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Over the weekend ... further questions arose about the reported Czech meeting between WTC ringleader Atta and Iraqi intelligence , and the anthrax mailed to Capitol Hill has been DNA-matched to the U.S. Army's Stocks at Ft. Detrick .
But does this war need a pretext? On to Baghdad !! More on the eerie momentum of this war ...
December 16, 2001
New Clue Fails to Explain Iraq Role in Sept. 11 Attack
By CHRIS HEDGES with DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.
When Czech officials disclosed that Mohamed Atta, the suspected mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, had met last April with an Iraqi diplomat in Prague, it stirred immediate speculation about whether Iraq had a role in killing thousands of Americans.
But in the weeks since, the Prague meeting has emerged as an object lesson in the limits of intelligence reports rather than the cornerstone of the case against Iraq. Interviews with Iraqi defectors, Czech officials, and people who knew the Iraqi diplomat have only deepened the mystery surrounding Mr. Atta's travels through central Europe.
Iraqi opposition groups say the episode cannot have been a coincidence. According to several former Iraqi intelligence officials, the diplomat was actually a well trained spy with ties to terrorist operations, a master of disguise whose movements are supervised by Iraq's most senior officials.
American officials in Washington, by contrast, said the diplomat was a minor functionary who happens to have the same last name as a more important Iraqi intelligence agent. These officials said that they had no evidence that Iraq was involved in the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
There are even questions about whether the reports of the meeting took place. An associate said the Iraqi diplomat had a business selling cars and met frequently with a used car dealer from Germany who bore a striking resemblance to Mr. Atta. Just this week, there were even reports from Prague that the Mohamed Atta who visited Prague last April was a different man with the same name.
In a retreat from the earlier definitive statements by his government, the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, recently said there was "a 70 percent" chance the meeting between Mr. Atta and an Iraqi agent named Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani took place.
With the Taliban vanquished and Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda fighters cornered in Afghanistan, this sort of arcane debate among experts has taken on new significance. President Bush has said he intends to defeat the nations and groups that support terrorism, a global war whose targets will be selected by intelligence agencies sifting through fragmentary conflicting evidence comparable to the reports about the Prague meeting.
"There was definitely one meeting," between Mr. Ani and Mr. Atta, an intelligence official in Washington said. "We don't know if it was significant. We certainly don't attribute to it the significance others attribute to it automatically. Just because there was a meeting doesn't mean it was connected to 9/11."
This much has been asserted. Mr. Atta went to Prague last April and then flew to Florida as the plot to ram jetliners into buildings gained momentum. It has been reported by Czech authorities that he met with Mr. Ani, the diplomat who Iraqi opposition leaders insist is an important spymaster for Saddam Hussein.
American intelligence officials who believe that Mr. Ani is a low- ranking diplomat of little consequence emphasize that the Iraqi National Congress, the opposition group seeking to overthrow Saddam Hussein, has an agenda and a history of coloring fact to suit its needs.
As if the waters were not muddied enough, some in Prague who knew the diplomat say he met with a used car salesman named Saleh from Nuremberg, Germany, who looked like Mr. Atta. "He is a perfect double for Atta," said a Syrian businessman who has lived in Prague for 35 years and says he knew the diplomat and the car salesman. "I saw him several times with Mister Consul."
On Friday, a major Czech newspaper, quoting Czech intelligence officials, offered still another theory: the Mohamed Atta who came to Prague last April was not the hijacker but a Pakistani of the same name.
"He didn't have the same identity card number," an unidentified Interior Ministry official told the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes. "There was a great difference in their ages, their nationalities didn't match, basically nothing - it was someone else." The details of the meeting, as reported by the Czech authorities, remain vague. The Czech intelligence service has not said how it knows the meeting took place, or what was said.
"We went to the public just with the thing we can really prove," said Hynek Kmonicek, the Czech ambassador to the United Nations who gave Mr. Ani his expulsion orders last April. "And we can really prove just one thing: that these two people met." But his proof, he acknowledged, is the Czech Interior Ministry announcement.
Mr. Ani was expelled from Prague for activities that were described as "incompatible with his diplomatic status." Details of his infraction have never been made public but they had nothing to do with Mr. Atta, who was unknown to Czech intelligence, Mr. Kmonicek said.
A number of Arabs in Prague who knew Mr. Ani say he had every attribute of a minor figure in a minor post, a woman chaser and drinker with a tyrannical penchant whose main task seemed to be urging Iraqis to return home. Yet former Iraqi intelligence agents in exile in Europe, made available for interviews by the Iraqi National Congress, say they grew up with and worked with Mr. Ani and that he is an established and respected spymaster.
His specialty is said to be the recruitment of foreign Muslim militants who support Iraq's long campaign against America and the close surveillance and intimidation of Iraqi dissidents.
The former Iraqi agents in Europe say that Mr. Ani, is in fact, Muhammad Kailil Ibrahim al-Ani.
"Baghdad would only use Ani for big jobs, serious jobs," said a former major in Iraqi intelligence. "He had something very important to tell Atta, or Atta had something very important to tell Baghdad."
Mr. Ani, for his part, adamantly denied any ties to terrorism or Sept. 11 and said he had never heard of Mr. Atta until after the terror attack. Jaroslev Kmenta, a Czech journalist who knew Mr. Ani in Prague, interviewed him in Baghdad last month.
` "I've never in my life met him, never seen him, never spoke to him," Mr. Kmenta quoted him as saying. "The first time I heard of him was after Sept. 11."
Mr. Kmenta said Mr. Ani seemed to be living well in Baghdad, driving a late-model BMW and eating at a riverside restaurant, which would support the thesis that he is a figure of importance to the regime because economic sanctions have left most Iraqi civil servants living in penury.
The defectors in Europe said that like many agents sent abroad, Mr. Ani altered his real name from post to post, dropping his first name, Muhammad, in Prague and going by Ahmed.
"I went down to renew my driver's license in 1991 in Baghdad," said the former major in the intelligence service, who fled to Europe after his brother was executed for involvement in a failed coup in 1994 against Mr. Hussein. "I saw Ani dressed in jeans, with an earring and with long flowing hair. He looked like a hippie. He was on a job. I could not speak with him. I saw him a year later dressed in long Arab robes."
He said Mr. Ani grew up in a middle class neighborhood in Baghdad and joined the intelligence service, following a year or two of university studies. He was sent to study at The Institute of National Security, the preparatory school for Iraq's intelligence service. In 1994, the defectors said, he was transferred to a new intelligence branch created for foreign operations called Al-Amin al- Khas. He soon was part of special operations, a unit for covert activities like recruitment and assassination.
In Prague, few who were interviewed about Mr. Ani thought of him in such vaunted terms. But they recognized allegations of highhandedness. Waled Majed Bahnam, 56, and his son Majid Waled Majed, 22, both Iraqis, own the Bavodo restaurant in Prague. In July 2000 for the Iraqi national day, Mr. Ani ordered $1,200 worth of food and catering from the restaurant.
After three days, when the bill still had not been paid, the mother called asking for the money. The family said Mr. Ani and the accountant came over and screamed at them. "They said `We are the embassy, you are nothing, we are the boss, you are animals,' " Mr. Bahnam said. Mr. Ani threatened to revoke their passports and the accountant said he would kill the couple's eldest son. When the family complained to the Foreign Ministry, the embassy paid the bill.
Capitol Hill Anthrax Matches Army's Stocks
5 Labs Can Trace Spores to Ft. Detrick
By Rick Weiss and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 16, 2001; Page A01
Genetic fingerprinting studies indicate that the anthrax spores mailed to Capitol Hill are identical to stocks of the deadly bacteria maintained by the U.S. Army since 1980, according to scientists familiar with the most recent tests.
Although many laboratories possess the Ames strain of anthrax involved in this fall's bioterrorist attacks, only five laboratories so far have been found to have spores with perfect genetic matches to those in the Senate letters, the scientists said. And all those labs can trace back their samples to a single U.S. military source: the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease (USAMRIID) at Fort Detrick, Md.
"That means the original source [of the terrorist material] had to have been USAMRIID," said one of the scientists.
Those matching samples are at Fort Detrick; the Dugway Proving Ground military research facility in Utah; a British military lab called Porton Down; and microbial depositories at Louisiana State University (LSU) and Northern Arizona University. Northern Arizona University received its sample from LSU, which received its sample from Porton Down. Dugway and Porton Down got their samples directly from USAMRIID.
In another development yesterday, government health officials said they planned to recommend that about 3,000 people who were exposed to anthrax, including hundreds of Washington postal and Capitol Hill workers, be offered an experimental vaccine as a precaution in case antibiotic treatment alone failed to protect them from getting sick.
The FBI's investigation into the anthrax attacks is increasingly focusing on whether U.S. government bioweapons research programs, including one conducted by the CIA, may have been the source of deadly anthrax powder sent through the mail, according to sources with knowledge of the probe. The results of the genetic tests strengthen that possibility. The FBI is focusing on a contractor that worked with the CIA, one source said.
But it remains unknown which lab may have lost control of the material that apparently ended up in terrorist hands. One of the two scientists familiar with the genetic testing, who has been advising the government on the anthrax scare, said investigators still know little about security at Porton Down, though they have no reason to suppose it has been inadequate. Of the domestic labs, Dugway has attracted the most attention from the FBI, he said.
Dugway is also the only facility known in recent years to have processed anthrax spores into the powdery form that is most easily inhaled.
Scientists have known for some time that bacteria used in the terrorist attacks belong to the Ames strain, a variant of the anthrax bacterium, Bacillus anthracis, that was first isolated from a cow in Iowa and has been under study by military scientists for decades. But the Ames strain comes in various subtypes that can be distinguished from one another by detailed tests on the microbe's genes.
The genetic fingerprinting finding was made by a research team led by geneticist Paul Keim at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, which has been comparing the Ames strain bacteria found in the Senate letters to other Ames strain samples retrieved from nature and from various university and government laboratories.
"That's good detective work in the sense of determining the origins; this will narrow the search for the people who had access to the strain," said Jennie Hunter-Cevera, a microbiologist and president of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute.
Other experts were cautious, noting that it is possible that the exact subtype of the Ames strain could have originated elsewhere -- perhaps even isolated from animals or soil in the wild.
"It's an important finding but it's not one of those things that says, 'Aha!' " said Richard Spertzel, a former director of the U.N. biological weapons team in Iraq.
The scientists are still planning to do genetic testing on anthrax bacteria from the Defense Research Establishment Suffield, a Canadian military research facility, the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, and the Battelle Memorial Institute in Columbus, Ohio, a government contractor doing research on anthrax vaccines. Those are the only other facilities known to have received samples from USAMRIID.
The researchers also plan to test samples obtained from nature, and from other university labs known to have the Ames strain to see if any others match. But of the few such samples that have been tested so far none has matched the spores used by the terrorists. In addition, the researchers want to examine other characteristics of the samples, such as proteins, carbohydrates and other substances in the material.
"If there's also a telltale piece or trace of nutrients or chemicals that show the process, that's even better. You start adding the pieces and go from tentative to confirmative," Hunter-Cevera said.
The CIA's biowarfare program, which was designed to find ways to defend against bioterrorists, involved the use of small amounts of Ames strain, an agency spokesman said yesterday. The CIA declined to say where its Ames strain material came from. The spokesman said, however, that the CIA's anthrax was not milled into the volatile power form found in the letters and that none of it is missing.
Nevertheless, the FBI has turned its attention to learning more about the CIA's work with anthrax, which investigators were told about by the agency within the past few weeks, government officials said. The CIA has tried to develop defenses against a vaccine-resistant strain of anthrax reportedly developed by the Russians several years ago.
While the CIA has had small amounts of Ames strain anthrax in its labs to "compare and contrast with other strains," a spokesman said, the agency did not "grow, create or produce the Ames strain." The anthrax contained in the letters under investigation "absolutely did not" come from CIA labs, the spokesman said.
He also said that the FBI is fully aware of the CIA's work with anthrax and suggested investigators were satisfied with the information they had been provided. Law enforcement sources, however, said the FBI remains extremely interested in the CIA's work with anthrax, with one official calling it the best lead they have at this point. The sources said FBI investigators do not yet know much about the CIA program.
Both law enforcement and intelligence officials said the CIA is cooperating with the FBI probe.
Investigators are considering a wide range of possible motives for the anthrax attacks, including vengeance of some sort, profiteering by someone involved in the anthrax cleanup business, or perhaps an effort by someone to cast blame on Iraq, which has an extensive bioweapons arsenal. Whoever sent the letters could have a strong scientific background, officials said, but they also believe the material could have been stolen and mailed by someone without such expertise.
A law enforcement source said the FBI did not initially include the CIA on its list of labs working with anthrax because the agency was not among 91 labs registered with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to transfer anthrax specimens. But as investigators interviewed workers at those known labs, they learned of the CIA's work, and in the past few weeks posed questions about it to the agency.
CIA scientists worked with other government agencies and outside contractors in the defensive biowarfare program, the agency spokesman said. The agency said most of its defensive work involves simulants, not active biological agents.
"Everything we have done is appropriate and necessary and consistent with our treaty obligations," he said, adding that congressional oversight committees, along with the National Security Council staff, has been kept abreast of the CIA lab work. "One of our missions is to learn about potential biological warfare threats," he said, adding that research can involve "anthrax and other biological agents."
Staff writer Joby Warrick contributed to this report.
December 18, 2001
U.S. Again Placing Focus on Ousting Hussein
By PATRICK E. TYLER
ASHINGTON, Dec. 17 - The option of taking the war against terrorism to Iraq and Saddam Hussein has gained significant ground in recent weeks both inside the administration and among some important allies in the Muslim world, according to administration officials and diplomats from the region.
President Bush's top national security advisers have made no recommendation to attack Iraq. But serious consideration to drive President Hussein from power, and planning how to do so, are under way in the State Department and at the Pentagon, officials said.
These new considerations appear unrelated to efforts by Iraqi opposition groups and members of Congress who have sought, unsuccessfully so far, to prove an Iraqi connection to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Rather, senior Bush administration officials, in their statements and in consultations with crucial allies, have indicated that the success of military operations in Afghanistan is changing opinion in the Middle East over the feasibility of moving against Mr. Hussein.
European opposition to any move against Iraq remains strong. But Middle Eastern diplomats say Turkey's leaders have signaled that the United States could use Turkish bases if the administration were committed to toppling President Hussein. Such regional support is almost certainly a critical factor in the administration's deliberations. But it will be equally important to Mr. Hussein's neighbors to feel that Washington is determined this time to overthrow him.
The Iraqi president, who held on to power after the Persian Gulf war in 1991, is believed to be developing both chemical and biological weapons, and is still interested in nuclear weapons, though the secret nuclear program he developed before the 1991 war has been destroyed.
Turkey's shifting view became public late last month when Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu said, "We have several times said that we don't wish an operation in Iraq, but new conditions would bring new evaluations to our agenda."
In the past two weeks, at least one prominent Arab envoy in Washington has reversed his view that an American-led military operation in Iraq would be a disaster, or that it would fan the flames of Arab dissent and perhaps lead to the overthrow of some weaker rulers. (His reversal, though important, is not shared uniformly in Arab capitals.)
The diplomat, who refused to be identified, noted that most countries in the region harbor a latent desire to be rid of Mr. Hussein. He argued that the current military success in Afghanistan, the demonstration of a new model of warfare there and the undermining of Osama Bin Laden's radical message have created a new opportunity to act in Iraq.
"I now think it is doable," the diplomat said, adding that his own government might oppose such an operation in public until it became clear it was going to succeed. "This would require a lot of governments to accept big political risks, but I believe that in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria, the governments are strong enough to hold the people and not have an uprising."
"How many people will cry for Saddam if he goes?" he asked.
Over the past month, the Bush administration has worked with Russia to formulate a new ultimatum to Baghdad, insisting that Mr. Hussein allow the return of United Nations inspectors to search for weapons of mass destruction, as required under the terms that ended the gulf war.
Two weeks ago, Mr. Bush's remark that Mr. Hussein would "find out" the consequences of not allowing the return of inspectors fueled speculation of an imminent attack. The remark appeared to signal the president's determination to keep Iraq on the agenda, even though his principal advisers are far from agreed on how to proceed.
Asked today whether Iraq is next in the antiterrorist campaign, President Bush said: "Oh, no, I'm not going to tell the enemy what's next. They just need to know that so long as they plan, and have got plans, to murder innocent people, America will be breathing down their neck."
Over the weekend Secretary of State Colin L. Powell reiterated a very explicit statement that it is United States policy to overthrow Mr. Hussein and that "we are constantly reviewing ideas, plans, concepts" to achieve that goal.
Secretary Powell also indicated for the first time that his dispatch of a State Department team to northern Iraq last week was part of an evaluation of "putting in place an armed opposition inside Iraq."
The State Department specifically denied reports that the team, led by Ryan Crocker, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Middle Eastern affairs, entered Iraq under Turkish escort.
Mr. Crocker was said by Iraqi opposition officials to have received a strong endorsement from one top Kurdish leader, Jalal Talabani, for a military campaign against Baghdad. But the other important Kurdish chieftain, Massoud Barzani, was said to be more circumspect. Iraqi opposition figures say Mr. Barzani has extensive business operations with Mr. Hussein's relatives.
Secretary Powell, a leader of the American military during the gulf war, is said to be counseling the White House and Pentagon to prepare any campaign very carefully, advice similar to his stance during the gulf war. His caution in 1991, his conservative critics assert, helped Mr. Hussein remain in his presidential palace.
Secretary Powell has urged that the strength of opposition in northern Iraq be examined, and that the Administration explore the prospect of bringing Iraqi exiles based in Iran into play as part of a "southern alliance" with Shiite Muslims in Iraq.
Since Sept. 11, Arab governments, including Jordan, Egypt and Yemen, have sent emissaries to Mr. Hussein counseling him to do nothing that might provoke the United States. But instead of taking the advice, Mr. Hussein and his deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, have engaged in saber- rattling toward Kuwait.
Outside the administration, there is still a lobby pressing for a move against Iraq, but it is President Bush's strong political standing as a wartime commander in chief that will be essential in preparing the country and its allies for an Iraq campaign, foreign diplomats and administration officials say.
On Dec. 5, Congressional leaders sought to frame the justification for attacking Mr. Hussein in a letter to the president.
"For as long as Saddam Hussein is in power in Baghdad, he will seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them," said the letter, signed by Senators Trent Lott, Joseph I. Lieberman and John McCain, among others. "We have no doubt that these deadly weapons are intended for use against the United States and its allies. Consequently, we believe we must directly confront Saddam, sooner rather than later."
December 18, 2001
THE OTHER SHOE
Many Arabs Nervous About Attack on Iraq
By NEIL MacFARQUHAR
AIRO, Dec. 17 - Most Arab governments share the American sentiment that removing Saddam Hussein could much improve the neighborhood. But there is little stomach for watching the United States take war to yet another Islamic nation.
Indeed, Arab governments believe that the American priority in the Middle East should be halting the bloodshed between the Israelis and the Palestinians rather than trying to rewrite the end of the Persian Gulf war more than a decade after President Hussein's government survived in Baghdad.
The absence of any confirmed evidence tying Iraq to either the Sept. 11 or anthrax attacks increases the difficulty of convincing Arabs that it is necessary to strike now. An American attack could well enhance the perception that the United States was making Muslims its target and thus unravel the reluctant Arab support for dismantling Osama bin Laden's network of terror.
"Most countries would like to see Saddam go," said one senior Egyptian official. "But attacking Iraq will not solve the problem of Saddam Hussein. It will just attract sympathy for him."
Many Arabs blame the United States for Palestinian deaths because Washington supplies weapons to Israel, and also see America as the prime mover behind the sanctions that have brought hardship to Iraqis. If more Iraqis die under American bombs, many in the region predict, radical Arabs will gain strength and American allies will feel undermined.
"It will add to the frustration and anger that is rampant in the Middle East," said Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League. "If you continue to pressure people and act regardless of the feelings of people, you shouldn't blame them if they oppose the United States."
People in the region draw a clear distinction between targeting the Taliban and targeting Mr. Hussein.
"The whole policy of the Taliban was opposed by the vast majority of Muslim and Arab countries," Mr. Moussa said, "so the cause of supporting bin Laden and so forth by the Afghan government was a strange cause, while the cause in Iraq is how to save the Iraqi people from the rigors of the sanctions, which has a very strong appeal in Arab public opinion."
The governments of American allies, notably Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, are already struggling to contain public outrage over their ties to Washington in light of its strong support for Israel.
For the last 14 months, television screens across the region have been filled nightly with images of Israeli soldiers gunning down Palestinian protesters.
So far, Arab governments have contained popular dissent largely by banning demonstrations. But they are wary of their domestic constituencies.
Senior officials in Egypt and Syria have warned of the dire consequences of attacking Iraq. In Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdullah, who runs the country, has made a public display of trying to distance Riyadh from Washington.
For two months he has held almost weekly sessions with different groups of leaders - teachers, military officers, businessmen - to explain how the Saud dynasty is trying to put pressure on the United States to help the Palestinians.
"The Saudis are trying to calm down their own internal audience," said Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, editor in chief of the London-based daily Al Sharq al Awsat. "They need to take a break from American adventures that lead to nothing."
Any attack on Iraq would require at least tacit approval from the Saudis, not to mention logistical and other military support. They quietly allowed the Americans to use the technologically advanced command and control center at Prince Sultan Air Base south of Riyadh for the attacks on Afghanistan. But it would be far more difficult to maintain such a low profile in combat with an Arab nation right next door.
For Egypt, a new coalition against Iraq could be fraught with danger. Discontent is mounting on all fronts - the economy is in tatters, unemployment is high and unhappiness over the plight of the Palestinians is rising - and the time seems ripe for Islamic movements to flourish.
"It comes out in indirect ways, in creating tension with Islamic forces," said Bassma Kodmani, a political analyst with the Ford Foundation, speaking of the worries of Arab governments about Islamic movements. "In the inability to confront these forces, political assassinations can happen, radicalization.
"You have to look at the long-term trends. It is the bin Ladens and the Afghan Arabs. It is becoming more and more difficult to manage."
The American track record on Iraq makes governments doubly wary. Right after a cease-fire ended the gulf war fighting in 1991, Kurds and Shiites responded to Washington's call for an uprising, which was brutally suppressed without any American military support.
American-led bombing throughout the 1990's, usually over quarrels about United Nations inspections of Iraqi weapons programs, and the sanctions helped Mr. Hussein to consolidate his power. He portrayed himself as Iraq's savior from foreign marauders and ensured that only his friends were allowed to violate sanctions.
Gen. Wafiq Sumarahi, the former head of Iraqi military intelligence who defected in 1994 and now lives in Europe, said he thought the 400,000- member armed forces might rebel if there were clear-cut statements from the outset that Mr. Hussein, and not the military, was the target.
"When you declare this intention clearly, this would make most of the commanders cooperate with this plan against Saddam," the general said. "But if you say you want to destroy the weapons of mass destruction and some targets within Iraq and Saddam would remain after that, not one of the military commanders would help."