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Context of 'April 2003: US Intelligence Analysts Complain about Pressure to Tie Iraq to Al-Qaeda'

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A 20-year-old Ethiopian man hijacks a Lufthansa Airbus bound from Frankfurt to Addis Ababa, via Cairo. Wielding a gun (which is subsequently found to be just a starter pistol), he forces the pilot to divert the plane to New York. The 11-hour ordeal ends after the plane lands at JFK International Airport and the hijacker surrenders to the FBI. (CNN 3/14/1996; Weale 2/8/2000; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 457)
Fears of Plane Being Crashed - Journalist Eric Margolis, who is on the plane, will later say that he and the other passengers are “convinced the hijacker… intended to crash the plane into Manhattan.” (Margolis 2/13/2000) While giving television commentary on the morning of 9/11, Larry Johnson—currently the deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism—will say it was feared when the plane was flown to New York “that it might be crashed into something.” (NBC 9/11/2001)
Air Force Responds - In response to the hijacking, F-15 fighter jets are scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, from where fighters will also be launched in response to the first hijacking on 9/11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Later, F-16s are scrambled from Atlantic City, New Jersey. The fighters intercept the Lufthansa aircraft off the coast of eastern Canada, and initially trail it from a distance of about ten miles. As the plane approaches JFK Airport, the fighters move in to a distance of five miles. They do a low fly-by as the plane lands at JFK. They circle overhead for a while, until the hijacking situation is resolved, and then return to their bases. (Spencer 2008, pp. 29)
Participants in Response Also Involved on 9/11 - This is the last hijacking to occur prior to 9/11 involving US air traffic controllers, FAA management, and military coordination. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 14; Cooper 8/5/2004) At least two of the military personnel who participate in the response to it will play key roles in responding to the 9/11 attacks. Robert Marr, who on 9/11 will be the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), is currently the assistant deputy commander of operations at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, NY. (Baker 3/27/2005) On this occasion, he talks with his counterpart at the FAA and explains that the FAA needs to start a request up its chain of command, so the military can respond quickly if the hijacking—which takes place in Europe—comes to the United States. He then informs his own chain of command to be prepared for a request for military assistance from the FAA. Several hours later, Marr is notified that military assistance has been authorized, and the fighter jets are scrambled from Otis and Atlantic City. (Spencer 2008, pp. 26-27) Timothy Duffy, who will be one of the F-15 pilots that launches from Otis Air Base in response to the first hijacking on 9/11, is also involved. His role on this occasion is unreported, though presumably he pilots one of the jets scrambled from Otis after the Lufthansa plane. (Spencer 2008, pp. 29)

Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA deputy director of the US State Department Office of Counterterrorism, will say at a National Press Club briefing in February 2004: “By April of last year, I was beginning to pick up grumblings from friends inside the intelligence community that there had been pressure applied to analysts to come up with certain conclusions. Specifically, I was told that analysts were pressured to find an operational link between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein. One analyst, in particular, told me they were repeatedly pressured by the most senior officials in the Department of Defense.” Johnson, who is also a former CIA analyst, adds: “In an e-mail exchange with another friend, I raised the possibility that ‘the Bush administration had bought into a lie.’ My friend, who works within the intelligence community, challenged me on the use of the word, ‘bought,’ and suggested instead that the Bush administration had created the lie.… I have spoken to more than two analysts who have expressed fear of retaliation if they come forward and tell what they know. We know that most of the reasons we were given for going to war were wrong.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 333-334; Benton 2/2004 Sources: Larry C. Johnson)

Salon columnist and media observer Eric Boehlert notes that while the White House has specifically, and emphatically, denied Karl Rove leaked the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see September 29, 2003), it has not yet given such coverage to Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney. Circumstantial evidence that the White House may be leaving Libby to, in Boehlert’s words, “twist in the wind” is mounting. The New York Daily News has reported that “Democratic Congressional sources said they would like to hear from… Lewis Libby.” On MSNBC, an administration critic, former counterterrorism official Larry Johnson, who says he knows who the leaker is, would not deny it was Libby. And Senator Chuck Hagel has implied that the leak originated from the vice president’s office when he said that President Bush needs to sit down with Cheney and “ask… what he knows about it.” A former senior CIA officer says, “Libby is certainly suspect No. 1.” Even Cheney’s own spokeswoman, Cathie Martin, refuses to deny Libby’s involvement, saying only, “This is a serious matter and we shouldn’t be speculating in light of an ongoing investigation.” Boehlert notes that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson in one of his columns (see July 14, 2003), has dropped several hints about his primary source that point (inconclusively) to Libby. Novak’s assertion that his source is “no partisan gunslinger” (see October 1, 2003) is a better characterization of Libby than of Rove. Since Novak has referred to his source as “he,” the source cannot be National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or any other White House female. Most interestingly, Boehlert notes, Novak was never looking for Plame Wilson’s identity when he spoke with his sources in July 2003. Rather, he wanted to know why former ambassador Joseph Wilson was chosen to go to Niger (see Shortly after February 13, 2002 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The logical place for Novak to begin such an inquiry, Boehlert writes, was Cheney’s office. Wilson believed Cheney was primarily, if indirectly, responsible for sending him to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). Time magazine ran a story that revealed Libby was talking to reporters about Wilson (see July 17, 2003). And Boehlert notes other, less significant clues that add incrementally to the evidence showing that Libby might well have been Novak’s source. Finally, Boehlert comes back to Larry Johnson. Johnson confirmed for PBS that Plame Wilson was an undercover CIA agent and not merely an “analyst,” as Novak has asserted. He recently said flatly on MSNBC, “I know the name of the person that spoke with Bob Novak,” and that person works “at the White House,” and more specifically, “in the Old Executive Office Buildings.” Cheney’s office is located inside the Old Executive Office Building. Johnson was asked by co-host Pat Buchanan: “Scooter Libby. Now, is Scooter Libby the name you heard?” Johnson replied, “I’m not going to comment on that.” (Boehlert 10/3/2003) The day after Boehlert’s column appears, White House press secretary Scott McClellan gives reporters the same assurance about Libby that he gave to Rove (see October 4, 2003).

Investigative journalist Craig Unger reports that nine US officials believe “the Niger documents were part of a covert operation to deliberately mislead the American public.” The officials are 30-year CIA veteran Milt Bearden; Colonel W. Patrick Lang, a former DIA defense intelligence officer for the Middle East, South Asia, and terrorism; Colonel Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell; Melvin Goodman, a former division chief and senior analyst at the CIA and the State Department; Ray McGovern, a veteran CIA analyst; Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who served in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia division in 2002 and 2003; Larry C. Johnson, a former CIA officer who was deputy director of the State Department Office of Counterterrorism from 1989 to 1993; former CIA official Philip Giraldi; and Vincent Cannistraro, the former chief of operations of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center. (Unger 7/2006, pp. 150)


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