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June 19, 2005
Did Lucy Ramirez Find The Downing Street Memos?

The media and the Leftists have had a field day with the Downing Street memos that they claim imply that the Bush administration lied about the intelligence on WMD in order to justify the attack on Iraq. Despite the fact that none of the memos actually say that, none of them quote any officials or any documents, and that the text of the memos show that the British government worried about the deployment of WMD by Saddam against Coalition troops, Kuwait and/or Israel, the meme continues to survive.

Until tonight, however, no one questioned the authenticity of the documents provided by the Times of London. That has now changed, as Times reporter Michael Smith admitted that the memos he used are not originals, but retyped copies (via LGF and CQ reader Sapper):

The eight memos all labeled "secret" or "confidential" were first obtained by British reporter Michael Smith, who has written about them in The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.

Smith told AP he protected the identity of the source he had obtained the documents from by typing copies of them on plain paper and destroying the originals.

The AP obtained copies of six of the memos (the other two have circulated widely). A senior British official who reviewed the copies said their content appeared authentic. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the secret nature of the material.

Readers of this site should recall this set of circumstances from last year. The Killian memos at the center of CBS' 60 Minutes Wednesday report on George Bush' National Guard service supposedly went through the same laundry service as the Downing Street Memos. Bill Burkett, once he'd been outed as the source of the now-disgraced Killian memos, claimed that a woman named Lucy Ramirez provided them to him -- but that he made copies and burned the originals to protect her identity or that of her source.

Why would a reporter do such a thing? While reporters need to protect their sources, at some point stories based on official documents will require authentication -- and as we have seen with the Killian memos, copies make that impossible. The AP gets a "senior British official" to assert that the content "appeared authentic", which only means that the content seems to match what he thinks he knows.

This, in fact, could very well be another case of "fake but accurate", where documents get created after the fact to support preconceived notions about what happened in the past. One fact certainly stands out -- Michael Smith cannot authenticate the copies. And absent that authentication, they lose their value as evidence of anything.

Besides, as the AP report makes clear, the two governments sincerely worried about the deployment of WMD despite the allegations of those who fixate on one sentence of one memo. The latest issue coming from the memos, according to its proponents, is the alleged statement by Blair that WMD programs had not progressed. However, it also points out why 9/11 made all the difference in the approach to Iraq:

The documents confirm Blair was genuinely concerned about Saddam's alleged weapons of mass destruction, but also indicate he was determined to go to war as America's top ally, even though his government thought a pre-emptive attack may be illegal under international law.

"The truth is that what has changed is not the pace of Saddam Hussein's WMD programs, but our tolerance of them post-11 September," said a typed copy of a March 22, 2002 memo obtained Thursday by The Associated Press and written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

"But even the best survey of Iraq's WMD programs will not show much advance in recent years on the nuclear, missile or CW/BW (chemical or biological weapons) fronts: the programs are extremely worrying but have not, as far as we know, been stepped up."

All of the Western nations had intelligence that matched with the Bush/Blair determination that Saddam had not disposed of his WMD stocks. Prior to 9/11, the Western approach of waiting Saddam out appeared adequate. After 9/11, the existence of those WMD stocks clearly was intolerable, given Saddam's involvement with terrorist groups in the past -- including hosting an al-Qaeda convention, of sorts, in 1999.

Even if these memos could be authenticated, they're still meaningless. They could only excite the kind of idiots that would hold mock impeachment hearings with four witnesses and no authority whatsoever.

UPDATE and BUMP to top: Welcome to Instapundit and The Corner readers! I'll let this ride to the top all morning today.

UPDATE II: Marc at USS Neverdock says that the story gets even more bizarre at Rawstory:

I first photocopied them to ensure they were on our paper and returned the originals, which were on government paper and therefore government property, to the source, he added. [...]

It was these photocopies that I worked on, destroying them shortly before we went to press on Sept 17, 2004, he added. Before we destroyed them the legal desk secretary typed the text up on an old fashioned typewriter.

Why an old-fashioned typewriter? Why not just retype them on a computer, if you've already decided not to work from the originals? It looks like an attempt to fake people into believing that the documents produced by Smith were the originals.

This story gets nuttier and nuttier.

UPDATE III: Despite what Truck says in the comments, a lack of protest from Downing Street after being asked to authenticate retyped copies of alleged minutes of secret meetings does NOT constitute verification. The same exact argument came up with the Killian memos in Rathergate and the Newsweek Qu'ran-flushing report last month. In both cases, the documents or sources turned out to be fakes. It's the reporters' job to provide verification, not simply a demurral by officials to opine on their authenticity. If that isn't obvious, then centuries of evidentiary procedure in American and English common law have gone for naught, as well as traditions of journalistic responsibility and professionalism. After all, this argument just means that reporters can type out anything they like and the burden of proof shifts from the accuser to the accused in proving them false -- hardly the process endorsed in libel and slander cases in the US, at least.

UPDATE IV: The port side of the blogosphere seems a bit unhappy to hear that the DSM are fakes, but I'm not making this up. The reporter himself says that he retyped the memos on an old-style manual typewriter and destroyed either the originals (AP) or working copies from which he worked (Rawstory). In effect, he created mock-ups -- and that means the memos provided by the Times in PDF format are fakes.

John at Power Line says that the memos would make more ridiculous claims if they were fakes. However, there's a difference between fakes and frauds. Giving Smith the full benefit of the doubt and assuming the originals really exist and that he transcribed them perfectly, they're fakes but the information could, indeed, be accurate. The problem is that we can't authenticate them, and a series of demurrals from Tony Blair and other British officials don't amount to authentication, either. It doesn't help that Smith went to such weird lengths -- such as the manual typewriter and artificially aging the appearance through multiple copying -- to produce the information.

The Killian memos were both fakes and frauds, as even CBS's expert stated in their final report, although laughingly Kevin's commentors continue to argue that they're neither. We know for certain the DSMs are fakes -- and because of that, we can't help but assume the DSMs are fraudulent absent positive authentication.

Jonah Goldberg
also finds the "wingnut" charges less than credible.

UPDATE V: Welcome to Drudge Report readers! Please take a look around and bookmark/blogroll CQ.

UPDATE VI: Check out Strata-Sphere for more questions about the artificial aging attempted on the Smith copies prior to PDF scanning.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 19, 2005 12:00 PM

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