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Reply to Andrew Lazarus, Part 1

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Opening Remarks

Roughly a month and a half ago, noted Winds of Change commenter Andrew Lazarus (referred afterwards here as simply "Andrew") wrote up an extensive two-part critique of the war in Iraq in guest blog that received wide traffic. Academic commitments have prevented me from responding to him in-depth up until this time, but with the conclusion of finals that I am now best prepared to respond to Andrew's critique in depth. Before I do so, however, I just wanted to bring out a number of caveats:

1. I'm long-winded and I type as such. This is simply the way that I write and should not be taken as an invocation of the Chewbacca Defense.

2. This is intended only to respond to Andrew's critique as it was expressed in both in of his guest blogs, as well as some of the statements that he made in the comments section. I have neither the time nor inclination to deal with every single argument ever made regarding the decision to invade Iraq and so if I don't cover your particular pet problem with the situation, I apologize.

3. As regular readers of Regnum Crucis are no doubt aware of, I use a point-by-point method of commentary rather than a traditional essay format in most cases because I feels that this is by far the most effective way through which to make my counter-arguments as well as because it helps to avoid the temptation to rely on straw man arguments when making one's points.

4. Don't ask me why the administration isn't using this information in its arguments. I'm not a politician, I don't work inside the Beltway, and I have absolutely no idea why people there do what they do or either side of the political fence. For lack of a better term, that isn't my area of expertise so I plan to steer clear of it as much as possible.

With all of that out of the way, allow me to begin.

Introduction

On 9/11, the United States suffered a dastardly attack masterminded by a transnational guerrilla movement with hundreds (perhaps thousands) of members organized into cells in at least half a dozen countries.

While this may strike some as an unrelated issue to the question of whether or not the invasion of Iraq was justified, indulge me in correcting Andrew's misconceptions with regard to what exactly al-Qaeda is, as he is hardly alone in this regard as far as misunderstanding the nature and scope of the network's threat. According to Senator Bob Graham of Florida, who is certainly no neocon, there are between 70,000-120,000 al-Qaeda fighters, a figure that has no doubt risen since he made those remarks in July 2003. Now this isn't actually a reason to panic, since a great many of these individuals currently lie dead on the battlefields of Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Indonesia, Iraq, Kashmir, Kosovo, Mindanao, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Xinjiang, but it should nevertheless serve as an illustration that this is not the kind of organization that is just going to roll over and die in the wake of having its central base in Afghanistan destroyed by Operation Enduring Freedom. Indeed, the scale of the threat should serve as an illustration of exactly why tolerance of state sponsorship of the organization from any legitimate government post-9/11 should simply be an unacceptable option from the perspective of US foreign policy.

First, we used a combination of our own military, our ally (the Northern Alliance), and a combination of threats and bribes with the various warlords of Afghanistan, to overthrow the Taliban. (We promised the Afghans a better life, which we are delivering very, very fitfully, notwithstanding their splendid new constitution.)

I concur entirely with Andrew's contention that more being done to stabilize Afghanistan, though the Zapatero government of Spain appears to disagree with both of us in this regard. The principle problem in stabilizing Afghanistan would seem to be the the warlords, though it is important to note that progress is being made in this regard. For example, in the most recent factional fighting between warlord Ismail Khan and Herat military commander Zahir Naib Zada, the Afghan army moved in swiftly to restore order in Herat province. The situation is by no means ideal, but progress is occurring at a gradual pace and is certainly much, much better than it was at this same point in time last year.

The Key Difference

Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack, and the defeat of the Saddam government does nothing to disrupt Al Qaeda's command structure, which is elsewhere. It does nothing to seize Al Qaeda's financial assets, which instead are being located by the much-derided law enforcement methods. It does nothing to deprive Al Qaeda of war materiel. It does nothing to discover the identities of sleeper agents, who were not controlled from Iraqi soil (with the possible exception of Ansar Al-Islam, over which the Saddam government had no control). Iraq was not even a source of Al Qaeda operatives.

This, to put it simply, is where Andrew and I part ways on Iraq. Indeed, I suspect that this issue, even more so than Iraqi WMDs, is what served to justify the war in the minds of its participants. Certainly this was the case for many of the people that I talked to prior to the war, even though the principle public rationale for war revolved around issue of Iraqi WMDs. The United States made it a clear policy after 9/11 that any nation that supported al-Qaeda was going to be subject to the full might of our closed hand. While one can argue about the consistency with which this policy is being applied with respect to Saudi Arabia (and I myself fail to understand how the fact that the Saudi magnates are in cahoots with al-Qaeda means that Iraq should be given a free pass in this regard), but for lack of a better term it would seem to me that Saddam Hussein called the tune and now it's time to pay the piper. If memory serves, I believe that Andrew himself has stated in the comments section that he would have supported the war if there had been what he would have considered clear evidence of collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda. And while I strongly suspect that he will continue to find such evidence lacking regardless of whatever claims that I make, at the very least allow me to try to take issue of each of his contentions regarding the war in Iraq having made the United States safer.

Command structure

According to the jihadi website Jihad Unspun, the self-styled "Amir of the Mujahideen in Baghdad" was none other than Abu Iyad, an al-Qaeda who was last noted as the most senior al-Qaeda leader in Georgia. If the JUS communiques are accurate and Abu Iyad was indeed leading the suicide army that Iraq recruited prior to the war, it would seem appropriate to class the apparent destruction of the al-Qaeda fighters who fought alongside the Iraqi military during the US-led invasion in An Nasiriyyah. And lest it be claimed that it was US pressure that brought al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein together, according to the al-Yawm al-Aakher article in question, al-Qaeda members began training at Nahrawan and Salman Pak as far back as July 2001, more than a year and a half before there would ever be any talk of a US invasion of Iraq. This assertion was also made in a White House fact sheet that was released on July 2, 2003, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq.

This also runs more or less parallel to my suspicions that the Saudi battalion of Unit 999, which was part of the Iraqi order of battle, was a front for al-Qaeda. My reasons for taking this opinion, as I noted in the linked Winds of Change post, have to do with the fact that all of the three other ethnic battalions that were headquartered at Salman Pak refer to known terrorist groups that were sponsored by the Iraqi regime. The Persian battalion is made up of members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, the Palestine battalion consists of Palestine Liberation Front and Abu Nidal Organization members, ect. The only question mark then is who the heck the Saudi battalion, as there is only one organization that could actually be considered an armed Saudi opposition group: al-Qaeda.

It is also worth noting that this explanation would also seem to answer a number of questions, not the least of which being how it was that bin Laden's name turned up on a list of Iraqi agents from 1993. While the supplier of the document is none other than Andrew's perennial adversary Ahmed Chalabi, the document nevertheless appears to be a genuine article according to US officials who have examined it. It would also serve to harmonize claims by former Indian intelligence chief B. Raman that Ramzi Yousef ran a network of Saudi nationals committed to destabilizing the royal family prior to his arrest in Pakistan. I am aware, incidentally, that Raman also considers Laurie Mylorie to be a credible source, something that I will deal with in the second installment of this blog.

Andrew, aware of the claims regarding Salman Pak, provided a link to this article by my one-time employer Knight-Ridder that lists the numerous examples of the fables that were relayed by Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress to various media outlets. The relevant excerpts can be found here:

Many articles quoted defectors as saying that Saddam was training extremists from throughout the Muslim world at Salman Pak, outside Baghdad.

"We certainly have found nothing to substantiate that," said a senior U.S. official.

Instead, he said, U.S. intelligence analysts believe that Iraqi counterterrorism units practiced anti-hijacking techniques on an aircraft fuselage at the site.

An Oct. 12, 2001, Washington Post opinion piece by columnist Jim Hoagland quoted an INC-supplied defector, Sabah Khalifa Khodada Alami, as saying that Salman Pak offered hijacking and assassination courses.

The article, which urged the Bush administration to examine possible Iraqi complicity in Sept. 11, said Alami was a former military instructor and ex-army captain whom the INC tracked down to Fort Worth, Texas, where he settled in May 2001 as a refugee.

Hoagland's column said the defector should not be automatically believed. Hoagland said he wrote it to call attention to "the difficulties that two defectors had in receiving an evaluation from the CIA."

In a Nov. 11 story in the Observer of London by David Rose, Alami was quoted as saying that "the method used on 11 September perfectly coincides with the training I saw at the camp."

The article said Alami was assigned to Salman Pak between 1994 and 1995.

However, a Nov. 8, 2001, New York Times article said Alami worked at Salman Pak for eight years.

The Oct. 12, 2001, Washington Post piece also cited an INC claim that an unnamed former Iraqi intelligence officer claimed that "Islamists" were trained at Salman Pak on a U.S.-made Boeing 707.

In a later article, which appeared to be based on an interview with the same man, the aircraft was identified as an old Russian-made Tupolev.

That defector complained in The Washington Post column that CIA interrogators in Ankara had treated him "dismissively" earlier that week.

The Nov. 8, 2001, New York Times article featured an interview in an unidentified Middle East country that was arranged by the INC with an unidentified Iraqi lieutenant general who said he'd been interviewed by the CIA in Ankara the previous month.

He and an unidentified Iraqi intelligence service sergeant claimed they worked at Salman Pak for several years and that trainees were being prepared for attacks on neighboring countries and possibly the United States.

The unnamed lieutenant general appears to have been the defector of the same rank, code-named Abu Zeinab, who was featured in the Nov. 11, 2001, Observer article.

The newspaper said the defector was interviewed by telephone, and that it was also given details of an interview that two London-based INC activists had conducted with Abu Zeinab at a safe house in Ankara, Turkey.

Abu Zeinab claimed that trainees were instructed in hijacking aircraft.

The defector's full name, Abu Zeinab al Qurairy, was revealed in a February 2002 article in Vanity Fair magazine that was also written by Rose, who declined to comment.

The defector said the Islamists at Salman Pak pledged to obey orders to carry out suicide attacks and that those who flunked training were "used as targets in live-ammunition exercises."

As I noted in the comments section of Andrew's first guest blog, this article does not exactly say what he believes that it does, for example, his claim that the alleged Boeing fuselage was in fact a Soviet-made Tupolev. On the larger issue of Salman Pak, however, the only actual quote that we get from Knight-Ridder with respect to the US intelligence assessment of the camp is an anonymous statement from a senior US official claiming that no evidence has been recovered to substantiate the claims made by Sabah Khodada and others that extremists from across the Muslim world were being trained at the camp. This does, not incidentally, rule out the known facts concerning the Turks, Palestinians, Iranians, and Saudis who are known to have been trained at the camp, just as was noted by the reputable Jane's Intelligence Review as far back as 1997.

It is also worth noting that on the subject of ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, intelligence officials say a great many things and that Knight-Ridder has already been publicly rebutted by the National Security Council for their efforts to discredit the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

Next, it should be recognized that the US has has already apprehended a member of Zarqawi's cell in Baghdad that was part of a network of cells that spanned from Baghdad to as far north as Mosul without ever carrying out any attacks against the regime that, if one is to believe Andrew, al-Qaeda supposedly hated with a passion. It is from these captured Zarqawi lieutenants that the US intelligence community was able to reach the conclusion that Zarqawi did indeed travel to Baghdad for medical treatment (and at an exclusive hospital no less) but did not have his leg amputated as had previously been believed.

Finally, there is the issue of Abdul Rahman Yassin, the only member of the cell that carried out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing still free who is currently being pursued by US forces in Iraq. Yassin was provided support by the Iraqi Mukhabarat after the failed bombing and Iraq initially tried to claim that he had fled to Afghanistan in 1999 after his al-Qaeda connections came to light. Yassin's name surfaced again in connection with an alleged last-ditch peace offer by the Iraqi regime using a Lebanese gunrunner as a middleman (whose accounts directly contradict those of Tariq Aziz concerning the belief of the Iraqi leadership on whether or not the US would actually invade), but the information that he appears to have been more or less a guest of the Iraqi government was not disclosed at the time. When CBS News interviewed him in 2002, for example, they did so under the polite fiction that he was merely a "guest" of the Iraqi regime.

Financial Assets

Not so long ago, I would have agreed with Andrew's assertion that the war did little if anything to disrupt al-Qaeda's finances, with the exception of those that were being relayed back and forth by the cell that was located in Baghdad as it was described by Powell at the UN. This cell's existence, incidentally, has been verified through intercepted phone calls between al-Qaeda operatives near the Syrian border and in Baghdad.

Unfortunately, like so many other things, this is no longer entirely clear. According to the work of journalist Marc Perleman of Forward, at least three entities known to serve as fronts for al-Qaeda financing appear to have directly profited from the seemingly systemic corruption in the UN oil for food program. They are the ASAT Trust, Liechtenstein-based legal firm, the al-Taqwa financial network (as well as its successor Nada Management), and the pro-Taliban Saudi company Delta Oil. While details are still forthcoming regarding the exact details of the oil for food scandal (which Andrew does not appear to regard as a legitimate scandal, judging from some of his more recent comments on the subject), the fact that at least 3 al-Qaeda front organizations apparently profited from the program's corruption is certainly disturbing to say the least, particularly as current evidence appears to indicate that Saddam knew damned well who had their hands in the cookie jar and used it as a mechanism with which to ensure political support for his regime.

Let me put it this way: if we were to apply the same standard to the ASAT Trust, al-Taqwa, and Delta Oil that many opponents of the war insist that we apply to Halliburton, Betchel, and Ahmed Chalabi's Iraqi National Congress, it would seem entirely fitting to conclude that Saddam Hussein and his government were indeed pumping cash into al-Qaeda. By removing the regime that exploited the corruption in the oil for food program to begin with, those financial channels are now dry.

War Materiel

According to the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), Iraq has been working with Ansar al-Islam and supplying the organization with cash and training for at least as far back as March 2002. Jonathan Schanzer of the Weekly Standard likewise asserts Iraqi aid to Ansar al-Islam, citing among other things the testimony of a captured Ansar leader known only as Qods.

And then, of course, there is the reporting contained within the Feith memo, starting with bullet-point #31:

An Oct. 2002 . . . report said al Qaeda and Iraq reached a secret agreement whereby Iraq would provide safe haven to al Qaeda members and provide them with money and weapons. The agreement reportedly prompted a large number of al Qaeda members to head to Iraq. The report also said that al Qaeda members involved in a fraudulent passport network for al Qaeda had been directed to procure 90 Iraqi and Syrian passports for al Qaeda personnel.

Bullet-point #37:

Sensitive reporting indicates senior terrorist planner and close al Qaeda associate al Zarqawi has had an operational alliance with Iraqi officials. As of Oct 2002, al Zarqawi maintained contacts with the IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] to procure weapons and explosives, including surface-to-air missiles from an IIS officer in Baghdad. According to sensitive reporting, al Zarqawi was setting up sleeper cells in Baghdad to be activated in case of a U.S. occupation of the city . . .

Bullet-point #38:

According to sensitive reporting, a contact with good access who does not have an established reporting record: An Iraqi intelligence service officer said that as of mid-March the IIS was providing weapons to al Qaeda members located in northern Iraq, including rocket propelled grenade (RPG)-18 launchers. According to IIS information, northern Iraq-based al Qaeda members believed that the U.S. intended to strike al Qaeda targets during an anticipated assault against Ansar al-Islam positions.

I will deal with objections to the evidence contained within the Feith memo a little further down the page. But here again, if all of this is true, it would seem to indicate that Iraq was indeed a source of war materiel for al-Qaeda and that the fall of the Iraqi regime has indeed deprived al-Qaeda of a valuable source of weaponry. Nor was this weaponry necessarily conventional in nature, as according to Ibn Shaykh al-Libi and CIA Director Tenet Iraq provided training in poisons and gasses.

And according to bullet-point #26 of the Feith memo:

26. During a custodial interview, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi [a senior al Qaeda operative] said he was told by an al Qaeda associate that he was tasked to travel to Iraq (1998) to establish a relationship with Iraqi intelligence to obtain poisons and gases training. After the USS Cole bombing in 2000, two al Qaeda operatives were sent to Iraq for CBW-related [Chemical and Biological Weapons] training beginning in Dec 2000. Iraqi intelligence was "encouraged" after the embassy and USS Cole bombings to provide this training.

It is worth noting that even if Iraq did not possess any WMDs at the time of the US invasion in 2003, the Iraqi Mukhabarat and the scientists would have almost certainly still possessed the expertise necessary to train others in their manufacture. Nor is this a new claim - it is simply a more specific phrasing of the allegation the Clinton administration chose to place in its 1998 indictment against bin Laden.

Sleepers

It does nothing to discover the identities of sleeper agents, who were not controlled from Iraqi soil (with the possible exception of Ansar Al-Islam, over which the Saddam government had no control).

No "possibly" there, Andrew. According to this after-action report on the ruins of the main Ansar al-Islam stronghold at Beyara, a coalition assault on one of the strongholds compounds turned up a list of suspected sleeper agents living in the United States.

Recruits

Iraq was not even a source of Al Qaeda operatives.

Off-hand, I can think of several high-ranking al-Qaeda operatives of Iraqi origin: Abu Ayoub al-Iraqi, Abu Hadi al-Iraqi, Shakir, and Abdul Rahman Yassin. However, I fail to see what the number of Iraqis serving in al-Qaeda's ranks has to do with the justification or lack thereof for the war. Algeria, for example, has the dubious distinction of being the third largest contributor to bin Laden's legions even though their government is currently embroiled in a long-running war against its own al-Qaeda affiliates. The UK is also a plentiful source of recruits for the organization.

Objections

I recognize that many of these claims are controversial, so allow me to take the opportunity to refute some of the more common objections to many of these counter-claims before moving on to deal with the rest of Andrew's arguments against the war in Iraq.

Ideological Barriers?

This is probably the most common argument that is made, both in press reports or by "experts" of some stripe or another. The basic claim is that a secular despot like Saddam would never ally himself with a religious fundamentalist like bin Laden, who would almost certainly regard him as an infidel ruler to be destroyed. Ignoring the fact that claims of cooperation between the two actually date back to the Clinton administration and that to be quite honest I have ever actually heard an opponent of the war sufficiently explain them away, perhaps because of the apparent absence of both the neocons and Ahmed Chalabi to the situation surrounding the indictment, this is still a fairly common meme that regularly heard throughout blogosphere.

It is also patently false. If bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, or any other high-level al-Qaeda leader has ever issued a public statement calling for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, I confess that I have yet to read it. In bin Laden's 1998 declaration of war, Iraq is mentioned four times, one of which refers to it as "the strongest Arab state" and claims that US efforts against Iraq are made in order to ensure the security of Israel, a claim that certain quarters of the anti-war movement would likely agree with.

In a February 12, 2003 audiotape, bin Laden stated the following concerning Saddam Hussein:

"Under these circumstances, there will be no harm if the interests of Muslims converge with the interests of the socialists in the fight against the crusaders, despite our belief in the infidelity of socialists.

The jurisdiction of the socialists and those rulers has fallen a long time ago.

Socialists are infidels wherever they are, whether they are in Baghdad or Aden.

The fighting, which is waging and which will be waged these days, is very much like the fighting of Muslims against the Byzantine in the past.

And the convergence of interests is not detrimental. The Muslims' fighting against the Byzantine converged with the interests of the Persians.

And this was not detrimental to the Companions of The Prophet."

Did bin Laden refer to the Baathists as infidels? Indeed, but he seems to regard them as infidels worth fighting with, at least against the United States. One wonders if this isn't more or less how he saw the CIA in Afghanistan working with the mujahideen through the Pakistani ISI during the 1980s ...

In an interview with the Saudi magazine al-Majallah following the Riyadh bombings, al-Qaeda training chief Abu Mohammed al-Ablaj, who possessed beforehand knowledge of the bombings, said the following concerning Saddam Hussein:

"Allah has turned to him with forgiveness. He declared jihad and did not recognize Israel. There is nothing to bar cooperation with a Muslim who has made jihad his course and way for liberating the holy lands."

So if there is some kind of impossible ideological barrier between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, both of these men appear to be unaware of it.

There is also another point be made as far as al-Qaeda's willingness to cross ideological barriers in the service of its objectives. For example, I think that Andrew would agree that it's a lot easier to recognize the possibility of secular and religious Arab totalitarians who share more or less the same anti-Western worldview cooperating than the idea of Islamic totalitarians cooperating with a Christian kleptocrat who has business ties to the United States. Yet in the case of the latter, it can be demonstrably shown that this has occurred. The former government of Charles Taylor in Liberia, which had notable business ties to prominent members of the American Christian community including Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson, also provided substantial assistance to al-Qaeda with regard to helping the organization to transfer its assets into diamonds and hosting operatives at one of his military bases even after the 9/11 attacks. In light of the connection with the Taylor government in Liberia, which comes from European (read: "French") intelligence sources, I really don't believe that a credible case can be made that al-Qaeda is an organization bound by ideology. They'll work with any government, or anyone, willing to assist the network with its objectives.

Detainee denials?

The New York Times saw fit to publicize claims that Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed denied complicity between al-Qaeda and Iraq after being captured. Ignoring the fact that the US appears to have numerous other detainees (the highest of which appear to be Ibn Shaykh al-Libi on the al-Qaeda side and Farouk Hijazi on the Iraqi side) as well as phone intercepts claiming that such a collaboration did in fact occur, it also bears noting that the original Times account gives an incomplete picture of what was said with regard to at least one detainee.

Going back the Feith memo, at bullet-point #34:

During a 3 Sept 2002 interview, senior al Qaeda lieutenant Zubaida said that Bin Laden would ally al Qaeda with any entity willing to kill Americans. Zubaida explained, "my enemy's enemy is my friend." Bin Laden opposed a "formal" alliance because it may threaten al Qaeda's independence, but he saw the benefits of cooperation and viewed any entity that hated Americans and was willing to kill them as an "ally." Zubaida had suggested that the benefits of an alliance would outweigh the manageable risks to the integrity of al Qaeda. He said the potential benefits included access to WMD materials, such as weaponized chemical or biological weapons material, as well as funding and potential locations for safehaven and training.

That doesn't exactly strike me as that much of a denial from Zubaydah, but then I'm not a New York Times reporter ...

As for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the Risen story refers only to "a debriefing" with the man, whose claims (in contrast to those of Zubaydah, which were initially given great fanfare) have not been made available to the general public so we are very much in the dark as far as what else Mohammed may have told his interrogators. It is also worth noting that news reports claim that Mohammed was still in Pakistani custody as of March 17 and is not referred to as being in American custody until April 7. The implication here is that we had only had the man in our full custody for little more than two months by the time the Times story broke and not knowing the circumstances of the interrogation it is impossible to say how credible his statements should be regarded. Hence, Mohammed's denial is more or less inconclusive.

Doug Feith?

As Andrew is no doubt likely to point out, much of the evidence that the administration utilized with regard to the connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda came from Doug Feith's Counter-Terrorism Evaluation Group (not the Office of Special Plans with which it is sometimes confused). According to Josh Marshall and his sources inside the Beltway, Feith presented most of his stuff on Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda to the CIA around August 2002 and I believe Marshall's description of their reaction was that it "didn't pass the laugh test." When the Feith memo first debuted last October, Andrew and I shared a number of conversations in various comments threads in which I argued that much of the information contained within the Feith memo post-dated October 2002 and that the statement released by the Pentagon on the subject of the memo was hardly the disavowal that some were spinning it as.

Well, come April 27, 2004, nearly six months later, and we get another New York Times story, this one on Feith and his work at the Counter-Terrorism Evalution Group that included his conclusions not just on Iraq, but on a whole host of other areas as well:

The team's conclusions were alarming: old barriers that divided the major Islamic terrorist groups, including Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah, were coming down, and these groups were forging ties with one another and with secular Arab governments in an emerging terrorist war against the West.

Their analysis covered plenty of controversial ground. The two men identified members of the Saudi royal family who they said had aided Al Qaeda over the years. They warned that Al Qaeda had operatives in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, where they were establishing ties with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. They suspected Abu Nidal, an aging Palestinian terrorist leader living in Baghdad, of being an indirect link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, even though many other analysts believed that he was essentially retired and that his once-fearsome organization had been shattered. Mr. Nidal died under mysterious circumstances in Baghdad in 2002.

After looking at this and having studied al-Qaeda in-depth for well over two years now, I have to say that all of those people who have belittled, lamblasted, and eviscerated Feith and Co with insults for over a year now owe them a major apology, Marshall included. Most of these conclusions are not assertions by conservative demagogues, they're self-apparent facts to anyone who's been seriously following the war on terrorism just based on open source information.

Hamas: According to Matthew Levitt, al-Qaeda recruited Nabil Aukal, a Hamas dawa'a activist, back in 1998 and received $10,000 from Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin to set up a terrorist cell in the Gaza Strip. Among Aukal's guests prior to his arrest in 2000 was none other than future al-Qaeda "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. In addition, the US officials are said to have multiple confirmations of joint meetings between representatives of Hamas, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda.

Hezbollah: Al-Qaeda ties with its sister Shi'ite terrorist group have been known since at least 1998 according to the court documents from the trial of the embassy bombers. In June 2002, the Washington Post carried a story claiming that bin Laden directed his followers to form a closer alliance with the other terrorist network, citing US and European intelligence agencies.

Saudi royals: This is generally accepted as fact for anyone who's been following the utter wackiness that is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, even most opponents of the war that one tends to encounter online, but for those requiring further proof I would direct your attention to this article in US News & World Report (or, for those unwilling to pay the $2.95 to access the article, you can read most of it here with my commentary) that pretty much explains the real root cause of Islamic extremism.

Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon: The most immediate thing that comes to mind here is Asbat al-Ansar, which is based in Ein al-Hilweh. The refugee camp is easily one of the most screwed up places on the planet, where Fatah militias battle Hamas and al-Qaeda fighters struggle against even more militant followers of Osama bin Laden. Things have gotten so bad there that even Lebanese intelligence have admitted that al-Qaeda is active inside the camp.

Abu Nidal: This is, in my mind, the weakest single piece of Feith's conclusions, though it does seem to revive claims that Abu Nidal was killed over an al-Qaeda row. It is worth noting that despite the US having full control over Iraq for over a year and having access to all of the regime's old intelligence files, we still have yet to come to any kind of conclusion of how Abu Nidal died and why.

Even if the Abu Nidal claim is inaccurate (and we honestly have no way of knowing one way or another at this point since we still don't even know why he was killed), we are still left with at least four major findings by Feith's team, all which were accurate and all which were regarded with skepticism by at the very least some segments of the US intelligence community at the time that they completed their initial assessment in November 2001. So under the circumstances and the number of bull's eyes that Feith had wracked up to date, it would seem at the very least that administration had good reason for trusting Feith and his team.

Laurie Mylroie

I approach Mylroie's theories concerning the true identity of Ramzi Yousef with some skepticism, though I would point out that there are at least two other schools of thought as to who Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is entirely apart from that postulated by Mylroie. There is still a great deal that is not known about both Ramzi Yousef and his "uncle" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, which is one of the reasons why I would pay quite handsomely for a chance to read the full transcripts of Mohammed's interrogations at the hands of US authorities. I've actually set one of my loyal readers, Pete Stanley, to the task of seeing if there's a way to harmonize all three of these theories into a unified construct and thus far his work has been extremely illuminating.

For the record, I myself have long been skeptical of Mylroie's assertions, particularly her claim that al-Qaeda is little more than a front for Iraqi intelligence. Judging from the fact that al-Qaeda is still very much alive and kicking after any semblance of the Mukhabarat's old command and control apparatus has been thoroughly dismantled would seem to knock a fairly major hole in her theory.

However, two things need to be acknowledged in particular with regard to Mylroie. The first is that her claims with regard to Ramzi Yousef's identity crisis are held by Indian intelligence chief B. Raman as accurate. Pakistan, the constant subject of India's formidable Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), was Yousef's base of operations and Raman goes even further than Mylroie and establishes the Pakistani Sunni sectarian groups Sipah-e-Sahaba (SeS) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as Mukhabarat fronts, as well as even acknowledging ties between Zarqawi and the Iraqi Mukhabarat going as far back as 1994. Call me stupid, but I imagine that Raman (who opposed the war in Iraq, incidentally) had access to a hell of a lot better intelligence with regard to Pakistan than I do during his time as an Indian intelligence chief.

Another thing that tends to keep me on the fence regarding Mylroie and her theories is the blatant sophistry and dishonestry employed by those who disagree with her. CNN terrorism expert Peter Bergen's article featured in the Atlantic Monthly that can be fairly summarized as thus (kudos to Pete Stanley for this one) : "Mylroie's a nut. A conspiracy theorist. The neocons like her, so she can't be good. Ramzi Yousef denied that he was an Iraqi agent, so she must be wrong. Oh, and she's a nut." I believe that there is a term for this style of debating and it's called ad hominem.

Then there's always the Richard Clarke method of argumentation that appears more or less to be a gigantic straw man. He attributes to Mylroie the position that the "real" Ramzi Yousef was in fact with Saddam Hussein in Baghdad, which he then "refutes" by pointing out that Yousef is incarcerated here in the United States. Simply speaking, you aren't going to find that anywhere in either of Mylroie's books on the subject of Yousef and Iraq.

Oh, and here's another fun fact to consider: while the process of attacking refuting Mylroie, Bergen cites her belief that the Oklahoma City bombers were trained by Ramzi Yousef as evidence of her madness. Unfortunately for Bergen, Clarke's own book Against All Enemies also includes an admission that the belief that Yousef or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed trained Terry Nichols while he was in the Philippines is indeed quite plausible. Given that Clarke has more or less been annointed as infallible by much of the American left following his appearance on 60 minutes (with little inconvenient facts like his past assertions of Iraq/al-Qaeda ties when it came time to blow up al-Shifa being swept under the rug), does his willingness to indulge in such crazy theories also make him an irredeemable crackpot? Inquiring minds want to know ...

But Can You Prove Any Of This?

This is a valid question, and one that is frequently asked regarding my assertions of connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Ultimately, the answer is no, no more than Andrew or any other blogger can definitively debunk claims of such connections. Neither myself nor Andrew have access to any classified intelligence that all of the major public figures on the pro or anti side of the equation have access to - were either of us to have irrevocable proof of our positions there would presumably be little if any need for all of the debates that have occurred here on Winds of Change regarding the issue of the war in Iraq. All Andrew or myself can do is present our respective viewpoints, the evidence cited to support either position, and then allow readers to make up their own conclusions.

Moving Right Along ...

As I said, it is the argument over ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda is the key contention between myself and Andrew and I strongly suspect between most supporters and opponents of the war as well. If Iraq was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, then clearly US military action against Saddam Hussein is going to make a great deal of sense to just about everyone outside the Chomskyite fringe and perhaps the Indymedia crowd. Similarly, Andrew's argument that every dollar we spend on Iraq is a dollar that isn't spent fighting al-Qaeda is inconsistent at best if one accepts the two as equally important parts of the same war.

With that being said, let me move on to Andrew's next argument:

What I find most incredible is that the response of the Spaniards to the ability of Al Qaeda to commit a terrorist act in Europe (as well as other acts in Asia and Africa) without any difficulties imposed by the Iraq War is taken as "appeasement". The theory that Western security can be vouchsafed by attacking a third party (evil as it was) has been tried, and found wanting. The Spanish punished a government that was unable to protect them because it didn't try.

With all due respect to Andrew, this is some very shoddy argumentation here. If one is going to argue (as he has) that the events of 3/11 "prove" in some fashion that the war in Iraq has not hindered al-Qaeda, then I say that we should take this argument to the next logical step. On December 22, 2001, just days after the fall of Tora Bora, Richard Reid attempted to bring down Flight AA63 from Paris to Miami using his now-infamous shoe bomb. That Reid failed in this attempt is due more to the timely reaction of the flight passengers than anything else. But, using Andrew's argument, it would seem that one could cite Reid's attempt as proof that the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan had not served to make America or its citizens safer.

More to the point, he appears misinformed as to why the Spanish electorate voted the way that it did with regard to the victory of the Socialists in Spain - it had nothing to do with some grand strategy by the Aznar government and more to do with how the national debate over on whose head responsibility for the bombing should lie. As it seems many a Democratic strategist is now learning with regard to John Kerry, how early perceptions are framed are extremely important. In Spain, the national debate more or less went like this: if the culprits were the Basque ETA as had initially been argued by the Popular Party, then it made perfect sense for the Spaniards to re-elect the Popular Party, who had favored a hard line against them (and oh-by-the-way one of the junior partners in the Socialist coalition tried to have negotiations with them). If the culprits were al-Qaeda, however, then it was Aznar's fault for joining in the US-led coalition against Iraq and it made perfect sense to vote out the Popular Party. To the best of my knowledge, the Popular Party never put out a counter-argument to that claim, instead investing all of their efforts to pinning the blame on the ETA, so when proof emerged in the form of both forensic evidence and multiple claims of responsibility from al-Qaeda as to who the perpetrators were, the Spanish people acted as they had been conditioned to by the way that the debate was framed for them. To attempt to project the domestic US political debate with regard to Iraq on the Spanish electorate is erroneous at best and extremely misleading at worst.

Faced with the obvious, that none of whatever success we have enjoyed in locating Al Qaeda agents and frustrating their plans is in any way related to anything captured or interdicted in Iraq, proponents of the war propose various grandiose general theories to explain why the Iraq War has made us safer.

I'm not certain whether or not Andrew classes me in the ranks of such individuals, though if so I quite flattered. Nevertheless, allow me to enter into this line of discussion for the purposes of refuting some of what I believe are mistaken assumptions on Andrew's part.

The flypaper theory posits that by attracting Islamoterrorists to Iraq, we are first distracting them from conducting further attacks in the United States, and second localizing them where our superior conventional military strength can annihilate them. The first argument is weak. For one thing, on 9/10/2001 we could have made a similar, mistaken, claim about the success of the Clinton and Bush anti-terrorism policies pursued until then. Even more important, this line of reasoning falters on Al Qaeda's post-Iraq attacks in Europe. The second argument is scarcely any better, for while it might apply to a traditional army being lured to a strongpoint and destroyed, it makes no sense in talking about a fairly small terrorist movement which will not attack in massed formation, and which moreover can abandon Iraq for other countries if the heat is too great.

I myself have never bought into the flypaper theory, instead regarding it as more as a consequence of our being in Iraq than anything else. Bin Laden has long sought to draw the United States into a protracted guerrilla conflict in order to duplicate what he views as the success of the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Had we actually placed Afghanistan under full military occupation as some have suggested, I think we would have pretty much faced the same situation we are now dealing with inside Iraq there. We dodged that bullet and apparently had some mistaken belief that we could dodge it in Iraq as well (re: Chalabi's claims of the INC running a vast underground resistance movement), leaving us with little choice but to occupy Iraq following the collapse of the Baathist government in early April 2003. As a result, al-Qaeda resources that were previously being allocated to such regions as Afghanistan, Kashmir, and Chechnya are now being sent to Iraq as part of a concerted effort to dislodge the US from Iraq at any and all costs.

Should al-Qaeda succeed in this endeavor, the network will not only establish a base of operations within the Middle East with which to forment instability throughout the entire region but will also have achieved at its propaganda objective of defeating the United States in a protracted clash of wills and prove itself as a superior alternative to any standing governments for the anti-Western elements of the region. Given what we are repeatedly told about the level of Arab anger against the United States because of our intervention in Iraq, this is not something that we dare afford, which is precisely what calls for a US withdrawl from Iraq or claims that defeating the insurgency there is unwinnable need to take into full account.

More realistic than the flypaper theory is the theory that Arab governments everywhere will be so awed by the American military might in Baghdad, and the bases we will establish there with or without the consent of the Iraqi government, that they will cooperate in the fight against terrorism. (Why the fate of the Taliban isn't sufficient example is unclear to me.) Perhaps it is because, as Rumsfeld said, Iraq has better targets. There is evidence of a weak effect along these lines, although Libya and Syria were both seeing some liberalization before 9/11.

Libya has indeed been trying to get back into the fold of respectable nations since at least Qadaffi's decision to hand over the two Lockerbie bombers for trial, but clearly these attempts had not stopped the nation from also pursuing an aggressive WMD program, including covert efforts aimed at acquiring nuclear weapons that went on completely under the noses of the much-vaunted international non-proliferation regime. Still, does anyone honestly believe that Qadaffi would have agreed to surrender his entire WMD arsenal in toto, let alone inform the United States and the UK as to the extent of the nuclear black market run by Abdul Qadeer Khan, had he not come to the conclusion from watching the events of Operation Iraqi Freedom that the benefits of possessing such deterrence capability far outweighed the risk?

As for Syria, Bashar al-Assad was quite prompt in kicking out the Iraqi notables who found safe harbor in his nation after the fall of Baghdad, not even bothering to retain Iraqi scientists for his own WMD programs. He would almost certainly have not taken so drastic a move were he not fully convinced that his nation was facing the prospect of immediate military action by the United States in the event of his non-compliance, which is one of the strongest arguments in my mind against Syria being the source of Iraqi WMDs.

Overall, the collapse of the Tunisia meetings and the lack of any forward motion for Bush's Middle East Initiative suggests that the benefits are limited. Perhaps the anti-American forces inside and outside of these governments have done the addition and decided that we simply have no troops to spare to occupy any more countries. Or perhaps the country most closely linked to Al Qaeda, namely, Saudi Arabia, figures its close personal friendship with the Bush family will continue to exempt it.

Except if we're talking about which country is most closely linked to al-Qaeda, it bears remembering that al-Qaeda's leadership isn't currently based in Saudi Arabia - they're in Iran, being protected at military bases controlled by Qods Force, the elite of the IRGC. And with all due respect to Andrew, anyone who believes that Saudi money has tainted only the right of the American political spectrum is a fool - like any good Machiavellians, the Saudis have invested quite heavily on both sides of the political fence and thus maintain one of the largest and best-funded lobbies in DC. The December 15, 2003 edition of US News and World Report, which gave probably the most extensive outline with regard to how the Saudi money machine operates both for al-Qaeda and on Capitol Hill, describes in full the sinister nature of the beast as well as the kind of kowtowing that the Clinton administration had to engage in in this regard. There is little if any reason to believe that this is going to change, whether or not Bush is defeated in the upcoming US presidential elections.

The situation with respect to Iran is far more complex due to the fact that hardliners within the Iranian government could always hide behind the facade of their "moderate" president Khatami in front of the international community. Joe once compared Khatami's behavior to being akin to that of a union boss who's been bought off by the mob and that's a fairly apt description of how the Iranian hardliners have used him since his election in order to prevent their nation from returning to its rightful status as a pariah state. Now that Iran possesses at the absolute least break-out nuclear weapons capacity, the IRGC likely figures that they can prevent the US from taking action against their nation by exploiting our ultimate nightmare (nuclear weapons in the hands of a terrorist group, in this case Iran's wholely-owned subsidiary Hezbollah) as well as relying on the short attention span of the international community with respect to these very pressing issues.

As I noted above, Syria has clearly been walking a tight rope with regard to placating domestic anti-American factions within the Syrian Baathist Party while ensuring the larger survival of the regime.

And last, and most ridiculous, is the triple-bank-shot theory that we will establish such a wonderful democracy in Iraq (doing what, I ask, with Fallujah?) that flowers begin to bloom over the entire region.

What Andrew seems to be saying here, at least as I understand it, is that US efforts to establish a democracy in Iraq are ultimately futile. Ignoring the point that it was not the entire town of Fallujah but rather a small but dedicated group of no more than several thousand or so individuals (not all of them Iraqi) by most estimates, if the mission of establishing a democracy in Iraq is nothing more than the crazy pipe dream of Perle and Co, then the logical alternative is to install another puppet strongman who will keep the Iraqi nation intact (and of course, US pride) and on a reasonably pro-Western foreign policy track the same way that the Algerian junta does for the French. And while I'm sure Andrew would be aghast to hear this, Chalabi or one of his minions would be the most likely candidates for such a job, as they appear more or less reliable so long as one keeps in mind what kind of people they are and lines their purses as such.

I take a somewhat different view of establishing a democracy in Iraq in large part because I don't think that the new Iraqi society that comes into being over there will be an abhorration from the fires of hell if it isn't a Middle Eastern clone of the United States. As a result, I'm not as concerned as other warbloggers if the Iraqi constitution contains within it a reference to Islam seeing how most Latin American nations have constitutions containing at least some similar reference to my own Catholicism. If the Iraqis want a constitutional monarchy with a Hashemite prince on the throne, let them have it. If they want more regional autonomy to prevent one group from dominating the others, something resembling the Swiss canton system would seem to be workable. If they want religious or tribal leaders to have a de jure as well as de facto voice in the government, something resembling the old French estates system would seem to be in order. However, the key thing, at least in my mind, is that whatever the particulars of the new Iraqi government that it be accountable to the people, guarantee as much individual liberty as possible (if we reach Turkish standards I'll be quite satisfied), and above all be a welcome, productive, and above all beneficial alternative to the decades of brutality and horror that were wrought under Saddam Hussein.

Andrew has noted the issue of armed groups with respect to ensuring the establishment of a democracy inside Iraq and, as I have noted, most political parties in Southeast Asia maintain armed or paramilitary wings in some fashion but still manage to hold more or less fair elections and transitions of power. Heck, a number of political factions within the US more or less did the same not so long ago (what else is one to call the Black Panthers, for example?). So I don't see the mere existence of armed wings as an impregnable obstacle towards the establishment of a democracy inside Iraq, so long as one recognizes that democracy does not equal a utopia.

The prison abuses at Abu Gharib are of course extremely disturbing and should be investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of our laws, regardless how high or low in the chain of command that it goes. There's too much material floating around on the subject and I haven't had the time to go through it fully, but I tend to agree with two of the more common memes floating around, one being that it's a far bigger deal here in the US than it is in Iraq and the second being that claims that the Abu Gharib abuses have cost us the war are more or less politically motivated in nature by people who, no more than a month ago, were declaring that the Sadr Revolt was the beginning of the end for the US occupation in Iraq. That we have moved from an active insurgency to abuses that occurred at a prison as being the current subject of the "US is losing Iraq/Iraq = Vietnam" in all honesty tells one more about the agendas of the people making them than it does about the actual situation on the ground.

In conclusion, my counter-argument to Andrew's primary point is that Iraq operated as a state sponsor of al-Qaeda and that removing the Baathist government from power did indeed serve to make America the rest of the world safer both directly and indirectly. I hope to have completed my response to the second part of Andrew's guest blog sometime later this week, possibly to run concurrently with my Winds of War on Thursday.

5 TrackBacks

Tracked: May 12, 2004 12:44 PM
Iraq and Al Qaeda from Andrew Olmsted dot com
Excerpt: Dan Darling has posted an extensive review of Iraq/al Qaeda connections that ties together quite a bit of valuable and interesting information. While, as Dan himself is careful to point out, there is no 'smoking gun' that proves collusion between...
Tracked: May 12, 2004 3:23 PM
No You Didn't! from amateur night
Excerpt: But you know he did! Dan Darling's long-promised and impressively-long rebuttal to Andrew Lazarus's similarly extensive case against O.I.F. is up, or Part I is, at least. Do not read if you are, like, totally sure that of course there
Tracked: May 12, 2004 9:03 PM
FYI from The Open Matt Project
Excerpt: Dan Darling has written an article on Iraq and Al-Qaida that I heartily recommend. I strongly suggest reading the first two links, which provide the initial commentary he is responding to. It's long, and is only part 1 apparently, so...
Tracked: May 13, 2004 12:02 PM
WAR: Iraq and Al Qaeda, Again from Baseball Crank
Excerpt: Dan Darling over at Winds of Change has a long, fact-packed discussion of his reasons for supporting the Iraq war, focusing heavily on the Iraqi regime's terrorist connections. (Links to interviews with the two defectors who first publicized the Salman...
Tracked: May 15, 2004 11:16 PM
Dan Darling on Iraq from Solomonia
Excerpt: I'm late on this (can't keep up with everything!) Read his stuff here and here. Also his Winds of War roundup here. I haven't had a chance to read it all yet. It's long, but Dan's stuff is always good....

47 Comments

I do not agree with a lot of your conclusions (especially "far bigger deal here in the US than it is in Iraq "), but nice post none the less.

Well, if you'll allow me, let me try to explain what I meant by that. I have no doubt that images of what happened at Abu Gharib have no doubt horrified the Iraqi population. However, I certainly haven't seen the kind of mass reaction against this as there was to say, the Ashura Massacre or even the first pilgrimage to the holy cities of An Najaf and Karbala. I think at least part of this has to do with the sad fact that torture in Iraq at the hands of the government has unfortunately been far too much of a staple of Iraqi life for the last 30 years as well as that the general population is still somewhat intrigued by a government that does not answer criticism with gunfire. While at least 1 American has already died in an apparent revenge killing, it is worth noting that the man who beheaded him was a Jordanian, not an Iraqi.

Also, allow me to clarify that "over there" referred to Iraq, not the larger Middle East as whole, where news of the abuses at Abu Gharib has served to severely stem US efforts to project a more positive image to the Arab world and will almost certainly spur al-Qaeda's recruiting efforts in the long run. Nevertheless, I think that claiming that the war is lost over the prison abuses because of Iraqi public perception underscores more of an agenda-driven mentality than anything else. Sadr's situation, for example, does not seem to have improved in any beneficial sense for him since the abuse photos became public knowledge, nor has Fallujah heated up again. The implication here is that while the general population is far from thrilled by these abuses, they nevertheless do not appear to have embraced the insurgency as a viable alternative to the CPA and the IGC.

However, the fact that the abuse photos do not cost us the war or any such thing do not in any way mitigate the utterly abhorrent conduct that occurred at the prison and should not be construed as an attempt to by me to do so.

There are opinions, then there are Opinions.

Following is from Ahmed Rashid, perhaps some readers know him as author of books Taliban and Jihad, as well as Far Eastern Economic Review correspondent. His opinion matters because of the years he has spent proving himself as one of the world-class Pakistani reporters and politically unaffiliated documentarian. I would imagine that some of the names DD has on his charts and notes come from Rashid's years of reporting.
http://www.nybooks.com/authors/8939

The Rise of Bin Laden
(reviewing Steve Coll's Ghost Wars)(excerpted for length and emphasis)

Ultimately, it has been the war in Iraq that has mainly been responsible for the failure of US attempts to capture bin Laden. Despite the horrific killings in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, there is now (especially in view of the information in Woodward's recent Plan of Attack) more than enough evidence to prove that the Bush Administration began planning the invasion of Iraq even before the war in Afghanistan ended in Dec. 2001. Afghanistan badly needed peacekeeping troops, adequate security for both leaders and local populations, and funding for rebuilding the country. All were neglected by the US. Similarly neglected was the hunt for bin Laden. That many of his top leaders were arrested created the false impression that he and the cells of jihadists linked to him have fatally lost power. As events in Madrid and in Iraq have shown, this was an illusion.
The good will for the US and its allies arising from the defeat of the Taliban in 2001 should have been followed up by extensive local recon- struction projects, providing not only schools but, among much else, security forces, a basic welfare system, and jobs. If this had been done, local sources of reliable intelligence would also have been found. Instead, small US army garrisons were scattered along the border hundreds of miles apart. They were never provided with the funds, equipment, personnel, and other support they would have needed to gather information, follow up leads, concentrate on suspicious groups and activities, and take the other measures that are necessary if bin Laden is to be caught.

The hearings on September 11 have so far barely touched on the fact that the moment the Afghan war was over the US started moving much of its counterterrorism resources and activities from Afghanistan to Iraq—including soldiers, civilian experts, intelligence units, satellite surveillance, drones, and other high-tech devices. The hunt for Saddam Hussein took on more importance than the hunt for bin Laden, even though there is still no conclusive evidence that Hussein supported al-Qaeda or needed its backing.

Now the US military and the CIA, in a great hurry to catch bin Laden, are trying to make up for lost time in Afghanistan, sending in some two thousand Marines and moving large numbers of troops from Kabul and Kan- dahar to the border. But additional US troops will not make up for months that were lost both in gathering intelligence and gaining local tribal support as Washington pursued the war in Iraq.

Hiding out in the rugged and mountainous terrain between Afghanistan and Pakistan where some Pashtun tribesmen have proved to be excellent hosts, generously financed by cash from al-Qaeda, bin Laden seems far from being caught. The lack of attention from the US during 2002 and 2003 has probably allowed him to establish even closer links to the local population and to find more hiding places if he is threatened.

***

(concluding paragraph)

In hindsight, September 11 was the result both of a chronic failure of intelligence gathering and coordination among agencies working in Washington and of a failure to conceive of a strategy for the region including Afghanistan, Pakistan, and neighboring countries. But since September 11 there has been a far bigger blunder by the Bush administration: its failure to sustain momentum in the efforts to make Afghanistan more secure and more stable and to catch bin Laden. No hindsight is required in order to make this judgment. What needed to be done after the defeat of the Taliban should have been obvious. What successive US administrations could have done to prevent September 11 will always be debatable; perhaps the failure of intelligence to anticipate it is ultimately understandable, in view of the ponderous workings of bureaucracies. What is unforgivable is the failure of the current US administration to maintain the resources and manpower needed to rebuild Afghanistan and to arrest bin Laden after September 11, and its decision to go to war in Iraq instead.
-April 28, 2004

I always find it funny when someone says that by virtue of the US not being in force in Afghanistan, there are depriving that area of peace keeping troops.

And in almost the same breath they talk of how we can turn the whole thing over to UN peacekeepers in Iraq.

So if there are no peacekeepers for Afghanistan why do you think they would be some for Iraq by the same thread of logic. Mental pretzels, salty but tasty. ;)

Capt'n - please refer to time periods when the decisions to deploy were made. At time of Winter 2001-2002, there were XXX,000 active military and reservists not deployed in any theater or available for reassignment. By Spring 2003, there were XXX,000 - YYY,000 gearing up for invasion of Iraq including ZZ,000 reassigned from Afghan theater. So as Rashid argues, the moment of opportunity in Afghan was abandoned for the diversion in Iraq as focus changed and deployment decisions were made in Winter 200-2003. TODAY it is absolutely true we don't have enough troops to go around.
So what about what stop gap measures have been taken since then? On that, Rashid is lacking a critical eye. NATO pledged but has failed to meet its commitments while the US cannot muster more forces for Afghan. That is a strategic mistake in capitals throughout the Alliance. Also leads to a real missing ingredient to the possibility of using the Afghan post-invasion model in Iraq. [I know we can't un-invade, as much as I'd like to get a re-do on Iraq; but we need to be clear eyed that present US deployment ain't cutting it.]
We've got only half a chance to pull some semblance of success out of the Giant Messopotamia as I see it. Kerry + UN + NATO (- Bush) = 1/2 a chance. Lots of heavy lifting all around, but the present course is just whistling past the graveyard.

As Dan rightly points out above, we dodged the insurgency issue precisely because of the low footprint of troops in Afghanistan.

If we had deployed X00K troops, I think the issue would be worse than what is happening today in Iraq. AQ would continue to operate in the Pakistani tribal borderlands with impunity. At some point we would have to invade Pakistan to route them out. I don't see that that Musharaff would have allowed any troops (even UN ones) to "invade" his country. There would be no will from that August body (the UN) to create the political will to do so. Once we had invaded Pakisatn you can be sure Musharaff would fall to more radical elements in his own military. after that, it would be wish fulfillment to assume we would get all their nukes without having an incident there or in the US.

Okay, it hink you gave me another mental pretzel. You said that Afghanistan is a mess because we moved resources away, yet you say we should follow the Afghan post invasion model for Iraq!?

After the press that the UN has gotten over the OIF scandal, what makes you think they would be readily accepted with Iraq. OBL (or his unreasonable facsimle) has posted a reward of 10 Kg of gold for their heads (Annad and his envoy to Iraq). I think that expecting expecting better to come from the UN (lets see, Kosovo is an utter disaster, Rwanda and Sudan are ignored, Cambodia also,....) is also whistling past the graveyard.

Lets be honest, most of Natro is Afghanistan already with the US and Britian. The only difference is expecting better leadership from Kofi's guys than the current Admin. Yeah sure, what ever you say.

If I may humbly offer one more opinion, why is it incumbent on the U.S. to implement a welfare state in Afghanistan, or Iraq for that matter? We are not able, financially or logistically, to run a New Deal for either. We invaded and defeated both countries because the leadership was engaged in bad behavior that was ultimately harming our interests. We don't owe them a jobs program after we are done.
Personally, I never thought the invasion of Iraq was urgently needed, although it was morally acceptable to me based on the abuses of the regime. The more information that comes to light, like that provided in Mr. Darling's excellent post, tends to convince me that the invasion was more urgently necessary that I believed.

I read Mylroie's books and she clearly did not claim that al Qaeda was merely a front for Iraqi intelligence, but that Ramzi Yousef was possibly an Iraqi agent and so might Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Much of that was based on some evidence that RY was an ethnic Baluch and KSM being his uncle -- if that is true -- was also Baluch. And this is based on the notion that the Baluch culture is more amenable to the socialist fascist disease than the Islamofascist variety. It is all pretty tenuous, but there is some evidence.

As far as the corruption of American politics by Saudi money, I am surprise that you did not mention Robert Baer's book, "Sleeping With The Devil".

Bob Graham cites Al-Qaeda's strength at 70,000+, but a perfunctory search of the web turns up several estimates in the 100s to 1000s range. Could you comment on where the different estimates come from, Dan?

More to the point, I'm sure that 70,000 figure includes things like Taliban ground troops. I'd be more interested in an estimate of the number of people who want to attack the US.

Peter:

The Bergen article that I linked to provides a quote from Mylroie claiming al-Qaeda as a front for the Iraqi Mukhabarat. Assuming the quote is accurate, it appears that she has indeed held this view at one point.

Josh:

100s-1000s range for the estimate sum total in al-Qaeda's legions is based on State Department reports that date at least as far back to 1998. Graham is a member of the Senate intelligence committee so he would presumably have had access to much more up-to-date information. In addition, while the State plays a semantics game as far as whether or not Basayev's IIPB or Ansar al-Islam members qualify as "al-Qaeda" or not, I don't think that our intelligence agencies do, at least not in the report that Graham cited. Graham's figure, incidentally, squares quite nicely with that provided by Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, who is widely regarded as one of the world's foremost experts on al-Qaeda.

The only exit from war's inhumanity is through the doorway of victory. For while it may be mitigated, controlled and reduced to a certain extent fundamentally "war is cruelty, and you cannot refine it", though victory can end it. While it continues, as many in the Left who long for a 21st century Vietnam hope, it will unleash unpredictable forces which no one can control. Those who delighted in discovering the photographs at Abu Ghraib little imagined Nick Berg's video. click

A masterwork, Dan. Thank You. I will keep this as reference, and look forward to succeeding volumes!

Mylroie took it (link) farther than she presented in her books: "Al-Qaida is a front for the Iraqi Intelligence Services" She even persisted after Saddam fell. After the Istanbul bombings, she wrote a (link) piece saying that we should look for an Iraqi connection.

Dan, "...I would pay quite handsomely for a chance to read the full transcripts of Mohammed's interrogations at the hands of US authorities."

I don't know if I would. I'm thinking that both Yousef and KSM have some sort of antisocial personality disorder - they're psychopaths. Now, they obvoiusly don't match all of the (link) symptoms, but a few stood out.

"Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure"

What was the qualifier attatched to KSM's British transcript? "Subject has been known to lie..." something like that?

While reading 1000 Years for Revenge I came across a passage that made me sit up and take notice, page 109:

Ramzi Yousef was so bold during this period that he even allowed himself to be captured by an ATM camera withdrawing funds while he made a phone call using another person's phone card. In one of the comic ironies of this story, after Yousef's flight to Pakistan following the bombing, his parents were reportedly harassed by phone company representatives seeking to collect on the exorbitnat phone bills that he owed. Once the name Yousef surfaced in th epress alongside his original name, Abdul Basit, the dunning notices went out. The phone company managed to locate Yousef's parents. Why couldn't the FBI. [Endquote]

Now, if this passage is true, it blows an enormous, gaping hole in Mylroie's hull. If his parents are alive and well somewhere, then the while Yousef/Basit switch idea is dead or easily disprovable. Now, I checked the footnote (Chap 12 foot 14 p. 466):

FBI 302 interrogation of Ramzi Yousef, Feb 7 1995, p.21: "[Yousef] said his parents living in Iran part of Baluchistan were aware of his participation in WTC bombing. At one point post bombing, a female who claimed to rep U.S. phone company telephoned his parent's [sic] residence and attempted to solicit information pertaining to the whereabouts of RY claiming that Yousef owed the company a significant amount of money. The woman, rebuffed by RY's father, went on to inquire as to the whereabouts of numerous individuals which RY knew to be aliases he had used in the past. [Endquote]

Now, I think this is a whole cloth fabrication by Yousef. And the FBI and Lance have bought it hook, line and sinker. If I'm right that he's a psychopath, in the medical sense of the term, he actually gets pleasure in lying to people. He feels superior.

The dude who drove the truck into the WTC in 1993 was an old school pal of Basit's from Kuwait, supposedly. I think Yousef conned him into beleiving they were old acquaintences. The guy later said he thought Yousef was a salesman and the bomb truck was full of soap. No one believes him, of course.

This dude Ismoil might be in prison for the rest of his life because Yousef is a good liar.

Oh, and if it is a fabrication, which I believe it is, it explains why the FBI couldn't find Basit's parents, but the phone company did. It's simple - there were no parents.

Dan Darling,

Reading your reports has been a valued education. Thank you for all your hard work on this front.

Ideological Barriers? ... The basic claim is
that a secular despot like Saddam would never
ally himself with a religious fundamentalist like bin Laden

There is a whole other dimensions to the Iraq/AQ relationship which hasn't received much attention so far, and that is Iraq's ties to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. The most detailed source I've found is Eberhard Kienle's Ba'th v. Ba'th, an account of Syria and Iraq's rivalry for the leadership of the Baath movement between 1968 and 1989. The bottom line is that Iraq supported them and other Syrian Islamists in the years leading up to the Hama uprising, and for years afterwards one militant faction of the Syrian MB still received Iraqi sponsorship.

Fast-forward to the present, and we find the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood lurking in the background of the 9/11 plot in Spain and Germany. Mamoun Darkazanli, in particular, may be "acting Sheik" of the group - and since 1995 he shared a bank account with Mamdouh Salim, one of Al Qaeda's mysterious Iraqi co-founders! According to Rohan Gunaratna, Salim's nom-de-guerre was "Abu Hajer al Iraqi", and he became Al Qaeda's chief of European operations. (He was arrested late in 1998.)

There's a little more on the Syrian MB connection to both Iraq and to AQ in "Estate of John Patrick O'Neill v. Republic of Iraq, et al", paragraphs 49-51. I'd especially like more details on paragraph 50, which describes the Bin Laden connection to the Syrian MB.

Salman Pak

There was another Knight-Ridder article (Google on "Hussein ties to Al Qaeda appear faulty" to find a copy) which bundled this with several similar talking points. In the course of rebutting it here and here, I found an Iraq expert, Judith Yaphe, testifying to the 9/11 Commission that the Salman Pak facility has "been known as a terrorist training camp for many years".

Abu Nidal

An uncle of 9/11 pilot Ziad Jarrah was a Stasi liaison with Abu Nidal's group, and was a "constant figure in Jarrah's life in Germany" according to Der Spiegel. I am rather skeptical of the "Atta-in-Baghdad-with-Abu-Nidal" memo that surfaced at the time of Saddam's capture, however.

Great stuff. I myself put a bit more weight on some of the strategic, den Bestian arguments (i.e., increasing our ability to turn the screws on Iraq's nasty neighbors and eliminating the need to maintain a military alliance with the Saudis) as well as the basic necessity of whupping the biggest and most visible anti-American on the block to teach the region a lesson. But, then, there never was just one reason for war - there usually isn't.

I approach Mylroie's theories concerning the true identity of Ramzi Yousef with some skepticism

There is a lengthy discussion here and here of the 'identity theft' theory, which concludes that it's a mistake and a big distraction. I'm still on the fence. I do agree with Pete Stanley's skepticism about the 'phone company' story.

Don't ask me why the administration isn't using this information in its arguments.

Mylroie has an answer: bureaucratic resistance, by the people who failed to connect the dots in the 1990s and are still in denial; so the Bush administration had to "finesse" their opposition by focusing on the WMDs. I think it's a bit deeper than that. State-sponsored terrorism is a covert attack by one state on another, and the response may be equally covert. If the response involves public actions, they may need a cover story.

I think this started with Clinton in 1993. Ramzi Yousef bombed the World Trade Center, and New York FBI suspected Iraq. The FBI ran a sting in the same milieu (Sheikh Omar's followers, at the Al Farooq mosque), organizing a second bombing conspiracy through a double agent, Emad Salem. A few days after the second conspiracy was very publicly busted, Clinton bombed Iraqi intelligence headquarters, ostensibly in response to the attempt to assassinate Bush in Kuwait. (Timeline here.) Note the importance Richard Clarke gives to that bombing, saying that it deterred Iraq from ever again sponsoring terrorism against the USA.

And by now there is another element in the mix which introduces a whole new reason to hide the truth - the anthrax. The Hatfill Project (May 12, 2004 entry) argues that the Bush administration decided to remain ambiguous on the origin of the anthrax letters and their relationship to 9/11, in part because doing so gave them strategic options which would have been publicly unpalatable had Iraq been definitively linked to 9/11, such as offering Saddam exile. On this theory, the Zarqawi-and-ricin show was just a stand-in for the much greater threat of Bin Laden and anthrax. Throw in a few other considerations that would arise if the anthrax letters were attributed to Iraq, such as the issue of how Iraq got hold of the Ames strain, or the danger of publicly advertising just how great the destructive potential of weaponized anthrax is, and it's easy to see why the whole thing would be buried as deeply as possible.

A lot of work in that post, and it would take a lot of work (and a lot of words) adequately to reply to it. But some small points can quickly be made:

. . . according to the al-Yawm al-Aakher article in question, al-Qaeda members began training at Nahrawan and Salman Pak as far back as July 2001, more than a year and a half before there would ever be any talk of a US invasion of Iraq.

Also according to al-Yawm al-Aakher, there's a frantic campaign to resettle Jews in Iraq, and ten thousand Egyptian saboteurs, and a similar number from Afghanistan [have been] sent to Baghdad to conduct sabotage operations. One might suspect it puts a higher value on liveliness than on reliability.

This assertion was also made in a White House fact sheet that was released on July 2, 2003, after the fall of the Saddam Hussein government in Iraq.

We don't however know whether the White House had any facts to back up its "fact sheet", or whether it simply inferred the shutting down of the camp from the the success of the invasion and its own pre-war assertions.

This also runs more or less parallel to my suspicions that the Saudi battalion of Unit 999, which was part of the Iraqi order of battle, was a front for al-Qaeda. My reasons for taking this opinion, as I noted in the linked Winds of Change post, have to do with the fact that all of the three other ethnic battalions that were headquartered at Salman Pak refer to known terrorist groups that were sponsored by the Iraqi regime. The Persian battalion is made up of members of the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, the Palestine battalion consists of Palestine Liberation Front and Abu Nidal Organization members, ect. The only question mark then is who the heck the Saudi battalion, as there is only one organization that could actually be considered an armed Saudi opposition group: al-Qaeda.

You might think from this text that Darling knows that the Persian battalion is Mujahideen e Khalq, etc, and infers from that the Saudi battalion is al Qaeda. But if you follow the link, you see his sources make no claims about Mujahideen e Khalq, PLF, ANO membership; the whole thing is Darling's speculation.

While the supplier of the document is none other than Andrew's perennial adversary Ahmed Chalabi, the document nevertheless appears to be a genuine article according to US officials who have examined it.

The quote from the source: "the document was obtained by the Iraqi National Congress and first disclosed on the CBS program "60 Minutes" by INC leader Ahmed Chalabi. A U.S. official said the document appears authentic." Which need mean no more than that one of Chalabi's neocon collaborators in deceit -- collaborated with Chalabi in this deceit.

This does, not incidentally, rule out the known facts concerning the Turks, Palestinians, Iranians, and Saudis who are known to have been trained at [Salman Pak] . . .

Except that if you follow the link, you find it does not mention Salman Pak, whose capture by the Marines was reported by many news outlets 2003-04-07, but to a camp on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, whose discovery was announced by the Marines 2003-04-16. For that matter, it doesn't mention Turks, Iranians, or Saudis, though it does mention the Palestinian Liberation Front.

Zarqawi's cell in Baghdad . . . was part of a network of cells that spanned from Baghdad to as far north as Mosul without ever carrying out any attacks against the regime that, if one is to believe Andrew, al-Qaeda supposedly hated with a passion.

But then, as you're well aware, it's widely doubted that Zarqawi is al Qaeda.

Yassin was provided support by the Iraqi Mukhabarat after the failed bombing . . .

Or rather, if you follow the link, Cheney made such an assertion on "Meet the Press", and other (anonymous) US officials declined to support it.

This [Baghdad] cell's existence, incidentally, has been verified through intercepted phone calls between al-Qaeda operatives near the Syrian border and in Baghdad.

No, the source states that the man "made the telephone call as he drove through the rugged landscapes of northern Iraq towards the borders with Syria and Turkey"; it doesn't say he made it to Baghdad; in fact, it doesn't mention any Zarqawi (let alone al Qaeda) operatives in Baghdad at all.

According to the work of journalist Marc Perleman of Forward, at least three entities known to serve as fronts for al-Qaeda financing appear to have directly profited from the seemingly systemic corruption in the UN oil for food program. They are the ASAT Trust, Liechtenstein-based legal firm, the al-Taqwa financial network (as well as its successor Nada Management), and the pro-Taliban Saudi company Delta Oil.

No, according to Perleman (based presumably on the Chalabi-controlled documents), oil contracts went to Galp International and Delta Oil. The article does not claim that Galp or Delta ever served as al Qaeda fronts. (Galp shared a legal representative, Asat, with al Taqwa, said to have financed al Qaeda; Delta was in a consortium with the US oil firm Unocal that tried to run a gas pipeline through Afghanistan during the period of Taliban rule. According to Ahmed Rashid's Taliban, the consortium employed Henry Kissinger as a consultant and had the Clinton administration's backing.)

Interim summary: vintage Darling. Works hard, thinks hard, spins hard.

Abu Frank:

1. With regard to al-Yawm al-Aakher, I would note that you have not disproved the story I linked but rather attacked the messenger thereof. If you want to rule out every Arab paper that reports stories of the nature of those which you describe then ultimately one is going to be placed in the position of not believing anything the Arab press prints.

2. I included the link back to my original analysis on Unit 999 precisely so that those readers interested in examining my methodology would have the opportunity to do so. If you want to criticize it more substantially or argue that the Persian battalion was not the MEK, the Palestine battalion not the PLF/ANO and provide an alternative explanation, I will be more than happy to listen.

3. Here again, if you possess information suggesting that the document in question was not authentic or that the authentification was done under neocon auspices I am quite happy to listen, otherwise it would seem that you are allowing ideological perceptions to influence your willingness to accept evidence that runs counter to your perception that Iraq maintained a relationship with al-Qaeda.

4. Regarding the capture of the terrorist training camp in question, you appear to be correct as far as the dates are concerned and it would seem that I have made a chronological error in this regard.

5. If you hold to the Shadi Abdallah school of thought, Abu Frank, you are far less intelligent than I would have expected. Abdallah's claims can be demonstrably shown to have been untrue and information recovered from the recent Zarqawi letter combined with bin Laden's recent praise of his organization in Iraq (to say nothing of the involvement of two of Zarqawi's lieutenants in 9/11, which is about as al-Qaeda as they come) would tend to drive the final nail into the coffin of Abdallah's fabled that the two are hated rivals. No less a source than Rohan Gunaratna, who should be sufficiently anti-war for your liking, lists Zarqawi as an al-Qaeda leader.

6. If you have information suggesting that what Cheney stated concerning Yassin was untrue or inaccurate, by all means please share it with the rest of us. That other US officials declined to support Cheney's assertions does not in of itself prove them to be untrue, which is the implications of your statement.

7. The entire thrust of the Independent article that I cited deals directly with the evidence that Powell utilized in order to make his presentation to the UN Security Council concerning the existence of al-Qaeda cells inside Iraq. As for the Independent article not mentioning Zarqawi or al-Qaeda operatives in Baghdad, I honestly have to wonder what you're reading when the article says:

US officials quoted by The New York Times say the deputy revealed that Zarqawi was operating a cell out of Iraq, that he had been given medical assistance there and that he was planning and conducting attacks across Europe and the Middle East with up to 24 al-Qa'ida fighters. Mr Foley, 62, head of America's Agency for International Development mission, was the first of the cell's targets.

In his address to the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State, relied heavily on this information when he accused the Iraqi regime of having links with al-Qa'ida. "[The al-Qa'ida cell members] have been operating freely in the capital for more than eight months," he said. "Iraqi officials deny accusations of ties with al-Qa'ida. These denials are simply not credible."

It even goes on to assert that the Iraqi government might have ordered Zarqawi killed (which at least strongly implies that he was in an area under Iraqi control) in order to suppress knowledge of the al-Qaeda link from getting out.

8. My comment stands regarding the links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda concerning the oil for food program. Galp International and Delta Oil both profited from the oil for food program and through them did also the ASAT Trust, which is an al-Qaeda front, and presumably al-Taqwa as well. I also note that the Forward article cites Ahmed Huber as saying that Nada Management and presumably its predecessor al-Taqwa enjoyed a friendly relationship with Saddam Hussein. As for Delta Oil, the article also notes the business ties between Delta and Nimir Petroleum, which is run by alleged Saudi al-Qaeda financier Khalid bin Mahfouz. As a result, I don't see the relevance of the Unocal connection to any of this.

Interim summary: vintage Abu Frank. Lots of criticism, one valid point, but little if any credible counter-evidence or explanations to back it up.

"Raman goes even further than Mylroie and establishes the Pakistani Sunni sectarian groups Sipah-e-Sahaba (SeS) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi as Mukhabarat fronts"

I'm not sure that's exactly what he's saying. I think Raman beleives that SeS and LeJ were sometimes shared. Or, maybe not shared exactly, but the Pakistanis did't mind terribly if the Iraqis sometimes used those organizations. And that there was a liason between MeK and SeS. But SeS and LeJ remained Pakistani assets.

After all, the primary focus of all of this was, at the time, Iran. Pakistan and Iraq shared that interest.

Raman's claim, at least as I read it, is that Iraqi intelligence used the Pakistani sectarian Sunni groups to kill Shi'ites/Iranians as part of a proxy campaign against Iran, making them more or less Iraqi proxies or fronts. Or at least that's the way that I read his articles on the subject ...

Well, yeah. But I think it was mainly a Pakistani show, and the Iraqis sometimes got in on it, too. I just thought your use of the word 'front' implied that these groups were taking all of their orders and receiving all of their funding from Baghdad, and I don't think that was the case.

Maybe I'm splitting hairs.

Hmm...Didn't know Andrew Lazarus' comments were that distinguished or original as to require such detailed response. He can also be found talking to himself at kos and other agreeable left wing watering holes, depending their morale (no typo) leader, kos, or blasting whatever the current theme is. Personally, I'll take the Hans Solo versus tape recording argumentative style any day. (yawn) Damned insomnia.
;)

4. Don't ask me why the administration isn't using this information in its arguments. I'm not a politician, I don't work inside the Beltway, and I have absolutely no idea why people there do what they do or either side of the political fence. For lack of a better term, that isn't my area of expertise so I plan to steer clear of it as much as possible.

Well, you're about to start work inside the beltway, so welcome to the fray. Allow me to speculate. If I were confronted with the sort of ongoing and extremely costly nuisance tactics of the left and the so-called "peace" movement, as well as the astonishing lack of interest on the part of the press in anything remotely positive about the liberation effort, I'd sure like some sort of secret weapon in reserve. When the inevitable last minute scandal appears in book form, with pictures, I'd love to be able to put the opposition out for the count.

So, the left has been building this entire house of cards on two pillars: no WMD, and no AQ connection. And there exists an intriguing circumstancial case for the latter, that's merely lacking one or two pieces of data to become a slam dunk. And there seems no inclination to ask about how some sort of agent was to be used to kill 3,000 people in Amman, or where such an agent came from. (Somewhere in the neighborhood, one would think.)

So, what would I do if I wanted to take a knockout blow at both the uncooperative and slothful press, and the irritatingly obtuse idiotarians (or call them Marxistants, if it rolls off the tongue better)? Well, I might choose to mention absolutely nothing about the two stalwart pillars of the oppsition, and just let them build a huge construct on that foundation. And just when they've become so self-satisfied in their creation that they discover the love of Paris in their own reflection, I'd settle the matter of what happened to the WMD and the Iraq/Qaeda connection once and for all.

This, of course, assumes that there's some critical piece of information to be had, that isn't in the public domain, yet. And it also assumes that I can withhold that information from the public w/o jeapardizing national security.

If I truly believed in this cause, which I do, I'd almost feel it my duty and obligation to maintain a hole card. It would be utter folly not to.

Dan having taken a few weeks to research this column, I need a few days to assemble a proper comment, and in any case, I'm not sure I could outdo Abu Frank in source-checking.

My first thoughts:

1. Let's face it, Ahmad Chalabi is a liar. [1, 2, 3, 4, etc.] The State Department and CIA have known that all along, and the rest of the government is catching on. Actually, Dan knows that, too. But the stories Chalabi and his "trained seals" told are just too tempting for Darling to pass up.

2. Most unfortunately, mere assertion from VP Cheney or other US Government officials is no guarantee of truth.

3. Mylroie's theory didn't even pass one of her own tests. She's a crank. Talking Points Memo:
One more thought on Mylroie et al. One point that is seldom noted, or too quietly if at all, is that while the neocons and their press defenders endlessly charge their critics with peddling 'conspiracy theories' about them, they themselves hold tenaciously to a series of crackpot theories that make the more wild-eyed interpretations of the Kennedy assassination sound cautious, judicious and restrained by comparison.

I think that covers a lot of the ground here.

I think that covers a lot of the ground here.

Boy! Would that it covered any ground at all. As far as I can tell it's just an attack on the several authors of several theories, and not even a very good one at that. Not so much as a single substancial assertion. It would have been far more relevant to say something like "Mylroie uses inappropriate and misleading methodology," which would at least have had some substance that could be argued. Except that it would have led to: "But she uses essentially the same methodology as Sy Hersh."

Both would've been good points, and would actually have promised covering some ground.

Scott (12:55pm),

Re. WMDs and Ba'athist/Al-Qaeda connections, we've been hearing variations of the "rope-a-dope" argument you outline for over a year now. "Ah," Bush chuckled to his circle of confidants. "We're just about ready to pounce on the anti-war opposition with our compelling and well-documented dossier!"

By this point, it's incumbent on you to provide some sourced evidence for this agreeable story line.

Kay's report, Duelfer's (and even Blix's) comments, and other open-source evidence shows conclusively that Saddam maintained proscribed WMD programs at varying levels through 2003. Irrespective of whether WMD stockpiles are ever located, or whether classified information paints an even darker picture.

And as Dan Darling has pointed out on other WoC posts, there is considerable evidence to support both long-standing and post-9/11 relationships between Iraq's Ba'athists and Al-Qaeda/the Islamic International Front.

So why are these points still controversial? I'd suggest that:

--The pictures that have emerged are complex, the debates are contentious, and there are few information sources that all parties view as reliable and complete. Most people are busy with their own lives, and are reluctant to make judgements when venturing into such unfamiliar territory.

--Many people in politics, intelligence, and the media have built up a world-view based on a certain reading of events. Inertia and vested interests make re-evaluation difficult. As Zayed quotes Swift, "It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of what he was never reasoned into."

--The Bush Administration is riven with internal dissent, and full of people with their own shortcomings. They have been unable and in some cases unwilling to pull together complex pieces into a compelling and coherent story.

Andrew J. Lazarus (2:44pm):

You and Dan Darling each do a great service with your extensive, sourced posts, and the fact-checking follow-ups. The three points you make here are interesting but don't prove much.

1. From what I read, you and Darling are both very skeptical of Chalabi, and you both discount INC-tainted intelligence. Stipulating that Chalabi is a liar doesn't much affect either of your arguments.

2. Cheney's role as a primary or reliable source is minor if not incidental.

3. Many of us on the 'pro-war' side are uncertain of what to make of Laurie Mylorie's contentions. Darling's case doesn't rest on Mylorie. Mylorie being wrong on some things isn't a ticket to opposite-land, where the inverse of whatever she believes is therefore so.

The Newsweek story by Isenkoff and Hosenball that you cite mainly concerns 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yusef, not Mylorie. I was most struck by its derisive tone:

[The incident being discussed] underscores the persistence with which Wolfowitz and his allies within the Pentagon pursued efforts to uncover evidence of links between Saddam’s government and Al Qaeda—a key, and still disputed, element in the Bush administration’s case for war.
The uninformed reader would assume that, beyond Wolfowitz' desparate efforts, no such evidence exists.

and

President Bush has since acknowledged there is no evidence of any Iraqi involvement in September 11. But administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, continue to assert that there is abundant evidence of past Iraqi support for terrorism, including possibly the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. [emphasis mine]
Is the uninformed reader to conclude that Bush's reasonable caution represents a discrediting of devil-Cheney's assertions on Iraqi involvement in terrorism and the 1993 WTC bomb plot? I, for one, find the evidence on those scores to be overwhelming, whatever Bush or Cheney might say.

and

FBI officials...contended the bureau had already exhaustively investigated the theory that Yousef was working for Iraqi intelligence—and found no evidence to support it. The authors conflate Iraqi involvement in the 1993 WTC plot with Yousef working for Iraqi intelligence--as if absence-of-evidence of the latter disproves the former.

Andrew:

Take as much time as you like, though I would note if you reply to it in-depth later than next week that I will likely not be able to reply to it for the better part of the summer.

As far as your issues:

1. Read Part 2, I readily acknowledge that Chalabi is a liar and a fraud. I simply don't accept that he was responsible for every single intelligence error or claim that was made prior to the war in contrast to your own apparent position. The only reason that I cited him in this particular instance was because the document being referenced in question had been authenticated by a US official, an official whom, I might add, there is no proof was either a neocon or one of Chalabi's trained seals. All of that is entirely speculative, which is one of the reasons why I would argue that you and Abu Frank are more or less engaging in the practice of berating my own speculation while upholding your own. I think that there's a term for that type of argumentation best referred to as a glass house.

2. The same can be argued from other US government sources (most of them entirely anonymous) that seek to refute assertions of Iraq collusion. You have anonymous officials that support the opinion that there was no collusion and I have anonymous officials which claim that there were. As I noted, readers can look at both sets of officials and then decide for themselves who to believe. The same can be said of Vice President Cheney.

3. I think that Scott pretty much dealt with your argument concerning conspiracy theories and methodologies. Pete Stanley, who has worked extensively with me in regard to Mylroie, Yousef, and KSM, wrote up a lengthy e-mail that more or less rebuts the attempt to undercut Mylroie's argument in the Newsweek piece that you cited that I will be more than happy to post or forward to you at his acquiesce. I would also note that Mylroie does not hold that Yousef is an Iraqi as Isikoff and Hosenball assert, which goes back to whole issue of me placing a lot more credulity to these attempts to debunk her theories if those involved would go to the basic effort of representing them properly to begin with.

"Crank" and "liar" do not substitute for reasoned analysis.

Dan

"...e-mail that more or less rebuts the attempt to undercut Mylroie's argument in the Newsweek piece that you cited that I will be more than happy to post or forward to you at his acquiesce."

Yeah, go ahead. I'd like to make this clear - while I dispute some of the material in the (link) Newsweek story, which were highlighted in the (link) Intel Wire story I specifically cited in my email, I don't take the position that this proves Mylroie's hypothesis. That is, I take the position that her detractors a wrong, but that doesn't prove she's right.

My main poinnt is that a lot of the Mylroie debunking is pretty thin gruel.

A few general remarks.

(Andrew J. Lazarus) I need a few days to assemble a proper comment, and in any case, I'm not sure I could outdo Abu Frank in source-checking.

Of course, I'm looking forward to Andrew's comments; and of course, I'm not trying to preempt them, just to take care of some scut work in the interim.

Lots of criticism . . . but little if any credible counter-evidence . . .

Right. As I said, I was not attempting an adequate reply. This is just a first step: a critical review of your evidence and your handling of it (and incomplete at that). For an adequate reply, one would need to go on to complete the review of evidence, reassess your case in light of that review, undertake an independent survey of the evidence, and develop a counter-case. I certainly don't have time to do all that, but I'll do what I can.

With regard to al-Yawm al-Aakher, I would note that you have not disproved the story I linked but rather attacked the messenger . . . if you possess information suggesting that the document in question was not authentic . . . if you have information suggesting that what Cheney stated concerning Yassin was untrue or inaccurate . . .

The common thread in those remarks is your inability or refusal to weigh evidence, when that would be inconvenient to your case. You "readily acknowledge that Chalabi is a liar and a fraud", but you don't draw the appropriate conclusion, that INC-sourced evidence serving INC ends is virtually worthless. As notorious as Chalabi's mendacity is Cheney's systematic misjudgement of whatever pertains to the case for the Iraq war; again, his assertions re Yassin are worthless as evidence (if you wish to dispute this assessment . . . well, I'd consider it very favourable ground for debate). Finally, if al Yawm al Aakher is (as it appears) in the habit of reporting fantastical fabrications as fact, then of course its reports must be heavily discounted.

A little more on this last. You say "If you want to rule out every Arab paper that reports stories of the nature of those which you describe then ultimately one is going to be placed in the position of not believing anything the Arab press prints." This assessment of the Arab press seems implausibly sweeping -- more plausible is Abu Aardvark's more nuanced judgement that "a fairly typical tabloid . . . in Arab countries usually . . . would happily publish sensational news without much concern for accuracy" -- but if indeed you believe that every Arab paper reports "stories of that nature", then indeed you should draw the appropriate conclusion and discount them heavily, and your explicit refusal to do so is indefensible.

Abu Frank:

Point taken with regard to your adequate reply, but please understand my reluctance to take some of your criticism as seriously as I otherwise might when you berate my own use of speculation and deduction and then proceed to engage in your own - for example, your claim, parroted by Andrew, that the official that authenticated the Chalabi document was one of his sinister neocon conspirators, for which there is no evidence whatsoever.

The common thread in those remarks is your inability or refusal to weigh evidence, when that would be inconvenient to your case.

I don't regard it as such. I am providing evidence, some of it deductive, some it speculative, some of it out in the open, that supports a certain perspective. I freely acknowledged that there are alternative means of interpretation both in the initial post as well as in the comments section. You dispute either my evidence or my conclusions. Fair enough. However, especially when we're dealing with things like documents and you are asserting that it had to be a neocon that authenticated the document in question, I don't think that it's all that unreasonable to ask you to more or less put up or shut up, as this is the same thing that you are demanding of me with respect to my own claims.

You "readily acknowledge that Chalabi is a liar and a fraud", but you don't draw the appropriate conclusion, that INC-sourced evidence serving INC ends is virtually worthless.

And why is it worthless? Because the claims of the INC defectors have not panned out or were not authentic. Hence the reason why the only piece of evidence that I cited has to do with a document that had already been authenticated by a US official. I think you're relying on the genetic fallacy to discredit this particular piece of evidence, which here again is not how one goes about evaluating whether or not the document in question is genuine. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.

As notorious as Chalabi's mendacity is Cheney's systematic misjudgement of whatever pertains to the case for the Iraq war; again, his assertions re Yassin are worthless as evidence

I think you're again relying on the genetic fallacy to try to discredit Cheney with respect to Yassin. It does not follow that Cheney being wrong with respect to the war in Iraq also means that he was wrong with respect to Yassin.

(if you wish to dispute this assessment . . . well, I'd consider it very favourable ground for debate).

Depends on what kind of assessment that your advancing, are we talking about the official who authenticated the document being a neocon, Chalabi being a liar, Cheney being wrong on Iraq, Cheney being wrong on Yassin (or all of the above as I expect may be the case), ect. I can't enter into a debate without knowing what it is we're talking about here.

Finally, if al Yawm al Aakher is (as it appears) in the habit of reporting fantastical fabrications as fact, then of course its reports must be heavily discounted.

Except when there are other pieces of evidence which appear to concurrently support the general account of the story in question. This appears to be one of those situations, which leads credibility to the account contained therein.

little more on this last. You say "If you want to rule out every Arab paper that reports stories of the nature of those which you describe then ultimately one is going to be placed in the position of not believing anything the Arab press prints." This assessment of the Arab press seems implausibly sweeping -- more plausible is Abu Aardvark's more nuanced judgement that "a fairly typical tabloid . . . in Arab countries usually . . . would happily publish sensational news without much concern for accuracy" -- but if indeed you believe that every Arab paper reports "stories of that nature", then indeed you should draw the appropriate conclusion and discount them heavily, and your explicit refusal to do so is indefensible.

Two points.

1. I was engaging in hyperbole with my statement regarding the whole of the Arab press, I'll try to be clearer next time.

2. The Arab press, to put it quite frankly, does not accept the same standards of journalism as they are generally regarded here in the West. There are a whole hosts of reasons for this, but the result is that a large number of Arab publications have, at one point or another, carried some extremely nutty stories of one type or another. Not relying upon them at all would deprive me of a valuable source of information so I hope you'll understand if I am reluctant to take so drastic an action on this count. I certainly don't place Arab reporting on par with those of Western news sources and I strongly suspect that neither do you. The link you supplied to Abu Aardvark doesn't appear to work - I just slogged through his whole Iraq category and couldn't find the quote referenced so I can't comment any further in regard to his evaluation of al-Yawm al-Aakher.

B. Raman has a new article on Zarqawi.

Interesting piece.

I've noted that the Musharraf denunciation in the Berg video isn't getting near as much play as it should in the international press. Raman also says that Zarqawi was associated with al-Tawhid whereas I was under the understanding that he ran it.

Other points of interest:

- This is the first I've seen any mention of a Zarqawi trip to Europe before going to Afghanistan, I always thought that he fled to Afghanistan after his failed Millennium Plot in Amman.

- Clearer picture of Zarqawi's involvement with the LeJ, which definitely moves them up as the likely culprits of the Ashura Massacre. If the Indian intel concerning the LeJ being used as an Iraqi proxy is accurate, this could well explain how he was able to end up in Baghdad when he did.

- This is the first I've heard of the HuM and JeM having an anti-Shi'ite bent to them. I always thought they tried to stay out the sectarian warfare in Pakistan.

- Raman basically says that Zarqawi is working (or running) International Front ops out of Iraq with the LeJ, HuMA, and JeM. We know at least that a lot of the international brigades of the Kashmiri jihadis have ended up in Iraq, Raman even wrote a paper to that effect after the Ashura Massacre.

One recurring point that seems to be showing up in a lot of the reports from South Asia these days is that the LeT is picking up slack for al-Qaeda within the International Front since so much of the latter's surviving leadership has been forced underground or into Iran. That's an issue that we need to press Musharraf to act on as much as possible.

Much obliged for the link, Mitch, this was a nice catch.

Dan Darling:

A dingo ate a line out of my last post. Obviously, most if it (like all of this) is in reply to you not to Andrew Lazarus.

Anyhow; moving on from your failure to weigh evidence to your frequent misrepresentation of its content:

Regarding the capture of the terrorist training camp in question, you appear to be correct as far as the dates are concerned and it would seem that I have made a chronological error in this regard.

What you conceal in this admission, is that your "chronological error" led you to confuse two separate facilities, and to claim a report on one (on the outskirts of Baghdad) as confirmation for stories about another (Salman Pak).

As for the Independent article not mentioning Zarqawi or al-Qaeda operatives in Baghdad, I honestly have to wonder what you're reading . . .

Clue: I'm reading what the article actually says, rather than a mishmash of its text and your preconceptions.

You claimed it reported a particular kind of evidence for a Baghdad cell, "intercepted phone calls between al-Qaeda operatives near the Syrian border and in Baghdad". That's misleading in one respect; the operative in question is identified as a Zarqawi deputy. While you (and the Independent journalist) are entitled to your opinion that Zarqawi is al Qaeda, you're also aware that that claim is widely disputed. Intellectual honesty would compel you to acknowledge that the identification of the operative as al Qaeda is not an observed fact, but relies on your Zarqawi-al-Qaeda theory.

Also misleading are your references to "phone calls" by "operatives" when the article reports just one call by just one operative.

More importantly, in other respects your claim is not just misleading but untruthful.

You claim that the article reports calls between operatives "near the Syrian border and in Baghdad". The article doesn't indicate whether the call it reports (which was indeed made from near the Syrian border) was made to Baghdad, or elsewhere in Iraq, or to some other country.

You claim that the article verifies the existence of "the cell that was located in Baghdad". In fact, the article merely says that under duress, the operative "revealed that Zarqawi was operating a cell out of Iraq". As I trust you understand, the difference between Iraq and Baghdad is a material one, especially when a large part of Iraq -- including the location where the operative was actually found -- was at the time outside Saddam's control. (I leave for another occasion, comment on the dubious accuracy of information extracted under duress.)

In your later comment (May 13, 2004 06:47 AM) you remark, accurately, that the article juxtaposes the operative's evidence with certain assertions made by Secretary Powell in his notorious UNSC presentation. Given the likewise notorious use of misleading juxtaposition in President Bush's speeches insinuating without positively affirming a connection between the "War on Terror" and the proposed attack on Iraq; and given the evident reliance of the Independent article on US intelligence sources, to base any inferences on the juxtaposition here amounts to wilful self-deception. You would have us infer that, if the evidence cited shows a cell in Iraq, and Powell claims the existence of a cell in Baghdad, then because "the article . . . deals . . . with the evidence that Powell utilized", we should accept that as evidence for a cell in Baghdad. On the contrary: you should take note that Powell's claims exceeded the evidence adduced in their support; you should take care not let the justaposition of an assertion about a cell in Baghdad, and evidence for a cell in Iraq, bamboozle you into imagining the existence of evidence for a cell in Baghdad.

As for the anonymous official's speculation that "the Iraqi government might have ordered Zarqawi killed", that does indeed suggest that parts of the US government sincerely believed that Zarqawi was in an area under Saddam's control; it's not primary evidence that that belief was more accurate than any other of Powell's assertions in that lamentable address.

My comment stands regarding the links between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda concerning the oil for food program.

The sooner you let it fall, the better for your credibility. Or more specifically, the sooner you drop those parts of your comment that depend upon misrepresentation of your source:

You claim of three entities, Asat Trust, Al Taqwa, and Delta Oil both that they are "known to serve as fronts for al-Qaeda financing" and that they "appear to have directly profited from the . . . UN oil for food program". From the source report, it appears that two of these (Asat and Al Taqwa) but not the third (Delta) have indeed been identified by the USG as Al Qaeda financiers; while one of them (Delta) but not the other two (Asat and Al Taqwa) were customers for Iraqi oil. So:

  • Your claim that Delta Oil is an known Al Qaeda front is a misrepresentation of the evidence;
  • your claim that Asat Trust profited directly from the Oil for Food program is a misrepresentation;
  • your claim that Al Taqwa profited directly is a misrepresentation.

With those misrepresentations removed, the number of entities that are both "known Al Qaeda fronts" and Oil for Food beneficiaries falls from three to zero.

In your later comment (May 13, 2004 06:47 AM) you claim (without acknowledging the shift in your position) that Asat Trust and Al Taqwa profited not directly but indirectly (Asat channeling funds from Delta and Galp, another Iraqi oil purchaser, to Al Taqwa). You acknowledge that as concerns Al Taqwa, this is speculation; as concerns Asat, you present it as fact, although a reading of the source article shows that it is speculation also. Once again, you misrepresent your source.

Now this speculation actually seems quite reasonable, certainly worthy of the investigation it appears to be receiving; but for the time being, speculation it remains. The USG has designated Asat as an Al Qaeda financier; Asat claims to have been wrongly targeted "because it once represented the Islamic bank Al Taqwa in a small real estate deal in Switzerland"; absent other information, both claims deserve to be treated with suspicion (regarding the value of the USG's say-so in this matter, it should suffice to recall the Al Barakat fiasco).

Perhaps it's no great concern to you to distinguish between the various propositions that you're convinced of, the ones that your sources actually affirm and the conclusions that you've leaped to therefrom; but then, the readers of your articles need to be aware that the boundary between fact and speculation isn't necessarily where it seems to be, and that your accounts of your sources frequently misrepresent them.

[Again, if anyone cares to affirm the accuracy of Powell's UNSC address, or the solidity of the USG's case against Al Barakat, I should welcome the opportunity to debate on such favourable ground.]

Abu Frank:

What you conceal in this admission, is that your "chronological error" led you to confuse two separate facilities, and to claim a report on one (on the outskirts of Baghdad) as confirmation for stories about another (Salman Pak).

I note that you place chronological error in scare quotes, if you're going to regard me as blatantly dishonest then by all means please say so and stop beating around the bush. My reasoning for confusing the two facilities has to do with the fact that I was only aware of one facility that could be classified as a terrorist training camp around Baghdad, that being Salman Pak. As a result, unaware of the chronological error that I have made, I read the story and assumed that the facility in question was Salman Pak. Whether or not you believe this concerning my motives is up to you.

While you (and the Independent journalist) are entitled to your opinion that Zarqawi is al Qaeda, you're also aware that that claim is widely disputed. Intellectual honesty would compel you to acknowledge that the identification of the operative as al Qaeda is not an observed fact, but relies on your Zarqawi-al-Qaeda theory.

Intellectual honesty does not require me to acknowledge counter-arguments that I do not believe to be credible, though for whatever it's worth I acknowledged this in the second part of my reply to Andrew. And the belief that Zarqawi is an al-Qaeda leader is hardly my own belief, nor is it merely a belief held solely by the current administration. If you want, I will be quite happy to provide you with any number of quotes to this effect by non-American officials, experts, and even terrorists themselves. That you consider this to be "widely disputed" for reasons I do not fully understand is irrelevant - I freely acknowledged that there alternative ways of viewing the information.

You claimed it reported a particular kind of evidence for a Baghdad cell, "intercepted phone calls between al-Qaeda operatives near the Syrian border and in Baghdad". That's misleading in one respect; the operative in question is identified as a Zarqawi deputy.

The operative in question is also communicating with another al-Qaeda operative, which I submit to have been in Baghdad, hence the plural in the use of operatives. There were evidently intercepted phone calls made from the Baghdad cell to other al-Qaeda operatives (see the NYT CIA assessment), but you're probably right that I should have been clearer and stated "phone call" rather than phone calls in this particular instance. Ultimately, however, I think that is probably more of an issue of semantics than the real issue of whether or not the Baghdad cell existed, though we apparently have one of its members in custody.

The article doesn't indicate whether the call it reports (which was indeed made from near the Syrian border) was made to Baghdad, or elsewhere in Iraq, or to some other country.

Indeed. Here again, I relied upon the juxtaposition of the article's discussion of Zarqawi's cell in Iraq to make a deduction, which you take me to task on so let us just cut to the chase ...

In your later comment (May 13, 2004 06:47 AM) you remark, accurately, that the article juxtaposes the operative's evidence with certain assertions made by Secretary Powell in his notorious UNSC presentation. Given the likewise notorious use of misleading juxtaposition in President Bush's speeches insinuating without positively affirming a connection between the "War on Terror" and the proposed attack on Iraq; and given the evident reliance of the Independent article on US intelligence sources, to base any inferences on the juxtaposition here amounts to wilful self-deception.

Ignoring that if Iraq was indeed connected to al-Qaeda that such an insinuation would not in of itself be unappropriate ...

You would have us infer that, if the evidence cited shows a cell in Iraq, and Powell claims the existence of a cell in Baghdad, then because "the article . . . deals . . . with the evidence that Powell utilized", we should accept that as evidence for a cell in Baghdad. On the contrary: you should take note that Powell's claims exceeded the evidence adduced in their support; you should take care not let the justaposition of an assertion about a cell in Baghdad, and evidence for a cell in Iraq, bamboozle you into imagining the existence of evidence for a cell in Baghdad.

I presume that Powell had access to a greater degree of evidence than just one source in this regard. More to the point, as I noted earlier, according to a number of other sources I linked there is far more evidence than the assertions of just one man with regard to the existence of the Baghdad cell, hence the reason as to why Powell's claims exceeded those of the deputy in question.

As for the anonymous official's speculation that "the Iraqi government might have ordered Zarqawi killed", that does indeed suggest that parts of the US government sincerely believed that Zarqawi was in an area under Saddam's control; it's not primary evidence that that belief was more accurate than any other of Powell's assertions in that lamentable address.

In particular with regard to the particular section of Powell's presentation dealing with Zarqawi, I would point out that you have yet to debunk anything that Powell stated in this regard. If you wish to take issue with his claims in this particular aspect of the presentation, by all means do so.

Now, it is very late and I do not have an adequate amount of time to address the section dealing with the UN for food program so please allow me the honor of continuing this discussion at a later date, likely sometime on Saturday as my time online tomorrow will be extremely limited. In the meantime, I am somewhat curious about your comment concerning al-Barakat, as I've seen numerous articles that continue to list it as a source of al-Qaeda financing well into 2004, including several bemoaning the loss of al-Barakat's services or the freezing of its assets. Was this a recent development, or are these articles simply outdated?

Perhaps it's no great concern to you to distinguish between the various propositions that you're convinced of, the ones that your sources actually affirm and the conclusions that you've leaped to therefrom; but then, the readers of your articles need to be aware that the boundary between fact and speculation isn't necessarily where it seems to be, and that your accounts of your sources frequently misrepresent them.

It is for that precise reason that I link to the various sources that I use in my blogs - that way, if anyone, such as yourself, takes issue with my analyses (which are titled as such for a reason) they can review the evidence and come to their own conclusions with regard to whether or not . Or to put it another way, those links are there for a reason, otherwise I would simply resort to writing in standard editorial form and entirely avoid sourcing my information. It is up to the reader to decide, as you yourself have, whether or not I am misrepresenting the information. To put it another way, I prefer not to insult the intelligence of my readers by assuming that they're too stupid to follow hyperlinks.

Abu Frank:

What you conceal in this admission, is that your "chronological error" led you to confuse two separate facilities, and to claim a report on one (on the outskirts of Baghdad) as confirmation for stories about another (Salman Pak).

I note that you place chronological error in scare quotes, if you're going to regard me as blatantly dishonest then by all means please say so and stop beating around the bush. My reasoning for confusing the two facilities has to do with the fact that I was only aware of one facility that could be classified as a terrorist training camp around Baghdad, that being Salman Pak. As a result, unaware of the chronological error that I have made, I read the story and assumed that the facility in question was Salman Pak. Whether or not you believe this concerning my motives is up to you.

While you (and the Independent journalist) are entitled to your opinion that Zarqawi is al Qaeda, you're also aware that that claim is widely disputed. Intellectual honesty would compel you to acknowledge that the identification of the operative as al Qaeda is not an observed fact, but relies on your Zarqawi-al-Qaeda theory.

Intellectual honesty does not require me to acknowledge counter-arguments that I do not believe to be credible, though for whatever it's worth I acknowledged this in the second part of my reply to Andrew. And the belief that Zarqawi is an al-Qaeda leader is hardly my own belief, nor is it merely a belief held solely by the current administration. If you want, I will be quite happy to provide you with any number of quotes to this effect by non-American officials, experts, and even terrorists themselves. That you consider this to be "widely disputed" for reasons I do not fully understand is irrelevant - I freely acknowledged that there alternative ways of viewing the information.

You claimed it reported a particular kind of evidence for a Baghdad cell, "intercepted phone calls between al-Qaeda operatives near the Syrian border and in Baghdad". That's misleading in one respect; the operative in question is identified as a Zarqawi deputy.

The operative in question is also communicating with another al-Qaeda operative, which I submit to have been in Baghdad, hence the plural in the use of operatives. There were evidently intercepted phone calls made from the Baghdad cell to other al-Qaeda operatives (see the NYT CIA assessment), but you're probably right that I should have been clearer and stated "phone call" rather than phone calls in this particular instance. Ultimately, however, I think that is probably more of an issue of semantics than the real issue of whether or not the Baghdad cell existed, though we apparently have one of its members in custody.

The article doesn't indicate whether the call it reports (which was indeed made from near the Syrian border) was made to Baghdad, or elsewhere in Iraq, or to some other country.

Indeed. Here again, I relied upon the juxtaposition of the article's discussion of Zarqawi's cell in Iraq to make a deduction, which you take me to task on so let us just cut to the chase ...

In your later comment (May 13, 2004 06:47 AM) you remark, accurately, that the article juxtaposes the operative's evidence with certain assertions made by Secretary Powell in his notorious UNSC presentation. Given the likewise notorious use of misleading juxtaposition in President Bush's speeches insinuating without positively affirming a connection between the "War on Terror" and the proposed attack on Iraq; and given the evident reliance of the Independent article on US intelligence sources, to base any inferences on the juxtaposition here amounts to wilful self-deception.

Ignoring that if Iraq was indeed connected to al-Qaeda that such an insinuation would not in of itself be unappropriate ...

You would have us infer that, if the evidence cited shows a cell in Iraq, and Powell claims the existence of a cell in Baghdad, then because "the article . . . deals . . . with the evidence that Powell utilized", we should accept that as evidence for a cell in Baghdad. On the contrary: you should take note that Powell's claims exceeded the evidence adduced in their support; you should take care not let the justaposition of an assertion about a cell in Baghdad, and evidence for a cell in Iraq, bamboozle you into imagining the existence of evidence for a cell in Baghdad.

I presume that Powell had access to a greater degree of evidence than just one source in this regard. More to the point, as I noted earlier, according to a number of other sources I linked there is far more evidence than the assertions of just one man with regard to the existence of the Baghdad cell, hence the reason as to why Powell's claims exceeded those of the deputy in question.

As for the anonymous official's speculation that "the Iraqi government might have ordered Zarqawi killed", that does indeed suggest that parts of the US government sincerely believed that Zarqawi was in an area under Saddam's control; it's not primary evidence that that belief was more accurate than any other of Powell's assertions in that lamentable address.

In particular with regard to the particular section of Powell's presentation dealing with Zarqawi, I would point out that you have yet to debunk anything that Powell stated in this regard. If you wish to take issue with his claims in this particular aspect of the presentation, by all means do so.

Now, it is very late and I do not have an adequate amount of time to address the section dealing with the UN for food program so please allow me the honor of continuing this discussion at a later date, likely sometime on Saturday as my time online tomorrow will be extremely limited. In the meantime, I am somewhat curious about your comment concerning al-Barakat, as I've seen numerous articles that continue to list it as a source of al-Qaeda financing well into 2004, including several bemoaning the loss of al-Barakat's services or the freezing of its assets. Was this a recent development, or are these articles simply outdated?

Perhaps it's no great concern to you to distinguish between the various propositions that you're convinced of, the ones that your sources actually affirm and the conclusions that you've leaped to therefrom; but then, the readers of your articles need to be aware that the boundary between fact and speculation isn't necessarily where it seems to be, and that your accounts of your sources frequently misrepresent them.

It is for that precise reason that I link to the various sources that I use in my blogs - that way, if anyone, such as yourself, takes issue with my analyses (which are titled as such for a reason) they can review the evidence and come to their own conclusions with regard to whether or not my conclusion is accurate. Or to put it another way, those links are there for a reason, otherwise I would simply resort to writing in standard editorial form and entirely avoid sourcing my information. It is up to the reader to decide, as you yourself have, whether or not I am misrepresenting the information. To put it another way, I prefer not to insult the intelligence of my readers by assuming that they're too stupid to follow hyperlinks.

Dan Darling:

. . . you berate my own use of speculation and deduction . . .

Certainly not; I berate your passing off speculation as fact.

your claim . . . that the official that authenticated the Chalabi document was one of his sinister neocon conspirators . . . you are asserting that it had to be a neocon that authenticated the document in question . . .

Well, no. Actually I said "Which need mean no more than that one of Chalabi's neocon collaborators in deceit -- collaborated with Chalabi in this deceit" (emphasis added).

To expand: When the Gertz and Scarborough Washington Times (the original publisher of the report, now available only elsewhere) sought (or was volunteered) comment on the document in question, from where in the USG might they have got it? Maybe from intelligence professionals in the CIA or DIA or elsewhere; maybe from the ideologues amongst the Pentagon civilians or in the Office of the Vice President (this much is not fact, but reasonable surmise). In the former case, the "authentication" is worth something, in the latter, nothing.

Given that it was a lot easier to get an INC claim endorsed by the latter group, one might reasonably speculate that that is where they did get it; but that is speculation not fact; possibly (e.g. by a consideration of Gertz's and Scarborough's affinities and sources) it might be improved into surmise or inference; for the time being, however, all we know is that the endorsement you tout may quite possibly be valuable and may quite possibly be worthless.

. . .if you wish to dispute this assessment . . . well, I'd consider it very favourable ground for debate).

Depends on what kind of assessment that your advancing . . .

Of "Cheney's systematic misjudgement of whatever pertains to the case for the Iraq war".

The link you supplied to Abu Aardvark doesn't appear to work . . .

Works for me; if not for you, see his post "Iraqi payroll, again" of 2004-01-29. But you won't find there any comment specifically on Al Yawm, just the generalisation I quoted together with an application to Al Muda.

Not relying upon [Arab papers] at all would deprive me of a valuable source of information . . .

(1) I said "discount heavily" not "ignore". (2) No one (accepting your disclaimer) is claiming that all Arab papers are unreliable, only that many are. (3) That being so, one needs to assess their reliability individually. (4) My own (monoglot, unscholarly, google-based, MEMRI-infested) search turned up rubbish from Al Yawm pretty quickly. I don't make any inferences from that to the reliability of say Al Hayat or Az Zaman. (5) It's severely unimpressive when a zillion warblogger sites suddenly tout an Al Yawm report that happens to suit their case, without the least knowledge of what Al Yawm might be or the least investigation of its record. (6) Evidently, you have the resources to do better, if you care to.

Hey, am I the only one who believes that the fact that James Woolsey's mission to Wales was unsuccessful blows a particularly wide hole in Madame Mylroie's fantasies?

Fingerprints don't lie.

Abu Frank:

Certainly not; I berate your passing off speculation as fact.

Here again, this is why I provide links to my various assertions and conclusions - so that anyone who takes issue with my statements has the opportunity to look at the evidence themselves and come to another conclusion.

When the Gertz and Scarborough Washington Times (the original publisher of the report, now available only elsewhere) sought (or was volunteered) comment on the document in question, from where in the USG might they have got it? Maybe from intelligence professionals in the CIA or DIA or elsewhere; maybe from the ideologues amongst the Pentagon civilians or in the Office of the Vice President (this much is not fact, but reasonable surmise). In the former case, the "authentication" is worth something, in the latter, nothing.

I did some Google searching on this one and it seems that the document that was reported in the Washington Times was the same one which Chalabi presented during his appearance on 60 minutes back on March 7. CBS ran it by the DIA and they say it's legitimate. I also have some questions now because there appears to be some question as to the date on the Iraqi document. The one CBS News was provided was dated March 28, 1992, while the Washington Times version of the document says 1993.

To expand: When the Gertz and Scarborough Washington Times (the original publisher of the report, now available only elsewhere) sought (or was volunteered) comment on the document in question, from where in the USG might they have got it? Maybe from intelligence professionals in the CIA or DIA or elsewhere; maybe from the ideologues amongst the Pentagon civilians or in the Office of the Vice President (this much is not fact, but reasonable surmise). In the former case, the "authentication" is worth something, in the latter, nothing.

Given that it was a lot easier to get an INC claim endorsed by the latter group, one might reasonably speculate that that is where they did get it; but that is speculation not fact; possibly (e.g. by a consideration of Gertz's and Scarborough's affinities and sources) it might be improved into surmise or inference; for the time being, however, all we know is that the endorsement you tout may quite possibly be valuable and may quite possibly be worthless.

I assume the office of the vice president as well as civilians at the Pentagon would have access to intelligence information as far as whether or not the document in question is genuine, why would their authentication of the document then be considered worthless? I think you're here again falling back on the genetic fallacy with represent to argumentation.

As far as the possibility that the document in question is in fact accurate, I think that you may be making a category mistake here as far as what this blog was intended to be. I have freely acknowledged that there alternative interpretations of the data in question and that this is mine own viewpoint with regard to the situation and the evidence that went into formulating that viewpoint. It is ultimately up to the reader to determine whether or not my conclusions are warranted or accurate. My entire "But Can You Prove Any of This?" section of the blog was specifically intended to address this.

Of "Cheney's systematic misjudgement of whatever pertains to the case for the Iraq war."

I see. I trust you'll understand if I decline to take the considerable time and effort that would go into defending Cheney against such charges would entail. My principle purpose here is to respond to Andrew's original statement on Iraq, not to defend the person of the vice president.

Works for me; if not for you, see his post "Iraqi payroll, again" of 2004-01-29. But you won't find there any comment specifically on Al Yawm, just the generalisation I quoted together with an application to Al Muda.

Understood. I found the post in question and most of that squares with my own impressions as far as the Arab world is concerned. This does not, however, prevent them from also reporting the truth.

(1) I said "discount heavily" not "ignore". (2) No one (accepting your disclaimer) is claiming that all Arab papers are unreliable, only that many are. (3) That being so, one needs to assess their reliability individually. (4) My own (monoglot, unscholarly, google-based, MEMRI-infested) search turned up rubbish from Al Yawm pretty quickly. I don't make any inferences from that to the reliability of say Al Hayat or Az Zaman. (5) It's severely unimpressive when a zillion warblogger sites suddenly tout an Al Yawm report that happens to suit their case, without the least knowledge of what Al Yawm might be or the least investigation of its record. (6) Evidently, you have the resources to do better, if you care to.

1. Point noted.

2. I actually think there are a fair number of people who would in fact claim that, but that it doesn't just go on a paper-by-paper but rather on a story-by-story basis as far as reliability are concerned.

3. Like I said, a lot of this stuff needs to be evaluated on a story-by-story basis. Even the three standard reliable Arab papers like al-Hayat, al-Quds al-Arabi, and al-Sharq al-Awsat tend to get more than a little loopy when it comes to the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don't have the links off-hand, but take a look back into stories from the beginning of the Intifada and Operation Defensive Shield and you should find a fair bit of material to go off of.

4. I was unaware of the al-Yawm claims regarding the alleged plan to resettle Jews in Iraq, though I had seen the 20,000 saboteurs claims. I didn't consider that insufficient to discredit the paper as a source since it all comes back to the issue of who confirmed the information to them - jihadi propaganda outlets regularly carry any number of claims as to the thousands of US soldiers in Afghanistan, claims that unfortunately made their way into elements of the Indo-Pakistani press.

5. I'm sorry that you find it unimpressive, but I would note that I'm not "a zillion warbloggers" nor do I purport to speak for all of them anymore than I suspect Andrew sees himself as the designated representative of the anti-war movement. Any number of anti-war websites likewise report any number of claims that can later be shown not to be true, but I hold and I suspect you'll agree that these types of issues need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis, as you and I are doing now, rather than a sweeping indictment of a certain segment of bloggers in toto.

6. Indeed. I will try to do better in the future.

asdf/Andrew Lazarus:

Here are the relevant excerpts of the e-mails that Pete Stanley sent me on the fingerprints issue in question.

From the first one:

Two problems with this - First, If Iraqi intelligence is going to invest a lot of time and effort into creating a legend for their agent, they're going to be thorough. If they took Basit out of circulation during the Iraqi
occupation of Kuwait in 1990, they would have thoroughly interrogated Basit before killing him. They would have known everything about him, and they would know that he was fingerprinted in Britian.

Second, and more importantly, Woolsey stands by Mylroie! The man who did this investigation hasn't distanced himself from her ideas, but continues to endorse them. On the back of the dust jacket to Bush vs. the Beltway (published 2003) he says that her claims need to be answered.

From the second one:

Here's the relevent bit from Bush v. Beltway pp. 156-8, which actually describes part of Woolsey's trip:

QUOTE In 1996, I visited the Swansea Institue to meet with two of Karim's
teachers. They had a clear memory of him. Karim had been a quiet,
pleasant, hardworking young man. They did not think that the student they knew was the same man who had emerged in New York a mere three years after graduation from Swansea as the master terrorist known as Ramzi Yousef. They were fairly certain of that, although to be absolutely 100 percent sure, they felt they would have to meet Yousef in prison.

Most compelling is the difference in height...

...Following the 9/11 attacks, moreover, Professor Ken Reid (Swansea's
deputy principal) told the BBC that he was "personally convinced" that Ramzi Yousef "is not our former student." "I am personally convinced," he said, "that our former studend is no longer alive." [Department of Redundancy Department, Ken & Laurie!!]...

...David Rose, a reporter for the British paper The Observer, discussed
the issue with a spokesman for MI-5. The spokesman maintained that there was one piece of information that showed that Yousef and Karim were in fact the same person, but that this evidence was classified and he could not share it; at the same time, he expressed open hostility to U.S. officials who suspected Baghdad was involved in the September 11 attacks. Another source later explained that the British (or some British officials) claimed that latent fingerprints retrieved from material that Karim had left behind at Swansea matched Yousef's fingerprints.

But why was that bit of information so sensitive that it could not be
revealed to Rose? Perhaps because it was not true? A British paper [footnote says Guardian] later quoted another MI-5 source as saying, "The
two sets of fingerprints were entirely different."

After speaking with the MI-5 spokesman, Rose then called the Swansea
Institue and was told that Karim's teachers had been instructed by British
authorities not to talk to anyone about the subject. Nevertheless, Rose was assured, "We stand by what we told Jim Woolsey and Laurie Mylroie" -- that is, that they did not believe that Yousef was the person they had taught. (Woolsey had visited Swansea in early 2001 and was told the same thing I was told.) UNQUOTE

Or at least it describes a trip. If he was dispatched on this mission after 9/11, then he went to Britian twice in '01? Or is Mylroie a little mistaken here? Is Newsweek? Did Mylroie say "early 2001" because the secret post-9/11 mission was supposed to be secret still, and was secret until Clarke (or someone, prolly Clarke) leaked it to Isihosen...?

OK, so now we have a he said/she said situation.

The FBI says it looked into the Basit thing exhaustively and found it wanting (fingerprints matched), but Mylroie and Woolsey still cling to straws.

To wit:

"Justice Department officials tell NEWSWEEK that the results of the Woolsey mission were exactly what the FBI had predicted: that the fingerprints were in fact identical. After the match was made, FBI officials assumed at the time that it had put the Mylroie theory to rest."

By the way, have you ever actually seen Woolsey speak? The dude is cuckoo for cocoa puffs! He still thinks there's gonna be a "Hashemite restoration" in Iraq, despite the fact that Iraq violently kicked out the Hashemites in 1958, and doesn't want them back.

Maybe you'll accuse me of making an ad hominem attack here. To which I will respond that credibility of sources is a big part of this game. Someone who is foolish enough to believe the dishonest appraisal of Iraqi history that Ahmed Chalabi whispered in his ear about the Hashemites is likely to believe almost anything, including a loony conspiracy theory that has been soundly rejected by the experts.

Moreover, why on earth would Yusef use an Iraqi passport if he were trying to pretend he wasn't an Iraqi?

Perplexing.

why on earth would Yusef use an Iraqi passport if he were trying to pretend he wasn't an Iraqi?

Perhaps you mean: why would he use an Iraqi passport, if he were trying to pretend he wasn't an Iraqi agent? Because no-one says he's really an Iraqi national. The majority view is that he is Abdul Basit Karim, a Kuwaiti/Pakistani of Baluch ethnicity. The minority view (Mylroie, Woolsey) is that he is an unknown Baluch posing as Basit, which means he probably comes from Pakistan or Iran, where most of the Baluchis live. The significance of the Baluch connection is that Iraq has in the past supported Baluch nationalist organizations, especially in operations against Iran.

Ramzi Yousef used a lot of aliases, from a variety of nationalities. I believe his ticket from Pakistan was under the name "Azan Mohammed"; he applied for political asylum as "Ramzi Yousef" from Iraq; his neighbors in New Jersey knew him as "Rashid" from Iraq; and he left the USA as "Abdul Basit Karim" from Pakistan.

The majority view is that the last identity - a Pakistani Baluch who grew up in Kuwait - is the real one. Now, Mylroie at some point went to Kuwait and went over Basit's files with a Kuwaiti bureaucrat. She concluded that the files had been modified, during Iraq's occupation. (Details here.) Her interpretation is that Basit's records were used to construct an alias for the Baluch agent we know as "Ramzi Yousef". However, the modifications she describes seem to be just as consistent with the possibility that the real-life Basit was already an Iraqi agent. Basit is sometimes alleged to have been a "collaborator" with the Iraqi forces of occupation; I'd like to know more about that.

With respect to the fingerprints, I have to point out that there are three sets of fingerprints involved. There are the fingerprints of the man in jail in Colorado, the fingerprints in Basit's file in Kuwait, and any fingerprints that may remain from Basit's time in Swansea. If Mylroie is right, the Colorado fingerprints match the Kuwait fingerprints, but the Kuwait fingerprints don't match the Swansea fingerprints. So if one reads that "the fingerprints didn't match", that doesn't tell you anything, unless you know which fingerprints they're talking about.

In the bigger picture, we're not just talking about Abdul Basit Karim, but also Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and several other relatives. Mylroie says it's anomalous that at the heart of Al Qaeda we should find a family of terrorist supermen - and it's certainly true that ABK and KSM showed exceptional abilities (with explosives, with spycraft). Her interpretation is that we're dealing with a bunch of Baluch agents, trained by Iraqi intelligence, operating under the identity of a Kuwaiti Baluch family which disappeared during the Iraqi occupation. We have one very significant datum on that family's activities, prior to the Gulf War: KSM's brother Zahed administered Kuwait's contribution to the Afghan jihad, and was a leader in the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood.

So, you have a choice of theories: Iraqi intelligence disappeared a clan of Kuwaiti Islamists, and under cover of their identities waged a terror campaign against the USA. Or, the Kuwaiti Islamists in question joined Al Qaeda and formed the core of its war against the USA, after the USA liberated Kuwait.

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