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Context of 'Mid-September-October 2001: Neoconservatives Attempt to Link Iraqi Government to 9/11 and Anthrax Attacks'

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Former CIA director James Woolsey serves as a corporate officer for the Iraqi National Congress Support Foundation which manages the Iraqi National Congress’ US funding. Also during this time, Woolsey and his former law firm, Shea and Gardner, provide the INC and Iraqi exiles with pro bono work. [Knight Ridder, 7/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Shea and Gardner, Iraqi National Congress, James Woolsey

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence

Former CIA Director James Woolsey makes a secret trip to Europe to find evidence that could link the Iraqi government to various terrorist attacks. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz funds and supports his trip. He visits Wales in a fruitless search for evidence to link Iraq to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see Late September 2001). But he also looks for evidence tying Iraq to 9/11 and the anthrax attacks once they become publicly known in early October (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Village Voice will later report, “Woolsey was also asked to make contact with Iraqi exiles and others who might be able to beef up the case that hijacker Mohamed Atta was working with Iraqi intelligence to plan the September 11 attacks, as well as the subsequent anthrax mailings.” [Village Voice, 11/21/2001] In late October, the Iraqi National Congress (INC), the exile group opposed to Saddam Hussein, says it recently held meetings in London with him. [Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001] Woolsey is a prominent neoconservative and already has extensive links with the INC (see 2000). It is unknown exactly what Woolsey does in Europe, but his trip has an apparent effect on the media. In addition to numerous articles about Atta’s alleged Prague visit, some articles appear attempting to tie Atta and the Iraqi government to the anthrax attacks as well. For instance, on October 14, 2001, The Observer will report, “According to sources in the Bush administration, investigators are talking to Egyptian authorities who say members of the al-Qaeda network, detained and interrogated in Cairo, had obtained phials of anthrax in the Czech Republic.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] And in late October, the London Times will not only report that Atta was given a vial of anthrax in Prague, but that he met with Iraqi agents numerous times all over Europe (see October 27, 2001). But no hard evidence will emerge supporting any of these allegations pushed by Woolsey.

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Iraqi National Congress, Saddam Hussein, James Woolsey, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The Defense Policy Board (DPB) meets in secret in Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon conference room on September 19 and 20 for 19 hours to discuss the option of taking military action against Iraq. [New York Times, 10/12/2001] They also discuss how they might overcome some of the diplomatic and political pressures that would likely attempt to impede a policy of regime change in Iraq. [New York Times, 10/12/2001] Among those attending the meeting are Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Princeton academic Bernard Lewis, Iraqi National Congress leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996), Chalabi’s aide Francis Brooke, and the 18 members of the DPB. [New York Times, 10/12/2001; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 236; New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang will later call the DPB “a neocon[servative] sanctuary,” boasting such members as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former CIA Director James Woolsey, former arms control adviser Ken Adelman, former Undersecretary of Defense Fred Ikle, and former Vice President Dan Quayle. [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Powell, State Officials Not Informed of Meeting - Secretary of State Colin Powell and other State Department officials in charge of US policy toward Iraq are not invited and are not informed of the meeting. A source will later tell the New York Times that Powell was irritated about not being briefed on the meeting. [New York Times, 10/12/2001]
Chalabi, Lewis Lead Discussion - During the seminar, two of Richard Perle’s invited guests, Chalabi and Lewis, lead the discussion. Lewis says that the US must encourage democratic reformers in the Middle East, “such as my friend here, Ahmed Chalabi.” Chalabi argues that Iraq is a breeding ground for terrorists and asserts that Saddam Hussein’s regime has weapons of mass destruction. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] He also asserts “there’d be no resistance” to an attack by the US, “no guerrilla warfare from the Ba’athists, and [it would be] a quick matter of establishing a government.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Overthrow of Hussein Advocated - Attendees write a letter to President Bush calling for the removal of Saddam Hussein. “[E]ven if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack [of 9/11], any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Failure to undertake such an effort will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism,” the letter reads. The letter is published in the Washington Times on September 20 (see September 20, 2001) in the name of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), a neoconservative think tank that believes the US needs to shoulder the responsibility for maintaining “peace” and “security” in the world by strengthening its global hegemony. [Project for the New American Century, 9/20/2001; Manila Times, 7/19/2003] Bush reportedly rejects the letter’s proposal, as both Vice President Dick Cheney and Powell agree that there is no evidence implicating Saddam Hussein in the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 10/12/2001]
Woolsey Sent to Find Evidence of Hussein's Involvement - As a result of the meeting, Wolfowitz sends Woolsey to London to find evidence that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks and the earlier 1993 attack on the World Trade Center (see Mid-September-October 2001). [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz, James Woolsey, Kenneth Adelman, Patrick Lang, Harold Brown, Defense Policy Board, Francis Brooke, Adm. David E. Jeremiah, Fred C. Ikle, Ahmed Chalabi, Dan Quayle, Bernard Lewis, Henry A. Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld

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

At the behest of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former CIA Director James Woolsey and a team of Justice and Defense Department officials fly to London on a US government plane to look for evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Woolsey’s trip is in part the idea of neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie (see Late July or Early August 2001). It is the second such mission undertaken by Woolsey this year, as he made a similar trip in February (see February 2001). Woolsey is looking for evidence to support the theory (see Late July or Early August 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001) that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC bombing, was actually an Iraqi agent who had assumed the identity of a Pakistani student named Abdul Basit. Woolsey visits the Swansea Institute, where Basit studied, to see if Basit’s fingerprints match those of Yousef, who is now serving a life sentence in a Colorado prison. Matching fingerprints would discredit the theory. [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Observer, 10/14/2001; Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] While in Europe, Woolsey also attempts to link the Iraqi government to 9/11 and the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). But according to Knight Ridder, “Several of those with knowledge of the trips said they failed to produce any new evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001] Newsweek will similarly report in 2004 that “the results of the Woolsey mission were exactly what the FBI had predicted: that the fingerprints were in fact identical.” [Newsweek, 4/21/2004] The local police in Swansea are curious about Woolsey’s visit and they call the US embassy in London to clarify if Woolsey is visiting in an official capacity. This alerts the State Department and CIA of Woolsey’s trip for the first time, and apparently both agencies are upset. One intelligence consultant familiar with the trip will say, “It was a stupid, stupid, and just plain wrong thing to do.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001] It is through this contact that Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet learn of Woolsey’s mission (see September 19-20, 2001). [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, James Woolsey, Abdul Basit, Colin Powell, Saddam Hussein, Paul Wolfowitz, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. [Source: Reuters and Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
bullet October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
bullet October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
bullet October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
bullet November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001; Associated Press, 8/7/2008] Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). [Observer, 10/14/2001; BBC, 10/16/2001] However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” [Washington Post, 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Iraq, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Patrick J. Leahy, Tom Daschle, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2001 Anthrax Attacks, US Domestic Terrorism

A London Times article by Daniel McGrory claims that not only did Mohamed Atta meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague, but that “a special FBI team” is studying “a report from Prague that anthrax spores were given to Atta” during the meeting. Furthermore, “Saddam’s agents were spotted at various times this year with Atta in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic,” and that Atta met with the agent in Prague at least four times. Additionally, an Iraqi intelligence agent in Rome was seen with Atta in Prague and Hamburg and then disappeared shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The article also alleges numerous meetings between Iraqi agents and Osama bin Laden, as well as a meeting between al-Qaeda second-in command Ayman Zawahiri and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan. Furthermore, al-Qaeda operatives were supposedly given advanced weapons training in Iraq supervised by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein. The article mentions no sources at all for these stunning allegations, except to refer to some other recent articles in a couple of cases. However, the article does mention former CIA Director James Woolsey, and it seems probable that Woolsey is a force behind the article, since he is in London at the time attempting to find evidence supporting the Prague meeting and Iraqi involvement in the anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). [London Times, 10/27/2001] This article represents the height of the propaganda effort attempting to link al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government together. Many of the allegations in the article are never mentioned in any other newspaper article, and all of them will eventually be debunked.

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Mohamed Atta, Osama bin Laden, Taha Yasin Ramadan, Uday Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Peter Bergen.Peter Bergen. [Source: Peter Bergen]Author and former war correspondent Peter Bergen writes that in the run-up to the Iraq war, most Americans believed wholeheartedly that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were behind the 9/11 attacks. Bergen writes: “[T]he belief that Saddam posed an imminent threat to the United States amounted to a theological conviction within the administration, a conviction successfully sold to the American public. So it’s fair to ask: Where did this faith come from?” One source is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a neoconservative think tank who has placed many of its fellows in the Bush administration, including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and John Bolton. But, Bergen notes, none of the AEI analysts and writers are experts on either Iraq or the Middle East. None have ever served in the region. And most actual Middle East experts both in and out of government don’t believe that Iraq had any connection to the 9/11 attacks. The impetus for the belief in a 9/11-Iraq connection in part comes from neoconservative academic Laurie Mylroie.
Mylroie Supplies Neoconservatives with Desired Rationale - A noted author with an impressive academic resume, Mylroie, Bergen writes, “was an apologist for Saddam’s regime, but reversed her position upon his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and, with the zeal of the academic spurned, became rabidly anti-Saddam.” In 1993, Mylroie decided that Saddam Hussein was behind the World Trade Center bombings, and made her case in a 2000 AEI-published book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America (see October 2000). Mylroie’s message was evidently quite popular with AEI’s neoconservatives. In her book, Mylroie blamed every terrorist event of the decade on Hussein, from the 1993 WTC bombings (a theory Bergen calls “risible”) to the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 into Long Island Sound (see July 17, 1996-September 1996), the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the 2000 attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), and even the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Bergen calls her a “crackpot,” and notes that it “would not be significant if she were merely advising say, [conservative conspiracy theorist] Lyndon LaRouche. But her neocon friends who went on to run the war in Iraq believed her theories, bringing her on as a consultant at the Pentagon, and they seem to continue to entertain her eccentric belief that Saddam is the fount of the entire shadow war against America.”
Complete Discrediting - Bergen, after detailing how Mylroie ignored conclusive evidence that both the 1993 and 9/11 attacks were planned by al-Qaeda terrorists and not Saddam Hussein, quotes former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro, who says Mylroie “has an obsession with Iraq and trying to link Saddam to global terrorism.” Cannistraro is joined by author and former CIA analyst Ken Pollack; Mary Jo White, the US attorney who prosecuted the 1993 WTC bombings and 1998 embassy attacks; and Neil Herman, the FBI official who headed the 1993 WTC investigation, who all dismiss Mylroie’s theories as absolutely baseless and thoroughly disproven by the evidence.
Belief or Convenience? - Apparently such thorough debunking did not matter to the AEI neoconservatives. Bergen writes that they were “formulating an alternative vision of US foreign policy to challenge what they saw as the feckless and weak policies of the Clinton administration. Mylroie’s research and expertise on Iraq complemented the big-think strategizing of the neocons, and a symbiotic relationship developed between them.” Whether the neoconservatives actually believed Mylroie’s work, or if “her findings simply fit conveniently into their own desire to overthrow Saddam,” Bergen isn’t sure. Perle later backed off of supporting Mylroie’s theories, calling them less than convincing and downplaying her role in developing arguments for overthrowing Hussein even as he suggests she should be placed in a position of power at the CIA. It is known that after 9/11, former CIA Director James Woolsey, a prominent neoconservative, went to Britain to investigate some of Mylroie’s claims (see Mid-September-October 2001). And in September 2003, Vice President Cheney called Iraq “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11,” an echoing of Mylroie’s own theories. Mylroie’s latest book, Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror, accuses those agencies of suppressing information about Iraq’s role in 9/11, again contradicting all known intelligence and plain common sense (see July 2003).
Zeitgeist - Bergen concludes that in part because of Mylroie’s theories and their promulgation by Bush, Cheney, and prominent neoconservatives in and out of the administration, the US has been led into a disastrous war while 70 percent of Americans believe that Hussein had a role in the 9/11 attacks. “[H]er specious theories of Iraq’s involvement in anti-American terrorism have now become part of the American zeitgeist.” Perhaps the most telling statement from Mylroie comes from a recent interview in Newsweek, where she said: “I take satisfaction that we went to war with Iraq and got rid of Saddam Hussein. The rest is details.” Bergen retorts sourly, “Now she tells us.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 216]

Entity Tags: Kenneth Pollack, John R. Bolton, Clinton administration, Bush administration (43), American Enterprise Institute, Al-Qaeda, Vincent Cannistraro, Saddam Hussein, Neil Herman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James Woolsey, Mary Jo White, Lyndon LaRouche, Peter Bergen, Laurie Mylroie, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle

Timeline Tags: Neoconservative Influence

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh informs his listeners of a Harris poll showing a majority of those surveyed believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when the war began over a year before (see March 19, 2003). Limbaugh blames the misconception on the “liberal media,” not on the government officials and conservative pundits, including Limbaugh, who pushed the idea of Iraqi WMD on the public before the invasion (see July 30, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, Mid-September-October 2001, October 17, 2001, November 14, 2001, December 20, 2001, 2002, February 11, 2002, Summer 2002, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 19, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 17, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 23, 2003, May 21, 2003, May 29, 2003, and June 11, 2003), and uses the incident to warn his listeners about getting their news from the “liberal media.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 151]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Saddam Hussein

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

A map drawn by one of the defectors, showing his version of the Salman Pak facility.A map drawn by one of the defectors, showing his version of the Salman Pak facility. [Source: PBS]The story told by three Iraqi defectors in November 2001, of a terrorist training camp in Salman Pak, outside of Baghdad, has long been disproven (November 6-8, 2001) and one defector has been shown to have pretended to be former Iraqi general Jamal al-Ghurairy, the key source for the story. But only now are the news reporters and pundits beginning to acknowledge—however grudgingly—that they were duped, and that their credulous reportings helped cement the Bush administration’s fabricated case for invading Iraq. The story was one of at least 108 planted in the US and British press by the Iraqi National Congress (INC) between October 2001 and May 2002, a number audaciously provided by the INC itself in its attempts to persuade Congress to continue its funding (see June 26, 2002). The New York Times eventually admitted some faults with its prewar reporting, but only admitted that its coverage of the Salman Pak story had “never been independently verified.” PBS, similarly gulled by the defectors and their fraudulent claims (see October 2005), amended its Frontline Web site for its “Gunning for Saddam” story, which featured interviews with the defectors, to note that the defector’s claims have “not been substantiated,” and later will admit to the likelihood that its reporter, Christopher Buchanan, was duped. New York Times reporter Chris Hedges now says he took the word of producer Lowell Bergman as to the validity of the defector, and was further convinced by one of the defector’s military appearance. As for Bergman, Hedges says, “There has to be a level of trust between reporters. We cover each other’s sources when it’s a good story because otherwise everyone would get hold of it.” Hedges admits he was not aware at the time of how close Bergman, and other Times reporters such as Judith Miller, was to INC head Ahmed Chalabi. “I was on the periphery of all this. This was Bergman’s show.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] In 2004, Hedges noted that he attempted to get confirmation from the US government about the defectors and their story, and government officials confirmed the claims: “We tried to vet the defectors and we didn’t get anything out of Washington that said ‘these guys are full of sh*t.’” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] Hedges says he later rejected an attempt by Chalabi to convince him that UN inspectors were spying for Saddam Hussein. He also says that he never believed the stories placing 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague (see April 8, 2001). He no longer trusts Chalabi as a source of information: “He’s a sleazy guy who I was not comfortable working around, but there was nothing right after 9/11 to indicate he was an outright liar.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges notes that Chalabi seemed to have an “endless stable” of defectors to talk with reporters. “He had defectors for any story you wanted. He tried to introduce me to this guy who said he knew about Iraqi spies on the UN inspection teams: the guy was a thug. I didn’t trust either of them.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004] However, none of this uncertainty made it into Hedges’s Times report. Bergman says, “You’ve got to remember that back then there really was only one show in town, and that was Chalabi’s. If you were doing a story on Saddam’s Iraq, you would speak to the Iraqi government, the White House, and the INC.” Bergman tried to confirm the al-Ghurairy story with former CIA director and prominent neoconservative James Woolsey, and Woolsey told him that “al-Ghurairy” had met with the FBI in Ankara. (At the time, Woolsey was hardly a neutral source since it was already reported that he was aggressively trying to drum up connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see Late September 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001).) “Chalabi was dangerous goods in the sense you know he’s advocating war” Bergman recalls. “But that label is up-front. I think Chalabi is given too much credit for influencing the march to war.” Many conservative pundits still cite the al-Ghurairy tale as justification for the Iraq invasion. And the White House still lists “shutting down the Salman Pak training camp where members of many terrorist camps trained” in its “Progress Report on the Global War on Terrorism” Web page. In 2004, Chalabi boasted, “As far as we’re concerned, we’ve been entirely successful. That tyrant Saddam is gone, and the Americans are in Baghdad. What was said before is not important. The Bush administration is looking for a scapegoat. We’re ready to fall on our swords if he wants. We are heroes in error.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006]

Entity Tags: Jamal al-Ghurairy, Chris Hedges, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Iraqi National Congress, Christopher Buchanan, Saddam Hussein, Mohamed Atta, New York Times, Public Broadcasting System, Lowell Bergman, Judith Miller, James Woolsey

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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