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"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
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There was also concern that these two might be planning operations outside Iraq. Credible information told us that Shihata was willing to strike U.S., Israeli, and Egyptian targets sometime in the future. Shihata had been linked to terrorist operations in North Africa, and while in Afghanistan he had trained North Africans in the use of truck bombs. Smoke indeed. But how much fire, if any?

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:

In the laborious exercise undertaken by analysts to understand the history of a potential Iraq-al Qa'ida relationship, they went back and documented the basis of a variety of sources--some good, some secondhand, some hearsay, many from other intelligence services. There were, over a decade, a number of possible high-level contacts between Iraq and al-Qa'ida, through high-level and third-party intermediaries. Our data told us that at various points there were discussions of cooperation, safe haven, training, and reciprocal nonaggression.

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:

During the mid-1990s, Sudanese Islamic Front Leader Hasan al-Turabi reportedly served as a conduit for Bin Ladin between Iraq and Iran. Turabi in this period was trying to become the centerpiece of the Sunni extremist world. He was hosting conferences and facilitating the travel of North Africans to Hezbollah training camps in the Bekaa Valley, in Lebanon. There was concern that common interests may have existed in this period between Iraq, Bin Ladin, and the Sudanese, particularly with regard to the production of chemical weapons. The reports we evaluated told us of high-level Iraqi intelligence service contacts with Bin Ladin himself, though we never knew the outcome of these contacts. [Emphasis added]

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."