Fifty Ways to Fool a Wingnut

As the rest of the world reacts to the latest torture revelations, the right wing weblogs are all atwitter once again as the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (good old Reaganite John Negroponte's office) ordered the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office to begin releasing millions of pages of documents captured during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Wingnuts are praising this move as a new form of open source intelligence -- calling on the vast cultural and linguistic resources of the right-wing blogosphere (huh?) to translate the documents. Many are excited about the chance to find what intelligence expert Steven Aftergood called "a retrospective justification for the war in Iraq" in these documents. But Negroponte's office has already given the material a thorough skimming and warned that "amateur translators wonąt find any major surprises, such as proof Hussein hid stockpiles of chemical weapons."

You can't blame them for trying, though, and their efforts so far have been valiant, finding what they consider undeniable proof that Saddam was behind the 9/11 attacks: a third-hand report that the Afghani Consul believes that the U.S. has proof that Iraq cooperated with bin Laden and might strike Afghanistan and Iraq in retaliation. It's a little nonsensical -- if the U.S. had proof of this to begin with, why would we be interested in this third-hand conjecture? This sounds a lot more like someone who is out of the loop expressing fear of inevitable US retaliation than any "smoking gun." Another document they are up in arms about has the Fedayeen Saddam asking the Intelligence Service to check up on a rumor that 3,000 jihadists from Iraq and Saudi Arabia were going in an unofficial capacity to fight against the U.S. military in Afghanistan. There is no followup on this rumor, and it is clear that the Iraqi government considers the jihadi force, if it existed at all, an unofficial organization that needed to be reined in; this doesn't stop the bloggers from waving it around as proof of Iraq's support of al Qaeda.

Better is the focus of some right-wingers on this document, which one blogger called "a manual for Saddam's spy service" but which is actually a printout of a document published by the Federation of American Scientists in 1997 (it's easy enough to tell since the FAS markings and a URL are printed right on the document) with a note in Arabic attached. Some seized on a couple sentences in the document as proof of Saddam's training of terrorists, not realizing that they were written by an American scholar in 1997. Dailykos calls them on it, and Juan Cole translates the Arabic.

Another big find for the wingnuts is this correspondence from Iraqi Intelligence in 2002 filled with Arabic writing and threatening looking photos of Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The blogs tell us that the document proves Saddam supported Zarqawi when in fact it suggests the very opposite -- it warns agents to be "on the lookout" for Zarqawi's terrorists; the Associated Press reports that "Attached were three responses in which agents said there was no evidence al-Zarqawi or the other man were in Iraq."

Stephen Hayes, who Juan Cole correctly calls a "notorious liar," just published another article in the Weakly Standard in which he claims to have found evidence to support the years-old theory that Saddam supported and funded the Abu Sayyaf Group, a terrorist organization in the southern Philippines with links to al-Qaeda. Hayes' article is, as usual, much ado about nothing -- Saddam's occasional contacts with Abu Sayyaf were well known long before the 9/11 Commission reviewed all such contacts and concluded that there was no collaborative relationship between Saddam's government and the al Qaeda terrorists. And while this organization has contacts with al Qaeda, Abu Sayyaf's goal is to establish an Islamic government in western Mindanao, not to wage transnational jihad against the "far enemy." (Is Hayes suggesting that we went to war with Iraq to remove a minor source of funding for a group whose activities are limited to destabilizing the Philippines?) But more interesting is that the new evidence that Hayes discovers demonstrates the opposite of what he claims: it shows that Saddam's government cut off all contact with the Philippine terrorists when they began kidnapping westerners! The Iraqi correspondence warns that the group has gotten more dangerous, and that the Iraqi government "discourages the supporting of connections with the Abu Sayyaf group, as the group works against the Philippine government and relies on several methods for material gain, such as kidnapping foreigners, demanding ransoms, as well as being accused by the Philippine government of terrorist acts and drug smuggling." Another letter states "The kidnappers were formerly (from the previous year) receiving money and purchasing combat weapons. From now on we (IIS) are not giving them this opportunity and are not on speaking terms with them." Hayes asserts -- based on information that has been considered suspect by intelligence experts since 2003 -- that the relationship between Iraq and Abu Sayyaf was reestablished after 2001, but the only new information he presents is in those documents.

It just goes to show that it's true what they say -- if you tell yourself a lie often enough, you're a Republican