The Magazine

The Missing Link

From the July 26, 2004 issue: What the Senate report really says about Iraq and al Qaeda.

Jul 26, 2004, Vol. 9, No. 43 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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IN THE FLOOD OF COMMENT that greeted the Senate Intelligence Committee's 511-page report on pre-Iraq war intelligence, no one remarked upon this sentence from the document about the Iraq-al Qaeda connection: "Any indication of a relationship between these two hostile elements could carry great dangers to the United States."

That is the reason the CIA's Counterterrorism Center gave for its decision to provide an "aggressive" analysis of Saddam Hussein's links to al Qaeda. The statement may seem self-evident--yet it is surprising nonetheless, coming as it does in a report said by the Washington Post to "shred" the Bush administration's rationales for the war.

The Post, like others, prominently featured the committee's Conclusion 93: "The Central Intelligence Agency reasonably assessed that there were likely several instances of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda throughout the 1990s, but that these contacts did not add up to an established formal relationship."

No established formal relationship. That assessment, of course, hardly precludes cooperation--or "linkage" or "ties" or a "connection," though Al Gore, Bill Clinton, and John Edwards denied in recent days that these existed between al Qaeda and Iraq, and news reports echoed the Democrats.

With the absence of large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction, a new conventional wisdom has emerged. Saddam Hussein was contained, in his box. The Iraqi Intelligence Service, active in crushing internal dissent, was essentially inactive outside Iraq's borders. The bottom line: Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not a threat.

The text of the Senate report tells a very different story. The panel based much of its analysis on a CIA product published in January 2003 called Iraqi Support for Terrorism--the most restrained of five CIA reports on Iraq and terror. The findings will surprise Americans who have relied for their information about the Iraqi threat on the establishment news media.

Iraq continues to be a safehaven, transit point, or operational node for groups and individuals who direct violence against the United States, Israel, and other allies. Iraq has a long history of supporting terrorism. During the last four decades, it has altered its targets to reflect changing priorities and goals. It continues to harbor and sustain a number of smaller anti-Israel terrorist groups and to actively encourage violence against Israel. Regarding the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship, reporting from sources of varying credibility points to a number of contacts, incidents of training, and discussions of Iraqi safehaven for Osama bin Laden and his organization dating from the early 1990s.

The Senate report summarized the findings on Iraqi Intelligence support for terrorism this way: "The CIA provided 78 reports, from multiple sources, [redacted] documenting instances in which the Iraqi regime either trained operatives for attacks or dispatched them to carry out attacks....Iraq continued to participate in terrorist attacks throughout the 1990s." No wonder the Clinton administration cited Iraqi support for terrorism as one of the main reasons that Saddam Hussein's regime posed a threat to the United States.

Again, from the Senate report:

From 1996 to 2003, the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] focused its terrorist activities on western interests, particularly against the U.S. and Israel. The CIA summarized nearly 50 intelligence reports as examples, using language directly from the intelligence reports. Ten intelligence reports, [redacted] from multiple sources, indicated IIS "casing" operations against Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in Prague began in 1998 and continued into early 2003. The CIA assessed, based on the Prague casings and a variety of other reporting, that throughout 2002, the IIS was becoming increasingly aggressive in planning attacks against U.S. interests. The CIA provided eight reports to support this assessment.

For seven years, then, Iraq "focused its terrorist activities on western interests" including those of the United States. And throughout 2002, at a time when one might expect the Iraqis to lower their terrorist profile so as to avoid becoming the next target in the war on terror, Iraqi Intelligence "was becoming increasingly aggressive in planning attacks against U.S. interests."

The Senate report goes on to detail Iraqi support and funding for a variety of anti-Israel groups. According to one report from a foreign government service, the Iraqis provided "approximately $10 million to $15 million" to the families of suicide bombers. In another surprising detail, the report indicates that Iraq even reached out to Hezbollah, a terrorist organization with close ties to Iran, the regime's chief regional enemy. Hezbollah is said to have rejected the Iraqi overtures.