- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 24, 2005

Chasing the news

Sometimes our reporters are able to break stories because they are out talking to people and chasing after the news. At other times, they get exclusives because they are staying home doing their jobs.

Freelance correspondent Paul Martin, who also heads up a specialist news agency focusing on conflict zones called World News & Features, got an extraordinary series of articles over the past week by chasing the news.

He got a break when he shared a ride with one official. That conversation led to a contact who, during a long drive and over dinner, laid out for him the details of U.S. efforts to negotiate with some leaders of the anti-American insurgency in Iraq.

Mr. Martin first reported that U.S. officials had been able to negotiate, in effect, a cease-fire with at least some of the Sunni insurgents covering a five-day period before and after the Dec. 15 parliamentary election. This would seem to explain, at least in part, why this election was more peaceful than previous ballot efforts.

I still don’t know why the State Department or the military hasn’t simply come out and announced what it is doing. But it was clear enough to Mr. Martin and to me that the authorities were happy for their actions to become public.

Mr. Martin was able to follow up two days later with an extended piece on our Middle East briefing page laying out the genesis of the negotiations with the insurgents and the prospects for future progress.

Minding the shop

But that wasn’t all. On Monday, the wire agencies began reporting that 24 so-called “high-profile” detainees were being released from U.S. custody, including two female scientists who had been dubbed “Dr. Germ” and “Mrs. Anthrax” because of their suspected roles in Saddam Hussein’s proscribed weapons programs.

Through his sources, Mr. Martin was able to report that the release was part of the wider effort to open channels to the Sunnis and to show them that they could achieve their goals by participating in the political process.

He also learned that the release had been postponed until after the election at the request of the Shi’ite-led Iraqi government, which even then was threatening to rearrest the detainees if it could capture them.

Seeking further confirmation, Mr. Martin called Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, late on Monday night at his home. “We will certainly claim them back, and we will follow them wherever they go,” Mr. al-Rubaie told him.

The security adviser also told Mr. Martin that he had a list of the released detainees on his desk, but he declined to read it out to him. “I’m in bed with the covers over my head,” he said. “I don’t know why I answered the phone.”

It was two more days before other reporters began to catch up; on Wednesday, the Associated Press quoted lawyers for some of the detainees saying the Americans were protecting them from rearrest by the Iraqis and looking for a safe haven for them either in Iraq or abroad.

Back on this side of the world, State Department reporter Nicholas Kralev beat The Washington Post and New York Times on a major development last week just by minding the shop.

Those newspapers got their reporters in Berlin to file on the release from a German prison of a Lebanese terrorist who had murdered an American sailor in 1985; we wrote it from the State Department, where U.S. officials were pledging to try to bring the killer to the United States for another trial.

Our competitors relied on the transcript of the daily State Department briefing instead of having reporters attend in person; presumably that is why they missed the background portion in which an “administration official” told reporters that the killer was at that time being detained by authorities in Lebanon.

David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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