Joe Conason's Journal

If the "secret" intelligence memo leaked to the Weekly Standard was meant to prove a link between Iraq and al-Qaida, it failed.

Published November 20, 2003 6:55PM (EST)

The Standard and its standards
This morning Stephen Hayes, author of the Weekly Standard's controversial cover story on alleged connections between Iraq and al-Qaida, appeared with me on Brian Lehrer's WNYC radio program. Although Hayes defended his story, based on a secret prewar memo, he conceded that the headline on the piece should perhaps have been "Case Open" (as Jack Shafer suggests) instead of "Case Closed." (He has also posted a response to the Defense Department's repudiation of his story here.)

An online recording of the segment will be posted here.

Pressed by me (and the host), Hayes said twice on air that the Weekly Standard "might" consider releasing the 16-page memo to the rest of the media, so that its contents can be more widely evaluated. His main objection to releasing the document, ironically, was his concern for protecting the security of intelligence sources and methods. Not everyone in the media, he warned, would be as "responsible" as the Standard's editors. The CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee, both of which have asked the Justice Department to investigate the Feith memo leak, are not quite so sanguine about the tradecraft and wisdom of the Murdoch media.

According to Hayes, the Standard had the memo reviewed by four former intelligence officials to ascertain what could be published without damaging national security. (He specifically mentioned neocon eminence and former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who has also served as Ahmad Chalabi's lawyer.)

I suggested that Hayes and his bosses could ask those same experts to review the memo again and redact anything that might prove dangerous. Then they could release the redacted memo so that other news organizations can assess its meaning. As long as the Standard alone possesses the memo, its writers and editors enjoy a certain advantage. He rejected that idea. Apparently the Standard is not eager to allow anyone else to examine its scoop in detail.

That didn't stop Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball from shredding the Standard story in this analysis. According to the Newsweek investigative team, many of the reports cited in the Feith memo (and the Standard story) "were old, uncorroborated and came from sources of unknown if not dubious credibility." They were also "selectively presented" and "contradicted by other things."

The Isikoff-Hosenball column, which is well worth reading, concludes that the obvious motive of the leaker was "to shore up the Bush administration's prewar claims and defuse the intelligence committee investigation into allegations of the misuse of intelligence. Unfortunately, for the Pentagon and the Standard, the claims detailed in the memo will do little, if anything, to advance the case."
[11 a.m. PST, Nov. 20, 2003]

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By Salon Staff

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