Transcript: Stephen Hayes on 'Fox News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'Fox News Sunday,' June 27, 2004:

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS: The issue is the connection, if any, between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. That controversy has simmered for weeks now, and a newly disclosed document that confirmed a further contact between Iraq and Al Qaida has not put it to rest.

To find out more on this, we turn to Stephen Hayes, who writes for The Weekly Standard, a political journal owned by the parent company of this network. Mr. Hayes's reporting on the issue has made him an authority on it, and he is the author of "The Connection: How Al Qaida's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America."

Steve, welcome. Good morning.


HUME: Vice President Gore said what you just heard. He also said that the administration has brazenly asserted a linkage between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein. Is he right about that?

HAYES: I don't think the administration has brazenly asserted it. I think the administration, in fact, in making its case for war in Iraq, was rather understated about the evidence in its possession at the time and, in fact, made somewhat tenuous arguments about the connection, and there's much more of a connection than they argued.

HUME: Well, you heard Condoleezza Rice say here that there was no controlling influence, so to speak, Iraq and Al Qaida. What about that?

HAYES: I think she gets it right. I mean, I thought her comments today were good, they were strong. They echo what George Tenet said in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this March, when he said we cannot show any operational control, there's no command and control, but what we've argued is safe haven, funding and training. And I think that's about right, that's the right...

HUME: For Al Qaida?

HAYES: For Al Qaida.

HUME: All right. Now, "established relationship," says Vice President Cheney. Was it an established relationship, or just a sort of a miscellaneous set of contacts of the kind that a terrorist organization might have with one of the powers in the Middle East?

HAYES: No, I think there was an established relationship. I mean, you look back over the history of these contacts, of this communication. Clearly these are high-level contacts, and the document that The New York Times reported on late last week, which laid out a series of contacts and talked about an "ongoing relationship," "further cooperation" — those are direct quotes...

HUME: From?

HAYES: From Iraq to Al Qaida, Al Qaida to Iraq. It seems to me that that really — it was a stunning report, and it really lays out a much broader relationship than even I had thought.

HUME: The reporting on the 9/11 Commission staff report, no ties, no links. What about that? I mean, is that — first of all, and from what you say, obviously you don't think that's true. But secondly, what about the commission's report, did it really say that?

HAYES: Well, the commission's report said a lot of things, and some of them contradicted one another.

One of the things the commission reported on was high-level meetings dating back to as early as 1994 between a senior Iraqi intelligence operative — I've reported that that operative was Farouk Hijazi (ph) — and bin Laden, a face-to-face meeting with the deputy director of Iraqi intelligence and Osama bin Laden. So that's a high- level contact.

In the same report, in the same paragraph, the September 11th Commission said, we have talked to two high-level Al Qaida terrorists who have said there were no ties whatsoever.

Those would seem to contradict one another. I think that the truth is on the side of there being lots of contacts and significant communication.

HUME: Now, let's see if we can characterize the relationship that came to be. A lot of people, critics of the administration, have argued that, look, there may have been some contacts, but there never emerged from this a full-blown alliance of the kind that would threaten the United States. Not that Al Qaida didn't, but that Iraq — there's no evidence Iraq was directly or indirectly behind anything that would threaten the United States.

What about that?

HAYES: Well, I don't agree with that. I think that there was no formal alliance — and that was something that Abu Zubaydah, a high- ranking bin Laden associate, told the interrogators right off the bat, was that there was no formal alliance. But the absence of such a formal alliance surely does not preclude cooperation.

And I think, as The New York Times document indicated the other day, they were seeking ways to cooperate. I think that there is evidence that they in fact might have cooperated on certain activities.

There's a report out of the Philippines in October of 2002 that a man named Hisham Hussein (ph), who was an Iraqi intelligence agent in that country, was running a, quote, "established network," unquote, of terrorist operatives. That comes from Andrea Domingo (ph), the head of Philippine immigration services.

So I think there was some overlap between both Iraqi intelligence and Al Qaida proper, and Iraqi intelligence and Al Qaida affiliate groups.

HUME: Another voice was added to the debate this week. Former President Clinton, talking about his book, I presume, on NBC's "Today" said Thursday, quote, "All I can tell you is, I never saw it, I never believed it, based on the evidence that I had." That on the question of an Al Qaida connection with Iraq.

Does that add up, based on what we know about what information was in the possession of that administration?

HAYES: It does not. And, you know, I really hope he gets more questions about this, and specific questions about it. Because in the spring of 1998, when the Clinton Justice Department indicted Osama bin Laden — this was before the embassy bombings of the summer of 1998 — they included in that indictment a discussion of the Iraq-Al Qaida relationship.

And they said, basically, there was an understanding whereby Al Qaida agreed not to agitate against the Iraqi regime, and in exchange the Iraqi regime would provide assistance on weapons development. And that strikes me as fairly serious.

HUME: I suppose you could make the argument that the Justice Department may have alleged that. The Justice Department has operated with some independence from the White House, but that as far as he was concerned, as former President Clinton was concerned, himself, the White House didn't have that evidence or didn't see the connection.

Does that make sense?

HAYES: It doesn't, because what they argued after the embassy bombings — our embassies were attacked on August 7, 1998. The Clinton administration responded, striking in the Sudan and Afghanistan on August 20th of 1998.

What the Clinton administration argued at that point was that Iraq was behind chemical-weapons technology and know-how at this facility in the Sudan that was destroyed in response to Al Qaida attacks. And senior Clinton administration officials laid out one piece of evidence after another, whether it was telephone intercepts, what have you, of contacts between the Sudanese military and industrial corporation, which was very close to Al Qaida, and Iraq.

And as late as March of this year, William Cohen, former defense secretary under President Clinton, laid out — again, said he had seen evidence that the head of this plant that we destroyed in response to an Al Qaida attack, traveling to Baghdad to meet with the head of Iraq's chemical weapons program.

So there's a very serious discrepancy between the evidence they talked about in 1998 and what the president and the vice president are saying today.

HUME: Where does this go from here, in your judgment? It does not appear that the news media, as a whole, are deeply interested in pursuing this story, The New York Times story this week being an exception to that. What about it?

HAYES: Well, I hope the administration will help the news media become interested in this story by declassifying as much of this as possible. I mean, there are specific documents that they could declassify: a May 2002 National Security Agency document that talks about Iraqi intelligence funding for Ansar al-Islam in northern Iraq, for instance.

HUME: And tell us about Ansar al-Islam for a moment. Is that the Zarqawi organization?

HAYES: Well, he was affiliated with Ansar al-Islam. He runs a separate organization, but took over some of the leadership of Ansar al-Islam.

HUME: And we bombed Ansar al-Islam's camp in northern Iraq in the early phases of the war, correct?

HAYES: Exactly, exactly. And they were operating out of northern Iraq, the part of northern Iraq that wasn't directly under Saddam Hussein's immediate control, but he was known to have had very strong intelligence links into northern Iraq.

But this May 2002 National Security Agency circular suggested that Iraqi intelligence provided Ansar al-Islam with $100,000 in funding. And there's a detainee, Abdul Rahman al-Shamari (ph), who worked with Iraqi intelligence and said that he was a conduit for such funding. He said that he provided the funding, $700,000 in one payment, and he made these payments every couple of months.

Those seemed to corroborate one another. But it would certainly be interesting to know more, and I think those are the kinds of things that we could see from the administration.

HUME: Steve Hayes, thank you very much.

HAYES: Thanks, Brit.