Jeffrey LewisThe Scoop and the Dupe: NYT Navel Gazes on Bogus NORK Nuke Test Prep

Doug Jehl helps David Sanger cover his ass in the New York Times.

Jehl and Sanger note that allegations North Korea was constructing a “reviewing stand” near a suspected nuclear test site—central to Spring rumors of an impending North Korean nuclear test—were never part of any formal briefing, but just a little water-cooler gossip:

The information about the reviewing stand was not part of the formal briefing to allies but was relayed informally, officials said. While it was considered a far less significant warning sign than the increased tunneling, one administration official said, it was “easy to understand.”

After the claims of a reviewing stand were reported on May 6 in The Times, Pentagon officials repeated them, including to several foreign newspapers, most notably in South Korea. But the claims were never cited in formal intelligence assessments or mentioned in the C.I.A.’s closed briefing to the Senate Intelligence Committee in April.

So, who was spreading these malicious rumors among the bureaucracy, our allies and the press? Gosh, Jehl and Sanger just don’t know:

That impression [that North Korea might conduct a test quite soon] was bolstered by the talk of the reviewing stand, which one American official acknowledged was “all over the place,” even if it was not part of any official briefing.

It is unclear where that talk originated. One senior administration official said he believed that an image was initially “misinterpreted” as part of the suspected test site. Since that raw intelligence was not included in any formal reports, it appeared not to have been subjected to the kind of intense, multiagency vetting that verified intelligence receives. Officials who initially spoke about the reviewing stand, and described it as luxurious, backed away beginning in late May after The Times asked further questions, saying additional reviews of the evidence raised serious doubts about the whether the structure was a reviewing stand or even related to the test site.

Hey, Dave, here’s a hint: How about the bastards who told you?

I’d love a story outing the disgruntled hardliners who leak like sieves every time they lose an internal debate. Yet Sanger and Jehl can’t write that story, because Sanger knew—or should have known—that he was being used.

Hey, Dave, can you imagine what the OED defines as “One who debases himself for the sake of gain …”?

Should Sanger have known he was being duped? In his original article, Sanger quotes one official as claiming “wide agreement” among the intelligence community:

Asked if the intelligence agencies, which have often been sharply divided about North Korea’s nuclear abilities, had differences of opinion about the satellite photographs, the official said: “This looks like the real thing. There is wide agreement in the community.”

Yet, that same story contains a buried and curious reference that I—and I suspect most readers—missed:

Officials at one American intelligence agency said they were unaware of the new activity.

So how wide was that agreement, anyway?


Update: Eric Urmansky’s summary is better than my post. Dammit.

Anyway, it’s not like the story was about an important topic with, say, major policy decisions hanging in the balance. It was just an article about one peaceful little country, with whom the U.S. has had no tension, getting ready to explode a big freakin’ bomb.