Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 15, 2003
By: Kevin Drum

SADDAM AND AL-QAEDA....Over at the Weekly Standard, Stephen Hayes reports on a top secret memo that outlines in painstaking detail collaboration between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, beginning in 1990 and continuing through mid-March 2003:

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.

Hmmm, Doug Feith. Would that be this Doug Feith?

Virtually everything that has gone wrong in Iraqespecially those matters that Congress is either investigating or is poised to investigateis linked directly to his office. "All roads lead to Feith," noted one knowledgeable administration official this week.

It was his now-defunct Office of Special Plans (OSP) office that is alleged to have collectedoften with the help of the neo-conservatives' favorite Iraqi exile, Ahmed Chalabiand "cooked" the most alarmist pre-war intelligence against Saddam Hussein and then "stovepiped" it to the White House via Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney unvetted by the intelligence agencies.

It was also his office that was in charge of post-war planning and rejected months of work by dozens of Iraqi exiles and Mideast experts in the State Department and the CIA, work that anticipated many of the problems that have wrong-footed the occupation. It also excluded many top Mideast experts from the State Department from playing any role in the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq.

...."Until they get rid of Feith, no one is going to believe that the administration is seriously reassessing its policies," said one Congressional aide, whose boss has been a strong critic of administration policy in Iraq.

Since Feith stands at the very center of the charges that the Bush administration exaggerated prewar intelligence, one might wonder what the professional analysts at the CIA think of the Iraq-al-Qaeda connection. Here's what their October NIE said:

While Bush also spoke of Iraq and al Qaeda having had "high-level contacts that go back a decade," the president did not say -- as the classified intelligence report asserted -- that the contacts occurred in the early 1990s, when Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader, was living in Sudan and his organization was in its infancy. At the time, the report said, bin Laden and Hussein were united primarily by their common hostility to the Saudi Arabian monarchy, according to sources. Bush also did not refer to the report's conclusion that those early contacts had not led to any known continuing high-level relationships between the Iraqi government and al Qaeda, the sources said.

Now, this NIE was written a year ago, and maybe we've gotten lots of new information since then. Maybe Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden really did have lots of close contacts. After all, virtually every regime in the Middle East seems to.

But given his track record, it's awfully hard to figure out why anyone takes Doug Feith seriously anymore. Presumably the Senate Intelligence Committee has also asked the CIA for its opinion on this, and perhaps Hayes can get a leaked copy of their memo too. If it supports Feith's laundry list of allegations, I'll start to take it and Feith a bit more seriously.

Kevin Drum 11:43 AM Permalink | Trackbacks

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