Man Without Qualities

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Iraq-Al Qaeda At The New Yorker

Jeffrey Goldberg does a terrific job in this New Yorker article, which, among other things, describes the comedy of errors committed by the Clinton Administration in connection with al Qaeda and also why the CIA has recently changed its position to believe that there is a substantial Iraq-Al Qaeda connection. The whole article is worth reading as a supplement to Secretary’s Powell's impressive effort before the Security Council, since Mr. Goldberg focuses - but not exclusively - on evidence which the Secretary did not emphasize.

Mr. Goldberg appeared last night on the O'Reilly Factor (there does not yet appear to be an available transcript) to say that the CIA has mostly within the past six months captured a number of high ranking al Qaeda operatives who have been talking about Iraq's links with their former employer, although his New Yorker article does not extensively discuss the specific sources of the intelligence that led to the CIA reversal. Sample from the article:

According to several intelligence officials I spoke to, the relationship between bin Laden and Saddam's regime was brokered in the early nineteen-nineties by the then de-facto leader of Sudan, the pan-Islamist radical Hassan al-Tourabi. Tourabi, sources say, persuaded the ostensibly secular Saddam to add to the Iraqi flag the words "Allahu Akbar," as a concession to Muslim radicals.

In interviews with senior officials, the following picture emerged: American intelligence believes that Al Qaeda and Saddam reached a non-aggression agreement in 1993, and that the relationship deepened further in the mid-nineteen-nineties, when an Al Qaeda operative—a native-born Iraqi who goes by the name Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi—was dispatched by bin Laden to ask the Iraqis for help in poison-gas training. Al-Iraqi's mission was successful, and an unknown number of trainers from an Iraqi secret-police organization called Unit 999 were dispatched to camps in Afghanistan to instruct Al Qaeda terrorists. (Training in hijacking techniques was also provided to foreign Islamist radicals inside Iraq, according to two Iraqi defectors quoted in a report in the Times in November of 2001.) Another Al Qaeda operative, the Iraqi-born Mamdouh Salim, who goes by the name Abu Hajer al-Iraqi, also served as a liaison in the mid-nineteen-nineties to Iraqi intelligence. Salim, according to a recent book, "The Age of Sacred Terror," by the former N.S.C. officials Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, was bin Laden's chief procurer of weapons of mass destruction, and was involved in the early nineties in chemical-weapons development in Sudan. Salim was arrested in Germany in 1998 and was extradited to the United States. He is awaiting trial in New York on charges related to the 1998 East Africa embassy bombings; he was convicted last April of stabbing a Manhattan prison guard in the eye with a sharpened comb.

Intelligence officials told me that the agency also takes seriously reports that an Iraqi known as Abu Wa'el, whose real name is Saadoun Mahmoud Abdulatif al-Ani, is the liaison of Saddam's intelligence service to a radical Muslim group called Ansar al-Islam, which controls a small enclave in northern Iraq; the group is believed by American and Kurdish intelligence officials to be affiliated with Al Qaeda. I learned of another possible connection early last year, while I was interviewing Al Qaeda operatives in a Kurdish prison in Sulaimaniya. There, a man whom Kurdish intelligence officials identified as a captured Iraqi agent told me that in 1992 he served as a bodyguard to Ayman al-Zawahiri, bin Laden's deputy, when Zawahiri secretly visited Baghdad.

It's the guess of the Man Without Qualities that the CIA also has access to fairly extensive intelligence supplied by Iraqi insiders. How could a person with the personality of Mr. Hussein not spawn a virtual hoard of traitors? Of course, disclosure of intelligence provided from such sources is all but impossible, since disclosure would probably endanger the source. So Mr. Powell concentrates on satellites and Mr. Goldberg cites captured al Qaeda operatives with apparent CIA consent.

On the O'Reilly Factor, Bill O'Reilly expressed surprise that the Administration was not relying more heavily in its campaign of public persuasion on sources such as captured al Qaeda operatives. He even suggested putting them on the Factor to tell the story.

But, in my opinion, the Administration is going about this the right way. It is essential that the evidence presented by Secretary Powell be as stable as possible. Satellite photographs and tape recordings of intercepted Iraqi conversations cannot recant the way an al Qaeda operative could. The argument could be made in public that such operatives might have all manner of reason to tell their captors what they want to hear - look at the recent mess surrounding the confessions in the Central Park Jogger case. Worse, focusing on captured operatives could be presented - by, say, Maureen Dowd and other such sillies - as suggesting that the Administration is depending on the integrity of traitors.

Far better to have Secretary Powell depend on stable, technologically based intelligence in his official statements while information from al Qaeda operatives is released unofficially through the media to back up the official case.

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