The Blog

The DIA and CIA Go MIA

It's bad enough that the media doesn't follow the connection between Saddam and Osama. Where's the American intelligence community?

11:50 AM, Jul 18, 2005 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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The allegations include charges that Ansar al-Islam has received funds directly from Al Qaeda; that the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein has joint control, with Al Qaeda operatives, over Ansar al-Islam; that Saddam Hussein hosted a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Baghdad in 1992; that a number of Al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan have been secretly brought into territory controlled by Ansar al-Islam; and that Iraqi intelligence agents smuggled conventional weapons, and possibly even chemical and biological weapons, into Afghanistan. If these charges are true, it would mean that the relationship between Saddam's regime and Al Qaeda is far closer than previously thought.

More than six months later, the CIA still had not followed up on the reporting. According to an article that appeared September 10, 2002, in the Washington Post:

The Kurdish Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, an anti-Hussein group in northern Iraq, says it has jailed 15 to 20 al Qaeda members and was surprised that no one from the U.S. government has come to interrogate them. One senior counterterrorism official confirmed that the CIA knew of the detentions and that U.S. officials have not interrogated the prisoners. "We really don't know whether they are under al Qaeda or Saddam's control," the official said. "Ansar trained in Afghan camps. They used Afghanistan as their headquarters. It's tough to nail down the other details. It's not implausible that they are working with Saddam. His intel links into northern Iraq are very strong."

It was only tough to nail down those other details because the CIA didn't try.

Still, the intelligence community seems to have understood that Saddam Hussein was not out of the terrorism business. But they were nonetheless not focused on Iraqi support for terrorism because of the assumption that the Iraqi Intelligence service would not conduct attacks. That's hardly comforting.

If the response of the DIA to Lesley Stahl in any indication, it appears that little has changed. The DIA believes the Iraqi Intelligence document listing Osama bin Laden as an asset is "authentic but of little significance because it doesn't spell out what the relationship with Osama bin Laden was or what he did, if anything, for the Iraqis."

Again, that's not comforting. If the DIA were serious about understanding the relationship between the former Iraqi regime and al Qaeda, such a document might provoke any number of questions.

How did the Iraqis get bin Laden's name? Did bin Laden know that he was considered an Iraqi Intelligence asset? Who were the Iraqi Intelligence officials in Syria who had good relations with bin Laden? Did they stay in touch after 1992? The list goes on.

It is bad enough that the U.S. intelligence community took so little interest in the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship while it was developing. It is inexcusable that the lack of interest persists.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard and author of The Connection (HarperCollins).