"In August 1998, the detainee traveled to Pakistan with a member of Iraqi Intelligence for the purpose of blowing up the Pakistan, United States and British embassies with chemical mortars."
U.S. government "Summary of Evidence" for an Iraqi member of al Qaeda detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba
FOR MANY, the debate over the former Iraqi regime's ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network ended a year ago with the release of the 9/11 Commission report. Media outlets seized on a carefully worded summary that the commission had found no evidence "indicating that Iraq cooperated with al Qaeda in developing or carrying out any attacks against the United States" and ran blaring headlines like the one on the June 17, 2004, front page of the New York Times: "Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie."
But this was woefully imprecise. It assumed, not unreasonably, that the 9/11 Commission's conclusion was based on a firm foundation of intelligence reporting, that the intelligence community had the type of human intelligence and other reporting that would allow senior-level analysts to draw reasonable conclusions. We know now that was not the case.
John Lehman, a 9/11 commissioner, spoke to The Weekly Standard at the time the report was released. "There may well be--and probably will be--additional intelligence coming in from interrogations and from analysis of captured records and so forth which will fill out the intelligence picture. This is not phrased as--nor meant to be--the definitive word on Iraqi Intelligence activities."
Lehman's caution was prescient. A year later, we still cannot begin to offer a "definitive" picture of the relationships entered into by Saddam Hussein's operatives, but much more has already been learned from documents uncovered after the Iraq war. The evidence we present below, compiled from revelations in recent months, suggests an acute case of denial on the part of those who dismiss the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship.
There could hardly be a clearer case--of the ongoing revelations and the ongoing denial--than in the 13 points below, reproduced verbatim from a "Summary of Evidence" prepared by the U.S. government in November 2004. This unclassified document was released by the Pentagon in late March 2005. It details the case for designating an Iraqi member of al Qaeda, currently detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as an "enemy combatant."
1. From 1987 to 1989, the detainee served as an infantryman in the Iraqi Army and received training on the mortar and rocket propelled grenades.
2. A Taliban recruiter in Baghdad convinced the detainee to travel to Afghanistan to join the Taliban in 1994.
3. The detainee admitted he was a member of the Taliban.
4. The detainee pledged allegiance to the supreme leader of the Taliban to help them take over all of Afghanistan.
5. The Taliban issued the detainee a Kalishnikov rifle in November 2000.
6. The detainee worked in a Taliban ammo and arms storage arsenal in Mazar-Es-Sharif organizing weapons and ammunition.
7. The detainee willingly associated with al Qaida members.
8. The detainee was a member of al Qaida.
9. An assistant to Usama Bin Ladin paid the detainee on three separate occasions between 1995 and 1997.
10. The detainee stayed at the al Farouq camp in Darwanta, Afghanistan, where he received 1,000 Rupees to continue his travels.
11. From 1997 to 1998, the detainee acted as a trusted agent for Usama Bin Ladin, executing three separate reconnaissance missions for the al Qaeda leader in Oman, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
12. In August 1998, the detainee traveled to Pakistan with a member of Iraqi Intelligence for the purpose of blowing up the Pakistan, United States and British embassies with chemical mortars.
13. Detainee was arrested by Pakistani authorities in Khudzar, Pakistan, in July 2002.
Interesting. What's more interesting: The alleged plot was to have taken place in August 1998, the same month that al Qaeda attacked two U.S. embassies in East Africa. And more interesting still: It was to have taken place in the same month that the Clinton administration publicly accused Iraq of supplying al Qaeda with chemical weapons expertise and material.
But none of this was interesting enough for any of the major television networks to cover it. Nor was it deemed sufficiently newsworthy to merit a mention in either the Washington Post or the New York Times.
The Associated Press, on the other hand, probably felt obliged to run a story, since the "Summary of Evidence" was released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the AP itself. But after briefly describing the documents, the AP article downplayed its own scoop with a sentence almost as amusing as it is inane: "There is no indication the Iraqi's alleged terror-related activities were on behalf of Saddam Hussein's government, other than the brief mention of him traveling to Pakistan with a member of Iraqi intelligence." That sentence minimizing the importance of the findings was enough, apparently, to convince most newspaper editors around the country not to run the AP story.
It's possible, of course, that the evidence presented by military prosecutors is exaggerated, maybe even wrong. The evidence required to designate a detainee an "enemy combatant" is lower than the "reasonable doubt" standard of U.S. criminal prosecutions. So there is much we don't know.
Indeed, more than two years after the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was ousted, there is much we do not know about the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. We do know, however, that there was one. We know about this relationship not from Bush administration assertions but from internal Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) documents recovered in Iraq after the war--documents that have been authenticated by a U.S. intelligence community long hostile to the very idea that any such relationship exists.
We know from these IIS documents that beginning in 1992 the former Iraqi regime regarded bin Laden as an Iraqi Intelligence asset. We know from IIS documents that the former Iraqi regime provided safe haven and financial support to an Iraqi who has admitted to mixing the chemicals for the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center. We know from IIS documents that Saddam Hussein agreed to Osama bin Laden's request to broadcast anti-Saudi propaganda on Iraqi state-run television. We know from IIS documents that a "trusted confidante" of bin Laden stayed for more than two weeks at a posh Baghdad hotel as the guest of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
We have been told by Hudayfa Azzam, the son of bin Laden's longtime mentor Abdullah Azzam, that Saddam Hussein welcomed young al Qaeda members "with open arms" before the war, that they "entered Iraq in large numbers, setting up an organization to confront the occupation," and that the regime "strictly and directly" controlled their activities. We have been told by Jordan's King Abdullah that his government knew Abu Musab al Zarqawi was in Iraq before the war and requested that the former Iraqi regime deport him. We have been told by Time magazine that confidential documents from Zarqawi's group, recovered in recent raids, indicate other jihadists had joined him in Baghdad before the Hussein regime fell. We have been told by one of those jihadists that he was with Zarqawi in Baghdad before the war. We have been told by Ayad Allawi, former Iraqi prime minister and a longtime CIA source, that other Iraqi Intelligence documents indicate bin Laden's top deputy was in Iraq for a jihadist conference in September 1999.
All of this is new--information obtained since the fall of the Hussein regime. And yet critics of the Iraq war and many in the media refuse to see it. Just two weeks ago, President Bush gave a prime-time speech on Iraq. Among his key points: Iraq is a central front in the global war on terror that began on September 11. Bush spoke in very general terms. He did not mention any of this new information on Iraqi support for terrorism to make his case. That didn't matter to many journalists and critics of the war.
CNN anchor Carol Costello claimed "there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein was connected in any way to al Qaeda." The charitable explanation is ignorance. Jay Rockefeller, the West Virginia Democrat who serves as vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, knows better. Before the war he pointed to Zarqawi's presence in Iraq as a "substantial connection between Iraq and al Qaeda." And yet he, too, now insists that Saddam Hussein's regime "had nothing to do with Osama bin Laden, it had nothing to do with al Qaeda."
Such comments reveal far more about politics in America than they do about the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship.
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"Despite four decades of intelligence reporting on Iraq, there was little useful intelligence collected that helped analysts determine the Iraqi regime's possible links to al Qaeda."
Senate Intelligence Committee report, July 7, 2004
UNTIL SHORTLY BEFORE THE IRAQ WAR, the consensus view within the U.S. intelligence community was simple: Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were natural enemies who, despite their common interests, would not work together. Daniel Benjamin, a senior counterterrorism official in the Clinton administration, summarized this view in a New York Times op-ed on September 30, 2002. He wrote: "Saddam Hussein has long recognized that al Qaeda and like-minded Islamists represent a threat to his regime. Consequently, he has shown no interest in working with them against their common enemy, the United States. This was the understanding of American intelligence in the 1990s."
Benjamin later elaborated in an interview with Mother Jones. "In 1998, we went through every piece of intelligence we could find to see if there was a link [between] al Qaeda and Iraq. We came to the conclusion that our intelligence agencies had it right: There was no noteworthy relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq. I know that for a fact."
Judith Yaphe, a longtime CIA analyst on the Middle East and Iraq, was only slightly less categorical in testimony before the House Armed Service Committee on April 21, 2004. "I know that there's a small number of people who say that Saddam was working cooperatively with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. I do not believe that. I know the intelligence is not there."
Yaphe was right about one thing: The intelligence was not there. The CIA's collection against the Iraqi target was abysmal. According to former CIA director George Tenet, the U.S. intelligence community never penetrated the senior ranks of the former Iraqi regime. Bob Woodward of the Washington Post explored this subject in his book on the Iraq war, Plan of Attack. Woodward interviewed "Saul," the chief of the Iraqi Operations Group, at the CIA.
Saul was discovering that the CIA reporting sources inside Iraq were pretty thin. What was thin? "I can count them on one hand," Saul said, pausing for effect, "and I can still pick my nose." There were four. And those sources were in Iraqi ministries such as foreign affairs and oil that were on the periphery of any penetration of Saddam's inner circle.
Woodward reports that the Iraqi Operations Group was known inside the CIA's Near East Division as "The House of Broken Toys." "It was largely populated with new, green [Directorate of Operations] officers and problem officers, or old boys waiting for retirement. . . . Past operations read almost like a handbook for failed and stupid covert action. It was a catalogue of doomed work--too little, too late, too seat-of-the-pants, too little planning, too little realism. The comic mixed with the frightening."
The Senate Select Intelligence Committee did not find it so amusing. The committee's bipartisan report was released last summer. Most of the attention at the time focused on the report's assessment of flaws in intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs. The lengthy section on "Iraq's Links to Terrorism" received considerably less attention. What emerges in the 66 pages of the report is a picture of an intelligence community with a woefully inadequate collection capability on the Iraqi target. In some ways more disturbing, though, was the lack of interest. In a stunning moment of candor, an "IC analyst" provided this characterization of the collection effort on Iraq: "I don't think we were really focused on the CT [counterterrorism] side, because we weren't concerned about the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] going out and proactively conducting terrorist attacks. It wasn't until we realized that there was the possibility of going to war that we had to get a handle on that."
So on the one hand we know that there was virtually no human intelligence on Iraq and terrorism. Yet the intelligence community, if this analyst is to be believed, was so confident in its assessment that Iraqi Intelligence was not in the terrorism business that collecting on that target was tantamount to cramming for a test.
The Senate report's conclusions were devastating:
Despite four decades of intelligence reporting on Iraq, there was little useful intelligence collected that helped analysts determine the Iraqi regime's possible links to al Qaeda. . . . The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did not have a focused human intelligence (HUMINT) collection strategy targeting Iraq's links to terrorism until 2002. The CIA had no [redacted] sources on the ground in Iraq reporting specifically on terrorism.
It was not just reporting on Iraq that was inadequate. "The CIA had no [redacted] credible reporting on the leadership of either the Iraqi regime or al Qaeda, which would have enabled it to better define a cooperative relationship, if any did in fact exist."
This left policymakers in a bind. There was reporting on the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, but much of it was secondhand. This reporting was supplemented by widespread coverage of the Iraq-al Qaeda connection in "open sources," including the amnesiac American press. And contrary to the assessments coming from many analysts in the intelligence community, much of this reporting seemed to indicate a significant relationship.
The difference between most intelligence community analysts and Bush administration policymakers can be found in how they interpret the gaps. The analysts seemed to assume, despite the history of poor collection, that the many Iraq-al Qaeda contacts reported in intelligence products and open sources were anomalous. To them, the gaps in reporting simply reflected a lack of activity. Policymakers (and a small number of analysts) took a different view. The gaps in reporting on Iraq and al Qaeda were just that: gaps in reporting. To this group, the many reports of contacts, training, and offers of safe haven were indicative of a relationship that ran much deeper.
After September 11, the mere existence of a long relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda had to be considered an urgent threat.
* * *
"Attack them our beloved people. You are the glory of our nation. Attack them. . . . The Mother of all Battles is not the past."
Saddam Hussein, January 17, 1993
THE U.S. INTELLIGENCE COMMUNITY was apparently not much concerned by Iraqi support for terrorism in the 13 years between the Gulf war and the Iraq war. To students of Iraq-U.S. relations that might seem bizarre. Saddam Hussein had used such asymmetric warfare for decades, against enemies foreign and domestic, real and imagined. What's more, he had demonstrated his willingness to use terrorism and terrorist surrogates against his enemies when confronted by superior conventional military forces during the Gulf war. By some accounts, more than 1,400 terrorists made their way to Baghdad in the final months of 1990 as he prepared to face the coalition assembled by the United States to oust him from Kuwait. He dispatched others to attack U.S. interests around the world. On January 18, 1991, one day after the Gulf war began, an Iraqi terrorist posing as a day laborer managed to plant 26 sticks of TNT in a flower box below a window of the U.S. ambassador's residence in Jakarta, Indonesia. The dynamite wasn't completely buried, and a gardener found it before the bomb exploded. The following day in the Philippines, two Iraqis blew themselves up in a plot known to CIA veterans as Operation Dogmeat, a botched attempt to bomb the U.S. Information Service headquarters at the Thomas Jefferson Cultural Center in Manila. The failed attack on the U.S. government-run center received the active support of the Iraqi ambassador to the Philippines.
Saddam Hussein openly encouraged these attacks. "It remains for us to tell all Arabs, all militant believers . . . wherever they may be that it is your duty to embark on holy war. You should target their interests wherever they may be," he said on January 20, 1991.
Iraq's use of terrorism was so widespread, in fact, that it became an issue in the 1992 presidential campaign, when Al Gore accused the first Bush administration of a "blatant disregard for brutal terrorism" practiced by Hussein and ignoring Iraq's "extensive terrorism activities."
Many Islamic radicals voiced opposition to Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait. Sudan's Hasan al-Turabi was not one of them. Turabi's willingness to back Hussein gave the Iraqi dictator the Islamist street credibility he would exploit for years to come. In the debate over the former Iraqi regime's relationship with al Qaeda, it is often said that Saddam's secular Baathist regime could never work with Osama bin Laden's radical Islamist organization. It is a curious argument since Turabi, one of Saddam's staunchest allies, also happened to be one of the most influential Islamists of the past two decades. One of the principal architects of Sudan's Islamist revolution in 1989, Turabi was also the longtime mentor, friend, and host of Osama bin Laden during his stay in Sudan from 1992 until 1996.
Immediately after Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, bin Laden approached the Saudi regime and offered to lead Muslim forces in driving Saddam out of Kuwait. Many who downplay the relationship between the former Iraqi regime and al Qaeda point to this as an example of the hostility between Hussein and bin Laden. But Osama's spurned offer is only part of the story. While bin Laden's first instinct may have been to oppose the secular tyrant, his soon-to-be host in Sudan did not share these sentiments. According to an interview at the time with Turabi's cousin, Mudawi Turabi, the Sudanese leader met twice with Saddam Hussein before the Gulf war and "had appeared to be designing his own Islamic empire even then."
In October 1990, Turabi led a delegation of Islamists to Jordan to meet with Iraqi government officials. Bin Laden sent emissaries to this meeting as well. While it is not clear what bin Laden's emissaries or bin Laden himself thought of the meeting, it is clear that Turabi threw his full support behind Saddam. In a press conference after the meeting, Turabi warned "there is going to be all forms of jihad all over the world because it is an issue of foreign troops on sacred soil."
Turabi continued in his self-designated role as pan-Islamic leader by convening terrorist confabs in Khartoum known euphemistically as the Popular Arab Islamic Conference. Encouraged by Turabi, Saddam began hosting his own Popular Islamic Conference in Baghdad. The conferences shared a central purpose: to bring together Islamic and secular radicals from around the world to oppose U.S. involvement in the Gulf war and the continued presence of American troops on Saudi soil.
The Baghdad conferences, which were held annually until the regime fell, were filled with the rhetoric of jihad. A statement issued at the closing ceremony of the 1992 conference was a call to arms. The 500 Islamists in attendance affirmed "that maintaining and defending the unity of Iraq's land, people and sovereignty is an Islamic duty that must be performed because Iraq is the fortress of Islamic jihad targeted by the atheist forces." The statement called on Islamic groups "to meet and discuss the establishment [of] a free world front to confront the U.S. hegemony and its new world order."
Newsweek reporter Christopher Dickey attended a Popular Islamic Conference at Baghdad's al Rashid Hotel and later recalled: "If that was not a fledgling al Qaeda at the Rashid convention, it sure was Saddam's version of it."
We do not yet know how many future al Qaeda leaders attended the conferences. (We do know that the conferences were carried on Iraqi state-run television and that the attendees signed the closing statements. A comparison of those lists with known al Qaeda terrorists would be an interesting and potentially productive undertaking, as would a careful review of any photographic evidence from the session.) By this time, however, it appears that Hussein had already forged relationships with the two men who would later lead al Qaeda.
An internal Iraqi Intelligence memo dated March 28, 1992, lists individuals Hussein's regime considered assets of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. Osama bin Laden is listed on page 14. The Iraqis describe him as a Saudi businessman who "is in good relationship with our section in Syria."
At the same time, the Iraqis were cultivating a relationship with Ayman al Zawahiri, the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the current top deputy to bin Laden. According to Qassem Hussein Mohammed, a 20-year veteran of Iraqi Intelligence, Zawahiri visited Baghdad in 1992 for a meeting with Hussein. In a 2002 interview with the New Yorker's Jeffrey Goldberg from a Kurdish prison in northeastern Iraq, the IIS veteran described his duties as a bodyguard for Zawahiri during his visit. This was not Zawahiri's only meeting with top Iraqi officials. According to a May 2003 debriefing of a senior Iraqi Intelligence official, Zawahiri met with Iraqi Intelligence officials in Sudan several times from 1992 to 1995. A foreign intelligence service has corroborated that report, adding that at one of those meetings Zawahiri received blank Yemeni passports from an Iraqi Intelligence official.
In 1993, at Turabi's urging, bin Laden came to an "understanding" with Saddam Hussein that the al Qaeda leader and his followers would not engage in any anti-Hussein activities. The Clinton administration later included this development in its sealed indictment of bin Laden in 1998. According to the indictment: "Al Qaeda reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq."
* * *
"Abdul Rahman Yasin, a fugitive of the [1993 World Trade Center] attack, is of Iraqi descent, and in 1993, he fled to Iraq with Iraqi assistance."
Senate Intelligence Committee report
ON FEBRUARY 26, 1993, a powerful bomb exploded in the garage of the World Trade Center in New York City. The attack killed six and injured more than 1,000. It could have been much worse. The bombers hoped to topple one tower into the other. The men responsible for the attack aimed to kill tens of thousands of Americans.
One of those men was Abdul Rahman Yasin, an Iraqi who had come to the United States six months before the attack. In the days after the attack, Yasin was detained twice by the FBI. Although he admitted his role in the bombing and offered investigators details of the plot, he was inexplicably released. Twice. The second time the FBI even drove him home. According to the bipartisan Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report, Yasin promptly "fled to Iraq with Iraqi assistance." His travel was arranged by the second secretary of the Iraqi embassy in Amman, Jordan. In 1994, a reporter for ABC News went to the home of Yasin's father in Baghdad and spoke with neighbors who reported that Yasin was free to come and go as he pleased and was "working for the government."
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the Iraqi regime denied any relationship with Yasin and any knowledge of his whereabouts. In an interview with PBS's Frontline that aired on October 29, 2001, Iraq's U.N. ambassador denied that Yasin was even in Iraq. "To my knowledge he is not, and there is not any relation with him." Pressed, the Iraqi diplomat went further. "Absolutely. I know that there is no relation with that guy. . . . We have no relations with these kind of guys, with all persons who are involved in terrorism."
Eight months later, on June 2, 2002, the Iraqi government abruptly changed its story. Tariq Aziz, for years the face of the Iraqi regime in the Western media, appeared on 60 Minutes and assured Lesley Stahl that Yasin had been imprisoned since his return to Iraq. Aziz claimed that the Iraqi regime held Yasin prisoner because they worried that the United States would blame Iraq for the attack if he was returned to America to face trial. Yasin himself appeared. He admitted to mixing the chemicals for the bomb. He showed viewers a scar on his leg that he claimed to have gotten preparing chemicals for the attack. He even apologized. Stahl did not ask about the Frontline interview or previous media reports that Yasin was living freely in Baghdad.
We now know more about Yasin's stay in Baghdad. "We know, for example, in connection with the original World Trade Center bombing in '93 that one of the bombers was Iraqi, returned to Iraq after the attack of '93," Vice President Dick Cheney told Tim Russert in a September 14, 2003, appearance on Meet the Press. "And we've learned subsequent to that, since we went into Baghdad and got into the intelligence files, that this individual probably also received financing from the Iraqi government as well as safe haven. Now, is there a connection between the Iraqi government and the original World Trade Center bombing in '93? We know, as I say, that one of the perpetrators of that act did, in fact, receive support from the Iraqi government after the fact."
Those documents are now in possession of the FBI. Despite requests for declassification of the documents from both Cheney's office and the Pentagon, the FBI refuses to release them. In March, The Weekly Standard requested an interview with FBI officials to discuss the Iraqi intelligence documents and the status of the Yasin case. The request was denied last week. An FBI spokeswoman said FBI officials refuse to discuss Yasin. Yasin remains on the FBI's "Most Wanted Terrorists" list and is believed to be still in Iraq. If there is a good reason to keep these historical documents classified, the FBI declined to provide it.
Just two months after the 1993 World Trade Center attack, the Iraqi Intelligence Service attempted to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush. The IIS recruited a male nurse from Najaf as a suicide bomber to kill the former president on a trip to Kuwait. The plot was foiled when Kuwaiti police, thinking they had broken up a smuggling ring, learned of the Iraqi plans. The Clinton administration responded by bombing an empty Iraqi Intelligence Service headquarters at night.
* * *
"Cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement."
Internal Iraqi Intelligence memo on Iraq-al Qaeda cooperation, June 25, 2004, New York Times
THE RELATIONSHIP CONTINUED with high-level meetings throughout 1994 and 1995. The 9/11 Commission staff report that made headlines last year by declaring that such meetings between Iraq and al Qaeda "do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship" also reported that the Sudanese government arranged for "contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda." The staff report continued: "A senior Iraqi intelligence officer reportedly made three visits to Sudan, finally meeting bin Laden in 1994. Bin Laden is said to have requested space to establish training camps, as well as assistance in procuring weapons, but Iraq apparently never responded."
That senior Iraqi intelligence officer was Faruq Hijazi, former deputy director of Iraqi Intelligence and longtime regime liaison to al Qaeda. According to several Bush administration officials with access to his debriefings, as well as a top secret Pentagon summary of intelligence on Iraq and al Qaeda known as the Feith Memo, Hijazi described a face-to-face meeting with bin Laden that took place in 1994. The language in the Feith Memo corresponds closely to that in the 9/11 Commission staff report. "During a May 2003 custodial interview with Faruq Hijazi, he said in a 1994 meeting with bin Laden in the Sudan, bin Laden requested that Iraq assist al Qaeda with the procurement of an unspecified number of Chinese-manufactured antiship limpet mines. Bin Laden thought that Iraq should be able to procure the mines through third-country intermediaries for ultimate delivery to al Qaeda. Hijazi said he was under orders from Saddam only to listen to bin Laden's requests and then report back to him. Bin Laden also requested the establishment of al Qaeda training camps inside Iraq."
An internal Iraqi Intelligence document obtained by the New York Times provides a window into the state of the relationship during the mid-1990s. A team of Pentagon analysts concluded that the document "appears authentic." The memo reports that a Sudanese government official met with Uday Hussein and the director of the Iraqi Intelligence Service in 1994 and reported that Bin Laden was willing to meet in Sudan. As a consequence, according to the Iraqi document, bin Laden was "approached by our side" after "presidential approval" for the liaison was given. The former head of Iraqi Intelligence Directorate 4 met with bin Laden on February 19, 1995. The document further states that bin Laden "had some reservations about being labeled an Iraqi operative."
But the absence of a formal relationship hardly precludes cooperation, as the document makes clear. Bin Laden requested that Iraq's state-run television network broadcast anti-Saudi propaganda; the document indicates that the Iraqis agreed to do this. The al Qaeda leader also proposed "joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. There is no response provided in the documents. When bin Laden leaves Sudan for Afghanistan in May 1996, the Iraqis seek "other channels through which to handle the relationship, in light of his current location." The IIS memo directs that "cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement."
There are other reports of varying reliability of Iraqi support for al Qaeda during the mid-1990s. One senior al Qaeda operative in U.S. custody since 1995, Wali Khan Amin Shah, told FBI interrogators that an al Qaeda leader named Abu Hajer al Iraqi maintained a good relationship with Iraqi Intelligence. Abu Hajer al Iraqi ran al Qaeda's WMD procurement operation until his capture in 1998 and was described by another al Qaeda member as Osama bin Laden's "best friend." According to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Wali Khan testified that he had knowledge of two "direct meetings" between the leadership of Iraqi Intelligence and Abu Hajer al Iraqi.
According to the presentation at the United Nations Security Council by Colin Powell on February 5, 2003, an al Qaeda member named Abu Abdullah al Iraqi received training in chemical and biological weapons in Iraq beginning in 1997. The information comes from another high-ranking al Qaeda detainee named Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, who ran bin Laden's notorious Khalden Camp outside of Kandahar. Said Powell: "The support that [al-Libi] describes included Iraq offering chemical or biological weapons training for two al Qaeda associates, beginning in December 2000. He says that a militant known as Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi had been sent to Iraq several times between 1997 and 2000 for help in acquiring poisons and gases. Abdullah al-Iraqi characterized the relationship he forged with Iraqi officials as 'successful.'" Al-Libi's reporting also formed the basis of several statements from CIA Director George Tenet.
Al-Libi has since recanted some of the information he provided. The debate about whether to give more credence to his original statement or his retraction continues. But the Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that the terrorism section of Powell's speech "was carefully vetted by both terrorism and regional analysts" and that it did not differ "in any significant way" from earlier published CIA assessments.
* * *
"To gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his envoy an oral message from us to bin Laden, the Saudi opposition leader, about the future of our relationship with him, and to achieve a direct meeting with him."
Internal Iraqi Intelligence memo describing the goal of meetings with an al Qaeda envoy, February 19, 1998
BY ALL ACCOUNTS, the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda intensified in 1998. The Iraqis were growing more obdurate in their confrontation with the U.N. weapons inspectors, at times simply refusing to grant access to suspected weapons sites. The United States was losing patience--both with Iraq and with U.N. fecklessness. Al Qaeda, meanwhile, had found a home in Afghanistan and was turning out terrorists from its camps by the thousands.
On February 3, 1998, Ayman al Zawahiri, bin Laden's Egyptian deputy, came to Baghdad for meetings with Iraqi leaders. The visit came as Islamic radicals gathered once again in the Iraqi capital for another installation of Hussein's Popular Islamic Conferences. Iraqi vice president Taha Yasin Ramadan welcomed them on February 9 with the language of jihad:
The Islamic nation's ulema, advocates and preachers, are called upon to carry out a jihad that God wants them to carry out through honest words in order to expose the U.S. and Zionist regimes to the world peoples, to explain facts, and to say what is right and to call for it. This is their religious duty. The Muslim ulema are called upon before Almighty God to act among the Muslim ranks to confront the infidel U.S. moves and to raise their voices against the U.S.-Zionist evil.
We do not have reporting on when, exactly, Zawahiri left Baghdad. But we do know from an interrogation of a senior Iraqi Intelligence official that he did not leave empty-handed. As first reported in U.S. News & World Report, the Iraqi regime gave Zawahiri $300,000 during or shortly after his trip to Baghdad.
On February 17, 1998, Bill Clinton traveled the short distance from the White House to the Pentagon to prepare the nation for a confrontation with Iraq. The symbolism was obvious, the rhetoric belligerent. Clinton explained why "meeting the threat posed by Saddam Hussein is important to our security in the new era we are entering." He warned about the threats from the "predators of the 21st century," rogue states working with terrorist groups. "There is no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein's Iraq." War seemed imminent.
Two days later, on February 19, the Iraqi Intelligence Service finalized plans to bring a "trusted confidant" of bin Laden's to Baghdad in early March. The revelation came in documents discovered after the Iraq war by journalists Mitch Potter of the Toronto Star and Inigo Gilmore of the Sunday Telegraph. The U.S. intelligence community is now in possession of these documents and has assessed that they are authentic. The documents--a series of communiqués between Iraqi Intelligence divisions--provide another window into the relationship between the former Iraqi regime and al Qaeda. The following comes from the Telegraph's translations of the documents.
The envoy is a trusted confidant and known by them. According to the above mediation we request official permission to call Khartoum station to facilitate the travel arrangements for the above-mentioned person to Iraq. And that our body carry all the travel and hotel expenses inside Iraq to gain the knowledge of the message from bin Laden and to convey to his envoy an oral message from us to bin Laden, the Saudi opposition leader, about the future of our relationship with him, and to achieve a direct meeting with him.
A note at the bottom of the page from the director of one IIS division recommends approving the request, noting, "we may find in this envoy a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden."
Four days later, on February 23, final approval is granted. "The permission of Mr. Deputy Director of Intelligence has been gained on 21 February for this operation, to secure a reservation for one of the intelligence services guests for one week in one of the first class hotels," the Al Mansour Melia hotel in Baghdad.
That same day, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri, joined by leaders of four additional Islamic terrorist groups, announced the formation of the World Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders, soon to become better known as al Qaeda. The grievances in the fatwa focused on Iraq. The terrorist leaders decried the presence of U.S. troops on the Arabian Peninsula. They protested the "great devastation inflicted on the Iraqi people by the crusader-Zionist alliance." They cited American support for Israel and surmised that the United States sought to distract world attention from the killing of Muslims in Jerusalem. To support this claim, the fatwa turned once again to Iraq: "The best proof of this is their eagerness to destroy Iraq, the strongest neighboring Arab state."
The fatwa declared: "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it."
The al Qaeda envoy to Iraq arrived in Baghdad on March 5, 1998. Notes in the margins of the Iraqi Intelligence memos indicate that Mohammed F. Mohammed stayed for more than two weeks in Room 414 of the Al Mansour Melia Hotel as the guest of Iraqi Intelligence. After extending his trip by one week, bin Laden's emissary departed on March 16.
Adding to the intrigue, the 9/11 Commission reported that "[i]n March 1998, after bin Laden's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence." Were there two separate al Qaeda trips to Iraq in March 1998? It's possible that the IIS documents and the 9/11 Commission report refer to the same meeting. But the Iraqi Intelligence documents refer to one al Qaeda envoy, the 9/11 Commission report mentions two--raising the possibility that two separate meetings took place.
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"The consistent stream of intelligence at that time said it wasn't just al Shifa. There were three different [chemical weapons] structures in the Sudan. There was the hiring of Iraqis. There was no question that the Iraqis were there."
Interview with John Gannon, former chairman of the CIA's National Intelligence Council, October 25, 2004
OPEN SOURCE REPORTING suggests the relationship continued throughout the spring and summer of 1998. William Safire of the New York Times and Yossef Bodansky, former director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, have both reported the presence of an al Qaeda delegation at a birthday celebration for Saddam Hussein in April 1998.
In a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy on May 22, 1998, President Clinton warned that our enemies "may deploy compact and relatively cheap weapons of mass destruction--not just nuclear, but also chemical or biological, to use disease as a weapon of war. Sometimes the terrorists and criminals act alone. But increasingly, they are interconnected, and sometimes supported by hostile countries." Hostile countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan.
Although Osama bin Laden left Sudan in 1996, many al Qaeda operatives stayed behind. According to testimony from several al Qaeda terrorists now in U.S. custody, al Qaeda operatives worked closely with Sudanese intelligence. Sudanese intelligence provided security for al Qaeda camps and safehouses. These agents intervened when local Sudanese authorities arrested al Qaeda members for exploding bombs at an al Qaeda farm, securing the release of the detained terrorists. Jamal al Fadl, an al Qaeda terrorist who later cooperated with U.S. prosecutors, testified that he was ordered by Sudanese intelligence to assassinate a political rival to Hassan al-Turabi. Even after bin Laden's departure, al Qaeda and Sudanese intelligence were virtually indistinguishable.
Shortly after Clinton's speech, the CIA produced an assessment of WMD proliferation that covered the first half of 1998. "Sudan," it said, "has been developing the capability to produce chemical weapons for many years. In this pursuit, Sudan obtained help from other countries, principally Iraq. Given its history in developing CW and its close relationship with Iraq, Sudan may be interested in a BW program as well." CIA assessments through 2002 included similar analyses.
In July 1998, according to the 9/11 Commission report, "an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with bin Laden." Referring to the March and July meetings between Iraq and al Qaeda, the Commission noted that "sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through bin Laden's Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis." In a maddening omission, the report does not elaborate on the "ties" between al Qaeda's No. 2 and the Iraqi regime.
Trouble was clearly brewing. On July 29, the CIA's Counterterrorism Center (CTC) warned of "possible Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear (CBRN) attack by UBL [Osama bin Laden]." But when the attack came, it was by conventional means: On August 7, al Qaeda terrorists struck the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224--including 12 Americans--and injuring more than 4,000. Almost immediately, the CIA assigned responsibility to terrorists affiliated with Osama bin Laden.
The U.S. response came two weeks later, on August 20, striking two targets. The first of these, al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, was uncontroversial. The second target--the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan--almost immediately gave rise to great controversy.
In justifying the strike on al Shifa, the Clinton administration pointed to several pieces of evidence: a soil sample indicating the presence of a precursor for VX nerve gas of Iraqi provenance; the presence of Iraqi chemical weapons experts at the plant; the long history of Iraq-Sudanese collaboration on chemical weapons; and telephone intercepts between senior Shifa officials and Emad Al Ani, the father of Iraq's chemical weapons program.
The press treated these claims with great skepticism. But Clinton administration officials and many intelligence analysts would continue to defend the intelligence surrounding al Shifa for years. In a January 23, 1999, article in the Washington Post, National Security Council counterterrorism director Richard Clarke defended the president's choice of target and said that "intelligence exists linking bin Laden to al Shifa's current and past operators, the Iraqi nerve gas experts and the National Islamic Front in Sudan." In an email he sent on November 4, 1998, to National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Clarke concluded that the presence of Iraqi chemical experts in Sudan was "probably a direct result of the Iraq-Al Qaeda agreement."
President Clinton's secretary of defense, William Cohen, continued to defend the decision to strike al Shifa before the 9/11 Commission last year. Cohen explained that there were "multiple, reinforcing elements of information ranging from links that the organization that built the facility [al Shifa] had both with bin Laden and with the leadership of the Iraqi chemical weapons program."
In an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD last fall, 9/11 Commission co-chairman Thomas Kean said: "Top officials--Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, and others--told us with absolute certainty that there were chemical weapons of mass destruction at that factory, and that's why we sent missiles." Kean added: "We still can't say for certain that the chemicals were there. If they're right and there was stuff there, then it had to come from Iraq. They're the ones who had the stuff, who had this technology."
In fact, the Iraqis were openly involved with the al Shifa facility. Sudanese foreign minister Osman Ismail was in Baghdad when the plant was attacked. He told reporters the facility was nothing more than a pharmaceutical factory. As proof he pointed to the existence of a contract awarded to al Shifa through the U.N. Oil-for-Food program. But the contract raised questions even then. In the eight months between the signing of the $199,000 contract and the U.S. strikes on al Shifa, no goods were delivered. With the benefit of hindsight, we now understand that Saddam Hussein manipulated the Oil-for-Food program to reward friends and business partners willing to help him circumvent U.N. sanctions and rebuild his weapons programs. U.S. counterterrorism officials tell The Weekly Standard that relatively few Oil-for-Food contracts went to Sudanese companies, and that the contract with al Shifa stands out as troubling.
There was reporting about an Iraqi presence at a number of facilities in Sudan. The Clinton administration chose al Shifa for destruction largely because it was outside of Khartoum and was thus unlikely to result in a large number of casualties. There were several other potential targets. "The consistent stream of intelligence at that time said it wasn't just al Shifa," says John Gannon, who was chairman of the National Intelligence Council at the time. "There were three different [chemical weapons] structures in the Sudan. There was the hiring of Iraqis. There was no question that the Iraqis were there."
As for the August 1998 Iraq-al Qaeda plots against the U.S. and British embassies in Pakistan, revealed in the Guantanamo Summary of Evidence obtained by the AP, we are left with more questions than answers. Has the detainee's story been corroborated? Were the attacks in Pakistan what the CIA's counterterrorism center warned about on July 29? Were they to have been carried out in tandem with the August 7, 1998, al Qaeda embassy bombings? Were they intended as a rejoinder to the U.S. strikes on al Shifa? A Pentagon spokesman says the government's policy against discussing detainees prevents him from providing any answers. Other Bush administration and intelligence officials contacted by The Weekly Standard either did not know about the detainee or refused to discuss the case.
On August 27, 1998, Iraq's Babel newspaper, published by Uday Hussein, labeled Osama bin Laden an "Arab and Islamic hero."
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"Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden have sealed a pact."
Milan's Corriere della Sera, December 28, 1998, as cited in the Senate Intelligence Committee report, p. 328
SADDAM HUSSEIN continued to defy U.N. weapons inspectors throughout the fall of 1998. Noncompliance was the norm. Confrontations about access to suspected WMD sites became almost a daily occurrence.
Back in Washington, members of both parties urged President Clinton to increase the pressure on Iraq. Congress was considering legislation that would make "regime change" in Iraq official U.S. policy. The United States also began broadcasting anti-Hussein messages into Iraq via Radio Free Iraq. The broadcasts were housed in the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty headquarters in Prague. The first broadcast went out on October 30, 1998. The Iraqis were furious and threatened retaliation. On November 8, 1998, a commentator on Iraqi state television insisted the broadcasts would do nothing to affect the "jihad spirit" of the Iraqis. A statement three days later from Saddam's Baath party called on Muslims to be steadfast in the ongoing Mother of All Battles and to undertake "unprecedented heroisms" to fight the Zionists and Crusaders. And then, a call for attacks:
All living capabilities of the Arab nation should be toward the unity of the pan-Arab [world] and toward escalating the struggle to the highest levels of jihad. . . . The escalation of the confrontation and the disclosure of its dimensions and the aggressive intentions now require an organized, planned, influential and conclusive enthusiasm against U.S. interests.
This was not, apparently, just bluster. The Iraqi regime wired $150,000 to an account in Prague, according to Jabir Salim, the man on the receiving end. Salim was the Iraqi station chief in the Czech Republic and with the money he received an order: Recruit a young Islamic radical to blow up the headquarters of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Salim had difficulty finding someone to commit the martyrdom operation, he told British Intelligence after defecting to the West when the U.S. launched Operation Desert Fox--a series of cruise missile attacks on Iraqi targets--on December 16, 1998. Salim also told interrogators that the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship had intensified after the August 1998 embassy bombings and that the Iraqi Intelligence station in Pakistan served as the hub of Iraq-al Qaeda activity.
Operation Desert Fox would last four days. Saddam Hussein's response was revealing. On December 21, he dispatched one of his most trusted intelligence operatives, Faruq Hijazi, to Afghanistan to meet bin Laden. Hijazi had met with both Zawahiri and bin Laden on many occasions earlier in the decade. On December 26, Osama bin Laden condemned the U.S.-led attacks. "The British and the American people loudly declared their support for their leaders' decision to attack Iraq," bin Laden proclaimed. He added that this support made it the "duty of Muslims to confront, fight and kill" British and American citizens.
The meeting between bin Laden and Hijazi instigated a burst of intelligence reporting on Iraq and al Qaeda. One source reported that "the Iraqi regime was trying to broaden its cooperation with al Qaeda. Iraq was looking to recruit Muslim 'elements' to sabotage U.S. and U.K. interests."
These claims were not limited to sensitive intelligence reporting. In the weeks that followed the meeting, dozens of press outlets from around the world reported on it as well as several others. The reports indicated that Saddam had offered bin Laden safe haven, had already trained al Qaeda operatives, and was supporting bin Laden's efforts to attack Western targets.
The details reported were striking. On December 28 Milan's Corriere della Sera reported "Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden have sealed a pact." In its issue dated January 11, 1999, Newsweek quoted an anonymous "Arab intelligence officer who knows Saddam personally" as warning that "very soon you will be witnessing large-scale terrorist activity run by the Iraqis" against Western targets. The Iraqi plan would be run under one of three "false flags": Palestinian, Iranian, and the "al Qaeda apparatus." All of these groups, Newsweek reported, had representatives in Baghdad.
The reports did not end there. Throughout February and March 1999, there was media speculation that bin Laden would relocate from Afghanistan to Iraq. Behind the scenes, Clinton administration officials were engaging in similar conjecture. According to the 9/11 Commission report, Richard Clarke sent an email to National Security Adviser Sandy Berger on February 11, 1999. Clarke told Berger that if bin Laden learned of U.S. operations against him, "old wily Osama will likely boogie to Baghdad." Days later Bruce Riedel of the National Security Council staff also emailed Berger, warning that "Saddam Hussein wanted bin Laden in Baghdad." Reports of Iraqi offers of safe haven, cooperation, and training continued throughout 1999.
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"The Shakir in Kuala Lumpur has many interesting connections that are so multiple in their intersections with al Qaeda-related organizations and people as to suggest something more than random chance."
9/11 Commissioner John Lehman, July 22, 2004
TWO FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE SERVICES believe that Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi national who escorted a September 11 hijacker to the key planning meeting for those attacks in Kuala Lumpur, was working for Iraqi Intelligence: the Malaysians, who monitored Shakir's activities as he facilitated the travel for 9/11 hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar in January 2000, and the Jordanians, who detained Shakir for three months after the September 11 attacks.
Shakir began working as a VIP greeter for Malaysian Airlines in August 1999. He told associates he had gotten the job through a contact at the Iraqi embassy named Ra'ad al-Mudaris. In fact, al-Mudaris controlled Shakir's schedule--telling him when to report to work and when to take a day off. The Senate Intelligence Committee report reveals that "another source claimed that Mudaris was a former IIS officer."
Al-Mudaris apparently told Shakir to report to work on January 5, 2000, the same day September 11 hijacker Khalid al Mihdhar arrived in Kuala Lumpur. Shakir escorted al Mihdhar to a waiting car and then, rather than bid his guest farewell, jumped in the car with him. U.S. intelligence officials will not say whether Shakir was an active participant in the meeting, but with photographs provided by Malaysian intelligence, there is little doubt he was there. The meeting lasted from January 5 to January 8. Shakir reported to work twice after the meeting broke up and then disappeared.
He was arrested in Doha, Qatar, on September 17, 2001. He had been employed by the Qatari government in its Ministry of Religious Development. Authorities found what Newsweek's Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman described as a "treasure trove": contact information--both on Shakir and back at his apartment--for several high-ranking al Qaeda terrorists. They include: Zaid Sheikh Mohammed, brother of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed; Musab Yasin, brother of Abdul Rahman Yasin, the Iraqi who participated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing; Abu Hajer al Iraqi, the Iraqi national alleged to have been Osama bin Laden's "best friend"; and Ibrahim Suleiman, a Kuwaiti native whose fingerprints were found on the bombmaking manuals authorities say were used in preparation for the 1993 Trade Center bombing. We also know that in January 1993, shortly before the first attack on the World Trade Center, Shakir had received a phone call later traced to the New Jersey safehouse that served as the headquarters for that operation.
Despite this, the Qataris released Shakir. (The Qatari government has not responded to numerous interview requests.) But he was detained again on October 21, 2001, this time by Jordanians in Amman, where he was to have caught a flight to Baghdad. The Jordanians held him for three months. The Iraqi regime repeatedly contacted the Jordanian government and pressed for his release. The Jordanians, who had concluded that Shakir was working for Iraqi Intelligence, devised a plan and presented it to the CIA. The Jordanians proposed releasing Shakir, but only after extracting from him a promise to report back on the activities of Iraqi Intelligence from inside Iraq. Perhaps mindful of the woeful lack of human sources in Iraq, the CIA approved. The Jordanians set him free in late January 2002, at which point he returned to Baghdad.
He was never heard from again.
The Weekly Standard asked 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman about Shakir last year, shortly after the commission's final report was released. "The Shakir in Kuala Lumpur has many interesting connections that are so multiple in their intersections with al Qaeda-related organizations and people as to suggest something more than random chance," he said. We clarified: "With respect to both al Qaeda and the Iraqi regime?"
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"Following the expulsion of al Qaeda from Afghanistan and their arrival in northern Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi (a senior al Qaeda figure) was relatively free to travel within Iraq proper and to stay in Baghdad for some time. Several of his colleagues visited him there."
The Butler Report, July 14, 2004
TEN DAYS BEFORE September 11, 2001, a small group of Islamic radicals came together in the northern, Kurdish-controlled area of Iraq. They would quickly come to be known as Ansar al Islam. Their ranks swelled as hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists fled the U.S. assault on the Taliban in Afghanistan. It quickly became clear to many policymakers and intelligence analysts that the Ansar camps were fallback zones for al Qaeda.
In time, one of Ansar's leaders would become the face of not only the Iraqi insurgency, but also of al Qaeda. Abu Musab al Zarqawi is, besides Osama bin Laden, perhaps the best known al Qaeda terrorist on the planet. He and his followers have been linked to terrorist plots the world over: from a plot in Jordan at the turn of the millennium, to the assassination of U.S. diplomat Laurence Foley in October 2002, to the Madrid train bombing on March 11, 2004. His personal role in the beheadings of hostages in Iraq has provided a stark reminder of the brutality of the jihadists.
As the war in Iraq approached, the Bush administration cited Zarqawi's presence in Baghdad from May to July 2002--allegedly, for medical treatment--as evidence that Saddam harbored and aided al Qaeda terrorists. This claim was met with a remarkable degree of skepticism.
Prior to September 11, there was nary a mention of Zarqawi. It appears that the intelligence community did not pay much attention to him until after 9/11, when, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, "an ongoing collection" became "aggressively worked." Thus, there is much uncertainty concerning his origins and exactly when his relationship with Saddam's regime began.
Recently, Ayad Allawi, the first post-Saddam prime minister of Iraq, stated that Iraqi intelligence documents show that Zarqawi was in Saddam-controlled parts of Iraq in late 1999. The documents, according to Allawi, also show that Zarqawi was setting up sleeper cells with the full knowledge of Saddam's intelligence services. If the documents are authentic, and we cannot offer a judgment one way or another, then they will put to rest any doubts about Zarqawi's involvement with Saddam's regime prior to the war.
There were many early reports that Iraqi intelligence officers were among Ansar's leadership and thus Zarqawi's cohorts. One of these was a man known by his nom de guerre, Abu Wael. Ansar's Kurdish enemies, and several IIS and al Qaeda detainees, claimed from the beginning that Abu Wael was an Iraqi Intelligence officer who managed the relationship between Ansar and Saddam's regime. The Kurds have also repeatedly claimed that he, as well as other IIS officers, supplied Ansar with funding and arms.
The case of Abu Wael remains unresolved, but the Kurds' claims that the Iraqi regime provided al Qaeda members with weapons and funding has been validated by other intelligence reporting. A May 2002 signals intelligence report, included in the Feith memo, stated that "an Iraqi intelligence official, praising Ansar al Islam, provided it with $100,000 and agreed to continue to give assistance." Another report from the National Security Agency in October 2002 said that "al Qaeda and Iraq reached a secret agreement whereby Iraq would provide safe haven to al Qaeda members and provide them with money and weapons." It was this agreement that "reportedly prompted a large number of al Qaeda members to head to Iraq."
In addition to Saddam's support for al Qaeda in Kurdish-controlled territories, we also know that Zarqawi was not alone in Baghdad. According to the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Report, the CIA "described a network of more than a dozen al Qaeda or al Qaeda-associated operatives in Baghdad" before the war.
The intelligence community has downplayed the possibility that the Iraqi regime supported Zarqawi's prewar activities, including the assassination of Laurence Foley. Intelligence community analysts, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, point out that "neither of the two suspects" in the shooting "provided any information on links between al-Zarqawi and the Iraqi regime."
But we also have testimony from one of the suspects in the murder that Zarqawi "directed and financed the operations of the cell" responsible "before, during and after his stint in Baghdad between May and July 2002." And both of the suspects have said that "one member of the al Zarqawi network traveled repeatedly between regime-controlled Iraq and Syria after March 2002."
Thus, many in the intelligence community implausibly assume that Zarqawi could have planned terrorist attacks from neo-Stalinist Baghdad and had one of his operatives travel in and out of Iraqi regime-controlled territory without Saddam's approval. The next question is obvious: If it is so easy for regime foes to maintain a long-term presence in Baghdad and to transit in and out of Iraq, why was it so difficult for the CIA to operate there? This assumption flies in the face of everything we know about Saddam and his control over Iraq.
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"The CIA had no [redacted] credible reporting on the leadership of either the Iraqi regime or al Qaeda, which would have enabled it to better define a cooperative relationship, if any did in fact exist. As a result, the CIA refrained from asserting that Iraq and al Qaeda had cooperated on terrorist attacks."
Senate Intelligence Committee report, July 7, 2004
THE CONCLUSION of the Senate Intelligence Committee report--that the CIA did not have the type of intelligence reporting that "would have enabled it to better define a cooperative relationship"--was ignored by the press. We now have reporting that demonstrates the nature of the relationship. One day there will be much more. At a large warehouse in Doha, Qatar, the Defense Intelligence Agency is reviewing millions of pages of documents from the former Iraqi regime. That process is painfully slow due to a lack of resources and a lack of interest in pursuing the full story of Iraqi support for terrorism.
That lack of interest is not new. As the anonymous intelligence analyst told the Senate Intelligence Committee: "I don't think we were really focused on the CT [counterterrorism] side, because we weren't concerned about the IIS going out and pro-actively conducting terrorist attacks." That the intelligence community did not pay particular attention to Saddam Hussein's terrorist aspirations created a sizable blind spot.
Why wouldn't Saddam Hussein conduct terrorist attacks against U.S. interests? The United States regularly bombed targets in Iraq--at times almost daily--in support of the no-fly zones. We conducted more significant attacks in January and June 1993, and again in 1996 and 1998. The CIA attempted to foment a coup in 1996. The U.N. sanctions sought to deprive Saddam of the resources he needed to sustain a robust military. The weapons inspections occupied his top officials and hundreds of intelligence officers. From 1998 forward, after the passage of the Iraq Liberation Act, the official policy of the United States was to end his regime. With that policy came support of Iraqi opposition groups who existed to remove him from power. For Saddam, then, the Gulf war never ended. He routinely accused the United States of "terrorism" and "genocide." The state-run Iraqi media threatened to exact revenge for more than a decade.
Further, Saddam had proven his willingness to use asymmetric means of retaliation time and again. He attempted to use his own intelligence service and terrorist surrogates against the United States during the first Gulf war. He assisted a fugitive from the 1993 World Trade Center attacks. He attempted to assassinate George H.W. Bush. He sought to blow up the U.S. government's Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty headquarters. He openly supported terrorist activity in the region. "From 1996 to 2003," according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, "the IIS focused its terrorist activities on western interests, particularly against the U.S. and Israel."
We know that in the context of a decade-long confrontation with the United States, Saddam reached out to al Qaeda on numerous occasions. We know that the leadership of al Qaeda reciprocated, requesting assistance in its endeavors. We know that reports of meetings, offers of safe haven, and collaboration persisted.
What we do not know is the full extent of the relationship. But we know enough to know that there was one. And we know enough to know it was a threat.