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Last week, President Bush tucked a big admission into his latest rhetorical offensive on national security:
“Although we have not found stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, we were right to go into Iraq,” said the president in an address at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. In addition to answering Bush’s critics on anti-terrorism, the address isolated investigative journalist Kenneth R. Timmerman as perhaps the country’s last true believer in Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction.
A longtime right-wing scribe, Timmerman authored a piece in the May 11 issue of Insight on the News magazine, titled “Saddam’s WMD Have Been Found.” The story called on the Bush administration to trumpet its success in finding the elusive arsenal: “With evidence of Iraq’s WMD programs and weapons in hand…why has the White House not yet blown the whistle?”
The story appeared in the final edition of Insight, a nationally distributed property of News World Communications Inc., the company controlled by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon that also owns the Washington Times. The magazine was folded in an April cost-cutting initiative. But with scoops like this, perhaps someone will revive it.
Timmerman’s case for a Bush slam-dunk on unconventional weapons rests in part on the following discoveries touted in the Insight piece:
•A prison laboratory “complex” where Iraqi scientists “may have” submitted humans to testing of biological weapons agents.
•“New research on [biological weapons]–applicable agents…”
•Plans for new long-range missiles.
If those weapons scandals aren’t convincing enough, Timmerman’s smoking gun is worthy of boldface type:
“‘Reference strains’ of a wide variety of biological-weapons agents were found beneath the sink in the home of a prominent Iraqi [biological-weapons] scientist.”
Can we add a bottle of Liquid Drano to Hussein’s arsenal, too?
Given those finds, Timmerman, who was a senior writer at Insight, doesn’t understand why Bush has ceded so much ground on WMD. “My point in that article, and where the administration makes a mistake, is that we have found enough evidence and found enough weapons themselves in Iraq for the administration to no longer have this self-deprecatory attitude,” says Timmerman.
And the Kensington, Md.–based reporter wonders why his peers are treating the evidence like radioactive material. “Why isn’t Dan Rather reporting this? Why isn’t Peter Jennings reporting this?” asks Timmerman. “It has been generally ignored, just as any story that’s deemed favorable to the president is ignored by the formerly mainstream press.” (Timmerman believes that what is known as the “mainstream press” has lost touch with Americans through partisan reporting.)
On no issue, however, do the knocks against the liberal media fall quite as flat as they do on Iraq. The press, after all, largely supported the administration in the run-up to war, swallowing its exaggerated intelligence on nuclear stockpiles and mushroom clouds. And in recent months, the press has begun making amends: Both the news and editorial desks of the New York Times have issued meae culpae; the New Republic printed an issue detailing its regrets on having supported the war; and the Washington Post’s editorial page last October asked itself, “Were we wrong?” only to conclude that it wasn’t.
So why don’t these news organizations take a look at the Timmerman docket and satisfy themselves that the invasion’s mission has been accomplished? Joseph Cirincione, an oft-quoted nonproliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has an answer: “[Timmerman’s] credibility on this issue is zero. [The administration] told us that Saddam had 300 to 500 tons of chemical weapons, and now we’re supposed to take a vial as proof that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Nonsense.”
Perhaps Timmerman’s ideological brethren need a bit more time to find the weapons. In April 2003, he wrote, “U.S. and U.N. officials tell Insight that the Iraqis most likely have hidden vital equipment and material in underground tunnels or behind fake walls in hospitals and private homes, in the desert and in mountains and even in rivers…”
Timmerman, 50, has spent decades on the national-security beat cultivating sources for such revelations. According to his bio on the Insight Web site, Timmerman has been “tracking terrorists for 20 years.” In 1982, says the bio, he was taken hostage by Yasser Arafat’s Fatah guerrillas in Lebanon, enduring 24 days of captivity in an underground cell. He spent the balance of the ’80s as a roving reporter in the Middle East, claiming, for instance, to have been one of the first correspondents on the scene of the April 1983 bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon. “Ken is just a superb investigative reporter. He looks for the angles and the missed opportunities that others create,” says Paul Rodriguez, Insight’s managing editor.
Timmerman has written six books, including Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson, a New York Times best seller.
As a reporter for Time magazine in 1994, Timmerman says, he unearthed a scoop on how Chinese technicians were gleaning military technology from a McDonnell Douglas plant for the B-1 bomber. He proved prescient: The company was later indicted for export-control violations and settled with the government in 2001. Timmerman later wrote that Time “pooh-poohed my investigation and, after a written complaint from an administration official, fired me rather than run the story.”
Time did not return a call for comment. “They showed their political nepotism and close ties to the Clinton administration,” says Timmerman.
Timmerman’s sleuthing on tech transfer led him to an alarming conclusion: The Clinton administration’s efforts to loosen high-tech trade with China essentially created a new national-security threat. “The arming of Communist China by the Clinton/Gore administration took place at a time when China’s hostile intentions were becoming increasingly clear…” wrote Timmerman in a November 2000 Insight piece. “For the first time in our history, a U.S. administration has made diluting American power and strengthening her potential adversaries the centerpiece of its national-security policy.”
Earlier that year, Timmerman took his foreign-policy expertise directly to the people, campaigning for the Republican nomination to oppose incumbent Democratic Maryland Sen. Paul Sarbanes. He placed fifth out of eight candidates in the primary race. To excuse the defeat, Timmerman fell back on his enmity toward the mainstream press. A letter from Timmerman to the Washington Post’s Close to Home page was titled “My Race Was Doomed by the Media.”
Robin Ficker, a veteran Maryland Republican activist who edged out Timmerman for fourth place, suggests an alternative explanation for his opponent’s showing. “I didn’t see much of a campaign by Ken Timmerman, quite frankly,” recalls Ficker. “He put up some signs a week before the election, and that was it.” Timmerman responds, “That’s not true,” adding that the campaign helped him forge some key contacts in the Republican Party.
And maybe he could call on those folks from a new Insight. Rodriguez has been working to arrange a sale of the magazine and may have a buyer on the line. “We’re hopeful that this particular partnership can be developed. We’re still working on plans,” he says.
Those plans will doubtless include an upgrade of the magazine’s promotional strategy, which staffers claim the Moonies botched. “There was no marketing, no promotion,” says an Insight source. “We had one ad-sales guy who had never done it before.” According to company spokesperson Diana Banister, the magazine had a circulation of 30,000.
The Washington Times, they charge, didn’t even use its electric sign on well-traveled New York Avenue NE to promote Insight stories. Responds Banister via e-mail: “Insight was not marketed on the billboard because it has a national circulation, not just here in DC, [the billboard] is mostly used for the Washington Times.”
Timmerman, perhaps still pining for his newsweekly days, wants to see Insight resurrected as the “Newsweek of the right.” When he drops his next scoop on WMD, he’d like several thousand more people to read it. “The only problem Insight had with the Washington Times was that the magazine was not marketed to a mass audience in the way that it could have been. The new Insight will appeal to a mass audience,” he says. —Erik Wemple