Skip to comments.Two Novice Gumshoes Charted The Capture Of Saddam Hussein
Posted on 12/18/2003 5:50:19 AM PST by Ispy4u
Their Mission: Make a List Of People With Links; On It Was 'The Source'
TIKRIT, Iraq -- The capture of Saddam Hussein began with four names Maj. Stan Murphy scribbled on three pieces of paper and ripped from a small green notebook.
The 41-year-old intelligence officer with the First Brigade of the Fourth Infantry Division knew these names were just a small part of a much larger web of names and families likely to be hiding Mr. Hussein.
He handed the names to two junior U.S. military-intelligence analysts in Tikrit: Lt. Angela Santana, 31, and Cpl. Harold Engstrom, 36, both with Alpha Company, 104th Military Intelligence Battalion. The unit's job in Tikrit was to support the Fourth Infantry Division with intelligence data, helping the troops break up the resistance cells threatening the postwar stability of Iraq -- and ultimately to arrest Mr. Hussein.
The two officers say Maj. Murphy's orders to them were: "Figure it out, draw the lines, make me a chart and find every crucial person connected to Saddam."
Their first thought: "Is he joking? This is impossible. We can't even pronounce these names," says Lt. Santana.
But soon Lt. Santana, a former executive secretary in Ohio and Cpl. Engstrom, a former high-school English teacher in Phoenix, started poring over about 9,000 other names.
By mid-September, after many sleepless nights spent sifting through tens of thousands of pages of information, Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom had narrowed their list to 300 names.
The two say the task of creating Mr. Hussein's Who's Who chart was beyond the scope of their training. "Completely surreal," is how Lt. Santana describes the job. "Like we are detectives suddenly."
Indeed, this was the pair's first field experience in military intelligence. Their formal training included making charts and putting together intelligence data. But making sense of complicated Arab tribal culture and Mr. Hussein's strange ties wasn't part of it.
The duo read through sheaves of interrogation reports from detainees and interviews with local Iraqis. They plumbed a huge database provided by central military intelligence. Eventually, they created what they nicknamed "Mongo Link," a four page, 46-by-42-inch color-coded chart with their 300 names on it. It was basically a family tree, with Mr. Hussein's picture at the center, and lines connecting his tribal and blood ties to the six main tribes of the Sunni triangle: the Husseins, al-Douris, Hadouthis, Masliyats, Hassans and Harimyths. The military believed members of these clans shielded Saddam for eight months, financed the resistance, and planned assassinations and attacks against Iraqis and coalition forces.
Next to each of the names, Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom scribbled down bits of information they were able to gather about individuals: their ages, home village, spouses and children, where the names came from, whether people on the list were in custody and how they got there.
Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom's chart, the contents of which are classified, eventually came to be known in military circles for its accuracy and has even made its way to the commander of the coalition forces, Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in Baghdad.
As the chart grew, the pair started to see patterns. They realized the resistance was multilayered, as they pieced together who was related to whom among the tribes. The tribal leadership was tightly linked through a web of marriages and intensely loyal to Mr. Hussein, the analysts concluded. Below that level were a number of other people clearly part of the insurgency. These fighters were likely in it for the money.
The two sleuths noticed how few of the resistance fighters who had been caught planting bombs or carrying out raids were relatives of the tribal principals. They concluded that the bosses were distancing themselves from the rank and file.
"We learned about the Iraqi army, structure, history and tribal culture before we got here, but it wasn't until we started working on the chart that it really hit us. The extent and depth of how much the tribes were intertwined and integrated was beyond our expectation and frankly shocked us," says Cpl. Engstrom.
He says he quit his teaching job after the Sept. 11 attacks to join the Army. He was sent to Iraq soon after graduating from boot camp. He was chosen for intelligence training and in that capacity learned data collection, making charts and trying to understand the enemy. "We were trained a bit about guerrilla warfare but obviously not enough for this task," Cpl. Engstrom says.
Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom built the chart around target No. 1: Saddam Hussein. A picture of him is printed at the center. Above it is his chief of staff, and below is his personal secretary. To his left and right are men labeled as chief of operations and chief of security.
Next to every name on the chart is a physical description -- hair and eye color, height, facial features that stand out -- as well as details about where they were last seen or any other information that might lead to their arrest. Several dozen of the names are already in custody of the coalition forces and color-coded with red ink. The main people around Hussein are then linked to dozens of others, many of whom the military believes to be ringleaders for resistance cells plotting attacks against Americans in Tikrit, Samarra, Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad.
"His inner circle was tied to families, it was tied to tribes and to money," says Maj. Murphy. "I felt like if I looked at those three things, sooner or later we were going to figure a nugget that would bring us closer to Saddam."
That nugget came with the man the military calls "the source," who led an army of 600 troops to a farmhouse in the village of ad Dawr where Mr. Hussein was hiding. His name, which the military hasn't disclosed, first appeared on Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom's list in early summer, when several detainees named him as an influential leader financing the resistance.
Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom spent many hours mapping his ties to Mr. Hussein and others on their list. When they were finished, they knew he wasn't an ordinary suspect. If captured he could offer substantial clues to Mr. Hussein's whereabouts. They alerted the Fourth Infantry Division to hunt him down. The informant, who is described as middle-age and from an area near Tikrit, escaped capture several times. Finally, he was arrested in a house raid in Baghdad last Friday and immediately brought to Tikrit for interrogation. Mr. Hussein was captured the next day.
"When I heard this source was captured, I knew we were onto something. We had someone who was very close to Saddam talking so there was a great chance we would find him that night," says Lt. Santana, who has been in service for 11 years and served in the Gulf War in 1991. She says she joined the army "because I was hyper and wanted a good outlet for my energy."
On Saturday night, Lt. Santana and Cpl. Engstrom sat inside an operations room at the military's headquarters in Tikrit and waited anxiously for news of the search. They listened to one of the commanders speaking to Col. James Hickey, who led the Fourth Infantry Division's First Brigade, on the radio. Shortly after 8 p.m., Lt. Santana heard Col. Hickey's voice announcing, "We got him."
She was ecstatic. "We got him?" she recalls screaming, throwing up her arms and jumping to her feet. "We got him, we got him!" she continued shouting as she ran from room to room in Saddam Hussein's former palace.
The two have many more names on their chart still at large. They know more will trickle in over the next few months. They have printed a life-size photo of Mr. Hussein's face taken minutes after his capture and now use it as a cover for their chart.
I'm very impressed with what all our soldiers have been doing in Iraq. But what you and Lt Santana did was way above and beyond in my opinion -- I hope the Army has expressed the same thing to both of you.
My military service has had some very unconventional twists -- after some prior service as an officer I've re-entered the enlisted ranks and I volunteered for Iraq. I've been inspired to do this by a lot of the people I've met and the stories from Iraq -- this story among them. Great work!