Democratic Underground

Did "Anonymous" Condi Join the Neocons and Cheney in Pushing the Saddam-9/11 Connection?

October 12, 2004
By Dennis Hans

Two days before Vice President Dick Cheney insisted, in his debate with John Edwards, that he had "not suggested there's a connection between Iraq and 9/11," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the administration as a whole has steered clear of linking Saddam to 9-11:

RICE: Wolf, no one has ever said that Saddam Hussein operationally planned 9/11 or maybe even knew about 9/11, but nobody's tried to make that link.

BLITZER: Well, there are people who have made that link.

RICE: The administration has not made that link. And I think the president has said, I have said, Colin Powell has said, there's no evidence of Saddam Hussein with a direct link to 9/11.

Since the vice presidential debate, it has been widely reported that Cheney has in fact "suggested" a link; see, for example, the Newsweek story "Rewriting History." Cheney has never said that Saddam's Iraqi regime definitely played a role in 9/11, but it's fair to say that Cheney has "suggested" it may have.

Consider the Dec. 9, 2001 edition of Meet the Press. Tim Russert asked, "Do you still believe there is no evidence that Iraq was involved in September 11?"

Cheney replied, "Well, what we now have that's developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that's been pretty well confirmed, that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don't know at this point. But that's clearly an avenue that we want to pursue." (Cheney's "pretty well confirmed" point was false, as I show here.)

Seeing that Cheney is indeed a member of the Bush administration, it appears that Dr. Rice has been caught in another falsehood. But Cheney is not the only senior official who has promoted the Saddam-9/11 Connection. An anonymous "senior Bush administration official" who quite possibly is known to her friends as "Condi" pushed the story to the Los Angeles Times, just a few weeks before the administration rolled out its anti-Saddam "marketing campaign" in late-summer 2002.

The timing of the push seemed preposterous, as just a few months earlier a flurry of press reports cited FBI and CIA officials who said they were all but certain that Atta was in the U.S. at the time of the alleged meeting. The Prague Connection looked dead, even if such grassy-knoll neocons as Richard Perle, James Woolsey, Frank Gaffney and Ken Adelman, along with demented New York Times columnist William Safire, continued to either believe or pretend to believe it.

On August 2, 2002, the Los Angeles Times reported that the Bush administration had decided to breathe new life into the so-called "Prague Connection" meeting, despite the absence at that very time of confirming evidence - and the presence of substantial (but not 100 percent conclusive) evidence that hijacker Mohammed Atta never met a Prague-based Iraqi intelligence officer. (The original link is unavailable, but the story is reproduced here.)

The story is headlined, "White House says Sept. 11 skyjacker had met Iraqi agent." Here are its first two paragraphs:

Despite deep doubts by the CIA and FBI, the White House is now backing claims that Sept. 11 skyjacker Mohamed Atta secretly met five months earlier with an Iraqi agent in the Czech capital, a possible indication that President Saddam Hussein's regime was involved in the terrorist attacks.

In an interview, a senior Bush administration official said that available evidence of the long-disputed meeting in Prague "holds up." The official added, "We're going to talk more about this case."

On the other hand, reported the Times, "the CIA and FBI concluded months ago that they had no hard evidence to confirm Czech claims that the Prague meeting took place."

The lengthy story is based on named and unnamed sources. Of the unnamed sources, one is identified at first as a "federal law enforcement official," but then as "he," as in "He said." Likewise, an anonymous "U.S. intelligence official" is soon revealed to be a gent, with another "He said."

But we never learn the gender of the "senior Bush administration official." Twice, this person is identified by that description, once as the "U.S. official," and seven times as "the official." Why, it's almost as if the reporters (Bob Drogin, Paul Richter and Doyle McManus) knew that the only way to keep their pledge of hiding the official's identity was to remain mum on the official's gender. You see, using the pronoun "she" would narrow the list of possibilities considerably. There just aren't that many women working at the "senior" level of national security. I'm not sure there is more than one.

Another clue that Rice is the source is found on pp. 151-52 of Stephen Hayes's book The Connection. A reporter for the neoconservative Weekly Standard, Hayes has excellent sources among administration hawks. Here's the passage explaining how various officials regard the likelihood of a Prague Connection:

Still, there are several details of the investigation that have never been publicly revealed. According to Bush administration sources, they are compelling enough to have convinced several top officials on the Bush administration national security team that the April 8, 2001 meeting took place. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice strongly believes that al Ani met with Atta. Vice President Dick Cheney is less certain, but thinks it more likely than not that the two got together. Deputy secretary of defense Paul Wolfowitz, often portrayed as the most hawkish among top administration officials, is more skeptical.

Funny how the Bush administration keeps a lid on all the "details" that lend credence to the Connection, especially after a spate of stories in the mainstream press, based on FBI and CIA sources, poured cold water on the Connection. An alternative explanation is that the administration kept those details under lock and key because they could not withstand the light of day. You can PRETEND TO BELIEVE indefinitely so long as you're not required to publicly present the "evidence" upon which your alleged belief is based.

Despite what Hayes heard from his sources, I have my doubts that Rice truly "strongly believes" that the meeting in Prague took place. She's smart and she reads enough to have been aware of the FBI and CIA's grave-and-gathering doubts. At most, someone as bright as Rice might think, "probably no meeting, but we can't rule it out." My hypothesis is that Rice was assigned the role in the summer of 2002 of "pretending to believe."

I'm no expert on Rice's life and career, but I don't believe she had a reputation pre-2001 for repeatedly saying things she knew or strongly suspected were false. It's possible that, for Rice, going to work for George W. Bush "changed everything."

Recall that several weeks after the Los Angeles Times story appeared, Rice went on CNN and insisted that those aluminum tubes are "only really suited for nuclear weapons programs," even though she knew that such a view was strongly contested by government experts. If she had been a senior official of, say, the Chuck Hagel administration, I believe she would have told CNN's Wolf Blitzer in 2002, "The tubes are either for a nuclear program or for a non-nuclear purpose. Because there are no weapons inspectors in Iraq, we can't say for sure."

Even today, Rice is clinging to the bogus notion that there's still a serious debate - nuke or non-nuke use - about the tubes. That's what she said on ABC October 3. If Rice served under President Hagel, she wouldn't have told the 9/11 Commission that the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Brief from the CIA was basically a rehash of old al-Qaeda history, with nothing that would suggest we'd better watch out right now. From the get-go, Rice would have leveled with the Commission about the contents of that frightening PDB.

Yes, it's possible that Rice (assuming she's the Los Angeles Times' source) believed the things she told one or more of its reporters. But I think it's more plausible that this was just one more lie that this unfortunate woman was cajoled into telling by Bush or his inner circle.

"Be a team player, Condi," someone might have said. "No one likes to lie, but the only way we can build public support to take out that monster Saddam is to give Americans a reason to hate him deep in their guts. It's not like we're asking you to frame Mother Teresa. And remember, it may well be impossible to prove that the Prague Connection meeting DIDN'T take place, so you've got a ready alibi. Look, if you won't put your name behind this belief, would you at least push the story anonymously? You don't have to do it with a tough reporter who knows the story inside and out, like Michael Isikoff We'll arrange a not-for-attribution interview with a crème-puff Washington insider. How about we get Doyle McManus of the L.A. Times? Real pleasant fellow, and a good friend of your friend Gwen Ifill. Thanks, Condi. We owe you one. I mean ten."

Years from now we'll have a much better idea of precisely how the Bush administration divvied up disinformation assignments. But don't be shocked if some of it was done just like that.

Let's get back to the LAT report. Here are seven consecutive paragraphs that present the comments of the mysterious "senior Bush administration official":

In the interview, the senior Bush administration official acknowledged that the White House needs to expand its effort to persuade its allies and the American public that Hussein poses an immediate danger.

In our discussions with our friends around the world, I cannot remember a single one who has not said, 'Of course, the world would be better off without this man in power.' There are those who are concerned about how to do it, and the consequences," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"We would be the first to say that we need to talk more about this," the official added. "But when the case is clear, people will understand in even greater detail why regime change is necessary.

The official said Hussein poses several threats to U.S. interests. The Iraqi leader is a "tactical threat," the U.S. official said, because his Iraqi forces fire on U.S. and British military pilots patrolling swaths of northern and southern Iraq under mandates set by the United Nations.

Hussein is also "spreading terror" in the Middle East, by methods that include offering to pay $25,000 to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and the occupied territories, the official said.

"He also has links to international terrorism," the official said. "There is growing evidence that that includes organizations like Al Qaeda. That would be a mortal threat to the United States."

Asked for specifics, the official cited Atta's alleged meeting in Prague. "The evidence that was out there holds up," the official said.

Alas, even at that time, August 2002, the "evidence" was not holding up. More to the point, the "evidence" never consisted of anything beyond a single assertion of an untested student informant of the Czech intelligence services, who was making a claim that seemed preposterous on its face. Would a seasoned Iraqi intelligence agent who knows he's under surveillance meet IN PUBLIC with a purported co-conspirator in a terrorist plot? Now, three years after 9/11, not one single shred of tangible evidence has emerged to suggest that Atta was anywhere other than the U.S.

Fortunately for Dr. Rice (if she is indeed the mystery source), she seemingly faced zero tough questions from the reporter(s). Here's what she should have been asked after she said the evidence "holds up":

"What 'evidence'? Tell me one single thing that leads you to believe that Atta left the US in early April 2001, arrived in Czechoslovakia, departed Czechoslovakia, or returned to the U.S.? Just one. C'mon, Dr. Rice. You say 'the evidence' holds up. I'm calling your bluff. Every other agency of the federal government says there is no evidence beyond this single unconfirmed sighting by this untested informant. Every known piece of evidence that is credible leads to the conclusion that there was no such meeting and that Atta was in the U.S. Either produce your evidence, or the focus of our story will switch from Iraq and 9/11 to you. It might begin, 'A senior Bush administration official has lied to the Los Angeles Times in an attempt to use the paper to peddle a discredited story that the administration is cynically reviving to build public support for a war against Iraq.' Dr. Rice, we don't appreciate being used and lied to, and now is as good a time as any to put you and the rest of the White House on notice that you'll pay a severe price any time you do."

Alas, it appears that no LAT reporter pressed the "senior Bush administration official."

What "holds up" is not the evidence but the Bush administration's standard operating procedure in framing Iraq to justify an invasion: pretend to believe a single scrap of highly dubious "evidence" while ignoring the mountain of credible evidence that undermines or refutes the explosive allegation.

This is not "certitude"; it's "fake certitude." That's the George W. Bush way. I don't think it was the Condi Rice way prior to 2001, and I doubt it will be the Condi Rice way when she's no longer part of a Bush administration. That doesn't let her off the hook, but it would explain her role in the many unfolding scandals of this oh-so-sordid regime.

Dennis Hans is a freelance writer who has taught courses in mass communications and American foreign policy at the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg; he's also a basketball shooting instructor. Prior to the Iraq war, Hans penned the prescient essays "Lying Us Into War: Exposing Bush and His 'Techniques of Deceit'," and "The Disinformation Age."

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