Saddam, Atta and Sept. 11

My occasional breakfast-mate, CNN's Bob Novak, gets it right most of the time.

But last week, he got it all wrong on the most important issue facing our national security.

Shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross shocked the world by saying: "We can confirm now that during his trip to the Czech Republic" in April 2001 (his second such trip there), Sept. 11 terrorist ringleader Mohamed Atta "did have a contact with an officer of the Iraqi intelligence, Mr. Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir al Ani."

But recent reports in The Washington Post and its sister publication Newsweek called that assessment into question. This prompted Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to profess "I don’t know" when Novak asked him whether or not Atta flew to Prague to meet with an Iraqi agent before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Novak then used Rumsfeld’s remarks to justify his own longstanding opposition to the United States attacking Saddam Hussein and removing him from power [see "A Must Meeting for the Attack-Iraq Crowd," Washington Post, May 13].

But in doing so, the ace reporter got it all wrong.

So Rumsfeld's unsure whether mastermind Atta was, or was not, in Prague a few months before Sept. 11. That's no big deal. It is a big deal that:

— Evidence of such a meeting does exist, according to the most credible source for such a meeting;

— Other evidence links Iraq to the Sept. 11 attacks (contrary to Novak's assertion that Atta's "alleged presence in Prague is the solitary piece of evidence that could link Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime to the carnage at the World Trade Center");

— Other reasons exist for us to attack Iraq — and soon — besides any direct involvement of theirs in Sept. 11.

Let's take the last point first, as it's the most important.

We need to remove Saddam Hussein from power, not (only) because of the last massive terrorist attack, but because of the next. His well-documented pursuit of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons of mass destruction — which he could hand off to any number of willing terrorist groups — makes more likely a horrific day that would render Sept. 11 small potatoes in comparison.

Plus, what about Saddam's link to terrorism generally? He gassed his own people and Iranians by the tens of thousands; he ordered his goons to assassinate ex-President Bush, 41, (has any other head of state ever ordered an assassination of an ex-president of the U.S.?); he generously doles out cash to the families of today's homicide bombers.

There's plenty more evidence of the Iraq-to-terrorism link, too.

Novak asks rhetorically why "ardent attack-Iraq advocates outside the government," like me, "cling to" the fiction of that Prague meeting? He answers himself: Otherwise, the U.S. "would be alone in the world if he (President Bush) ordered the attack without an Iraqi connection to Sept. 11."

Wrong again. Britain, Turkey, Israel, Kuwait and, most of all, the Iraqi people would join us. Lots more European states would surely come around if the president was clear and strong. Polls even today show high support among the European public for the move, in contrast to the moaning and groaning of their elites. Eventually, public opinion affects policy, even in Europe.

Now, back to that Atta meeting. Doubts about it actually happening grew out of leaks and contradictory press articles, but rather than walk through all the gyrations — as the crack investigator Edward Jay Epstein does on his Web site — I'll give the punch line.

Early this month — after the Post and Newsweek cast doubt on the Iraq/Atta connection — the same Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross offered the same assessment of the same event. To wit, the official in charge of Czech intelligence says the Atta-Iraqi meeting happened in Prague, just as he had said.

That The Washington Post and Newsweek question this conclusion doesn't faze the interior minister.

He reacts dryly: "I believe the counterintelligence services more than journalists."

He relies on the finding of his agents "and I see no reason why I should not believe it." When asked repeatedly if they had received new evidence over these past months to undermine that belief: "They did not." He hoped now to end any confusion: "Therefore, I consider the matter closed."

As Ed Epstein points out, this is the man in the know — the one running the Czech intelligence agents, the only such service in the world that apparently monitored that meeting.

And what about Novak's claim that the Atta meeting "is the solitary piece of evidence that could link Saddam Hussein's dictatorial regime to the carnage at the World Trade Center"?

That, too, is tough to digest. After all, what about Saddam's key role in the World Trade Center near-miss bombing of 1993 (the mastermind of that Twin Towers attack now resides in Baghdad)? What about photos of a commercial airplane fuselage in the terrorist training camp south of Baghdad? What about Saddam's praising of the Sept. 11 mass murderers?

In his lovable way, Novak closes his article with a flourish that the Atta-in-Prague ploy is needed to justify a new U.S. attack on Iraq. That's why, Novak claimed, "national security expert Ken Adelman insisted April 29 on CNN's Crossfire that Atta 'went 7,000 miles to meet with one of the Iraq intelligence officers in Prague.' Even if it never happened, the meeting is essential to justify a U.S. attack on Iraq."

Bob, you got it precisely backwards: Yes, the meeting did happen. But no, it's not essential to justify a U.S. attack on Iraq.

Kenneth Adelman is a frequent guest commentator on Fox News, was assistant to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and, under President Ronald Reagan, U.N. ambassador and arms-control director. Mr. Adelman is now co-host of