I’ve been monitoring a growing number of sources that are hinting very strongly at the very relationship that the Administration has contended.
I’ll post more as we go.
Here is from July 8th: Brit Hume…
BRIT HUME, HOST: Those comments reflect the conventional wisdom that there was really no connection between Saddam Hussein’s government and Usama bin Laden and other Islamic terrorists. But a year ago, Stephen Hayes of our sister publication, the Weekly Standard, published a book documenting connections between Saddam Hussein’s regime and Islamic terrorism, including Al Qaeda.
Now he reports in the new edition of the Weekly Standard there is more evidence on the subject. And he joins me here now.
Steve, welcome. Nice to have you.
STEPHEN F. HAYES, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Good to be with you.
HUME: Sum up, if it’s possible to do so, sort of the nature of the connections you found between the Islamic terrorism, Al Qaeda, and the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein, that you knew before.
HAYES: There are a whole host of connections from before that we knew before the war. There were allegations that have since been confirmed that Saddam was supporting Al Qaeda in Ansar al-Islam, an Al Qaeda affiliate, in northern Iraq, financially with weapons. There were, of course, the reports that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was in Iraq operating freely before the war.
HUME: That’s been confirmed?
HAYES: That’s been confirmed.
HUME: That he was there before the war?
HAYES: Absolutely. It was in the Butler Report, which was the British report looking back at prewar intelligence. It was in the Senate Intelligence Committee Report in this time last year, looking back at prewar intelligence. And we also have numerous interviews with people who were in Baghdad with Zarqawi before the war who are saying, “Yes, we were there with him.”
HUME: All right. That gives a sense of it. Now, what has since come to light since your book was published, new information that’s come out? What’s the nature of it?
HAYES: I think that the most interesting stuff that we’ve seen – and we’ve only really scratched the surface on this – comes from internal Iraqi intelligence documents that have been uncovered since the end of the war. So it’s no longer a matter of, “Well, do we have to take this person’s word for it? These are allegations, but they’ve not yet been proven.”
We now know from the Iraqis, for instance, that there was a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, that Saddam at least agreed on some limited cooperation broadcasting anti-Saudi propaganda. It was a request that he got from bin Laden in the mid-'90s. He agreed to do that.
We know that there have been payments, additional payments, from Saddam to bin Laden’s No. 2 in 1998.
HUME: That was then Ayman al-Zawahiri?
HAYES: Exactly. Exactly.
HUME: What were the nature of the payments? What were they for?
HAYES: $300,000. There’s a period in February of 1998 in which this relationship really seemed to blossom. It was a time when there was lots of pressure put on by the U.S. for Saddam to comply with inspectors. He wasn’t doing it. President Clinton went to the Pentagon, gave a big speech, basically preparing the nation for war. And at that time, we know that there was this payment to Zawahiri for $300,000.
HUME: Do we know what it was for?
HAYES: We don’t know what it was for. There was also, in these documents that we’ve uncovered since the end of the war, a series of meetings in March of 1998 between a senior Al Qaeda terrorist, someone that the documents label “a trusted confidant of bin Laden.”
HUME: No name attached?
HAYES: No name attached.
HUME: And he met with whom?
HAYES: He met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Baghdad, the Iraqi intelligence service. Really, these are accounting documents that were found in the bombed-out headquarters of Iraqi intelligence service. And what they say is, “Hey, we’re going to pick up the tab for this guy. Let the Saudi station chief of Iraqi intelligence know that we’re going to pay for this. Let the Sudanese station chief know that we’re going to pay for this.”
And the meetings…
HUME: Do we know the purpose of this relationship at that time?
HAYES: We don’t. I mean, you know, we can speculate, but we don’t really know exactly what was going on at that time, except that there was a lot of pressure coming from the United States and the United Nations. We know that Usama bin Laden, on February 23rd, issued a fatwa that was very focused on Iraq.
He called for the killing of Americans and the targeting of American interests wherever they could be found at a time when the Iraqis were really under pressure, as I say, from the international community. And then following that, there was a series of meetings that we know from Iraqi intelligence documents.
And there was also a mention of March 1998 meetings in the 9/11 Commission report. So it’s possible that, you know, you have a handful of meetings in really a month-and-a-half span.
We don’t yet know what came of these meetings, but there are some suggestive clues. There was a document that came out of the Pentagon which describes an Al Qaeda detainee, held down in Guantanamo Bay right now, who allegedly conspired with Iraqi intelligence to blow up the U.S. embassies in Pakistan in 1998.
HUME: Now, this man was – he’s at Guantanamo. And he’s someone who had been an Iraqi soldier?
HUME: Correct? And then he was recruited by the Taliban.
HAYES: In 1994, in Baghdad.
HUME: In Baghdad. And went to Afghanistan…
HUME: … and fought there?
HAYES: Fought there.
HUME: Now, do we have reason to believe that when he did all this that he had been encouraged to do so by the Iraqi authorities? Or do we…
HAYES: We don’t. We don’t yet know really what the disposition of his travels were. We do know that he’d taken money from Al Qaeda, that he swore – took a pledge of biat to the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar.
HUME: Took a what?
HAYES: A pledge of loyalty, essentially, to Mullah Omar.
HUME: And so what we know about him, he was an Iraqi, right?
HAYES: He was an Iraqi. But then the interesting part of this summary of evidence comes that he is alleged by the U.S. government formally to have participated in a plot to blow up the U.S. embassy and the British embassy in Pakistan in August of 1998.
HUME: So whether he was at any time during all of that operating as an agent of Iraq, we don’t know, but it’s at least possible, because that’s where he originally came from?
HAYES: That’s where he originally came from. But then the important component is that he was plotting this with a member of Iraqi intelligence.
HUME: Oh, he was?
HAYES: He was plotting this with Iraqi intelligence, according to this summary of evidence.
HUME: All right. Now, you’ve talked about Iraqi intelligence repeatedly as being the locust of the contacts. How did Iraqi intelligence and perhaps Saddam, as well, regard Usama bin Laden? What did they think of him? How did they see him?
HAYES: I would characterize it as sort of an on again, off again relationship. I mean, I don’t think these guys were buddies by any stretch of the imagination, but they viewed each other as something that could be exploited.
Saddam certainly called on Islamic radicals in his past. I mean, during the first Gulf War, he called on Islamic radicals to attack U.S. interests throughout the world. And he’s done so since. He even held annual conferences in Baghdad bringing these terrorists.
HUME: Now, you mentioned all these things, and there are obviously just – there’s more, and you’re going to be reporting on this. The administration, however, has fallen silent on this.
Last question. We only have a few seconds left. Why do you suppose the administration has fallen so silent on these contacts?
HAYES: I don’t think, frankly, that they want to fight with the CIA, many of whom were skeptical of this before. And, to be honest, if these links are indeed proven, they will have egg on their face.
HUME: Got you. Steve, pleasure to have you. Thanks very much.
As the media does a rather poor job of updating information (especially after being wrong), I think it’s important to do this from time to time.