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"The Account of the German Role Was Explicit"

Steve Zwick interviewed Michael R. Gordon (ncy)March 1, 2006

The New York Times Web site reported this week that German agents provided US intelligence with an Iraqi defense plan shortly before the US-led invasion. DW-RADIO spoke to Michael R. Gordon, who broke the scoop.

Did German intelligence help the US topple Saddam Hussein?Image: AP

Michael R. Gordon: I didn't produce the American military report. I faithfully quoted and presented the quotes in the report. They're in my book, "Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq," and they're on the Website of The New York Times, presented exactly as they are in that report.

What strikes me is that the account of the German role is so specific and the description of the institutional arrangements they describe of the German intelligence liaison officer in Qatar. They describe him handing off a document to a Defense Intelligence Agency official. They say that there were two German agents in Baghdad. There are so many details here that, while I can't personally say with 100 percent confidence that they're right or wrong, I do think that the report on its face appears to be highly credible and warrants more scrutiny and investigation than I think has been carried out so far.

DW-RADIO: How did you end up with this report?

I certainly didn't set out to report on Germany. I have been working on a book on Iraq for the last two years. In the process of working on this book, I was very interested in the research that the American military had done on their Iraqi counterparts. After every war, militaries study the foe and try to figure out what the other guy was doing while they were fighting.

Irak Soldaten Machtübergabe
Militaries regularly review past actions to learn from themImage: AP

As I accessed a report on this, I saw that there was a very detailed discussion of Saddam's plans to defend Baghdad and the pros and cons of Saddam's plan. And in this section of the report, there was a bit of an aside which explained how this scheme for the defense of Baghdad came to the attention of the United States Central Command, which was General Tommy Franks' command. And in no uncertain terms, this report said that the sketch of the defense arrangements for the defense of Baghdad was supplied by a German liaison officer in Qatar, and that he gave it to a member of the United States Defense Intelligence Agency who worked in General Franks' headquarters.

That caught my attention. I was really struck by how explicit the account was of the German role and how detailed it was.

You've heard no doubt that a lot of people in Germany are saying this was a so-called targeted leak designed to punish the previous German administration for opposing the Iraq war. What is your response?

That was certainly not my intention, nor the intention of anybody who provided access to this. Again, this is a study that I accessed not to learn about Germany but to learn about what the Iraqis were up to, and which I accessed some months ago. The German portion of this report is rather small.

The reason that this is coming out now is my book is coming out in March. Since completing my book leave I've returned to The New York Times, and I've begun to harvest the material in the book and make it available to the Times' readers. If I'd finished my book a little earlier, it would have come out a few months ago.

Deutsche Botschaft in Bagdad Irak
US agents could have been inserted into the embassies of allies' in Baghdad, Gordon saidImage: AP

This type of cooperation -- passing information back and forth -- is this at all unusual among intelligence services?

I think it's entirely understandable and not surprising. Intelligence agencies have relationships which continue despite political problems between capitals, and that's because the services need to work together even after their regimes change.

In the case of Iraq, the United States really didn't have very good intelligence -- this I think ought to be clear, I mean, there was no WMD, the US was wrong on that. And it's a matter of public record that the United States didn't have a single spy in Iraq with direct access to Iraq's WMD programs. Nor was the intelligence on the South particularly good. It'd be quite understandable that the Americans would want to rely on those allies, such as Germany, which did have an embassy in Baghdad and therefore the capacity to insert agents under diplomatic cover.

Michael Gordon
Michael Gordon, a New York Times reporter embedded with Coalition Forces at Camp Doha, KuwaitImage: US Army/Erika Gladhill

Nor do I find it surprising that the German government has acknowledged it did provide some limited support to the American military. Despite its opposition to the war, Germany did nothing to obstruct the American military preparations and indirectly helped in a number of ways: safeguarding sea lanes, facilitating the transport of American forces from Germany that fought in the war, providing troops in Kuwait to protect Kuwaiti citizens against chemical weapons attacks, not objecting to NATO efforts to send AWACs or Patriot missile defense interceptors to Turkey.

Germany's posture was basically: they weren't going to too directly assist the war effort, but they weren't going to frustrate it either.