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Context of 'September 14, 2003: Cheney Insists Iraq Supported Al-Qaeda and WMDs Have Been Found in Iraq'

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An informant for the BIS, the Czech intelligence agency, reportedly sees Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani meeting in a restaurant outside Prague with an Arab man in his 20s. This draws concern from the intelligence community because the informant suggests the person is “a visiting ‘student’ from Hamburg—and… potentially dangerous.” [New York Times, 11/19/2003 Sources: Jan Kavan] The young man is never positively identified or seen again. Fearing that al-Ani may have been attempting to recruit the young man for a mission to blow-up Radio Free Europe headquarters, the diplomat is told to leave the country on April 18. [New York Times, 10/27/2001; United Press International, 10/20/2002; New York Times, 11/19/2003 Sources: Unnamed US officials, Jan Kavan] Information about the incident is passed on to US intelligence. After the 9/11 attacks and after it is reported on the news that Atta had likely visited Prague, the BIS informant will say the young man at the restaurant was Atta. (see September 14, 2001) This information leads hawks to come up with the so-called “Prague Connection” theory, which will hold that 9/11 plotter Mohomed Atta flew to Prague on April 8, met with al-Ani to discuss the planning and financing of the 9/11 attacks, and returned to the US on either April 9 or 10. [New York Times, 10/27/2001; United Press International, 10/20/2002; New York Times, 11/19/2003 Sources: Unnamed US officials, Unnamed BIS informant, Jan Kavan] The theory will be widely discounted by October 2002. [New York Times, 10/21/2002 Sources: Unnamed US officials, Unnamed BIS informant]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Radio Free Europe, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Jabir Salim

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

William Safire’s New York Times editorial published November 12, 2001, in which he calls the alleged meeting between Atta and an Iraqi agent an “undisputed fact.”William Safire’s New York Times editorial published November 12, 2001, in which he calls the alleged meeting between Atta and an Iraqi agent an “undisputed fact.” [Source: PBS]Media coverage relating to an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy named Ahmed al-Ani took place in Prague, Czech Republic, has changed repeatedly over time:
bullet September 18, 2001: It is first reported that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta met in Prague, Czech Republic, with an Iraqi diplomat in April 2001. The name of the diplomat, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, is mentioned in follow up articles. [Associated Press, 9/18/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/19/2001; CNN, 10/11/2001; New York Times, 11/19/2003]
bullet October 20, 2001: The story is denied by some Czech officials (see October 16, 2001). [New York Times, 10/20/2001]
bullet October 26, 2001: The story is confirmed by the Czech interior minister (see October 26, 2001). [New York Times, 10/27/2001]
bullet October 27, 2001: It is claimed Atta met with Iraqi agents four times in Prague, and was given a vial of antrax. Atta is alleged to have had further meetings with Iraqi agents in Germany, Spain, and Italy (see October 27, 2001). [London Times, 10/27/2001]
bullet November 12, 2001: Conservative columnist William Safire calls the meeting an “undisputed fact” in a New York Times editorial (see November 12, 2001). [New York Times, 11/12/2001]
bullet December 9, 2001: Vice President Cheney asserts that the existence of the meeting is “pretty well confirmed” (see December 9, 2001). [Washington Post, 12/9/2001]
bullet December 16, 2001: The identities of both al-Ani and Atta, alleged to have been at the meetings, are disputed by a Czech police chief (see December 16, 2001). [New York Times, 12/16/2001; Associated Press, 12/16/2001]
bullet January 12, 2002: It is claimed at least two meetings took place, including one a year earlier. [Daily Telegraph, 1/12/2002]
bullet February 6, 2002: It is reported that senior US intelligence officials believe the meeting took place, but they believe it is not enough evidence to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks (see February 6, 2002). [New York Times, 2/6/2002]
bullet March 15, 2002: Evidence that the meeting took place is considered between “slim” and “none.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2002]
bullet March 18, 2002: William Safire again strongly asserts that the meeting took place. [New York Times, 3/18/2002]
bullet April 28-May 2, 2002: The meeting is largely discredited. For example, the Washington Post quotes FBI Director Mueller stating that, “We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on, from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts,” yet no evidence that Atta left the country was found. According to the Post, “[a]fter months of investigation, the Czechs [say] they [are] no longer certain that Atta was the person who met al-Ani, saying ‘he may be different from Atta.’” [Washington Post, 5/1/2002] Newsweek cites a US official who contends that, “Neither we nor the Czechs nor anybody else has any information [Atta] was coming or going [to Prague] at that time” (see April 28, 2002). [Newsweek, 4/28/2002; Washington Post, 5/1/2002; New York Times, 5/2/2002]
bullet May 8, 2002: Some Czech officials continue to affirm the meeting took place. [Prague Post, 5/8/2002]
bullet May 9, 2002: William Safire refuses to give up the story, claiming a “protect-Saddam cabal” in the high levels of the US government is burying the evidence. [New York Times, 5/9/2002]
bullet July 15, 2002: The head of Czech foreign intelligence states that reports of the meeting are unproved and implausible. [Prague Post, 7/15/2002]
bullet August 2, 2002: With a war against Iraq growing more likely, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer suggests the meeting did happen, “despite deep doubts by the CIA and FBI.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/2/2002]
bullet August 19, 2002: Newsweek states: “The sole evidence for the alleged meeting is the uncorroborated claim of a Czech informant.” According to Newsweek, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is nonetheless pushing the FBI to have the meeting accepted as fact. [Newsweek, 8/19/2002]
bullet September 10, 2002: The Bush administration is no longer actively asserting that the meeting took place. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]
bullet September 17, 2002: Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld “accept reports from Czech diplomats” that the meeting took place. [USA Today, 9/17/2002]
bullet September 23, 2002: Newsweek reports that the CIA is resisting Pentagon demands to obtain pictures of the alleged meeting from Iraqi exiles. One official says, “We do not shy away from evidence. But we also don’t make it up.” [Newsweek, 9/23/2002]
bullet October 10, 2002: British officials deny the meeting ever took place (see October 4-10, 2002). [Financial Times, 10/4/2002; Guardian, 10/10/2002]
bullet October 20, 2002: Czech officials, including President Vaclav Havel, emphatically deny that the meeting ever took place. It now appears Atta was not even in the Czech Republic during the month the meeting was supposed to have taken place. President Havel told Bush “quietly some time earlier this year” that the meeting did not happen (see Early 2002, probably May or later). [United Press International, 10/20/2002; New York Times, 10/21/2002]
bullet December 8, 2002: Bush adviser Richard Perle continues to push the story, stating, “To the best of my knowledge that meeting took place.” [CBS News, 9/5/2002] He says this despite the fact that in October 2002, Czech officials told Perle in person that the meeting did not take place (see October 20, 2002).
bullet July 9, 2003: Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmed al-Ani is captured by US forces in Iraq. [Washington Post, 7/9/2003]
bullet July 10, 2003: In a story confirming al-Ani’s capture, ABC News cites US and British intelligence officials who have seen surveillance photos of al-Ani’s meetings in Prague, and who say that there is a man who looks somewhat like Atta, but is not Atta. [ABC News, 7/10/2003]
bullet September 14, 2003: Vice President Cheney repeats the claims that Atta met with al-Ani in Prague on NBC’s Meet the Press. He says “we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting” the meeting, but he also cites the when making the claim that Iraq officially supported al-Qaeda (see September 14, 2003 and September 14, 2003). [Washington Post, 9/15/2003]
bullet July 25, 2003: The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry makes public its conclusion that the meeting never took place (see January-July 2003).
bullet December 13, 2003: It is reported that al-Ani told interrogators he did not meet Atta in Prague. [Washington Post, 9/29/2003; Reuters, 12/13/2003]
bullet February 24, 2004: CIA Director George Tenet says of the meeting: “We can’t prove that one way or another.” [New York Times, 7/9/2004]
bullet June 16, 2004: The 9/11 Commission concludes that the meeting never happened. They claim cell phone records and other records show Atta never left Florida during the time in question (see June 16, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
bullet June 17, 2004: Vice President Cheney says no one has “been able to confirm” the Atta meeting in Prague or to “to knock it down” He calls reports suggesting that the 9/11 Commission has reached a contradictory conclusion “irresponsible,” even though the 9/11 Commission did conclude just that the day before (see June 17, 2004). [CNN, 6/18/2004]
bullet July 1, 2004: CIA Director Tenet says that the CIA is “increasingly skeptical” the meeting ever took place (see July 1, 2004). [New York Times, 7/9/2004]
bullet July 12, 2004: The 9/11 Commission publicly concludes the meeting never took place (see July 12, 2004).
bullet March 29, 2006: Cheney says of the meeting: “And that reporting waxed and waned where the degree of confidence in it, and so forth, has been pretty well knocked down now at this stage, that that meeting ever took place” (see March 29, 2006).
bullet September 8, 2006: A bipartisan Senate report confirms that the meeting never took place (see September 8-10, 2006). [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 pdf file]
bullet September 10, 2006: Cheney still breathes life into reports of the meeting, reversing position and refusing to deny that the meeting took place (see September 10, 2006). [Meet the Press, 9/10/2006]
bullet April 2007: In a new book, former CIA Director Tenet claims, “It is my understanding that in 2006, new intelligence was obtained that proved beyond any doubt that the man seen meeting with [a] member of the Iraqi intelligence service in Prague in 2001 was not Mohamed Atta” (see 2006). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 355]

Entity Tags: Ari Fleischer, 9/11 Commission, Mohamed Atta, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Perle, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Vaclav Havel, William Safire, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US authorities in Iraq seize a trailer at a checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul. The government will later claim that this trailer, as well as another one that is discovered on May 9 (see May 9, 2003), is a mobile biological weapons lab. [Houston Chronicle, 5/9/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003]

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

The US Army’s 101st Airborne Division finds a suspicious looking trailer at al-Kindi, a former missile research facility in Iraq. US authorities suspect the trailer might be a biological weapons factory. Another suspect trailer was found by US forces three weeks earlier in Mosul (see April 19, 2003). [Houston Chronicle, 5/9/2003; US Department of Defense, 5/13/2003; ABC News, 5/21/2003] Senior Iraqi officials at the facility, as well as Iraqis working for the company that produced components for the trailers, say the trailers produce hydrogen for artillery weather balloons. [Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency, 5/28/2003]

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

In a briefing to the president and other top officials, Kay says that he has found no evidence of weapons of mass destruction, and says the disputed trailers (see April 19, 2003 and May 9, 2003) were probably not mobile biological factories, as the CIA and White House had claimed (see May 28, 2003 and May 29, 2003). Present at the briefing are Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, and other White House aides. Kay’s briefing provokes little response from his audience. Describing the president’s reaction, Kay later says: “I’m not sure I’ve spoken to anyone at that level who seemed less inquisitive. He was interested but not pressing any questions. .. I cannot stress too much that the president was the one in the room who was the least unhappy and the least disappointed about the lack of WMDs. I came out of the Oval Office uncertain as to how to read the president. Here was an individual who was oblivious to the problems created by the failure to find WMDs. Or was this an individual who was completely at peace with himself on the decision to go to war, who didn’t question that, and who was totally focused on the here and now of what was to come?” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 310]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Andrew Card, David Kay, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Vice President Dick Cheney appears on Meet the Press and tells host Tim Russert that Iraq’s support for al-Qaeda was “clearly official policy.” As evidence, he cites the alleged meeting between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani (see April 8, 2001). Cheney also insists that the two trailers found in Baghdad (see April 19, 2003 and May 9, 2003) were mobile biological weapon factories, even though he was told by David Kay, the head of the Iraq Survey Group, that that was probably not the case (see July 29, 2003). [Meet the Press, 9/14/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 313]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

According to a poll just released by Dartmouth professor Benjamin Valentino, 63 percent of self-identified Republicans still believe that Iraq under Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction when the US invaded in March 2003 (see March 19, 2003). Twenty-seven percent of self-identified independents and 15 percent of self-identified Democrats hold that view. The question was: “Do you believe that the following statement is true or not true? ‘Iraq had weapons of mass destruction when the United States invaded in 2003.’” Reporter Dan Froomkin, commenting on the poll results, writes: “The Bush administration’s insistence that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction and might give them to terrorists was a key selling point in its campaign to take the country to war (see September 30, 2001, 2002-2003, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, 9:01 pm January 28, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 21, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 22, 2003, March 23, 2003, March 24, 2003, March 30, 2003, Late March 2003 and After, April 10, 2003, April 20, 2003, Between April 20, 2003 and April 30, 2003, May 28, 2003, May 29, 2003, June 2003, June 1, 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11, 2003, July 31, 2003, September 14, 2003, January 22, 2004, and March 24, 2004). It turned out to be untrue.… There is no reality-based argument that Iraq actually had WMD, after extensive searches found none (see 2002-March 2003, 2002, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, May 2002-September 2002, September 2002, Late September 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, Before October 7, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, December 3, 2002, January 9, 2003, January 28-29, 2003, February 20, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 4, 2003, May 25, 2003, May 30, 2003, June 2003, Early June 2003-Mid-June 2003, Between June 3, 2003 and June 17, 2003, Mid-June 2003, Early July 2003, July 11, 2003, July 20, 2003, July 29, 2003, July 30, 2003, August 16, 2003, October 2, 2003, October 2003, November 2, 2003, December 2003, December 2003, December 17, 2003, Mid-January 2004, January 20, 2004, January 23, 2004, January 27, 2004, January 28, 2004, February 8, 2004, and July 9, 2004), but this is hardly the first time many Americans have been certain of something that simply wasn’t true” (see May 14, 2003-May 18, 2003). The 65-question poll was conducted by YouGov from April 26 through May 2, 2012, and surveyed 1,056 respondents. It has a margin of error of plus/minus 3.18 percent. [Valentino, 6/20/2012 pdf file; Jim Lobe, 6/20/2012; Huffington Post, 6/21/2012]

Entity Tags: Dan Froomkin, Saddam Hussein, Benjamin Valentino

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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