- The Washington Times - Monday, March 25, 2002

CIA Director George J. Tenet, testifying before Congress last week, pointedly refused to rule out the possibility that Iraq or Iran may have been involved in the September 11 terrorist attacks on America. "There is no doubt that there may have been contacts and linkages to the al Qaeda organization," Mr. Tenet said when asked about Iraqi ties with Osama bin Laden's terror network. It "would be a mistake to dismiss the possibility of state sponsorship, whether Iranian or Iraqi" in connection with the attacks, the CIA director told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday. "The distinctions between Sunni and Shia [Islamic denominations] that have traditionally divided terrorist groups are not distinctions you should make anymore, because there is a common interest against the United States and its allies in this region, and they will seek capability wherever they can get it," Mr. Tenet said.
The CIA director's comments on possible state sponsorship of the September 11 attacks, reported in a separate story on the front page of this newspaper on Wednesday, didn't make it into accounts of his testimony published in The Washington Post or the New York Times that same day. It isn't difficult to see why this happens; many people in the mainstream media don't want to face the reality that Iraq or Iran may have had a hand in the butchery which took place on September 11. If it turns out that either of these regimes were involved, it would virtually ensure a vigorous U.S. military response against Tehran or Baghdad. That's a reality that many folks on the political left (and a few on the right) want to avoid at just about any cost.
In a March 15 op-ed, for example, David Ignatius, a columnist for The Washington Post, criticized William Safire, a columnist for the New York Times, for suggesting that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had a role in the attacks. Mr. Ignatius claimed Czech officials have "backed away" from their previous statements about last April's meeting at the Prague airport between hijacking ringleader Mohammed Atta and Iraqi intelligence agent Ahmed al-Ani. According to Mr. Ignatius, the Czechs have subsequently said that there was only "a 70 percent" chance that the meeting took place, and that Atta didn't want to discuss blowing up the World Trade Center. If they met at all, Mr. Ignatius reassuringly suggested, it was probably to discuss a future terrorist attack on Radio Free Europe's Prague headquarters. Glad we cleared that up!
Mr. Safire came back swinging in his own column three days later, noting that both the CIA and Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross have confirmed that the meeting between Atta and the Iraqi operative unquestionably did occur. In fact, Mr. Safire added, the FBI has car rental and other records showing that Atta flew from Virginia Beach, Va. to Prague, a distance of 7,000 miles, on April 8, 2001 (his third trip to Prague in a year) and returned to the United States just 72 hours later. According to Czech intelligence, Atta's meeting with the Iraqi agent occurred during this three-day period.
An article entitled "The Great Terror," which appears in the March 25, 2002 edition of The New Yorker, provides more chilling evidence of possible collaboration between Saddam and bin Laden's al Qaeda terror network. The author of the piece, correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg, conducted a series of interviews last month in a prison in Kurdish-controlled territory in Northern Iraq with captured members of Ansar al-Islam, a terrorist group operating in the region. The Ansar members told Mr. Goldberg that their organization "has received funds directly from Al Qaeda; that the intelligence service of Saddam Hussein has joint control, with Al Qaeda operatives, over Ansar al-Islam; that Saddam Hussein hosted a senior leader of Al Qaeda in Baghdad in 1992; that a number of Al Qaeda members fleeing Afghanistan have been secretly brought into territory controlled by Ansar al-Islam; and that Iraqi intelligence agents have smuggled conventional weapons, and possibly even chemical and biological weapons, into Afghanistan." Mr. Goldberg notes that "if these charges are true…it would mean that the relationship between Saddam's regime and Al Qaeda is far closer than previously thought."
In short, there is plenty of evidence suggesting the need for a careful examination of Saddam Hussein's ties with bin Laden and possible role in the barbarism of September 11. The subject is far too important to whitewash in an effort to keep defense spending low or curry favor with our "allies" in Europe or the Arab world.

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