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Context of 'September 8, 2002: Cheney Implies Iraq behind 9/11 Attacks'

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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

David Wurmser (left) and Michael Maloof (right).David Wurmser (left) and Michael Maloof (right). [Source: ThinkProgress.org (left) and PBS (right)]Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith set up a secret intelligence unit, named the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (CTEG—sometimes called the Policy Counterterrorism Evaluation Group), to sift through raw intelligence reports and look for evidence of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184; Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]
Modeled after "Team B" - The four to five -person unit, a “B Team” commissioned by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and modeled after the “Team B” analysis exercise of 1976 (see November 1976), is designed to study the policy implications of connections between terrorist organizations. CTEG uses powerful computers and software to scan and sort already-analyzed documents and reports from the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and other agencies in an effort to consider possible interpretations and angles of analysis that these agencies may have missed due to deeply ingrained biases. Middle East specialist Harold Rhode recruits David Wurmser to head the project. Wurmser, the director of Middle East studies for the American Enterprise Institute, is a known advocate of regime change in Iraq, having expressed his views in a 1997 op-ed piece published in the Wall Street Journal (see November 12, 1997) and having participated in the drafting of the 1996 policy paper for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm (see July 8, 1996). F. Michael Maloof, a former aide to Richard Perle, is also invited to take part in the effort, which becomes known internally as the “Wurmser-Maloof” project. Neither Wurmser nor Maloof are intelligence professionals [Washington Times, 1/14/2002; New York Times, 10/24/2002; Mother Jones, 1/2004; Los Angeles Times, 2/8/2004; Reuters, 2/19/2004; Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file] , but both are close friends of Feith’s.
Countering the CIA - Since the days of Team B, neoconservatives have insisted the CIA has done nothing but underestimate and downplay the threats facing the US. “They have a record over 30 years of being wrong,” says Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, who adds that the CIA refuses to even allow for the possibility of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—one of the topics that most interests Wurmser and Maloof. [Unger, 2007, pp. 226-227]
Finding Facts to Fit Premises - Maloof and Wurmser set up shop in a small room on the third floor of the Pentagon, where they set about developing a “matrix” that charts connections between terrorist organizations and their support infrastructures, including support systems within nations themselves. Both men have security clearances, so they are able to draw data from both raw and finished intelligence products available through the Pentagon’s classified computer system. More highly classified intelligence is secured by Maloof from his previous office. He will later recall, “We scoured what we could get up to the secret level, but we kept getting blocked when we tried to get more sensitive materials. I would go back to my office, do a pull and bring it in.… We discovered tons of raw intelligence. We were stunned that we couldn’t find any mention of it in the CIA’s finished reports.” Each week, Wurmser and Maloof report their findings to Stephen Cambone, a fellow member of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC—see January 26, 1998) neoconservative and Feith’s chief aide. George Packer will later describe their process, writing, “Wurmser and Maloof were working deductively, not inductively: The premise was true; facts would be found to confirm it.” CTEG’s activities cause tension within the intelligence community. Critics claim that its members manipulate and distort intelligence, “cherry-picking” bits of information that support their preconceived conclusions. Although the State Department’s own intelligence outfit, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), is supposed to have access to all intelligence materials circulating through the government, INR chief Greg Thielmann later says, “I didn’t know about its [CTEG’s] existence. They were cherry-picking intelligence and packaging it for [Vice President] Cheney and [Defense Secretary] Donald Rumsfeld to take to the president. That’s the kind of rogue operation that peer review is intended to prevent.” A defense official later adds, “There is a complete breakdown in the relationship between the Defense Department and the intelligence community, to include its own Defense Intelligence Agency. Wolfowitz and company disbelieve any analysis that doesn’t support their own preconceived conclusions. The CIA is enemy territory, as far are they’re concerned.” Wurmser and Maloof’s “matrix” leads them to conclude that Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and other groups with conflicting ideologies and objectives are allowing these differences to fall to the wayside as they discover their shared hatred of the US. The group’s research also leads them to believe that al-Qaeda has a presence in such places as Latin American. For weeks, the unit will attempt to uncover evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks, a theory advocated by both Feith and Wolfowitz. [Washington Times, 1/14/2002; New York Times, 10/24/2002; Mother Jones, 1/2004; Los Angeles Times, 2/8/2004; Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file; Unger, 2007, pp. 226-227]
Denial - Defending the project, Paul Wolfowitz will tell the New York Times that the team’s purpose is to circumvent the problem “in intelligence work, that people who are pursuing a certain hypothesis will see certain facts that others won’t, and not see other facts that others will.” He insists that the special Pentagon unit is “not making independent intelligence assessments.” [New York Times, 10/24/2002] The rest of the US intelligence community is not impressed with CTEG’s work. “I don’t have any problem with [the Pentagon] bringing in a couple of people to take another look at the intelligence and challenge the assessment,” former DIA analyst Patrick Lang will later say. “But the problem is that they brought in people who were not intelligence professionals, people were brought in because they thought like them. They knew what answers they were going to get.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 226-227]
Dismissing CIA's Findings that Iraq, al-Qaeda are Not Linked - One example is an early CTEG critique of a CIA report, Iraq and al-Qaeda: Interpreting a Murky Relationship. CTEG notes that the CIA included data indicating links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and then blast the agency for “attempt[ing] to discredit, dismiss, or downgrade much of this reporting, resulting in inconsistent conclusions in many instances.” In CTEG’s view, policy makers should overlook any equivocations and discrepancies and dismiss the CIA’s guarded conclusions: “[T]he CIA report ought to be read for content only—and CIA’s interpretation ought to be ignored.” Their decision is powered by Wolfowitz, who has instructed them to ignore the intelligence community’s view that al-Qaeda and Iraq were doubtful allies. They also embrace the theory that 9/11 hijacker Mohammad Atta met with an Iraqi official in Prague, a theory discredited by intelligence professionals (see December 2001 and Late July 2002). Author Gordon R. Mitchell refers to the original Team B in calling the critique “1976 redux, with the same players deploying competitive intelligence analysis to sweep away policy obstacles presented by inconvenient CIA threat assessments.” In 1976, the Team B members were outsiders; now they are, Mitchell will write, “firmly entrenched in the corridors of power. Control over the levers of White House bureaucracy enabled Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz to embed a Team B entity within the administration itself. The stage was set for a new kind of Team B intelligence exercise—a stealth coup staged by one arm of the government against the other.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file; Agence France-Presse, 2/9/2007]
Stovepiping Information Directly to White House - The group is later accused of stovepiping intelligence directly to the White House. Lang later tells the Washington Times: “That unit had meetings with senior White House officials without the CIA or the Senate being aware of them. That is not legal. There has to be oversight.” According to Lang and another US intelligence official, the two men go to the White House several times to brief officials, bypassing CIA analysts whose analyses they disagreed with. They allegedly brief White House staffers Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, and Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Richard Cheney, according to congressional staffers. [Washington Times, 7/29/2004] In October 2004, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) will conclude, “[T]he differences between the judgments of the IC [intelligence community] and the DOD [Department of Defense] policy office [CTEG] might have been addressed by a discussion between the IC and DOD of underlying assumptions and the credibility and reliability of sources of raw intelligence reports. However, the IC never had the opportunity to defend its analysis, nor point out problems with DOD’s ‘alternative’ view of the Iraq-al-Qaeda relationship when it was presented to the policymakers at the White House.” Levin will add, “Unbeknownst to the IC, policymakers were getting information that was inconsistent with, and thus undermined, the professional judgments of the IC experts. The changes included information that was dubious, misrepresented, or of unknown import.” [Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]
Passing Intelligence to INC - According to unnamed Pentagon and US intelligence officials, the group is also accused of providing sensitive CIA and Pentagon intercepts to the US-funded Iraqi National Congress, which then pass them on to the government of Iran. [Washington Times, 7/29/2004] “I knew Chalabi from years earlier,” Maloof later recalls, “so I basically asked for help in giving us direction as to where to look for information in our own system in order to be able to get a clear picture of what we were doing. [Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress] were quite helpful.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 226-227]
CTEG Evolves into OSP - By August 2002, CTEG will be absorbed into a much more expansive “alternative intelligence” group, the Office of Special Plans (OSP—see September 2002). Wurmser will later be relocated to the State Department where he will be the senior adviser to Undersecretary Of State for Arms Control John Bolton.(see September 2002). [American Conservative, 12/1/2003; Mother Jones, 1/2004; Quarterly Journal of Speech, 5/2006 pdf file]
Public Finally Learns of CTEG's Existence - Over a year after its formation, Rumsfeld will announce its existence, but only after the media reveals the existence of the OSP (see October 24, 2002).

Entity Tags: Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group, David Wurmser, Donald Rumsfeld, Douglas Feith, F. Michael Maloof, Harold Rhode, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Gordon R. Mitchell, ’Team B’, Stephen J. Hadley, Paul Wolfowitz, Greg Thielmann, Richard Perle

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

Czech President Vaclav Havel informs Washington that there is no evidence to substantiate claims that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi diplomat Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani in Prague in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). The information is relayed to the White House quietly to avoid embarrassing top Czech officials—presumably Interior Minister Stanislav Gross -who had publicly stated on more than one occasion that there was no evidence to suggest that the meeting did not take place. The New York Times will report in October 2002: “Mr. Havel… moved carefully behind the scenes in the months after the reports of the Prague meeting came to light to try to determine what really happened, officials said. He asked trusted advisers to investigate, and they quietly went through back channels to talk with Czech intelligence officers to get to the bottom of the story. The intelligence officers told them there was no evidence of a meeting.” The New York Times also reports that analysts in the Czech intelligence service were furious that the Prime Minister stovepiped the information straight to Washington, before they had the opportunity to investigate further. [United Press International, 10/20/2002; New York Times, 10/21/2002 Sources: Unnamed CIA and FBI officials]

Entity Tags: Stanislav Gross, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Mohamed Atta, Vaclav Havel

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

The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry investigating the 9/11 attacks concludes that there is no evidence that Mohammad Atta—under any of his known aliases—visited Prague in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). [Boston Globe, 8/3/2003] However, the Bush administration will delay the publication of the Inquiry’s final report for many months, so this conclusion will not be made public until after the US invasion of Iraq is done (see January-July 2003).

Entity Tags: Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Mohamed Atta, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry

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

In another statement on NBC’s Meet the Press (see September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, and September 8, 2002), Vice President Dick Cheney strongly implies that Iraq was behind the 9/11 attacks. “I’m not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11,” Cheney says. “I can’t say that.” As author Frank Rich will later write, “Then he made unspecific allegations suggesting exactly that.” Cheney specifically alludes to the allegation that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta had met with Iraqi officials in Prague (see Late July 2002 and October 21, 2002). [Rich, 2006, pp. 59]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Frank Rich

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Two articles by reporter James Risen on the “Prague Connection” are published in the New York Times. One article reveals that early in 2002 (see Early 2002, probably May or later), Czech President Vaclav Havel had informed Washington that there was no evidence to substantiate claims that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta had met with Iraqi diplomat Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani in Prague in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). The article also reveals that analysts in the Czech intelligence service had been furious with the Prime Minister for stovepiping unsubstantiated reports straight to Washington, before they had had the opportunity to investigate further. [New York Times, 10/21/2002] Risen’s other article explains how rivalry within the BIS and problematic relations with Britain’s MI6 had resulted in reporters receiving misinformation from sources with grievances and conflicting agendas. [New York Times, 10/21/2002] His two articles seemingly put to rest the “Prague Connection” theory, though a November 2003 article in Slate by Edward Jay Epstein will note that many questions remain unanswered. [New York Times, 11/19/2003]

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

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

The final version of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report is heavily censored.The final version of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report is heavily censored. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry is originally expected to release its complete and final report in January 2003, but the panel spends seven months negotiating with the Bush administration about what material can be made public, and the final report is not released until July 2003. In late March 2003, the US launches an attack on Iraq, beginning a long war. [Washington Post, 7/27/2003] The administration originally wanted two thirds of the report to remain classified. [Associated Press, 5/31/2003] The inquiry concluded in July 2002 that Mohamed Atta never met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, as some have claimed, but it is unable to make that conclusion public until now (see Late July 2002). Former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), a member of the 9/11 Commission, will later claim: “The administration sold the connection [between Iraq and al-Qaeda] to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war. There’s no connection, and that’s been confirmed by some of bin Laden’s terrorist followers.… What you’ve seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends. The reason this report was delayed for so long—deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created—is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over… before [it] came out. Had this report come out in January [2003] like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration.” [United Press International, 7/25/2003] Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), one of the inquiry’s chairmen, also suspects that the administration deliberately does not hurry the declassification process along. However, he thinks this is because there is a “direct line between the terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia.” According to author Philip Shenon, Graham thinks the administration wants to keep this material from the public because of its “determination to keep Saudi oil flowing to the United States.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 50-51]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Al-Qaeda, 9/11 Commission, Max Cleland, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Osama bin Laden

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

At 2:30 a.m., Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson, gets a call from one of CIA Director George Tenet’s aides (see 2:30 a.m. February 5, 2003). Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff is insisting that the widely discredited claim (see October 21, 2002) that Mohamed Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence officer in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001) be reinstated into Powell’s forthcoming speech to the UN Security Council. The pressure continues throughout the night. Just before 9 a.m., when Powell begins his speech, Wilkerson’s phone rings again and again. Caller ID shows it is Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, presumably to try one more time to argue for the inclusion of the material. Wilkerson refuses to take the call. “Scooter,” one State Department aide will later explain to reporter Craig Unger, “wasn’t happy.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232; Unger, 2007, pp. 283-284]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wilkerson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell

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

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