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Context of 'Early June 2004: 9/11 Commission’s Zelikow Accepts Lack of Connections between Iraq and Al-Qaeda'

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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

The CIA intelligence liaison in Prague is told by the Czech intelligence agency (BIS) that one of its informants in the local Prague Arab community believes the Hamburg “student” he had seen meeting with Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani on April 8, 2001 in a restaurant outside of Prague was 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta. (see April 8, 2001) Czech intelligence treats the claim skeptically because it comes only after Atta’s picture has been broadcast on television and after the Czech press reported that records showed Atta had traveled to Prague. FBI agents go to the Czech Republic and are given full access to Czech intelligence material. This information leads hawks to come up with the so-called “Prague Connection” theory, which holds that 9/11 plotter Mohamed 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. The theory will be widely debated but generally discounted by the end of 2004. [New York Times, 10/21/2002; New York Times, 11/19/2003 Sources: Jan Kavan]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Mohamed Atta

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

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

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Philip Zelikow, Osama bin Laden, Clinton administration, Scott Allan

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

Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, finally accepts the fact that he cannot successfully spin or browbeat the commission staff into reporting links between Iraq and al-Qaeda as factual (see July 12, 2004). His most recent efforts to rewrite a report claiming such links was thwarted by angry commission staffers (see January 2004), and for months he has dodged charges that he is a White House “plant,” there to ensure the commission makes the kind of conclusions that Bush officials want it to make. Now, he finally admits that there is no evidence to support the claim of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, although there was some minor contact. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The intelligence showed that when bin Laden wanted to do business with Iraq, Iraq did not want to do business with al-Qaeda…. Saddam Hussein saw [Osama] bin Laden… as a threat to his own very brutal and very secular rule in Iraq.” The widely reported story about 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi spy in Prague (see April 8, 2001 and September 14, 2001) has been examined and re-examined, and found to be unsupported (see December 2001). Zelikow is forced to admit the reality of the situation. Shenon will write: “Even if he wanted to, there was little Zelikow could do to rescue the administration now…. If Zelikow tried to tamper with the report now, he knew he risked a public insurrection by the staff, with only a month before the commission’s final report was due.” Bush officials are horrified at the prospect of the commission reporting flatly that there are no verifiable links of any kind between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Since the failure of the US to find WMDs in Iraq, the Bush administration has shifted its rationale for invading that nation—now it was a punitive measure against one of the backers of the 9/11 attacks, and senior Bush officials, most notably Vice President Cheney, have been advocating that point for over a year. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385]

Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), John Kerry, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Philip Zelikow

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

The 9/11 Commission publicly concludes that there was “no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States” and that repeated contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda “do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.” It also again confirms that it does not believe the alleged April 2001 Prague meeting between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani (see 1999) ever took place, a conclusion it had made in a public staff statement the month before (see June 16, 2004). [New York Times, 7/12/2004]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission

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

A bipartisan Senate report finds that no credible evidence of any links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government ever existed, despite repeated and insistent claims by the White House and its allies (see Early 1995), March-June 1998, (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 18, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 21, 2001, October 27, 2001, 2002, February 6, 2002, March 22, 2002, July 25, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 15, 2002, September 25, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 2, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 2, 2002, Mid-January 2003, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, January 28, 2003, February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 8, 2003, February 9, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, February 16, 2003, March 9, 2003, March 17, 2003, March 17-18, 2003, Shortly After April 9, 2003, July 9, 2003, September 7, 2003, September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003, September 28, 2003, December 17, 2003, January 8, 2004, January 9, 2004, Early June 2004, June 14, 2004, June 15, 2004, June 15, 2004, October 4, 2004, May 2005, October 2005, (2006), January 31, 2006, March 29, 2006, and September 10, 2006). Panel Democrats say that the White House knew the intelligence surrounding its claims of such links was flawed and unreliable.
Tenet Admitted to Giving in to Pressure - They note that in July former CIA Director George Tenet told the panel that the White House pressured him to support its arguments and that he agreed despite the findings of his own analysts. “Tenet admitted to the Intelligence Committee that the policymakers wanted him to ‘say something about not being inconsistent with what the president had said,’” says Intelligence Committee member Carl Levin (D-MI). Such compliance was, in hindsight, “the wrong thing to do,” Tenet added, according to Levin. “Well, it was much more than that,” Levin says. “It was a shocking abdication of a CIA director’s duty not to act as a shill for any administration or its policy.” Tenet also admitted that he erred in issuing a statement after President Bush’s October 7, 2002 speech saying that Bush’s claims were consistent with CIA findings (see October 7, 2002).
Republicans Say Report Just 'Election-Year Politicking' - Republican committee members insist that there is little new information about prewar intelligence or claims about Iraq’s links to terrorism. Ranking committee member Pat Roberts (R-KS) accuses Levin and other Democrats of trying to “use the committee… insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.… That is simply not true, and I believe the American people are smart enough to recognize election-year politicking when they see it.” Democrats retort that the report speaks for itself.
Impeachment Not Warranted - However, committee Democrats such as John Rockefeller (D-WV) say that the report does not prove any criminal behavior from Bush or his top officials, and say that impeachment of Bush or anyone else is not warranted.
Hussein Opposed to US Policies - An FBI summary quoted in the report shows Hussein acknowledging that his government had met with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but denying any collusion. Hussein said he opposed only US policies, and added that “if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the US, he would have allied with North Korea or China,” according to the FBI summary.
Other Portions of Report - Other sections of the report find that no evidence existed to support claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see February 7, 2001, February 12, 2001, November 14, 2001, May 2002-September 2002, September 9, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 25, 2003, and May 30, 2003), had possessed biological weapons in 2003 (see 2002, 2002-March 2003, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, August 2002, September 2002, September 24, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, January 9, 2003, and March 7, 2003), used the Salman Pak facility to train Islamist terrorists (see September 8, 2006), or that Iraqi officials met with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 8-10, 2006). The report also finds that the White House relied heavily on false intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see After August 2, 1989, (1994), January 1996, November 6-8, 2001, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Summer 2002, and June 26, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 pdf file; Associated Press, 9/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Carl Levin, George J. Tenet, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

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