As Iraqis move toward democracy after their recent successful elections, the motives behind America’s liberation of Iraq continue to remain under intense scrutiny. Were the Bush administration’s actions influenced by a fear of Iraq’s connection with al Qaeda? What exact evidence suggested that possible link? Why can’t the top experts agree on it?
To explore this question with us today, Frontpage Symposium has assembled a distinguished panel. Our guests:
Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, the author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror. He is Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore. Before the US invasion of Iraq, based on several thousands of captured Al Qaeda documents from Afghanistan, he argued that there was no link between the Saddam regime and Al Qaeda. He predicted that the threat of terrorism would increase if the US invaded Iraq unilaterally;
Dr. Laurie Mylroie, one of the foremost American scholars on Iraq and Saddam Hussein. In her book Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein´s Unfinished War against America, Dr. Mylroie provided substantial evidence implicating Saddam's involvement in four terrorist attacks: the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing; the 1995 bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the 1998 bombings of two African embassies. She is also the author of Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror;
Dr. Robert Leiken, the director of the Immigration and National Security Program at the Nixon Center and the author of Bearers of Global Jihad? Immigration and National Security after 9/11. In his recent article “The Truth about the Saddam-al Qaeda Connection” in InTheNationalInterest.com, he argues that the connection does not exist;
Deroy Murdock, a nationally syndicated columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation (atlasUSA.org). A contributing editor with National Review Online, he has written extensively on the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection, including his comprehensive Fall 2003 American Outlook article, "Saddam Hussein's Philanthropy of Terror." He and Ohio-based Internet designer Justin Berzon produced HUSSEINandTERROR.com, a web site that summarizes the evidence tying the Baathist regime to militant Islam.
FP: Rohan Gunaratna, Laurie Myrloie, Robert Leiken and Deroy Murdock, thank you for joining us.
Dr. Mylroie, let’s begin with you. Perhaps an important point to start with would be that, in the post 9/11 era, the U.S. faced the nightmarish scenario that there were adversary regimes who were ready and willing to arm the perpetrators of 9/11 with WMDs. To leave Saddam in power, therefore, was simply a risk that couldn’t be taken. Correct?
Mylroie: That's both correct and incorrect. That was the administration's explanation, in brief, for the war with Iraq. But if that was all there was to it, why not a war with Iran? The State Department had, after all, repeatedly identified Iran as the foremost state sponsor of terrorism (even as it maintained that states were no longer so important to major terrorist attacks).
The administration's explanation for the war against Saddam's regime was, in fact, the lowest common denominator product of intense internal disputes. It was articulated in the expectation that 1) large quantities of proscribed WMD would be found in Iraq; and 2) the war would not be difficult. With those expectations, that explanation sufficed.
But something is missing from it. Senior administration officials, including President Bush, suspected that Iraq was involved in 9/11, as Richard Clarke made clear. There was, however, enormous bureaucratic resistance, particularly from the CIA, to even recognizing the information that would permit such a conclusion to be reached. If it were true, it would mean that they had made the most serious, most terrible error in the Agency's history, and there were CIA officials who were just not prepared to acknowledge that, even indirectly.
This goes back to the February 1993 bombing of New York's World Trade Center--one month into Clinton's first term in office. The Agency began to develop the notion that a new kind of major terrorism had come into being that did not involve states. This view is very much a Clinton-era position. Yet senior figures in New York FBI--the lead investigative agency in the Trade Center bombing--suspected that Iraq was behind that attack.
The Bush administration has, so far, failed to address this issue, and it is now hurting us in Iraq. The question of whether Saddam's regime, a "secular" institution, can work with Islamic militants and if so, which party would provide the bulk of the expertise and even financial resources, is critical. The US military has one view of the enemy in Iraq, focused, above all on Former Regime Elements, but the CIA has another, focused more on foreign jihadis and Iran, an extension of their previous position. A country cannot fight a war like this. Understanding the enemy is essential, and there is an urgent, pressing need for intelligence reform.
FP: Thank you Dr. Mylroie. Now, can you tell us a bit about the evidence linking Saddam with Islamist terrorists in general and with Al Qaeda in particular?
Mylroie: Let's look at the beginning of the so-called "new," stateless terrorism, the 1993 Trade Center bombing. George Tenet has said, "a common thread runs between the first attack on the World Trade Center in February 1993 and the 11 September attacks." So let me address the 1993 Trade Center bombing and do so in three parts. That will also address some key aspects of the 9/11 attacks.
1) As I stated, senior officials in New York FBI, including its director, the late Jim Fox, believed that Iraq was behind the bombing. The bomb was huge. It didn't succeed in its goal of collapsing one tower onto the other, but it did leave a crater five stories deep in the basement floors of the north tower.
Fox's background was counter-intelligence. To Fox, the arrests following the bombing seemed too easy: i.e. Mohammed Salameh, the 26-year old Palestinian, was detained as he returned to the Ryder rental agency for his deposit on the van that carried the bomb. Fox recognized the individuals he was arresting then were not capable of building such a destructive bomb alone. The ease of the arrests suggested to Fox a conspiracy masterminded by others, with Salameh et. al (a handful of Islamic militants) left behind to take the blame.
Fox thought Iraq was the party behind the bombing. The 1991 Gulf War was not the distant memory it was to become. There were several Iraqis around the fringe of the plot. And there were two indicted fugitives; both had ties to Iraq. One was the mastermind, Ramzi Yousef. Yousef entered the United States on an Iraqi passport with stamps showing a journey beginning in Baghdad. The INS inspector who processed Yousef when he entered the US in September 1992 testified that Yousef's passport appeared authentic and unaltered. The 9/11 Commission reported that the INS Forensic Document Lab examined that passport and found "the date of birth has been overwritten and the passport binding has been cut and unstitched, but no other alterations were detected." Thus, the visas in that passport (including the exit visa from Iraq) and the entry and exit stamps from various countries, including Iraq, are legitimate. Yousef's journey to the US began in Baghdad. He was arrested in 1995, after a failed plot to bomb a dozen US airliners.
The second fugitive from the Trade Center bombing is an Iraqi-American, who remains at large: Abdul Rahman Yasin. Yasin was born in the U.S., while his father was a graduate student here, but Yasin was raised in Iraq. Yasin entered the U.S. in September 1992, about the same time Yousef did. Yasin came from Baghdad, traveling on a U.S. passport he had obtained a few months before, by presenting his birth certificate to the U.S. embassy in Jordan. After the Trade Center bombing, Yasin returned to Baghdad, transiting back through Jordan, still traveling on his U.S. passport.
We now know some things that people like Jim Fox did not: 1) The Iraqi embassy in Jordan facilitated Yasin's onward travel to Baghdad; and 2) The Iraqi regime subsequently gave Yasin a house and a monthly stipend, according to documents found by US forces in Iraq.
The most simple, straightforward explanation of the 1993 Trade Center bombing is that it was a "false flag" operation, run by Iraq, with the militants meant to take the blame.
2) Other material found in Iraq since the war is relevant. They are 42 pages of documents, essentially correspondence between Saddam's office and the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS). They were leaked from the Defense Department to Scott Wheeler of Cybercast News Service.
The documents, dating from January to May 1993, reveal Saddam and the IIS corresponding about how to establish and re-establish ties with a host of nefarious characters, both Islamic militants and "secular" (they would call themselves nationalists). While Americans were assuming they had thoroughly defeated Saddam, he was plotting ways to strike back.
3) Now let us return to the 1993 Trade Center bombing, with a specific focus on the mastermind of that attack. This issue also relates to the 9/11 strikes.
Ramzi Yousef is the mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. The mastermind of the 9/11 strikes is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), and US authorities believe KSM is Yousef's uncle. They have also identified four other nephews of KSM as terrorist masterminds. A few weeks ago, in a joint operation, Pakistani and US authorities arrested yet one more nephew of KSM.
In short, the official U.S. contention is that a family--KSM and his nephews--lies at the heart of the major Islamic attacks against America, starting with the 1993 Trade Center bombing and culminating in the 9/11 strikes.
Yet no other major terrorist organization has a family at its core. This is without precedent, and it requires an explanation.
Moreover, this family is Baluch, a Sunni Muslim people living in Western Iran and Eastern Pakistan. The U.S. has had virtually nothing to do with the Baluch. They have no evident motive for these monstrous assaults--save one.
Iraqi intelligence had deep and well-established ties with the Baluch on both sides of the Iran-Pakistan border. It used them for espionage and sabotage in its long-standing rivalry with Iran's Shi'a regime, particularly during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88).
So let us look at this "family" more closely, and specifically at Ramzi Yousef, about whom the most information exists in the public record. Yousef fled the night of the Trade Center bombing on a Pakistani passport in the name of Abdul Basit Karim. Yousef obtained that passport by going to the Pakistani consulate in New York with xerox copies of pages from Karim's 1984 and 1988 passports.
Yousef said: I am Abdul Basit Karim. I lost my passport and need a new one to return home. The consulate didn't much like his documentation, because it was not original. Nonetheless, they gave Yousef a temporary passport-- which he used to leave New York the night of the bombing.
There really was an individual, Abdul Basit Karim, a Pakistani, born and raised in Kuwait. Karim graduated high school at the age of 18 and then studied in Britain for three years. Karim received his degree in June 1989 and returned to Kuwait, where he got a job in Kuwait's Planning Ministry. A year later, Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990.
One of the pages of Karim's passports that Yousef presented to the Pakistani consulate was altered. It evidently went through a scanner, and a signature and address were changed (the documents--evidence from the trial--are presented in Study of Revenge.) Kuwait's Interior Ministry maintained a resident alien file on Karim, as a routine matter. That, too, was tampered with.
The Kuwaiti file should have contained copies of the front pages of Karim's passport, with his signature, picture, etc. That material is missing. The Kuwaitis attributed that to the Iraqi occupation. The file also contains a notation that Karim and his family left Kuwait on August 26, 1990, traveling from Kuwait to Iraq, then from Iraq to Iran, crossing at Salamcheh (a border crossing point) on their way to Pakistani Baluchistan, where they live now.
Yet no Kuwaiti government existed on that day. There was an Iraqi army of occupation. Moreover, a traveler doesn't ordinarily present such detailed information when crossing a border, just where he is coming from and where he is going to. Tens of thousands of people were fleeing Kuwait and Iraq for their very lives. It is extraordinarily unlikely that Iraqi authorities were recording the full travel itineraries of all those people. Most likely, that note was put into Karim's file for a specific purpose: to make Karim appear Baluch.
Finally, Yousef's fingerprints are in Karim's file in Kuwait. Since everyone's fingerprints are unique, that can mean only one of two things: 1) Yousef's real identity is Karim; or 2) someone switched the fingerprint cards, replacing the original bearing Karim's prints, with a new card bearing Yousef's prints.
There are very substantial reasons to believe Yousef is not Karim. In 1996, I met with Karim's British teachers. They did not believe their student was the terrorist mastermind. Of course, a person's character can change. A major discrepancy, however, exists in the physical appearances of Yousef and Karim, namely their heights.
Karim was 5' 7." That is what appears on the more recent of the two sets of passport pages that Yousef presented the Pakistani consulate. It was issued in 1988, when Karim was twenty years old. According to that document, Karim was 1 meter 70 cm or 5' 7". That is also what Karim's British teachers told me when I asked, "How tall was he" ? They replied, 5' 6" or 5' 7".
Yousef is in US custody; he is 6 feet tall. Boys stop growing around the age of 18, adding, on average, one inch to their height subsequently. An individual who was 5'7" at the age of 21 is a different person from someone who is 6 feet tall. In early 2001, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey met with the same people. Woolsey did a much better, more precise interview with them, getting Karim's teachers to be as specific as possible on what they remembered about Karim and contrasting that with what was known about Yousef. Above all, Karim's teachers were certain that he was significantly shorter than six feet.
That means the fingerprint cards in Karim's Kuwaiti file were switched, and the file was otherwise tampered with for the evident purpose of creating a false identity for Yousef (a "legend" in spook-speak). The only party that could have reasonably done so was Iraq, while it occupied Kuwait.
This is an issue I raised already in the mid-1990s. It met a great deal of resistance then, because the Clinton White House did not want to hear that Iraq was behind the Trade Center bombing. If Americans had been told that Saddam had tried to topple New York's tallest tower onto its twin, they might well have demanded that Clinton get rid of Saddam, but that is a big and dangerous project, as we certainly see now.
The issue of Yousef's identity is also relevant to the aborted plot in 1995 to bomb a dozen US airliners in the Philippines, which led to his arrest. If Yousef is an Iraqi NOC--ie non-official cover, a term made familiar to Americans by the supposed "outing" of Joe Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame--as I am suggesting, that would tie Iraqi intelligence to the 1995 plot too.
Yet all that would still have been history and I would have dropped this issue, were it not for the post-9/11 investigation, as U.S. authorities came to understand much more about al Qaida. They identified the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks as Yousef's uncle--KSM, and KSM is also said to have been born and raised in Kuwait. They also identified a number of Yousef's brothers and cousins as al Qaida masterminds, most if not all, born and raised in Kuwait. One cannot understand al Qaida without understanding who these people are. But we do not know, because their identities, which U.S. authorities have generally accepted, are based on two inherently unreliable sources: the terrorists themselves and documents from Kuwait that predate Kuwait's liberation from Iraq.
Yet in my view, these people are not a family, but elements of Iraq's Baluch network, given legends on the basis of Kuwaiti documents, while Iraq occupied Kuwait. Those who have agreed include: Jim Fox, Jim Woolsey, Richard Perle, Itamar Rabinovitch, former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Amos Gilboa, former number two in Israeli Military Intelligence, and Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to Washington.
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