In an upcoming Weekly Standard piece, Steve Hayes writes:
For two years Senator Carl Levin of Michigan has led the Democratic assault on the credibility of Bush Administration's claim of an Iraq-al Qaeda connection. It is worth moment to examine his credibility on these same issues.
In the months after the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, Levin repeatedly accused the Bush Administration of pressuring intelligence officials to reach conclusions that supported the case for war. He provided an example in an appearance on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on June 16, 2003. "We were told by the intelligence community that there was a very strong link between Iraq and al Qaeda."
But Levin's allegations were undermined as the Senate Intelligence Committee interviewed analysts to determine whether they were pressured to change their analyses. None of the analysts supported his claim, a finding that was later confirmed in the Phase I report.
So Levin adjusted his allegation. "The intel didn't say that there is a direct connection between al Qaeda and Iraq," he said in an appearance on Fox News on February 2, 2004. "That was not the intel. That's what this administration exaggerated to produce."
So which is it? Did the intelligence claim a "very strong link" or no direct connection?
At his press conference last week, Levin went even further. "The intelligence was not far off as it related to the nonexistent relationship between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein."
Carl Levin may believe that there was no relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. But his claims are at odds with the views of the CIA.
As noted above, the CIA assessed in Iraqi Support for Terrorism that "the most disturbing aspect of the relationship is the dozen or so reports of varying reliability mentioning the involvement of Iraq or Iraqi nationals in al Qaeda's efforts to obtain CBW training." [emphasis added].
Fortunately, we are no longer reliant on Carl Levin's claims or even CIA analyses for our understanding of the Iraq-al Qaeda connection. Documents uncovered in postwar Iraq allow us to test Levin's views and CIA prewar assessments against the words and deeds of the former Iraqi regime.
On June 25, 2004, The New York Times reported on an internal Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) document that discussed relations between Saddam Hussein's regime and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda. The document, authenticated by the U.S. intelligence community, reports on meetings between bin Laden emissaries and Uday Hussein in 1994. The document further reports that the Iraqi regime agreed to a request from bin Laden to broadcast sermons from an anti-Saudi cleric. The IIS document advises that "cooperation between the two organizations should be allowed to develop freely through discussion and agreement." And when bin Laden was ousted from Sudan in 1996, the document reports that Iraqis were "seeking other channels through which to handle the relationship."
All of which makes one thing clear: Carl Levin may still believe there was no relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.
But the Iraqis, who might have had unique insight into such matters, certainly did.
To be continued.