Skip to comments.Saddam and 9/11
Posted on 01/08/2004 6:29:20 AM PST by Lost Highway
In this edition of Frontpage Interview, we have the privilege of being joined by Dr. Laurie Mylroie, one of the foremost American scholars on Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
In her book Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein´s Unfinished War against America, Dr. Mylroie provided substantial evidence implicating Saddam's involvement in four terrorist attacks: the 1993 World Trade Center Bombing; the 1995 bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the 1996 attack on the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, and the 1998 bombings of two African embassies.
The author of the new book, Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror, Dr. Mylroie is represented by www.benadorassociates.com.
Frontpage Magazine: Welcome to Frontpage Interview Dr. Mylroie. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us.
You have recently become the target of some pretty nasty attacks from the Left. Peter Bergen and David Corn, for instance, have really gone after you - and it is obviously for the evidence you unearthed regarding Saddam's terror links.
It appears that the Left simply cannot forgive you for what they see as the intellectual justification you helped provide for the U.S. liberation of Iraq. These attacks are quite personally vicious and engulfed with some delusional conspiratorial thinking. Could you talk a little bit about this and what you think these attacks signify?
Mylroie: Partly, it's par for the course, particularly these days, when political discourse can be unusually ugly. Partly, it reflects the high stakes involved.
The 9/11 attacks represent the greatest US intelligence failure since Pearl Harbor. That is not a controversial statement, but the nature of that intelligence failure certainly is, as it involves the question of who bears responsibility.
Bill Clinton and his top advisers are most culpable in my view, and I say that as someone who was Clinton's adviser on Iraq in the 1992 campaign. People may forget, but Clinton was tougher than former president Bush on Saddam then, saying that Bush should have got rid of him during the 1991 war.
Clearly, I didn't begin as someone hostile to Clinton, but my strong critique, indeed utter dismay, developed as the Clinton administration refused to deal with the dangers posed by Iraq, including terrorism, as they became increasingly evident during the 1990's. In fact, I experienced that first hand, because in 1993 and 1994 I had easy access to the people covering the Middle East, including Martin Indyk, Clinton's NSC advisor on the region, who the year before, had actually brought me out of academics to work for him in Washington. That is how I ended up as Clinton's adviser on Iraq.
As early as 1993, I raised my concerns with them: it appeared from the New York Times reporting that Iraq was involved in the World Trade Center bombing. Also, Massoud Barzani (head of the Kurdish Democratic Party) had told me that Saddam was hiding many things from the UN weapons inspectors (UNSCOM), including that Iraq was still making biological agents (after Saddam's son-in-law defected, UNSCOM learned that Barzani was correct).
Initially, Indyk and the others I spoke with were quite concerned. Those concerns were certainly passed on to their superiors. But since nothing was ever done, one can only conclude that those concerns were dismissed. And it was not all that long before the Clinton people began to slime me, in the fashion of Corn and Bergen (although in his book, Bergen is much more respectful of my work). That is what you do, when you don't want to deal with the facts that someone marshals in support of an argument you don't want to hear.
FP: Presently, what do you think is the most important issue in the war in Iraq and in the War on Terror?
Mylroie: There are several. One is the lack of competence within the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority)--which US military commanders have tellingly dubbed, "Can't Provide Anything." Iraqis would say the same.
Another is Iraq's biological weapons (BW) program. We know from UNSCOM's work that Iraq had such a program, and it included the production of anthrax. So what happened to that anthrax?
It's very important to find out to ensure that it is not used in an attack against the US or any other country. That is especially so, as there is an Iraqi-American, living in the US, with a Ph.D. in microbiology, who very much appears to have given logistical support to those who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 (discussed in Study of Revenge, my book on Iraq, terrorism, and its proscribed weapons).
The person who knows the most about Iraq's BW program is a retired U.S. Army colonel, Dr. Richard Spertzel, who led UNSCOM's pursuit of that program. Spertzel volunteered to go to Iraq, and, in fact, he was supposed to do so as part of the Iraq Survey Group--but it never happened. Indeed, there were other UNSCOM people who did not go, or only went belatedly, when the ISG ran into trouble. It is stunning that the most knowledgeable people were not involved from the get-go in such an important project, but that is also typical bureaucratic behavior.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration has not done what is necessary to set things straight.
FP: Strange, why is that? How come the Bush administration is balking on pushing forward on ascertaining what happened to Iraq's anthrax program?
Mylroie: The Bush administration would very much like to find out what happened to Iraq's anthrax program. Indeed, Iraq's BW program is now the primary focus of the ISG.
But just as it took the right conceptual framework and a great deal of hard, tedious analysis to find Saddam, the same is true for his weapons.
The most informed people should have been involved in the search for them. They're from UNSCOM. The key question is why weren't they included? In fact, why weren't they central players in that search?
This administration is reluctant to micro-manage and that is one of the consequences. My understanding is that David Kay tried to include UNSCOM people in the ISG, but he wasn't that successful. The bureaucracies wanted the glory of finding the weapons themselves and didn't anticipate the difficulty of the task. Also, since there was extra hazard pay for this work, some managers sent themselves to Iraq instead of their analysts, who, in fact, knew much more about Iraq's weapons.
FP: How do you think Saddam's capture will impact the war in Iraq and the War on Terror?
Mylroie: It is very important. It removed a significant element of fear from the minds of ordinary Iraqis and more then came forward with information. Also, for some Ba'thist diehards, it made the point that Saddam is never coming back and even they are beginning to co-operate with US authorities, as General Petreaus recently explained.
Also, Saddam had documents that provided further insights into the structure of the insurgency and how it is being run, which, of course, led to more detentions. Presumably, that will continue.
Saddam's arrest is also important to other aspects of the War on Terror. That is best explained in terms of the intelligence failures that left us vulnerable on 9/11.
FP: And what was one of the most prominent intelligence failures that left us vulnerable to 9/11? Has it been fixed?
Mylroie: The central aspect of that intelligence failure is easily explained. Before the February 26, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center--one month into Clinton's first term in office--the prevailing assumption was that major terrorist attacks against the US were state-sponsored. Thus, terrorism was considered a national security issue and the key question after any attack was which terrorist state was responsible.
But starting with the attack on the World Trade Center, the Clinton administration claimed that a new kind of terrorism had come into being that did not involve states. It turned terrorism into a law enforcement issue, with the focus on arresting and convicting individual perpetrators. For Clinton, who, particularly in his first years in office, did not want to deal with any serious national security problem except by way of a "peace process," this was very convenient.
But it was not true. The nature of terrorism did not change. Indeed, key figures in New York law enforcement believed Iraq was involved in the Trade Center bombing, particularly Jim Fox, who headed New York FBI, the lead investigative agency in that case.
Moreover, once the idea took hold that major terrorist attacks against the U.S. were not state-sponsored, we gave a pass to any terrorist state that wanted to attack us. The 1993 Trade Center bombing set a precedent for the assaults to follow. Iraq worked systematically with Islamic militants to attack the United States and just as systematically, the Clinton administration turned a blind eye to the evidence suggesting an Iraqi role, while focusing on the militants alone. We faced state-sponsored terrorism; we dealt with it by convicting individual perpetrators; and that is what created our vulnerability on 9/11.
Other parties also contributed to this intelligence failure, because there was a Catch-22, which they either did not understand or ignored. The most relevant information about these attacks was produced by the FBI, as it investigated the crime represented by the terrorist assault. The purpose of the FBI investigation was to produce evidence to be used in the trials of the terrorists.
Because of post-Watergate reforms, that information could not be turned over to the CIA or any other U.S. national security bureaucracy, and certainly not to foreign agencies. Incredibly, the terrorist defendants had the results of the FBI investigation into their case, but the U.S. government agencies responsible for defending the country against terrorism did not. This was corrected to some extent, although not entirely, by the post 9/11 counter-terrorism legislation.
This situation also meant that the intelligence agencies of other countries reached conclusions about the terrorist attacks against the United States without access to the most relevant information--ie the FBI investigation into the attack. That includes the Israelis, and they, too, are party to an enormous intelligence failure.
Indeed, I tried to explain this to them years ago, when Itzhak Rabin was prime minister. I knew Rabin personally. It was very frustrating and the problem in conveying it, I believe, was the "peace process." At the time--late 1994, early 1995--Rabin was so fixed on that ill-advised diplomacy, believing that a general Arab-Israeli peace was at hand, that he did not want the United States distracted by the unfinished business of the 1991 Gulf War.
As for the second part of your question, this intelligence failure has not really been corrected. Bush made the decision to go to war with Iraq soon after the 9/11 attacks, because of the strong suspicion that Iraq was involved. But he has avoided the reorganization of the bureaucracies that would facilitate that task. One clear example is that George Tenet is still CIA director.
Another example: Paul Pillar was deputy head of the CIA's Counter Terrorism Center in the 1990s and was very much involved in developing the notion that there was a new kind of terrorism that did not involve states. In fact, he took a leave of absence at Brookings to write a book to that effect. When he returned to the Agency in 2000, he became the National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East.
After 9/11, he opposed the notion of war with Iraq and played a significant role in pooh-poohing the information suggesting an Iraqi link to the attacks. Nonetheless, he still holds his position.
This is in sharp contrast to the Reagan administration. The Reagan White House recognized that to implement its policies, it needed to put its people in the key positions, and it did.
U.S. officials still don't really understand the nature of the terrorist threat they are confronting and it is illustrative to compare that situation to the capture of Saddam, which represents a good example of outstanding intelligence work.
When you begin to deal with a complicated problem (I've been involved in two such investigations), you face an enormous amount of information and it is very confusing. To deal with it, you first need the right conceptual framework in order to even begin to understand the information you have. And once you have the right framework, a very great deal of difficult, concentrated, tedious analysis is necessary.
Recall how the 4th Infantry Division found Saddam. Over the summer, a senior intelligence officer, Major Stan Murphy, concluded that people close to Saddam were hiding and protecting him, and they were part of a much larger network that included certain clans and tribes. That was the necessary conceptual framework.
Then, Murphy ordered two junior analysts to determine the names of every individual belonging to those tribes and clans and to work out the precise relationships among them. As the Wall Street Journal explained, Murphy said, "Figure it out, draw the lines, make me a chart and find every crucial person connected to Saddam." The analysts' first thought was, "Is he joking? This is impossible. We can't even pronounce these names."
But they did do it. As they worked, in a focused and concentrated fashion, they began to see patterns. The initial recognition of those patterns facilitated their understanding of the information they had, and then they began to see yet more patterns, until they understood very well the information they had, and they were able to capture Saddam.
I don't think U.S. intelligence has the proper conceptual framework for dealing with the major terrorist attacks outside of Iraq. It 's inherently a very difficult job. But the necessary framework involves an understanding of how states, particularly Iraq, but possibly others, work with and hide behind the militants to carry out their terrorism. If you insist that the intelligence agencies of states are not involved, it becomes that much harder to figure out what is going on.
The war continues inside Iraq. We can see that, and it continues outside Iraq as well, I believe. After Usama bin Ladin moved to Afghanistan, Iraqi intelligence assumed key functions in al Qaida. It is a difficult job to mop it all up, but that is what is necessary, before we can declare victory.
FP: So aside from the criminals who perpetrated the crime, President Clinton and his top advisers are actually indirectly complicit in 9/11. If they had had their heads screwed on right, it wouldn't have happened. Right?
Mylroie: Basically, that's correct. The White House was aware of the suspicions of New York FBI regarding Iraq's involvement in the Trade Center bombing and it believed that when it hit Iraqi intelligence headquarters a few months later, in June, saying that the strike was punishment for Iraq's attempt to kill former President Bush, that would take care of the Trade Center bombing too. Clinton believed that that strike would deter Saddam from all future acts of terrorism. But of course, that was to underestimate Saddam's vengefulness and resolve.
Indeed, in December 1994, I cautioned Martin Indyk about that: one strike on an empty building at night would not deter Saddam forever. Indyk was surprised, yet even as we spoke, the mastermind of the Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef, was preparing another mega-terrorist plot, to bomb a dozen U.S. airplanes in the Philippines, which was thwarted because he accidentally started a fire while mixing explosives. We were lucky that time.
To sum up: the Clinton administration dealt slyly and ineffectually with the question of state sponsorship when this terrorism first began, with the Trade Center bombing, and promoted a false and fraudulent understanding of the attacks--a new kind of terrorism that did not involve states--that obscured what was, in fact, happening. The result was predictable.
FP: Till this very day, leftist pundits are still arguing that there was no Saddam-terror connection. Could you just very briefly crystallize this matter for our readers, giving a few succinct and concrete facts demonstrating the opposite reality?
Mylroie: With all due respect, it's not something that can be convincingly summarized in a handful of bullet points. And since it is such an important issue, I would urge people to read Study of Revenge (published in paperback as The War against America). Indeed, a congressman was kind enough to read it (at the urging of his brother) and then met with me. Among other things, he commented that when you get to the end, you expect to turn the page and read about the 9/11 attacks, but then you realize the book was written before 9/11.
If people don't have time for that, an article based on the manuscript appeared in The National Interest and can be found at: http://www.fas.org/irp/world/iraq/956-tni.htm
FP: Ok, thank you. So what do you think of the Left in general and what it showed about itself during the Iraq war?
Mylroie: There were prominent exceptions, and one should take note of them, but the Left's general opposition to the Iraq war was, indeed, telling. One of its problems--and this includes a significant element within the Democratic party--is that it is incapable of understanding basic national security issues and what the defense of this country requires.
Also, given the monstrously brutal character of Saddam's rule, their opposition to ousting him was stunning. Their professed concern for human suffering did not extend to Iraqis.
But since you've raised the issue, at least implicitly, there is something else I feel obliged to mention, with apologies, if it's not really what you want to hear, but the right has been no great shakes either.
Michael Ledeen stressed to you the need for analysts, people who focus on an issue, over many years, and know it extremely well. There is too much punditry and not enough analysis. Iraq was not particularly an issue for the right before 9/11, so thoroughly did Iraq get kicked off the US agenda in the 1990s.
Just think of what happened during the Clinton years: Iraq was behind repeated terrorist attacks against the US, starting with the 1993 Trade Center bombing. In 1995 Hussein Kamil defected, and as a result of that defection, the Iraqis revealed that they retained key elements of their proscribed weapons programs and that those programs were much bigger than they had previously acknowledged. The most dangerous of those programs was Iraq's BW program, which could be used to kill millions of people.
What was done? Nothing. The Clinton administration just maintained sanctions, as if an entire range of aggressive covert and military action did not exist. If you go back to that time, you'll find few critiques of US policy on Iraq, even from the right.
Nor has this problem--a failure to follow key developments in the Middle East with any kind of care--really changed for some number of people, even though they now claim expertise on the region. When I read an author like Victor Davis Hanson, I'm appalled. He supports the Iraq war, but he hasn't made the effort to understand why that war was fought and why Iraq, rather than Iran or Saudi Arabia, for example, was the country we went to war with. There are many reasons why we should be clear about that, including the fact that we are daily asking US soldiers to risk life and limb. They certainly deserve to understand why that sacrifice is being asked of them, and the Victor Hansons of this world don't provide the reasons.
FP: Well, perhaps our friend Victor Hanson will want to respond on this matter -- and we welcome his rejoinder.
Lets move on to the argument of many Western terror analysts that there is a gulf between our "secular" and "fundamentalist" enemies in the War on Terror. You have argued that this distinction is meaningless in Islam. Could you talk a bit about that?
Mylroie: This is an untenable argument. It is contrary to much of what we know as fact. The "secular" Syrian regime supports Hizbullah in Lebanon, while the Palestinian Islamic Jihad maintains an office in Damascus, from where it directs terror attacks against Israel.
The Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades is part of the "secular" PLO, and at a tactical level, the PLO works with Hamas, although they are rivals at a strategic level.
At the time of the 1991 Gulf War, Islamic militants, like the Afghan Mujahidin leader, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, supported Saddam--even though Sayyaf was funded by Saudi Arabia. Indeed, most of the Saudi-funded Islamic militants supported Saddam then, as Judith Miller explains in God has Ninety-Nine Names, a very interesting and informed discussion of Islamic militancy.
Those who argue that "secular" and "fundamentalist" entities can't work together are willfully blind to the fact that they do and that there are many examples of such collaboration.
FP: If you don't mind, I would like to focus a little bit on your own political odyssey. At one time you were an adviser to Clinton and you were also not completely hostile to him and his view of the world. Would it be fair to say that, at one time, you were open, to a certain extent, to the "progressive faith"? If you were, what landmarks changed your outlook? Could you talk a bit about your own intellectual journey?
Mylroie: It's not really accurate to say I was involved with the "progressive faith." Martin Indyk brought me out of academics in 1992 to work at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which he then headed. I say "brought me out," because I was quite satisfied with the position I held then at the Naval War College: nice colleagues, nice environment.
My habits as an academic and some naiveté about the ways of Washington, or at least Washington of the Clinton era, were, in fact, to lead to an intellectual odyssey, but it's of a different sort than the one you suggest.
FP: Fair enough, lets trash the progressive faith business. So, now, tell us a bit about your odyssey.
Mylroie: Back in 1992, in the context of working for Indyk, I was asked to be Clinton's adviser on Iraq for the campaign. I had some mistrust of the Democrats on national security matters from my experience with them at Harvard, where I had been a graduate student and then an assistant professor. Still it wasn't a strong feeling, and I figured if someone who might become president wanted my advice on Iraq, I'd give it happily. And, remember, Clinton was tougher than Bush on Saddam in the 1992 campaign.
Indeed, I briefed Clinton personally on Iraq. It was July 1992. Tony Lake and Sandy Berger were there. They advised me that they wanted only "a little daylight" between them and Bush, because this was the campaign, and the campaign was not about foreign policy. So, I briefed accordingly. Clinton saw through the artifice. He asked, "If the problem is that bad, why are your policy recommendations so limited?" Lake and Berger replied, almost in unison, "Mr. President" (even then that is how they addressed him), explaining this was just the campaign and once he became president, he could take care of the problem.
So I was shocked, when Indyk, still formally my boss, called me one evening shortly before the inauguration. Clinton had just given an interview to Thomas Friedman in which he essentially said that he was prepared to reconcile with Saddam. Indyk wanted me to be prepared for reporters' questions the next day.
In fact, Indyk sounded as stunned as I was. I thanked him for letting me know, but I also told him that Clinton had to take that back. He had to deny he had said it, otherwise he would set off shock waves throughout the region that would take a long time to repair, if they could ever be repaired at all.
And the next day, Clinton denied what he had told Friedman. That was the interview in which Clinton said he believed in death-bed conversions, and if Saddam were sitting on the couch next to him, he'd tell him to pay more attention to the welfare of his own people than to his weapons. Of course, Clinton had said it, as Friedman then claimed, but it was better to do what could be done to disavow the statement, rather than let it stand.
When I look back, that illustrates a significant part of a much bigger problem that developed. Clinton made decisions about the Middle East on who knows what grounds, but above the head of his Middle East advisor. And when that advisor, Indyk, learned about them, he lacked what it took to say that the decision was wrong and dangerous. In fact, I got so furious at Indyk during that time, I warned him about the consequences for his career, if more Americans died, because of the way they had handled the Trade Center bombing. But I was completely wrong. Three thousand Americans can die in the most lethal foreign assault in this country's history, because of mistakes that you were party to, and it won't harm your career one bit.
Indeed, as Herb Meyer, Bill Casey's Executive Assistant once remarked: It never hurts in Washington to be fashionably wrong, but what is lethal is to be right ahead of your time.
Indyk and others would go on to claim that I was "obsessed" by Saddam. But I merely maintained the position that I, and many others, held in 1992.
You asked about an intellectual odyssey: it has been to understand some of the great books taught to me in college, much better than I did then. That understanding came through my experience with how the issues of Iraq and terrorism were dealt with in the Clinton years. That is reflected in the epigraph in Bush vs. the Beltway, those very famous verses from Isaiah 5:20: "Woe unto those who call evil good and good evil, who turn darkness into light and light into darkness . .".
The role of ego in human affairs and the self-serving nature of human beings is not to be underestimated, particularly as they climb the greasy pole of ambition. It doesn't matter whether the issue at hand is fairly trivial--a football game, for example--or deadly serious, involving the national security interests of this country and the lives of large numbers of its citizens.
And I'll give you an example: in the 1990s, the overwhelming majority of Iraq experts accommodated Clinton's desire not to hear that he had a very serious problem with Saddam, and that, basically, Saddam had to go. In late 1998, I pushed a colleague on the question of where responsibility would lie, if Saddam succeeded in doing something absolutely terrible because he had been left in power. What if he carried out a biological attack? What if he developed a nuclear bomb and used it?
This quite well-respected fellow didn't dispute the danger, but replied, "The times are very cynical and everyone must do what he must do for his career."
A colleague with a long career in government, much of it in the Pentagon, wrote a manuscript, "Zealots and Issue-Brokers." His judgment is that maybe 1/3 of the civil service consists of people really dedicated to doing their jobs, the "zealots." The other 2/3, the "issue-brokers," are just doing what it takes to get along and otherwise advance their careers.
Until you experience it up close and in detail, this is difficult to understand, because it constitutes such a damning statement about human beings. But it is very relevant, for example, to the question you asked about why the Bush administration has "balked" at moving aggressively to determine what happened to Iraq's anthrax program. It hasn't "balked;" rather, it didn't act as aggressively as it might have to ensure that the search for Iraq's weapons was conducted as expertly and vigorously as possible. That would have meant stepping on more bureaucratic toes than they did. And if the consequence is that we get hit with a biological attack, they will not forgive themselves. Do they recognize the problem? Probably some do, but they may not be in a position to push on it, because elements of the CIA, in tacit collaboration with the Democrats and the media, have successfully raised the intimidating charge of "politicizing" the intelligence.
Bush deserves a lot of credit for taking the necessary and difficult decision to get rid of Saddam. But he has done so with a government apparatus that is not much changed from the Clinton years. That, as I said, is in contrast to the Reagan administration, and it seems a serious weakness.
FP: Thank you Dr. Mylroie, it is a shame our time is up. We are very grateful for you joining us. It really was fascinating to speak with you. I hope you will come back and visit us again.
Mylroie: It's been my pleasure. I very much appreciate your interest in my work.
I welcome all of our readers to get in touch with me if they have a good idea/contact for a guest for Frontpage Interview. Email me at email@example.com.
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Maybe, but not in the article you linked to. Certainly he says he thinks she is wrong, but, that seems far different than a phone to me.
phone=phony. It's early ;-) Although I am certain she is not a phone.
Mylroie: With all due respect, it's not something that can be convincingly summarized in a handful of bullet points.
That isn't an acceptable answer. Karl Rove had better find a way to come up with some very brief, simple, irrefutable bullet points or Bush is going to have a lot of trouble with this issue in the fall. The Left has already declared victory because their charges are going unrefuted by the Administration.
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