Reasons To Be Wary Of The Daily Mail's Saudi Letter "Exclusive"May 1, 2013 11:53 AM EDT ››› SIMON MALOY
The UK's Daily Mail has an "EXCLUSIVE" story this morning on the government of Saudi Arabia reportedly sending a letter to the Department of Homeland Security in 2012 warning about suspected Boston marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. It's being promoted heavily by conservative bloggers and is, at the moment, featured on The Drudge Report. There is ample reason, however, to take this story with a massive grain of salt. As it's reported, the story is extremely thin, and its two authors have a history of wildly inaccurate reporting.
According to the Daily Mail, the "Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sent a written warning about accused Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2012, long before pressure-cooker blasts killed three and injured hundreds." The report is based on a single anonymous source: a "senior Saudi government official with direct knowledge of the document." By all indications, the Daily Mail did not obtain a copy of the letter, and they quoted officials in DHS and the White House denying that any such letter was received.
The paper even acknowledged that they could not confirm their source's claims: "If true, the account will produce added pressure on the Homeland Security department and the White House to explain their collective inaction after similar warnings were offered about Tsarnaev by the Russian government." [emphasis added] The paper also seemed unable to confirm which intelligence agency produced the document: "The letter likely came to DHS via the Saudi Ministry of Interior, the agency tasked with protecting the Saudi kingdom's homeland."
As for the Saudi source, despite claiming to have "direct knowledge" of the document, he offered vague and arguably contradictory descriptions of its contents, describing it as "very specific" about its warning that "something was going to happen in a major U.S. city." And, curiously, the Saudi source claimed the same letter was sent to the British government, but the Daily Mail report offered no indication that the paper contacted British intelligence services to confirm or deny this.
The authorship of today's report doesn't inspire much confidence either. Its primary author, Daily Mail U.S. politics editor David Martosko, just recently arrived at the paper after a stint as executive editor of the Daily Caller. Martosko's tenure at the conservative news outlet was marked by a series of "bombshell" stories that were wildly overhyped and ultimately fell apart. His parting gift to the Daily Caller was a salacious and poorly vetted story claiming that Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) had patronized prostitutes in the Dominican Republic. As the story slowly disintegrated, Martosko wrote a series of articles defending the Daily Caller's reporting, even as other news outlets came forward and said they passed up the story because it just wasn't credible. Shortly after Martosko departed for the Daily Mail, it was reported that the Daily Caller's sources had been paid to lie about Menendez, leaving Martosko's former colleagues to try and clean up the mess he'd left behind.
The Daily Mail article also identified conservative journalist Richard Miniter of the American Media Institute as a contributing reporter. Miniter's most recent claim to notoriety was his much-hyped 2012 book Leading From Behind, in which he wrote that President Obama knew of Osama bin Laden's whereabouts within the first few months of his administration but dithered and vacillated and even canceled the mission to kill Bin Laden three times. Miniter's allegation relied on wildly incorrect timelines -- he mixed up dates of key events so badly that at one point he described the CIA ordering surveillance on Bin Laden's compound four months before they knew of its existence. CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen described Miniter's reporting on Bin Laden as "a pile of poppycock served up with heaps of hogwash."
Fittingly enough, Miniter's completely inaccurate account of the Bin Laden saga was first reported exclusively by David Martosko.
UPDATE: Buzzfeed's Rosie Gray contacted Martosko, who told her, "We stand by the story. Thanks." Buzzfeed also contacted the Saudi embassy in Washington, DC, which denied the Daily Mail's source's claim that Tsarnaev had applied for a visa to travel to Mecca.
UPDATE 2: The Daily Mail has rewritten their article to lead with the Saudi embassy's denial of their original story. According to the embassy's statement: "The Saudi government had no prior information about the Boston bombers. Therefore, it is not true that any information, written or otherwise, was passed to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or any other US agency in this regard. The Saudi government also does not have any record of any application by Tamerlan Tsarnaev for any visa to Saudi Arabia."