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During a meeting with President Bush, Saudi Prince Bandar expresses concern about the US’s continuing patrolling of the “no-fly zone” in Iraq. The prince complains that it is “costing us militarily, financially, but much more importantly politically,” and adds that “it is not hurting Saddam Hussein.” Bush seems to agree. “If there is any military action, then it has to be decisive. That can finalize the issue,” Bush says. “The Iraqi opposition is useless and not effective.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
Photo of Iraqi aluminum tube, misidentified as a component for a nuclear reactor. [Source: CIA]The CIA writes at least 15 reports (only seven of which have been identified; see, e.g., June 20, 2001, June 30, 2001,
September 2004-September 2006,
November 24, 2001,
December 15, 2001,
June 14, 2001,
April 10, 2001) about Iraq’s interest in purchasing 7075-T6 aluminum tubes. Several of the assessments are distributed only to high-level policy makers, including President Bush, and are not sent to other intelligence agencies for peer review. According to a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigation, all the assessments rely on the same evidence and they all fail to note that the opinions of leading centrifuge experts at the Energy Department conflict with the CIA’s view. [US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; New York Times, 10/3/2004]
In a column exploring the idea of US-led regime change in Iraq and advocating the support of Iraqi opposition groups to overthrow Saddam Hussein, Washington Post columnist Jim Hoagland calls Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996) “a dedicated advocate of democracy” in Iraq. (Hoagland lauds Chalabi’s advanced college degrees, his success as a Jordanian banker (see August 2, 1989), and what he calls Chalabi’s exposure of the CIA’s “gross failures” in Iraq (see (1994)). Hoagland decries “15 years of failed US policy toward Saddam,” and writes that Chalabi is a fine choice to lead Iraq in the place of Hussein. “Mr. Chalabi is a dedicated advocate of democracy who does fight against enormous military odds and deep religious and social divisions in the Arab world,” he writes. Lambasting those in the CIA and State Department who are determined to prove that Chalabi is a fraud (see January 1996), Hoagland writes, “A policy review dedicated to trashing him and other exiles is a shameful and self-defeating way to begin anew on Iraq. It is a phony way to argue that nothing can or should be done to oust the predatory psychopath who holds Iraq hostage.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 206]
Hynek Kmonicek, the Czech Republic’s deputy foreign minister, informs the Iraqi charge d’affaires in Prague that Iraqi diplomat Ahmed al-Ani must leave the Czech Republic within 24 hours because his “presence [is] not in the security interests of the Czech Republic” and because his activities are “incompatible with his diplomatic status.” [Independent, 10/25/2001; New York Times, 10/27/2001; New York Times, 12/16/2001; New York Times, 11/19/2003] Kmonicek will later deny that the dismissal is related to the meeting that allegedly took place on April 8 (see April 8, 2001). A Newsweek report in April 2002 will suggest the dismissal is related to video surveillance footage showing al-Ani photographing the Radio Free Europe building on several occasions. [Newsweek, 4/28/2002] But a November 2003 report in Slate will say that the dismissal is indeed related to the alleged meeting, explaining that Czech intelligence had become nervous after learning of the meeting. [New York Times, 11/19/2003] The real cause for his dismissal is never officially disclosed.
The US State Department’s 2000 annual report states in its section on state-sponsored terrorism that the Iraqi government’s “terrorist” activities consist primarily of its use of violence to silence dissident exiles. The report also notes that Iraq has not supported any militant operations against the West “since its failed plot to assassinate former President Bush in 1993 in Kuwait.” Significantly the report does not tie Iraq to international Islamic militant groups like al-Qaeda. [US Department of State, 4/30/2001; US Department of State, 4/30/2001; Newsday, 12/24/2001]
During a National Security Council deputy principals meeting on April 30, 2001, Paul Wolfowitz is challenged by White House counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke after asserting that Iraq is involved in terrorism. Recalling the meeting, Clarke tells The Guardian in a March 2004 interview: “April was an initial discussion of terrorism policy writ large and at that meeting I said we had to talk about al-Qaeda. And because it was terrorism policy writ large [Paul] Wolfowitz said we have to talk about Iraqi terrorism and I said that’s interesting because there hasn’t been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States. There hasn’t been any for 8 years. And he said something derisive about how I shouldn’t believe the CIA and FBI, that they’ve been wrong. And I said if you know more than I know tell me what it is, because I’ve been doing this for 8 years and I don’t know about any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993. When I said let’s start talking about bin Laden, he said bin Laden couldn’t possibly have attacked the World Trade Center in ‘93. One little terrorist group like that couldn’t possibly have staged that operation. It must have been Iraq.” [Guardian, 3/23/2004] During the same meeting, Wolfowitz also allegedly dismisses bin Laden and al-Qaeda as a serious threat (see April 30, 2001).
According to FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds, “Four months before 9/11”, FBI monitoring overhears Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, Pentagon adviser Richard Perle, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz “discussing with the Turkish ambassador in Washington an arrangement whereby the US would invade Iraq and divide the country.… They were negotiating what Turkey required in exchange for allowing an attack from Turkish soil.” National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, later a critic of the Iraq War, is initially in favor of the plan, but will later drop his support when it becomes clear Turkish demands for control of the Kurdish region in northern Iraq will not be granted. [The American Conservative, 11/1/2009]
Secretary of State Colin Powell, in testimony before the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, says that Saddam Hussein has been effectively contained by sanctions.
He says, “The sanctions… have succeeded over the last 10 years, not in deterring him from moving in that direction, but from actually being able to move in that direction. The Iraqi regime militarily remains fairly weak. It doesn’t have the capacity it had 10 or 12 years ago. It has been contained. And even though we have no doubt in our mind that the Iraqi regime is pursuing programs to develop weapons of mass destruction—chemical, biological and nuclear—I think the best intelligence estimates suggest that they have not been terribly successful. There’s no question that they have some stockpiles of some of these sorts of weapons still under their control, but they have not been able to break out, they have not been able to come out with the capacity to deliver these kinds of systems or to actually have these kinds of systems that is much beyond where they were 10 years ago. So containment, using this arms control sanctions regime, I think has been reasonably successful. We have not been able to get the inspectors back in, though, to verify that, and we have not been able to get the inspectors in to pull up anything that might be left there. So we have to continue to view this regime with the greatest suspicion, attribute to them the most negative motives, which is quite well-deserved with this particular regime, and roll the sanctions over, and roll them over in a way where the arms control sanctions really go after their intended targets—weapons of mass destruction—and not go after civilian goods or civilian commodities that we really shouldn’t be going after, just let that go to the Iraqi people.” [US Congress, 5/15/2001; Mirror, 9/22/2003]
Newly hired Defense Department public relations chief Victoria Clarke (see May 2001) begins a series of regular meetings with a number of Washington’s top private PR specialists and lobbyists. The group is tasked with developing a marketing plan for the upcoming war in Iraq. It is remarkably successful in securing press cooperation to spread its message (see August 13, 2003 and After May 31, 2001).
Bipartisan Makeup - Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will later write, “The group was filled with heavy-hitters and was strikingly bipartisan in composition.” The group, later informally dubbed “the Rumsfeld Group,” is made up of, among others, PR executives John Rendon and Sheila Tate, Republican political consultant Rich Galen, and Democratic operative Tommy Boggs (brother of NPR’s Cokie Roberts and a PR consultant for the Saudi royal family; St. Clair believes Boggs may have had a hand in the decision to redact 20+ pages concerning the Saudis from Congress’s report on the intelligence failures leading to the 9/11 attacks—see April 2003 and August 1-3, 2003). The direct involvement, if any, of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is unclear.
Rendon's Involvement - John Rendon, the head of the Rendon Group, is a noteworthy veteran of the 1990-91 PR efforts to market the Gulf War (see August 11, 1990), has worked for both Democratic and Republican politicians and lobbying groups, and was instrumental in creating Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (see May 1991). Rendon, already under contract with the Pentagon to help market the US bombing of Afghanistan, is one of the key players in marketing the upcoming Iraq invasion. Though Rendon refuses to discuss his work for the Pentagon, St. Clair believes he will be partially or completely responsible for some of the invasion’s signature events, including the toppling of the statue of Hussein in Firdos Square by US troops and Chalabi associates (see April 9, 2003), and video-friendly Iraqi crowds waving American flags as US Army vehicles roll by. Rendon explains his role like this: “I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician. I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” The Pentagon defines “perception management” as “actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning.” St. Clair adds, “In other words, lying about the intentions of the US government.” One of the biggest instances of Pentagon “perception management” is the Office of Strategic Influence (see Shortly after September 11, 2001), also developed by Rendon. [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]
Entity Tags: Tommy Boggs, Iraqi National Congress, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), “The Rumsfeld Group”, Jeffrey St. Clair, Sheila Tate, John Rendon, US Department of Defense, Rich Galen, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Office of Strategic Influence
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
A British Intelligence paper reports that Iraq has been seeking aluminum tubes from Switzerland of the same precise specifications as the tubes Iraq recently ordered from China (see 2000). The report suggests the tubes are “probably for the Iraqi Air Force.” [United Kingdom, 7/14/2004 ]
A compendium of documents both real and forged is given to US intelligence by Italy’s military intelligence agency, SISMI. It is doubtful that the US receives the key documents themselves—it is standard practice among intelligence agencies to share reports, but not original materials, with allies. The dossier includes materials purloined from the Nigerien embassy in Rome (see January 2, 2001). According to document peddler Rocco Martino (see Early 2000), SISMI later added more documents to the ones he originally obtained from the Nigerien embassy, including a codebook and a dossier filled with documents both genuine and forged. The dossier includes an authentic telex dated February 1, 1999, in which Nigerien ambassador Adamou Chekou wrote to another official about a forthcoming visit from Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican (see February 1999).
Forged Document Asserting Sale of Uranium to Iraq Included - The last and most important document the US receives is a forged memo dated July 7, 2000. This forgery is supposedly a report on the sale of 500 tons of pure “yellowcake” uranium per year by Niger to Iraq (see Between 1999 and 2000 and Summer 2001). Such uranium is useful in making nuclear weapons.
Documents for Money - For Martino’s part, it seems that his only motivation in disseminating the forged documents is money. Italian reporter Carla Bonini later says, “He was not looking for great amounts of money—$10,000, $20,000, maybe $40,000.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 236]
CIA Analysts Disbelieving of Claims - The initial reaction of the CIA analysts reading over the documents is to dismiss the reports of an Iraqi attempt to buy huge quantities of Nigerien uranium as ridiculous. In September 2006, veteran CIA analyst Ray McGovern will say: “The reports made no sense on the face of it. Most of us knew the Iraqis already had yellowcake. It is a sophisticated process to change it into a very refined state and they didn’t have the technology.” In October 2006, Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say, “The idea that you could get that much yellowcake out of Niger without the French knowing, that you could have a train big enough to carry it, is absurd.” Lieutenant Colonel Karen Kwiatkowski, who will serve in the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia Division in 2002 and 2003, will note in October 2005: “Yellowcake is unprocessed bulk ore. If Saddam [Hussein] wanted to make nuclear bombs, why would he want unprocessed ore, when the best thing to do would be to get processed stuff in the Congo?” McGovern will add that it is routine for “all manner of crap” to come “out of the field.” The CIA’s experienced analysts “are qualified to see if these reports made sense. For some reason, perhaps cowardice, these reports were judged to be of such significance that no one wanted to sit on it.” [London Times, 8/1/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 207-208]
Difference in Dates - Other sources say that SISMI waits until October 2001 to provide the documents to the US (see October 15, 2001).
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz asks the CIA to look over the 2000 book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America by Laurie Mylroie, which argued that Iraq was behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (see October 2000). Wolfowitz will mention shortly after 9/11 how he asked the CIA to do this, but it is unknown what their response is. Presumably it is not one Wolfowitz liked. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 559] Wolfowitz also asks Thomas Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), to have his analysts look at the book. The DIA is unable to find any evidence that support the theory. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 76] Around late July, the US reopens the files on WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef, presumably in response to these requests (see Late July or Early August 2001). But no evidence will be found to support Mylroie’s theory that Yousef was an Iraqi agent. The 9/11 Commission will conclude in 2004, “We have found no credible evidence to support theories of Iraqi government involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 559]
According to the trade publication PR Week, the ad hoc government public relations organization dubbed “The Rumsfeld Group” (see Late May 2001) is quite successful at sending what the publication calls “messaging advice” to the Pentagon.
Marketing a Link between Iraq, Islamist Radicals - The group tells Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that to get the American public’s support for the war on terror, and particularly the invasion of Iraq, they need to fix in the public mind a link between terror and nation-states, not just fluid and ad hoc groups such as al-Qaeda. Reporter Jeffrey St. Clair will write, “In other words, there needed to be a fixed target for the military campaigns, some distant place to drop cruise missiles and cluster bombs.” The Rumsfeld Group comes up with the idea of labeling Iraq and certain other nations “rogue states,” an idea already extant in Rumsfeld’s mind, and the genesis of the so-called “axis of evil” (see January 29, 2002 and After January 29, 2002).
Veterans of the Gulf War - The government allocates tens of millions of dollars, most of which is handed out to private public relations and media firms hired to spread the Bush administration’s message that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein must be taken out before he can use his arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons on US targets. Many of the PR and media executives are old friends of senior Bush officials, and many had worked on selling the 1991 Gulf War to the public (see October 10, 1990).
Media Complicity Ensures Success - St. Clair will later note that while the PR efforts are, largely, failures with US allies, they are far more successful with the American population (see August 13, 2003). He will write: “A population traumatized by terror threats and shattered economy became easy prey for the saturation bombing of the Bush message that Iraq was a terrorist state linked to al-Qaeda that was only minutes away from launching attacks on America with weapons of mass destruction. Americans were the victims of an elaborate con job, pelted with a daily barrage of threat inflation, distortions, deceptions, and lies. Not about tactics or strategy or war plans. But about justifications for war. The lies were aimed not at confusing Saddam’s regime, but the American people.” St. Clair places as much blame on the “gullible [and] complicit press corps,” so easily managed by Clarke (see February 2003). “During the Vietnam war, TV images of maimed GIs and napalmed villages suburbanized opposition to the war and helped hasten the US withdrawal,” St. Clair writes. “The Bush gang meant to turn the Vietnam phenomenon on its head by using TV as a force to propel the US into a war that no one really wanted. What the Pentagon sought was a new kind of living room war, where instead of photos of mangled soldiers and dead Iraqi kids, they could control the images Americans viewed and to a large extent the content of the stories. By embedding reporters inside selected divisions, Clarke believed the Pentagon could count on the reporters to build relationships with the troops and to feel dependent on them for their own safety. It worked, naturally.” St. Clair notes the instance of one reporter on national television calling the US Army “our protectors,” and NBC’s David Bloom’s on-air admission that he is willing to do “anything and everything they can ask of us.” [CounterPunch, 8/13/2003]
Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati. [Source: CBS News]The Iraqi defector known as Curveball (see November 4, 2007), who is providing German and US intelligence analysts with fascinating but fallacious stories of his involvement with what he claims is a secret Iraqi mobile biological weapons laboratory (see November 1999), provides the names of real Iraqis with whom he claims to have worked, further convincing the analysts of his veracity. One name he cites is that of nuclear scientist Dr. Basil al-Sa’ati, whom he claims was one of the mobile bioweapons program’s senior officials. In late 2007, long after Curveball has been proven to be a complete fabricator, a reporter asks al-Sa’ati, “[Curveball] told German intelligence that you personally were fully involved in the project to use [a laboratory site at] Djerf al Nadaf for mobile biological weapons.” Al-Sa’ati’s reply: “Big lie.” Had anything of that nature gone on there, he will say, he would “definitely” have known about it. “It was… really seed purification” and not a bioweapons facility, al-Sa’ati will say. Al-Sa’ati is equally dismissive with the Germans. If Curveball were involved in something so secret, al-Sa’ati asks the Germans, why did Saddam Hussein let him emigrate in 1999? Curveball had not known of al-Sa’ati’s emigration and subsequent availability to Western intelligence agencies, and becomes less cooperative and more reticent. Doubts about Curveball’s veracity began to grow among the Germans. [CBS News, 11/4/2007]
The UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) obtains a few samples of the 7075-T6 aluminum tubes that were seized by the CIA and Jordanian secret service (see July 2001). IAEA scientists examine the tubes and initially are quite skeptical that the Iraqis intended to use them as rotors in a gas centrifuge. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice tells a television interviewer that while Bush considers Saddam Hussein “a threat to his neighbors, a threat to security in the region, in fact a threat to international security more broadly…let’s remember that his country is divided, in effect. He does not control the northern part of his country. We are able to keep arms from him. His military forces have not been rebuilt.” [Mirror, 9/22/2003; CNN, 10/1/2003]
In meetings and telephone calls, CIA officials inform administration officials that experts at the Department of Energy do not believe that the aluminum tubes sought by Iraq are intended for use in a gas centrifuge. According to one senior administration official, who is briefed by the CIA at least six times on the tubes, by late 2001, he is aware that there are differing views on the tubes. “To the best of my knowledge, he never hid anything from me,” the official later recalls, referring to his counterpart at WINPAC. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]
Ratcheting up the anti-Iraq rhetoric in the press, neoconservative Reuel Marc Gerecht writes in the Weekly Standard that the US is a “cowering superpower” for not directly challenging Iraq, and demands that President Bush explain “how we will live with Saddam [Hussein] and his nuclear weapons.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 206]
Laurie Mylroie. [Source: Publicity photo]US authorities re-open the files on Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the WTC bombing in 1993, and begin looking into the theory that Yousef may have actually been an Iraqi agent. Presumably this is in response to requests by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz the month before to look into the matter (see June 2001). Yousef was convicted in 1996 (see September 5, 1996) and has been in custody since 1995 (see February 7, 1995). According to the official version of events, Yousef’s real name is Abdul Basit, a 27-year-old Pakistani who until 1989 was a computer student studying in South Wales. In late 2000, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America arguing in support of the theory that Yousef was actually an Iraqi agent (see October 2000). The book, written by AEI scholar Laurie Mylroie, says that Basit was living with his parents in Kuwait in 1990 when Iraq invaded the country (see November 8, 1990). During the occupation, Iraqis presumably murdered him and his family and then altered police files so Iraqi intelligence could use his identity. [New Republic, 9/13/2001; London Times, 9/22/2001] In February 2001, former CIA Director James Woolsey traveled to Britain in an attempt to find evidence to support this theory (see February 2001). But Mylroie’s theory is debunked by authorities who match the fingerprints of Yousef to those of Basit. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 81]
After CIA analyst Joe Turner’s presentation to UN atomic energy scientists (see Late July 2001), one of the scientists calls David Albright, a nuclear physicist who runs the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, and warns him that the “people across the river [i.e., the CIA] are trying to start a war. They are really beating the drum. They want to attack.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 37]
Richard Perle, head of the Defense Policy Board and foreign policy adviser to Bush, is asked about new challenges now that the Cold War is over. He cites three: “We’re concerned about Saddam Hussein, We’re concerned about the North Koreans, about some future Iranian government that may have the weapon they’re now trying so hard to acquire…” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/6/2001] Note that these three nations are the same three named in Bush’s famous January 2002 “axis of evil” speech (see January 29, 2002). [US President, 2/4/2002]
F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base patrol the southern no-fly zone in support of Operation Southern Watch. [Source: Jack Braden / United States Air Force]At the time of the 9/11 attacks, the 94th Fighter Squadron, which is stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, is away on a 90-day combat deployment to Saudi Arabia for Operation Southern Watch, to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. Two days before 9/11, on September 9, the 27th Fighter Squadron, which is also stationed at Langley AFB, returns from Saudi Arabia, where it has been performing the same mission. [BBC, 12/29/1998; Air Force Association, 10/2/2002; 1st Fighter Association, 2003] The 94th and 27th Fighter Squadrons are two of the three F-15 fighter squadrons that are part of the 1st Fighter Wing, which is the “host unit” at Langley AFB. The third of these is the 71st Fighter Squadron. Between them, the three squadrons have 54 “primary assigned” F-15C fighter jets. [Langley Air Force Base, 11/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 2/12/2006] On September 11, most of the F-15s of the 71st FS are also away from base, for the Red Flag exercise in Nevada (see (Late August-September 17, 2001)). [Virginian-Pilot, 9/24/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 9/15/2006]
Langley Jets Not Part of NORAD Alert Unit - Langley Air Force Base, which is 130 miles south of the Pentagon, is one of two “alert sites” that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) can call upon to get jets quickly launched. However, the F-15s of the 1st Fighter Wing are not involved in this mission. Instead, that task belongs to the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing, which has a small detachment at Langley AFB and keeps two fighter jets there ready to take off when required. [USA Today, 9/16/2001; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Spencer, 2008, pp. 114] Despite not being part of the NORAD alert unit, aircraft from the 1st Fighter Wing are involved in the military response to the 9/11 attacks. Jets belonging to the 27th FS are airborne within two hours of the attacks, “providing protection for the National Command Authority and the rest of the nation’s civilian and military leadership.” [Air Force Association, 10/2/2002] And F-15s belonging to the 71st FS are launched from Langley AFB following the attacks, to patrol the skies of the East Coast. [Langley Air Force Base, 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association, 3/14/2006]
Possible Effect on 9/11 Response - Whether the deployment of the 94th Fighter Squadron to Saudi Arabia diminishes Langley AFB’s ability to respond on 9/11 is unknown. However, Air Force units are cycled through deployments like Operation Southern Watch by the Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) Center, which is at Langley Air Force Base. And according to NORAD Commander Larry Arnold, “Prior to Sept. 11, we’d been unsuccessful in getting the AEF Center to be responsible for relieving our air defense units when they went overseas.” [Air Force Print News, 6/2000; GlobalSecurity (.org), 12/21/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 99]
Time magazine reports, “Enthusiasm is building inside the Administration to take down Saddam once and for all. Powell too would love to see Saddam [Hussein] unhorsed, says an official at State. ‘But you need a serious plan that’s doable. The question is how many lives and resources you have to risk.’” Powell is said to have doubts about how to remove Hussein, and calls such an idea still “hypothetical.” But Time notes that “plenty of others on the Bush team are gung-ho.” [Time, 9/2/2001]
Time magazine writes an article calling Secretary of State Colin Powell the “odd man out” in the administration, adding that his centrist politics make Powell “chum in the water for the sharks in Dubya’s sea,” particularly Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. One top diplomat, asked to provide an adjective for the phrase, “Colin Powell is a ‘blank’ secretary of state,” replies, “Yes, he is.” A senior administration official says, “I’ve been struck by how not struck I am by him.” Time itself writes, “Powell’s megastar wattage looks curiously dimmed, as if someone has turned his light way down.” When Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is asked why he took the number two spot in the Pentagon, he replies with one word: “Powell” (see January 11, 2001). (Wolfowitz will later deny making the remark.) Author Craig Unger will later write that Wolfowitz’s terse reply “gave the game away. He was there to neutralize Powell, to implement the hard-line neocon[servative] vision.” The Time article concludes, “Enthusiasm is building inside the administration to take down [Iraq’s] Saddam [Hussein] once and for all,” a policy to which Powell is opposed. [Time, 9/2/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 213]
The New York Times reports: “Over the past several years, the United States has embarked on a program of secret research on biological weapons that, some officials say, tests the limits of the global treaty banning such weapons.… The projects, which have not been previously disclosed, were begun under President Clinton and have been embraced by the Bush administration, which intends to expand them.” The US claims that this research is needed to protect Americans from the threat posed by rogue nations or terrorist groups who may be developing such weapons. [New York Times, 9/4/2001]
In the months leading up to the war with Iraq, Bush administration officials manipulate the intelligence provided to them by analysts in order to drum up support for the invasion. Some analysts complain that they are under pressure to write assessments that support the administration’s case for invading Iraq. On March 7, 2002, Knight Ridder reports that various military officials, intelligence employees, and diplomats in the Bush administration have charged “that the administration squelches dissenting views and that intelligence analysts are under intense pressure to produce reports supporting the White House’s argument that Hussein poses such an immediate threat to the United States that preemptive military action is necessary.” [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2002]
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks begin, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), at his Senate office, reportedly tells his aides, “This is war.” Within hours, McCain begins frequently appearing on television to discuss responding to the attacks. The New York Times will later say that McCain becomes “the leading advocate of taking the American retaliation against al-Qaeda far beyond Afghanistan. In a marathon of television and radio appearances, Mr. McCain recited a short list of other countries said to support terrorism, invariably including Iraq, Iran and Syria.” For instance, on the morning of September 12, he says on ABC News, “There is a system out there or network, and that network is going to have to be attacked.” He adds on MSNBC, “It isn’t just Afghanistan.” In a CNN interview some days later, he says, “Very obviously Iraq is the first country.” [New York Times, 8/16/2008]
Just hours after the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York, neoconservative writer and former CIA asset Michael Ledeen writes an op-ed at the National Review’s website attacking the more moderate “realists” in the Bush administration. Ledeen urges someone in the White House to remind President Bush that “we are still living with the consequences of Desert Storm [referencing the decision not to overthrow Saddam Hussein in 1991—see February 1991-1992 and September 1998] when his father and his father’s advisers—most notably Colin Powell and Brent Scowcroft—advised against finishing the job and liberating Iraq.” Ledeen is clearly implying that Iraq is responsible for the attacks, and that Bush should “correct” his father’s mistake by invading Iraq. [Unger, 2007, pp. 215]
After a meeting with the full National Security Council from 9:00 to 10:00 p.m. (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), President Bush continues meeting with a smaller group of advisers. During this meeting, Bush says the US will punish not just the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks, but also those who harbored them (this closely echoes the rhetoric he used in a speech that evening (see 8:30 p.m. September 11, 2001)). Secretary of State Colin Powell suggests the US needs to build a coalition of other nations. But according to the 9/11 Commission, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urges Bush to “think broadly about who might have harbored the attackers, including Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Sudan, and Iran. He wonder[s] aloud how much evidence the United States would need in order to deal with these countries, pointing out that major strikes could take up to 60 days to assemble.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 330] According to journalist Bob Woodward, at this meeting, “Rumsfeld actually puts Iraq on the table and says, ‘Part of our response maybe should be attacking Iraq. It’s an opportunity.’” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Earlier in the day, notes by a Rumsfeld aide indicate Rumsfeld was aware that evidence was already suggesting al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, but he wanted to use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq as well (see (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
Veteran CIA operative John Maguire calls long-time friend Mohammed Abdullah al-Shahwani, a former Iraqi general, and tells him, “It’s showtime.” Maguire and al-Shahwani worked together in the ‘90s on a covert plan to overthrow the Iraqi government, but the plan was never approved by the Clinton White House. Maguire believes the 9/11 attacks have provided the long awaited opportunity to remove Saddam Hussein. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 154]
In 2004, the 9/11 Commission will ask President Bush his early thoughts on who might have been responsible for the 9/11 attacks. The Commission will summarize his answer: “President Bush had wondered immediately after the attack whether Saddam Hussein’s regime might have had a hand in it. Iraq had been an enemy of the United States for 11 years, and was the only place in the world where the United States was engaged in ongoing combat operations. As a former pilot, the President was struck by the apparent sophistication of the operation and some of the piloting, especially [Hani] Hanjour’s high-speed dive into the Pentagon. He told us he recalled Iraqi support for Palestinian suicide terrorists as well. Speculating about other possible states that could be involved, the President told us he also thought about Iran.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 333]
After concluding a National Security Council meeting (see September 12, 2001), President Bush continues meeting with about six top principal cabinet members. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld poses the question, “Do we focus on bin Laden and al-Qaeda or terrorism more broadly?” Secretary of State Colin Powell suggests the US should focus on terrorism generally, but focus first on al-Qaeda. Vice President Cheney brings up the issue of state sponsorship. “To the extent we define our task broadly, including those who support terrorism, then we get at states. And it’s easier to find them than it is to find bin Laden.” President Bush concludes, “Start with bin Laden, which Americans expect. And then if we succeed, we’ve struck a huge blow and can move forward.” He called the terrorism threat “a cancer” and adds, “We don’t want to define [it] too broadly for the average man to understand.” This is according to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews some participants in the meeting. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 43] The main alleged state sponsor that interests many top Bush officials is Iraq. For instance, five days later Bush will state he believes Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks, but that an attack on Iraq will have to wait (see September 17, 2001).
Neoconservative academic and author Laurie Mylroie, who has argued that Saddam Hussein was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see October 2000), publishes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal blaming Hussein for the 9/11 bombings. Though Mylroie has been thoroughly discredited (one former journalist, Peter Bergen, will call her a “crackpot”—see December 2003), and though US intelligence analysts are already telling journalists and White House officials that Iraq had nothing to do with the bombings, Mylroie’s assertions receive major coverage from many US and British media outlets. In a follow-up interview on CBS News, she says, “In my view, yesterday’s events were the latest in Saddam’s war against the United States.” Author Craig Unger later notes that Mylroie’s baseless charges may be considered harmless eccentricity except for two things:
Her claims perfectly parallel the policy aims of her neoconservative colleagues and associates in the White House; and
while few Americans have ever heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, and few find it credible that such devastation could be wrought by a small group of cave-dwelling fanatics, Saddam Hussein is a familiar name to most Americans, “a villain,” Unger will write, “straight out of central casting.” Mylroie’s specious claims will help fix the blame for 9/11 in Americans’ minds directly on Hussein and Iraq, Unger will claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 215-216]
Prominent conservative and former Reagan administration official William Bennett tells CNN that, in light of the 9/11 attacks, the US is locked in “a struggle between good and evil.” Congress must immediately declare war on what he calls “militant Islam,” with “overwhelming force.” Bennett says the US must target Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and China as targets for attack. In 2003, fellow conservative Pat Buchanan will write: “Not, however, Afghanistan, the sanctuary of Osama [bin Laden]‘s terrorists. How did Bennett know which nations must be smashed before he had any idea who attacked us?” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
US President George Bush speaks privately with White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke in the White House Situation Room. According to Clarke, Bush tells him to investigate the possibility that Iraq was involved in the attacks. “I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything,” Bush says. “See if Saddam did this.” When Clarke responds, “But Mr. President, al-Qaeda did this,” Bush replies, “I know, I know, but… see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred.” Clarke insists that the CIA, FBI, and White House already concluded that there were no such links. As he exits the room, Bush “testily” says again, “Look into Iraq, Saddam.” [Washington Post, 3/22/2004 Sources: Richard A. Clarke] During a “60 Minutes” interview, Clarke will say that Bush’s instructions were made in a way that was “very intimidating,” and which hinted that Clarke “should come back with that answer.”
“Now he never said, ‘Make it up.’ But the entire conversation left me in absolutely no doubt that George Bush wanted me to come back with a report that said Iraq did this.” [CBS News, 3/21/2004; New York Times, 3/23/2004] Clarke’s account is later confirmed by several eyewitnesses. [CBS News, 3/21/2004; BBC, 3/23/2004; Guardian, 3/26/2004] After his meeting with Bush, Clarke works with CIA and FBI experts to produce the report requested by Bush (see September 18, 2001).
According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz asks during a meeting, “Why we are [sic] beginning by talking about this one man, bin Laden?” Clarke responds with an explanation that only al-Qaeda “poses an immediate and serious threat to the United States.” Wolfowitz then claims that Iraq poses “at least as much” a danger. According to Clarke, FBI and CIA representatives who are present at the meeting agree that there is no evidence to support Wolfowitz’s assertion. [Washington Post, 3/22/2004 Sources: Richard A. Clarke]
In an op-ed piece published in the New Republic, former CIA director James Woolsey calls on the Bush administration to re-examine evidence that could potentially tie Iraq to the 1993 bombing of the WTC. He cites a theory (see Late July or Early August 2001) that Iraqi intelligence helped bomber Ramzi Yousef steal the identity of a Kuwaiti student studying at a college in Wales. If this theory is correct, he says, “then it was Iraq that went after the World Trade Center last time. Which makes it much more plausible that Iraq has done so again.” In light of this, he argues, US authorities should consider the possibility that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. “[I]ntelligence and law enforcement officials investigating the case would do well to at least consider another possibility: that the attacks—whether perpetrated by bin Laden and his associates or by others—were sponsored, supported, and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein,” he writes. “As yet, there is no evidence of explicit state sponsorship of the September 11 attacks. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” [New Republic, 9/13/2001] Woolsey went to Britain in February 2001 and failed to find evidence to support this theory (see February 2001). But a few days later, the US Defense Department will send Woolsey to Britain again (see Late September 2001) to investigate the alleged Iraq link to the 1993 bombing.
Ann Coulter. [Source: Universal Press Syndicate]Conservative columnist Ann Coulter writes an enraged op-ed for the National Review. Reflecting on the 9/11 attacks and the loss of her friend Barbara Olson in the attacks (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Coulter says America’s retribution should be immediate and generalized: “This is no time to be precious about locating the exact individuals directly involved in this particular terrorist attack. Those responsible include anyone anywhere in the world who smiled in response to the annihilation of patriots like Barbara Olson. We don’t need long investigations of the forensic evidence to determine with scientific accuracy the person or persons who ordered this specific attack. We don’t need an ‘international coalition.’ We don’t need a study on ‘terrorism.’ We certainly didn’t need a congressional resolution condemning the attack this week.” Coulter says a “fanatical, murderous cult”—Islam—has “invaded” the nation, welcomed by Americans and protected by misguided laws that prohibit discrimination and “‘religious’ profiling.” She blasts airport security measures that insist on checking every passenger—“[a]irports scrupulously apply the same laughably ineffective airport harassment to Suzy Chapstick as to Muslim hijackers. It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now.” She concludes by calling for all-out vengeance: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren’t punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That’s war. And this is war.” [National Review, 9/13/2001] In October 2002, Reason magazine’s Sara Rimensnyder will call Coulter’s screed “the single most infamous foreign policy suggestion inspired by 9/11.” [Reason Magazine, 10/2002]
Bush administration neoconservatives begin blaming Saddam Hussein for the 9/11 attacks (see September 16, 2001). One, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, says at a press briefing that “ending states who sponsor terrorism” is a priority for the administration. Secretary of State Colin Powell is so irate at Wolfowitz’s remarks that he complains to General Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: “What are these guys thinking about? Can’t you get these guys back in the box?” [Unger, 2007, pp. 216-217]
A Defense Department paper for a Camp David meeting with top Bush administration officials to take place the next day (see September 15, 2001) specifies three priority targets for initial action in response to the 9/11 attacks: al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Iraq. It argues that of the three, al-Qaeda and Iraq pose a strategic threat to the US. Iraq’s alleged long-standing involvement in terrorism is cited, along with its interest in WMDs. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335, 559]
During a morning meeting with advisers at Camp David, President Bush indicated that he wanted to focus on attacking Afghanistan first, and then look at the issue of attacking Iraq later (see September 15, 2001). During the lunch break, he sends a message to the neoconservatives in attendance that he does not want to hear any more about Iraq that day. But one of the neoconservatives there is Richard Perle, who holds no government position but heads the Defense Policy Board advising the Pentagon. According to Vanity Fair, Perle will later claim that the morning discussion about Iraq “had planted a seed. Bush told Perle at Camp David that once Afghanistan had been dealt with, it would be Iraq’s turn.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004]
George Tenet pointing at a map and describing CIA operations in Afghanistan on September 30, 2001. Also at the table are George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Andrew Card. [Source: White House]President Bush and his top advisers meet at Camp David to discuss how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. Attendees include: CIA Director George Tenet, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. [Washington Post, 1/31/2002; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 232] There is discussion on a paper submitted by the Defense Department submitted the day before depicting Iraq, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda as priority targets (see September 14, 2001).
Push to Attack Iraq - Rumsfeld has already suggested that the US should use 9/11 as an excuse to attack Iraq (see 10:00 p.m. September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001). Now Wolfowitz pushes for regime change in Iraq, claiming that there is a 10 to 50 percent chance that Iraq was involved in the attacks. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 83; Vanity Fair, 5/2004; Washington Post, 7/23/2004] Attacking Afghanistan is uncertain at best, Wolfowitz argues, with the likelihood that US troops will get mired in mountain fighting. In contrast, Iraq is, in author Bob Woodward’s words, “a brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily. It was doable.” According to Woodward, chief of staff Andrew Card believes that Wolfowitz is doing nothing more than “banging a drum” and is “not providing additional information or new arguments.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 83; American Conservative, 3/24/2003] Powell will later recall that Wolfowitz argues that Iraq should be attacked because it is ultimately the source of the terrorist problem. Wolfowitz “was always of the view that Iraq was a problem that had to be dealt with. And he saw this as one way of using this event as a way to deal with the Iraq problem.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335] Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin will later recall that the discussion about possible Iraqi involvement in 9/11 “went back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The [CIA] argued that that was not appropriate, not the right conclusion to draw at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell supports the CIA on this. Then, according to McLaughlin: “At the end of all this deliberation, the president says, ‘Thank you all very much. This has been a very good discussion. I’m going to think about all of this on Sunday, and I’ll call you together Monday [September 17] and tell you what I’ve concluded.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
Focus on Afghanistan First - Bush will later tell reporter Bob Woodward that, in his own mind, he made the decision not to immediately attack Iraq in the morning on this day. He wants to focus on Afghanistan first. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335] Wolfowitz will later recall in an interview with Vanity Fair: “On the surface of the debate it at least appeared to be about not whether but when. There seemed to be a kind of agreement that yes it should be, but the disagreement was whether it should be in the immediate response or whether you should concentrate simply on Afghanistan first. To the extent it was a debate about tactics and timing, the president clearly came down on the side of Afghanistan first. To the extent it was a debate about strategy and what the larger goal was, it is at least clear with 20/20 hindsight that the president came down on the side of the larger goal.” [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] In his 2002 book Bush at War, Woodward will write, “Bush’s advisers wondered if they would ever find a way to end the talking and pull the trigger.” [Roberts, 2008, pp. 106]
Entity Tags: Paul O’Neill, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Robert S. Mueller III, Donald Rumsfeld, John E. McLaughlin, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
On September 15, 2001, President Bush says of bin Laden: “If he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] Two days later, he says, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’” [ABC News, 9/17/2001] On December 28, 2001, even as the US was declaring victory in Afghanistan, Bush says, “Our objective is more than bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech describes Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” and fails to mention bin Laden at all. On March 8, 2002, Bush still vows: “We’re going to find him.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Yet, only a few days later on March 13, Bush says, “He’s a person who’s now been marginalized.… I just don’t spend that much time on him.… I truly am not that concerned about him.” Instead, Bush is “deeply concerned about Iraq.” [US President, 3/18/2002] The rhetoric shift is complete when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states on April 6, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In October 2002, the Washington Post notes that since March 2002, Bush has avoided mentioning bin Laden’s name, even when asked about him directly. Bush sometimes uses questions about bin Laden to talk about Saddam Hussein instead. In late 2001, nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war on terrorism could not be called a success without bin Laden’s death or capture. That number falls to 44 percent in a March 2002 poll, and the question has since been dropped. [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies, later points out: “There appears to be a real disconnect” between the US military’s conquest of Afghanistan and “the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz create a secretive, ad hoc intelligence bureau within the Pentagon that they mockingly dub
“The Cabal.” This small but influential group of neoconservatives is tasked with driving US foreign policy and intelligence reporting towards the goal of promoting the invasion of Iraq. To this end, the group—which later is folded into the slightly more official Office of Special Plans (OSP) (see 2002-2003)—gathers and interprets raw intelligence data for itself, refusing the participation of the experts in the CIA and DIA, and reporting, massaging, manipulating, and sometimes falsifying that information to suit their ends. [New Yorker, 5/12/2003] In October 2005, Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will say of the Cabal and the OSP (see October 2005), “What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences.” [Financial Times, 10/20/2005]
Entity Tags: Thomas Franks, Paul Wolfowitz, Office of Special Plans, “The Cabal”, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Colin Powell, Douglas Feith, Lawrence Wilkerson, Defense Intelligence Agency, Donald Rumsfeld
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
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.
When asked on CNN if countries that harbor terrorists should be punished, prominent neoconservative Richard Perle agrees, saying: “Even if we cannot prove to the standards that we enjoy in our own civil society that they were involved. We do know, for example, that Saddam Hussein has ties to Osama bin Laden. That can be documented.” [CNN, 9/16/2001] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that like other administration neoconservatives (see September 13, 2001), Perle is attempting to create a connection in the public mind between Iraq and 9/11 which will justify an invasion. [Unger, 2007, pp. 217]
President Bush tells National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that while the US is going to focus on attacking Afghanistan first, he also wants to do something about Saddam Hussein. Journalist Bob Woodward will later paraphrase what Bush told him: “There’s some pressure to go after Saddam Hussein. Don Rumsfeld has said, ‘This is an opportunity to take out Saddam Hussein, perhaps. We should consider it.’ And the president says to Condi Rice meeting head to head, ‘We won’t do Iraq now. But it is a question we’re gonna have to return to.’” [CBS News, 4/18/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335] Bush will later claim he made the decision to invade Afghanistan and then go after Iraq one day earlier (see September 15, 2001).
Vice President Dick Cheney is asked on NBC’s Meet the Press if the US has evidence that Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists. Cheney responds: “There is—in the past, there have been some activities related to terrorism by Saddam Hussein. But at this stage, you know, the focus is over here on al-Qaeda and the most recent events in New York. Saddam Hussein’s bottled up, at this point, but clearly, we continue to have a fairly tough policy where the Iraqis are concerned.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001] When asked if the US has any evidence linking Hussein or any Iraqis to the attacks, Cheney replies, “No.” [NBC, 9/16/2001]
Senator George Allen (R-VA) says on CNN that the US needs to consider fomenting regime change in Iraq, Iran, and Syria. [Unger, 2007, pp. 217]
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz sends a memo to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld raising the possibility that Saddam Hussein played a role in the 9/11 attacks. In the memo, titled “Preventing More Events,” he argues that if there is even a 10 percent chance Iraq was behind 9/11, maximum priority should be placed on attacking Iraq. But he contends that the odds are “far more” than 10 percent. He also cites a controversial recent book by Laurie Mylroie which argues that Iraq masterminded the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center (see October 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 80]
The issue of possible Iraqi involvement in the 9/11 attacks is debated in a National Security Council meeting. According to journalist Bob Woodward, President Bush ends the debate by saying, “I believe Iraq was involved, but I’m not going to strike them now. I don’t have the evidence at this point.” Bush says wants to keep working on plans for military action in Iraq but indicates there will be plenty of time to do that later. Right now his focus is mainly on Afghanistan. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 99] At the time Bush says this, no evidence has emerged possibly linking Iraq to 9/11. One day later, an account of hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi agent in Prague will become known, but it will ultimately be discredited (see September 18, 2001).
President Bush signs a 2 1/2-page “top secret” document that outlines the administration’s plan to invade Afghanistan and topple its government. According to administration officials interviewed by the Washington Post, the document also instructs the Pentagon to begin planning for an invasion of Iraq. [Washington Post, 1/12/2003; Mirror, 9/22/2003; Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004 Sources: senior administration officials] The document further orders the military to be ready to occupy Iraq’s oil fields if the country acts against US interests. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]
Information about the alleged April 2001 meeting in Prague between 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani is leaked to the Associated Press, which reports, “A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has received information from a foreign intelligence service that Mohamed Atta, a hijacker aboard one of the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center, met earlier this year in Europe with an Iraqi intelligence agent.” [Associated Press, 9/18/2001; New York Times, 11/19/2003 Sources: Unnamed US official] A long series of confirmations and refutations of this story will take place over the next several years, as some politicians try to make it a key argument to justify why the US should invade Iraq (see September 18, 2001-April 2007).
Retired General Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), warns on CNN that the Bush administration might “think it’s time for regime change” in Iraq. [Unger, 2007, pp. 217]
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith argue in three memos why Iraq should be included as a target in the war on terrorism. One memo, “Were We Asleep?,” is dated September 18, 2001, and suggests links between Iraq and al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 1/12/2003; Mirror, 9/22/2003 Sources: senior administration officials]
On September 12, 2001, President Bush spoke to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and told him to look into possible Iraqi links to the 9/11 attacks (see September 12, 2001). Clarke works with CIA and FBI experts to make a report on the issue. [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 238] On September 18, Clarke sends a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice entitled, “Survey of Intelligence Information on Any Iraq Involvement in the September 11 Attacks.” It passes along a few foreign intelligence reports, including a report just coming out of the Czech Republic alleging that hijacker Mohamed Atta met an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001. But it concludes there is no compelling case that Iraq had planned the 9/11 attacks. It further points out that allegations of any ties between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government are weak, especially since bin Laden resents the secular nature of Saddam Hussein’s government. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 335, 559] Clarke will later claim that the first draft of his memo was returned by National Security Adviser Rice or her deputy Stephen Hadley because it did not find any link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. He says, “It got bounced and sent back, saying ‘Wrong answer…. Do it again.’” Rice and Hadley will later deny that they asked to have the memo redone for this reason. Clarke does not know if Bush ever sees his report. “I don’t think he sees memos that he doesn’t-wouldn’t like the answer.” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 238; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 559]
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:
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]
October 20, 2001: The story is denied by some Czech officials (see October 16, 2001). [New York Times, 10/20/2001]
October 26, 2001: The story is confirmed by the Czech interior minister (see October 26, 2001). [New York Times, 10/27/2001]
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]
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]
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]
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]
January 12, 2002: It is claimed at least two meetings took place, including one a year earlier. [Daily Telegraph, 1/12/2002]
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]
March 15, 2002: Evidence that the meeting took place is considered between “slim” and “none.” [Washington Post, 3/15/2002]
March 18, 2002: William Safire again strongly asserts that the meeting took place. [New York Times, 3/18/2002]
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]
May 8, 2002: Some Czech officials continue to affirm the meeting took place. [Prague Post, 5/8/2002]
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]
July 15, 2002: The head of Czech foreign intelligence states that reports of the meeting are unproved and implausible. [Prague Post, 7/15/2002]
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]
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]
September 10, 2002: The Bush administration is no longer actively asserting that the meeting took place. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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).
July 9, 2003: Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmed al-Ani is captured by US forces in Iraq. [Washington Post, 7/9/2003]
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]
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]
July 25, 2003: The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry makes public its conclusion that the meeting never took place (see January-July 2003).
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
July 12, 2004: The 9/11 Commission publicly concludes the meeting never took place (see July 12, 2004).
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).
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 ]
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]
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
In a briefing with CIA Director George Tenet, President Bush tells Tenet, “I want to know about links between Saddam [Hussein] and al-Qaeda. The Vice President knows some things that might be helpful.” He then turns to Cheney, who is participating in the meeting through a secure video link. Unusual for a vice president, Cheney’s office has nearly a dozen national security staffers. Cheney tells Tenet that one of them has picked up a report that hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi agent in Prague. This had already been reported in the press the day before (see September 18, 2001), but apparently Cheney has information about it that the CIA does not. Tenet promises to get to the bottom of it right away. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 22-23] Two days later, Tenet will tell Bush that the report “just doesn’t add up” (see September 21, 2001).
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
Douglas Feith suggests in a draft memo [Washington Post, 8/7/2004] that the US should consider “hitting terrorists outside the Middle East in the initial offensive, perhaps deliberately selecting a non-al-Qaeda target like Iraq.” Other regions he proposes attacking include South America and Southeast Asia. He reasons that an initial attack against such targets would “surprise… the terrorists” and catch them off guard. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277, 533; Newsweek, 8/8/2004] According to Newsweek, the content of Feith’s memo derives from the work of the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group (see Shortly After September 11, 2001), a project headed by Michael Maloof and David Wurmser. The group suggested that an attack on the remote Triborder region, where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil meet and where Iranian-backed Hezbollah is said to have a presence, would have a ripple effect among international Islamic militant groups. [Newsweek, 8/8/2004] Feith later says his memo merely expands upon ideas put forth by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in a memo (see September 19, 2001) the secretary wrote the day before to Gen. Henry Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [Washington Post, 8/7/2004] The logic behind proposing strikes against targets outside of the Middle East, Feith says, was based on the need to “cast a wide net” and achieve “additional objectives,” such as creating fissures in the enemy network, highlighting “the global nature of the conflicts,” showing “seriousness of US military purpose,” and demonstrating that the “war would not be limited geographically to Afghanistan.” [Washington Post, 8/7/2004]
Bush and Blair (left) meeting in the White House around September 20, 2001. [Source: PBS]British Prime Minister Tony Blair meets with President George Bush at the White House. During dinner that night, also attended by Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and British ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer, Blair tells Bush that he wants to concentrate on ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Bush replies, “I agree with you Tony. We must deal with this first. But when we have dealt with Afghanistan, we must come back to Iraq.” Blair says nothing to disagree. [BBC, 4/3/2003; Observer, 4/4/2004; Independent, 4/4/2004; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 238 Sources: Christopher Meyer]
The Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative think tank, publishes a letter addressed to President Bush and signed by magazine publisher William Kristol, Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle (see September 16, 2001), and 38 other neoconservatives and hardliners. It is reprinted by Kristol’s Weekly Standard shortly thereafter. The authors threaten to brand Bush as a “wimp,” guilty of “surrender in the war on international terrorism” if he fails to carry out their demand to make “a determined effort” to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the [9/11] attack[s].” [Project for the New American Century, 9/20/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 28] Any failure to attack Iraq, the authors say, “will constitute an early and perhaps decisive surrender in the war on international terrorism.” Invading Iraq is not their only demand. To retain their support, the letter reads, Bush must also target the terror organization Hezbollah for eradication, and retaliate against Syria and Iran if they do not break their ties with Hezbollah. The letter calls Israel “America’s staunchest ally against international terrorism.” Conservative isolationist Pat Buchanan will later write that the real motive for this letter seems to be tied to Israel: “Here was a cabal of intellectuals telling the commander in chief, nine days after an attack on America, that if he did not follow their war plans, he would be charged with surrendering to terror. Yet, Hezbollah had nothing to do with 9/11. What had Hezbollah done? Hezbollah had humiliated Israel by driving its army out of Lebanon. President Bush had been warned. He was to exploit the attack of 9/11 to launch a series of wars on Arab regimes, none of which had attacked us. All, however, were enemies of Israel.… The War Party [Bush administration neoconservatives] seemed desperate to get a Middle East war going before America had second thoughts.” [Project for the New American Century, 9/20/2001; American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
Neoconservative author, ad hoc White House foreign policy adviser, and one-time intelligence asset Michael Ledeen, one of the loudest voices for US military expansionism throughout the Middle East (see February 19, 1998 and October 29, 2001), writes that the US must use Iraq as the first battle of a much larger war.
Must Expand Mission to Destroy Governments, Not Merely Terror Organizations - In his book The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened. Where We Are Now. How We’ll Win, Ledeen writes that the US must destroy the governments of the nations that he claims sponsor Islamist terrorism. “First and foremost, we must bring down the terror regimes, beginning with the Big Three: Iran, Iraq, and Syria,” Ledeen writes. “And then we have to come to grips with Saudi Arabia.… Once the tyrants in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia have been brought down, we will remain engaged.… We have to ensure the fulfillment of the democratic revolution.… Stability is an unworthy American mission, and a misleading concept to boot. We do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even Saudi Arabia; we want things to change. The real issue is not whether, but how to destabilize.”
US a Force for 'Creative Destruction' - The US’s current mission of battling Islamist terror is “unworthy” of such a militarily powerful nation, Ledeen asserts, and defines its true “historic mission:” “Creative destruction is our middle name, both within our society and abroad. We tear down the old order every day, from business to science, literature, art, architecture, and cinema to politics and the law. Our enemies have always hated this whirlwind of energy and creativity which menaces their traditions (whatever they may be) and shames them for their inability to keep pace.… [W]e must destroy them to advance our historic mission.” The US must be “imperious, ruthless, and relentless,” he continues, until there has been “total surrender” by the Muslim world. “We must keep our fangs bared, we must remind them daily that we Americans are in a rage, and we will not rest until we have avenged our deed, we will not be sated until we have had the blood of every miserable little tyrant in the Middle East, until every leader of every cell of the terror network is dead or locked securely away, and every last drooling anti-Semitic and anti-American mullah, imam, sheikh, and ayatollah is either singing the praises of the United States of America, or pumping gasoline for a dime a gallon on an American military base near the Arctic Circle.”
Buchanan: Ledeen's Statement Not Truly Conservative - Conservative author and commentator Pat Buchanan will write in 2003, “Passages like this owe more to Leon Trotsky than to Robert Taft and betray a Jacobin streak in neoconservatism that cannot be reconciled with any concept of true conservatism.” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 231-232]
During President Bush’s presidential daily briefing (PDB), Bush is informed that the US intelligence community has found no evidence linking Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, nor any evidence of links between Hussein and al-Qaeda. The briefing has been prepared at the request of Bush, who is said to be eager to learn of any possible connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Yet during the briefing, he is told that the few believable reports of contact between the two were in fact attempts by Hussein to monitor the group, which he considered a threat to his secular regime. Analysts believe that at one point Hussein considered infiltrating al-Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or Iraqi intelligence operatives, so as to learn more about its inner workings. A former US administration official later will state, “What the president was told on September 21 was consistent with everything he has been told since—that the evidence [linking Iraq to 9/11] was just not there.” The existence of the September 21 PDB will not be disclosed to the Senate Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, while the committee will be investigating whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the period leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. As of the end of 2005, the Bush administration will still refuse to turn over the briefing, even on a classified basis, and will say nothing more about it other than the fact that it exists. [National Journal, 11/22/2005; MSNBC, 11/22/2005; Agence France-Presse, 11/23/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 217] According to journalist Ron Suskind, during the meeting, CIA Director George Tenet tells Bush about the alleged meeting hijacker Mohamed Atta had with an Iraqi agent in Prague, which has been reported in the media in recent days (see September 18, 2001). However, Tenet says: “Our Prague office is skeptical about the report. It just doesn’t add up.” He points out that credit card and phone records place Atta in Virginia during the time in question. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 23]
Prominent neoconservative Newt Gingrich tells Newsweek, “When the US loses what may be more than 6,000 people [on 9/11], there has to be reaction so that the world clearly knows that things have changed.… [There is] a recognition that it will be very tough to get bin Laden in the rocky and mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. There’s a feeling that we’ve got to do something that counts—and bombing some caves is not something that counts.” [Newsweek, 9/23/2001; Newsweek, 8/28/2007] Newsweek will comment on the quote in 2007: “Rather than [fight in Afghanistan], the US military wanted to fight on a grander stage, where it could show off its mobility and firepower. To the civilian bosses at the Pentagon and the eager-to-please top brass, Iraq was a much better target. By invading Iraq, the United States would give the Islamists—and the wider world—an unforgettable lesson in American power. ” [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]
On NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) says, “As long as Saddam Hussein is in power in Iraq, the United States is in danger.” He says there is evidence that “suggests Saddam Hussein may have had contact with bin Laden and the al-Qaeda network, perhaps [was] even involved in the September 11 attack.” He adds that an even more important factor is that Saddam “has worked on chemical and biological weapons and has used them against his own people and against the Iranians.” He concludes, “Therefore, in my opinion, Saddam is a terrorist—and it should be a centerpiece of our policy, after we’ve finished the business in Afghanistan and bin Laden, to end [the Iraqi] regime.” [Washington Times, 10/26/2001]
In an op-ed column for the neoconservative Weekly Standard, writers Thomas Donnelly and Gary Schmitt state that the US’s enemies “want to push the United States out of the Middle East. Our response must be to prevent that.” Donnelly and Schmitt, members of the Project for the New American Century think tank (PNAC—see January 26, 1998 and September 2000), say that such an effort “will require more than a vague, unfocused ‘war on terrorism.‘… Last week’s strikes represent a new and more complex phase of this war. But this is not a new war. This is a ‘theater war’ in the classic sense. Neither [O]sama bin Laden nor Saddam [Hussein] cares much about America’s role in Europe or East Asia. They want us out of their region.”
Reasserting Dominance in Middle East - The US can win this “struggle for power in the Persian Gulf” by “reasserting our role as the region’s dominant power; as the guarantor of regional security; and as the protector of Israel, moderate Arab regimes, and the economic interests of the industrialized world.” Donnelly and Schmitt trace the US’s problems in the region back to the decision not to overthrow Hussein in 1991 (see January 16, 1991 and After). “As Saddam has crawled back from defeat,” they write, “bin Laden has grown increasingly bold. Meanwhile, our regional allies have begun to hedge their bets, not only with the terrorists and Iraq, but with Iran as well.” The US should focus on routing both bin Laden and Hussein from the region, they say. It is unclear if Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks, they say, though they assert that Hussein was “implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993 and October 2000).… But as with bin Laden, we have long known that Saddam is our enemy, and that he would strike us as hard as he could. And if we have learned anything at all from [the] past week, it is that adopting a defensive posture risks attacks with unacceptable consequences. The only reasonable course when faced with such foes is to preempt and to strike first.” Overthrowing Hussein “is the key to restoring our regional dominance and preventing our enemies from achieving their war aims.… When Bush administration officials speak of ‘ending’ regimes that participate in the war against America, they must mean Saddam Hussein’s Iraq” (see Before January 20, 2001).
Cowing Other Nations, Restoring 'Global Credibility' - Overthrowing the Iraqi government will also cow Iran, Syria, and other regional threats, the authors say, and “will restore the global credibility tarnished in the Clinton years. Both our friends and our enemies will be watching to see if we pass this test.” Although attacking Afghanistan is not necessary, toppling the Saddam regime will not be difficult in a military sense, and “the larger challenge will be occupying Iraq after the fighting is over.”
Surpluses Will Pay for Effort - The so-called “lockboxes”—Social Security funds and others—previously kept from being spent on other government programs are, the authors write, “yesterday’s news,” but the sharp increases in defense spending that this war effort will require will not be difficult to fund: “given the surpluses that exist, there is no impediment to such increases.” [Weekly Standard, 9/24/2001]
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
During a National Security Council meeting attended by CIA Director Tenet, National Security Adviser Rice, Secretary of State Powell, Vice President Cheney and others, President Bush says of the 9/11 attacks, “Many believe Saddam [Hussein] is involved. That’s not an issue for now. If we catch him being involved, we’ll act. He probably was behind this in the end.” He also says, “What we do in Afghanistan is an important part of our effort. It’s important to be serious and that’ll be a signal to other countries about how serious we are on terror.” He mentions Syria and Iran as countries he wants to warn. This is according to journalist Bob Woodward, who interviews many top officials at the meeting. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 167] One week earlier, the CIA advised Bush that there was no link between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government. CIA Director Tenet also told Bush that the one alleged connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attack “just doesn’t add up” (see September 21, 2001).
In the driveway outside the West Wing of the White House, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, allegedly grabs counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and says, “I hear you don’t believe this report that Mohamed Atta was talking to Iraqi people in Prague.” Clarke responds, “I don’t believe it because it’s not true.” According to Clarke, Libby replies, “You’re wrong. You know you’re wrong. Go back and find out; look at the rest of the reports, and find out that you’re wrong.” Clarke will later comment, “And I understood what he was saying, which was, ‘This is a report that we want to believe, and stop saying it’s not true. It’s a real problem for the vice president’s office that you, the counterterrorism [‘tsar’], are walking around saying that this isn’t a true report. Shut up.’ That’s what I was being told.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006; PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006; Unger, 2007, pp. 279] While the timing of the incident is not specified, it likely takes place in late September 2001, after allegations that Atta met an Iraqi agent in Prague are made public, but before Clarke resigns as counterterrorism “tsar” at the end of the month.
James Bamford. [Source: PBS]According to author James Bamford, SISMI passes on details of the alleged Iraq-Niger uranium deal “to the Executive Committee of the Intelligence and Security Services (CESIS), which in turn pass[es] it on to the Faresine, the Italian Foreign Ministry, and to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at his office in Rome’s Palazzo Chigi. Only the Farnesina raise[s] ‘strong objection’ and ‘reservations’ about the report—primarily from the African Countries Directorate. They [are] greatly concerned about the reliability of the information.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 303]
Farid Ghadry. [Source: Publicity photo via Committee on the Present Danger]Fariz Ghadry founds the Reform Party of Syria just weeks after 9/11. Though Ghadry wants to distance himself from comparisons to Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, the comparisons are myriad. Like Chalabi, Ghadry is a rich Arab exile who has not been to his native country in decades, but wants to return and rule, or at least be part of the ruling government, of his country. Like Chalabi, Ghadry has deep ties to a number of powerful American neoconservatives. And like Chalabi, Ghadry wants to overthrow the Ba’athist dictator of his native country—in this case, Syria’s Bashir Assad. In the months and years to come, Ghadry will try, with no real success, to build a case for the US to invade Syria, and presumably place him in power after Assad is overthrown (see January 12, 2006). [Slate, 2/7/2005; House Committee on International Relations, 7/7/2006]
Amer el-Azizi, a senior al-Qaeda operative whose arrest was frustrated by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), is said to meet Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who leads a group of foreign fighters in the Iraq war. One meeting may take place after 9/11 in 2001, when el-Azizi reportedly travels to Iran, intending to enter eastern Afghanistan. [Wall Street Journal, 3/19/2004] According to communications intercepts, another may take place in Iran in 2003, and some evidence indicates el-Azizi may also go to Iraq around this time. In addition, el-Azizi sponsors two recruits who train at a camp run by al-Zarqawi, according to documents obtained by the Spanish police. [Wall Street Journal, 4/7/2004; Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004] El-Azizi and al-Zarqawi also have a common acquaintance, Abdulatif Mourafiq, an associate of al-Zarqawi’s in Afghanistan whose contact details were found in el-Azizi’s flat when it was raided in October or November 2001. [Brisard, 2005]
President Bush privately tells Senator Trent Lott (R-MS) to make sure the bipartisan resolution being pushed by senators Richard Lugar (R-IN) and Joseph Biden (D-DE) (see October 1, 2002) does not make it through the Senate. Their proposed resolution would explicitly restrict authorization for the use of military force to Iraq only. Bush tells Lott, “Derail the Biden legislation and make sure its language never sees the light of day.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 127]
Gary Milhollin of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control testifies in Congress before the Subcommittee on the Middle East and the South Asia
Committee on International Relations that Iraq “is still committed to developing weapons of mass destruction.” He states: “Iraq has become self-sufficient in biological weaponry; it possesses the strains, growth media and infrastructure necessary to build a biological arsenal. Iraq also retains stocks of chemical agent from the period of the Gulf War and is known to have all the elements of a workable nuclear weapon except the fissile material needed to fuel it. Iraq’s authorized program for developing short-range missiles will also enable the building of longer-range missiles, and Iraq is showing an interest in cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles, apparently to deliver chemical or biological payloads.” [US Congress, 10/4/2001]
Neoconservative William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, says on NBC’s Meet the Press that the first Bush administration erred in 1991: “The biggest mistake we have made—it’s our mistake, it’s not the mistake of the Arabs—was not finishing off Saddam Hussein in 1991.” Kristol garners a tremendous amount of coverage during the months after the 9/11 attacks, relentlessly advocating for the overthrow of Hussein. [PBS, 4/25/2007]
Czech foreign minister Jan Kavan briefs Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington about the alleged trip 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta took to the Czech Republic in April 2001 (see April 8, 2001). Kavan tells Powell that the BIS, the Czech intelligence service, has reason to believe that Mohamed Atta may have met near Prague with Iraqi spy Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani. [New York Times, 10/20/2001 Sources: Jan Kavan]
The Observer reports that investigators of the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) believe Iraq is the prime suspect. One CIA source says, “They aren’t making this stuff in caves in Afghanistan. ‘This is prima facie evidence of the involvement of a state intelligence agency. Maybe Iran has the capability. But it doesn’t look likely politically. That leaves Iraq.” [Observer, 10/14/2001] However, this theory only remains the predominant one for a few days. On October 19, the New York Times is dismissive of the Iraq theory and suggests al-Qaeda or a disgruntled American loner could be behind the attacks instead (see October 19, 2001). In November, the American loner theory will become predominant (see November 10, 2001). But in late 2002, with war against Iraq growing increasingly likely, the Iraq theory appears to make a comeback (see October 28, 2002).
The envelope to the New York Post anthrax letter. [Source: FBI]The 2006 book Hubris by Michael Isikoff and David Corn will reveal that, at some point in October 2001, “[Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne] Downing, [Deputy Defense Secretary Paul] Wolfowitz, and other proponents of a war with Iraq thought they had yet more ammunition for the case against Saddam” Hussein in the form of the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Author Laurie Mylroie, who had long suggested Iraq was behind numerous terrorist attacks against the US and whose ideas are influential with Wolfowitz and other Bush administration officials (see October 2000 and Late July or Early August 2001), quickly asserts that Iraq is behind the anthrax attacks as well. “An early forensic test of the anthrax letters (which was later disputed) appeared to show that the anthrax spores were highly refined and ‘weaponized.’ To the Iraq hawks, the news was electric. ‘This is definitely Saddam!’ Downing shouted to several White House aides. One of these aides later recalled overhearing Downing excitedly sharing the news over the phone with Wolfowitz and [Douglas] Feith. ‘I had the feeling they were high-five-ing each other,’ the White House official said.” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006]
Referring to the claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with Iraqi Counsel al-Ani on April 8, 2001 (see April 8, 2001), Stanislav Gross, the Czech interior minister, states, “I can only confirm one visit in the summer” and Petr Necas, chairman of the parliamentary defense committee, says, “I haven’t seen any direct evidence that Mr. Atta met any Iraqi agent.” Citing a senior Czech Republic official, the New York Times will report on October 20 that “firm documentary evidence existed only that Mr. Atta had passed through the Prague airport from Germany to take a flight to Newark.” [New York Times, 10/20/2001] The rumors, which had first surfaced shortly after the attacks, were based on information from a Czech intelligence source inside Prague’s Middle Eastern community. The source had told the BIS, the Czech Republic’s intelligence service, that he had seen Atta meeting al-Ani in a restaurant outside of Prague on April 8 earlier that year (see April 8, 2001). [CNN, 9/19/2001; Newsweek, 4/28/2002]
Brent Scowcroft, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a close adviser and friend of former President George H. W. Bush, is becoming increasingly marginalized in the current administration. Realizing he has little real influence in the White House, he goes public with his measured objections to a US invasion of Iraq by publishing an editorial in the Washington Post entitled “Build a Coalition.” Scowcroft reflects on the decision not to invade Baghdad in the 1991 Gulf War (see September 1998), and writes that if the US had then overthrown Saddam Hussein, “Our Arab allies… would have deserted us, creating an atmosphere of hostility to the United States [that] might have well spawned scores of Osama bin Ladens. [We] already hear voices declaring that the United States is too focused on a multilateral approach. The United States knows what needs to be done, these voices say, and we should just go ahead and do it. Coalition partners just tie our hands, and they all will exact a price for their support. Those are the same siren songs of delusion and defeat that we heard in 1990. We can no more succeed in our present campaign by acting unilaterally than we could have in 1990.” If the “war on terror” is to succeed, he writes, it will have to be “even more dependent on coalition-building than was the Gulf War.” Scowcroft finally understands, author Craig Unger will observe, that the neoconservatives are using 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq. “He knew they were going to try to manipulate the president into thinking there was unfinished business” in Iraq, an administration official will recall in 2007. “For [Scowcroft] to say something publicly was a watershed. This was where the roads diverged.” [Washington Post, 10/16/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 228]
Following a number of meetings in Rome and London between SISMI, Italy’s military intelligence, and the British MI6 [Bamford, 2004, pp. 303-304] , SISMI provides the British with an intelligence report on Iraq’s alleged efforts to obtain uranium from Niger. The report—delivered by freelance SISMI agent Rocco Martino to the Vauxhall Cross headquarters of Britain’s MI6 in south London—is reportedly based on the collection of mostly forged documents put together in Italy (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001). MI6 will include this information in a report it sends to Washington saying only that it was obtained from a “reliable source.” Washington treats the report as an independent confirmation of the Italian report (see October 15, 2001). [La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/25/2005; San Francisco Chronicle, 10/30/2005; Independent, 11/6/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 228-229]
Vice President Cheney chairs a National Security Council meeting because President Bush is overseas. According to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews many participants in the meeting, the topic of the recent anthrax attacks is discussed (see October 5-November 21, 2001). CIA Director George Tenet suggests that al-Qaeda is behind the attacks. He also adds, “I think there’s a state sponsor involved. It’s too well thought out, the powder’s too well refined. It might be Iraq, it might be Russia, it might be a renegade scientist,” perhaps from Iraq or Russia. Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff I. Lewis Libby also suggests the anthrax attacks were state sponsored. “We’ve got to be careful on what we say. If we say it’s al-Qaeda, a state sponsor may feel safe and then hit us thinking they will have a bye because we’ll blame it on al-Qaeda.” Tenet replies, “I’m not going to talk about a state sponsor.” Vice President Cheney comments, “It’s good that we don’t, because we’re not ready to do anything about it.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 244] No strong evidence will emerge tying the attacks to al-Qaeda or any state sponsor. The anthrax attacks still remain completely unsolved.
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) appears on the Late Show with David Letterman. Asked on how the recent US invasion of Afghanistan is progressing, McCain says, “I think we’re doing fine… The second phase… the second phase is Iraq. There is some indication, and I don’t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may—and I emphasize may—have come from Iraq.… If that should be the case, that’s when some tough decisions are gonna have to be made.” [Think Progress, 8/1/2008]
Former US soldier and UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter decries efforts to blame the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) on the Iraqi government. Ritter was a UN weapons inspector in Iraq until 1998, when inspections stopped. He points out that during these inspections, Iraq’s biological weapons programs were completely dismantled. For instance, al Hakum, Iraq’s biological weapons production facility where all its anthrax was produced, was blown up and all its equipment was destroyed (see 1998). He also says that when Iraq did have an anthrax program, it exclusively used the Vollum strain of anthrax, whereas evidence already points to the likelihood that the anthrax attacks used the US-based Ames strain. Ritter concludes: “Those who have suggested that Iraq is the source of the anthrax used in the current attacks—including Richard Butler, a former chairman of the UN weapons inspection effort—merely fan the flames of fear and panic. There is no verifiable link whatever and it is irresponsible for someone of Mr Butler’s stature to be involved in unsubstantiated speculation.” [Guardian, 10/19/2001]
Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, dismisses bin Laden’s claims that al-Qaeda’s fight is in solidarity with Iraqis and Palestinians. Powell argues: “We cannot let Osama bin Laden pretend that he is doing it in the name of helping the Iraqi people or the Palestinian people. He doesn’t care one whit about them. He has never given a dollar toward them. He has never spoken out for them.” [US Congress, 10/25/2001, pp. 6; Slate, 2/11/2003]
In an interview with the London Daily Telegraph, former CIA Director James Woolsey suggests that the US “ought to seriously consider removing Saddam’s regime if he has been involved in any terror in recent years against us.” He contends that Saddam Hussein’s alleged assassination attempt on President George H. W. Bush in 1993 and Iraq’s defiance of UN resolutions are sufficient enough in and of themselves to warrant the use of military force to topple the regime. [Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001]
Czech interior minister Stanislav Gross says during a press conference that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta had in fact met with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, the consul and second secretary of the Iraqi embassy, in the Czech Republic after arriving in Prague on April 8, 2001 (see April 8, 2001). “We can confirm now that during his… trip to the Czech Republic, he did have a contact with an officer of the Iraqi intelligence,” he says. He also says that Atta had been in Prague at least twice—in May 2000 after coming to Prague from Germany on his way to the United States and then again in April when he allegedly met with Ahni. [New York Times, 10/27/2001; CNN, 10/27/2001] Also, by this time, the FBI claims it has physical evidence of Atta’s trip to Prague. The New York Times reports, “On April 4 he was in Virginia Beach. He flew to the Czech Republic on April 8 and met with the Iraqi intelligence officer… By April 11, Atta was back in Florida renting a car.” [New York Times, 10/27/2001 Sources: Unnamed US officials, Jan Kavan] But this will later be disputed. In late April 2002, Newsweek will report, “The FBI could find no visa or airline records showing he had left or re-entered the United States that month,” quoting an unnamed US official who says, “Neither we nor the Czechs nor anybody else has any information he was coming or going [to Prague] at that time.” [Newsweek, 4/28/2002 Sources: Unnamed US official, Jan Kavan] And in late 2003, Edward Jay Epstein will similarly report in Slate that there “were no car rental records in Virginia, Florida, or anywhere else in April 2001 for Mohamed Atta, since he had not yet obtained his Florida license… [n]or were there other records in the hands of the FBI that put Atta in the United States at the time.” But Epstein will note that Atta would likely have traveled to Prague using false documents anyway. [New York Times, 11/19/2003]
A Reuters/Zogby poll indicates that 74 percent of US registered voters want to attack Iraq as well as Afghanistan. When asked if the “war on terrorism” should be expanded to include Iraq, 56 percent of respondents say they “strongly agree” and 18 percent “somewhat agree”, while 10 percent said they “strongly disagree” and 12 percent said they “somewhat disagree” with the idea. [Washington Times, 10/26/2001]
On October 26, 2001, Peter Jennings starts ABC News’s World News Tonight evening news broadcast with the comment: “We’re going to begin this evening with what we believe is a meaningful lead in the most sensitive anthrax case so far, despite a very recent denial by the White House. ABC News has learned what made the anthrax so dangerous in the letter to Senator Tom Daschle was a particular additive which only one country, as far as we know, that’s a very important caveat, only one country as far as we know, has used to produce biological weapons.”
Bentonite - ABC News reporter Brian Ross then adds: “The discovery of bentonite came in an urgent series of tests conducted at Fort Detrick, Maryland, and elsewhere. [Bentonite is] a substance which helps keep the tiny anthrax particles floating in the air by preventing them from sticking together. It’s possible other countries may be using it, too, but it is a trademark of Saddam Hussein’s biological weapons program.”
Significance - Jennings ends the story by commenting: “This news about bentonite as the additive is being a trademark of the Iraqi biological weapons program is very significant. Partly because there’s been a lot of pressure on the Bush administration inside and out to go after Saddam Hussein. And some are going to be quick to pick up on this as a smoking gun. There is a battle about Iraq that’s been raging in the administration.”
Repeated - The story is repeated by ABC over the next several days, especially by Ross. Qualifications in the initial story are dropped over the next few days as Ross definitely claims that the anthrax “was laced with bentonite” and “the anthrax found in a letter to Senator Daschle is nearly identical to samples they recovered in Iraq in 1994.” On October 28, Ross claims, “[D]espite continued White House denials, four well-placed and separate sources have told ABC News that initial tests on the anthrax by the US Army at Fort Detrick, Maryland, have detected trace amounts of the chemical additives bentonite and silica.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001; Salon, 4/9/2007; Salon, 8/1/2008]
ABC News Keeps Promoting Story despite White House Denial - On October 29, ABC News notes that White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer has denied that bentonite was found on the letters. Fleischer says that no test or analysis has shown the presence of bentonite, and “no other finding contradicts or calls into question” that conclusion. But ABC News continues to push the story and quotes former UN weapons inspector Tim Trevan, who says that bentonite “means to me that Iraq becomes the prime suspect as the source of the anthrax used in these letters.” ABC News even brings up the alleged meeting between 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy in Prague, and quotes former UN weapons inspector Richard Butler: “There are reports that one of the things that may have happened at that meeting was that [Atta] was given by the Iraqi some sample of anthrax.… We do not know if that is true. I believe it is something that should be investigated.” [ABC News, 10/29/2001]
Dropped, Sort Of - ABC News finally drops the story on November 1, when Ross reports: “The White House said that despite initial test results which we reported suggesting the presence of a chemical called bentonite, a trademark of the Iraqi weapons program, a further chemical analysis has ruled that out. The White House says there are chemical additives in that anthrax including one called silica.” Yet this account is not entirely correct, because the White House denied the story from the very beginning, as ABC News made clear in their first stories on the subject, and their quoting of White House Press Secretary Fleischer. [TVNewser, 8/6/2008] But an ABC News article the same day by Gary Matsumoto continues to push the bentonite theory, despite acknowledging that lab results do not show signs of bentonite. He argues that perhaps a different form of bentonite was used that did not show the usual signs. He also argues that perhaps the anthrax was coated with silica, which would be another sign of high sophistication and possible government involvement in the attacks. This is the theory the White House is pushing (see October 25-29, 2001), although it too will eventually be discredited by the FBI (see August 2006). [ABC News, 11/1/2001]
Iraq's Link to Bentonite Questioned - In October 2002, the Washington Post will reveal that early in the anthrax investigation, “US authorities dismissed the possibility that Iraq could have sponsored the attacks because investigators determined that the spores had been coated with silica to make them disperse quickly, rather than the mineral bentonite, regarded by the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command as Iraq’s additive of choice.” Furthermore, “Iraq’s alleged preference for bentonite appears to be based on a single sample of a common pesticide collected by UN authorities from Iraq’s Al Hakam biological weapons facility in the mid-1990s.” [Washington Post, 10/28/2002]
Common Clay - Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald will later note: “The very idea that bentonite is ‘a troubling chemical additive,’ let alone that it is some sort of unique Iraqi hallmark, is inane. Bentonite is merely a common clay that is produced all over the world, including from volcanic eruptions.” A geology professor comments: “It is not ‘a chemical additive’ and it is not unique to Iraq. It is widespread and common, and readily available wherever you can get ‘drilling mud.’” [Salon, 4/9/2007]
No Correction - But even though it emerges that bentonite was never actually detected in the anthrax samples, ABC News will not correct its story until after it is heavily pressured to do so in late 2008 (see August 6, 2008).
Entity Tags: Tim Trevan, Richard Butler, Glenn Greenwald, Gary Matsumoto, Peter Jennings, Ari Fleischer, ABC News, Brian Ross
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda, 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.
The White House repeats its warning to the UN that the US will act if the UN fails to pass a stronger resolution. Speaking in New Mexico, George Bush says: “Either the United Nations will do its duty to disarm Saddam Hussein, or Saddam Hussein will disarm himself. In either case, if they refuse to act, in the name of peace, in the name of a secure tomorrow, in the name of freedom, the United States will lead a coalition and disarm Saddam Hussein.” [US President, 11/4/2002] And Ari Fleischer, the White House Press Secretary, says, “The United Nations has debated this long enough. The time has come for people to raise their hands and cast their vote.” [White House, 10/28/2002]
Michael Ledeen, speaking at an event sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), states: “No stages. This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq… this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don’t try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war… our children will sing great songs about us years from now.” [Institute, 10/29/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001] Interestingly, several sources credit fellow AEI neoconservative Richard Perle, and not Ledeen, with the quote, including John Pilger’s book The New Rulers of the World [Pilger, 2002, pp. 10] and former State Department and USAID official William Fisher. [Informed Comment, 2/1/2005] Perle is the moderator of the AEI event where Ledeen speaks. [Institute, 10/29/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001]
In a television interview, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) supports the allegation that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague. McCain says, “The evidence is very clear.” This comment comes several days after a Czech government official claimed that the meeting took place (see October 26, 2001). McCain makes other comments around the same time also trying to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks. For instance, in mid-September 2001, he told television host Jay Leno that he believes “some other countries” had assisted al-Qaeda, suggesting Iraq, Iran, and Syria as potential suspects. McCain also relies on dubious claims made by Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (INC). For instance, in a television interview, McCain echoes the INC’s claim that two Iraqi defectors know about terrorist training camps in Iraq (see November 6-8, 2001). McCain claims there are “credible reports of involvement between Iraqi administration officials, Iraqi officials and the terrorists.” In 2006, McCain will admit that he had been “too enamored with the INC.” [New York Times, 8/16/2008]
Robert Bartley, conservative editor of The Wall Street Journal, writes an editorial in his newspaper strongly suggesting that Iraq is behind the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). He cites former CIA Director James Woolsey, who says the possibility should be considered that “the attacks—whether perpetrated by bin Laden and his associates or by others—were sponsored, supported, and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein.” He also draws on the controversial and eventually discredited theories of Laurie Mylroie, for instance claiming that Iraq was behind the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993), and the controversial and eventually discredited reports that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi spy in Prague. He concludes, “Saddam Hussein has the motive, means and opportunity to mount terrorism, and the anthrax attacks fit his modus operandi. There is plenty of reason to presume he’s behind the current attacks, with bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network as a front or ally. In any event, given his capabilities and intentions, he remains a threat to American lives as long as he’s at large.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/29/2001]
Neoconservative writers Robert Kagan and William Kristol predict “a wide-ranging war in locales from Central Asia to the Middle East and, unfortunately, back again to the United States,” of which the Afghanistan conflict is merely “an opening battle.” The “unequivocal destruction of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden” are the first steps in a larger conflict that must “spread and engulf a number of countries in conflicts of varying intensity,” requiring US forces to invade “multiple” countries. “It is going to resemble the clash of civilizations that everyone has hoped to avoid. And it is going to put enormous and perhaps unbearable strain on parts of an international coalition that today basks in contented consensus.” Kagan and Kristol say that both the 9/11 attacks and the recent anthrax mailings are likely the work of Iraq, and thus President Bush “ha[s] no choice” but to destroy the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. The continued security of Israel is of paramount importance, they write; the US must join with Israel in battling Islamist terrorism in the region by any means necessary. There is virtually no difference between the Taliban and the Palestinian Authority, they write; both must be shut down. Putative US allies such as Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia might object, and may even declare war against Israel. If so, they must be given the same treatment as the Taliban, the Palestinians, and Iraq: overthrow and domination. “With or without a new Arab-Israeli war, it is possible that the demise of some ‘moderate’ Arab regimes may be just around the corner.” [Weekly Standard, 10/29/2001]
FBI agent Jack Cloonan arrives in Sudan with several other FBI agents and is given permission by the Sudanese government to interview some al-Qaeda operatives living there. The interviews were conducted at safe houses arranged by Sudanese intelligence. Cloonan interviews Mubarak al Duri, an Iraqi. He lived in Tuscon, Arizona, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction (see 1986). Cloonan will later claim that al Duri and a second Iraqi al-Qaeda operative laughed when asked about possible bin Laden ties to Saddam Hussein’s government. “They said bin Laden hated Saddam.” Bin Laden considered Hussein “a Scotch-drinking, woman-chasing apostate.” Cloonan also interviews Mohammed Loay Bayazid, an American citizen and founding member of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988), who ran an al-Qaeda charity front in the US (see December 16, 1994). [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2005] The CIA will interview them in 2002, but they apparently remain free in Sudan (see Mid-2002).
White House deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will, in 2008, write: “As soon as [President] Bush decided to confront Iraq, the groundwork for a public campaign began to be laid. The new doctrine on preemption (see Fall 2002) was part of the elaborate effort. So was the gradual ratcheting up of the rhetoric from late 2001 into 2002. Before 9/11, our rhetoric about Iraq had focused on warning Saddam Hussein not to develop weapons of mass destruction, while the policy centered on containing him with enhanced sanctions (see February 2001).… But by late November, the president was not ruling out military action against Iraq and he was saying that Iraq would be held accountable if it was found to be developing WMD.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 135-136]
Wayne Downing. [Source: US Army]Wayne Downing, a retired Army general who recently replaced Richard Clarke as the White House counterterrorism “tsar,” is drawing up plans for a US takeover of Iraq on his own initiative. [Washington Post, 1/12/2003 Sources: Unnamed senior administration official] Downing, who had previously been an adviser to the Iraqi National Congress (INC) exile group, is said to favor a rebellion more than a US military invasion, similar to a plan he drew up in 1998 (see July 1998). [United Press International, 6/27/2002]
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