Friday, October 06, 2006

Weapons Detective: US Propaganda Unit Very Very Sinister

This is part 4 of my interview with Weapons Detective Rod Barton. (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five)

In this instalment, we discuss Judy Miller & David Kelly, and we discuss the possibility of a 'Goebbels-type' propaganda unit in the US which Barton describes as "deadly serious and very very, sinister."


Judy Miller

Luke Ryland: I presume that you came across Judy Miller

Rod Barton: Yes - I know Judy Miller quite well

LR: Your thoughts?

RB: I’d rather not comment

LR: OK... Some of my friends are curious about the relationship between David Kelly and Judy

RB: Well - they certainly met quite frequently - just as Judy and I met. You see, officially, David Kelly, Dick Spertzel, Hamish Killip and I were the team that discovered Iraq's biological program. Judith Miller was very interested in what we were doing - and the UN gave her permission to interview us - and she wrote a major front page article in the NYT about us. That's how we got to know her.

LR: When was that?

RB: 1996, I think. We discovered the biological weapons program in 1995 - and so we were told to cooperate. It was good publicity for the UN. Judith continued to talk to us on several matters after that and of course we feature in her book Germs. So we continued to have contact with her - and David became friendly with her, as did I. We were all in New York and she'd often ask us about various things - if we were working for the UN we wouldn’t tell her because we didn’t want to lose our jobs - but she'd sometimes ask us about other countries - just to seek our technical expertise - on Libya or Iran or North Korea or whatever, and we were often in a position to comment because of our technical expertise. We were often used in that way - and I think that was a relationship that continued through. Certainly with me - and I think also with David. Sometimes the two of us, David and I, we'd have dinner with her, or lunch if we were all in town together. It wasn’t uncommon - and I assume, but don’t know, that is all there was to that relationship - and I don’t know any more than that.

LR: OK - there were emails that they exchanged on his final morning - where Judy mentioned that he had some fans who were interested in how his testimony went - do you have any idea, or can you say, who she was talking about?

RB: No (laughs)

LR: (laughs) I thought that might be your answer - just thought I’d ask!


OK - I presume that you followed fairly closely when those mobile trailers were found in Iraq, and some of the reporting that came out of that period. There were a lot of odd leaks regarding the White Paper and the Jefferson Project and whatnot - and Judy was trying to sell the trailers as being weapons labs and so on - do you have any comment about how the CIA could even allow that dodgy reporting to occur, and how that came about?

RB: Well.... this is a very curious thing - and it's not just about Judy Miller, but also other reporters getting information - sometimes from the CIA - both pre and post war. There was some very curious reporting - and you've got to wonder 'where does this information come from?'

Because the sort of information that comes out, I have to say, is usually supportive of the administration. Other information that is not supportive of the administration, well, you don’t see it in the reporting, and you don’t see it in the leaks from the CIA. So you have to ask yourself 'is someone orchestrating this?'

I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist or anything - but I have to say that I have wondered about this on a number of occasions. Again it's not just Judith Miller but a number of others seem to get 'official information' from the CIA, or someone, somewhere in Washington, anonymous sources that can't be named for various reasons. But who are these people? It can’t possibly be just one person - but it seems like there are a few people orchestrating this whole thing.

I have doubts that the agency can leak like that - because there are polygraph tests and all that - you can't leak information and pass a polygraph test. You know, there are a lot of CIA agents who are anxious to show me things they shouldn’t show me - even though I’m cleared to see it - because the question may come up 'have you shown any foreign national?' - So for them to give something to a journalist, unofficially - I’m not sure that would happen.

LR: But it sure does look like it a lot, doesn’t it?

RB: Well, yes - especially when it all happens in one direction. It makes me wonder - and I’m cautiously speculating - I have no evidence - but there may very well be a propaganda unit - within the CIA and other agencies. It must be within the US administration somewhere. So it appears that there's a propaganda unit that 'leaks' selectively information to certain journalists to spin a certain line that supports the administration. If that is true, it is very, very serious.

LR: (laughs) There aren’t many who would argue with you, I don’t think

RB: Well - if it’s true, then the American people are officially being hoodwinked. This is more serious than the American president saying something with a spin on it. These papers like Washington Post, NY Times, LA Times - well known and respected newspapers are reporting something that might falsely influence the American people - that’s propaganda. And it is illegal, and it is very sinister - it must be illegal if it is true. But I have to say, I’ve watched this fairly carefully, not just with Judy Miller - but with other journalists as well and I think 'who is this source that they are quoting? Why is information of this nature coming out?' And it’s hard to come to any other conclusion - but it must be a possibility that this is true - I have to be careful about how I phrase that.

LR: Well - there was the White House Iraq Group that did a lot of that of that. They had the job of selling the war in Iraq.

RB: Was there? I don't know of them.

You know, it's one thing for politicians to come out and say various things that we might not accept as true - but at least they’re saying it publicly - they aren’t leaking it and trying to influence public opinion per se. But this is different - if they are leaking it to journalists, officially - this is trying to influence public opinion in a certain direction - it's sinister!

LR: Well - a lot of us bloggers watch it closely every day - and we have no doubt that it goes on. In fact, we watch it happen and dissect it in real-time.

RB: Well, to an innocent like me, and I've been in the system for a long time, it's a shock! I dare say you may believe it - but I’m also coming to that conclusion myself. I'm deeply suspicious that it is true. And if it is true, then why aren’t more people writing about it? Why aren’t more people concerned? It’s very weird - I don’t think it occurs in Australia, for example, and probably not in the UK. If it occurs in the US, the American people should be very, very concerned about this. If there's actually a propaganda unit, you could almost say a Goebbels type unit, but I prefer not to use that analogy, influencing American public policy and opinion - this is deadly serious and very, very sinister - and they should all be very concerned if that is true.

LR: Of course - and the same message gets cycled around the world.

RB: Especially when it comes through prestigious newspapers like the NYT and Washington Post and LATimes - people listen when those newspapers report something...

Look, there are legitimate things that can be done to influence public opinion, and then there are things that are flat-out wrong. And selective leaking of bits of information, especially when it is dodgy information, and it's presented as being from some deep source within the CIA, that is just plain wrong. It's different if you are open and transparent about it, for example a politician speaking in public - that’s what politicians do - but what I'm talking about is a lot more sinister than that.

LR: Right - we came to this propaganda discussion when I asked about how the reporting was rolled out about those mobile trailers, and how they were able to go through two or three different iterations in which the trailers were positively ID'd as being for WMD - which enabled George Bush to say "We have found WMDs" and then the White Paper was post-dated for the following day so that his statement was somehow 'technically true'!

RB: These trailers make me so angry. As you know there were opposing views from the different teams that investigated them - but you don’t need to be an expert to know that they had nothing to do with biology. I first saw them on TV - and I was immediately suspicious. The whole thing looked very, very odd to me. You don't need to be an expert to very rapidly come to the conclusion that they weren't for biological weapons. There was also a mountain of paperwork that demonstrated that they had nothing to do with weapons - there is an operators manual about how to produce hydrogen, there is the contract for the manufacture of the trailers which specifies that they were to produce hydrogen and so on. There’s no question that is what the trailers did, and if you turned the trailers on, guess what, they produced hydrogen!

My friend Hamish Killop said 'We shouldn't even be having a discussion about what they are for - it's bleedingly obvious'

LR: You mentioned that there were in fact some opposing views though.

RB: Well, there were some people who wanted to believe that they were biological, and they wrote the report that way, but everyone very quickly realised that they were not. This is even before they had the benefit of seeing the documentation. Once you have the documentation, you can convince anybody. In fact, I did - I convinced General Dayton. There was a lot of conflict between the CIA team leader and the engineers on this.

The team leader - who had no experience in any of this technology - she was not even an engineer, she said "I don't know what they are for, therfore I can't dismiss the possibility that they are not hydrogen generators."

I said "This is absurd. You acknowledge that you aren't an expert, you are not an engineer, and the engineers are saying that this is nonsense"

She finally acknowledged that to me, privately, that it was almost impossible for her to say that the trailers were not biological. She said "I just can't say that" - and I told her that I couldn't really understand why it was so difficult.

LR: Right - she was obviously just buying time - and in the meantime these trailers were still being identified as biological on the front pages of the newspapers, as well as in speeches by key members of the administration.

RB: As I say, the whole thing is outrageous. I discuss this episode in detail in my book.

Astute readers will note that I have previously quoted the last bit of that interview about the Mobile Labs in Part Three of the interview. It seemed to make sense to include it here as well.

For the record, I will also note that the UK did indeed have a propaganda unit called Operation Mass Appeal. From DefenseTech:
"And as a bonus at the end of this short paper, Leitenberg reveals that Scott Ritter was pulled into a British intelligence op called "Operation Mass Appeal" run by MI6 in 1997. The purpose of "Operation Mass Appeal" was to leak weak and not "actionable" data about Iraq's WMD program to the media, who would fall upon it like hungry wolves and keep alive the public impression that Saddam had an active WMD program, despite the lack of official government endorsement. Leitenberg notes that the disinformation operation functioned similar to the DOD Office of Special Plans, but didn't involve disinformation regarding the Iraqi mobile BW production vehicle"
And if I'm not mistaken there was another UK propaganda unit to sell the 2003 Iraq invasion, but the name escapes me at the moment. called Operation Rockingham. see below.

update from the comments:
Operation Rockingham (or the Rockingham cell).

From a Guardian interview with British Member of Parliament Michael Meacher:
In an interview in the Scottish Sunday Herald in June, Ritter said: "Operation Rockingham [a unit set up by defence intelligence staff within the MoD in 1991] cherry-picked intelligence. It received hard data, but had a preordained outcome in mind. It only put forward a small percentage of the facts when most were ambiguous or noted no WMD... It became part of an effort to maintain a public mindset that Iraq was not in compliance with the inspections. They had to sustain the allegation that Iraq had WMD [when] Unscom was showing the opposite."


Simon said...

And if I'm not mistaken there was another UK propaganda unit to sell the 2003 Iraq invasion, but the name escapes me at the moment.

Operation Rockingham (or the Rockingham cell).

From a Guardian interview with British Member of Parliament Michael Meacher:

In an interview in the Scottish Sunday Herald in June, Ritter said: "Operation Rockingham [a unit set up by defence intelligence staff within the MoD in 1991] cherry-picked intelligence. It received hard data, but had a preordained outcome in mind. It only put forward a small percentage of the facts when most were ambiguous or noted no WMD... It became part of an effort to maintain a public mindset that Iraq was not in compliance with the inspections. They had to sustain the allegation that Iraq had WMD [when] Unscom was showing the opposite."


lukery said...

thnx bud.

for some(!) reason, I couldn't get my head to think beyond the name Operation Mockingbird.

Simon said...


No probs.

Actually you weren't far wrong.

Operation Mockingbird is a Central Intelligence Agency operation to influence domestic and foreign media, whose activities were made public during the Church Committee investigation in 1975 (published 1976).

The word Mockingbird was first used by Deborah Davis in Katharine the Great (1979). There is no evidence that the CIA called it this. Cord Meyer said that when he joined the operation in 1951 it was so secret that it did not have a name.

Operation Mockingbird

lukery said...

yeah - thnx - i know. i had 2 syllables (minus one letter) right, plus the goals of the program - but my brain kept stopping at that point. ("for some(!) reason")

is it of any interest that Ritter is on record describing both Mass Appeal and Rockingham? or is that just just an accident of the reporting or something?

Simon said...


No, it's not an accident of the reporting. And I do suppose Scott Ritter's account is probably the most important here in the bigger picture of things (and I definitely don't want to take away from what Rod Barton has said in his book and on this blog).

Rod's account is very straightforward, very factual, and puts the pieces together, especially with what happened with the ISG, in an almost seamless fashion. But he leaves bits out. He doesn't really want to tell us what the nuggets were. These are the important bits, vitally important if anyone is ever to be called to account for talking up an illegal war. I can completely understand that he realises that there could (would?) be repercussions if he did go so far. It would be embarrassing for Governments and senior civil servants if he did so. People could get charged and lose their positions, indeed their places in life. He could well be called before Parliamentary and Congressional hearings to explain himself if he did go so far. He would also need all the evidence to back up what he says...

Rod describes himself as an innocent, and to a great extent I believe him. He comes across as an exceptionally straight guy. But has he really never heard of the WHIG? For someone in his position to be non-internet savvy and unknowing about all that led to the war, well I find that very hard to take in.

Scott on the other hand is American. He can go as far as he wants with anything. No-one would ever sanction him for anything he said, instead they have to demonize him because his voice is already too strong.

Don't believe him - he molests children!!

Scott comes across as someone who tries almost too much. His book shows this. He, almost single handedly, prevented Iraq from closing the book on everything they had done. Scott said yep we got 95%, but he wouldn't stop at that. He forced inspections of Presidential Guard units, based on the notion that if stuff existed, they must have it or at least know where it was. Problem is, it wasn't there and they didn't know about it. He is completely candid about the spying operations conducted under cover of UNSCOM, and with Israeli participation in intelligence gathering (which was clearly way out-of-bounds but happened all the same.)

Have a go at this if you've time. It's Scott at his best. As a straight-off-the-cuff monologue it probably deserves a serious award. (Even if he may only be 95% right about Iran.)

Scott Ritter at Amherst on November 17, 2005.

emptywheel said...

Great stuff, lukery (but you knew Simon and I'd like this...)

FTR, I think Judy's sources can be guessed with a fair degree of certainty (though of course I can't publish this). Her first article (May 8) on the trailers was clearly sourced to Steven Cambone (he is on the record in the article). The next (May 11) might include more from Cambone or someone in OSP (Feith--remember, she was with DOD propagandist Harold Rhode at the time, and he had a lifeline back to Pentagon). And her third (May 21) pretty explicitly comes from someone who attended a WH briefing on the White Paper: Libby, Wolfie, Rummy, or Cambone, I'd say. As to the June 7 article, that's tougher. Judy was trying to retain her ability to publish, so it probably involved her giving people like Kelly more credence than she normally would.

FWIW, I don't think WHIG's role is this kind of leaking (except insofar as Libby was involved with it). I think WHIG's relationship to this kind of leaking is exactly parallel to their relationship to the Plame Affair, in which they capitalized on Novak's article after the fact, but had a minor role in the propagation of the initial leaks (if Libby had successfully used Judy as a cut-out on July 8, then they would have gotten the story on A1 in NYT on July 9, at which point the seeding they had done (with Ari, with Novak) would have served to magnify the leak immediately).

Or take the September 8 article, which is pretty widely accepted to be a WHIG product (though I'm not sure how Michael Gordon fits into it). THat DID include other key leaks, of details that couldn't be learned independently. But the base of it was open source information (UNSCOM data from 1998, for example). So I think the Aluminum tubes article derived from (1) Gordon's DIA sources (the "admin sources" named wrt tubes (2) Judy's interviews with the principals who were at Camp David, including elaboration on the tubes and a few more highly classified details (the "SAO" sources), (3) Gordon's own interviews with some of these folks, under the auspices of WHIG (the "hardliner" quotes, including the "smoking gun" quote), and (4) some more data from their collective experience, including 3 exiles.

And then of course, Miller is a cerifiable mouthpiece of Bolton, who also took raw intelligence and leaked it to her directly (this we can definitely prove by comparing the BOlton nomination testimony with some of her articles).

So you're really talking about this being orchestrated out of OVP (the extended form with its DOD allies and Bolton), with WHIG serving to amplify the original leaks.

Simon said...


I know you are a million times better at this than me, and that your fingers are on the pulse in a way which mine will never be, but sometimes you write stuff which just stands out so far in my mind that I've just got to comment on it.

Judy was trying to retain her ability to publish, so it probably involved her giving people like Kelly more credence than she normally would.

This is the bit I just don't understand. Why would she even mention the doubts if she was given a drumstick and was told to beat it to the march of war? Rod Barton says (above) that they were all friends, and that she and Dr Kelly met privately for dinner etc. How much credence would she normally give him (or any other trusted source come to that)? How would this help her publisher to support her ability to publish when they must have already known she had top-level sources (ignoring the Chalibi/defector stuff for a moment)? Over here in the UK Dr Kelly has been painted to be a hawk who believed in the case to remove Saddam for fear of his WMD. If he was so 'on-side' why was he talking to Andrew Gilligan, Susan Watts and Judy anyway? That's the greater mystery here.

emptywheel said...


I'm not sure if I understand your story. But my evolving latest story to explain her June 7 article is this. First, the article was written with Broad, so we don't know how much of the balance came from him. And there are definitely still signs of her credulity (as when she claims the White Paper was remarkably balanced; it's so clearly propaganda, that I can't believe she said that after the White Paper had been declassified).

But as of May 15, in response to the Jayson Blair scandal, the NYT started investigating other cases of jounralistic impropriety. I'm certain Judy was on that list; we know of people internally who complained about her Iraq reporting. And she was given a minder (Broad). One of the last acts of Raines and Boyd was to let her go to Iraq, where she was refused greater access than she had been--which might have prevented her from getting the straight story from those in country who knew the MBLs were BS. But the June 7 article was written just after Lelyveld got named acting Exec Editor of the NYT. So I imagine Judy went to some pains to at least look objective (in spite of the still-present credulity in the article). And I think the best way for her to do so would be to give what Kelly said--and other inspectors--more credence than her SAO sources. Also note, I'm pretty sure William Broad (who worked with Judy on Germs) would be included in that small group, so it's possible that it was Broad getting the clear signals that the trailers were not MBLs)

One way to think of it is to compare the 9/13/2002 article (the follow-up to the aluminum tube article, after speaking to David Albright) with the 6/7/2003 article. We know Judy spoke to real inspectors AND SAOs for both (or Broad did in June). BUt for the 9/13 article, she ignored what they said. For the 6/7 article, she gave equal time to the inspectors.

Now, it may not have been that Judy's judgment changed. I rather suspect that it wss harder for her to pitch her stories, partly because she lost carte blanche when Boyd left, partly because Lelyveld simply had higher journalistic standards. So he had to rely on more of her atrophied journalistic skills, whether or not she wanted to.

lukery said...

Simon: "He comes across as an exceptionally straight guy. But has he really never heard of the WHIG?"

He does comes across really straight - but i too was very surprised at his apparent innocence/surprise re propaganda. I'll have to go back and listen to that part of the interview again to see if there's anything else i can pick up on that - one thing is sure, he appeared very, sincerely, concerned about propaganda and the effect, and he's been doing some 'lessons learned' speeches trying to make sure 'we' don't make the same sort of mistakes wrt iran. (i'm trying to get a copy of one of them from 2 weeks ago)

I emailed stuff re WHIG to him after the interview, and he thanked me for sending it thru. I also emailed him a day or two ago re Rockingham and Mass Appeal being propaganda units. His response:
You are right, perhaps. I had forgotten about Operation Mass Appeal, and now I recall Scott talking about that. I am not sure exactly what it's objectives were, and whether Scott's and Milton's interpretations are correct but on the face of it, it certainly looks like a propaganda unit.
Rockingham, I am familiar with and have over the years visited the unit in the Ministry of Defence, several times. It has been operating since 1991, immediately after the first Gulf War and was co-located with the Defence Intelligence Staff. Its sole purpose was to supply support, including finding personnel, for UN inspections and associated matters in Iraq. For example it supported Operation Gateway (see my book), in Bahrain. I do not believe it had any propaganda role.

EW: FWIW, I don't think WHIG's role is this kind of leaking
yeah, my WHIG comment was a general comment in reply to his generic 'gee - maybe there's propaganda' musings

lukery said...

Simon: "Kelly has been painted to be a hawk who believed in the case to remove Saddam for fear of his WMD"
yuo asked me to ask Rod about that, and i didnt. sorry.

Simon said...


Many thanks for your clarifications here. As you probably realise, I'm coming at things from the Dr Kelly angle rather than that of Judy. I just tend to think that both of them probably came to a 'maybe it's not really here after all' moment. I'm just trying to work out when it was.

Where you say:

"Now, it may not have been that Judy's judgment changed."

I think it must have done at some point in mid-2003. Maybe for her it was far far too late to go back on all she had written before. I also think she must have firmly believed in what she was doing when she set out on the Iraq WMD imbroglio, before finally arriving at all of the much later bitter-sour conclusions (along with all their inevitably-attached repercussions).

It probably took some time before the first seedlings of doubt became a bit more deeply rooted and firm. But I do think this is what most likely happened to her, and quite likely to Dr Kelly too, at some point before he went on his final walk.


you asked me to ask Rod about that, and i didn't. sorry.

Might be worth a go if you get a chance, but it would be nicer if you could ask him if he would be perhaps willing to join us here. If not, would he otherwise be willing to expand on some of the points (so far) raised in the interview?

(In the past I've seen that Scott adds his e-addy to some of the articles he has written. You don't fancy trying to add to to your portfolio of interviewees by any chance?)

Help us to stop the war

lukery said...

simon - i'll try to contact scott.

re barton joining us in the comments - i'll get around to publishing the rest of the interview this week, and i'm reasonably confident that we'll be able to get him to join in - either directly in the comments, or via email (depending on his familiarity with the technology.)

he has been very responsive to me - so i suspect we'd be able to get follow-up in one way or other.