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The Saddam-Osama Memo (cont.)

A close examination of the Defense Department's latest statement.

11:00 PM, Nov 18, 2003 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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THE DEFENSE DEPARTMENT late Saturday, November 15, issued a statement that began: "News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate."

The statement didn't specify the "inaccurate" news reports, but most observers have inferred that the main report in question was an article in the most recent issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD--Case Closed: The U.S. government's secret memo detailing cooperation between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. "Case Closed" described an October 27 memorandum to the Senate Intelligence Committee from Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, which included 50 numbered items of intelligence from a variety of sources and agencies on links between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda.

The Pentagon's statement continues:

The items listed in the classified annex were either raw reports or products of the CIA, the NSA, or, in one case, the DIA. The provision of the classified annex to the Intelligence Committee was cleared by other agencies and done with the permission of the Intelligence Community. The selection of the documents was made by DOD to respond to the Committee's question.

The Pentagon statement goes on to claim: "The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions."

This statement has confused, rather than clarified, the issues raised by the Feith memo. Indeed, it is not clear whether the author of the Pentagon statement has read either the request made to Feith by the Intelligence Committee or the memo Feith sent in response.

There are four areas of confusion. What does the Pentagon mean by (1) "new" information, (2) "analysis," (3) "raw reports," and (4) "inaccurate"?

(1) Here's how "Case Closed" characterized the information in the memo: "Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources. Some of it is new information obtained in custodial interviews with high-level al Qaeda terrorists and Iraqi officials, and some of it is more than a decade old."

As is abundantly clear both in the memo and the article, most of the information reported to the Senate panel came from sources outside the Pentagon. When "Case Closed" refers to some of this as "new information," it is echoing Feith's own characterization. His memorandum was a response to a September 26, 2003 letter--also obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD--from Senators Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Their letter asked Feith to elaborate on his July 10, 2003 testimony to the committee.

From the letter: "In testimony before the Committee, you explained that Defense Department staffers 'discovered a set of reports on the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda which were not reflected in finished intelligence products. In other cases, some older reports gained new significance in light of information obtained by debriefing detainees.' Please provide the reports that were used for these assessments."

(2) The memo can fairly be said to have refrained from drawing conclusions. Pentagon claims to the contrary, however, the Feith memo contains numerous analyses of the "substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda." The part of the memo dealt with in the article was called "Summary of Body of Intelligence Reporting on Iraq-al Qaeda Contacts (1990-2003)," and it contains passages in bold and in normal typeface. A note at the bottom of the first page reads: "All bolded sentences contain information from intelligence reporting. Unbolded sentences represent comments/analyses."

Item #31, reprinted below, provides a good example.