May 29th saw the appearance of a filmed report on the BBC News website’s main, Magazine and Middle East pages under the title of “The CIA spy who could have brought peace to Middle East” [sic]. The report is devoted entirely to author Kai Bird talking about his new book concerning the decade-long relationship between the CIA’s Robert Ames and Fatah’s Ali Hassan Salameh.
Leaving aside both the perhaps fanciful notion promoted in the BBC’s synopsis that the relationship “helped lay the groundwork for the negotiations which culminated in the Oslo Peace Accords of 1993” and the fact that the Oslo Accords did not bring peace, it is notable that both in the synopsis and in the filmed report itself, Ali Hassan Salameh is described as “Yasser Arafat’s intelligence chief”, “Arafat’s chief body-guard” and “Arafat’s virtual intelligence chief”.
No mention is made whatsoever of the fact that Salameh was a senior figure in Fatah’s Black September terrorist group and one of the architects of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. Black September – established in 1970 – was of course responsible for numerous additional terror attacks during the years between 1969 and 1979 throughout which Ames and Salameh, according to Bird, were in contact – including the deaths of two American diplomats in Khartoum in March 1973.
An equally bizarre inaccuracy in this report comes when Bird, speaking of the bombing of the US embassy in Beirut in April 1983 in which Robert Ames was killed says:
“Oddly enough, there was no retribution for the security lapses. The US government really didn’t know who had done this. Hizballah didn’t exist then.”
Although the Hizballah manifesto was published in 1985, the organization was founded – under Iranian tutelage – in 1982 and so did in fact “exist then”. Moreover, responsibility for the US embassy bombing was, as shown in news reports at the time, claimed by a group calling itself the Islamic Jihad Organisation – one of Hizballah’s early monikers.
The omission of any mention of Salameh’s terrorist activities and the inaccuracy regarding Hizballah’s founding in this report both materially mislead BBC audiences.