The New York Times reported in its Week in Review section (p.3) on March 2, 2002:

"Czech intelligence officials said for more than a year that they had credible evidence of a meeting in Prague between one Sept. 11 hijacker and an Iraqi agent. The Czech government later said the information was false."

Is it factually true or a journalistic invention, that the government of the Czech Republic later, or ever, said "the information was false?"


No, it is a journalistic invention, exclusive to the New York Times.

The prelude to this invention came in an earlier New York Times erroneous scoop, one that the Times had failed to correct after it had been impeached by its sole authority. On October 21, 2001 the Times had reported on its front page that "The Czech president, Vaclav Havel, has quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports that Mohamed Atta, the leader in the Sept. 11 attacks, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague." Within hours of its publication, President Havel denied that he had ever spoken to President Bush about the meeting. His spokesman, Ladislav Spacek, termed the New York Times "a fabrication," adding "Nothing like this has occurred."

Although Havel had declared its scoop a "fabrication", the Times used it again as the basis of an editorial on October 23, entitled "The Illusory Prague Connection." So it remained in its clip file.

Unlike Havel, who had not been directly involved in the expulsion of Iraq Consul Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani from Prague on April 22, 2001, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman, Foreign Minister Jan Kavan, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross, BIS Intelligence chief Jiri Ruzek and UN Ambassador Hynek Kmonicek were involved in this unprecedented expulsion. These officials have all stated that the Czech intelligence service (BIS) had reported a meeting in Prague between hijacker Mohamed Atta and Iraq Consul al-Ani in April 2001 and none of these men have since stated that the intelligence about the meeting was "false."

The last statement to date was made on October 26th, 2002 by Ambassador Kmonicek, who who was deputy Foreign Minister at the time and served the expulsion notice on al-Ani. He flatly told the Prague Post that "the meeting took place" and that "the Czech government collected detailed evidence of the al-Ani/Atta meeting." If anything, the government had confirmed the intelligence.

To be sure, because the Czech government claims to have collected detailed evidence of the meeting, does not mean that it necessarily took place. By its very nature, intelligence reports may be inaccurate, flawed or disinformation. Even if it is accurate that a 9-11 hijacker met with an Iraqi official in April 2001, the subject of their meeting is unknown. They might have discussed something else or, if it was the attack, al-Ani might have refused to help Atta. All that is known is that Kmonicek expelled al-Ani after that April incident on the basis of Czech intelligence reports collected by the BIS and which have not been made public.

But that qualification hardly gives the New York Times license to falsely report as a fact that "The Czech government later said the information was false."