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About That Memo . . .

From the December 8, 2003 issue: You can understand why the media might ignore the Saddam-Osama memo, but what about the Bush administration?

Dec 8, 2003, Vol. 9, No. 13 • By THE EDITORS
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All of this leads us to ask several questions. Is the intelligence in the Feith memo inaccurate? If so, why would the Bush administration provide inaccurate intelligence to a Senate panel investigating the possible misuse of intelligence? If not, why is the Bush administration so reluctant to discuss it? White House spokesman Scott McClellan correctly said the next day that "the ties between, or the relationship between Saddam Hussein's regime and al Qaeda were well documented. They were documented by Secretary Powell before the United Nations, back in February, I believe. And we have previously talked about those ties that are there." But the administration has been peculiarly timid about talking about those ties again, today.

And the administration's silence on the Feith memo is odd because the reporting it contains seems, as McClellan suggests, mostly to back up allegations that top officials have been making for more than a year. CIA Director George Tenet wrote on October 7, 2002, that his agency had "solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda going back a decade," that the CIA had "credible information" about discussions between Iraq and al Qaeda on "safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression" and "solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad," and "credible reporting" that "Iraq has provided training to al Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs."

President Bush made similar charges in a speech on October 8, 2002, in Cincinnati, Ohio:

We know that Iraq and the al Qaeda terrorist network share a common enemy: the United States of America. 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 have 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.

Colin Powell updated the case in his February 5, 2003, presentation to the United Nations Security Council:

Going back to the early and mid-1990s, when bin Laden was based in Sudan, an al Qaeda source tells us that Saddam and bin Laden reached an understanding that al Qaeda would no longer support activities against Baghdad. Early al Qaeda ties were forged by secret, high-level [Iraqi] intelligence service contacts with al Qaeda. . . . We know members of both organizations met repeatedly and have met at least eight times at very senior levels since the early 1990s. In 1996, a foreign security service tells us that bin Laden met with a senior Iraqi intelligence official in Khartoum and later met the director of the Iraqi intelligence service. . . . Iraqis continue to visit bin Laden in his new home in Afghanistan. A senior defector, one of Saddam's former intelligence chiefs in Europe, says Saddam sent his agents to Afghanistan sometime in the mid-1990s, to provide training to al Qaeda members on document forgery. From the late 1990s until 2001, the Iraqi embassy in Pakistan played the role of liaison to the al Qaeda organization.

We believed George Tenet and President Bush and Colin Powell when they made those claims. So why the public silence now, when the administration, as we have discovered, has reiterated its claims to the Senate Intelligence Committee? We're not asking here for a point-by-point confirmation of the Feith memo. We ourselves suspect that some of the 50 items in the memo, on further analysis, may not check out. We're also not suggesting the administration publicly divulge currently relevant intelligence secrets. But why the embarrassed silence about terror ties with a regime that is now, thank heaven, gone?

Perhaps the Bush administration is still spooked by its mishandling of the Niger-uranium-Joe Wilson-State of the Union fiasco earlier this year. Perhaps they didn't want to appear to be exploiting a "leaked" memo. So let us forget about all the water that's under the bridge, and simply pose a few questions to Bush administration officials--questions based on the now revealed portions of the Feith memo, questions to which the American people deserve an answer:

(1) Do you in fact have "credible reporting" about Iraqi training of al Qaeda in "the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs"?