THE SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE has once again released a report claiming
that the Bush administration hyped prewar intelligence. The so-called Phase Two
report is supposed to investigate the Bush administration's handling of prewar
intelligence. In reality, the report is little more than yet another attempt by
partisan Democrats to make political hay out of flawed prewar intelligence.
(The only Republicans to endorse the report were two of the Senate's most
liberal GOP members.) The committee focused exclusively on prewar statements by
Bush administration officials, ignoring similar statements by leading
Democrats. Therefore, the report is intended to portray the Bush administration
in the worst possible light. But even with this bias, the committee came to a
noteworthy conclusion: The Bush administration was right to claim that Saddam's
regime was harboring al Qaeda members.
The Senate Intelligence Committee's report includes this conclusion at the
end of a terse section on the Bush administration's claims about Saddam's
prewar terror ties:
Statements that Iraq
provided safe haven for Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and other al Qaeda-related
terrorist members were substantiated by the intelligence assessments.
Intelligence assessments noted Zarqawi's presence in Iraq
and his ability to travel and operate within the country. The intelligence
community generally believed that Iraqi intelligence must have known about, and
therefore at least tolerated, Zarqawi's presence in the country.
Regarding postwar information collected by the U.S.
intelligence community, the report reads:
Postwar information supports prewar assessments and statements that Abu
Musab al-Zarqawi was in Baghdad
and that al Qaeda was present in northern Iraq.
These conclusions should not be surprising. In his book At the Center of
the Storm, former Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet provided a
number of details concerning the safe haven al Qaeda members received in
For example, Tenet wrote that two of Ayman al-Zawahiri's top operatives,
Thirwat Shihata and Yussef Dardiri, received safe haven in Baghdad.
Tenet says that there was "concern that these two might be planning
operations outside Iraq."
The first report on the uses of prewar intelligence published by the Senate
Intelligence Committee in July 2004 also found that Zarqawi freely roamed
around Iraq and
Saddam's goons must have been aware of his presence. The authors of the Butler
Report, the British government's investigation into prewar intelligence, found
roughly the same. Even other al Qaeda members have, on occasion, been open
about the relationship between Zarqawi, other al Qaeda operatives, and Saddam's
regime in prewar Iraq.
Despite all of these findings, however, the myth that Zarqawi and other al
Qaeda operatives lived in Saddam's neo-Stalinist state without receiving at
least the dictator's tacit support has lived on. But now, even in a partisan
report designed to attack the Bush administration's credibility, the Senate
Intelligence Committee has admitted that Bush and his officials were right to
argue that Saddam was harboring al Qaeda fugitives. Both prewar and postwar
intelligence assessments confirm their view.
But no one should take the Senate Intelligence Committee's word one way or
another on these issues. In fact, the only reason that we know the committee
got the story of Saddam's safe haven for al Qaeda members right is because so
many other sources have already confirmed it. And while the Senate Intelligence
Committee got this issue right, it got many others wrong. The report is not
even internally consistent and the committee simply ignored numerous pieces of
information that got in the way of some of its conclusions.
One glaring illustration is the following baseless finding:
and al Qaeda did not have a cooperative relationship. Saddam Hussein was
distrustful of al Qaeda and viewed Islamic extremists as a threat to his
regime, refusing all requests from al Qaeda to provide material or operational
Here, the committee simply regurgitated an old storyline invented by some
analysts within the CIA and other intelligence bureaucracies. The truth is that
this was a prewar assumption that went untested and is contradicted by a
variety of pieces of evidence discovered both in the prewar as well as postwar
period. Some of this evidence is cited in the committee's own report!
For example, if Saddam was willing to harbor al Qaeda terrorists, as the
committee itself admits was substantiated by "postwar information,"
then how can the committee claim that Saddam spurned all offers of cooperation
and was entirely "distrustful" of al Qaeda members? Isn't giving safe
haven to wanted terrorists--who, according to George Tenet, may have been
plotting attacks around the world--evidence of a "cooperative
relationship"? And if Saddam was willing to give al Qaeda members safe
haven, how can the committee be sure that he wasn't willing to do more for
Indeed, the committee ignored the best evidence of Saddam's true attitude
towards al Qaeda and other "Islamic extremists"--Iraqi intelligence
documents discovered in postwar Iraq.
For instance, the Institute for Defense Analyses published a study of captured
Iraqi regime documents in November 2007. The IDA report's authors found that
when it came to "attacking Western interests":
Captured documents reveal that the regime was willing to co-opt or
support organizations it knew to be part of al Qaeda - as long as that
organization's near-term goals supported Saddam's long-term vision.
Saddam supported groups that either associated directly with al Qaeda
(such as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, led at one time by bin Laden's deputy, Ayman
al-Zawahiri) or that generally shared al Qaeda's stated goals and objectives.
Documents cited in the IDA report show that Saddam had an agreement with
Zawahiri's Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman's Islamic group
to cooperate in attacks against Hosni Mubarak's Egyptian regime in the early
1990s. Both of those terrorist groups have been core members of Osama bin
Laden's terrorist joint venture. Other documents show that Saddam financed
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who counterterrorism analyst Peter Bergen has called Osama
bin Laden's "alter ego," and was willing to work with Hekmatyar's
terrorists in attacking American forces in Somalia. Clearly, then, Saddam was
willing at times to offer al Qaeda's terrorists more than just safe haven.
Another document from the mid-1990s, which was not cited in the IDA's
analysis, relays Osama bin Laden's request for Iraqi assistance in performing
"joint operations against the foreign forces in the land
of Hijaz." That is, bin Laden
assistance in attacking U.S.
forces in Saudi Arabia.
We do not know what, exactly, came of bin Laden's request. But the document
indicates that Saddam's operatives "were left to develop the relationship
and the cooperation between the two sides to see what other doors of cooperation
and agreement open up." According to the regime's own documents,
therefore, Saddam did not "[refuse] all requests from al Qaeda to provide
material or operational support." Saddam was willing to leave the
relationship open to see what avenues for cooperation between his intelligence
operatives and al Qaeda's terrorists may open up.
There's more, of course, but the Senate Intelligence Committee managed to
avoid any direct mention of such documents, which contradict some of its
findings. The report is, therefore, hardly comprehensive. However, we can be
certain of at least one thing: Saddam harbored al Qaeda terrorists.
Even the Democratic members of the Senate Intelligence Committee now admit