School of Media and Communication

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Transcript of 'Operation Persuasion' from the ABC

Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Investigative TV journalism at its best

Operation Persuasion
Four Corners looks at the propaganda war: how US, British and Australian military forces - and the Iraqis - employ sophisticated spin to control the flow of information and images.

REPORTER ON BOARD USS 'SHILOH': As the captain told the crew that we can expect a lot more of these tonight. He said Operation Shock and Awe on this ship has begun in earnest.

JONATHAN HOLMES, 'FOUR CORNERS' REPORTER/NARRATOR: As well as its vaunted cruise missiles and laser-guided bombs, the Pentagon has revealed another strategic asset in the past four days - the combined voices of more than 600 embedded correspondents.

DONALD RUMSFELD, US SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We're having a conflict at a time in our history when we have 24 hours a day television, radio, media, Internet. You couple that with the hundreds of people from every aspect of the media who have accepted an opportunity to be connected directly with every aspect of this campaign.

FOX NEWS REPORTER: For now we are along for the ride with the 2nd Brigade.

BBC REPORTER: Today, we flew in with the RAF to the southern Iraqi port of Umm Qasr. There's been fierce fighting here between US Marines and Iraqi troops, but now the Americans chat casually right in front of Saddam Hussein.

CNN REPORTER: The CNN camera crew are with me now travelling across the desert, literally embedded with this army, part of the 7th Cavalry.

JONATHAN HOLMES: In the United States, support for the war has increased dramatically since the forward rush began.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY, 'NEWSWEEK' MAGAZINE: Look, television viewers don't like to think. That's not the point of watching television. It's to share the experience. It's to be bathed in the moment. It's not about thinking. And the US go...knows that and they exploit it.

JONATHAN HOLMES: But the Pentagon has another audience in mind for this bombardment of sound and image. Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, the most gung-ho supporter of the war on Iraq, is well aware of it.

FOX NEWS REPORTER: This is not just for the people back home, but this is for the people in a bunker in Baghdad, and if they can see on every network in the sky that the full might of the American and Great Britain's military is headed right for their capital city, they might rethink this thing and surrender.

JONATHAN HOLMES: The BBC knows it too.

NICHOLAS WITCHELL, BBC REPORTER: I suspect that the American view is that the media can be used in a sense as one of their weapons.

GERALD STONE, FOUNDING EXECUTIVE PRODUCER '60 MINUTES': It would be true shame if the press, which has prided itself on its ability to be impartial, suddenly played this role of Psy-Op operators.

JONATHAN HOLMES: But willingly or unwillingly, reporters have been recruited into a modern war machine that's hoping desperately for an almost bloodless victory.

WALTER RODGERS, CNN REPORTER: How we're getting these pictures to you, the Pentagon said that CNN could have its own vehicle. Of course it had to be a diesel-powered vehicle because there are no gas stations out here.

JONATHAN HOLMES: On Thursday evening on America's east coast, viewers who tuned to CNN were greeted by live pictures of the 7th Armoured Brigade charging across the Iraqi desert, with commentary from reporter Walter Rodgers.

WALTER RODGERS: The brilliant engineers at CNN in Atlanta put together a fantastic combination of gee-whiz boxes that we can, uh...we can do what we're doing now, feeding you rolling video phone pictures, not quite the quality of satellite pictures if we're standing still but, nonetheless, really quite remarkable stuff.

FOX NEWS NEWSREADER: Greg Kelly is live with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Over at Fox News Channel, reporter Greg Kelly was getting his engineer to explain to his viewers how it was done.

BEN JOHNSON, FOX NEWS ENGINEER: We have a high-speed satellite link that automatically tracks the satellite as we drive across the desert and provides satellite pictures of everything back to New York, and it's,'s been working pretty good for the last six, seven hours or so.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Veteran reporters, watching at home or from the unembedded sidelines, were not always so impressed.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: It's very exciting. So are arcade games exciting. And it's wonderful because you feel the fear, but you're safe. And it's a wonderful way to get, uh...everybody caught up in the experience of the war, or what seems to be the experience of the war, but, uh...if you've seen a lot of dead people, it's a very different experience.

GERALD STONE: 200 cameras don't make an ounce of extra insight into something, and we're getting a classic example where so much coverage is actually confusing us rather than enlightening us.

JONATHAN HOLMES: But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could hardly contain his excitement.

DONALD RUMSFELD: I doubt that in a conflict of this type there has ever been the degree of free press coverage as you are witnessing in this instance.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Of course, there's been a trade off for the astonishing access. Embedded journalists know far more than they can tell their public.

CNN REPORTER: The generals here, the senior officers showed us the map, showed us the battle plan, and so we have a very clear idea of what's unfolding, but, of course, we cannot discuss the details of that.

BBC REPORTER: This is it - the start of the ground war. The Howitzers pounding targets just across the border.

JONATHAN HOLMES: And there's a growing sense that the embedded press is part of a larger Pentagon strategy - a kind of media shock and awe campaign. Not so prominently featured as the tanks and the ships, specially adapted planes are lumbering through the skies around Iraq - mobile radio stations broadcasting in Arabic a single message to the Iraqi Army.

DONALD RUMSFELD: There are communications in every conceivable mode and method, public and private, to the Iraqi forces that they can act with honour and turn over their weapons and walk away from them and not be hurt.

JONATHAN HOLMES: America and its allies would dearly love not to have to fight through Baghdad. They're hoping to shock Iraqis into surrender. And they're hoping that the images of irresistible might that have filled our screens are filling Iraqi screens - and minds - as well.

GERALD STONE: If you wanted to scare the hell out of your enemy, there's no doubt that showing pictures of huge tank columns - and they are massive - I mean, you just...that is shock and awe. Having reports coming in from different units all up and down the front, I imagine it's very scary.

JONATHAN HOLMES: In war, far more than in peace, the journalists are at the mercy of the generals - what they can see, what they can learn, what they can report has always been controlled. But journalists have short memories. The army has a long one.

PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY, AUTHOR 'THE FIRST CASUALTY': They write down what happened in the last war, learn the lessons and make plans for the next one. Constant planning going on. Whereas journalists, war correspondents, are not an institution, it's not a profession in which to grow old in, and they don't learn from their lessons. Because by the time the next war comes around, they've forgotten what happened the...the last time. So, the military's always got the edge.

BBC REPORTER: And the riots and the demonstrations are not just here in Jordan. As you've heard, there was a demonstration today in the Egyptian capital.

AUSTRALIAN REPORTER: It's now midmorning in Oman and...

JONATHAN HOLMES: More journalists have been sent to cover this conflict than were assigned at the height of the Vietnam War.

US SOLDIER, VIETNAM: Awful sick of it. I'll be so glad to go home. I don't know. This is the worst area we've been in since I've been in Vietnam.

REPORTER: Do you think it's worth it?

US SOLDIER: Yeah, I... They say we're fighting for something. I don't know.

JONATHAN HOLMES: But the experience of that first television war has profoundly influenced the Pentagon's approach to all subsequent conflicts. Journalists felt they conveyed the truth of Vietnam through the fog of military briefings. But the military felt betrayed.

LT COL JAY FARRAR (RET), EX-US DEFENSE PUBLIC AFFAIRS: The biggest example of that is the Tet Offensive. The media was reporting that back immediately as a failure on the part of US forces, when in fact it was the North Vietnamese's last gasp, if you will. And the US military prevailed tremendously, but the way it was portrayed was just the opposite and, in the end, that began the US public's dissatisfaction with our involvement there.

NEIL HICKEY, 'COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW': Many of those officers who were young officers in Vietnam are now senior officers Iraq, and they remember very well what they imagine was done to them by the press at that time. So, it''s been a longstanding grudge.

JONATHAN HOLMES: In 1983, the United States invaded Grenada. But this is some of the only combat footage shot. The Defense Department had corralled 400 reporters onto the neighbouring Caribbean island of Barbados. A frustrated few tried the crossing in a small boat, but the commanding admiral turned it back with a shot across its bows.

LT COL JAY FARRAR (RETD): It was the Vietnam syndrome that they would prefer to conduct the operation without the press not only being a hindrance and having to bring them along, which is the view of a lot of people in the military, but also to preclude these types of judgments being made instantaneously without the military having the ability to put its perspective on it.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Months earlier, in the Falklands War, the British had come up with a more sophisticated public relations strategy.

US REPORTER: The British armada continues to move south toward the Falklands with the converted ocean liner 'Canberra' and its 2,000 troops rapidly catching up.

JONATHAN HOLMES: They insisted that journalists had to sail with the task force, or not at all.

PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: They excluded all neutral and American war correspondents. The American press decided it might send a couple of ships down there only to be told by the British Ministry of Defence that if they did, they'd be fired upon. The, uh...war correspondents on board the British ships there relied on the ships and the British military establishment for their communications. So, with that control, nothing was reported that the military didn't really want reported.

JONATHAN HOLMES: The US Defense Department also did a lot of further thinking about press access.

PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: The Americans had learnt from the British experience. By the time the Gulf War came around, can't come unless you get a Saudi visa, the American military recommended who should get visas and who shouldn't. You can't go anywhere unless you...we accompany you, because quote, "It's too dangerous." That was one way of frightening them off. And when you do go anywhere, it will be in a pool. And for those who are not lucky enough to get a pool slot, and have to stay at headquarters in Saudi Arabia, then we will give you a daily briefing.

GENERAL NORMAN SCHWARZKOPF (RET), COMMANDER OF OPERATIONS, DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM: He is neither a strategist nor is he schooled in the operational arts nor is he a tactician nor is he a general nor is he a soldier. Other than that, he's a great military man. I want you to know that.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Desert Storm press briefings were delivered by the commanding general - the media savvy Norman Schwarzkopf, effectively reporting on his own performance. The military also toyed with Falklands-style embedding.

LT COL JAY FARRAR (RET): The US Marine Corps, for example, uh...early on embedded reporters with their units prior to the start of the ground campaign, and they lived with the marines for six, eight weeks. The army, on the other hand, was very reluctant to bring reporters in and let them live with their units and so, at the end of the day, what you saw was the US Marine Corps getting a tremendous amount of coverage, most of it positive.

CNN REPORTER: The air raid sirens are just going off here near these US bases in Saudi Arabia.

JONATHAN HOLMES: As cruise missiles slid under cover of a new moon into Baghdad, CNN provided a new ingredient - live infra-red images. The Pentagon was not unhappy. CNN's coverage suggested that the majority of Baghdad's citizenry could, like the reporters, watch the show because military targets alone were being pounded by precision missiles.

PETER ARNETT, CNN REPORTER: We're crouched behind a window in here. We're about three miles from where the centre of action at this point seems to be.

JONATHAN HOLMES: A smart war seemed to be covered by smart reporting. But that was misleading. It later emerged that out of sight of the cameras, up to 100,000 Iraqi soldiers had died - most of them under a rain of conventional bombs.

NEIL HICKEY: The first Gulf War was not terribly well chronicled as a matter of fact, because of that difficulty of gaining access the front lines. It's probably the least-chronicled war of any that we have been involved with. And I think that probably it's going to be a long time before we know everything that did in fact happen.

JEREMY BOWEN, BBC REPORTER: Last night, the air raids were among the heaviest of the war. Targets in and around Baghdad were attacked systematically.

JONATHAN HOLMES: But one gruesome incident took place in full view of credible western TV reporters like the BBC's Jeremy Bowen.

JEREMY BOWEN: Public shelter in al-Amariyah - a residential area in the west of the city - took a direct hit. A large crowd had gathered by the time we were taken there this morning. Everyone I spoke to told the same story. They said that the shelter was used by women, children and old men. Some bystanders said more than 1,000 of them had gone in the night before. The bomb or missile...

JONATHAN HOLMES: For Bowen, the human tragedy was all too apparent. Any Iraqi attempt to exploit it was secondary.

JEREMY BOWEN: There were dreadful scenes outside the hospital. None of this was set up for our cameras. As usual, we were accompanied at all times by officials, but this was not a propaganda stunt. It was real grief and real anger.

JONATHAN HOLMES: The slaughter at the Amariyah shelter would never be forgotten - by either side.

JEREMY BOWEN: Inside there is the sickly smell of burnt human flesh. And behind me, rescue workers are taking out more charred bodies - many of them tiny bodies, obviously of children.

JONATHAN HOLMES: The Iraqis have turned Amariyah into a shrine, which visiting journalists are urged to visit.

TREVOR BORMANN, ABC REPORTER: Ahmed Dia makes a daily visit to the shelter struck by American bombs in the Gulf War. 424 civilians perished here, including his 18-year-old sister.

JONATHAN HOLMES: America still insists Amariyah was a military command centre, and that coalition planners didn't know civilians were sheltering there at night. In a recent publication called 'Apparatus of Lies', the White House declares that "Saddam Hussein used deaths of innocent civilians to try to undermine international and domestic support for the American-led coalition." When America went to war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, journalists hoped to see a loosening of controls. Many hitched along with Northern Alliance troops. But in the south of Afghanistan where US forces worked there was almost no access. What a difference, this time around.

BILL NEELY, SKY REPORTER: We have just this second crossed over the border into Iraq. We'll be landing at our target in about 10 minutes time. Iraq's anti-aircraft artillery have been blazing this morning. We'll soon see if they fire at us.

EMBEDDED CNN REPORTER: We've crossed the border with the 1st Marine Division - specifically 1st Battalion 7th Marines - into southern Iraq a couple of hours ago, early this morning. We were actually supposed to cross last night, but the fighting along that particular breach - that's what they refer to - the breach in the wall that had been set up, this earthen dam along the Iraqi-Kuwait border - was so intense last night that we could not cross. We witnessed what was a massive aerial bombardment supported by ground artillery. This was a real fight that took place. There is another fight that is taking place now in the area where we are. Let me say that we're near Basra. That's as specific as I can get.

JONATHAN HOLMES: For the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon has changed gear and placed some 600 journalists with US ground forces under pre-agreed conditions.


JONATHAN HOLMES: Among a small number of embedded Australian journalists is the ABC's Geoff Thompson.

GEOFF THOMPSON: If we've shot anything or filmed anything which may breach what the Americans refer to as their operational security, then we might sort of show that and discuss it with them. We know that one AFP photographer got booted out of his camp because he went into a headquarters area and photographed a map. That's the sort of thing we're not allowed to do. We're not allowed to take big wide shots of the camp showing where it is, that sort of thing. But so far nothing we've wanted to say we've been prevented from saying.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: It is good in the sense that we've got lots of reporters all over the place, embedded or in-bedded with all kinds of units, so we are getting a lot of snapshots of this war. But whether you can put those snapshots together into a coherent mosaic and a full picture I think is doubtful.

DONALD RUMSFELD: What we are seeing is not the war in Iraq - what we're seeing are slices of the war in Iraq, we're seeing that particularised perspective that that reporter or that commentator or that television camera happens to be able to see at that moment, and it is not what's taking place. What you see IS taking place, to be sure, but it is one slice, and it is the totality of that that is what this war is about and being made up of.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Which apparently suited the Secretary of Defense just fine. In the spanking new Hollywood- designed briefing centre in Qatar, there were no briefings at all for more than two days.

NICHOLAS WITCHELL: Nick, if you're looking for precise information, sadly this Central Command, where I am, is not the place to look for it from. Now, I suspect that the American view is that the media can be used in a sense as one of their weapons - anyone listening to the many different reports that the media are making will be left, perhaps, in a slightly confused state. Anything obviously that comes from here, from Central Command, will be taken as authoritative, and at the moment nothing of any significance or substance is coming from here.

BBC NEWSREADER: In that case, Nick, let's go to the eyewitnesses on the ground. Thanks for joining us from Central Command headquarters with no news of anything.

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS, COMMANDER OF COALITION FORCES: Let me begin by saying that, heart and the prayers of this coalition go out to the families of those who have already made the ultimate sacrifice.

JONATHAN HOLMES: General Tommy Franks finally gave his first briefing on Saturday night, Australian time - 2.5 days after the start of the war.

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: The initiation of combat operations - we refer to that as 'D-day'. The introduction of Special Operations Forces - we refer to that as 'S-day'.

JONATHAN HOLMES: His disgruntled audience didn't feel the gung-ho rhetoric, lightly larded with information, had been worth the wait. If the Pentagon wanted journalists in Doha to be underemployed, it apparently wanted them out of Baghdad altogether.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH, OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: For their own safety, all foreign nationals, including journalists and inspectors, should leave Iraq immediately.

JONATHAN HOLMES: The Pentagon is reported to have advised American media outlets directly to withdraw.

PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: Before the war had even began - long before, while the American military was still in the planning stages, they did their best to make certain there would be no reporting of the war from the Iraqi side.

NEIL HICKEY: Well, reporters have been advised to get out of Baghdad for very obvious reasons - it's dangerous. It is very, very dangerous there.

JONATHAN HOLMES: A week ago, the ABC and other Australian networks ordered their crews to pack up and start the long drive to Amman in Jordan.

TREVOR BORMANN, ABC CORRESPONDENT: I'd like to be there, but the intelligence that we got was that any number of things could have happened - that possibly Saddam Hussein would have us under house arrest, possibly when dissent did occur on the streets of Baghdad that we would be... that we'd be targeted. There were any number of about 45 horrible ways we could have died, according to those who are gathering intelligence and advising us.

JONATHAN HOLMES: By the time the first air strikes hit Baghdad, most TV networks were dependent on remote-controlled cameras left on rooftops.


TRACEY GRIMSHAW, ANCHOR,'TODAY', CHANNEL NINE: Good to hear your voice. How's it going there?

JONATHAN HOLMES: Australian radio and TV clamoured for the voices of the only two Australian journalists left in Baghdad, Ian McPhedran and Paul McGeough - ironically, both newspapermen.

PAUL MCGEOUGH: Here comes another missile now, just whooshing straight past the window here.

TRACEY GRIMSHAW: Describe what that's like, Paul.

PAUL MCGEOUGH: It comes through with a sort of mushroom-coloured orangey flame behind, and it whooshes and whooshes. The first time one came through... Here's another one! Here's another one. Sorry, I can't see on the... Oh, there's the explosion. Huge fireball - great big black plume of smoke rising up now.

JONATHAN HOLMES: What every journalist and every government and every targeter knows is that just one misdirected missile could lose America its war of persuasion.

CHRISTOPHER DICKEY: The big problem of this war and maybe even part of Saddam's strategy is to reach a moment where there is a massacre of some sort, an atrocity of some sort, collateral damage of some sort, that really inflames public opinion in the Arab world and Europe and probably even in the United States. Uh, we stopped bombing - the United States stopped bombing Baghdad in the same way after the Amariyah incident.

JONATHAN HOLMES: How will we know this time what effect allied strikes are having? The BBC is still in Baghdad and so is al-Jazeera, the Arab news channel based in Qatar. Harrowing interviews with civilian casualties of the bombing are already being broadcast directly to the Arab street.

OSAMA EL-SHERIF, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, 'THE STAR' (JORDAN): Al-Jazeera is definitely talking to the Arab masses and I think this is what makes it so popular, so influential. There is definitely no comparison between what al-Jazeera is doing and the message that al-Jazeera is carrying and that of CNN. They show a sympathy, er... towards the Iraqi case. That's...that's very obvious. And I think that plays with...with Arab feelings. W-w-w...most of the Arabs view this as an invasion rather than a war of liberation in that sense. But that has not really been at the cost of sacrificing al-Jazeera's independence and its balanced and what I would call even objective coverage of the war.

PHILLIP KNIGHTLEY: The big difference between Iraq and the Gulf War has been the arrival not only of al-Jazeera, Arab television, but other Arab television channels as well. And they're in place now in Iraq with lots and lots of crew and as good as and as slick and as efficient as CNN or Fox News. And they're going to be competing to tell the truth. Now, how the American military plans to control the Arab television stations, I don't know.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Networks like al-Jazeera have helped to publicise Saddam's claim to be a champion of the Arab world. He's found plenty of support elsewhere in the Middle East. But how much does he really command in the country he has tyrannised? It's a question that reporters, faced with endless declarations of loyalty for the leader, would love to have honestly answered.

TREVOR BORMANN: On this day, they were praying for peace, but also victory in war. "What we're doing now is for God "and also to win the war against the enemy," said this man.

JONATHAN HOLMES: As they sometimes reminded us - every reporter in Baghdad had a government minder at his shoulder.

MARK WILLACY, CORRESPONDENT: To ask them about life under Saddam Hussein's regime, we had to use our government-appointed minder, Salah - film without him, and we'd risk arrest - so the responses to our questions were anything if not predictable.

JONATHAN HOLMES: So in those conditions, how could journalists judge how genuine the views of the Iraqi people actually were?

TREVOR BORMANN: Well, you can't tell. I mean, I was wondering are they deluded? Are they ill-informed? Are they scared to say what they feel? Do you like Saddam Hussein? "Yes, er...he was, um... he got 100% of the vote."

JONATHAN HOLMES: As the coalition forces drew nearer to Baghdad this weekend, the question became more important than ever. Would Iraqis fight for Saddam? Washington was trying desperately to persuade them not to.

DONALD RUMSFELD: There are communications in every conceivable mode and method, public and private, to the Iraqi forces that they can act with honour and turn over their weapons and walk away from them and they will not be hurt.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Getting the Iraqi Army to abandon Saddam is now the sole object of Operation Persuasion. But for many months, governments in Canberra and London and Washington have been trying to persuade us of the threat that he poses. Have they always been honest with us?

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD OF AUSTRALIA: The possession of chemical, biological or, even worse still, nuclear weapons by a terrorist network would be a direct, undeniable and lethal threat to Australia and its people. That is the reason above all others why I passionately believe that action must be taken to disarm Iraq.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Chemical and biological weapons get the emphasis now. But nuclear weapons pose a far greater threat. Only months ago we were being told that Saddam Hussein had renewed his pursuit of the bomb and might be within an ace of success.

VICE-PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY, OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Many of us are convinced that Saddam Hussein will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon. Just how soon, we cannot really gauge. Intelligence is an uncertain business, even in the best of circumstances.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Just two weeks later, the British Government published a 50-page dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, which made headlines around the world. One of its freshest and most startling claims - that Iraq had recently tried to buy uranium ore in Africa. It also detailed Iraq's purchase of tens of thousands of high-grade aluminium tubes, which it said could be used to manufacture centrifuges for enriching uranium ore. Those two elements - the tubes and the Africa purchase - became the mainstays of the American Government's claim that Iraq has a current nuclear weapons program.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa. Our intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminium tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production. Saddam Hussein has not credibly explained these activities. He clearly has much to hide.

JONATHAN HOLMES: But as Colin Powell grudgingly admitted to the Security Council, many experts doubted that the tubes had anything to do with nuclear weapons.

COLIN POWELL, US SECRETARY OF STATE: There is controversy about what these tubes are for. Most US experts think they are intended to serve as rotors in centrifuges used to enrich uranium. Other experts and the Iraqis themselves argue that they are really to produce the rocket bodies for a conventional weapon - a multiple rocket launcher.

JONATHAN HOLMES: David Albright is one of America's foremost experts on nuclear weapons manufacture. He's a former nuclear inspector in Iraq.

DAVID ALBRIGHT, INSTITUTE FOR SCIENCE AND INTERNATIONAL SECURITY: Most...most centrifuge experts in this country and abroad do not believe that they were specifically intended for use in centrifuges, and instead think they're more suitable for use in a rocket, as the Iraqis declared. But the way decisions are made in the intelligence community is each agency gets a vote. And so, you know, you had the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency all voting, and so they outvoted the Department of Energy, in particular. But those people at these other intelligence agencies don't have a clue about nuclear issues.

JONATHAN HOLMES: On March 7, Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported quite definitively to the Security Council.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI, DIRECTOR-GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL ATOMIC ENERGY AGENCY: Extensive field investigation and document analysis have failed to uncover any evidence that Iraq intended to use these 81mm tubes for any project other than the reverse engineering of rockets.

JONATHAN HOLMES: The claim that Iraq had tried to buy uranium ore from the African country of Niger was groundless too, said ElBaradei in the same briefing - it had been based on forged documents.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents, which form the basis for the report of recent uranium transaction between Iraq and Niger, are, in fact, not authentic. We have, therefore, concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded.

DAVID ALBRIGHT: I think the Bush Administration is not using even what we'd call standard practices to assess intelligence information. It's politicised the whole process, and it's seeking evidence that supports its claim, and dismissing evidence that contradicts their political goals and claims, and they're willing to punish people who dissent. So I think it's a... in my mind, it's scandalous.

JONATHAN HOLMES: By March 7, the world's media were obsessed with the last-minute manoeuvring over a Security Council resolution. The Atomic Energy Agency's conclusion that Iraq has no current nuclear weapons program got almost no publicity at all. But America is still trying to persuade the world that there are proven links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda. It was a subject on which Colin Powell spent much time on February 5, and had new things to say. He showed slides of what he claimed was a "poison and explosives training camp" in the Kurdish-controlled area of north-east Iraq. It was part, he said, of a terrorist network run by al-Qaeda associate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

COLIN POWELL: Those helping to run this camp are Zarqawi lieutenants operating in northern Kurdish areas outside Saddam Hussein's controlled Iraq. But Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organisation Ansar al-Islam that controls this corner of Iraq. In 2000, this agent offered al-Qaeda safe haven in the region. After we swept al-Qaeda from Afghanistan, some of its members accepted this safe haven. They remain there today.

JONATHAN HOLMES: This part of Colin Powell's lecture infuriated an Australian intelligence analyst watching in Canberra. It was one of the major reasons that Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Wilkie resigned from the Office of National Assessments, and joined the peace protesters outside Parliament House.

ANDREW WILKIE, FORMER ANALYST, OFFICE OF NATIONAL ASSESSMENTS: I got quite angry, I recall, when I saw the telecast. It just didn't make sense to me that if there is this link, why is the poisons factory located in an area that is clearly outside of Saddam's control? I mean, it may as well not be in Iraq. So I don't know that this so-called agent that was referred to changes the bottom line here, and that is that there's no hard evidence of any active cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda. And I don't believe Colin Powell's presentation established any link. All it established is that in somewhere outside of Saddam's control, there is an al-Qaeda presence.

JONATHAN HOLMES: When British journalists visited the so-called "poison camp" just four days after Colin Powell's presentation, they found nothing but "a dilapidated collection of concrete outbuildings "at the foot of a grassy sloping hill." Tragically, Ansar al-Islam is now back in the news. On Friday night, local time, its base was attacked by American aircraft and cruise missiles and then overwhelmed by Kurdish militia. Next day, a suicide bomber killed ABC cameraman Paul Moran as he was filming outside the base.

ALEXANDER DOWNER, AUSTRALIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: We understand from Kurdish sources that the attack on the journalist was by an organisation called Ansar al-Islam, which is an al-Qaeda-related terrorist organisation which has been operating in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq for some time.

JONATHAN HOLMES: But no government minister since the attack has claimed that the incident proves anything about a link between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD APPEARING ON '7:30 REPORT', ABC: There's evidence of links between a branch of al-Qaeda and Iraqi intelligence but, Kerry, the argument I put is a broader one than that.

JONATHAN HOLMES: In fact, the Prime Minister says his argument no longer relies on any existing link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD: It is a matter of elementary logic that if you have a growing number of rogue states with chemical and biological weapons, the possibility of those weapons, either by gift or misadventure or theft, coming into the hands of a terrorist organisation must increase.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Whether or not the public is persuaded, Australia is now at war. The Prime Minister is urging all Australians, whatever their views, to support the men and women of the ADF. Yet, at first, the Government didn't make it easy for the public to know what their armed forces were actually doing in the Middle East.

JIM WALEY, CHANNEL NINE ANCHORMAN: Simon, what can you tell us?

SIMON BOUDA, CHANNEL NINE REPORTER: Jim, the Australian Defence spokesmen here are playing everything very, very close to their chest. While the US and British military appear to be more open with their media, it's not the case with ours.

JIM WALEY: Well, Simon, any more details about the involvement of Australia's FA-18 jets?

SIMON BOUDA: Jim, only that they are involved... ongoing involvement. We're not being told much at all about them. We're not even being told if they've fired their weapons in their missions over Iraq.

GERALD STONE: I've got to say that even in the Vietnam years the Australian military was the worst in trying to stop their troops being exposed to coverage, and today they're even worse.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN, DEFENCE FORCE SPOKESMAN: The information that you're receiving...

JONATHAN HOLMES: Late last year, in the run-up to the war, Defence Force spokesman Brigadier Mike Hannan went to media organisations with a deal that could have seen them virtually surrender control over what they reported. This draft document was prepared with the assistance of law firm Clayton Utz. Before any journalist could be accredited, the Defence Minister had to be advised. Journalists would be required "not to disclose information "other than in accordance with operational security briefings "and the operational security guidance "provided by the Commonwealth". They would also "abide by all Force Public Information Centre rules "which will be given from time to time". The proposed deal appears to have been quietly dropped in the face of media resistance. Peter La Franchi is shocked it was even suggested.

PETER LA FRANCHI, DEFENCE JOURNALIST: But the clauses in that document, for example, would prevent an Australian journalist revealing something say, like, the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. It prohibits you are not allowed to identify operations people, anything that Defence says is what you must report. That's not freedom of the press at all. That is a dictatorship of the media.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Mike Hannan claims the document was not designed for the Iraq operation.

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: The document has no relevance to the current operations, and that our policy is quite clearly that we don't censor journalists. We do ask for their cooperation, however, in protecting operational security, and I think everyone would understand that.

REPORTER: The US military have given some more information about what kind of ordinance was used, what targets were hit. Why can't you at least say as much, or go as far, as the US and the British military seem to be going in terms of putting out information?

BRIGADIER MIKE HANNAN: Well, as I said, the information that you're receiving depends upon where it's coming from and who's releasing it. With all of our Australian forces, they are highly specialised groups working in fairly close niches. We don't have the capacity to release information about a lot of those, and that's just, you know, a simple fact of life.

JONATHAN HOLMES: That there needed to be a blackout on the SAS was understood. But the media complained that even the location of Australia's FA-18 aircraft was being concealed.

PETER LA FRANCHI: Again, that contrasts with both UK and US practice. The Americans are perfectly happy to identify their front-line fighter aircraft sitting in Qatar. Australia says that we should not identify the fact that Australia's F-18s are sitting in Qatar. It's a considerable difference. It's one that has a particular issue of transparency attached to it.

JONATHAN HOLMES: But suddenly, on Friday, the Australian Defence Force had a change of heart. A press conference was convened in Qatar - for Australian journalists only. The Americans wouldn't allow their coalition ally to use the briefing centre, so they gathered in the carpark.

BRIGADIER MAURIE MCNARN, AUSTRALIAN COMMANDER, MIDDLE EAST: There have been a number of contacts since they've gone in there. They have, in some cases, killed Iraqi military. Although in one case where they had contact going in they wounded a number - the rest either dropped their weapons or ran away. They stopped, the medics treated the wounded Iraqis, we moved on.

JONATHAN HOLMES: When the briefing was over, information-starved British and American reporters encircled the Aussie press to ask what they heard. Meanwhile, images from the embedded correspondents kept rolling in.

BBC REPORTER: This was hard, relentless driving, taking the column 120 miles deep inside Iraq.

US SOLDIER: Never has a mechanised force moved so fast and so far.

JONATHAN HOLMES: But not all portrayed invincible forward motion.

CNN REPORTER: Our 7th Cavalry was moving forward through a city which we can't identify at this point. They took some fire from Iraqi units - actually a small group of soldiers. It took... They had to call... The 7th Cavalry had to call in artillery. I hope you can see in the distance the huge plumes of smoke going up behind us. They've turned us around.

JONATHAN HOLMES: The resistance may not have been especially effective. But despite all the efforts of Operation Persuasion, by Sunday night only one under-strength army division had surrendered. Viewers had seen only small groups of captured troops. We'd been told that the Iraqis, especially in the south, would welcome liberation from their tyrannous oppressor.

GERALD STONE: There's no indication of that. The Iraqis - or at least some of the Iraqis - seem to be defending their country against an invasion.

JONATHAN HOLMES: General Tommy Franks insists that we're not seeing the full picture.

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS: We have with certain knowledge the fact that thousands more have laid down their weapons and have gone home.

JONATHAN HOLMES: There have been other images the coalition would rather not have screened. From the BBC in Baghdad, for example.

BBC REPORTER: This may be something the Iraqis want us to witness, but it does not make such scenes any less distressing.

JONATHAN HOLMES: Al-Jazeera has been airing images of the dead as well as the civilian wounded. Even if so far the numbers of casualties seem to be small, such images inevitably fuel the worldwide protests. There's a lot still lying ahead across the desert. If resistance collapses in the next few days, Operation Persuasion will have been a triumph - and reporters may find themselves embedded for many a conflict to come. If it turns out that Iraqis are determined to fight, Operation Persuasion will have failed - in Iraq and the wider world. Its authors will be judged to have miscalculated badly and to have persuaded only themselves.

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