Al Jazeera television network infiltrated by Iraqi spies

LONDON - Al Jazeera, the controversial Arab satellite television network, was infiltrated by Iraqi intelligence agents as part of an effort to subvert the network's coverage.

The claims, made in the Sunday Times, follows documents discovered in Baghdad, which say that the Iraqi secret service controlled as many as three agents working for Al Jazeera.

The claims are likely to further damage Al Jazeera's reputation in the West, following the war in Iraq where it was condemned by London and Washington for biased reporting and images of dead and captured coalition troops.

During the fighting in March and April, Al Jazeera several times broadcast images given to it by the Iraqi information ministry. These images included pictures of captured American troops who were paraded by the Iraqi regime on national television.

The Sunday Times reports that the documents found related to before the war in Iraq and specifically relate to August 1999 up until November 2002 five months before the war started.

The Sunday Times says that the files were recovered from a local office of the intelligence service in Baghdad and they claim that Al Jazeera was used as a "foil" to what is described as American aggression.

The files apparently outline secret contacts between Al Jazeera's staff and the Iraqi intelligence service, the Mukhabarat. More damaging is the fact that the papers suggest contact between Mukhabarat and Mohammed Jasim Al-Ali, the station's managing director.

Al Jazeera has denied that its coverage of the war was influenced by the Iraqi regime.

However, one of the files contains a registration document for "Iraqi or foreign secret cooperatives" and The Sunday Times says it names an Iraqi employee at Al Jazeera's headquarters in Doha, the Qatari capital, who was codenamed Jazeera 2.

The documents allege that the agent provided Iraq with two letters written by Bin Laden. It was Bin Laden who first brought the network to prominence as it showed several interviews with the Islamist terror leader, following the events of 9/11. The paper said that, along with Jazeera 2, the Iraqi intelligence service had two other agents who worked as the channel as cameramen.

According to the paper, the report, which was written by an official in the Iraqi embassy in Qatar, says: "(Jazeera 2) has a distinguished stand in the cooperation with us, continuously providing us with the information we request. I made him aware of the appreciation of his efforts. He has been presented with a set of gold jewellery for his wife."

The paper said that in October 1999, the documents claim that Iraqi intelligence halted the broadcast of footage of the Iraqi gas attack on Halabja.

Al Jazeera told The Sunday Times that the man (Jazeera 2) no longer worked for the station, but the paper said it was told by someone else that he was on holiday, suggesting that he worked at the station throughout the war in Iraq.

The two other agents are reported to have passed on field reports on the "views of colleagues" at the station.

The paper said that Iraqi intelligence was worried that it might lose its links with Al Jazeera and the documents warned it would "lose them (Al Jazeera) as an instrument employed by us".

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