The New York Times has come under some fire for overplaying the role of Iran in the Iraq war in its reporting on past WikiLeaks document dumps. This week, some are accusing the paper of overplaying the same card.

It began on Cablegate Day One, when the Times published a lengthy report headlined “Iran Fortifies its Arsenal with Aid of North Korea.” The story—by William J. Broad, James Glanze, and David E. Sanger, with reporting from Andrew W. Lehren—did not bury the lede. It opened:

Secret American intelligence assessments have concluded that Iran has obtained a cache of advanced missiles, based on a Russian design, that are much more powerful than anything Washington has publicly conceded that Tehran has in its arsenal, diplomatic cables show.

The diplomatic cable from which the reporters drew most of their supporting evidence is this from February of this year. It features notes on a meeting between then-acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation Vann H. Van Diepen and a Russian team led by Deputy Secretary of the Russian National Security Council Vladimir Nazarov. The Times reported that, according to the cable, Iran had obtained nineteen BM-25 missiles, based on the Russian-designed R-27, from North Korea. The revelations brought some ominous conclusions.

The missiles could for the first time give Iran the capacity to strike at capitals in Western Europe or easily reach Moscow, and American officials warned that their advanced propulsion could speed Iran’s development of intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The problem with the report is, as FAIR was first to note, the cable also contains much
to counter or at least shed doubt on the idea that Iran possesses the missiles. This comes from the Russian end of the meeting and the Times did not include notes on the position of the skeptical Russian officials in its report, or mention, or paraphrase it. And the paper did not publish the full cable on its website, as it has done in conjunction with other stories based on the latest WikiLeaks dump. The paper said the cable was not published in full “At the request of the Obama administration.”

To add balance to the fear-stoking claims that Iran had its hands on the longer range missiles, the Times might have included something from this paragraph, point twenty-six in the cable, which was picked up by FAIR. (Our emphasis.)

Russia said that during its presentations in Moscow and its comments thus far during the current talks, the U.S. has discussed the BM-25 as an existing system. Russia questioned the basis for this assumption and asked for any facts the U.S. had to provide its existence such as launches, photos, etc. For Russia, the BM-25 is a mysterious missile. North Korea has not conducted any tests of this missile, but the U.S. has said that North Korea transferred 19 of these missiles to Iran. It is hard for Russia to follow the logic trail on this. Since Russia has not seen any evidence of this missile being developed or tested, it is hard for Russia to imagine that Iran would buy an untested system. Russia does not understand how a deal would be made for an untested missile. References to the missile’s existence are more in the domain of political literature than technical fact. In short, for Russia, there is a question about the existence of this system.

Or this, from point twenty-nine, also our emphasis:

In the media, and more importantly in the MTCR Information Exchange, countries have offered direct evidence of the transfer of the BM-25 from North Korea to Iran. Russia asked if the U.S. had pictures of the missile in Iran. The U.S. did not, but noted that North Korea had paraded the missile through the streets of Pyongyang. Russia disagreed. Russia said it had reviewed the video of the North Korean military parade and concluded that North Korea had shown a different missile. Russia does not think the BM-25 exists. The missile appears to be a myth, and some say that it is based on a Russian missile. However, no one has seen it, and Russia cannot find traces of it. The U.S. said it would endeavor to provide further information on the existence of the BM-25 at the next round of talks, noting that reaching agreement on this point will affect the joint assessment of Iranian and North Korean missile capabilities.

As FAIR has written in an “Action
compelling readers to question Times public editor Arthur Brisbane on the matter, “the full contents of the cable give a much different picture than the Times gives its readers.”

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.