Ten days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President Bush was advised that U.S. intelligence found no credible connection linking the attacks to the regime of Saddam Hussein, or evidence suggesting linkage between Saddam and the al-Qaida terrorist network, according to a published report.
The report, published Tuesday in The National Journal, cites government records, as well as present and former officials with knowledge of the issue. The information in the story, written by National Journal contributor Murray Waas, points to an abiding administration concern for secrecy that extended to keeping information from the Senate committee charged with investigating the matter.
In one of the Journal report's more compelling disclosures, Saddam is said to have viewed al-Qaida as a threat, rather than a potential ally.
The president's daily brief, or PDB, for Sept. 21, 2001, was prepared at the request of President Bush, the Journal reported, who was said to be eager to determine whether any linkage between the Sept. 11 attacks and the Iraqi regime existed.
And a considerable amount of the Sept. 21 PDB found its way into a longer, more detailed Central Intelligence Agency assessment of the likelihood of an al-Qaida-Iraq connection.
The Journal story reports that that assessment was released to Bush, Vice President Cheney, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, and other senior policy-makers in the Bush administration.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has requested from the White House the detailed CIA assessment, as well as the Sept. 21 PDB and several other PDBs, as part of the committee's continuing inquiry into whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the months before the start of the war with Iraq in March 2003.
The Bush administration has refused to surrender these documents.
“Indeed,” the Journal story reported, citing congressional sources, “the existence of the September 21 PDB was not disclosed to the Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004.”
After Sept. 11, the administration insisted that a connection existed between Iraq and al-Qaida. President Bush, in an October 2002 speech in Cincinnati, said the United States had “learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaida members in bomb-making and poisons and gas.”
And Vice President Cheney, in a September 2003 appearance on NBC's “Meet the Press,” alleged there was “a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida that stretched back through most of the decade of the ’90s.”
But the National Journal report said that the few believable reports of contact between Iraq and al-Qaida “involved attempts by Saddam Hussein to monitor the terrorist group.”
Saddam considered al-Qaida “as well as other theocratic radical Islamist organizations as a potential threat to his secular regime,” the Journal reported. “At one point, analysts believed, Saddam considered infiltrating the ranks” of al-Qaida with Iraqi intelligence operatives as a way to get more information about how the organization worked, the Journal said.
Journal: Little has changed
The Journal story asserts that little has changed to refute the initial absence of information linking Saddam and the al-Qaida network.
“In the four years since Bush received the briefing, according to highly placed government officials, little evidence has come to light to contradict the CIA's original conclusion that no collaborative relationship existed” between Iraq and al-Qaida, the Journal reported.
Reporter Waas quotes one former administration official, whose assessment is a problematic contradiction of the administration’s longstanding assertions:
“What the President was told on September 21 was consistent with everything he has been told since — that the evidence was just not there.”