Selective “Revelations”: The NYTimes and the “BND Affair”

Posted by John Rosenthal

Citing a “classified German review”, an article in today’s NYTimes advances new claims to the effect that the German intelligence officers based in Iraq during the Iraq War aided the US-led war effort against the regime of Saddam Hussein. (Hat-tip: Medienkritik.) The “review” in question is the same report, prepared by the German government for the Bundestag’s Parliamentary Control Committee (PKG), that I cited Monday in “German Reports: Al-Masri Led Islamist ‘Commando’”. The Times mistakenly identifies it as a report prepared by the parliamentary committee.

As I noted in my Monday post, roughly 2/3 of the report – consisting of virtually everything that was not already in the public domain – has not been made public. How did the Times gain access to the classified portions? The Times article provides the following curious account:

A copy of the secret version of the parliamentary report was made available for viewing by a journalist in Germany to a New York Times reporter who read the text into a tape recorder so it could be transcribed and translated. The cover page had the seal of the German Parliament.

Why the ultra-conspiratorial approach? Wouldn’t a copying machine have worked? And note the detail about having the tape “transcribed and translated”, which suggests that – whoever the mysterious “reporter” may have been – the two authors of the article do not understand German well enough to have read the report in the original. (The article is co-signed by Times Berlin correspondent Richard Bernstein, who a couple of years ago filed a story ["Beeskow Journal", 18 April 2003] in which he referred to “the old song ‘Deutschland uber Alles’”. The “old song” in question was and still is the German national anthem, though the verse containing the phrase “Deutschland über alles” is as a rule not sung nowadays.)

Note too that the Times somehow did not find newsworthy the revelations about Khaled Al-Masri’s connections to a radical Islamic group that are also supposed to be contained in the unpublished portions of the government report. Nonetheless, these revelations – without requiring tape recorder, transcription and translation – have been widely reported in the German media.

All signs point to the current “revelations” being in fact a targeted leak to the NYTimes: not from the German government as such, but rather from the German Foreign Office and/or the principal German intelligencer service, the BND. Consider the Times observation that in the run-up to the Iraq War the German “need for intelligence [in Iraq]” was “growing rather than diminishing because of the possibility of war”: an observation that does not constitute “news” or an independent assessment by the Times, but merely repeats verbatim the official Foreign Office line as to why German intelligence agents were in Iraq at all.

German Foreign Secretary Frank-Walter Steinmeier was a close aide of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. At the time of the American-led intervention, he served under Schröder as government coordinator of German intelligence services. In light of the Schröder government’s opposition to the Iraq War, Steinmeier and his former colleagues are supposed to be “embarrassed” by the “revelations” concerning German “help” for the American-led war effort. No doubt they would have far more reason to be embarrassed should English-language media start paying attention to the evidence that in the run-up to the war the BND continued to maintain what German intelligence expert Erich Schmidt-Eenboom has described as “its very good contacts with the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein”.

[For more on the "BND Affair", see the Trans-Int dossier of the same name in the left sidebar.]

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