WHEN MICHAEL SCHEUER, the first head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, first emerged into public view almost a year ago, it was a curiosity how he could appear in the media--time after time--claiming that there was no evidence of a relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda. It was curious because, in 2002, Scheuer wrote the book Through Our Enemies' Eyes, in which he cited numerous pieces of evidence showing that there was, in fact, a working relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. That evidence directly contradicted his criticism of the intelligence that led this nation into the Iraq war, which he called a "Christmas present" for bin Laden. Yet in that first blush of attention, no interviewer was willing to question Scheuer about this contraction.
For example, on the November 16, 2004 edition of Hardball, Chris Matthews gave Scheuer a pass when he said that he had found "nothing" connecting Iraq and al Qaeda.
Almost one year later, little has changed. Scheuer appeared on Hardball once again yesterday (November 9, 2005) and had the following exchange with Matthews concerning the recent terror attacks in Jordan (emphasis added):
MATTHEWS: Michael, just to think outside the box, would we be better off with Saddam Hussein still running tyrannically that country of Iraq, right next door to Jordan? Would Jordan be more secure in that environment?
SCHEUER: No doubt about it, sir.
MATTHEWS: No doubt?
SCHEUER: There'd be many more dead--many fewer dead Americans, and we would have many more resources available to annihilate al Qaeda, which is what we have to do. Without a doubt, in the war against al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein was one of our best allies.
MATTHEWS: How so?
SCHEUER: He was not going to permit Iraq to become a base, as it is today, for Sunni fundamentalists.
MATTHEWS: Why did he let them come in for that training, that chemical training, whatever the hell they did up north?
SCHEUER: They didn't control the area, so that was in the no-fly zone. They were in an area that was in Kurdistan.
SCHEUER: And they were Shia.
IN THE "war against al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein was one of our best allies?" Really? Perhaps Matthews should look at pages 124-125, 184, 188-190, and 192 of Through Our Enemies' Eyes. Does Scheuer's analysis on those pages suggest that Saddam Hussein was "one of our best allies" against al Qaeda? Hardly.
Scheuer now, of course, recants his previous testimony. But Matthews would still be well served to consider passages such as these, which Scheuer wrote just a few years ago:
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 e-Khalq (MEK). The first group of bin Laden's fighters is reported to have been sent to the MEK camps in June 1998; MEK cadre also were then providing technical and military training for Taliban forces and running the Taliban's anti-Iran propaganda.
Other laboratory and production facilities available to bin Laden are reported in the Khowst and Jalalabad areas, and in the Khartoum suburb of Kubar. The latter facility is said to be a "new chemical and bacteriological factory" cooperatively built by Sudan, bin Laden, and Iraq, and may be one of several in Sudan. In January 1999, Al-Watan Al-Arabi reported that by late 1998, "Iraq, Sudan, and bin Laden were cooperating and coordinating in the field of chemical weapons." The reports say that several chemical factories were built in Sudan. They were financed by bin Laden and supervised by Iraqi experts.
In pursuing tactical nuclear weapons, bin Laden has focused on the FSU [Former Soviet Union] states and has sought and received help from Iraq.
We know for certain that bin Laden was seeking CBRN weapons . . . and that Iraq and Sudan have been cooperating with bin Laden on CBRN weapon acquisition and development. On the last point, Milan's Corriere della Sera reported that in late 1998 that Iraq's ambassador to Turkey and former intelligence chief, Faruk Hidjazi, met bin Laden in Kandahar on 21 December 1998. The daily said Hidjazi offered bin Laden sanctuary in Iraq, stressing that Baghdad would not forget bin Laden's protests against U.S.-U.K. air attacks on Iraq. Whether Hidjazi discussed CBRN issues with bin Laden is unknown, but is [sic] interesting to note that Al-Watan Al-Arabi reported that in October 1998 the Iraqis "suggested to bin Laden to involve [in his search for CBRN weapons] elements from the Russian Mafia who were above suspicion." It was learned that these trusted elements were Red Army officers who established ties of friendship and trust with officers in the Iraqi army in the past when Iraqi army and intelligence officers used to go to the Soviet Union for training courses and Moscow sent its military specialists to Baghdad.
There is also abundant evidence that Scheuer's other claims are meaningless. That the northern part of Iraq, where hundreds of al Qaeda terrorists took refuge, was not formally under Saddam's control is a given. But there is still plenty of evidence that these al Qaeda terrorists, who went after Saddam's enemies among the Kurds and not Saddam's forces, received Saddam's support. (See, for example, here.)
Scheuer's claim that the al Qaeda terrorists who relocated to northern Iraq and received WMD training were "Shia" is also contradicted by the evidence. One of these terrorists was al Qaeda's rising star, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, who briefly led one of al Qaeda's camps in northern Iraq. Zarqawi is renowned for his vehement hatred of the Shia.
One year later Michael Scheuer is still making media appearances.
And one year later interviewers such as Matthews still don't play hardball with him.
Thomas Joscelyn is an economist and writer living in New York.