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Context of 'Shortly Before March 14, 2003: CIA Allegedly Prevents Bush from Mentioning Atta in Prague Claim in Speech'

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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

The CIA realizes that a reported visit by Mohamed Atta to Prague, Czech Republic, was actually made by a Pakistani businessman with a similar name (see May 31, 2000), not by the 9/11 hijacker. Hijacker Atta’s alleged Prague visit was used to bolster the theory that he met an Iraqi intelligence agent there in April 2001 (see September 14, 2001), and that Iraq was connected to 9/11. The Pakistani arrived on May 31, 2000 and was deported, as he did not have a Czech visa. Hijacker Atta arrived two days later on his way to the US on a Czech visa that came into effect on June 1. Shortly after 9/11, it was thought that Atta’s business in Prague in May 2000 was so urgent that he had to fly into the airport and be deported one day before his visa came into effect (note: the theory was that he must have met someone at the airport while waiting for his deportation flight). However, investigation by the CIA, Czech and German authorities finds that the May 30 entry was made by a namesake, not the hijacker. [Chicago Tribune, 8/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

Vice President Cheney says in an interview on Meet the Press, “Well, what we now have that’s developed [recently]… was that report that’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Mohamed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don’t know at this point. But that’s clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.” [Washington Post, 12/9/2001] The CIA already believes the reports of Atta visiting Prague are incorrect (see December 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Mohamed Atta

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

In 2007, Newsweek will claim that still-classified portions of a CIA cable reveal that some White House officials wanted to mention an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague in a speech President Bush was scheduled to give on March 14, 2003. But after learning of the proposed speech, the CIA station in Prague sent back a cable explaining why the CIA believed the meeting never took place. Accounts differ, but one source familiar with the cable will claim that the cable was “strident” and expressed dismay the White House would try to fit the dubious claim into Bush’s speech only days before the US begins a planned invasion of Iraq. There is no proof that Bush ever saw the cable and he ultimately does not mention the claim in his speech. A senior intelligence official at the time will later claim that the White House proposed on multiple occasions to mention the claim in speeches by Bush and Vice President Cheney. While Bush never mentioned it, Cheney did on several occasions before the Iraq war began. For instance, in December 2001, Cheney claimed, “It’s been pretty well confirmed, that [Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service…” (see December 9, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/13/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, White House, George W. Bush

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

In a speech at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, outgoing President Bush discusses his decision to invade Iraq. “It is true, as I have said many times, that Saddam Hussein was not connected to the 9/11 attacks,” he says. “But the decision to remove Saddam from power cannot be viewed in isolation from 9/11. In a world where terrorists armed with box cutters had just killed nearly 3,000 people, America had to decide whether we could tolerate a sworn enemy that acted belligerently, that supported terror, and that intelligence agencies around the world believed had weapons of mass destruction. It was clear to me, to members of both political parties, and to many leaders around the world that after 9/11, this was a risk we could not afford to take. So we went back to the UN Security Council, which unanimously passed Resolution 1441 calling on Saddam Hussein to disclose, disarm, or face serious consequences (see November 8, 2002). With this resolution, we offered Saddam Hussein a final chance to comply with the demands of the world. When he refused to resolve the issue peacefully, we acted with a coalition of nations to protect our people and liberated 25 million Iraqis.” Amanda Terkel, a writer for the liberal website Think Progress, notes that all of Bush’s acknowledgments that Iraq had no connections to 9/11 came after the war began; in the months prior to the invasion, Bush and his top officials strove to create the impression that Hussein had close links to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 planners (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). Terkel writes, “Bush still embraces his pre-war lies, as he admitted in his Saban address today, because without them, the public wouldn’t have supported his case for war.” [USA Today, 12/5/2008; Think Progress, 12/5/2008]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Amanda Terkel

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Condoleezza Rice on the Charlie Rose show.Condoleezza Rice on the Charlie Rose show. [Source: PBS]Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tells PBS’s Charlie Rose that “no one” in the White House ever asserted that Saddam Hussein had any connections to 9/11. Rose says, “But you didn’t believe [the Hussein regime] had anything to do with 9/11.” Rice replies: “No. No one was arguing that Saddam Hussein somehow had something to do with 9/11.… I was certainly not. The president was certainly not.… That’s right. We were not arguing that.” Rice refuses to answer Rose’s question asking if former Vice President Dick Cheney ever tried to make the connection. In reality, former President Bush and his top officials, including Cheney and Rice, worked diligently to reinforce a connection between Iraq and 9/11 in the public mind before the March 2003 invasion (see (Between 10:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, September 17, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 20, 2001, September 28, 2001, November 6-8, 2001, December 9, 2001, 2002-March 2003, March 19, 2002, June 21, 2002, July 25, 2002, August 2002, August 20, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 16, 2002, September 21, 2002, September 25, 2002, September 26, 2002, September 27, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 15, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, Early February 2003, February 5, 2003, (2:30 a.m.-9:00 a.m.) February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, and February 17, 2003). [Think Progress, 3/19/2009]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, Bush administration (43), Charlie Rose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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