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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 (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, along with additional notes. Regards, Drew Hamre Golden Valley, MN USA Note new email: info@uncoverIraq.com === http://www.msnbc.com/news/744626.asp The Phantom Link to Iraq A spy story tying Saddam to 9-11 is looking very flimsy By Michael Isikoff NEWSWEEK WEB EXCLUSIVE 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 up." 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. === http://www.nytimes.com/2002/03/18/opinion/18SAFI.html?pagewanted=print&position=top March 18, 2002 Protecting Saddam By WILLIAM SAFIRE 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 there. 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 Prague. 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 Prague. 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 Saddam. === 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 guarantees. (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: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/chi-0112240177dec24.story >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: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/specials/chi-0112240177dec24.story >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: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/16/international/middleeast/16IRAQ.html?searchpv=nytToday&pagewanted=print December 16, 2001 New Clue Fails to Explain Iraq Role in Sept. 11 Attack By CHRIS HEDGES with DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. (3a) On the timing of Stanislav Gros' statement: http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/europe/10/27/inv.czech.iraq/ Czechs confirm suspected hijacker met Iraqi October 27, 2001 Posted: 11:13 AM EDT (1513 GMT) (3b) Havel's statement: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/16/international/middleeast/16IRAQ.html?searchpv=nytToday&pagewanted=print December 16, 2001 New Clue Fails to Explain Iraq Role in Sept. 11 Attack By CHRIS HEDGES with DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. (4) James Risen's story: http://www.iht.com/cgi-bin/generic.cgi?template=articleprint.tmplh&ArticleId=47092 Iraqi Terror Hasn't Hit U.S. in Years, CIA Says James Risen New York Times Service Wednesday, February 6, 2002 _______________________________________________ Sent via the discussion list of the Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq. 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