Jack Kelly: The Saddam link

Media silence on news of Iraq-al Qaida meetings

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The Washington Post has acknowledged in a backhanded way the existence of a story most in the "mainstream" media don't want you to know about.

Jack Kelly is national security writer for the Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio (jkelly@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1476).

"The CIA will ask the Justice Department to investigate the leak of a 16-page classified Pentagon memo that listed and briefly described raw agency intelligence on any relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government and Osama bin Laden's terrorist network," wrote the Post's Walter Pincus.

A copy of the memo was obtained by Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard, who reported on it in the Nov. 24 issue of the conservative magazine.

The Post story emphasized the search for the leaker rather than the content of the memo, as did the Associated Press' brief account of the controversy.

The content of the memo, which was written by Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith to the leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee in response to their questions, is worth more attention than Pincus gave it. It describes a secret relationship between Saddam's regime and al-Qaida that began in 1990 and intensified after the first Gulf war.

The Iraqis provided al-Qaida terrorists with training (particularly in the manufacture and use of biological and chemical weapons), false documents, money and some weapons, and a place to hide out when the heat was on.

In exchange, Osama bin Laden agreed to lay off Saddam (some in al-Qaida regarded his secular regime as nearly as offensive to Allah as the Jews or the Americans); to assist Iraq in smuggling into the country materials prohibited by the United Nations, and to attack some targets of interest to Iraq.

The Bush administration has never claimed that Iraq played a role in the Sept. 11 attacks. Hayes' article indicates there is reason to suspect it did: "The reporting suggests not one meeting but as many as four" between hijack leader Mohamed Atta and Ahmed Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence officer working under diplomatic cover in Prague. "What's more, the [Feith] memo reveals potential financing of Atta's activities by Iraqi intelligence."

It also reports that Ahmed Shakir, an Iraqi believed to be an intelligence officer, smoothed the way of another 9/11 hijacker into Malaysia for a "terror summit" in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000.

Feith summarized raw intelligence data and did not attempt to assess its reliability. R. James Woolsey, CIA director under President Clinton, did: "Anybody who says that there is no working relationship between al-Qaida and Iraqi Intelligence going back to the early '90s -- they can only say that if they're illiterate," Woolsey said. "This is a slam dunk."

The Feith memo is big news. But the news media are treating its contents as if they were insignificant. Compare this with the attention given to the kerfuffle over Bush's statement in his State of the Union address this year that: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

When a left-wing former diplomat failed to find evidence that Saddam had bought "yellowcake" ore in one African country, Niger, the media pack howled that Bush was "lying," even though the British insisted their information was correct.

And so it appears it was, according to another bit of news the "mainstream" media preferred you did not read. "Iraqi agents have been negotiating with criminal gangs in the Democratic Republic of Congo to trade Iraqi military weapons and training for high-grade minerals, possibly including uranium, according to evidence obtained by the Guardian," the left-wing British newspaper reported Sept. 25, 2002.

The American media failed to pick up on the Guardian report. The pattern is clear. Democrats have made "Bush lied" about Iraq their election-year theme, and media will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid publishing information which contradicts it.

"Everybody knows how the press loves to herd itself into a snarling pack to chase the story of the day," wrote Jack Shafer of Slate.com. "Less noticed is the press' propensity to half-close its lids, lick its paws and contemplate its hairballs when confronted with events or revelations that contradict its prejudices."


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