Monday, January 01, 2007

al Qaeda and Iraq: A Connection? Clinton Says Yes

Conventional liberal opinion blames the Bush Administration for inventing a tie between Iraq and al Qaeda. Why, then, is 'conventional memory' so short as to forget that the Clinton Administration had the same fear?
Read Part 1 of this Series: al Qaeda and Iraq: A Connection?
Potential terrorism involving al Qaeda and Iraq were alive and well during the Clinton Administration. With regard to these two threats, Daniel Benjamin, one of President Clinton's terrorism experts, said:

Nothing concerned the Clinton Administration more than the dangers of WMD proliferation and the possibility of these terrible weapons falling into the hands of rogue states and terrorists.

The Tokyo subway sarin gas attack had just occurred, killing 12 people.

As early as 1995, Sudan began to establish a chemical weapons program. It's primary assistant in the fledgling process was Iraq. This was intended to help Iraq

circumvent the the UN's military and trade embargo on Iraq.

As UN inspections of Iraq began to run into stiff resistance in late 1997, and as Saddam Hussein began to breathe out more threatenings against "American and British interests" in early 1998, President Clinton presented an ominous outlook to the country.

There is no more clear example of this threat [of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons] than Saddam Hussein's Iraq. His regime threatens the safety of his people, the stability of his region and the security of all the rest of us.

Less than a week following Clinton's February 1998 remarks about Iraq's activities, Osama bin Laden issued a fatwah against the United States and her allies, coming to the defense of Iraq.

In its November 24th, 1997 issue, Time magazine spoke of

the merging of the output from a government's arsenals, like Saddam's biological weapons, with a group of semi-independent terrorists, like radical Islamist groups, who might slip such bioweapons into the U.S. and use them. It wouldn't take much. This is the poor man's atom bomb. A gram of anthrax culture contains a trillion spores, theoretically enough for 100 million fatal doses. The stuff can be spread into the air with backpack sprayers or even perfume atomizers. The U.N.'s specialists say that 100 lbs. of anthrax bacteria sprayed around a city of 1 million could kill 36,000 people within a week.

ABC News details in March of 2006 that, among other things, pre-war documents obtained by American forces in Iraq indicate that:

"Osama bin Laden Contact With Iraq"

A newly released prewar Iraqi document indicates that an official representative of Saddam Hussein's government met with Osama bin Laden in Sudan on February 19, 1995, after receiving approval from Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden asked that Iraq broadcast the lectures of Suleiman al Ouda, a radical Saudi preacher, and suggested "carrying out joint operations against foreign forces" in Saudi Arabia. According to the document, Saddam's presidency was informed of the details of the meeting on March 4, 1995, and Saddam agreed to dedicate a program for them on the radio. The document states that further "development of the relationship and cooperation between the two parties to be left according to what's open [in the future] based on dialogue and agreement on other ways of cooperation." The Sudanese were informed about the agreement to dedicate the program on the radio.


(Editor's Note: This document is handwritten and has no official seal. Although contacts between bin Laden and the Iraqis have been reported in the 9/11 Commission report and elsewhere (e.g., the 9/11 report states "Bin Ladn himself met with a senior Iraqi intelligence officer in Khartoum in late 1994 or early 1995) this document indicates the contacts were approved personally by Saddam Hussein.

It also indicates the discussions were substantive, in particular that bin Laden was proposing an operational relationship, and that the Iraqis were, at a minimum, interested in exploring a potential relationship and prepared to show good faith...

On August 20, 1998, Tomahawk missiles struck two targets: (1) an al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan (the missiles missed their target, as a terrorist summit there had been postponed), and (2) the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, in which Iraq had allegedly been helping to create chemical weapons.

Clinton Administration Undersecretary of State, Thomas Pickering said at the time:

We see evidence that we think is quite clear on contacts between Sudan and Iraq. In fact, el Shifa officials, early in the company's history, we believe, were in touch with Iraqi individuals associated with Iraq's VX program.

Even further, the Clinton Administration first made the claim that al Qaeda and Iraq had a relationship. Then Secretary of Defense William Cohen, being questioned by the 9/11 commission on March 23, 2004 about the bombing of the al Shifa plant, had this to say:

Now, I was criticized for that, saying, you didn't have enough. And I put myself in the position of coming before you and having someone like you say to me, "Let me get this straight, Mr. Secretary, we've just had a chemical weapons attack upon our cities or our troops and we've lost several hundred or several thousand. And this is the information which you had at your fingertips. You had a plant that was built under the following circumstances, had you manager that went to Baghdad, you had Osama bin Laden who had funded at least the corporation, and you had traces of EMTA and did you what? You did nothing? Is that a responsible activity on the part of the Secretary of Defense?" [Emphasis added.]
I agree with Secretary Cohen and the Clinton Administration. It is irresponsible to categorically dismiss the possibility that Iraq and al Qaeda had a relationship, especially when they were working in the same country to build chemical weapons.

Read Part 1 of this Series: al Qaeda and Iraq: A Connection?


Rich Warnick said...

The Clinton administration made a mistake, Frank. This wasn't the only time. Some CIA analysts maintained there was no connection otbetween the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant and Al Qaeda, and that there was no VX nerve gas at the plant. We went ahead and blew it up anyway, for reasons that have never been satisfactorily explained.

I don't recall the alleged Baghdad connection, but I would suppose that was as bogus as every other Clinton administration claim related to this incident.

BTW, what if there was nerve gas? We could have killed a good part of the population of Khartoum. What was Clinton thinking, if he really believed VX was stored at Al Shifa?

Ok, what about the now-famous EMPTA soil sample? EMPTA is not proof of VX, it's also used to make pesticides. The Clinton administration, following a now-familiar pattern of the Bush administration, cherry-picked "intelligence" that turned out to be wrong. See here:

Rich Warnick said...

In 1999, NYT reporter James Risen wrote an article which exposed the flawed decision-making process that led to the Al Shifa attack. The most knowledgeable people were kept out of the loop. George Tenet was in the loop, but warned that the intel was shaky. It appears the top Clinton people were so in love with the idea of a simultaneous strike on Sudan and Afghanistan that they didn't take time to think about what they were doing.

Frank Staheli said...

I'm not sure why, but I wouldn't have guessed you would have criticized the Clinton administration in the same breath as criticizing the Bush administration, but I appreciate your candor regardless of who it is.

Hayes' book, The Connection, does mention that there was some controversy around the EMPTA at the al Shifa plant.

I'll look into the links you've provided, because my main point of the post was that since Clinton established the precedent, perhaps that was the inertia that Bush needed (or used) to continue down that path--but I don't know.

It will be interesting research.

Rich Warnick said...

Before the GOP took over Congress and before Karl Rove came to Washington, foreign policy and national security used to be regarded as beyond partisanship. Now, some people express surprise when I discuss these issues without reference to party politics.

Frank Staheli said...

James Bovard brings up one point which somewhat agrees with what Hayes brings up in his book--That they never really tested the soil right next to the facility.

Other interesting tidbits:

1. EMPTA can also be used for making pesticides.

2. Richard Clarke's comment that Clinton wanted to attack two places to retaliate for the bombing of two embassies.

3. The Monica Lewinsky factor.

4. Prior to the attacks, bin Laden was becoming persona non grata in islamic nations, but thereafter he became a "hero".

Frank Staheli said...

The James Risen article gives me an eery sense of deja vu:

1. Several members of the administration voiced vehement dissent before the Sudan attack.

2. Senior level officials (Sandy Berger) afterward claimed no knowledge of the dissent.

3. Senior level officials (Madeleine Albright) suppressed subsequent dissent.

Rich Warnick said...

Tonight I turned on Fox News, which I rarely do. There was Dick Morris, billed as "Fmr Clinton Advisor." Morris wants Bush to attack Iran to attract attention away from the debacle in Iraq. I wonder what advice Dick Morris had for Clinton during after Monica's White House activities became known.

Frank Staheli said...

Probably to bomb the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant!!


Dana said...

Not sure whether your site can accept trackbacks, so I'll just mention here that I linked this article on both Iowa Voice and my site.

Frank Staheli said...


You'll see from the comments by Jesurgilsac(?) on your site that I'm apparently disrespectful of the Clinton administration, and that my reporting is incorrect.

I like how you put it on your site, that "it was the Clinton Administration which was claiming an al Qaeda/ Iraq connection."

What I find most interesting through my interpretation of Richard Warnick's comments is that both the Clinton and Bush administrations had a tendency to assume the worst about terrorism and 'the link' (but I wonder if one can really blame either one for assuming the worst while trying to project the country?)

sharon said...


Don't pay any attn to Jesurgislac. She sees what she wants, which generally means that everything is George Bush's fault. That's the reason that, instead of reading all the comments and dissecting the points made, she attacked conservatives instead.

What I get from your piece (and the comments) is that there was heightened concern about terrorism and Saddam openly admitted his contempt for the U.S. This made him primary suspect whenever terrorist attacks came up. The emergence of Al Qaeda as a terrorist organization which operated and moved throughout the Middle East was a somewhat secondary concern. Our government saw connections between the organizations, rightly or wrongly, and tended to treat them as the same source.

I think in the real world, that's what's known as a mistake.