Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ryan Mauro, the 19-year-old author of Death to America: The Unreported Battle of Iraq and the youngest hired geopolitical analyst in the country. He is a volunteer analyst for Tactical Defense Concepts and Northeast Intelligence Network and is the owner of WorldThreats.com. He will be speaking at the 2006 Intelligence Summit on his work in open-source intelligence.
FP: Ryan Mauro, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Mauro: Thank you for having me.
FP: You are quite a young fellow. It is quite exceptional for a 19-year-old to be an expert in geopolitical affairs. What got you involved in your work?
Mauro: Due to a visual disability of mine, I couldn't play sports as a kid. So with my time I read a lot and then around age 11 or 12, I got my first computer, which was around the time of the bombing of Iraq in December 1998. It started my interest in geopolitical affairs, even though my parents were not political. I can remember in 2000 not knowing the candidates involved in the race, but knowing the locations of all the Middle Eastern countries.
FP: I want to talk to you today about what your sources reveal about the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection, WMDs in Iraq under Saddam, and the Syrian-Iranian connection to the terrorism in Iraq. But first, let’s talk about the referendum in Iraq the other day and the high-voter turnout. This is quite a devastating blow to the terrorists isn’t it?
Mauro: This is a disaster for the terrorists. Lots of critics in the mainstream media pointed to the delays in writing the constitution and bickering, but no where else in the Arab world can such bickering occur. And you can bet that the Iraqis and the region as a whole noticed that.
Despite the mainstream media trying to make it seem like the Sunnis voted en bloc to oppose the referendum, that simply isn't the case. The constitution almost certainly passed by a fair margin in at least two Sunni-dominated provinces.
The mainstream media is overly negative and pessimistic, but even they can't hide the fact that the Sunnis are now greatly divided -- with a large portion recognizing they need to trade in their weapons for a voting ballot. In my book, I show how the mainstream media's reports immediately after World War Two, during the reconstruction of Germany, mirrors today's reporting about Iraq. Unstoppable guerrilla war, the Germans are turning towards anti-American ideologies, widespread looting, the Germans and Europeans as a whole have turned on us, etc. I think the similarities are incredible.
FP: OK, tell us what your intelligence sources are saying about the terrorist activity in Iraq.
Mauro: From open-source information and my own sources, it's clear that the survival of the insurgency depends on Syrian and Iranian support. The commanders for the Baathists, particularly Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, operate from Syria and train operatives in Aleppo. The insurgents, even if most are Iraqis, rely upon these state sponsors.
However, headway is being made. Iraqi TV is broadcasting statements from Iraqi officials, and even the testimony of captured insurgents proving Syria is behind all sorts of terrorist attacks--from beheadings, to car bombings, to roadside bombs. Al-Qaeda is even operating in Syria. Although I don't think the insurgency will be destroyed until the state sponsorship ends, they are losing ground. Iran doesn't have the influence over the Shiites they thought they did, and any such influence is quickly waning because the Shiites have an interest in participating in democracy.
While pro-Iran elements like Moqtada al-Sadr take headlines, most Shiites do not want a theocratic state. Even Iranian-backed elements like the Badr Brigades (although some members may participate in the insurgency) and the Dawa Party, which Ibrahim Jafaari is part of, do not seem to be stifling democracy. At least, if that is their intent, they aren't doing a very good job as the referendum on the constitution has just shown.
The Sunnis are deeply divided now. There have been clashes along the western border near al-Qaim between Baathists and Iraqis belonging to some Sunni tribes against foreign fighters filtering in from Syria. There's division between the foreign fighters and Baathists; divisions among the Baathists between those who want to participate in democracy and those that don't; and division among those that want to participate in democracy only to stifle progress (by consistently voting "no" and being uncompromising).
That being said, American troops and Iraqis are dying because of the inability to stop Syria and Iran, but at least some strategy seems to be developing towards Syria.
FP: What do you know about Saddam’s pre-war ties to Al-Qaeda?
Mauro: My book compiles all the evidence available that demonstrates Iraq worked with Al-Qaeda on all levels.
In the 1980s, Saddam regularly sponsored Palestinian groups and Iraqi intelligence even poisoned Israeli oranges that they exported to Europe, an obvious economic assault. After the Gulf War, Hasan al-Turabi, the spiritual leader of Sudan, helped bring all sorts of Islamic groups together--this included the Iraqis and Osama Bin Laden. It was a time of great reconciliation. Iraq and Iran began burying the hatchet, and Sudan became a base for cooperation.
The Iraqi Intelligence Service deputy director Farouq Hijazi met with Ayman al-Zawahiri, head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad who would eventually become the second-in-command and "brains" of Al-Qaeda. According to Iraqi intelligence documents, Bin Laden "also requested joint operations against foreign forces." It should also be mentioned that a group now closely tied to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi began cooperation with the Iraqis at this time.
Iraqi intelligence documents seem to identify the Somalia ambush as the first incident of cooperation between Sudan, Iraq, and Osama Bin Laden. An Iraqi document signed by Saddam's secretary shows that the regime demanded that action was made to "hunt the Americans" in Somalia using "Arabian elements, or Asian (Muslims) or friends." The Iraqi documents list a range of groups available for participation in the operation. Muhammad Farrah Aidid, who led the ambush, even met with Iraqi intelligence in Khartoum.
From then on, there are periodic meetings between the Iraqis and Al-Qaeda officials. Training of Al-Qaeda operatives began in 1995 as a result of meetings between the Iraqis and Abu Hajer al-Iraqi, known as Osama Bin Laden's "best friend." From then on, there would be a great number of meetings, participated in by many different leaders and officials of the Iraqi regime and Al-Qaeda. A stream of defectors would report cooperation between the two, as would many intelligence services.
Cooperation from the mid-1990s up until the war steadily increased, eventually culminating in Iraqi training of Al-Qaeda members in document forgery, bomb production, WMD development, and other activity. On more than one occasion, the Iraqis would go on alert and then an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack would be attempted. Iraq would also actively work with Al-Qaeda (and Syrian intelligence) to prepare the guerrilla war we're facing today.
I'm aware of new evidence that Iran played a direct role in 9/11 and sponsoring Al-Qaeda and this is not contradictory. In fact, documents brought to light by Ken Timmerman show that Imad Mughniyah of Hezbollah, high-level Iranian officials, high-level Iraqi intelligence officials and high-level Al-Qaeda operatives met in Iran in October 2001. So Bin Laden relied on several avenues of support, which made sense, as this meant he couldn't be held down by one state's interests.
FP: Your book also shows how Saddam moved his WMDs into other countries. Can you give us a summary of the evidence?
Mauro: Saddam passed his WMDs into other countries long before Operation Iraqi Freedom began. Iraq's WMDs have long been, all the way back to the 1990s, connected to other state's WMD programs. By the late 1990s, a great part of Iraq's nuclear program was based in Libya as a joint project. Iraqi WMD would be routinely moved in and out of Syria to avoid inspections.
So the fact that Syrian defectors, Iraqi scientists and foreign intelligence sources indicate the WMD was moved to Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Iran is not surprising at all. American satellites saw traffic moving from Iraq into Syria between January 2003 and the war's beginning, and at this time the Iraqi border guards were replaced with Iraqi intelligence. Iran has even taken in some Iraqi chemical and biological weapons equipment, just like they took in Iraqi aircraft in 1991.
I detail in my book how this was not some change in policy by Iraq, it was simply an expansion of previous cooperation. UN inspectors even confirmed in the 1990s this was going on. Iraqi WMD expertise has been confirmed to be in other countries as well (and Duelfer confirmed that Qusay Hussein prepared for such expertise to go to Syria). This is not at odds with Duelfer or Kay, who both confirmed there were reports of WMD going to Syria and that trucks full of "Iraqi equipment" went to Syria but we don't know the contents. Duelfer even said there was evidence Syria offered to harbor Iraqi WMD, but he couldn't confirm that they did in fact do that because the insurgency stopped his team from completing the investigation.
FP: How would you rate the intelligence community's performance before and during the War on Terror?
Mauro: I will be speaking at the 2006 Intelligence Summit on open-source intelligence. I believe that open-source intelligence has been ignored and that intelligence analysts tend to live in a bubble of classified information, ignoring media reports. There seems to be some hostility to civilian input. I am a volunteer for the Northeast Intelligence Network and in one incident, we were passing some great information along to a CIA contact that we gathered from some online communication by self-proclaimed jihadists. The CIA contact refused to pass the information along, saying that he'd then be expected from then on to provide such high-quality information.
We haven't been attacked in a major way on our soil for four years. To that end, we need to give our intelligence community some credit. However, at the same time, there is one other issue that bothers me. Ever since the fall of the Soviet Union, the intelligence community abandoned the idea that terrorism was state-sponsored. And they also adopted this notion that terrorists of different types won't cooperate. Common sense shows this isn't true--in Iraq we see Zarqawi working with Baathists, Shiite Iran is harboring Wahhabist Al-Qaeda, Shiite Hezbollah works with Sunni Hamas, Athiest North Korea works with radical Islamic Iran. It's basically like saying that, and I'm not trying to put them on the same level as terrorists, that Catholics and Protestants won't unite to fight gay marriage or abortion.
It makes no sense, and that's why I feel a lot of the different tidbits of information indicating there's state sponsors behind Al-Qaeda and terrorism in general are not tied together. I also feel that the State Department and some in the intelligence community try to rationalize our enemy too much--they can't understand why Iran would harbor Al-Qaeda, so they dismiss it. They can't understand why Syria would back the insurgency instead of receiving the benefits of cooperation with the United States, so they keep on talking.
FP: How about the cleavages between the terrorists? How can we help drive a deeper wedge between them and fragment their cause? The Zawahiri letter told us a lot in this department, what is your angle on it?
Mauro: The Zawahiri letter is just another pessimistic letter in the latest stream. Even back in February 2004, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was sending desperate letters that were blatantly pessimistic and the situation for us in Iraq was enormously worse back then.
I don't think we need to do anything to fragment their cause, their doing a fine job themselves. By attacking other Muslims, Zarqawi is angering Zawahiri, who points to the fact that Iran is holding many Al-Qaeda members and he must consider that before launching some attacks. By focusing attacks on Iraqis, the terrorists are making the Iraqis more and more hateful of them. Al-Qaeda is making us more and more friends, and I'm not even sure if they realize it. When the insurgents don't have an alternate platform, they're exposed for what they really are---illogical mass murderers that will never stop.
Yes, the Iraqis have animosity towards Coalition forces because a) we're occupying their country which never can feel good and b) we're unable to stop the insurgency. I've had several Iraqis tell me this exact question: "You've put a man on the moon, but why can't you get my electricity working? You're a superpower but how come you won't crush these insurgents?"
FP: You have done some impressive scholarship on Russia's "hidden hand" in Iraq. Can you give us a glimpse into this reality?
Mauro: Look, on the one hand, it is clear that we can cooperate with the Russians on some levels, but we need to be very wary. Don’t fool yourself, they are the ones arming Syria, Iran, and China. In my book, I chronicle how deeply involved Russia was in helping Saddam Hussein on many levels. The Russians, as part of their geopolitical strategy and because of the oil they got from Iraq, helped him at every end.
Former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, a long personal friend of Saddam Hussein, went to Iraq before the war with two former Soviet generals that some suspect advised Iraq on how to fight the coming war. The highest ranking intelligence officer ever to defect from the Soviet Bloc, Ion Mihai Pacepa, has come out and said that the Soviets long had a plan entitled "Sarindar" or "Emergency Exit" for its third-world allies, originally Libya but later Iraq, to abandon evidence of their WMD activity if an invasion by Western forces was expected. Pacepa says he was personally consulted on the plan by Yuri Andropov, Yevgeny Primakov, Leonid Brezhnev, and other leaders. The aim was to rid the targeted country of Russian involvement in their WMD programs, as well as to "frustrate the West by not giving them anything they could make propaganda with." They aimed to discredit the West.
Now, John Shaw, the former head of the Pentagon's International Armament and Technology Trade Directorate has confirmed that he knew of the exact names of Russian units were used by Iraq to move conventional weapons and WMD into Syria. He said there was an agreement made in 2001 agreeing that Russia could strip Iraq of evidence of Russian involvement in illegal activity.
Despite the Russian cleansing operation, which I describe in much more detail in my book, documents have been found (and published by David Harrison in the Telegraph) showing that Russia passed intelligence on the activity of Western leaders to Iraq and according to one document, an agent named "Sab" even provided the Iraqis with a list of assassins for hire.
FP: Overall, how would you characterize this terror war? What is it really about?
Mauro: I disagree with the notion that this is simple an ideological war or an unwinnable war against an immoral tactic of terrorism. I see countries as being responsible for allowing the terrorist threat to live, and these countries need to be dealt with, which can be done with various methods. Terrorists can't operate if their ideology isn't bankrolled by Saudi Arabia or other host countries. They can't operate if they aren't given safe haven. They can't operate without training. The best way to win the ideological part of the war is by having democracy win in Iraq and Afghanistan. The only way to win the more military end of the war is by cutting off support from the remaining state sponsors and there's several ways to do that, short of war, that we aren't doing.
FP: So what must the U.S. do to win this terror war?
Mauro: If we are going to win this terror war, we have to look at the facts:
Iraqi WMD expertise and hundreds of officials are in Syria, and even some are in Iran.
The head of Saddam's long-range ballistic missile program is believed to be in Iran and Syrian defectors and opposition sources have identified sites where Iraqi scientists are at work inside Syria. They not only imported Iraqi regime elements but actively use them to fight against Middle Eastern democracy.
Iran is even cooperating with Sunnis and Baathists. I describe in my book several examples where Iranian intelligence worked alongside Baathist insurgents or even recruited Baathists to conduct attacks. Hezbollah militants have been arrested for participating in attacks not only on Americans but on Spanish soldiers as well. Iranian intelligence is even involved in attacks on Shiites. The insurgency though, is led by Baathists and they operate from Syria. Few people seem to recall when in spring 2003, the Bush Administration publicly condemned Syria for harboring these figures. After intense pressure, suddenly Coalition forces began capturing dozens of Iraqi officials on their way out of Syria. Even Qusay and Uday, and quite possibly Saddam, all stayed in Syria for a period of time after the war began.
A strategy against Syria seems to be forming. It seems like the Iraqis and Coalition forces are willing to sustain casualties while we wait to see the outcome of the investigation into the assassination of Rafiq Hariri. Virtually everyone following this case thinks it will result in the finger being pointed towards senior Syrian officials, including Bashar Assad. This could lead to sanctions, and it is doubtful the regime can survive if they are enforced. The question is, will elements of the Syrian Baath Party launch a coup to replace Assad? Or will there be a popular uprising? I feel a popular uprising is inevitable and the United States needs to do what it can to encourage such a development.
In Iran, we need to keep exposing their role in the insurgency in order to undermine their PR campaign in Iraq. And most of all, we need to support the people of Iran. Documents from Iran's Revolutionary Guards indicate that if a demonstration or revolt increased over a six-hour period in Tehran, the security forces would lose control.
Our allies in this War on Terror may not always have capitols or have borders. Our allies are going to be the people oppressed by the supporters of terrorism and there's no people more ready for change than the Iranians. The Bush Administration seems to be backing sanctions on Iran. There's two school of thoughts here. Either this will cause enough pain in Iran to disable the regime and provoke a popular uprising or the mullahs will have a tight enough hold to stay in power and leave their people suffering (and possibly angry at the West for implementing the sanctions instead of helping them directly).
It is not uncommon to hear Iraqis ask why we won't stop Syria and Iran. Because we just sit by, many question our intentions. Just like in 1991 when we let the Iraqis get massacred after encouraging them to revolt, we're standing by when they accurately feel we could do more.
They hate that the Coalition forces aren't crushing the terrorists, but they do hate the terrorists much, much more.
FP: Ryan Mauro, it was a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you for all the wisdom you have bestowed here today.
Mauro: Thank you Jamie, my pleasure.
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