Friday, July 23, 2004

Against All Credibility

Since coming forward earlier this year as a bitter critic of the Bush Administration's handling of the war on Islamist terrorism, former NSC counterterrorism head Richard Clarke has been adamant in insisting that Iraq and al-Qaeda had nothing to do with each other. As he told 60 Minutes in March 2004:

"And I said, 'Paul, there hasn't been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States in eight years!' And I turned to the deputy director of the CIA and said, 'Isn't that right?' And he said, 'Yeah, that's right. There is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States."

Clarke went on to add, "There's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever."

Source: CBS News Web site

Unfortunately, for Mr. Clarke, both the Senate Intelligence Committee report, and the 9/11 Commission report show these claims to be absurd. The Senate report summarized the CIA's early 2003 assessment of Iraqi involvement in terrorism as follows (source links are PDF):

Iraq continues to be a safehaven, transit point, or operational node for groups and individuals who direct violence against the United States, Israel,and other allies. Iraq has a long history of supporting terrorism. During the last four decades, it has altered its targets to reflect changing priorities and goals. It continues to harbor and sustain a number of smaller anti-Israel terrorist groups and to actively encourage violence against Israel. Regarding the Iraq-al-Qaida relationship, reporting from sources of varying reliability points to a number of contacts, incidents of training, and discussions of Iraqi safehaven for Usama bin Ladin and his organization dating from the early 1990s.

Source: Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, p.314

The Senate intelligence report also reveals that the threat of Iraqi terrorism directed against the US was worth taking seriously:

From 1996 to 2003,the IIS focused its terrorist activities on western interests, particularly against the U.S.and Israel. The CIA summarized nearly 50 intelligence reports as examples,using language directly from the intelligence reports. Ten intelligence reports, (redacted) from multiple sources,indicated IIS "casing" operations against Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty in Prague began in 1998 and continued into early 2003. The CIA assessed, based on the Prague casings and a variety of other reporting that throughout 2002, the IIS was becoming increasingly aggressive in planning attacks against U.S. interests.

Source: Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the U.S. Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, p.316

In light of such intelligence, it is hard to believe that any responsible official could have categorically stated "[t]here is no Iraqi terrorism against the United States". In fact, the 9/11 report in particular reveals that Clarke took the possibility of Iraq-al Qaeda ties much more seriously than he claims to have in his book and TV appearances. Here are two examples:

On November 4, 1998, the U.S. Attorney ’s Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed its indictment of Bin Ladin, charging him with conspiracy to attack U.S. defense installations. The indictment also charged that al Qaeda had allied itself with Sudan, Iran, and Hezbollah. The original sealed indictment had added that al Qaeda had "reached an understanding with the government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects,specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq."109 This passage led Clarke,who for years had read intelligence reports on Iraqi-Sudanese cooperation on chemical weapons, to speculate to Berger that a large Iraqi presence at chemical facilities in Khartoum was "probably a direct result of the Iraq –Al Qida agreement." Clarke added that VX precursor traces found near al Shifa were the "exact formula used by Iraq."110

Source: The 9/11 Commission Report, p.128.

In February 1999, Allen proposed flying a U-2 mission over Afghanistan to build a baseline of intelligence outside the areas where the tribals had coverage. Clarke was nervous about such a mission because he continued to fear that Bin Ladin might leave for someplace less accessible. He wrote Deputy National Security Advisor Donald Kerrick that one reliable source reported Bin Ladin ’s having met with Iraqi officials,who "may have offered him asylum." Other intelligence sources said that some Taliban leaders, though not Mullah Omar, had urged Bin Ladin to go to Iraq. If Bin Ladin actually moved to Iraq, wrote Clarke, his network would be at Saddam Hussein ’s service,and it would be "virtually impossible" to find him. Better to get Bin Ladin in Afghanistan, Clarke declared.134 Berger suggested sending one U-2 flight, but Clarke opposed even this. It would require Pakistani approval, he wrote; and "Pak[istan ’s ] intel[ligence service ] is in bed with "Bin Ladin and would warn him that the United States was getting ready for a bombing campaign:" Armed with that knowledge, old wily Usama will likely boogie to Baghdad."135 Though told also by Bruce Riedel of the NSC staff that Saddam Hussein wanted Bin Ladin in Baghdad, Berger conditionally authorized a single U-2 flight.

Source: The 9/11 Commission Report, p.134.

So the same Richard Clarke who has categorically stated that "[t]here's absolutely no evidence that Iraq was supporting al Qaeda, ever", was worried in 1999 that Osama was going to "boogie to Baghdad" and hang with Saddam. Nope, no credibility problems here.

Some sources, links, and quotes courtesy of the following: 

Stephen Hayes, "Only Connect", the Weekly Standard, August 2, 2004

Jon Henke, "9/11 Commission Report: Iraq",  QandO, July 23, 2004 

Byron York, "Boogie to Baghdad", National Review Online, July 23, 2004 


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