TCS Daily

The Missing Link?

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - November 19, 2003 12:00 AM

This past weekend, writer Stephen Hayes of The Weekly Standard came out with a blockbuster article that was based on a leaked memorandum directed to Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts and ranking member Jay Rockefeller from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. The Feith memo was a compilation of raw intelligence reports that stated that Saddam Hussein's government and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization have had a relationship that has lasted nearly a decade -- from 1990 to March, 2003. The relationship included work between the Ba'athist regime and the terrorist organization on "training in explosives and weapons of mass destruction, logistical support for terrorist attacks, al Qaeda training camps and safe haven in Iraq, and Iraqi financial support for al Qaeda -- perhaps even for Mohamed Atta." As Hayes points out, the memo mostly consists of alleging facts about the relationship between Saddam and Osama, along with some analysis and commentary, and discussions about the credibility of sources delivering the information.


In response to the publication of the memo, the Defense Department sent out this press release, which states:


News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq in a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee are inaccurate.


A letter was sent to the Senate Intelligence Committee on October 27, 2003 from Douglas J. Feith, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, in response to follow-up questions from his July 10 testimony. One of the questions posed by the committee asked the Department to provide the reports from the Intelligence Community to which he referred in his testimony before the Committee. These reports dealt with the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda.


The letter to the committee included a classified annex containing a list and description of the requested reports, so that the Committee could obtain the reports from the relevant members of the Intelligence Community.


The items listed in the classified annex were either raw reports or products of the CIA, the [National Security Agency], or, in one case, the [Defense Intelligence Agency]. The provision of the classified annex to the Intelligence Committee was cleared by other agencies. The selection of the documents was made by the Department of Defense to respond to the Committee's question. The classified annex was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda, and it drew no conclusions.


Summarized, the Pentagon press release says essentially that (1) there has been no confirmation of the information in the report, (2) the items were raw reports from the various intelligence agencies, and (3) the items were not a formal analysis -- presumably, they are the reports from which an analysis will be constructed.


But note what the Defense Department is not saying: It is not saying that the actual information that makes up the raw reports was false. Indeed, there was no disavowal of the accuracy of that information.


Because of the gravity of this report -- a report that purports to show the kind of active partnership and relationship between Saddam's regime and al Qaeda that would lend further credence to the Bush Administration's casus belli for launching Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a report which, due to its very content, may have very strong political implications on the domestic front -- a very careful and comprehensive analysis of the allegations made in the Feith memo must be undertaken.


To the extent possible, and to the degree that it will not jeopardize national security, members of both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees should inform the American public about the content of the memo, and whether it shows or demonstrates a noteworthy relationship between Saddam and al Qaeda. This can be done through public hearings and through joint press appearances -- the latter serving as a potential vehicle for reducing partisan invective to the greatest degree possible. Both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have well-deserved reputations for bipartisanship and for placing the national interest over political interests -- the occasional foray into partisan politics notwithstanding. They will have to live up to that relationship given the gravity of the material contained in the Feith memo. The members of both intelligence committees will have to act not as partisans, but as educators -- both for the purpose of informing the public, and for examining the findings of the Feith memo and the impact of those findings on policy and on analysis of the effects of the war in Iraq.


Should the intelligence committees become mired in partisanship, a blue ribbon panel of experts and authorities on national security issues should be created to render a nonpartisan finding on the Feith memo. This panel can be made up of past Secretaries of State and Defense, past Directors of Central Intelligence, and past National Security Advisors. They can be modeled on the Tower Commission -- which fulfilled a similar function in analyzing the facts of the Iran-Contra affair -- and like the Tower Commission, they can make their findings public, and report them to the President and the Congress.


Given the current debate over the state of intelligence that led the nation to war, the emergence of the Feith memo is a very big deal, with a potentially huge impact on the debate. A lot has to be sorted out, however, which is why a comprehensive and dispassionate analysis is needed. Such an analysis will help illuminate the intelligence debate, the nature of the decision to go to war, and the extent to which the war in Iraq may have enhanced American national security by weakening al Qaeda and eliminating a terrorist-sponsoring regime that may have worked with al Qaeda on projects aimed at targeting Americans and American interests.


Let's be fair and impartial. Let's be thorough and complete. And let's investigate now.

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