The AP published this week (10/5/15) a thrilling account of how the FBI, in concert with Moldovan authorities, “disrupted” a smuggling ring that was supposedly trying to sell “nuclear material” to ISIS and other terror organizations over a five-year span. The primary developments in the story are almost a year old, but the resurfaced tale made news across the English-speaking world:
‘Annihilate America’: Inside a Secret, Frightening Scheme to Sell Nuclear Material to ISIS
AP: Smugglers Busted Trying to Sell Nuclear Material to ISIS
—CBS News (10/7/15)
FBI Foils Smugglers’ Plot to Sell Nuclear Material to ISIS
—The Independent (10/7/15)
There was only one problem: At no point do the multiple iterations of the AP‘s reporting show that anyone involved in the FBI sting were members of or have any connection to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (aka ISIL or Daesh). While one of several smuggling attempts discussed in AP‘s reporting involved an actual potential buyer–an otherwise unknown Sudanese doctor who four years ago “suggested that he was interested” in obtaining uranium–the “terrorists” otherwise involved in the cases were FBI and other law enforcement agents posing as such. According to the AP and NBC’s Pete Williams:
However, the official emphasized that there was no known ISIS connection. An undercover informant, working with Moldovan police, claimed that he was an ISIS representative.
“But that was totally made up,” the official said.
This would not perturb the American press, who once again eager to hype an ISIS threat, either A) heavily implied this “plot” was evidence of ISIS seeking a nuclear weapon or B) actually went step further and said as much despite it being wholly untrue.
First the outlets who heavily implied ISIS was involved but used the qualifiers “attempted,” “tried” or the abstract “plots” so as to not expressly lie:
Smugglers Tried to Sell Nuclear Material to ISIS
—NBC News (10/7/15)
Smugglers Try to Sell Nukes to ISIS
—Fox News (10/7/15)
FBI Has Foiled 4 Attempts by Gangs to Sell Nuclear Material to ISIS Through Russian Connections
—Daily Mail (10/7/15)
(Note that the Daily Mail managed to also work the threat du jour into the headline by means of the reference to “Russian connections”–a phrase so vague as to be virtually meaningless.)