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Jehl Break

When it comes to Charles Duelfer, the New York Times's motto is "All the News We See Fit to Print."

7:40 PM, Oct 6, 2004 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
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WALTER PINCUS, the veteran Washington Post reporter, is by no means an ally of George W. Bush. In fact, it's safe to say that, over the last few years, in his reportage on intelligence issues and in public appearances, he's done more than any other national security reporter to scrutinize the Bush administration's claims about Saddam Hussein's WMD capabilities. And so it was odd, to say the least, to visit on Wednesday afternoon, click on Pincus's write-up of the Iraq Survey Group's final report on Iraqi WMD, and read, well . . . a remarkably nuanced and evenhanded presentation of the ISG's findings.

One can't say the same thing about New York Times national security reporter Douglas Jehl. If you had visited yesterday afternoon, maybe after reading Pincus's article, you would have read a completely different interpretation of the ISG report. "Iraq had essentially destroyed its illicit weapons capability within months after the Persian Gulf War ended in 1991, and its capacity to produce such weapons had eroded even further by the time of the American invasion in 2003," writes Jehl. What's more, Jehl continues, the report

adds new weight to what is already a widely accepted view that the most fundamental prewar assertions made by American intelligence agencies about Iraq--that it possessed chemical and biological weapons, and was reconstituting its nuclear program--bore no resemblance to the truth.

But what resemblance does Jehl's article have to Pincus's, or, for that matter, the ISG's report? Not much. For example, nowhere in his piece does Jehl report that "the former Iraqi dictator had intentions to restart his program." Pincus does.

Nowhere does Jehl report that Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group, said

a threat remains that chemical weapons could be used against U.S. and coalition forces, noting information from earlier this year that Iraqi scientists had linked up with foreign terrorists in Iraq. A series of raids beginning last March, Duelfer said, prevented the problem from 'becoming a major threat.'

Pincus does.

And nowhere does Jehl write that "Hussein's government retained data and personnel knowledgeable about weapons, and used funds from the Oil for Food relief program to upgrade his chemical industry so that weapons materials could be produced once sanctions ended." Pincus does.

HERE'S A QUESTION: Does Jehl report that "the former Iraqi leader tried to keep knowledgeable scientists together" so that he'd be prepared for the day when the sanctions regime against him fell, as Pincus reports?

Actually, in this case, the answer is yes: "Mr. Duelfer said in the report that Iraq had made a conscious effort to maintain the knowledge base necessary to restart an illicit weapons program," Jehl writes. But that's it. Turn once again to Pincus, and you discover that Duelfer believes "reconstitution" of Saddam's bioweapons program "'could be accomplished quite quickly'" because the dictator still retained his top scientists.

"Quite quickly" must mean something different to Douglas Jehl, because he says Duelfer concluded

that even if Iraq had sought to restart its weapons programs in 2003, it could not have produced militarily significant quantities of chemical weapons for at least a year, and would have required years to produce a nuclear weapon.

You'll notice that Jehl doesn't include biological weapons in that list. Why? Because, he reports a little later, Iraq "could have begun to produce biological [weapons] in as little as a month if it had restarted its weapons programs in 2003."

What does Duelfer say? He told Pincus that both "the 'CW [chemical warheads] and BW [biological warheads] put on Iraqi missiles in 1990 and 1991, for example, were built in months.'"

Now it should be said that there's one thing Jehl reports which isn't in Pincus's piece. According to Jehl, Charles Duelfer

said that American investigators had found clandestine laboratories in the Baghdad area used by the Iraqi Intelligence Service to conduct research and to test various chemicals and poisons, primarily for secret assassinations rather than to inflict mass casualties.

Which seems like the sort of thing that would lead one to believe Saddam Hussein "had intentions to restart" his weapons program--as Pincus reports, but Jehl does not.

Wouldn't it?

Matthew Continetti is a reporter at The Weekly Standard.