New York Times Blames Iran For Bulgaria Bombing--But Where's The Evidence?
There are two major items of concern in the July 19, 2012 New York Times story "Hezbollah Is Blamed in Attack on Israeli Tourists in Bulgaria."
First, the article states
The bombing comes at a time of heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes but Israel and the West say is a cover for developing weapons.
But it is not true that Israel and the West say that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. A number of top US and Israeli military and intelligence officials have publicly stated that they do not believe that Iranian leadership has decided to develop nuclear weapons. Furthermore, neither the most recent intelligence reports out of the US and Israel, nor recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, say that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon.
Second, the author's use of "confirmed" in the first sentence of the article is, I believe, misleading:
A senior American official confirmed Israel’s assertions on Thursday that the suicide bomber who killed five Israelis in an attack here on Wednesday was a member of a Hezbollah cell operating in Bulgaria.
Now, this senior American official certainly agreed or concurred with what some Israeli officials have said; but from the reporting, it does not sound like the official had confirming evidence, which is what would be needed for the official to confirm Israel's assertions. According to the Times article, officials are still trying to identify the man. The report quotes the Bulgarian foreign minister as saying that “We’re not pointing the finger in any direction until we know what happened and complete our investigation." So the investigation isn't complete yet, the bomber hasn't even been identified, and the American official "declined to describe what specific intelligence — intercepted communications, analysis of the bomber’s body parts and other details — that led analysts to conclude that the suicide bomber belonged to Hezbollah."
Furthermore, here's what the Washington Post is saying:
Israel offered no concrete evidence tying the bombing to Iran, and Bulgarian officials cautioned that it was too early to attribute responsibility.
U.S. intelligence officials said it was “plausible” that Hezbollah carried out the attack but that analysts at the CIA and other agencies were still evaluating the intelligence surrounding the bombing and had not reached a conclusion.
“I think there’s a lot of people that assume, and have since day one, that this is Hezbollah,” said a senior U.S. official, who added that U.S. intelligence agencies had not reached such an assessment.
Like the Bulgarians, U.S. officials declined to cast blame for the bombing. Some Israeli analysts questioned Israel’s quick certainty about the perpetrator and said it might have been premature to name Iran and Hezbollah.
“As long as we do not have any solid information about it, it is better to wait,” said Danny Yatom, a former director of the Israeli spy agency Mossad.
So what evidence, beyond mere assertions and conjectures, did this senior American official offer the Times reporters? And was it confirming evidence? Or are they merely taking him at his word, even though it's contrary to other reports coming out of the US government?
It's one thing for an official to say that he or his organization is doing this or that, and then for a reporter to write that the official confirmed that he or his organization is doing this or that; but what this American official says about the perpetrator of this bombing only confirms what he or his organization thinks, not what is fact. More evidence beyond mere assertion is required for confirmation of facts that an individual does not have direct access to. So unless the Times reporters were offered confirming evidence, this sentence--and the two paragraphs that follow--ought to be revised to reflect the lack of certainty concerning the identity and affiliations of the bomber.
UPDATE 7/20: The New York Times has revised the first two paragraphs of this article, but not for the better. Fortunately, I take screenshots, so you can see what it looked like before. The article now begins,
American officials on Thursday identified the suicide bomber responsible for a deadly attack on Israeli vacationers here as a member of a Hezbollah cell that was operating in Bulgaria and looking for such targets, corroborating Israel’s assertions and making the bombing a new source of tension with Iran.
One senior American official said the current American intelligence assessment was that the bomber, who struck Wednesday, killing five Israelis, had been “acting under broad guidance” to hit Israeli targets when opportunities presented themselves, and that the guidance had been given to Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group, by Iran, its primary sponsor. Two other American officials confirmed that Hezbollah was behind the bombing, but declined to provide additional details.
Yet, the Times admits that
The bomber had a fake Michigan driver’s license, but there are no indications that he had any connection to the United States, the American official said, adding that there were no details yet about the bomber like his name or nationality. He also declined to describe what specific intelligence — intercepted communications, analysis of the bomber’s body parts or other details — that led analysts to conclude that the bomber belonged to Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, in Bulgaria,
Officials here have said they have the man’s fingerprints and his DNA, and are trying to identify a man roughly 36 years old, who they suspect was in the country between four and seven days before the blast.
So, these "senior American officials" have identified the bomber as Hezbollah, yet they have no details about him like his name or nationality? Sounds suspect. According to the article, the Bulgarians don't even know how the suspect got into the country, how he travelled around, or where he stayed. If the Americans were able to identify his affiliations, they should have some information about him. But none of this information, if it exists, has been made public. Just as in the previous version of this article, it sounds like the Times was offered no evidence to back up the American officials' claims that the bomber was affiliated with Hezbollah acting under the guidance of Iran. Why the Times feels so confident in the identity and affiliations of the bomber when no proof has been made public is a mystery. The Times ought to be more skeptical. They should revise the relevant sections of this article to reflect the lack of confidence the Times ought to have in the reports coming from these "senior American officials."