- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 30, 2003

There is mounting U.S. intelligence evidence that shows Saddam has been helping al Qaeda terrorists by harboring, financing and equipping them.

Mr. Bush and his administration have been pointing to this connection in brief, oblique references for months. Now the White House is ready to more fully make its case that Saddam has ties to the terrorists. Indeed, that he is a key backer of their future plots against us. The president announced in the State of the Union address Tuesday that Secretary of State Colin Powell would provide the United Nations with evidence next week.

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"There are terrorists running in and out of Baghdad, in and out of his country, and that will be made clear over time," a senior White House official with full access to U.S. intelligence told me this week.

The president and top intelligence officials have been reluctant to reveal a lot of what we have long known about Saddam, including the chemical and biological weapons he has hidden away, for fear of exposing internal clandestine operations in Iraq.

Now, in the aftermath of the president's State of the Union address, he and others in the administration have begun to disclose more of what we know about the threat this evil regime poses to our country and our allies. More will be coming out in a series of presidential speeches over the next few weeks to fortify the case for ousting Saddam and his gang of thugs.

"The connections [between Saddam and the shadowy terrorist network] will be made at the appropriate time," this official told me.

The connection between Saddam and the terrorist network is the critical nexus for most Americans. While there have been growing public doubts about the need to go to war to disarm Saddam, those doubts will vanish in the public's mind when they understand this war is necessary to defeat the terrorist threat and defend our homeland.

A key discovery about the ties between Saddam and al Qaeda followed the recent arrest of several terrorists in London who were plotting to release poison case in subways and other populated locations. A central terrorist operative believed to be part of the plot was known to be traveling between London and Baghdad at this time. Iraq has one of the world's largest stockpiles of deadly chemicals.

"There may be others in this poison plot, and we think there are, and you will see over time that we will be talking about that," the official said.

"They [Mr. Bushs critics] say you must only focus on the war on terror. This is the war on terror. This is not America going to crush a single army. It's America moving to deal with terrorist networks of which the Iraq situation is a part," he said.

"And if the war on terror involves Iraq, it involves our homeland," he added.

Democratic critics of Mr. Bush's plans to wage war on Iraq Al Gore, Tom Daschle and others complain he has not made the case for war and that even if he did, dealing with Iraq would only divert our attention from the greater terrorist threat.

That criticism is about to be vaporized by the unfolding evidence that will be made public as we approach D-day in the Persian Gulf.

"If we have proof of nuclear and biological weapons, why don't we show that proof to the world," Senate Democratic Leader Daschle said Monday.

The answer is a strategic one: We do not want to fully reveal our intelligence until the time is right and before Saddam could take steps to remove or destroy such evidence and then deny it exists.

Revealing what we know about Saddam's terrorist connections will be important to getting some of our allies on board in the final days before we act. They, too, fear further terrorist threats to their own people.

According to a senior official in the White House who is close to Mr. Bush, he is under no illusions about who he is dealing with here or about the devious cat-and- mouse game Saddam is playing with the U.N. inspectors.

Mr. Bush sees Saddam for what he is, "a tyrant, a killer and a torturer," says this adviser. The Iraqi dictator is bent on revenge for what the U.S. did in the 1991 Persian Gulf war and sees the terrorist network as a way to get even.

We've learned since that tragic day on September 11, 2001, how critical it is "to connect the dots" in our intelligence findings. Those connections have now been made, tying a maniacal despot to "a shadowy network that looks to him for financing, training and equipment to conduct its attacks," the official said.

When the time comes for Mr. Bush to give the order to go in and take him out, nothing will be held back. "If we put our men in harm's way, it will be with the full might of the United States to accomplish the objective," the official said.

It will also be with the full knowledge that we will be removing one of the global terrorist network's greatest threats to America's safety.

Donald Lambro, chief political correspondent for The Washington Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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