PLAGIARISM IN THE BURMA NUCLEAR “SCOOP”
Contact: Roland Watson, email@example.com
PLAGIARISM IN THE BURMA NUCLEAR “SCOOP”
August 3, 2009
Please forward widely.
To: Desmond Ball and Phil Thornton
Is it too much to ask to be given a little credit, when credit is due?
Your articles this past weekend in the Sydney Morning Herald and Bangkok
Post about Burma’s nuclear program contained some new information and one
new source (“Tin Min”). However, they also included more than ten pieces
of information that Dictator Watch first reported.
In the primary SMH article, Burma’s Nuclear Secrets:
For the defector “Moe Jo,” we had first access to his interrogation
debriefing, by border-based groups upon his arrival in Thailand; we asked
him follow-up questions; and we published his claims (among other intel)
that the SPDC wanted a nuclear bomb by 2020 (published in August 2008),
and that there was a large State Scholar program with Russia in support of
this (which info we first published in November 2006, from other sources).
In our Moe Jo-sourced articles, we did not reveal that he was a defector –
we were trying to protect his family.
In the SMH article on your work by Hamish McDonald, Revealed: Burma’s
You say: “Another Moscow-trained Burmese Army defector was picked up by
U.S. intelligence agencies last year.” We had access to, and published
intelligence from, this defector’s border debriefing as well.
This article further states that “Burma protested to Thailand about
overflights by unmanned surveillance drones that were apparently launched
across the Thai territory by U.S. agencies.” Dictator Watch was the first
to reveal the use of the drones (in November 2008).
In the BP article, Burma’s nuclear bomb alive and ticking:
You mention that the SPDC has a uranium milling and enrichment facility at
Tha Beik Kyin. We first disclosed this information (November 2006),
although we view the enrichment claim at this point as unconfirmed
(evidence for it, though, is building). We also first disclosed that there
were at least two uranium mills (January 2007). We further believe that
there may be a reactor at Tha Beik Kyin. In any case, there are three
suspected reactor sites: Myaing in Magwe; Tha Beik Kyin; and the Setkhya
Mountains (which many people have been speculating about for years,
including Dictator Watch starting in January 2007, and which you identify
as Naung Laing, which location we previously identified in November 2008).
You mention the SPDC’s five uranium deposits listed on its Ministry of
Energy website. After extensive Internet research, I was the one who found
this website, and publicized its existence (in January 2007).
You talk about the Google Earth photos of the suspected Myit Nge uranium
operation. An associate of Dictator Watch scanned all the non-cost
satellite imagery available for Burma, and identified this site (among
others), which photos we published (in March 2007).
You mention plutonium reprocessing at Naung Laing. We first disclosed that
the SPDC’s nuclear program might extend to plutonium (in August 2008).
You also talk about weaponization research at Naung Laing, which we also
disclosed earlier (in November 2006).
More generally, Dictator Watch and many Burmese media groups have
published extensive intel about the connections between the SPDC and North
Korea. For example, we revealed the involvement of the businessman Tayza
(in August 2007), which your source Tin Min has now confirmed.
In consideration of all of this, don’t journalistic ethics demand the
acknowledgment of other journalists, or sources such as advocacy groups,
who first break a story – who get the scoop?
Snippets of information about the SPDC’s nuclear program (other than the
2001 announcement of the Russian reactor deal), first began to appear
about five years ago, notably by the Democratic Voice of Burma and the
Shan Herald Agency for News. Then, in 2006, we at Dictator Watch were
entrusted with information that had not yet been made public. We asked for
permission to disclose the intel, and received it.
In the process, we also learned of other sources of intel and conceived a
broader program to collect information from different parties in the Burma
Pro-Democracy Movement. Since November 2006, we have published sixteen
articles with intelligence and/or intelligence analysis of Burma’s nuclear
and missile programs, including its connections with North Korea, Russia,
China and Iran.
This is much more than what you describe in your articles: “There have
been hints Burma aspires to a nuclear program.” This statement is a
self-serving mischaracterization, if not a complete lie. (It is
inconceivable that you are not aware of Dictator Watch’s intelligence
It is extremely gratifying that the Burma nuclear story is finally
receiving widespread coverage. This has only occurred, though, because of
the Kang Nam 1: the fact that U.S. intel about the North Korean freighter
was leaked, and that the U.S. was forced to recognize the issue.
Dictator Watch should be identified as a source in any analysis of the
SPDC’s program, if our disclosures are used. This would further give
credit to the many different people who have assisted us, some of whom
have been killed or imprisoned (but in either case, not because of their
involvement with us).
If such credit isn’t given, isn’t this known as plagiarism?
Or, do you only feel obliged to credit other journalists and academics?
To the Bangkok Post: Thank you for printing my letter yesterday stating
that we should have been given credit. To the Sydney Morning Herald, which
did not print the letter: You owe Dictator Watch an apology, for not
properly vetting Ball and Thornton’s representation that their sources and
information were in fact original.