–whoever they may be–have now apparently acknowledged that they were either lying, or speculating about matters where they lacked knowledge. In either case, the Times repeatedly asserted as a matter of fact something that turned out to be baseless–which is somewhat ironic, given that the subject of the Times articles was reliance on faulty intelligence.
Which can only raise the question: how many other matters are there, where anti-administration employees of the State Department and the CIA have, knowingly or unknowingly, passed misinformation to the Times or the Post, which have confidently reported such misinformation as fact?

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