The Magazine

How Bad Is the Senate
Intelligence Report?

Very bad.

Sep 25, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 02 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

A statement from Saddam's Baath party on November 8, 1998, called for "the highest levels of jihad" against American interests. "The escalation of the confrontation and the disclosure of its dimensions and the aggressive intentions now require an organized, planned, influential and conclusive enthusiasm against U.S. interests."

And Saddam Hussein celebrated the attacks on September 11, 2001. "The American cowboys are reaping the fruit of their crimes against humanity," he declared just days after the worst terrorist attack on American soil.

These are just four examples out of dozens. Despite his claims to the contrary, Saddam Hussein regarded the United States as an enemy. And for years he demonstrated his willingness to work with Islamists by, among other things, working with Islamists. The Senate report fails to provide any of this contextual balance to the denials of detained Iraqi officials. It is a revealing omission that raises serious doubts about the quality of the reporting throughout the 52 pages examining Iraq's links to al Qaeda.

There is much to quarrel with in the report. But it is worth spending a moment to consider the vast amount of information that was left out of the committee's treatment of Iraq's links to al Qaeda. A few examples:

There is no mention in the report of Abdul Rahman Yasin, an Iraqi who admitted mixing the chemicals for the bomb used in the 1993 World Trade Center attack, cited in the July 2004 Senate report as an al Qaeda operation. The mastermind of that attack, Ramzi Yousef, is the nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Two weeks after the bombing, according a July 2004 report issued by the same Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Yasin fled to Iraq with Iraqi assistance. ABC News reported in 1994 that a Baghdad neighbor of Yasin's told them that he travels freely and "works for the government."

There is no mention of documents recovered in postwar Iraq confirming that the Iraqi regime provided Yasin with housing and funding after his return to Iraq until the beginning of the Iraq War in 2003. Vice President Dick Cheney has discussed these documents in television and radio interviews.

There is no mention of documents unearthed by reporters with the Toronto Star and the London Telegraph. The documents, expense reports from the Iraqi Intelligence Service, contain an exchange of memos between IIS officers about who will pay for a March 1998 trip to Baghdad by a "trusted confidante" of Osama bin Laden. The documents were provided to the U.S. intelligence community. "I have no doubt that what we found is the real thing," wrote Mitch Potter, a reporter for the Toronto Star, and one of the journalists who found the documents in the bombed-out headquarters of the Iraqi Intelligence Service days after the fall of Baghdad. Intelligence and military sources tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that the documents are corroborated by telephone intercepts from March 1998.

There is no mention of documents showing that the Iraqi regime cultivated a relationship with bin Laden's chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, throughout the 1990s. Time magazine's Joe Klein, an Iraq War critic who is dubious of a broader Iraq-al Qaeda relationship, noted last week: "Documents indicate that Saddam had long-term, low-level ties with regional terrorist groups--including Ayman al-Zawahiri, dating back to his time with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. There is strong evidence as well that elements of the Special Republican Guard ran terrorist training camps." (One quibble: Is it possible for the leader of Iraq to have "low-level" ties with the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad?) The 9/11 Commission reported that Zawahiri "had ties of his own to the Iraqis." In June 2003, U.S. News & World Report described what a defense official called a "potentially significant link" between Iraq and al Qaeda that came, at that early date, from a single source. "A captured senior member of the Mukhabarat, Iraq's intelligence service, has told interrogators about meetings between Iraqi intelligence officials and top members of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a group that merged with al Qaeda in the 1990s. The prisoner also described $300,000 in Iraqi transfers to the organization to pay for attacks in Egypt. The transfers were said to have been authorized by Saddam Hussein."