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Colin Powell, the D.C. primary, and more.

Jan 19, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 18
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The Two Colin Powells

Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell was asked at a news conference about a new report by three antiwar scholars at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Although focused on Iraq's WMD capabilities, the report threw in another finding for good (or political) measure. "There is no new evidence that Iraq actively aided al Qaeda. There is some new evidence that there were no operational links."

What "new evidence" do the authors cite? A discredited claim made in a newspaper article from six months ago, the absence of reporting about the debriefing of a senior Iraqi intelligence official, and a "study" by a U.N. monitoring team that hasn't operated in Iraq for nine months. Hardly compelling. In fact, it's hardly "evidence" at all.

In the Times story cited by Carnegie, it was reported that "two of the highest-ranking leaders of al Qaeda in American custody have told the CIA in separate interrogations that the terrorist organization did not work jointly with the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. . . . In his debriefing, [Abu] Zubaydah [an al Qaeda planner and recruiter] said Mr. bin Laden had vetoed the idea [of an alliance] because he did not want to be beholden to Mr. Hussein, the official said."

But as THE WEEKLY STANDARD's Stephen Hayes first reported in October, the Times reporter got only half the story. The Times's source was an "official who has read the Central Intelligence Agency's classified report on the interrogation." But that same report contained an important caveat from Zubaydah: "Bin Laden views any entity which hated Americans or was willing to kill them as an ally. . . . Abu Zubaydah explained that [Osama bin Laden's] personal goal of destroying the U.S. is so strong that to achieve this end he would work with whomever could help him, so long as al Qaeda's independence was not threatened."

The CIA report adds that Zubaydah "admitted that it was entirely possible that there were communications or emissaries" of which he would not be aware. Zubaydah also confirmed that bin Laden "approved of contacts and funding" for militant Islamists in northern Iraq widely believed to have had Iraqi intelligence officials in their ranks.

That the Carnegie report cites this Times article as "new evidence" that Iraq and al Qaeda didn't collaborate speaks volumes about the strength of its research. THE SCRAPBOOK isn't surprised that reporters fell for the "new evidence," but we found it odd that Colin Powell was likewise so gullible. Asked about the Carnegie finding, Powell said:

"I have not seen smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection. But I think the possibility of such connections did exist, and it was prudent to consider them at the time that we did."

Huh? That view certainly puts Powell at odds with most other administration officials familiar with intelligence on the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.

Here's what one senior administration official said last February:

"Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants. . . . When our coalition ousted the Taliban, the Zarqawi network helped establish another poison and explosive training center camp. And this camp is located in northeastern Iraq. . . . Those helping to run this camp are Zarqawi lieutenants operating in northern Kurdish areas outside Saddam Hussein's controlled Iraq. But Baghdad has an agent in the most senior levels of the radical organization, Ansar al-Islam, that controls this corner of Iraq. In 2000 this agent offered al Qaeda safe haven in the region. After we swept al Qaeda from Afghanistan, some of its members accepted this safe haven. They remain there today.

"Zarqawi's activities are not confined to this small corner of northeast Iraq. He traveled to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, staying in the capital of Iraq for two months while he recuperated to fight another day. During this stay, nearly two dozen extremists converged on Baghdad and established a base of operations there. These al Qaeda affiliates, based in Baghdad, now coordinate the movement of people, money, and supplies into and throughout Iraq for his network, and they've now been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months.

"Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with al Qaeda. These denials are simply not credible."

Who was this official presenting "smoking-gun, concrete evidence about the connection?" Dick Cheney? Donald Rumsfeld? Paul Wolfowitz? Condoleezza Rice? None of the above. It was Colin Powell in his report to the U.N. Security Council. Was he kidding?

Primarily a Joke