Conservative pundits forwarded discredited Wash. Times article blaming Russians for missing explosives in Iraq

In an October 28 article, Washington Times defense and national security reporter Bill Gertz cited John A. “Jack” Shaw, the Pentagon's deputy undersecretary for international technology and security, to assert as fact that “Russian troops, working with Iraqi intelligence, 'almost certainly' removed the high-explosive material that went missing from the Al-Qaqaa facility.” Although senior Pentagon officials have distanced themselves from Shaw's claims, The Washington Times article was featured on The Drudge Report; cited by radio host Rush Limbaugh; and cited on FOX News Channel by Newt Gingrich and radio host Monica Crowley. Radio host G. Gordon Liddy and FOX News Channel political analyst Dick Morris also proffered the same claim made in the Times article.

Washington Dispatch managing editor Shane Cory noted in his October 28 “Full Spectrum” news analysis that an October 28 Financial Times article also cited Shaw's suggestion that Russia may have moved the missing explosives. But, unlike The Washington Times, the Financial Times article (titled "Russians 'may have taken Iraq explosives'") did not present Shaw's claim as fact. The Financial Times also cited Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita to note that “the Pentagon distanced itself from his [Shaw's] remarks.”

On MSNBC News Live on October 28, MSNBC military analyst and retired U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona said the Washington Times article is “hard to believe” and “doesn't really make sense.”

Shaw, the lone source for the Washington Times article, was discredited by a July 7 Los Angeles Times article, as Cory noted. The Los Angeles Times reported that Shaw “conducted unauthorized investigations of Iraq reconstruction efforts and used the results to push for lucrative contracts for friends and their business clients, according to current and former Pentagon officials and documents. ... In one case, Shaw disguised himself as an employee of Halliburton Co. [oil services conglomerate, of which Vice President Dick Cheney was chief executive officer from 1995-2000] and gained access to a port in southern Iraq after he was denied entry by the U.S. military,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Nonetheless, conservative pundits advanced the article:

• On October 27, Internet gossip Matt Drudge's website, The Drudge Report, linked ("Official claims Russians may have taken Iraq explosives...") to the Financial Times article. The following day, Drudge's site featured The Washington Times article under the headline "Russia tied to Iraq's missing arms; Pentagon: Weaponry relocated before war."

• On the October 27 edition of FOX News Channel's On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, FOX News Channel political contributor Newt Gingrich said that if The Washington Times story is true, "[I]t raises a question about why Senator [John] Kerry is blaming American troops for something that they clearly weren't responsible for. If those things were already gone and already moved by the Russians, it's hardly fair to blame American troops for not having found them." (As Media Matters for America has noted, Kerry criticized President George W. Bush's administration for explosives going missing in Iraq, not American troops. But it is conservatives who have falsely accused Kerry of denigrating American troops who have in fact themselves suggested that soldiers on the ground are responsible for the missing explosives.)

• On the October 28 nationally syndicated broadcast of The Rush Limbaugh Show, radio host Rush Limbaugh backed The Washington Times' claim: “Now, the Russians today are denying all this, as we can expect. I mean, the Russians aren't going to come along and say, 'Oops we were caught. You're right.' They're not going to do that. So they're denying it left and right. The Gertz story still stands. ... I can totally believe the Russians would help the Iraqis move this. They were in league.”

• On the October 28 edition of CNN's Crossfire, radio host and former Nixon administration official G. Gordon Liddy also shifted the blame from the Bush administration to the Russians: “I don't think the commander in chief messed it up. It was not the duty of George [W.] Bush to stand with an M-16 [gun] at the door of that place [Al Qaqaa]. The fact is that the Soviets [sic. Russians] Spetsnaz [Russian elite force] people, came in with special forces and a transportation company and moved a lot of stuff [explosives] out of there. ... That stuff has been missing since before the war.”

• On DaySide with Linda Vester on October 28, radio host Monica Crowley cited the Washington Times article to claim that weapons had been removed from Iraq before the war began. Although she did not note that the weapons in question in The Washington Times article included the missing explosives from Al Qaqaa, Crowley suggested that weapons of mass destruction had likely been removed in a similar fashion: “There was a big article in today's Washington Times that the Russians' special forces had moved in because they had very lucrative deals with [former Iraqi leader] Saddam Hussein to help Saddam Hussein move out some of the stuff that the Russians actually sold to them ... what happened with the weapons of mass destruction? Maybe we are on a brink, [Democratic strategist] Bob [Beckel], of what happened with those weapons of mass destruction and the programs?”

• In his October 29 New York Post column, Post columnist and FOX News Channel political analyst Dick Morris suggested that the explosives “were removed by the Russians before we got there.”

The claims made in the Washington Times article have been further discredited. As CNN noted on October 29, “Asked about Shaw's comments during an interview on WABC radio in New York, [Secretary of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld said, 'No, I have no information on that at all and cannot validate that even slightly.'” CNN also reported, “Di Rita said Shaw was not speaking for the Pentagon and that his views were not those of senior defense officials.” Di Rita also noted that “Shaw's superiors were talking to him about his comments.”