Campaign Iran | 30.01.2007 13:42
The Press Complaints Commission have launched their third investigation of Daily Telegraph political editor, Con Coughlin, in as many months, after a number of high level complaints about his latest ariticle on Iran. The investigation is looking at an article by Mr Coughlin on 24 January relying on an unnamed “European defence official” alleging that North Korea is helping Iran prepare a nuclear weapons test and follows the recent publication of a report detailing a catalogue of innaccurate and misleading stories about Iran by. The report, put together by Campaign Iran and published last month, revealed that Mr Coughlin, the man who ‘broke the story’ of Iraq’s 45 minute WMD capacity, is behind sixteen articles containing unsubstantiated allegations against Iran over the past twelve months. The PCC will examine whether the stories, all based on unnamed or untraceable sources, are in breach of Clause 1 of their Code of Practice, requiring accuracy.
The veracity of Coughlin’s writing on Iran is already under investigation by the PCC following complaints about a headline article in last month’s Telegraph that claimed that Iran was “grooming Bin Laden’s successor”. The story, universally dismissed by Middle East experts, led the organisation Campaign Iran to conduct a broader analysis of the accuracy of Mr Coughlin’s stories and the journalistic methods he uses. Analysing 44 articles by Mr Coughlin on Iran, the report finds some stark patterns in terms of his journalistic technique:
• Sources are unnamed or untraceable, often “senior Western intelligence officials” or “senior Foreign Office officials”.
• Articles are published at sensitive and delicate times where there has been a relatively positive diplomatic moves towards Iran.
• Articles contain exclusive revelations about Iran combined with eye-catchingly controversial headlines;
• The story upon which the headline is based does not usually exceed one line or at the most one paragraph. The rest of the article focuses on other, often unrelated, information.
The report also reveals that Coughlin has a history of breaking politically important stories that are later shown to be inaccurate. He is the journalist who, discovered “the fact” that Saddam Hussein could launch weapons of mass destruction in 45 minutes. He was also the journalist who, in 2003, unearthed “the link” between the 9/11 hijacker, Mohammed Ata, and the Iraqi intelligence.
Professor Abbas Edalat of Campaign Iran said today: “The quoting of unnamed sources has always been an essential aspect of news reporting, but Coughlin is abusing the practice in order to give substance otherwise implausible political stories. These stories are repeated as fact on news outlets and websites across the world. They cannot be easily challenged because the unnamed source can never be revealed. During the build-up to the invasion of Iraq Coughlin was behind two very influential stories that helped pave the path to war. Both were later found to be completely untrue. We must be vigilant against similar inaccuracies being used to prepare the path for intervention against Iran, and we call on the PCC to take action against Coughlin and to safeguard the integrity and accuracy of our press.”
The report, ‘Conning the Nation: An Analysis of Con Coughlin’s Reportage on Iran’ has been compiled by Campaign Iran, based on research led by Dr Majid Tafreshi.
For more information visit http://www.campaigniran.org/
Sources used by Coughlin’s for his articles published in the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph within the last one year.
10/10/2006: “The West woke up too late to the nuclear threat of rogue states” Source: none.
04/08/2006: “Teheran fund pays war compensation to Hizbollah families” Source: “A senior security official”.
21/07/2006: “Meanwhile, Iran gets on with its bomb”Source: none.
14/07/2006: “Israeli crisis is a smoke screen for Iran's nuclear ambitions” Source: none.
13/07/2006: “Cat and mouse games on border that is 'our front line with Iran’” Source: An Israeli soldier.
12/06/2006: “Iran accused of hiding secret nuclear weapons site” Source: A senior western diplomat”
11/04/2006: “The West can't let Iran have the bomb” Source: “An official closely involved in the IAEA's negotiations with Iran”
07/04/2006: “Iran has missiles to carry nuclear warheads” Source: “A senior US official”
07/04/2006: “UN officials find evidence of secret uranium enrichment plant” Sources: “A diplomat closely involved in the IAEA's negotiations with Teheran” and “A senior diplomat attached to the IAEA headquarters in Vienna”.
04/04/2006: “Iran's spies watching us, says Israel”Sources: “A senior Israeli military commander” and “an officer with Israel's northern command”.
06/03/2006: “Teheran park 'cleansed' of traces from nuclear site” Source: “A senior western official”
11/02/2006: “Iran plant has restarted its nuclear bomb-making equipment” Source: “A senior Western intelligence official”
30/01/2006: “Iran sets up secret team to infiltrate UN nuclear watchdog, say officials” Source: “a senior western intelligence official”
16/01/2006: “Iran could go nuclear within three years” Sources: “A senior western intelligence officer” and “an intelligence official”
27/11/2005: “Teheran secretly trains Chechens to fight in Russia” Source: “a senior intelligence official”
29/10/2005: “Smuggling route [from Iran] opened to supply Iraqi insurgents” Source: “The National Council of Resistance of Iran”
Back in 2000 the British Journalism Review remarked: "officers of MI6... had been supplying Coughlin with material for years."
Coughlin has: "been outed, in the past, for publishing propaganda for MI6"
"Coughlin... was dependent on MI6 for the discreditable details about the alleged counterfeiting scam."
"Con Coughlin - described in The Guardian (7 March 1999) as someone with “good contacts in MI6” "
"Con Coughlin... set up two lengthy briefings - on October 25 and October 31 - with a senior MI6 officer with whom he had dealt for several years."
The manipulation takes three forms. The first is the attempt to recruit journalists to spy on other people, or for spies to go themselves under journalistic “cover”. This occurs today and it has gone on for years. It is dangerous, not only for the journalist concerned, but for other journalists who get tarred with the espionage brush. Farzad Bazoft was a colleague of mine on the London Observer when he was executed by Saddam Hussein for espionage. It did not, in a sense, matter whether he was really a spy or not. Either way, he ended up dead.
The second form of manipulation that worries me is when intelligence officers are allowed to pose as journalists in order to write tendentious articles under false names. Evidence of this only rarely comes to light, but two examples have surfaced recently – mainly because of the whistleblowing activities of a couple of renegade officers – David Shayler from MI5 and Richard Tomlinson from MI6.
The third sort of manipulation is the most insidious – when intelligence agency propaganda stories are planted on willing journalists, who disguise their origin from their readers. There is – or has been until recently – a very active programme by the secret agencies to colour what appears in the British press, called, if publications by various defectors can be believed, “I/Ops”. That is an abbreviation for Information Operations, and I am – unusually – in a position to provide some information about it.
Let us take that third allegation first. Black propaganda – false material where the source is disguised – has been a tool of British intelligence agencies since the days of the war, when the Special Operations Executive got up to all kinds of tricks with clandestine radio stations, to drip pornography and pessimism into the ears of impressionable German soldiers. Post-war, this unwholesome game mutated into the anti-Soviet Information Research Department. Its task was ostensibly to plant anti-communist stories in the press of the third world, but its lurid tales of Marxist drunkenness and corruption sometimes leaked back to confuse the readers of the British media. A colourful example of the way these techniques expand to meet the exigencies of the hour came in the early 1970s, when the readers of the News of the World found before their eyes – and no doubt to their bewilderment – a front page splash, Russian Sub in IRA plot sensation, complete with aerial photograph of a Soviet conning tower awash off the coast of Donegal. That was the work of Hugh Mooney of the IRD, an organisation which was eventually closed down in 1977. Its spirit did not die, however. Nearly 25 years later, readers of the Sunday Telegraph were regaled with a dramatic story about the son of Col Gadafy of Libya and his alleged connection to a currency counterfeiting plan.
The story was written by Con Coughlin, the paper’s then chief foreign correspondent, and it was falsely attributed to a “British banking official”. In fact, it had been given to him by officers of MI6, who, it transpired, had been supplying Coughlin with material for years.
British Journalism Review