Skip to comments.The Evidence Scheuer Ignored
Posted on 11/23/2004 1:41:14 AM PST by kattracks
ON SUNDAY'S Meet The Press Tim Russert asked his guest, Michael Scheuer, to respond to questions concerning his first book from 2002, Through Our Enemies' Eyes. In it, as I pointed out in an earlier article, Scheuer cites numerous pieces of evidence that substantiate the Bush administration's claim that Saddam's Iraq had a relationship with al Qaeda. However, in his recent media appearances, Scheuer now gives the impression that there is no evidence that there was a relationship.
Tim Russert asked Scheuer about this apparent contradiction; his response left much to be desired. Scheuer's response does, however, illustrate one of the many problems Porter Goss and the Bush administration face in their attempt to reform the intelligence community. When asked about his analysis in 2002, Scheuer responded (in part), "I certainly saw a link when I was writing the books in terms of the open-source literature, unclassified literature, but I had nothing to do with Iraq during my professional career until the run-up to the war." (emphasis added)
Scheuer had "nothing to do with Iraq" during his professional career? Scheuer's response implies that during his entire tenure as the head of the CIA's "bin Laden unit" he never seriously investigated the possibility that Saddam's Iraq was aiding bin Laden's al Qaeda in its endeavors. In other words, he never tested the hypothesis of "state support" for al Qaeda's terrorist activities.
This startling admission reveals the type of pathological "group-think" that needs to be purged from the CIA. In the early
'90s the CIA adopted a specific "stateless" paradigm for understanding terrorism. Directly contrary to the prevailing wisdom of the 1980s, terrorist acts were no longer suspected of being "state-backed" affairs. Instead, the mantra of "loosely affiliated" terrorist networks took root and pariah states such as Iraq--despite being on the State Department's list of "state sponsors of terrorism" every year--were increasingly viewed as bit players in the terrorist arena.
As a brief example of how problematic this view became, consider the events of just three months during Scheuer's tenure as the head of the bin Laden unit--from December 1998 until February 1999.
In December 1998 President Bill Clinton ordered Operation Desert Fox, a massive missile strike against Iraqi targets, which lasted from December 16 to 19. Operation Desert Fox was the last of many U.S. / U.K. efforts in 1998 to destabilize and punish the Iraqi regime for its refusal to comply with weapons inspections. For example, the Iraqi Liberation Act, signed into law by President Clinton on October 31, provided direct funding and support for a coalition of Iraqi opposition groups as well as funding for Radio Free Iraq (which broadcasted anti-regime programming into Iraq from Prague).
With such intense Western pressure on the Iraqi regime mounting, and his conventional military forces completely inept (his anti-aircraft artillery could not even shoot down one coalition aircraft), whom could Saddam turn to for support? Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.
The weeks following Operation Desert Fox were flooded with media reports from around the world warning of an alliance between Saddam and bin Laden. The main event which triggered these reports was Faruq Hijazi's (one of Saddam's top intelligence operatives) visit to Afghanistan on December 21--just two days after the bombing campaign ended--to meet with bin Laden and his cohorts. Scheuer discusses this meeting (as well as an earlier one in 1994) in Through Our Enemies' Eyes.
The first report of the December meeting appeared in Milan's Corriere Della Sera (December 28, 1998) and was quickly followed by reports in virtually every major Western country: for example, the Paris-based Al-Watan Al-Arabi (January 1, 1999), Newsweek (January 11, 1999), ABC News (January 14, 1999), The New York Post (February 1, 1999), the London Guardian
(two articles on February 6, 1999). Even a number of Arab newspapers (and Radio Free Iraq on January 8, 1999) reported the meeting with Hijazi and Saddam's offer of safe haven for, and desire to work with, bin Laden.
Saddam's relationship with bin Laden became so well known that when the Taliban reported bin Laden "missing" (probably a bit of disinformation) in February of 1999, the media knew where he was likely to go: Iraq. The Associated Press led the way by reporting on February 13, "Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has offered asylum to bin Laden, who openly supports Iraq against the Western powers." Similar stories spread, once again, throughout the global media.
The Clinton administration was not unaware of these reports. As reported in the 9/11 Commission Report, Bush administration critic Richard Clarke worried in an email to Sandy Berger on February 11 that bin Laden would find out about a proposed U-2 fly over and "armed with that knowledge, old wily Usama will likely boogie to Baghdad." Also according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Bruce Riedel, of the National Security Council staff, told Berger that, "Saddam Hussein wanted Bin Ladin in Baghdad."
ignore all of this evidence and continue to have "nothing to do with Iraq?" Did he not think it was important to investigate Iraq's relationship with al Qaeda in February of 1999? According to his answer on Meet The Press, he never seriously investigated the possibility that Saddam's Iraq could collaborate with bin Laden's al Qaeda before the run-up to the Iraq war.
Scheuer says that in the prelude to the Iraq war he went through the CIA's classified archives of "roughly 19,000 documents, probably totaling 50,000 to 60,000 pages" and in it he found "absolutely no connection . . . in terms of a relationship." As shown by Stephen Hayes, the evidence cited above is just a small sampling of the total evidence that was available to Scheuer and the intelligence community.
Did the CIA's copious files really not include any mention of this evidence, as Scheuer now suggests? It is hard to believe. It is more likely that Scheuer simply returned to the CIA's institutionalized view of terrorism as "loosely affiliated networks" without significant state support.
Such a mindset offers us a unique view of how the old CIA operated. It had become so "dysfunctional" that existing paradigms for understanding terrorism were treated as unquestionable dogma. Scheuer threw out this old paradigm in 2002 when he wrote, "We know for certain that bin Laden was seeking CBRN weapons . . . and that Iraq and Sudan have been cooperating with bin Laden on CBRN weapon acquisition and development."
Now all Goss has to do is throw out the old mindset altogether. He has his work cut out for him.
Thomas Joscelyn is an economist who works on antitrust and security issues.
CIA history repeats itself today with respect to Iraq. No mention is made of Iran's assistance to Al Qaeda, yet London's Al Sharq Al Awsat of April 15, 1993 claimed that Tehran had offered the welcome mat to the Afghan-Arabs who congregated at bases along the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier. Iran was certainly aware of the existence and purpose of Al Qaeda, even if the CIA was not.
Today, Iran still offers the Islamists a safe-haven -- from Hizbollah to Al Qaeda. And when one wonders why Osama Bin Laden has not issued more videos or casettes from his hiding place, many analysts would submit that it is because his Iranian masters do not wish to do anything that might call attention to their murderous activity in support of Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and Islamist terrorism.
If he had no reliable evidence, then why for God's sake was he writing a book that encouraged people to rely on his judgement as a CIA analyst?
Was this then a sophomoric exercise in ego adjustmenr or simple greed?