The Blog

The Omission Commission

The 9/11 Commission Report failed to make any mention of Iraqi operations in Germany that might have been connected to al Qaeda.

12:00 AM, Aug 17, 2005 • By EDWARD MORRISSEY
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The Germans did not arrest these Iraqi operatives on a whim. Their counterintelligence operations had tracked them for some time before closing in and capturing the two. At the time, American and British forces had launched air raids on radar stations in Iraq's no-fly zones and the assumption was that the Iraqis may have wanted to hit American forces stationed in Heidelberg in retaliation. However, by March 16, a Paris-based Arabic newspaper had developed more information on the arrests. The Middle East Intelligence Bulletin summarized the report from al-Watan al-Arabi:

Al-Watan al-Arabi (Paris) reports that two Iraqis were arrested in Germany, charged with spying for Baghdad. The arrests came in the wake of reports that Iraq was reorganizing the external branches of its intelligence service and that it had drawn up a plan to strike at US interests around the world through a network of alliances with extremist fundamentalist parties.

The most serious report contained information that Iraq and Osama bin Ladin were working together. German authorities were surprised by the arrest of the two Iraqi agents and the discovery of Iraqi intelligence activities in several German cities. German authorities, acting on CIA recommendations, had been focused on monitoring the activities of Islamic groups linked to bin Ladin. They discovered the two Iraqi agents by chance and uncovered what they considered to be serious indications of cooperation between Iraq and bin Ladin. The matter was considered so important that a special team of CIA and FBI agents was sent to Germany to interrogate the two Iraqi spies.

Interestingly, journalists such as Amir Taheri considered al-Watan al-Arabi to be a pro-Saddam publication--not surprising given its Parisian readership. Despite its reporting against its presumed interests, the al-Watan al-Arabi article generated no interest either at the time or afterwards. A scan of the Commission report finds no mention of these arrests in Heidelberg, nor any of the CIA or FBI interviews reported by al-Watan al-Arabi.

Why should any of this have mattered to the 9/11 Commission? Their report provides the most important reason: The 9/11 plot began its practical planning in Hamburg, beginning in 1999 and assisting Mohammed Atta and the other 9/11 plotters through the summer of 2001. Having discovered two Iraqi intelligence agents conducting "missions . . . in a number of German towns since the beginning of 2001" indicates at least the possibility of more than just a sabotage assignment. Even apart from the al-Watan al-Arabi reporting, the strange coincidence of discovering Iraqi intelligence operations in such close conjunction to known al Qaeda operations should have raised some eyebrows.

If the 9/11 report is any indication, no one on the Commission considered this connection. In fact, no one knows whether or not the Commission even knew about these arrests. In the years following the 9/11 attacks, there has been much argument about the nature of Saddam Hussein's connections to terror. How could the U.S. government and the 9/11 Commission fail to consider this, given the other activity occurring in Germany during this period:

* Mohammed Atta and Ramzi Binalshibh meet in Berlin in January 2001 for a progress meeting, around the same time German counterintelligence claimed that they picked up the Iraqi trail.

* Ziad Jarrah, another of the crucial al Qaeda pilots, transits between Beirut and Florida through Germany twice during the 2000-2001 holiday season, flying back to the United States at the end of February.

* Marwan al-Shehhi disappears in Casablanca, then constructs a cover story about living in Hamburg.

In fact, the Commission report notes that three of the four al Qaeda team leaders (excepting Hani Hanjour, who had at that time just begun his pilot training) interrupted their planning to take foreign trips (page 244). Why would these men interrupt their preparations in this manner? Traveling in and out of the United States presented a risk--a manageable risk, as events proved--but having three of the four team leaders outside of their established cells at the same time looks unnecessarily foolhardy from al Qaeda's point of view. It also appears to be the only time after their first entry into the United States that this travel occurred. All three had some German connection to their trips. In fact, Jarrah left Germany the same week that the Germans captured the Iraqi agents.