September 27, 2003

Iraq - Al-Qaeda Connections

President Bush's restatement this week that the administration has no evidence linking Saddam Hussein directly to the 9/11 attacks led to a huge "Gotcha!" from his critics, who now would have the public believe that this represents a correction or retraction of a previous statement, and as such, proves that Bush "mislead" the people, taking us to war under false pretenses.

Set aside for the moment that these people might be convinced of a link only if the administration were to produce a photograph of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden chortling together as they pore over a set of World Trade Center blueprints. The administration has in fact only alleged a connection between Saddam's Iraq and the Al Qaeda organization, and those links are numerous, multi-sourced, and available to anyone who cares to consider them.

My purpose in this post is not to preach to the converted. Only the ideologically blinkered or blissfully apathetic are still unaware of the connections Saddam had to organized Islamic terrorism. In fact, I had thought until recently that we were finished with the kind of nonsense we heard shortly after planning for the liberation of Iraq began, that Iraq was a "distraction" from, and not an integral part of, the War on Terror. One might think that Saddam's open policy of paying off the families of Palestinian suicide bombers might be the first clue. But unfortunately, the beat goes on, fed by the Ted Kennedys and the antiwar crowd who feel the need to assign malign motives to Bush's liberation of Iraq.

I won't quote from Bush's speeches to document what he has said or not said. Notice the "Bush lied" crowd never quotes him directly. The speeches are in the public domain, and all one needs to do is listen to them the first time around. They're pretty consistent. We're at war. It will be long and difficult. We will promote freedom and democracy. Terrorists and their harborers and financiers and supporters will be dealt with as the enemies of the U.S. that they are.

So my purpose here, in addition to letting off the above steam, is to try to organize in one place the links to some of the best reporting on those Iraq-Al Qaeda ties that I have found and read for myself. I admit in advance that this will be anything but a complete resource, but it might be enough to inform a few of the yet unconvinced, and serve as a counterweight to what people hear or don't hear in the major media.

Some of the best reporting of Iraq-Al Qaeda ties has been done by Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard. In May of this year, in a piece called The Al Qaeda Connection, he broke an otherwise underreported story of what appeared to be an inadvertent publication in Uday Hussein's newspaper of a listing by name of Iraqi regime officials, including the envoy to Pakistan:

In its November 16, 2002, edition, Babil identified one Abd-al-Karim Muhammad Aswad as an "intelligence officer," describing him as the "official in charge of regime's contacts with Osama bin Laden's group and currently the regime's representative in Pakistan." A man of this name was indeed the Iraqi ambassador to Pakistan from the fall of 1999 until the fall of the regime.

Hayes reports that early in 1998:

then-President Bill Clinton traveled to the Pentagon, where he gave a speech preparing the nation for war with Iraq. Clinton told the world that Saddam Hussein would work with an "unholy axis (sound familiar? - ed.)of terrorists, drug traffickers, and organized international criminals." His warning was stern:

We have to defend our future from these predators of the 21st century. . . . They will be all the more lethal if we allow them to build arsenals of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and the missiles to deliver them. We simply cannot allow that to happen. There is no more clear example of this threat than Saddam Hussein.

The timing, once again, is critical. Clinton's speech came on February 18, 1998. The next day, according to documents uncovered earlier this week in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein reached out to bin Laden. A document dated February 19, 1998, and labeled "Top Secret and Urgent" tells of a plan for an al Qaeda operative to travel from Sudan to Iraq for talks with Iraqi intelligence. The memo focused on Saudi Arabia, another common bin Laden and Hussein foe, and declared that the Mukhabarat would pick up "all the travel and hotel costs 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 document further explained that the message "would relate to the future of our relationship with him, bin Laden, and to achieve a direct meeting with him." The document also held open the possibility that the al Qaeda representative could be "a way to maintain contacts with bin Laden."

There is certainly much more to learn about the "contacts with bin Laden" after this meeting. What is clear, though, is that it is no longer defensible to claim there were no contacts. The skeptics, including many at the CIA, who argued that previous evidence of such links was not compelling, ought to be convinced now.

Earlier this month Hayes published a more detailed accounting of a) what we alleged in Powell's February presentation at the U.N., b) what evidence we had but didn't use in that session, and c) what we have learned since the war. Here are a couple of key paragraphs:

The CIA has confirmed, in interviews with detainees and informants it finds highly credible, that al Qaeda's Number 2, Ayman al-Zawahiri, met with Iraqi intelligence in Baghdad in 1992 and 1998. More disturbing, according to an administration official familiar with briefings the CIA has given President Bush, the Agency has "irrefutable evidence" that the Iraqi regime paid Zawahiri $300,000 in 1998, around the time his Islamic Jihad was merging with al Qaeda. "It's a lock," says this source. Other administration officials are a bit more circumspect, noting that the intelligence may have come from a single source. Still, four sources spread across the national security hierarchy have confirmed the payment.

In interviews conducted over the past six weeks with uniformed officers on the ground in Iraq, intelligence officials, and senior security strategists, several things became clear. Contrary to the claims of its critics, the Bush administration has consistently underplayed the connections between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. Evidence of these links existed before the war. In making its public case against the Iraq regime, the Bush administration used only a fraction of the intelligence it had accumulated documenting such collaboration. The intelligence has, in most cases, gotten stronger since the end of the war. And through interrogations of high-ranking Iraqi officials, documents from the regime, and further interrogation of al Qaeda detainees, a clearer picture of the links between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein is emerging.

The Wall Street Journal has also been active in reporting on Iraq-Al Qaeda ties, and recently published this summary of sorts.

Prior to 9/11, it could be said that the most important acts of terror caried out on U.S. soil were the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing at the Murrah Federal Building. In terms of reporting on possible Iraqi connections to those two terrorist attacks, enter Laurie Mylroie and Jayna Davis.

It might be best to begin with Micah Morrison's piece The Iraq Connection from the Sept. 5, 2002 Wall Street Journal Online, which summarizes the research of both Davis and Mylroie.

Dr. Mylroie is the author of Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America (American Enterprise Institute Press, 2000). It was recently published in paperback, as The War Against America (HarperCollins, 2001).

Her work centers around the possible role of Iraqi intelligence in the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, arguing persuasively that Ramzi Yousef, convicted in the bombing, and several of his accomplices may well have actually been Iraqi intelligence agents that acquired Kuwaiti identities during Iraq's occupation of Kuwait in 1990-91. She raises that issue in "The Baluch Connection" from the WSJ, and discusses these and the broader subject of terrorism in two interviews; here with National Review from September 2003, and in a PBS Frontline conversation conducted in October, 2001.

In the PBS interview, Mylroie discusses the way that the Clinton administration simply refused to countenance the notion that Iraq was involved with acts of terror against the U.S., apparently since that would have required a response, and Bill had other priorities:

"The reason that the Clinton administration did not want the evidence of Iraqi involvement coming out in the Trade Center bombing was because, in June of 1993, Clinton had attacked Iraqi intelligence headquarters. It was for the attempt to kill George Bush. But Clinton also believed that that attack on Iraqi intelligence headquarters would take care of the bombing in New York, that it would deter Iraq from all future acts of terrorism. And by not telling the public what was suspected of happening -- that New York FBI really believed Iraq was behind the Trade Center bombing -- Clinton avoided raising the possibility the public might demand that the United States do a lot more than just bomb one building. And Clinton didn't want to do more. Clinton wanted to focus on domestic politics, including health policy.

The Clinton administration's unwillingness to identify Iraq as the suspected sponsor of the Trade Center bombing was a terrible blunder. Not only did the 1993 attack on Iraqi intelligence headquarters not deter Saddam forever; indeed, Saddam was back already in January of 1995 with that plot in the Philippines...

...It didn't deter Saddam forever, and equally important, it generated a false and fraudulent explanation for terrorism called "the loose network theory" -- that terrorism is no longer carried out by states, that the Trade Center bombing was a harbinger of a new terrorism carried out by individuals or loose networks without the support of state.

And once that notion took hold, Saddam could easily play into it by working with Islamic extremists like Osama bin Laden, putting them front and center, leaving a few bin Laden operatives to be arrested. That also played into this fraudulent theory and led directly to the events of September 11"

In the interest of equal time, Mylroie's theories on Yousef's identity are rebutted somewhat in this Slate piece from September 28, 2001.

Linking Iraq to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, while not a specific "Al Qaeda" link, demonstrates Saddam's participation in terror attacks on the U.S. Jayna Davis, a former reporter with Oklahoma City's KFOR television station, covered the Oklahoma City bombing and its aftermath, and has assembled an astounding case that puts Timothy McVeigh in the company of several Iraqi nationals in the days prior to the bombing, and effectively identifies the infamous John Doe No. 2.

After several days of an intense FBI manhunt, the agency decided that this John Doe No. 2 didn't exist at all, even though there were upwards of 20 eyewitnesses that placed this Middle Eastern-looking man with McVeigh before the bombing and at the scene on the day of the bombing. This institutional denial of an Iraqi connection to acts of terror comports with what Laurie Mylroie has said about the way that Bill Clinton and his administration dealt with the issue of Iraq's involvement. In other words, "don't tell me that, because that's not what I want to hear". Davis' findings are summarized in this report from the Center for Security Policy (CSP).

In a more detailed presentation of the evidence accumulated by Jayna Davis, available from her web site, the involvement of Iraqi nationals in the OKC bombing is persuasively demonstrated. (both CSP links via HobbsOnline A.M.). Here are a couple of excerpts from that report:

... the most gripping evidence was displayed on the television monitor at KFOR-TV's studio...One frame of video captured the side view of a former Iraqi soldier known as Hussain Hashem Al-Hussaini. Alhussaini's picture, when overlaid with the government's profile sketch of John Doe 2, was arguably a perfect match. Alhussaini also fit the general physical description of the government's arrest warrant for the Oklahoma City bomber, including a tattoo on his upper left arm.

Colonel Patrick Lang, the former Chief of Human Intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency, determined Hussain Alhussaini's military tattoo indicated he likely served in Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard and was recruited into the elite Unit 999 of the Iraqi Intelligence Service. Unit 999 is based in Salman Pak southeast of Baghdad and has been tasked with clandestine operations at home and overseas.

But the most incriminating evidence against the Iraqi soldier was the simple fact that his alleged alibi crumbled under scrutiny...

...Then came the watershed breakthrough. On June 7, 1995, KFOR's private investigator and another reporter from the station located two eyewitnesses who independently identified the former Iraqi soldier, Hussain Alhussaini, from a photo lineup. Both were convinced he was the Middle Eastern individual they observed drinking beer with a very boisterous Timothy McVeigh in an Oklahoma City nightclub just four days before the bombing. This was no fleeting encounter. The witnesses were exposed to McVeigh and his soft-spoken friend, with distinct Middle Eastern accent, for at least three full hours.

KFOR management and legal counsel decided we had a moral obligation to report the story. At 6:00 PM that evening, the investigative report led the newscast. We carefully disguised the identities of the witnesses and the location of the establishment where the sighting occurred...

Of course the inescapable conclusion from the findings of Jayna Davis' research is that the Clinton administration actively covered up the fact that McVeigh and Nichols had Middle Eastern (and apparently Filipino) accomplices, and that the real planners of the OKC bombing have yet to be brought to justice. Six weeks before the OKC bombing a Congressional committee had this warning:

On March 3, 1995, the House of Representatives' Terrorism Task Force issued a warning that Mideast terrorists were planning attacks on the "heart of the U.S.," identifying twelve cities as potential targets, including Oklahoma City. It reported that the terrorists had recruited two "lily whites" -- individuals with no criminal history or obvious connections to the perpetrating organization -- to carry out the bombing of an American federal building.

Who could be "lily whiter" than Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols?

An article from October, 2002 suggests that highly placed political pressure is being (finally) brought to bear on the FBI to reopen the OKC investigation based largely on the evidence provided by Jayna Davis. There's hope.

Read for yourself about the evidence that Jayna Davis has uncovered on this case. This deserves more attention that it is getting, IMHO

I'll continue to update this entry, but I want to get it posted.

Posted by dan at September 27, 2003 12:32 AM