I'm surprised that there's been no mention of this here in the P&C forums.
Here's a taste:
OSAMA BIN LADEN and Saddam Hussein had an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003 that involved training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda--perhaps even for Mohamed Atta--according to a top secret U.S. government memorandum obtained by THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
The memo, dated October 27, 2003, was sent from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith to Senators Pat Roberts and Jay Rockefeller, the chairman and vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. It was written in response to a request from the committee as part of its investigation into prewar intelligence claims made by the administration. Intelligence reporting included in the 16-page memo comes from a variety of domestic and foreign agencies, including the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the National Security Agency. Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources. Some of it is new information obtained in custodial interviews with high-level al Qaeda terrorists and Iraqi officials, and some of it is more than a decade old. The picture that emerges is one of a history of collaboration between two of America's most determined and dangerous enemies.
According to the memo--which lays out the intelligence in 50 numbered points--Iraq-al Qaeda contacts began in 1990 and continued through mid-March 2003, days before the Iraq War began. Most of the numbered passages contain straight, fact-based intelligence reporting, which in
some cases includes an evaluation of the credibility of the source. This reporting is often followed by commentary and analysis.
The relationship began shortly before the first Gulf War. According to reporting in the memo, bin Laden sent "emissaries to Jordan in 1990 to meet with Iraqi government officials." At some unspecified point in 1991, according to a CIA analysis, "Iraq sought Sudan's assistance to establish links to al Qaeda." The outreach went in both directions. According to 1993 CIA reporting cited in the memo, "bin Laden wanted to expand his organization's capabilities through ties with Iraq."
Information about connections between al Qaeda and Iraq was so widespread by early 1999 that it made its way into the mainstream press. A January 11, 1999, Newsweek story ran under this headline: "Saddam + Bin Laden?" The story cited an "Arab intelligence source" with knowledge of contacts between Iraq and al Qaeda. "According to this source, Saddam expected last month's American and British bombing campaign to go on much longer than it did. The dictator believed that as the attacks continued, indignation would grow in the Muslim world, making his terrorism offensive both harder to trace and more effective. With acts of terror contributing to chaos in the region, Turkey, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait might feel less inclined to support Washington. Saddam's long-term strategy, according to several sources, is to bully or cajole Muslim countries into breaking the embargo against Iraq, without waiting for the United Nations to lift if formally."
INTELLIGENCE REPORTS about the nature of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda from mid-1999 through 2003 are conflicting. One senior Iraqi intelligence officer in U.S. custody, Khalil Ibrahim Abdallah, "said that the last contact between the IIS and al Qaeda was in July 1999. Bin Laden wanted to meet with Saddam, he said. The guidance sent back from Saddam's office reportedly ordered Iraqi intelligence to refrain from any further contact with bin Laden and al Qaeda. The source opined that Saddam wanted to distance himself from al Qaeda."
One of the most interesting things to note about the 16-page memo is that it covers only a fraction of the evidence that will eventually be available to document the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda. For one thing, both Saddam and bin Laden were desperate to keep their cooperation secret. (Remember, Iraqi intelligence used liquid paper on an internal intelligence document to conceal bin Laden's name.) For another, few people in the U.S. government are expressly looking for such links. There is no Iraq-al Qaeda equivalent of the CIA's 1,400-person Iraq Survey Group currently searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.
Instead, CIA and FBI officials are methodically reviewing Iraqi intelligence files that survived the three-week war last spring. These documents would cover several miles if laid end-to-end. And they are in Arabic. They include not only connections between bin Laden and Saddam, but also revolting details of the regime's long history of brutality. It will be a slow process.
So Feith's memo to the Senate Intelligence Committee is best viewed as sort of a "Cliff's Notes" version of the relationship. It contains the highlights, but it is far from exhaustive.
One example. The memo contains only one paragraph on Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, the Iraqi facilitator who escorted two September 11 hijackers through customs in Kuala Lumpur. U.S. intelligence agencies have extensive reporting on his activities before and after the September 11 hijacking. That they would include only this brief overview suggests the 16-page memo, extensive as it is, just skims the surface of the reporting on Iraq-al Qaeda connections.
Other intelligence reports indicate that Shakir whisked not one but two September 11 hijackers--Khalid al Midhar and Nawaq al Hamzi--through the passport and customs process upon their arrival in Kuala Lumpur on January 5, 2000. Shakir then traveled with the hijackers to the Kuala Lumpur Hotel where they met with Ramzi bin al Shibh, one of the masterminds of the September 11 plot. The meeting lasted three days. Shakir returned to work on January 9 and January 10, and never again.
Of course, this may not even matter. Like the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin or O.J. Simpson's guilt, some parties will refuse to believe the evidence presented to them. After all, to acknowledge the legitimacy and accuracy of this report would require giving some credit to the Bush Administration for targeting Iraq in the "War on Terror".
And even in the unlikely scenario that the current Administration's critics acknowledge their erroneous position on this aspect of the War, I'm sure they will be even quicker to revive the WMD issue.
Funny that, if the Weekly Standard report is true, the U.S. Intelligence Community has been wrongly (and loudly) crucified for attempting to "connect the dots" on the Iraq-Al Qaeda relationship after being lambasted for failing to do so regarding 9/11.