I spent the better part of Friday slogging through all 521 pages of the report and identifying the relevant sections of it for Michael Ledeen, which is something that I would seriously recommend that anybody who is genuinely interested in what went wrong on the subject of Iraq do as well. Even the partisan hacks. Especially the partisan hacks.
Ledeen is going to have an NRO piece up on a good chunk of this at some point, but in the meantime I thought I'd convey my own impressions of the document with respect to the terrorism aspects of it, seeing how I know far more about terrorism than I do about WMD, as well as perhaps some other things that you might find interesting. Because I'm accessing this report in PDF form, I can't do the whole copy/paste thing to provide quotations so instead I'll be providing page references.
I see Instapundit as well as both the Associated Press and the Washington Post has already beaten me to the punch on this one, but it's a point that needs to be made. Joe Wilson is a liar and not a particularly good one at that. As the report, starting on p. 39 and going through p. 47 very carefully explains, the claims that Wilson during his media blitz and subsequent canonization as a representative of all that is righteous and pure within anti-war circles were every bit as misleading if not factually inaccurate as anything that one may charge that the administration had done. Even more so, I would argue, if only for the fact that he was making claims about a number of issues, for example the forged documents referring to Niger, of which he had no actual knowledge - a very polite way of saying that the man was blowing smoke out his ass.
In conventional anti-war mythology, the name of Wilson's wife was leaked to the press in order to punish him for having "debunked" the administration's claims with respect to Iraq attempting to purchase uranium from Africa. As the report very clearly indicates, this was simply not the case and while it is indeed puzzling why the administration allowed him to go on as long as he did during his 15 minutes of fame without airing some of this information to the public given the considerable damage that he did to the president's reputation during this period.
In any case, Wilson's trip to Africa did not "debunk" the administration position that Iraq was attempting to purchase uranium from Niger - in fact it strengthened this position on the basis of Wilson's claim that an Iraqi delegation had traveled to Niger in 1999 and that Niger officials believed that they were interested in buying uranium.
Oh, and might I add that nowhere in the entire Niger section of the report is there any evidence whatsoever to assert that Michael Ledeen forged the Niger documents, as has been peddled by any number of folks with an axe to grind against the man. No doubt apologies will be pending from all those who have accused him of complicity in this will be pending ...
Most of my own personal attention within the report, as most people can probably find understandable, is based around statements concerning Iraq's ties to al-Qaeda. The report notes on p. 305 the difference of opinion within the CIA between the Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC) and the Office of Near Eastern and South Asian Analysis (NESA) as far as the Iraqi relationship with al-Qaeda that I've written about here before. In other words, the CTC believed (and still does) that there were definite ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda, whereas the NESA is far more skeptical on this count. One might reasonably guess where our pal Mike "Anonymous" is working these days on the basis of his opinion of the relationship.
The CTC position was essentially that a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda developed over time to where it was prior to the war, whereas the NESA saw the contacts as more of a sporadic, wary phenomenon. As I wrote in my last special analysis, the evidence is frequently such in these types of instances where reasonable people can conclude things one way or another entirely without any accusations of warmongering or bad motivations. If these are going to come up every time someone takes a different position on these issues, then we may as well scrap our intelligence services altogether. Feith's office also gets added into the equation on p. 307 and basically states the same as what I've said before on the subject and I would also note the instance of the DIA detailee on p. 308 as well with regards to finding various pieces of information that fell through the bureaucratic cracks in the CIA analysis but were subsequently incorporated into the broader intelligence picture as a direct result of the work of Feith and his people over at the Pentagon. The complaint listed on p. 309 that the CIA (in particular the analysis wing) was relying on requiring "juridical evidence" concerning ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda is an entirely valid one to make with regard to the issue of intelligence. In many cases what you have to go off of is not going to be of the same standard that one would use in a court of law - this is simply the way that intelligence works.
The idea that the CTC, NESA, NSA, and DIA should review its information with what Feith's people had come up with through their alternate means of analysis on p. 310 is likewise entirely reasonable under the circumstances. As the report shows, they compared evidence and there was some disagreements, this is far from the "Feith cooked the intelligence books" claims that have been floating around in the press for the better part of the last 2 years.
The committee is going to evaluate Feith's work in the next phase of its review and given how phenomenonally wrong that the press coverage has been in this particular area (as demonstrated by this report, I would argue) I would strongly recommend that journalists allow the committee to do its work unless they get a chance to actually see or at least read a summary the data that Feith looked at and the conclusions that he reached with respect to issues like Iraq and al-Qaeda. Sounds reasonable enough, yes?
From p. 315-317, we get a nice review of the failed attempts by the Mukhabarat to perpetrate terrorist attacks against US targets during the first Gulf War as well as assassination attempts carried out against Iraqi dissidents and opposition leaders living in Jordan and Iraqi Kurdistan well into the mid-1990s. Of particular interest is p. 316's summary of the Iraqi plans to bomb Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague from 1998-2003, which would tend to rather strongly contradict Richard Clarke's claim that Iraq had not been involved in anti-US terrorism since the failed 1993 plot to assassinate the first President Bush in Kuwait. Page 317 also covers attempts by the Mukhabarat to go after US installations in Turkey and Azerbaijan in late 2002, though I notice they blacked out info on a plot that was actively thwarted.
From p. 317-19, we get a nice recap of a number of known Iraqi proxies ranging from the PLF, 15 May, MEK, Abu Nidal Organization, and the PFLP-GC, though they blacked out the reports concerning Iraq assisting the PFLP-GC in its attacks on Israel during the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada.
Hamas rebuffed the Iraqi overtures to attack the US because they already had their hands full with fighting Israel, whereas Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad were ordered to decline Saddam's overtures at the behest of their Iranian backers. All the same, had the Iraqi efforts in this regard been successful Saddam Hussein would have put together quite a formidable terrorist coalition to aim at the US.
The report, starting on p. 322, goes through what we already know concerning the poor intelligence that the CIA had on both the Iraqi and al-Qaeda leadership as well as a general summary of the ideological differences between the two, including a number of human intelligence reports noting Saddam Hussein's suppression of Wahhabism inside Iraq and his initial efforts to prevent Iraqi youth from joining al-Qaeda. On the al-Qaeda side of the equation, we have contradictory reporting from al-Qaeda leaders now in US custody, with some claiming that the organization hated Saddam Hussein and others claiming that they were more than happy to work with him to fight the United States. My own suspicion would be that the organization's alliance with the Baathists was a rather compartmentalized secret within the network (indeed, I've seen al-Qaeda recruiting videos which refer to Saddam Hussein as a bad Muslim), which is apparently also the way that Ansar al-Islam operated according to a leader within the group now in custody by the name of Qods ("Jerusalem").
The idea of a debate among the al-Qaeda leadership over the wisdom of working with al-Qaeda would seem quite plausible, though it would appear at least that the more pragmatic leaders within the terrorist network won out in the end.
At least some of the censorship that went into the report would appear to be somewhat shifty in my view, since among the detainees being referenced on the al-Qaeda relationship with Iraq are Ibn Sheikh al-Libi and Moammar Ahmed Yousef at the top of p. 324. The p. 324-325 recounting of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's interrogations on the subject of an alliance between Iraq and al-Qaeda also completely contradicts what various opponents of administration policy have attempted to caricature to as far as the press is concerned, as neither man denied the existence of a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda or even stated that the two were blood enemies.
Abu Zubaydah told the CIA that Abu Musab Zarqawi and others were known to have good relationships with the Mukhabarat, but that bin Laden would never ally with the Iraqi regime in the sense of something akin to what Abu Nidal had done in order to retain his operational independence, which tracks exactly with what is stated in the Feith memo.
The second detainee, whose name and statements are blacked out, is none other than Ibn Sheikh al-Libi, the head of al-Qaeda training program in Afghanistan who gave US interrogators a detailed account of how Iraq had trained al-Qaeda in poison gases. Isikoff and Hosenball from Newsweek have attempted to caricature al-Libi as a source of dubious credibility by noting that he has recently changed his story, but I would just note that if that's considered to be the test for credibility we would have long ago thrown out just about everything that any these high-level detainees say.
We also learn quite a bit more about Khalid Sheikh Mohammed with respect to his exact status within al-Qaeda. While I would be interested to note which definition of "al-Qaeda" the CIA is using here (it certainly isn't the International Front) when it claims that Mohammed didn't join the organization until the late 1990s despite his position as among the first of bin Laden's bodyguards circa 1991 and did not assume a position of administration within the group until well after 9/11.
The next section from p. 326 to 329 deals specifically with the meetings between the Iraqi government and al-Qaeda officials as far back as Sudan up into the late 1990s in Afghanistan and the caveats about taking the claims from governments and exile groups opposed to the Iraqi regime at face value are very much to be noted, a far cry from the whole "Chalabi suckered us all" canard that's been floating around the press. The training aspects of the report, beginning on p. 329, notes that there is indeed evidence that Iraq trained al-Qaeda fighters, and while the sources of the reporting concerning Iraq having provided assistance to Project al-Zabadi (al-Qaeda's WMD program) are indeed of varying credibility (of the 12, 2 reports were based on hearsay, 4 were merely accusations, and but the other 6 reports seem to have held up under scrutiny despite all the caveats), there are more than enough of them to have caused considerable worry within the intelligence community. They also blacked out the section that deals specifically with the al-Shifa plant in Sudan on p. 331.
On the issue of Salman Pak from p. 332-333, there appears to be a good deal of smoke there with respect to reports about al-Qaeda fighters being trained there alongside other Iraqi-sponsored terrorist groups since at least 1999, but the CIA censored the final analysis of what exactly was going on at Salman Pak.
The safe haven stuff from p. 334-338 is also quite juicy. A good chunk of it was censored, but it appears that Saddam Hussein issued a standing offer of safehaven for bin Laden in 1999, possibly in response to bin Laden's attempt to see how open the Iraqi government would to such an offer in the summer of 1998 in case he had to flee Afghanistan in the wake of the embassy bombings.
The Iraqi envoy in Afghanistan in 1999 was of course Farouk Hijazi and it seems that he was not authorized to discuss safe haven (which would tend to contradict some reports claiming that bin Laden turned down his offer of it) but instead turned the discussion back to areas of mutual cooperation. All of the stuff on Ansar al-Islam is censored, though the individual referenced on p. 336 who was identified by Ansar al-Islam detainees captured by the PUK as a Mukhabarat associate is none other than Abu Wael. It also appears, judging from the wording of the CIA report on p. 337, that the Mukhabarat could have sought to oppose the al-Qaeda presence in northern Iraq in some fashion but apparently chose not to.
A word on the issue of their being a formal agreement between the two parties, however. In Iran and Syria, for example, one can easily locate the offices of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, PFLP, PFLP-GC, and any number of other nasty organizations. These groups operate openly inside these states with both government sanction and funding, which was, clearly, not what al-Qaeda was doing inside Iraq by all accounts. However, if one considers this the standard by which state sponsorship or harboring of terrorists is to be judged by, I suspect that one will have an extremely difficult time of convincing anyone that Pakistan or Saudi Arabia were ever active in terrorist activities. And if you believe that, well, let's just say that I have a bridge to sell you ...
The information on Zarqawi's stay in Baghdad and medical treatment at the Olympic Hospital is almost completely censored, as is the size and composition of his entourage. The idea that Zarqawi expanded his organization inside Iraq between 2002 and 2003 almost certainly suggests the tacit acquiescence from the Iraqi security forces, whom as earlier reports have noted were quite ruthless in hunting down and eliminating Iraqi Wahhabis believed to constitute a threat to the regime. That last sentence on p. 337 is partially censored, but it's talking about the nature of the support Zarqawi and his entourage would have received from the Iraqi government during his stay in Baghdad, probably a reference to reports that Zarqawi received weaponry from the Mukhabarat during that period.
On the issue of the operational cooperation between Iraq and al-Qaeda that starts on p. 338, the CIA notes that it refrained from asserting such a link between the two entities not because they had anything substantively refuting such a link, but rather because of the nature of poor intelligence on the Iraqi regime. Iraq certainly did not possess command and control over al-Qaeda, which I very much doubt that anyone outside of perhaps Laurie Mylroie and her circle of followers seriously believes. I also very much doubt that one could ever demonstrate that the Taliban ever possessed command and control over al-Qaeda and they were almost certainly doing so.
However, one important element can be found in the middle of p. 339 that is well worth reading, which states that there are provocative elements in the 1993 WTC bombing, the 9/11 attacks, and the Foley assassination which appear to suggest Iraqi involvement in any one of them as well as evidence that runs counter to these beliefs.
This is an important thing to recognize, I would argue, because it means that people who hold to one position or another are not quite the kooks, obstructionists, political hacks, ect. that they've been painted as over the better part of the last several years. I'm not going to spend much time on all three of these because most of the alleged Iraqi connections and evidence against them in these particular because most of this has been known to the general public for some time now with the exception of the Foley assassination.
Unfortunately, the CIA chose to classify most of the commission's conclusions with respect to the nature of Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda are classified, leaving us pretty much in the same position that we were going into all of this, abeit with some new information. However, the report doesn't end there, as p. 350-356 deal with how the intelligence community's HUMINT assets were hampered as far as understanding the nature of Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda, forcing them to rely in many cases on detainee information and foreign government information for their HUMINT understanding of the relationship.
It has likewise become something of a centerpiece of anti-war mythology that the CIA was deliberately pressured by the administration into manipulating intelligence data with respect to the nature of the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda. According to the findings in the report on p. 358, not only did no cooking the books occur but it was not once even attempted! The questioning of analysts on the Iraqi connection to al-Qaeda was, as the ombudsman investigation revealed, quite reasonable under the circumstances. In other words, nobody changed their analysis to conform to administration policy and nobody in the administration ever even sought for them to do so. Feith's office was likewise completely innocent on this count, according to p. 361-375, and apparently the intelligence folks who were present at the meeting in August 2002 in which they suggested additions to the draft of Iraqi Support for Terrorism all stated to the Committee that Feith's people all contributed to discussion, which is rather far cry from Josh Marshall's claim that what they said "didn't pass the laugh test" during his effort to shoot down the Feith memo when it got published in the Weekly Standard.
Unfortunately, the final conclusions of the committee on what the people in Feith's office added to the discussion have all be classified so we don't know anything more than this except to say that they weren't involved in politicizing intelligence or pressuring analysts.
Also, from p. 366-370, we learn that everything that Powell said at the UN Security Council with respect to Iraq and al-Qaeda was vetted through CIA and nothing he said differed very much from anything that the broader intelligence community was saying at around the same time.
No doubt apologies will be forthcoming from all those who have accused the administration and the people in Feith's office of engaging in any number of deplorable behaviors ...
I'll be quite honest and say that most of these strike me as rather polemical in nature and seems more or less designed to set up the next phase of Washington politicking, with both Republican and Democratic senators making claims that, truth be told, are not supported or are in certain cases directly contradicted by the actual text of the document in question. I'll be quite honest and say that if one reads simply the additional views but not the body of the report that they're going to be left with an extremely skewed view as far as what the report actually says or the conclusions that were reached within it on a number of key points.
Everything Powell said at the UN regarding Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda (which is pretty much the same as what President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, and others said going into the war) appears to have reflected the consensus of the broader intelligence community.
Joe Wilson's claims (along with, I suspect, his reputation within Democratic circles) have more or less gone down in flames, as have claims that intelligence analysts were pressured into making certain conclusions. The claim on p. 328 that "Wali Khan" (i.e. Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of Ramzi Yousef's two lieutenants in the proto-9/11 Oplan Bojinka plot) and Jamal al-Fadhl (whose name is blacked out in the last sentence in that paragraph) identified Abu Hajir al-Iraqi (aka Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, a high-ranking al-Qaeda leader who was arrested in the wake of the 1998 embassy bombings and later stabbed a NYC prison guard with a comb in his left eye in an attempted prison break in 2000) as the chief liaison between Iraq and al-Qaeda is sure to keep Mylroie enthusiasts around for quite some time at any rate.
In general, this document is a lot better than that Staff Statement No. 15 that was churned out by the 9/11 commission. One other thing to be mentioned, incidentally, is that this report specifically undercuts some of the 9/11 Commission's key findings with respect to Iraq and al-Qaeda. It cites post-1999 contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda, which the 9/11 commission claims to possess no information on. Perhaps someone should hand the commission members a copy of the Senate Intelligence Committee report?
Also, this demolishes 2 of Richard Clarke's key claims with respect to Iraq: that there was no Iraqi involvement in terrorism post-1993, and that there is no evidence whatsoever of Iraqi support for al-Qaeda. Both of these claims, to put it quite simply, can now be shown to be factually untrue.
As I said, no doubt apologies will pending from all those concerned.
UPDATE: Michael Ledeen's column is up: The Great Intelligence Committee Report: some mysteries remain unsolved