Skip to comments.2-man report linked terrorists to Saddam: Conclusions helped propel Bush to war
Posted on 04/30/2004 4:31:09 AM PDT by TrebleRebel
WASHINGTON: Soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, a two-man intelligence team set up shop at the Pentagon, searching for evidence of links between terrorist groups and host countries.
The men, Michael Maloof and David Wurmser, culled classified material, much of it uncorroborated data from the CIA. "We discovered tons of raw intelligence," said Maloof. "We were stunned that we couldn't find any mention of it in the CIA's finished reports." They recorded and annotated their evidence on butcher paper hung like a mural around their small office. By the end of 2001, they had constructed a startling new picture of global terrorism. Old ethnic, religious and political divides between terrorist groups were breaking down, the two men warned, posing an ominous new threat. They saw alliances among a wide range of Islamic terrorists, and theorized about a convergence of Sunni and Shiite extremist groups and secular Arab governments. Their conclusions, delivered to senior Bush administration officials, connected Iraq and Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and the hijackers of Sept. 11, 2001.
In doing so, the team also helped set off a controversy over the shaping of intelligence that continues today.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is investigating whether the unit - named the Counter Terrorism Evaluation Group by its creator, Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defense for policy - exaggerated the threat posed by Iraq to justify the war.
The CIA and other intelligence agencies found little evidence to support the Pentagon's view of an increasingly unified terrorist threat or links between Saddam and Osama bin Laden, and still largely dismiss those ideas.
And with criticism as the conflict has become bloodier, President George W. Bush has found himself forced to explain again how the war on terror led to Baghdad.
Some critics argue that some of the first steps were taken by Feith's little intelligence shop. Clearly, the unit played a role in the administration's evolving effort to define the threat of Iraq - and sell it to the public.
Unable to reach a consensus on Iraq's terrorist ties because of the skepticism of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Bush administration turned its focus to the peril posed by Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, as the central rationale for war. Feith said his team was not involved in the analysis related to Iraq's illicit weapons. But, he said in an interview, terrorism and Iraq's weapons became linked in the minds of top Bush administration officials. After Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks that followed it, he said, the administration "focused on the danger that Iraq could provide the fruits of its WMD programs to terrorists."
In public statements, Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld alluded to connections between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Bush also warned of the risks that Saddam would share his illicit weapons with terrorists.
Some intelligence experts charge that the Feith unit had a secret agenda to justify a war with Iraq and was staffed with people who were handpicked by conservative Pentagon policy makers to arrive at preordained conclusions about Iraq and Al Qaeda.
Feith defends his analysts. He said his group had not been set up as a rival to the CIA. "We were not bypassing, we were not being secretive, we were not cutting the intel community out of this," he said.
But the effort aroused suspicions at the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency. Feith and his analysts were closely linked to Richard Perle, a leading neoconservative who had long advocated toppling Saddam and was a vocal critic of the CIA.
When Perle was a top defense official in the Reagan administration, Maloof, a former journalist, worked as his investigator, assembling evidence that the Soviet Union was stealing Western technology. Wurmser, a Middle East expert who had written a book that attacked the Clinton administration and the CIA for their handling of Iraq, had worked at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank where Perle was a resident scholar. Feith had been Perle's deputy at the Pentagon.
Despite their access to the Pentagon leadership, Maloof and Wurmser faced resistance from the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency. They were initially denied access, for example, to the most highly classified documents in the Pentagon computer system. So Maloof returned regularly to his old office in another branch of the Department of Defense, where he still could get the material.
The team's conclusions were alarming: Old barriers that divided the major Islamic terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, were coming down, and these groups were forging ties with one another and with secular Arab governments in an emerging terrorist war against the West.
Maloof defends their analysis: "We had to justify every single connection we made. But the intelligence community had preconceived notions, and if the information didn't fit into those notions, then they simply ignored it."
In late 2001, Maloof and Wurmser briefed top Pentagon officials. Maloof also met with Perle at his suburban Washington home. That session was interrupted by a call from Ahmad Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group. At Maloof's request, Perle asked Chalabi, now a member of the interim government of Iraq, to have his staff provide Maloof information gleaned from defectors and others.
Maloof later met with members of the Iraqi National Congress's staff. But Chalabi was a risky source: Some of the information his group provided was incorrect or fabricated, intelligence officials now believe.
By early 2002, the team had completed a 150-page briefing and slide presentation for Feith.
Soon after finishing the report, Wurmser moved to the State Department and then joined Cheney's staff.
Maloof's Pentagon career was damaged in December 2001, when his security clearances were revoked. He was accused of having unauthorized contact with a foreign national, a woman he had met while traveling in the Republic of Georgia, whom he eventually married. Maloof said he had complied with all requirements to disclose the relationship. Several intelligence professionals say he came under scrutiny because of suspicions that he had leaked classified information in the past to the news media, a charge that Maloof denies. His lawyer, Sam Abady, says that Maloof was a target because of his controversial intelligence work and political ties to conservative Pentagon leaders.
An appeals board reinstated his clearances after Feith and Perle wrote letters to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
But the high-level intervention angered some intelligence officials, and a second agency panel reversed course in April 2003. Maloof is now on paid leave.
Are these preconceived notions an expression of Arabism?
Cleaning out the nests of long-in-the-tooth bureaucrats be they CIA, FBI, Pentagon or foreign intelligence, is about the toughest job a President has. Tenure in any form is dangerous to seekers of truth.
Saddam had motive. He was humiliated by us in '91, and had already demonstrated in the attempted assassination of a former president, his willingness to strike at us in a clandestine manner. What's more, he represented the symbol of Arab power, and no scenario whereby terror can be said to be dealt with properly could ensue which didn't include his removal from power.
Moreover, I think the connections between AQ and Iraq are so overwhelming now as to be beyond dispute.
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