In a startling about-face for U.S. intelligence officials, a bombshell memo released by the Senate Intelligence Committee late Friday draws a direct link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, citing evidence that Iraqi intelligence bankrolled lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in the months leading up to the worst terrorist attack ever on U.S. soil.
The previously secret 16-page memo, prepared by the CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies, says Atta met as many as four times in Prague with Iraqi intelligence agent Ahmed al Ani prior to the 9/11 attacks.
In a staggering revelation, which offers an overwhelming and compelling justification for the U.S. attack on Iraq, the CIA memo says that, during one of these meetings, al Ani “ordered the [Iraqi Intelligence Service] finance officer to issue Atta funds from IIS financial holdings in the Prague office.”
Al Ani was captured by Coalition forces in July and has reportedly denied to U.S. interrogators any meeting with Atta. U.S. press reports on Iraq’s role in 9/11, however, have been notoriously unreliable and are often driven by an agenda to undermine justification for the war.
In excerpts first reported late Friday by the Weekly Standard, the memo says that the CIA “can confirm two Atta visits to Prague – in Dec. 1994 and in June 2000.”
Data surrounding the other two meetings, on Oct. 26, 1999, and April 9, 2001, is described as “complicated and sometimes contradictory.”
Neither the CIA nor the FBI can confirm, for instance, that Atta met specifically with Iraqi intelligence.
However, the memo emphasizes that Czech intelligence continues to insist that the meetings took place.
“Czech Interior Minister Stanislav Gross continues to stand by his information,” said the Standard, noting that the memo cites five high-ranking members of the Czech government who have publicly confirmed meetings between Atta and al Ani.
Another point about the memo worth noting: Its revelations are based not just on information obtained by the FBI and the CIA, agencies whose pre-9/11 intelligence failures were legion. Instead, the memo sources a variety of domestic and foreign agencies, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency.
“Much of the evidence is detailed, conclusive, and corroborated by multiple sources,” the Standard said.
Another intriguing link between the 9/11 attacks and Iraq comes from “sensitive reporting” on a Malaysia-based Iraqi national named Ahmed Shakir.
Shakir is said to have “facilitated the arrival of one of the Sept 11 hijackers for an operational meeting in Kuala Lumpur (Jan 2000).”
Shakir’s travel and contacts link him to a worldwide network of terrorists, including al-Qaeda, the memo reveals. Shakir worked at the Kuala Lumpur airport – a job he claimed to have obtained through an Iraqi embassy employee. As the Standard notes:
“The Iraqi embassy, not his employer, controlled Shakir’s schedule. He was detained in Qatar on September 17, 2001.
“Authorities found in his possession contact information for terrorists involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1998 embassy bombings, the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and the September 11 hijackings. The CIA had previous reporting that Shakir had received a phone call from the safe house where the 1993 World Trade Center attacks had been plotted.”
Beyond detailing evidence tying Saddam to the 9/11 attacks, the blockbuster memo reveals 50 instances of contacts between senior al-Qaeda officials and Iraqi operatives – starting in 1990 and continuing right up to March 2003.
Incredibly, the Bush administration has gone out of its way to disparage reports of any Iraq-9/11 links.
Although Vice President Dick Cheney told “Meet the Press” in September that evidence of a link is inconclusive, President Bush shut the door on further speculation a week later, telling reporters that U.S. intelligence had uncovered “no evidence” of a Baghdad role in the 9/11 plot.
In a further example of administration incompetence, the Standard reports that “few people in the U.S. government are expressly looking for such links. There is no Iraq-al Qaeda equivalent of the CIA’s 1,400-person Iraq Survey Group currently searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction.”