Thursday, June 17, 2004

Fool Me Once...

In light of the report by the 9/11 Commission that found that there were no meaningful links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, the White House was in a rush to provide some damage control for the contradictory claims that have been made by various members within the administration, including the President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfled, over the past two years.

To support the claim made as recently as Monday by Vice President Cheney that Saddam "had long-established ties with al-Qaida," White House spokesman Trent Duffy "pointed to a letter from CIA Director George Tenet to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham in 2002."

But a closer examination of the contents of the letter, and the source relied on to compose it, reveals some disturbing patterns that seriously call into question its credibility.

First, the nature of the letter from Tenet to Graham. As Newsday reported, "While cautioning that the agency's information was 'based on sources of varying reliability,' Tenet said there had been senior contacts between Iraqi and al-Qaida for 10 years, discussions of safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression, requests for Iraqi help in obtaining unconventional weapons and Iraqi training of al-Qaida in poison gases and conventional explosives."

The intelligence, or sources, relied on to make the pronouncements in the letter were provided by the dubious network of defectors whose statements were orchestrated by the now tarnished Ahmad Chalabi. It is important to note that Tenet caveated the letter with the warning that its contents were "based on sources of varying reliability." After all, these are the same sources that gave "absolute" and "incontrovertible" evidence of Iraq's expansive arsenal of WMDs, including nuclear material and the now famous mobile biological weapons labs that were a part of Powell's speech to the U.N. (which later turned out to be vehicles used to fill weather balloons). Chalabi's group also convinced civilian leaders in the Pentagon that U.S. military forces would be greeted as liberators with "flowers and candy" by the Iraqi population, that there would be no serious insurgency, and that he, as leader of post-Saddam Iraq, would normalize relations with Israel and build an oil pipeline from Mosul to Israeli port, and site of an oil refinery, Haifa.

As noted in the article, "the findings in Tenet's letter, as well as CIA assertions that Iraq possessed a large arsenal of unconventional weapons, have become highly controversial. Critics say they were based on now-discredited reports from Iraqi defectors who wanted to push the United States to depose Hussein."

Why anyone in the administration would continue to rely on intelligence provided by Chalabi, who is now accused of turning over valuable state secrets to axis of evil member Iran, is beyond me. As Bush himself is famous for saying, "Fool me once, shame on...uh...shame on you. Fool me again....well....uh....You can't get fooled again."

Another piece of evidence that administration officials have pointed to in making the case for cooperation between Al Qaeda and Saddam's regime is, "The purported meeting between Atta and a high-ranking Iraqi intelligence official in Prague, Czech Republic," that "was originally reported by Czech security officials" in April 2001. "It was frequently cited by supporters of military action against Hussein, although other Czech officials later cast doubt on it and U.S. intelligence agencies never were able to verify it."

Here is what the 9/11 commission found: "The 9/11 commission staff statement says that 'based on the evidence available - including investigation by Czech and U.S. authorities plus detainee reporting - we do not believe that such a meeting occurred.'

The most convincing evidence cited by the 9/11 commission came from the cell phone records of Mohammad Atta himself. "It said the FBI has found that Atta's cell phone was used to make numerous calls from cell sites in Florida on April 9, 2001, the day the Prague meeting supposedly took place, as well as April 6, 10 and 11."

Of course, it is a metaphysical impossibility to be in Prague and Florida on the same day. Someone might want to let Cheney know this.

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