Iraq deceptions : new CIA report on Al Qaeda ‘connections’


Richard Moore


Fabricated Links? 

A CIA report casts new doubt on links between Iraq and Al
Qaeda. Plus, tensions between FBI Director Bob Mueller and
his predecessor, Louis Freeh.

By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball 
Updated: 7:07 p.m. ET Oct. 26, 2005 

Oct. 26, 2005 - A secret draft CIA report raises new
questions about a principal argument used by the Bush
administration to justify the war in Iraq: the claim that
Saddam Hussein was "harboring" notorious terror leader Abu
Mussab al-Zarqawi prior to the American invasion.

The allegation that Zarqawi had visited Baghdad in May
2002 with Saddam's sanction-purportedly for medical
treatment-was once a centerpiece of the administration's
arguments about Iraq. Secretary of State Colin Powell
cited Zarqawi's alleged visit in his speech to the United
Nations Security Council. Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld referred obliquely to Zarqawi's purported trip as
an example of "bulletproof" evidence that the
administration had assembled linking Saddam's regime with
Al Qaeda.

But like the uranium yellowcake claims-since determined to
be fraudulent-that are at the heart of the CIA leak case,
the administration's original allegations about Zarqawi's
trip also seem to be melting away. An updated CIA
re-examination of the issue recently concluded that
Saddam's regime may not have given Zarqawi "safe haven"
after all.

The CIA declined to comment on the draft report. But
officials tell NEWSWEEK that Zarqawi probably did travel
to the Iraqi capital in the spring of 2002 for medical
treatment. And, of course, there is no question that he is
in Iraq now-orchestrating many of the deadly suicide
bombings and attacks on American soldiers.

But before the American-led invasion, Saddam's government
may never have known he was there. The reason: he used an
alias and was there under what one U.S. intelligence
official calls a "false cover." No evidence has been found
showing senior Iraqi officials were even aware of his
presence, according to two counterterrorism analysts
familiar with the classified CIA study who asked not to be
identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.

An intelligence official told NEWSWEEK that the current
draft says that "most evidence suggests Saddam Hussein did
not provide Zarqawi safe haven before the war. It also
recognizes that there are still unanswered questions and
gaps in knowledge about the relationship."

The most recent CIA analysis is an update-based on fresh
reporting from Iraq and interviews with former Saddam
officials-of a classified report that analysts in the
CIA's Directorate of Intelligence first produced more than
a year ago. According to the Knight Ridder newspapers, the
agency was originally asked to conduct that review of
Saddam's dealings with Zarqawi by Vice President Dick

The new report is only the latest chink in the armor of
the alleged Saddam-Al Qaeda connection. Last year, the
September 11 Commission found there was no "collaborative"
relationship between the Iraqi regime and Osama bin Laden;
one high-level Al Qaeda commander-who had been cited by
Powell as testifying to talks about chemical- and
biological-warfare training-later recanted his claims. But
the Pentagon and Cheney's office have been reluctant to
abandon the case: in the months after U.S. and allied
forces deposed Saddam, NEWSWEEK has learned, Iraqi
informants approached U.S. intelligence personnel with
what purported to be caches of documents proving that
Saddam's dealings with Al Qaeda were extensive. (One cache
of documents even claimed that six of 19 of the September
11 hijackers had been trained to fly in Iraq.)  

Current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials said
that when officials at the Bush White House learned about
the existence of documents linking Saddam to Al Qaeda,
they became very excited and pressured intelligence
agencies to work quickly to validate and decipher them.
However, the CIA ultimately established that most key
documents about the Saddam-Al Qaeda connection turned over
were faked-just like the documents purporting to show
Iraqi purchases of uranium.

Tension Between FBI Chiefs Ex-FBI director Louis Freeh's
new book, "My FBI," has kicked up controversy over its
stinging attacks on Bill Clinton. But it has also frayed
relations with current director Bob Mueller. Freeh takes a
little-noticed shot at his successor in the book,
describing a testy encounter in the early days of the Bush
administration with an "acting deputy attorney general"-a
clear reference to Mueller who at the time held that post.

In Freeh's account, the acting deputy A.G. tells him the
department now has new top priorities-guns, drugs and
juvenile crime. Freeh replies that terrorism and "just
about everything else" are more important. "Those are our
marching orders," Mueller says, according to Freeh's
account. "Those aren't my marching orders," Freeh shoots
back. Freeh then writes that "lockstep, blind obedience"
by an FBI director to "potentially unlawful or even 'dumb
orders'" is a "formula for disaster."

Mueller declined an invitation to attend Freeh's book
party last week after telling one bureau official that
Freeh was "too controversial," according to a Freeh
associate who asked not to be identified because of the
sensitivity of the matter. (The event was attended by
several top Bush administration officials, including CIA
Director Porter Goss and White House homeland-security
adviser Fran Townsend.) An FBI spokesman said only that
Mueller had strong "terrorism credentials" while he served
at Justice overseeing, among other cases, indictments of
the Iranian perpetrators of the Khobar Towers bombing in
Saudi Arabia-a case that was a top priority for Freeh. 

© 2005 Newsweek, Inc. 

© 2005 



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