Truth, Hollywood, and War Games
by Martin Dillon
May 28, 2002

Remember when we won the Vietnam War? Sure you do you saw it with your own eyes, as John Wayne led The Green Berets to victory in 1968. Likewise, the Gulf War was won with little "collateral damage" to civilians as you saw yourself, during those "smart bomb" video game demos on CNN. And any day now, we're likely to see Osama bin Laden meet his maker at the hands of U.S. Marines or so the T.V. movie will portray it.

Is the Bush Administration showing us the War on Terror through a rose-colored lens? Veteran newscaster Dan Rather thinks so, and he has spoken out about it on TV, complaining recently that Bush's Dept. of Defense has carefully controlled media access to the U.S. actions against Al-Qaeda.

Rather told the BBC's Newsnight, "What we are talking about here whether one wants to recognize it or not, or call it by its proper name or not is a form of self-censorship." He complained about "patriotism run amok," which threatens the dissemination of accurate news about the war, and undermines the press's role in holding the Bush Administration accountable. "There has never been an American war, small or large, in which access has been so limited as this one," Rather said.

There is nothing new about governments lying or carefully constructing mechanisms to hide the truth. History is littered with examples the Gulf War being the most recent. While working for the BBC during the Gulf War as a programme editor of a satirical TV show, I encountered blatant censorship. When I attempted to depict the way many journalists had indeed spent that war drinking at the hotel pool waiting for the latest video and information from the military my programme was pulled off the air, and I was given to understand that my behavior had been unpatriotic.

During the Falklands War, it was equally suspect to criticize the tight leash on which the Thatcher government kept reporters. Select journalists were allowed on British vessels, and kept well away from the fighting. Their dispatches were censored by intelligence officers before going back to London.

This media management was perfected during the Gulf War the first digital war "won" through video images before victory was declared on the battlefield. On major networks, no questions were asked about whether Saddam had been given the green light to invade Kuwait by the US ambassador in Baghdad as was later documented. No numbers were provided for the Iraqi soldiers killed in the war. No cameras were allowed near those desert sites, where (American soldiers later admitted) bulldozers dug mass graves to fill with Iraqi bodies.

One may now earn condemnation from the White House for criticizing the conduct of the current war against terrorism, the events leading up to the tragedies of Sept. 11, and the intelligence failure that made them possible. Vice-President Richard Cheney has said it is "irresponsible" to question the men empowered to protect the American people.

Here are a few of the important questions which have been suppressed:

* The stock exchange activity that preceded that attacks. On Sept. 11, stories emerged that traders with foreknowledge of the attacks may have sold airline stocks "short" the night before, to profit from their post-attack decline. A leading stockbroker in New Jersey wrote to the FBI about this possibility. He never heard back and we have heard little about this angle, anywhere in major media.

* The threat warnings the Federal Aviation Administration never received from the Pentagon. There has to date been no explanation for the failure of the FAA to immediately alert the US military/air force when it was clear the planes in question were not in their scheduled air corridors.

* The bizarre behaviour of the President on that day when his plane was re-routed several times and the Vice-president was sent to an underground bunker. Did they know something the rest of us had not been told?

Journalistic Integrity

In the days following the attack, Gordon Thomas, author of Seeds of Fire, attempted to address these and related questions and no US news outlet would publish his article. In the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung the German equivalent of The New York Times Thomas suggested that two months before the September attacks, Germany's intelligence service, the BND, and Israel's Mossad had warned the CIA that Al Qaeda operatives were planning to use passenger aircraft to attack symbols of Jewish and American culture in the US. Likewise, German police monitoring the telephone calls of a jailed Iranian learned he was phoning US intelligence in June 2001 to alert them to planned attacks on the World Trade Center.

In February 2002, a senior producer from "60 Minutes" phoned Gordon Thomas about his story. She told him she had learned of his startling claims that the Bush administration had credible evidence of a planned attack on the US prior to 9/11.

Thomas explained how his sources in the BND and Mossad had provided him with critical details of warnings passed to the CIA. "I will need to take this one to 'Management,'" the CBS producer told Thomas.

Anyone who has worked in a major broadcasting network, as I have, knows what that means: Referring a story to the highest level, where investigative freedom hits its limits. Such a policy bypasses the normal editorial chain of command, placing the decision-making process in the hands of CEOs and owners of major news outlets.

The senior producer phoned back Gordon Thomas at his home outside Dublin. "The story is terrific," she told him. All she needed from him was another "credible journalist" to substantiate his claims.

He put her in touch with Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who had been held prisoner by the Taliban. Ridley had impeccable sources within the FBI and CIA in Washington. She independently told the CBS senior producer that there had been warnings to the CIA before 9/11.

At Thomas' suggestion, the senior producer called me about the story. "My contacts in the Bureau are denying it," I told her. Sources I trusted told me that there had been no intelligence alerts from Mossad or European intelligence services. One source even suggested that "there was a disinformation campaign" against the Bureau and the CIA, although he wouldn't say who was behind it.

Then Gordon Thomas got his fourth call from "60 Minutes." "The FBI is denying it," the senior producer told him. That was no surprise. Her next sentence was a surprise: "There could be a problem with this story. They feel it might not fit into the agenda."

Who were "they?" What was "the agenda?"

I think I can answer that. The agenda spoken but not written was that there should be nothing broadcast that questioned America's war against terrorism and the events leading up to it. "They" were the board of CBS, as the senior producer admitted to Thomas, in her very last phone call. She told him, flatly, "It has gone to the very top of the network and they have said 'No!'"

The story didn't die not quite yet. A CBS competitor, MSNBC, had also seen Thomas' story, and been impressed. The network flew a film crew to Ireland and shot a long interview in Thomas' home, in which he outlined how he had come by the story. Weeks later, when the interview was broadcast in the US, it had been cut to three minutes, omitting all the evidence Thomas had given concerning warnings to the U.S. by foreign intelligence services. The "agenda" had won out once again.

It triumphed yet again with the Canadian network, CBC, which contacted Thomas. A lengthy telephone call ended when a CBC producer said simply "We don't think we wanna go down that line."

It was left to ARD, the major German television network, to follow up Thomas's story. In February, they filmed Thomas and broadcast the interview in its entirety scooping by three months recent revelations of the massive intelligence failure by the FBI and CIA. Gordon Thomas is still waiting for CBS to call him back.

Martin Dillon is a world-ranking authority on Eastern European intelligence. He is also the author of the global bestsellers: Shankill Butchers (Random House), The Dirty War (Random House) and God and the Gun (Routledge).

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