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Paul Pillar Speaks, Again

The latest CIA attack on the Bush administration is nothing new.

3:15 PM, Feb 10, 2006 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Pillar omits several significant facts: the U.S. intelligence community had evidence that suggested the VX precursor (known as EMPTA) was of Iraqi provenance; the U.S. government had intercepted phone calls between administrators of that plant and an Iraqi chemical weapons expert named Emad al Ani; the CIA had intelligence that Iraqis had worked with the Sudanese, and through them bin Laden, to develop chemical weapons at several sites throughout Sudan.

Consider: In a January 23, 1999, article in the Washington Post, then-National Security Council counterterrorism director Richard Clarke, no friend of the Bush administration, defended the Clinton administration strikes on al Shifa and said that "intelligence exists linking bin Laden to al Shifa's current and past operators, the Iraqi nerve gas experts and the National Islamic Front in Sudan." In an email he sent on November 4, 1998, to National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and made public by the 9/11 Commission, Clarke concluded that the presence of Iraqi chemical experts in Sudan was "probably a direct result of the Iraq-Al Qaeda agreement," whereby bin Laden promised not to agitate against the Iraqi regime and Saddam Hussein pledged assistance on weapons development.

Senior Clinton administration and intelligence officials defend the strikes to this day by citing Iraqi connections to the plant. President Clinton's secretary of Defense, William Cohen, testified before the 9/11 Commission that there were "multiple, reinforcing elements of information ranging from links that the organization that built the facility [al Shifa] had both with bin Laden and with the leadership of the Iraqi chemical weapons program." Said Cohen: "The owner of the plant had traveled to Baghdad to meet with the father of the VX program."

In an interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD in October 2004, former chairman of the National Intelligence Council, John Gannon said: "The consistent stream of intelligence at that time said it wasn't just al Shifa. There were three different [chemical weapons] structures in the Sudan. There was the hiring of Iraqis. There was no question that the Iraqis were there."

9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Kean made the same points in a separate interview with THE WEEKLY STANDARD. "Top officials--Bill Clinton, Sandy Berger, and others--told us with absolute certainty that there were chemical weapons of mass destruction at that factory, and that's why we sent missiles." Kean added: "We still can't say for certain that the chemicals were there. If they're right and there was stuff there, then it had to come from Iraq. They're the ones who had the stuff, who had this technology."

How is it that Paul Pillar could write about the al Shifa attacks without making mention of the facts of Iraqi involvement with the plant? Simple: They are inconvenient to his theories about the relationships between states and terrorists.

Paul Pillar's political attacks on the Bush administration's use of intelligence are not particularly surprising. They are not entirely accurate and, given that he has leveled the same charges for years--both in private and in public--they hardly qualify as news.

Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.