The New York Times reported on documents that may not be authentic.
The article, published Oct. 30, reported on eight alleged receipts that were from ISIS to other jihadists to keep Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s hideout protected. The Times reported that an independent Syria researcher confirmed the eight receipts looked authentic. But, now the Times says the researcher only was shown four, not all eight, of the receipts and that having seen all eight, he now believes they are fake.
The Times published an editor’s note Nov. 15 about the receipts and doubts toward the receipts’ authenticity. The editor’s note reads:
“An article on Oct. 31 reported on a researcher’s discovery of documents suggesting that the Islamic State paid members of a rival jihadist group to safeguard the hide-out in Syria of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. After publication, questions were raised about the documents’ authenticity. The article also reported that Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, an independent Syria researcher, had reviewed eight receipts purporting to be from the Islamic State and concluded that they did not appear to have been forged. In fact, he was provided with only four receipts, not eight. He has since reviewed all eight and has revised his conclusion; he now believes they were forged. An article about the debate over the documents’ authenticity is on Page 9.”
iMediaEthics wrote to the Times to ask who raised questions about the authenticity and why al-Tamimi was only provided four of the eight receipts. The Times’ spokesperson Danielle Rhoades Ha only told iMediaEthics, “Our reporter’s follow up piece is very thorough and we don’t plan to comment beyond it.”
The researcher, al-Tamimi, told iMediaEthics by phone that the Times sent him eight documents — four were the receipts cited in the article and four were alleged internal ISIS communications. Al-Tamimi said he didn’t think the communications were authentic, but the four receipts he saw didn’t appear to have any “sign of forgery.” But, when the story was published, Al-Tamimi saw the Times said he received eight receipts, when he only reviewed four receipts. When he saw all eight receipts after publication, he then had doubts they were authentic. Al-Tamimi explained to iMediaEthics the receipts he saw appear to be on authentic paper, but the writing was inauthentic (i.e. someone wrote on real blank receipts).
A-Tamimi also pointed to his Oct. 31 article on his website responding to the Times‘ original article, which explains the concerns and “red flags” he had about the alleged ISIS documents he was shown.
The Times‘ follow-up piece, published Nov. 14, reports, “Experts divided on authenticity of Islamic State receipts.”
That article said the Times got the receipts from Assad Almohammad, identified as “a retired American intelligence operative who is now a senior research fellow at the George Washington University Program on Extremism.”
George Washington University announced in 2018 a partnership with the New York Times for an archive of documents related to ISIS. The university announced Sept. 2018, “The George Washington University Program on Extremism will create a virtual public archive of the New York Times’ “ISIS Files” as part of a news research partnership announced Monday. The “ISIS Files” are roughly 15,000 pages of internal Islamic State group documents retrieved in Iraq by a team of Times reporters led by foreign correspondent Rukmini Callimachi.”
The article says that the Times asked al-Tamimi to examine the receipts before the first article, but after having seen all eight he thinks that they are fabricated — the stationery may be real but the written information isn’t, the Times said. The Times noted that the Almohammad, who provided the receipts to the newspaper, believes the receipts are real.
iMediaEthics has written to Almohammad.