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Bush Administration Statements on Saddam’s connections to terrorism generally substantiated by intelligence community

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Bush Team Didn’t Skew Intel

Bush Administration Statements on Saddam’s connections to terrorism generally substantiated by intelligence community

I have worked in or with every Congress since 1970 and it is now clear that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi continue to preside over the worst Congress in living memory. This is particularly true in the most serious area a legislator must tackle: national security. No intelligence bill has been passed, now for the second straight year. The FISA reform bill, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, continues to be bottled up. And the prospect of a Defense Authorization bill becoming law is also bleak. On the most important duty they are sworn to do — provide for the common defense — the Democratic leadership is AWOL.

What they have produced is a new Senate Intelligence Committee report on the nature of the intelligence on Iraqi threats to the US, the nature of the unconventional weapons programs being pursued by Saddam Hussein, and whether this intelligence material justified the Administration’s decision to remove the Iraqi dictator from power.

As the Vice Chairman of the Committee, Senator Bond, and his colleagues Burr, Chambliss and Hatch have noted, the report — highly politicized as it is — concludes “Statements by the President, Vice President, Secretary of State and the National Security Adviser regarding a possible Iraq1 nuclear weapons programs were generally substantiated by intelligence community estimates”, (p.15); “statements in the major speeches analyzed regarding Iraqi ballistic missiles were generally supported by available intelligence”(p. 57); “intelligence reporting highlights more than a decade of contacts between the Iraqi Government and al-Qa’ida based on shared anti-US goals and Bin laden’s interest in unconventional weapons…” (p. 63); “statements…regarding Iraq’s support for terrorist groups…were substantiated by intelligence information”, (p.71); and “statements that Iraq provided safe haven for …al-Zarqawi and other al-Qa’ida-related terrorists…and regarding Iraq’s contacts with al-Qa’ida…were substantiated by intelligence estimates”, (p.71).

But the report, despite stating the obvious that intelligence conclusions prior to the liberation of Iraq were flawed, spends considerable time denouncing the idea that Saddam Hussein had any connection to either terrorism or terrorist groups, especially al-Qa’ida. The report concludes that Saddam never “considered using terrorist groups to attack the United States.”

According to documents revealed after the initial liberation of Iraq, and compiled by the Institute for Defense Analysis recently, and summarized by Eli Lake in the New York Sun, “In the same year, Saddam ordered his intelligence service to ‘form a group to start hunting Americans present on Arab soil; especially Somalia.’ At the time, Al Qaeda was working with warlords against American forces there. Saddam’s intelligence services maintained extensive support networks for a wide range of Palestinian Arab terrorist organizations, including but not limited to Hamas. Among the other Palestinian groups Saddam supported at the time was Force 17, the private army loyal to Yasser Arafat.”

Lake then discusses the reports view of Saddam and Al Qaeda:

“The [IDA] report also undercuts the claim made by many on the left and many at the CIA that Saddam, as a national socialist, was incapable of supporting or collaborating with the Islamist al Qaeda. The report concludes that instead Iraq’s relationship with Osama bin Laden’s organization was similar to the relationship between the rival Colombian cocaine cartels in the 1990s. Both were rivals in some sense for market share, but also allies when it came to expanding the size of the overall market…Recognizing Iraq as a second, or parallel, ‘terror cartel’ …helps to explain the evidence emerging from the detritus of Saddam’s regime."

Lake then points to the conclusions of two experts that agree on the import of the IDA report:

“Long time skeptic of the connection between al Qaeda and Iraq and a former CIA senior Iraq analyst, Judith Yaphe yesterday said, "I think the report indicates that Saddam was willing to work with almost any group be it nationalist or Islamic, that was willing to work for his objectives. But in the long term he did not trust many of the Islamist groups, especially those linked to Saudi Arabia or Iran." She added, "He really did want to get
anti-American operations going.”

“A former Bush administration official who was a member of the counter-terrorism evaluation group that analyzed terror networks and links between terrorists and states, David Wurmser, said he felt the report began to vindicate his point of view. ‘This is the beginning of the process of exposing Saddam’s involvement in Islamic terror. But it is only the beginning. Time and declassification I’m sure will reveal yet more,’ he said. ‘Even so, this report is damning to those who doubted Saddam Hussein’s involvement with Jihadist terrorist groups. It devastates one of the central myths plaguing our government prior to 9-11, that a Jihadist group would not cooperate with a secular regime and
vice versa.’

The IDA report concludes with a question: "Is there anything in the captured archives to indicate that Saddam had the will to use his terrorist capabilities directly against the United States?” And an answer: “Evidence that was uncovered and analyzed attests to the existence of a terrorist capability and a willingness to use it until the day Saddam was forced to flee Baghdad by Coalition forces…" Although the Senate report continues to assert the common assumption that Saddam’s secular nature made it likely he would not involve himself in “religious” groups such as al-Qa’ida, “The rise of Islamist fundamentalism in the region gave Saddam the opportunity to make terrorism, one of the few tools remaining in Saddam’s ‘coercion’ tool box."

Written By

Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis of Potomac, Maryland.

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