Today’s story on the testimony of DCI George Tenet to the Senate Armed Services Committee will no doubt occasion further discussion of evidence concerning the Iraq/al Qaeda connection. In the meantime, to put this story in context, consider Laurie Mylroie’s Iraq Newsletter today:
Readers will recall an earlier “60 Minutes” blunder on Iraq, when it claimed, based on Ron Suskind’s book on Paul O’Neill, that the Bush administration planned the Iraq War long before 9/11 and there were documents to prove it. [Here’s the link to our post on Mylroie’s exposure of the Suskind hoax.]
Last Sunday’s program was nearly as egregious. It included a segment which featured Ahmad Chalabi, head of the INC Chalabi defended the information the INC had provided regarding 1) Iraq’s links to al Qaida and 2) Iraq’s weapons programs.
Chalabi revealed that the INC had discovered an Iraqi document, linking Iraqi intelligence to Usama bin Ladin. Dated March 28, 1992, the document listed scores of Iraqi agents in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Reading from the document, Chalabi showed Leslie Stahl that it described “the Saudi, Usama bin Ladin” as an agent whom Iraqi intelligence had re-contacted. Leslie Stahl questioned the document’s authenticity. Chalabi replied that it was initialed by four Iraqi intelligence officials and the INC knew who they were.
“60 Minutes” subsequently asked the Defense Intelligence Agency (which runs the INC program) about the document. The DIA confirmed it was authentic. But the DIA dismissed it as being of “little significance,” because “it does not spell out what the relationship with Usama bin Ladin was or what, if anything, he did for the Iraqis.”
That is typical of how the U.S. intelligence community has dealt with the information suggesting an Iraqi link to terrorism, al Qaida, and even 9/11. It refuses to pursue leads or connect dots in a reasonable way. Prior to 9/11, the dominant view within the IC was that al Qaida represented a new form of stateless terrorism. That was also the view promoted by the Clinton White House, above all terrorism czar, Richard Clarke. To acknowledge that Iraqi intelligence worked with al Qaida is tantamount to acknowledging that all these people made a tremendous blunder–and they are just not going to do it.
Yet U.S. soldiers are daily asked to risk life and limb in Iraq. They are certainly entitled to understand why. Moreover, the war is not over. The question of whether significant contacts exist between Iraqi intelligence and Arab militants is important to fighting the ongoing insurgency. Lest we forget, over 500 US soldiers have died and several thousand have been wounded, many quite seriously, in this conflict. [Here Mylroie provides this link.]
The intelligence problem within the Defense Department is no less than that within the CIA. How can it be that one part of the US government is asked to make the sacrifices we ask of the GI’s, while another part–indeed another part of the same department–just goes on covering its posterior, to borrow a phrase from William Safire?
THROUGHOUT THE “60 Minutes” segment, Kenneth Pollack (a former Clinton administration official, now at Brookings and married to CNN’s Andrea Koppel, daughter of Ted) commented on Chalabi’s remarks. Chalabi had a “track record,” Pollack claimed, with no details. But Pollack’s target wasn’t really Chalabi, it was the US officials responsible for the Iraq War. As Pollack stated, “We knew that this guy was not telling us the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And I think that U.S. officials who believed him – unwittingly or who used his information – both need to look hard at exactly what they were up to.