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[casi] Iraq and 9/11: Evidence 'flimsy' for Atta in Prague

Dear CASI Members:

American hardliners have made three concerted attempts to tie Iraq to the 9/11
attacks: (1) a purported meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and Iraqi
intelligence in Prague; (2) supposed Iraqi sponsorship of the anthrax mailings;
and (3) supposed ties between Al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein.

All three claims are proving false.

Regarding the first, the latest information on Atta's supposed meeting in Praque
is summarized in the current Newsweek[1] (though note - it apparently appears
only in the web edition).

The strongest proponent of the Atta/Prague story has been William Safire of the
NYTimes.  Peter Brooke has included Safire's columns in his weekly archives, but
I've again attached Safire's most recent and most careless[2], along with
additional notes[3].

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA
Note new email:


The Phantom Link to Iraq
A spy story tying Saddam to 9-11 is looking very flimsy

By Michael Isikoff

April 28  Did September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta meet with an Iraqi agent in the
months before the terrorist attack? Last fall, the Czech government provided the
CIA with intelli­gence suggesting that just such a rendezvous had taken place.
The Czechs claimed that Atta, the ringleader of the hi­jackers, made a special
trip to Prague in April 2001, where he met the agent at the Iraqi Embassy.

     THE STORY of the "Iraqi connection" spread rapidly through Washington.
Advocates of U.S. action to topple Saddam Hussein seized on the account to
bolster their arguments. New York Times columnist William Safire proclaimed the
meeting an "undisputed fact" connecting Saddam to September 11. When Vice
President Dick Cheney flew to the Middle East last month, a "senior U.S.
official" on the trip referred to "meetings that have been made public" between
Atta and Iraqi intelligence. "This story has taken on a life of its own," says a
U.S. intelligence official. It shouldn’t have. NEWSWEEK has learned that a few
months ago, the Czechs quietly acknowledged that they may have been mistaken
about the whole thing. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials now
believe that Atta wasn’t even in Prague at the time the Czechs claimed. "We
looked at this real hard because, obviously, if it were true, it would be huge,"
one senior U.S. law enforcement official told NEWSWEEK. "But nothing has matched

         The story behind the purported Atta-Iraqi meeting is nonetheless an
illuminating window into the murky world of intelligence in the war on terrorism
- and how easily facts can become distorted for political purposes. The tale
begins in 1998, when Radio Free Europe, which is headquartered in Prague,
started broadcasting anti-Saddam programs into Iraq, infuriating the dictator.
Late that year, Tom Dine, the director of Radio Free Europe, says U.S. officials
warned him that "the Iraqis were plotting to blow us up." The information about
the plot, sources said, came from a recent Iraqi defector who had fled Prague
for Great Britain carrying nine suitcases and $150,000 in cash - the proceeds of
which were supposed to have been used to finance the operation.

        Radio Free Europe started round-the-clock video surveillance of the
building. Soon enough, the cameras picked up a heavyset Middle Eastern man who
was hanging around the RFE building taking pictures. He was sometimes
accompanied by a thinner, taller man who wore a Shell Oil jacket. RFE passed
along the pictures to the Czech intelligence agency, known as the BIS. The
Czechs identified the heavier man as Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi
diplomat widely believed to be a spy. The thinner man was never identified.

        In late April 2001, al-Ani was again caught casing the building, and he was
expelled from the country. Then, in the chaotic days after September 11, a Czech
intelligence source inside Prague’s Middle Eastern community saw Atta’s picture
in the media and reported that he had seen the same person meeting al-Ani at the
Iraqi Embassy five months earlier. Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman publicly
confirmed the story to CNN during a visit to Washington last November. But the
uncorroborated report, some Czechs now concede, should have generated more
skepticism. "These [informants] tend to tell you what you want to believe," says
Oldrich Cerny, the former director of Czech intelligence.

        On closer scrutiny, however, the evidence became even less convincing.
Although Atta had indeed flown from Prague to the United States in June 2000,
the Czechs had placed the alleged meeting in April 2001. The FBI could find no
visa or airline records showing he had left or re-entered the United States that
month. "Neither we nor the Czechs nor anybody else has any information he was
coming or going [to Prague] at that time," says a U.S. official.

        But intelligence officials have been reluctant to set the record
straight - both out of reluctance to embarrass an allied government and because
so many anti-Saddam hawks in the Bush administration had embraced the story. To
be sure, administration hardliners aren’t ready to give up. Newsweek has learned
that Pentagon analysts are still aggressively hunting for evidence that might
tie Atta, or any of the other hijackers, to Saddam’s agents. It may yet turn up,
but for now, at least, the much touted "Prague connection" appears to be an
intriguing, but embarrassing, mistake.

March 18, 2002

Protecting Saddam
WASHINGTON  Soviet propagandists used to touch up photographs to remove the face
of a Kremlin official who had fallen from favor, making him a "nonperson."

The same disinformation technique is now being used to wipe out the fact of a
meeting in Prague in April, 2001 - five months before the Sept. 11 attacks on
the U.S. - between Mohamed Atta, the leading Qaeda hijacker, and Ahmed al-Ani,
the Iraqi consul in Prague, who was Saddam Hussein's intelligence case officer

On "Meet the Press" yesterday, Sergei Ivanov, Russia's foreign minister (like
his boss, a former K.G.B. disinformation specialist) said of this widely
reported Iraqi-Qaeda connection: "That is wrong information."

That denial of an observed connection between bin Laden's suicide bomber and
Saddam's spymaster was preceded by a David Ignatius column in The Washington
Post last week deriding such reports by me and by James Woolsey, former C.I.A.
chief, in The Wall Street Journal. Pooh-poohing the notion of a meeting that
"supposedly took place," Ignatius asserted "there is no solid evidence" of such
a link. On the contrary, he opined, "hard intelligence to support the Baghdad-
bin Laden connection is somewhere between `slim' and `none.' "

My colleague in columny, a respected commentator with a fine writing style,
bases his conclusion on recent interviews with "senior European officials." (He
also wears another hat as executive editor of The International Herald Tribune
and I am buttering him up in the hope he will not kill my column therein.)

These unidentified Europeans tell him that "the C.I.A. now shares their
skepticism about the Atta-al Ani connection. . . . Even the Czechs . . . have
gradually backed away."

Let us now depart from the line that Ivanov and "senior European officials" and
supposedly backing-away Czechs are peddling to gullible commentators. (Couldn't
help it; you can cut that line in the Trib.)

On solid evidence: The Czech intelligence agency, B.I.S., had the Iraqi embassy
spy in Prague under constant visual and wiretap surveillance, especially after a
threat to the Radio Free Europe headquarters there. Three months ago, after the
absolve-Saddam campaign began to cast doubt on the report of the Atta-al Ani
meeting at the Prague airport, Interior Minister Stanislav Gross issued a
statement that "B.I.S. guarantees the information, so we stick by that
information." No backing away; on the contrary, strong reaffirmation.

On corroboration of the evidence that Atta flew 7,000 miles, from Virginia Beach
to Prague and back to Florida (his third trip to Prague in a year): The F.B.I.
has car-rental and other records that Atta left for Prague on April 8, 2001, and
returned on April 11. The B.I.S. report of the meeting that Saddam's case
officer had with the suicide hijacker fell precisely within those dates. Czech
intelligence, in identifying al-Ani's contact as Atta, had no knowledge of the
F.B.I.'s evidence that independently corroborates Atta's brief presence in

On C.I.A. assessment of the evidence: James Risen reported in The New York Times
last month that while not enough evidence ties Saddam specifically to Sept. 11,
"senior American intelligence officials have concluded that the meeting between
Mr. Atta and the Iraqi officer, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, did take
place." Congressional intelligence committees could confirm that with one secure
phone call.

Now let's walk back the cat, as the spooks say. What's behind the campaign to
cast doubt on the meeting? It cannot be only posterior-covering by junior C.I.A.
analysts and N.S.A. "Big Ear" monitors who should have known of a meeting about
what was then believed to be the terrorist threat to Americans at R.F.E. in

The smooth Russian diplomat, "European officials" and Arab potentates seeking to
erase the evidence have one purpose: to throw dust in our eyes about Saddam's
clandestine support of international terrorism. They don't want the U.S. to have
any reason to liberate the Iraqi people. They see great profit in doing oil
business with Saddam and collecting tens of billions in debts.

The name of their game is delay - to demand evidence of nuclear development
while unfettered inspections are forbidden, and to dismiss as a non-meeting the
hard evidence of a terrorist connection. Meanwhile, Iraqi scientists race to
build the weapons that would blackmail into impotence any power daring to unseat


Were he less of an evangelist, and more of a journalist, Safire would note:

(1) Of the three trips Mohamed Atta supposedly made to Czechoslovakia, only the
third raised suspicions of contact with Iraqi intelligence -- this despite
ongoing surveillance of Iraqi officer al-Ani.

(2) There is no visual or wiretap evidence of a meeting, as Safire implies.
Rather, speculation was spurred by a paid informant of Czech intelligence.  It's
held by many that the informant confused Atta with an Iraqi businessman from
Nuremberg, Germany - "a perfect double for Atta" according to an earlier report
in Safire's own Times.

(3) Safire misleads with his timeline of Czech statements.  Interior minister
Stanislav Gros "confirmed" the meeting last October 27.  After this statement,
however, officials as high as Vaclev Havel publicly retreated from such

(4) Mr. Safire selectively quotes his colleagues.  The James Risen story he
cites begins, "The CIA has no evidence that Iraq has engaged in terrorist
operations against the United States in nearly a decade."  And as the Newsweek
story (above) notes, the internal intelligence assessment has now apparently
ruled out such a trip.

See also ...
(1) Atta's suspected itinerary: (May 2000: not allowed to leave transit area;
June 2000: one night stay, location unknown; April 2001: supposedly met al-Ani,
though visit now in question).  See:
>From the Chicago Tribune
Doubts arise on Iraqi link to attacks
By Sam Roe
Tribune staff reporter
December 24, 2001

(2a) On the lack of visual/wiretap evidence:
>From the Chicago Tribune
Doubts arise on Iraqi link to attacks
By Sam Roe
Tribune staff reporter
December 24, 2001

(2b) On the Nuremburg businessman:
December 16, 2001
New Clue Fails to Explain Iraq Role in Sept. 11 Attack

(3a) On the timing of Stanislav Gros' statement:
Czechs confirm suspected hijacker met Iraqi
October 27, 2001 Posted: 11:13 AM EDT (1513 GMT)

(3b) Havel's statement:
December 16, 2001
New Clue Fails to Explain Iraq Role in Sept. 11 Attack

(4) James Risen's story:
Iraqi Terror Hasn't Hit U.S. in Years, CIA Says
James Risen New York Times Service
Wednesday, February 6, 2002

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