MICHAEL SCHEUER, head of the CIA's bin Laden unit and until recently a senior analyst, said something remarkable last week on Hardball with Chris Matthews.
Scheuer told Matthews that he "happened to do the research on links between al Qaeda and Iraq," and Matthews asked him, "and what did you come up with?"
It was a strange and troubling response. As Thomas Joscelyn points out, Scheuer argued in his 2002 book, Through Our Enemies Eyes, that Iraq and al Qaeda worked together regularly. His claims were unequivocal. A few examples:
[Bin Laden] "made a connection with Iraq's intelligence service through its Khartoum station." (p. 119).
In Sudan, Bin Laden decided to acquire and, when possible, use chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) weapons against Islam's enemies. Bin Laden's first moves in this direction were made in cooperation with NIF [Sudan's National Islamic Front], Iraq's intelligence service and Iraqi CBRN scientists and technicians. He made contact with Baghdad with its intelligence officers in Sudan and by a [Hassan] Turabi-brokered June-1994 visit by Iraq's then-intelligence chief Faruq al-Hijazi; according to Milan's Corriere della Sera, Saddam, in 1994, made Hijazi responsible for "nurturing Iraq's ties to [Islamic] fundamentalist warriors. Turabi had plans to formulate a "common strategy" with bin Laden and Iraq for subverting pro-U.S. Arab regimes, but the meeting was a get-acquainted session where Hijazi and bin Laden developed a good rapport that would "flourish" in the late 1990s. (p. 124)
There is information showing that in the 1993-1994 period bin Laden began to work with Sudan and Iraq to acquire a CBRN capability for al Qaeda. (p. 124)
Regarding Iraq, bin Laden, as noted, was in contact with Baghdad's intelligence service since at least 1994. He reportedly cooperated with it in the area of chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear [CBRN] weapons and may have trained some fighters in Iraq at camps run by Saddam's anti-Iran force, the Mujahedin al-Khalq. (p. 184)
In pursuing tactical nuclear weapons, bin Laden has focused on the FSU (former Soviet Union) states and has sought and received help from Iraq. (p. 190)
We know for certain that bin Laden was seeking CBRN [chemical-biological-radiological-nuclear] weapons . . . and that Iraq and Sudan have been cooperating with bin Laden on CBRN weapon acquisition and development. (p. 192)
So how can Scheuer now say Iraq and al Qaeda did not collaborate? Tim Russert noted that Scheuer seems "to lay out a pretty strong case of connection between al Qaeda and Iraq," and asked him about the apparent contradiction on Meet the Press. Here is the entire exchange:
Russert: So you saw a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden?
Scheuer: I certainly saw a link when I was writing the books in terms of the open-source literature, unclassified literature, but I had nothing to do with Iraq during my professional career until the run-up to the war. What I was talking about on "Hardball" was I was assigned the duty of going back about nine or 10 years in the classified archives of the CIA. I went through roughly 19,000 documents, probably totaling 50,000 to 60,000 pages, and within that corpus of material, there was absolutely no connection in the terms of a--in terms of a relationship--in the terms of a relationship . . .
Russert: But your book did point out some contacts?
Scheuer: Certainly it was available in the open-source material, yes, sir.
This is nonsense. Scheuer would have us believe that although he never saw an Iraq-al Qaeda connection in the classified intelligence as head of the bin Laden unit, he wrote a book in 2002 including numerous examples of that connection based solely on open sources. Is it true that Scheuer did not see classified intelligence about the Iraq-al Qaeda relationship before 2002? That seems highly unlikely.
The Clinton administration cited intelligence on Iraq-al Qaeda to justify its strikes on the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in the Sudan on August 20, 1998. Those officials stand by their decision today. Former Defense Secretary William Cohen told the September 11 Commission that he saw intelligence that the head of the al Shifa plant traveled to Baghdad to meet with the head of Iraq's VX nerve gas program. Such intelligence also led the Clinton Administration to include the Iraq-al Qaeda connection in its first indictment of bin Laden.
Scheuer implies--but does not say directly--that he now believes the open source information is wrong. Would he have written that he was "certain" that Iraq provided WMD assistance to al Qaeda based solely on reports in an Italian newspaper or in other open sources? (I wonder if Scheuer plans to write a new introduction to that book to alert readers that he now considers several important passages to be dead wrong.)
Just for the sake of argument, let's take Scheuer's comments yesterday at face value. Let's assume that he based the conclusions in his 2002 book solely on open sources and that he has since looked through 19,000 pages of classified material that gives not so much as a hint of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection. If he's right, then the intelligence failure on Iraq is far greater than we have thus far realized.
Consider what we have learned since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003. I will include in this list only those facts that are beyond dispute--things we've learned from captured documents authenticated by U.S. intelligence and in debriefings with senior Iraqi intelligence officials.
We know that Iraqi Intelligence officials reported in 1992 that Osama bin Laden was an Iraqi intelligence an "asset" that had "good relations" with the Iraqi intelligence station in Syria. We know that Sudanese government officials met with Uday Hussein at bin Laden's behest in 1994 to discuss cooperation on bin Laden's behalf. We know that deputy Iraqi intelligence director Faruq Hijazi met with bin laden, at least twice. We know that Saddam agreed to air anti-Saudi propaganda on Iraqi national television. We know that the Iraqis considered the numerous "contacts" with bin laden a "relationship"--as revealed in their internal documents. We know that in the mid-1990s an internal Iraqi intelligence memo revealed that Saddam sought "further cooperation" with al Qaeda. And we know that meetings between high-level al Qaeda terrorists and senior Iraqi intelligence officials took place throughout 1998.
Would Scheuer have us believe that there was nothing--"absolutely no connection in terms of a relationship," to use his words--in the 50,000 to 60,000 pages of classified intelligence that he recently reviewed? If so, the intelligence failures on Iraq are far greater than anyone has imagined.
One final point: Scheuer told Russert that he "had nothing to do with Iraq during my professional career until the run-up to the war." That is a jaw-dropping admission. And it might go along way to explaining why, despite the mounting evidence of a significant relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, the CIA for years overlooked or downplayed it.
We now know that the CIA never penetrated the inner circle of either Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein. We know this because senior U.S. intelligence officials have admitted it.
And now Scheuer tells us that in all of his analytical work on bin Laden he never looked at Iraq until shortly before the war.
Porter Goss has a big job to do.
Stephen F. Hayes is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.