Over the weekend, Glenn Greenwald turned out a sterling post on the "story" that may well represent the neocon media's final jumping of the shark: a claim that not only did Iraq have WMDs, but that the presence of sophisticated "nuclear, chemical and biological materials" in vast underground bunkers is being covered up by both the Republicans and the Democrats (and the State Department and, well, everyone really) who further know that the nuclear materials were stolen by terrorists, and are even now in the possession of a cabal of hostile nations (Syria, Iran, North Korea, Russia and China) who are collaborating on "an Islamic bomb against the West".
These extraordinary claims - and more! - are made in an article in The Spectator by Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips. (You may recall her as the journalist plagiarised by the Maxim Institute's Bruce Logan. She was also the subject of a withering recent column by Jonathan Freedland in the Jewish Chronicle.)
And yet, as Greenwald points out, the neocon commentariat is almost universally up for it. The story has been more or less embraced by the whole gang: Instapundit, Malkin, Powerline, Pajamas Media and more. I won't bother repeating the content of Greenwald's post because you can read that yourself, but I did twig a few more things about the "story".
Phillips bolsters her story by citing the support of John Loftus, "a formidably well-informed former attorney to the intelligence world" and the creator of something called The Intelligence Summit. Last month, the St Petersburg Times ran a story about The Intelligence Summit:
During a phone conversation with the St. Petersburg Times, Loftus offered this preview of the kind of "sensational disclosure" that will be revealed at the Intelligence Summit:
"At the end of the Iraq war in 2003, the Bush administration covered up finding four huge storehouses of weapons of mass destruction under 25 feet of water because the stuff was moved and then looted and the administration was embarrassed."
The State Department would not comment on this claim. But Gary Schmitt, former staff director of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and a security and defense scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said he had never heard Loftus' version of events.
"I know nothing about that or the Intelligence Summit," said Schmitt. But he said he had heard of Loftus: "I don't recall him as an intelligence person, but as someone who gives opinions to the press."
According to IRS documents, the main donor to the International Holocaust Education Center from 2004 to 2005 was Michael Cherney, a Russian aluminum tycoon who gave the organization $100,000 that year. Loftus has not yet made the 2005-06 IRS records available to the St. Petersburg Times. He says they show that Cherney donated another $50,000 last year.
Cherney, who Loftus agrees was the summits' main contributor, was invited by Loftus to be the "distinguished guest of honor" at this year's event. But the United States has denied Cherney a visa since 1999 because of alleged ties to the Russian mafia.
Loftus acknowledges the U.S. government's view of Cherney, but says, "He was framed by Negroponte and never committed a crime." John Negroponte, now deputy secretary of state, is the former director of national intelligence. The State Department would not comment.
Oh yes. Negroponte's in on the conspiracy too, as breathlessly revealed by Phillips in a follow-up on her blog:
This is not the first such instance of abuse, nor is the Intelligence Summit the only victim. Mr. Negroponte is the informal leader of a State Department faction, colloquially known as the ‘Red Team’ because of its support for a dialogue with communist China.
As is the course of such things, this conspiracy hasn't so much sprung into being as evolved over time. Remember last year, when Sen. Rick Santorum claimed that some old, degraded shells that had turned up in Iraq were evidence of Saddam's modern WMD programme? Gaubatz was right in the thick of that one too. He was feeding "information" to Santorum and two Republican Congressmen, who he subsequently accused of running a "slime campaign" against him.
The Gaubatz threat level has escalated rather remarkably since August. Back then, he was warning that because the sites he identified had not been searched, "there is now a possibility the sites were looted and WMD is in the hands of terrorists". A few months later it's an Islamic-bomb slamdunk.
I know that such conspiracy theories bloom across the political spectrum: the Loose Change crazies have convinced a few people that 9/11 was an inside job. But that particular theory hasn't been picked by established liberal commentators: quite the reverse, in fact. Probably the saddest thing about this episode is that Phillips' story ran in The Spectator, which has traditionally kept a decent distance from neocon craziness.
And what on earth is happening to conservatism when it becomes a petri dish for this sort of political fungus? Andrew Sullivan's right: it's going down the gurgler.
PS: On a completely different tip, congratulations to the national Under-19 rugby side, who played simply magnificent rugby to win their World Cup. It's a shame they'll have to come down a level to the Super 14.