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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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31. An Oct 2002 [U.S. intelligence agency] report said 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. The agreement reportedly prompted a large number of al Qaeda members to head to Iraq. The report also said that two al Qaeda members involved a fraudulent passport network for al Qaeda had been directed to procure 90 Iraqi and Syrian passports for al Qaeda personnel.

References to procurement of false passports from Iraq and offers of safe haven previously have surfaced in CIA source reporting considered reliable. Intelligence reports to date have maintained that Iraqi support for al Qaeda usually involved providing training, obtaining passports, and offers of refuge. This report adds to that list by including weapons and money. This assistance would make sense in the aftermath of 9-11. The US attack on Afghanistan deprived al Qaeda of its protected base and caused its operatives to disperse to many other regions where they would need weapons to arm themselves against the local government security and police apparatus (i.e. Pakistan, Indonesia, Philippines). And since the US has been targeting al Qaeda's sources of funding, some cells may need additional money to continue operations.

(3) The Pentagon statement allows that some of the information in the document comes from "raw reports." The implication is that such reports might be wrong. True enough. That's why THE WEEKLY STANDARD article, for obvious reasons, never claimed knowledge of the authenticity of all 50 enumerated intelligence data points. But most of the information in the memo appears to have multiple sources and to be internally consistent. Consider point 18 and the analysis that follows.

18. According to foreign government service sensitive CIA reporting, Faruq Hijazi went to Afghanistan in 1999 along with several other Iraqi officials to meet with Bin Laden. The source claimed that Hijazi would have met Bin Laden only at Saddam's explicit direction.

Reporting entries #4, #11, #15, #16, #17 and #18, from different sources, corroborate each other and provide confirmation of meetings between al-Qaida operatives and Iraqi intelligence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. None of the reports have information on operational details or the purpose of such meetings. The cover nature of the relationship would indicate strict compartmentation [sic] of operations.

(4) The Pentagon's charge that news reporting was "inaccurate" is therefore both vague and unsubstantiated. Most of the language in "Case Closed" is taken directly from the memo. The rest of the article provides readers with context for the writing of the memo and for events described in the memo. The conclusion of the article does speculate that the information in the Feith memo provides only a glimpse of the broader relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. This speculation is based in part on independent reporting, but also on the very title of the memo itself: "Summary of Body of Intelligence Reporting on Iraq-al Qaida Contacts (1990-2003)."

IF THE INTELLIGENCE REPORTING in the memo was left out of earlier "finished intelligence products" because the reporting is inaccurate, it seems odd that it would form the basis of briefings given to the secretary of Defense, the director of Central Intelligence, and the vice president. And it would be stranger still to include such intelligence in a memo to a Senate panel investigating the potential misuse of intelligence.

If, on the other hand, the information in the Feith memo is accurate, it changes everything. An operational relationship between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, as detailed in the memo, would represent a threat the United States could not afford to ignore. President Bush and his national security team could not have known everything in the memo, of course, since some of the reporting comes from postwar Iraq. But consider what they did know.

"We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy--the United States of America," said President George W. Bush on October 7, 2002. "We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We've learned that Iraq has trained al Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. And we know that after September the 11th, Saddam Hussein's regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America."

On that same day, George Tenet provided an unclassified version of the relationship in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee.