"More Than Enough Evidence"
What George Tenet really says about Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda.
12:00 AM, May 1, 2007 • By THOMAS JOSCELYN
It strains credulity to imagine that all of this was going on without, at the very least, Saddam's tacit approval. Tenet says that the CIA did not think Saddam had "operational direction and control" over the two Egyptians, Zarqawi, or AI. But he explains, "from an intelligence point of view it would have been difficult to conclude that the Iraqi intelligence service was not aware of their activities." "Certainly," Tenet adds, "we believe that at least one senior AI operative maintained some sort of liaison relationship with the Iraqis."
There was more. Tenet says that his analysts found evidence of a relationship spanning more than a decade. He explains:
As has been discussed in THE WEEKLY STANDARD on a number of occasions, the CIA also uncovered evidence that Iraq and al Qaeda were cooperating on chemical weapons projects in the Sudan. The Clinton administration cited the CIA's intelligence to justify the August 20, 1998, strike on the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory. That strike was launched in retaliation for al Qaeda's August 7, 1998, embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The al-Shifa plant operated under an Iraqi oil-for-food contract and Tenet's CIA suspected it of being one of several front companies at which Iraq was transferring chemical weapons technology (including VX nerve gas) to al Qaeda.
Tenet explains the long history of collaboration between Iraq, Sudan, and al Qaeda:
Tenet also offers his thoughts on the detention of Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, "a senior military trainer for al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan." When al-Libi was first detained he "offered up information that a militant known as Abu Abudullah had told him that at least three times between 1997 and 2000, the now-deceased al-Qa'ida leader Mohammed Atef had sent Abu Abdullah to Iraq to seek training in poisons and mustard gas." Later, al-Libi recanted his testimony. Controversy then ensued. Critics of the Iraq war have seized on al-Libi's reversal and claim that his admissions were made under duress, and are therefore dubious.
But Tenet says "there was sharp division on his recantation" inside the CIA. Al-Libi "clearly lied," Tenet says, but we don't know when. Either his initial confession or his later denial could be accurate. Tenet concludes: "The fact is, we don't know which story is true, and since we don't know, we can assume nothing."
But Tenet adds an additional detail that he says lent credence to al-Libi's initial confession: "Another senior al-Qa'ida detainee told us that Mohammed Atef was interested in expanding al-Qa'ida's ties to Iraq, which, in our eyes, added credibility to [al-Libi's initial] reporting."