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More To Uncover on Saddam - April 2, 2008 - The New York Sun

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  • More To Uncover on Saddam

    By LAURIE MYLROIE | April 2, 2008

    Those who support Operation Iraqi Freedom have welcomed the recently released study on Saddam Hussein's dealings with terrorists.

    Based on captured Iraqi documents held in a Defense Department database, the Institute for Defense Analysis study makes important points. It clearly demonstrates that no ideological barrier prevented Saddam's "secular" regime from working with "Islamic" terrorists and that his regime had dealings with a wide variety of terrorists.

    Yet the study also falls short. A Pentagon analyst familiar with the material in that database recalls walking into a meeting in 2004 with a thick stack of documents showing Saddam's ties to terrorists, explaining that they justified the war. He was astonished when the senior official chairing the meeting dismissed them as "history." Subsequently, this analyst told me, "You won't believe what's in them."

    Neither this study nor the documents released in conjunction with it really elicit that response. Is something missing? Most probably, yes.

    The study is based on an inadequate number of document files, processed in a superficial fashion. Those files were declassified and published and include details of the electronic searches that produced them. One can see how the work was done.

    An initial search produced 52 files, of which 41 were used in the study. That is the backbone of the work. A second major search produced 24 files, which also were published, but not used, as the authors explain. Eleven more searches produced one file each for use in the study. Thus, this work is based on just 52 files. The authors write that the "research team screened more than 600,000 original captured documents and several thousand hours of audio and video footage." They do not mean anyone actually looked at all that material to produce this study, only that was the size of the database when the searches were done. This point has been widely misunderstood.

    While the searches produced a lot of paper, it is nowhere near enough. For this kind of work, one must quickly review truly mammoth amounts of information, setting aside what is not so interesting (most of it) and focusing on what is truly interesting. Making such judgments requires a substantial background in the subject which neither author of the IDA study has.

    The documents produced by the two major searches should both have both been used. But as it is, this study is not an analysis of the captured documents relevant to Saddam and terrorism in the Defense Department database, but a summary of 52 files with some relationship to the subject, most produced by one search.

    One of the 24 files not used in the report is of particular interest. Tunisia backed the 1991 Gulf War coalition against Iraq. The file reveals how Baghdad supported Tunisia's major Islamic group and used that support to coerce Tunis into reversing its position and normalizing relations with Iraq. Not only is that significant in itself, but it raises the question: Did Baghdad pressure other Arab states in a similar fashion? One would not know from this limited analysis.

    Important documents were missed. The study contains a section, "Destabilizing Saudi Arabia and Kuwait," but does not include a key document that has been publicly released — an Iraqi intelligence memo, written in early 1997, detailing Iraqi dealings with the Saudi opposition, including Osama bin Laden. If the authors missed that document, how much other material, not in the public record, did they miss?

    On the basis of the transcript of a meeting Saddam held with other senior Iraqi figures about the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the study concludes Iraq was not involved in the attack. Yet other captured documents reveal that an indicted fugitive who fled to Iraq after the Trade Center bombing, Abdul Rahman Yasin, received a safe haven and monthly stipend from the regime.

    The authors fail to understand that one common purpose of such meetings was to develop cover stories for whatever Iraq sought to conceal. This was an outlaw regime, built on deeply ingrained habits of deceit, developed over decades, but outsiders are not familiar with this.

    This is clearest in meetings about the United Nations Special Commission, the U.N. weapons inspectors, led by the Swedish diplomat, Ambassador Rolf Ekeus. Many of those meetings were posted on the Web.

    The Iraqis rehearse the lies — which they occasionally call "defense plans" — they will tell Mr. Ekeus. But their lies are not obvious from most transcripts. It becomes apparent in meetings about Iraq's biological program, which Saddam took particular pains to conceal from UNSCOM.

    As Mr. Ekeus rejects one fabrication after another, their response is to develop yet one more deceit, and they work out their new lines in these meetings.

    The authors further err in claiming Yasin was "the ringleader" of the World Trade Center bombing. That person is Ramzi Yousef, who, according to American authorities, is the nephew of the 9/11 mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. That is a particularly salient point, because if one can link Saddam to the 1993 bombing, one has gone quite far in tying him to September 11.

    Nor do the authors understand the context of the meeting on the World Trade Center bombing. Then deputy prime minister of Iraq, Tariq Aziz, and Saddam worked out an official statement to be read that evening on the 11:00 news: "The Iraqi intelligence organizations have documented and serious information regarding the attack which occurred on the World Trade Center. … Iraqi authorities are prepared to cooperate with the American people to identify the facts." That is the language of an April 12, 1994, press release, issued by the Iraqi interest section in Washington.

    ABC News and Newsweek were then engaged in an investigation into the 1993 Trade Center bombing, for which I was consultant. We suspected Iraq was responsible — as did senior figures in the New York FBI, the lead investigative agency. From our reporting, the Iraqis learned of the project. Saddam was concerned, as the transcript reveals, because he thought the American government was behind it.

    Saddam need not have worried. The Clinton administration did not want the subject addressed, "spinning" the reporters away from Iraq and making fun of the idea that Saddam might have been behind the bombing. Consequently, the ABC program and the Newsweek article were significantly weaker than they might have been.

    That meeting was not about developing a "strategic communications strategy," as this study claims, but a cover-up. Yet it never progressed to the other steps Saddam outlined like repeatedly presenting Yasin and whatever story he would concoct on Iraqi television because Saddam erred in thinking that the administration had an interest in the story being heard. Saddam's story did not generate significant attention.

    While welcome, this study is only a first step toward the inquiry into Saddam's dealings with terrorists. More work is needed. This is not only a matter of justifying the war in Iraq, but of understanding how an enemy state — any enemy state — might hide behind and use terrorist groups to attack America and its allies.

    Ms. Mylroie, an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "Study of Revenge: The First World Trade Center Attack and Saddam Hussein's War Against America."



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