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9/11 Commission Fails to Connect Terror Dots

The 9/11 Commission’s (search) conclusion that “We have no credible evidence that Iraq and Al Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States” does not augur well for the rest of the panel’s inquiry. 

If the members of the commission could not connect dots that are all too obvious – or recognize their staff’s inability to do so – it seems likely that their work will fall short in other important areas as well.

The commission has allowed itself to be used as a political instrument by critics of President Bush and his liberation of Iraq.  This is the ineluctable result of the shortcomings of its staff report, so brilliantly illuminated by Andrew McCarthy in an essay published today by National Review Online. 

The staff’s statement concerning Iraq and Al Qaeda (search) is internally inconsistent; it ignores key facts; it selectively addresses others; and it effectively condemns as incredible the considerable amount of evidence that suggests Saddam Hussein and Usama bin Laden did indeed have a collaborative relationship – as President Bush and Vice President Cheney have insisted.

Particularly egregious is the supposedly conclusive finding that Mohammed Atta (search) could not have been in Prague for his final meeting with an Iraqi intelligence officer simply because calls were made in Florida on Atta's cell phone during the time period the meeting was to have occurred. Czech intelligence contends Atta was in Prague and attended the meeting, and Mr. McCarthy observes that it would be entirely possible (to say nothing of prudent tradecraft) to have someone – perhaps his co-conspiring roommate – use the phone at a time when Atta could not, because he was overseas where the phone would not work. 

This sort of proof-by-assertion is all too familiar to those who used to confront the unwillingness of some in the U.S. intelligence community to recognize that the Soviet Union was a state sponsor of terror and a serial violator of arms control agreements.  Perhaps, as the communists used to say, the similarity is “no accident.” 

As it happens, the staff member who reported to 9/11 Commission members yesterday that there was no “collaborative relationship” between Iraq and Al Qaeda was none other than Douglas MacEachin (search) – a man who once held senior positions at the CIA, including posts with the Office of Soviet Analysis from 1984-1989, the Arms Control Intelligence Staff for the next few years, and the job of Deputy Director for Intelligence from 1992 until 1995. 

In these capacities, MacEachin appeared to colleagues to get things wrong with some regularity.  For example, he was reflexively averse to conclusions that the Soviets were responsible for supporting terrorism.  He reportedly rejected as “absurd” analyses that suggested Moscow was illegally developing bioweapons.  And, as DDI, he forced CIA analysts to tailor their assessments to please Clinton administration policy-makers. 

In short, in the old days, MacEachin refused to believe the Soviets were a threat. Now, he offers support to those who insist that Iraq was no threat. There may be a role for a "see-no-evil" sort of guy, but it should not be at the Central Intelligence Agency — and certainly not at a commission whose charter is to connect the dots, no matter where they lead.

Even as the press had a feeding-frenzy over MacEachin’s statement absolving Saddam of ties to Al Qaeda, fresh evidence of malevolent intentions toward the United States that would have made anti-American collaboration between Saddam and Al Qaeda only natural was supplied by an unlikely source: another old intelligence hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin (search). 

According to Putin, his intelligence agencies shared sensitive information with the Bush administration after the Sept. 11 attacks and before the United States went to war with Iraq in March of 2003. According to Putin's intelligence, Saddam Hussein’s regime was crafting plans to execute terror attacks against America, both inside and outside of this country.  Thus far, Putin has not elaborated on whether Al Qaeda was also involved with these particular plans. At the very least, however, this information confirms the Bush team’s contention that Saddam dealt deeply in terror and its judgment that to leave Saddam in power would be to invite murderous attacks in the future.

One wonders whether the 9/11 Commission was exposed to the Putin intelligence before it effectively dismissed the possibility that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the 2001 attacks.  For that matter, did they review the information contained in three highly informative books providing “credible evidence” — of at least a circumstantial nature — that Saddam had already acted on his desire to strike this country? 

Dr. Laurie Mylroie’s The War Against America: Saddam Hussein and the World Trade Center Attacks – A Study of Revenge,  which concerns the first effort to destroy the Twin Towers in 1993; Jayna Davis’ The Third Terrorist: The Middle East Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing,  which concerns the 1995 destruction of the Murrah Building; and Stephen Hayes’ The Connection: How al Qaeda’s Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America, all persuasively support a very different conclusion than that advanced yesterday by Douglas MacEachin. 

It is high time that their conclusions, together with arguments like those presented so cogently by Andrew McCarthy, are given at least a fraction of the media attention — and credibility — afforded a statement that so manifestly fails to connect the dots.

Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy in Washington.