A Short Rendition of the Long List of Errors In Suskind's Previous Book
Suskind's last book "The One Per Cent Doctrine" came under heavy fire for errors and inaccuracies. Here are a few examples:
Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, 23 June 2006, Inside "A" Section
"The One Percent Doctrine," a new book by Ron Suskind on the shadowy war on terror, is getting good reviews in the liberal press, which likes its portrayal of the administration as a bunch of bunglers. And conservatives like the parts that show Vice President Dick Cheney and other top Bush administration officials as committed to ruthlessly destroying al Qaeda.
But some in the intelligence community contend the book, which has reached No. 1 on Amazon.com, is riddled with errors.
"A lot of information is simply wrong," said a counterterrorism official who asked not to be named.
One glaring inaccuracy, this official said, is the book's assertion that Abu Zubaydah, whom the CIA captured in Pakistan in 2002, was not a key al Qaeda figure, and was insane to boot.
The counterterror official said Zubaydah is "crazy like a fox" and was a senior planner inside al Qaeda who has provided critical information on how Osama bin Laden's group works.
" 'One Percent Doctrine' is an appropriate title for the book because it appears about 1 percent of the material in the book is right," the official said.....
June 23, 2006 5:30 PM
Christopher Isham Reports:
Counter-terrorism officials in the United States and Great Britain say an allegation of a "catastrophic breakdown in communications," reported in a new book on terror, is based on the author's own breakdown in communication.
Officials say author Ron Suskind, in "The One Percent Doctrine," got names confused when he reported that the mastermind of last year's London bombings, Mohammad Siddique Khan, had contacts in the United States, had been placed on a no-fly list and was prevented from boarding a plane to the United States in 2003.
U.S. and British officials say Suskind is wrong about that Khan.
They say he may, in fact, be referring to another Khan, Mohammed Amjad Khan, who pleaded guilty to terrorist-related activities earlier this year in Great Britain and did have contacts in the United States.
Asked about it last night on the BBC program Newsnight, Suskind denied any mistaken identity and insisted the Khan involved in the London bombing had tried to fly to the United States.
NEWSWEEK: Which Khan?
U.S. and U.K. officials dispute a claim in a new book that the Americans had warned the British about a London subway bomber before the July 2005 attacks.
Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, 21 June 2006
June 21, 2006 -- Author Ron Suskind appears to have hit the mark with his reporting in a newly published book about an abortive 2003 Al Qaeda plot to attack the New York City subway system with homemade cyanide bombs. But British and U.S. government officials, as well as two British national newspapers, are raising questions about another claim in Suskind's book. In it, the author said that U.K. authorities may have fumbled intelligence from U.S. investigators about a British suspect who subsequently led a team of suicide bombers who attacked London's public transport system last July 7.
In "The One Percent Doctrine," published this week by Simon and Schuster, and in subsequent media interviews, Suskind alleged that future London subway bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan, a U.K. citizen, was discovered in 2002 by U.S. authorities to have been in contact with extremists in America about a plot to blow up synagogues on the East Coast. Suskind alleges that Khan made at least two trips to the U.S. to finalize attack plans and says U.S. investigators in 2003 insisted that the CIA's Counter-Terrorism Center inform British intelligence about Khan's alleged activities. Suskind claims that as a result of the intelligence they gathered on Khan, U.S. authorities put Khan on a "no fly" list two years before the London attacks.
Suskind's claims provoked a political uproar in London because they conflict with official stories U.K. authorities have told about their investigations into the July 7, 2005 London bombings. Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of M.I.5, Britain's counterintelligence agency (also known as the Security Service), told a parliamentary inquiry that her agency had no reason to regard Khan as a serious terrorist threat in the years and months before the subway bombings occurred.
And according to several U.S. and U.K. law-enforcement and counterterrorism officials who spoke to NEWSWEEK anonymously because of the sensitivity of the subject matter, Suskind's information about Khan visiting the United States, and about the CIA being pressed to warn the U.K. about him, is mistaken. The officials said that Suskind and his sources, who include a retired FBI agent who was one of the U.S. government's top Al Qaeda gumshoes, apparently confused the London bomber Mohammed Siddique Khan with another U.K.-based terror suspect named Mohammed Ajmal Khan. Suskind told NEWSWEEK Wednesday that he stands by his reporting as do his sources, who he rechecked with after questions were raised about the allegations in his book.
Suskind's book and its inflammatory allegations about Mohammed Siddique Khan were heavily promoted early this week by The Times of London, the daily newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. But over the last two days, two of The Times' competitors, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph, have published stories questioning Suskind's claims and reporting assertions by British intelligence sources that Suskind had in fact confused the stories of two suspects named Khan…..
For Immediate Release
June 22, 2006
FBI National Press Office
FBI Responds to Report on London Bomber
Washington, D.C. - In response to several news reports based on material from the book entitled "The One Percent Doctrine" the FBI would like to clarify some facts. The book asserts that Mohammad Sidique Khan, a suspect in the London subway bombings of July 7, 2005, was on the U.S. "No Fly List" and attempted to enter the United States three times. That reporting is inaccurate. There is an individual named Mohammed Ajmal Khan, who is currently incarcerated in the United Kingdom for providing material support to terrorism. Many of the facts the book inaccurately associates with Mohammed Sidique Khan do apply to Mohammed Ajmal Khan. It appears that the author has intertwined facts relating to both men causing some confusion.
International cooperation has been, and will continue to be, crucial to preventing and disrupting terrorist networks. We continue to work closely with our domestic and international partners to review and share intelligence information and to conduct investigations as necessary.
U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT
You can imagine why George Tenet is mad at the 9/11 book The One Percent Doctrine and reviewers who finger the ex-CIA director as the key leaker in the tale of how the administration flopped into war. "It's not true that he was a cooperating source for [author Ron] Suskind," says an ally. Suskind agrees, E-mailing us: "Reviewers who've suggested that Tenet was the primary source [of over 100] are simply incorrect."
But now stirred, the former top spy's team is taking aim at the larger book, which they say includes errors and exaggerations. Like where Suskind says Vice President Dick Cheney's nickname in the CIA was "Edgar," as in ventriloquist Edgar Bergen. Or where he wrote that the emir of Qatar passed notes from an al Jazeera reporter to the CIA that led to terrorist arrests. "Tenet's especially frosted about that one," says the pal. Tenet is writing his own book and has access to secret papers he says will back up his claims. Ha, sneers Suskind. "It's just patently wrong," he says of the criticism. "These are good guys, but they're doing a self-defense strategy here, no doubt because of Tenet's book."This story appears in the August 7, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report
It's official, the war on terror is a source of entertainment. Not for everyone -- but for those who've become the symbolic interpreters of it, like talk-show newsmen, network news frontmen, or the famous journalist with a revolving book contract -- it is. The terror war works as a provider of material which can be cherry-picked, or embellished, even told straight, but packaged to be delivered as a diversion....
IBut today, Dick Destiny blog -- with its GlobalSecurity.Org senior fellow hat firmly on, comes back to Pulitzer-winner Ron Suskind and his book, The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of its Enemies Since 9/11.
In a review in the New York Times book review last Sunday, Suskind was described as "a top notch newspaperman, one of the best natural writers the Wall Street Journal ever produced, and he commands an authorial voice many journalists can only dream of. Give him an hour with a cooperative source, and he'll give you six pages of beautiful scene-setting, scissor sharp dialogue and a nugget or two of insight . . . "
It could be true. Dick Destiny blog isn't sure. Most people it knows aren't scissor sharp speakers and it gets suspicious when it reads non-fiction dialogue that's so alert.
So when it reads Suskind's reporting about things it knows a bit about, it doesn't hear an "authorial voice." It finds what could be errors or extraordinary claims, world-changing ones, that are either not attributed or simply a page or half-page of blurbs.
In Suskind's book you never know who is delivering information to the reporter, just that it could be someone famous from inner circles, a Mr. Z or a Mr. Y or a Mr. X. You can take wild guesses at who they might be but there's no way to know motivations for imparting the information, the credibility of those interviewed or even the level of basic common sense present in the room.
But because Suskind is a name in bright lights within the newsmedia, no one actually addressed this in a major way when retelling items which for them were sensational and pleasing stories of menace and terror barely averted.
The story of al Qaeda's cyanide-producing Mubtakkar bomb was one such cracking fine story. It furnished everything the newsmedia would want in terror news or infotainment. It could be quickly described and it meant black choking death in the New York City subway in big numbers.
While few impeded it even slightly on television or old media print, it did raise questions.
Suskind described an improvised weapon that was assembed by government experts and shown in White House briefings to throw scares into people, convincing them of the gravity of its menace. By the end of The One Percent Doctrine, it's a the equivalent of a knick-knack tossed on a table by George W. Bush.
But there's no picture of the vaunted hardware. It's missing. Too sensitive? Classified? The reader isn't told.
On the other hand, the Department of Homeland Security did distribute a photograph and memorandum containing another jihadist-inspired cyanide bomb in 2003. It was in color, well described and not classified. It was, in other words, in the open.
Suskind's Mubtakkar, however, was not, apparently, until the publication of his book. And his cyanide-bomb does not correspond with the DHS-described cyanide-bomb, one which could be compared with a jihadist drawing of the same also found in open source.
And herein lies a problem. It's not a small issue and it gets at the heart of telling the story of the war on terror as infotainment vs. providing information and careful wisdom on the same thing.
The US government did not describe its cyanide-bomb, made up from a jihadist diagram, as the terror equivalent of "splitting the atom," as Suskind did. The memorandum on it was cautiously delivered nationwide with caveats as to where it might work and where it might not. It came with reasoned analysis that described elements of uncertainty associated with it. It was not made into a sensation. It wasn't a throw-up-your-hands-in- panic piece of technology, like Suskind's Mubtakkar.
Suskind, however, delivered no such uncertainty with his Mubtakkar. It was "a portable disaster, easy to assemble," he wrote. It was "a device that bent the laws of physics" and was "a holy grail for terrorists."
Of course, it did not bend nature, it depended on a simple chemical reaction. But the prose is a sensation, building the icy cold menace into the story of secret terror plots.
For the book, Suskind goes briefly into the history of cyanide-producing devices. He mentions the Aum Shinrikyo terror group's efforts in this area. Aum, flubbed lethal cyanide-production a couple of times in Japan, possibly more, and definitely possessed materials and intent. And as part of a wide-ranging criminal case, the information on Aum's methods, successes and failures made its way into the open. But the DHS-made Mubtakkar, which was also available in open source and which would seem to pertain to the war on terror in exactly the same slot as Suskind's Mubtakkar is absent from his book's account.
Did it not stretch the laws of physics enough?
With the DHS-distributed photo and jihadist diagram of one cyanide-producing bomb in the open, Dick Destiny blog was able to ask enough questions to trace the history of both here. An anonymous government source attested to the truth of it and added that while information had not been publicized, such a device has been used once in Afghanistan, where it failed. This sounded true but because it was not accompanied by anything more substantive than say-so from authority, it's impossible to know if it's absolutely so. Caution is recommended.
In any case, Suskind did not stop with the Mubtakkar. He writes that al Qaeda produced anthrax in Afghanistan and that a sample of it was seized in Kandahar. Apparently this, too, was a secret, because nowhere in the scholarly record, or in any attachments to official reports on 9/11 and its aftermath, has this startling fact been revealed.
Like Suskind's writing on the Mubtakkar, the details are scant but sensational. "The CIA . . . descended on a house in Kandahar and discovered a small, extremely potent example of the biological agent."
Anthrax, like efficient mass cyanide-production, was thought to be "beyond al Qaeda's abilities . . . it could be easily reproduced [by al Qaeda] to create a quantity that could be readily weaponized."
These are astonishing statements. With all the information and investigation into anthrax and terrorism since 9/11, the US government has not seen fit to tell the people that it was found in Afghanistan, leaving it to a popular book?
The scholarly take on al Qaeda and anthrax was pieced together by arms control experts, most prominently Milton Leitenberg, a research scholar at the University of Maryland. One description of their desires and work, "Al Qaeda BW efforts in Afghanistan: 1997-98 to 2001" can be found in his monograph, "Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat." (It's here.)
It has a few obvious differences with Suskind's story. It's more detailed, as befits a scholarly discourse, and it is footnoted.
Leitenberg writes of an individual, revealed in letters seized in Kandahar in 2001, a man "with Ph.D.-level training who understood the professional microbiology literature, and who understood professional procedures for purchasing pathogen cultures. He was willing to trade on the access provided by his status, while concealing the true purpose of his activities, which was to provide al Qaeda with the means to attempt its first [Biological Warfare] capability. However, he was not prepared to do any of the laboratory work himself. There is no evidence in any of the declassified pages to indicate that any bacterial cultures had yet been obtained, or that any had been shipped to Afghanistan or Pakistan or that any work had yet begun."
Leitenberg also picks up the story prior to and after the invasion by analyzing the statements of government officials, including CIA-director George Tenet, and information revealed in interrogations with al Qaeda men tasked in the project for developing a biological weapon, Yazid Sufaat and Hambali (aka Raduan Isamuddin).
The discussion is careful and replete with caveats but comes to the conclusion that while al Qaeda had plans in Afghanistan and had allocated resources and men to carry them forward, that "nothing so far translated indicated access to the most dangerous microbial strains or to any advanced processing methods . . . "
"After his capture, Hambali told his interrogators that he had earlier been collaborating with Sufaat, that he had been trying 'trying to open an al Qaeda bioweapons branch plant,' and that Sufaat 'had been working on an al Qaeda anthrax program in Kandahar' . . . but that after the U.S. attack on the Taliban, they had planned to move the 'program' to Indonesia. However, Sufaat had been unable to obtain a pathogenic strain of anthrax," wrote Leitenberg. (Leitenberg gleans these statements from open source newspaper accounts.)
Leitenberg adds, "The key question regarding the information . . . is whether there is additional documentary or material evidence to support it beyond that already obtained in the papers found in November 2001 and the locations occupied at the time. Those did not indicate success 'in isolating cultures of [anthrax]. And only the Sterne vaccine strain had been available to the group in Afghanistan . . . "
It is a complicated analysis. Dick Destiny blog encourages you to read it completely, and Leitenberg qualifies his examination with uncertainty where appropriate. History, of course, is changeable when new facts arrive.
However, Suskind's support for al Qaeda's production of anthrax is far slimmer. He also mentions Hambali and Yazid Sufaat, but in his book's telling, "One disclosure was particularly alarming: al Qaeda had, in fact, produced high grade anthrax. Hambali, under interrogation, revealed its whereabouts in Afghanistan."
And that is it.
But that was enough to be mentioned in a Sunday New York Times magazine article and to be hit upon in a brief bit of drive-by terror war infotainment on the McLaughlin Group, an interview in which the Suskind book is called "a staggering achievement."
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: Now, you know that anthrax is not easy to deliver.
MR. SUSKIND: It is not.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It's highly milled, extremely highly milled.
MR. SUSKIND: Yep.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: It has to be inhaled in true inhaling. It has to be -- sometimes it can be put in an air conditioner, but even that's hard to do. And then if you -- the talk about the Super Bowl and wiping out hundreds of thousands or tens of thousands of people at the Super Bowl from an airplane above, the airplane would have to be flying at a certain speed; it would have to deliver it in a certain atmosphere, et cetera -- not easy to do.
MR. SUSKIND: Not easy to do.
MR. MCLAUGHLIN: And is that all that al Qaeda is thinking about now, or is that gone too?
MR. SUSKIND: Another thing we now know from this investigation is that al Qaeda, to our surprise, had produced a very virulent sample of weaponizable anthrax. I won't get into all the specifics as to how we know it's weaponizable, but it is. That shocked us. We knew they were working on labs and trying their best, but it is hard to do, as you say. We found in the fall of 2003, through intelligence, we found that they had produced and we went to Kandahar and found the sample.
All nicely wrapped and finished. Although the U.S. government has never officially revealed it, "we" can't get into the specifics of how "we" know al Qaeda had "weaponizable" anthrax but "we" do and "we" found it.
Likely, unlikely, yes, no, truth, fiction, factual fiction, or half-truths, there's no way to tell. What can be said is that the biggest claims find their way into the best newsbytes delivered in selling the book.
Now, let us jump to page 185 of Suskind's The One Percent Doctrine. The writing is rat-a-tat-tat and "we" again comes into play:
There was an up-and-coming player named Zarqawi -- we'd been tracking him through 2002 . . . He was, it seemed, behind several biochemical attacks in Europe, including a scare involving ricin, the toxic paste made from castor beans, in Britain the previous summer.
Except there were no "several biochemical attacks in Europe."
And the panic over an alleged ricin ring in Britain did not occur in the summer of 2001.
Infamous ricin scare newspaper coverage
The frontpage headline of Britain's Mirror newspaper on January 8, 2003, was "IT'S HERE" and the accompanying story suggested that a ricin plot had been found in England, just before the war in Iraq.
British anti-terrorist branch men swooped down on suspected terrorists in the north and east of London in September of 2002 and January of 2003. In one of the sweeps on January 5, called Operation Springbourne, the plant poison ricin was claimed to have been found in an apartment above a pharmacy in a place called Wood Green. The news flashed around the world.
In the subsequent trial of the alleged London ricin ring in 2005, a jury found everyone but one loner, Kamel Bourgass, not guilty. During the proceedings it came out that no ricin had actually been made at Wood Green and that the initial finding publicized in British and American newspapers had been a false positive.
The story of it was long and complicated, littered with inconvenient facts that contradicted the original received wisdom delivered in the newsmedia. Despite that, much of it still made its way into British newspapers and onto the Internet.
But somehow the Pulitzer-winning reporter and his editors at Simon & Schuster missed it. The date was wrong and the association with Zarqawi was wrong. The poison recipes attributed to Kamel Bourgass, the principal defendant in the poison terror ring case, were found on Yahoo servers in Palo Alto, California, and no biochemical attacks had been carried out in Europe.
Eh -- to err is human.
But when the selling point of your book and the credence given to its extraordinary stories are aligned with the reputation as a Pulitzer-winning reporter . . .
The lay reader of Suskind's book might not be expected to know such details. But some people do and botching that which is easy to get right doesn't inspire confidence in the reporting of bigger claims that have much less substantiation for them in open sources.
So here is the dilemma for publishers, editors, reporters and readers: Are the stories of the war on terrorism not so good if they don't come with the extraordinary claim from the inside, if the truth is judged uninteresting? Are they perhaps not entertaining enough, too incapable of selling books, of captivating viewers, of getting attention?
What's true? What's not? Is it better for the polity to have interesting stories provided to it by its symbolic interpreters, ones that aren't necessarily true, to understand the war on terror?
Near the end of The One Percent Doctrine, some scissor-sharp dialogue emerges:
No one says, "There's no proof!" the CIA manager exhorted, his voice rising . . . "There is no judgment in the system. No one is saying, 'Based on my experience, this person is a lying dog' . . . "