#3: The Fog of Phantom Sources

On April 28, 2002, in a story in Newsweek entitled "Phantom Link To Iraq," Michael Isikoff reported that the meeting that had been widely reported in the press between the September 11th hijacker Mohamed Atta and the Iraqi consul Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, in April 2001 never actually took place. Supposedly, this meeting had taken place in Prague in early April 2001, just before al-Ani had been expelled from the Czech Republic for activities inconsistent with being a diplomat, and had been observed by the counterintelligence service of the Czech Republic, which had Al-ani under surveillance for other reasons.

The only witness to the putative liaison was Czech counterintelligence, and, according to Isikoff, "the Czechs"were no longer standing behind the story, noting "NEWSWEEK has learned that a few months ago, the Czechs quietly acknowledged that they may have been mistaken about the whole thing."
The fog descended in a matter of days, with dozens of newspapers, including the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and New York Times reporting, along the lines of the Newsweek story, that the "Czechs" had retracted their report about this meeting.

In, fact, there never had been a retraction, or even modification, from the officials in the Czech Republic supervising the Czech intelligence service. On December 17th, 2001 Gabriela Bartikova, the spokeswomen for the Minister of the Interior, had said "Minister Gross had the information from BIS, and BIS guarantees the information, So we stick by that information." On May 3rd, 2002 referring to the Newsweek allegation, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross stated " I draw on the Security Information Service [BIS] information and I see no reason why I should not believe it." He further explained that he had consulted with the chief of the counterintelligence service, Jiri Ruzek on May 2nd in order to find out whether the Czech intelligence service had any new information that would cast doubt on the meeting. "The answer was that they did not. Therefore, I consider the matter closed," Gross concluded. The official position of the Czech government was reiterated on June 4th by a senior diplomat, U.N. Ambassador Hynek Kmonicek, who stated "The Czech government stands by the interior minister's announcement last fall that a suspected Iraqi intelligence agent met Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta in Prague last year" He explained that "The meeting took place as confirmed by the interior minister last fall. We were able to identify two times when Mr. Atta crossed the Czech border."

The phantoms, it turned out, were the nameless "Czechs" in the Newsweek story, who Isikoff claimed "quietly acknowledged that they may have been mistaken about the whole thing." Whoever these phantom sources were, they were not "Czechs" in the counter intelligence service, the Ministry that oversees it, or the Czech government cited by its UN Ambassador. The Czech intelligence head, Jiri Ruzek, the Czech Minister of the Interior, Stanislav Gross, and the Czech ambassador, speaking for the government, Hynek Kmonicek, all openly affirmed that the meeting between a September 11th hijacker and an official of the Iraq government indeed took place about 5 months before the World Trade Center was destroyed.

 Any further examples of fogs?

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