How to read and beware of news articles based on “intelligence” sources

Seth J. Frantzman
Jan 1, 2018 · 4 min read

A recent article on January 1, 2018 claims that the US gave Israel a “green light” to “assassinate Qasem Soleimani.” The original source for this information was the “Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida reported on Monday.”

Then the story was picked up by Israel’s Haaretz. The Times of Israel also reports “US intelligence agencies have given Israel the green light to assassinate the senior Iranian responsible for coordinating military activity on behalf of the Islamic Republic in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, according to the Kuwaiti newspaper al-Jarida.”

Very quickly the report, having been funneled through the local Kuwait paper gained provenance and legitimacy the more it is picked up in other media. It is “laundered” in a sense. What does the original report say?

According to the original report: “A well-informed source told Al-Jarida that after more than three years of dispute over the commander of the Quds Force responsible for the external operations of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who is conducting the battles of Iran and the affiliated or pro-military forces in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, Yemen and others, the US intelligence agencies gave Israel the green light to liquidate Soleimani, if it could.” The source claimed that “a former senior official in the Israeli intelligence service (Mossad) reported that Israel was close to the liquidation of Sulaymani 3 years ago near Damascus, but the United States, which learned of the plan, warned the Iranian leadership.” That would have been in 2014 during the lead up to the Iran deal.

The Al-Jarida story (screenshot)

Instead of repeating these claims it is important to read these kinds of reports and ask serious questions about them. First of all the Jarida article is based on one source. That’s not much. That source could be “well-informed” or might not be. Assuming the newspaper didn’t make up the story and the editors think the source is well informed, then we must ask.

Who is the “source”?

The source could be any number of well-informed sources. It could be from the Kuwaiti government’s intelligence. It could be from the US, or it could even be from Israel. Let’s say that the source is well-informed.

What is the source “selling”?

The source could be telling the truth or lying or a bit of both. If the source is telling the truth then one must ask “why now”?

Did the US give a “green light” recently, or months ago. Why is this report emerging during the ongoing protests in Iran? Is the report meant to put Qasem Soleimani on notice? Is it intended to frighten the Iranian regime? Is it intended to show that now, under the Trump administration, there is less daylight than under Obama?

If the source is not telling the truth, then we must not only ask “why now” but “why mislead.” Let’s say that Israel doesn’t need a “green light” from the US and there is no “green light.” Or perhaps the “green light has always existed. So why would the source speak to the Kuwaiti newspaper now and mislead them. The same series of questions then arise. Is this to send a message to Iran? Is it to send a message to the US or Israel?

What is the relationship between Al-Jarida and these kinds of sources and reports in the past. In the past Al-Jarida has often been a place that Israeli newspapers go to get information, especially information they cannot publish without foreign sources to rely on because of Israel’s censorship rules. In March “Plants can produce different types of missiles, including those with a range of more than 500 kilometers, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Jarida,” reported. Haaretz notes that Al-Jarida is “considered an Israeli mouthpiece.” In June “Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, Halevi confirmed a report in the Kuwaiti newspaperAl-Jarida, according to which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps had established several weapons factories in Lebanon for Hezbollah.” In November “On Sunday, the Kuwait-based Al Jarida newspaper reported that Israel had secretly vowed to destroy any Iranian facilities deployed in Syria within 40 kilometers (25 miles) of Israel’s northeast border.”

So there is a clear pattern. There is also a pattern of Al-Jarida relying on anonymous sources.

This pattern is followed elsewhere in the world where newspapers rely on anonymous sources to provide “intel” information. These aren’t exactly government “leaks” because they may have a clear agenda to move government intel into the hands of journalists for a variety of reasons and make it appear as if it was leaked and not just disclosed. Sometimes this is done by officials to warn off the government from an operation. Sometimes to warn an enemy state. Sometimes to create misinformation and get the press looking in the wrong direction. There are a number of reasons.

The press and the public should be cautious of such reports. The media should not necessarily become a tool of the state to spread “intel.” These stories are news worthy but media should also ask tough questions about sources and agendas. The readers should also ask what they are being told.

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