6. NO EVIDENCE OF IRAQI THREAT TO SAUDI ARABIA
On September 11, 1990, President George Bush rallied a surprised
nation to support a war in the Persian Gulf with reports of a massive Iraqi army
which had poured into Kuwait and moved south to threaten Saudi Arabia. At the
time, the Department of Defense (DOD) estimated there were as many as 250,000
Iraqi troops and 1,500 tanks in Kuwait.
On January 6, 1991, Jean Heller,
a journalist with the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, reported that satellite photos
of Kuwait did not support Bush's claim of an imminent Iraqi invasion. In fact,
the photos showed no sign of a massive Iraqi troop buildup in Kuwait.
Heller told In These Times, which reprinted her article, "The troops that
were said to be massing on the Saudi border and that constituted the possible
threat to Saudi Arabia that justified the U.S. sending of troops do not show up
in these photographs. And when the Department of Defense was asked to provide
evidence that would contradict our satellite evidence, it refused to do it."
pictures, taken by a Soviet satellite on September 11 and 13, were acquired by
the St. Petersburg Times in December. The Times contacted two satellite image
specialists to analyze the photos: Peter Zimmerman, a nuclear physicist who now
is a professor of engineering at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.;
and a former image specialist for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) who asked
to remain anonymous.
The specialists saw extensive U.S. occupation at the
Dhahran Airport in Saudi Arabia, but few Iraqi troops or weapons in Kuwait. They
said the roads showed no evidence of a massive tank invasion, there were no tent
cities or troop concentrations, and the main Kuwaiti air base appeared deserted.
Both analysts agreed there were several possible explanations for their inability
to spot Iraqi forces: the troops could have been well camouflaged, or they could
have been widely dispersed, or the Soviets deliberately or accidentally produced
a photo taken before the Iraqi invasion. But the latter explanation was not considered
likely and, given the reported massive deployment, the specialists found it "really
hard to believe" they could miss them even if they were well camouflaged
and/or widely dispersed.
When asked by the Times for evidence to support
the official U.S. estimate of the Iraqi buildup, the Defense Department said "We
have given conservative estimates of Iraqi numbers based on various intelligence
resources, and those are the numbers we stand by."
While the St. Petersburg
Times submitted Heller's story to both the Associated Press and the Scripps-Howard
news service, neither wire service carried the story.
SSU CENSORED RESEARCHER:
SOURCE: ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 1/6/91 11321 U.S. 19, Fort Richey, FL
Reprinted in: IN THESE TIMES, 2040 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60647
TITLE: "Public doesn't get picture with Gulf satellite photos"
AUTHOR: Jean Heller
COMMENTS: St. Petersburg Times journalist Jean Heller said that
while the story appeared on page one of the St. Petersburg Times, and
was made available to The Associated Press, the Scripps-Howard wire
service and CNN, none chose to use it. " ... It failed to get any
national attention at all until after the Persian Gulf War ended, and
it was picked up and reprinted in an alternative newspaper in Chicago
(In These Times), she said. "The main-line media still have not
picked up on the story, despite the fact that the Pentagon now admits
that the number of Iraqis in and around Kuwait was overestimated by
American military intelligence."
Heller added that
while the story should have received wider coverage before the war began, and
lives were lost, the public deserves to know the truth about the Iraqi threat
even now. "Some data, newly released, indicates that the administration,
knowingly or through misreading of intelligence data, way over-estimated the number
of Iraqis and their state of readiness in and around Kuwait. If that's true, the
public still deserves to know."
Heller says she discussed the issue
on about two dozen live radio talk shows from coast to coast during the war and
has been interviewed by the publisher of Harper's magazine. (John R. MacArthur,
publisher of Harper's, is author of the "Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda
in the Gulf War.") She adds that MacArthur cited the story as one of the
only efforts by any national media to break through the government's wall of disinformation
and packaged information and get at the truth.
Heller concludes that 'The
(St. Petersburg) Times itself could not have done any more to get the story out
there. The paper paid a great deal of money to get the photos, spent a great deal
of time and effort to reproduce them, and played the story at the top of page
one. But nobody wanted to listen."