Although there were certainly disagreements between the CIA and [former DoD undersecretary Douglas] Feith's shop, both argued in 2002 that there was a relationship between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda. George Tenet, then the director of central intelligence, stated the CIA's position quite clearly in an October 7, 2002 letter to then head of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL). Tenet explained, "We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade." Iraq and al Qaeda "have discussed safe haven and reciprocal non-aggression." Tenet warned, "We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs." And, "Iraq's increasing support to extremist Palestinians, coupled with growing indications of a relationship with al-Qaeda, suggest that Baghdad's links to terrorists will increase, even absent US military action."
Tenet was far from alone in these assessments. Michael Scheuer, the one-time head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, also used to be certain that Iraq and al Qaeda were working together. Scheuer's first book on al Qaeda, Through Our Enemies' Eyes, which was published in 2002, went into elaborate detail about the support the Iraqi regime was providing to al Qaeda. Among the areas of concern was Iraq's ongoing support for al Qaeda's chemical weapons development projects in the Sudan.
Here is just a small sample of what some of the Iraqi intelligence documents and other evidence collected in postwar Iraq has revealed:
1. Saddam's Terror Training Camps & Long-Standing Relationship With Ayman al-Zawahiri. As first reported in THE WEEKLY STANDARD, there is extensive evidence that Saddam used Iraqi soil to train terrorists from throughout the Middle East. Among the terrorists who received Saddam's support were members of al Qaeda's Algerian affiliate, formerly known as the GSPC, which is still lethally active, though under a new name: al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.* * *
2. A 1992 IIS Document lists Osama bin Laden as an "asset." An Iraqi Intelligence memorandum dated March 28, 1992 and stamped "Top Secret" lists a number of assets. Osama bin Laden is listed on page 14 as having a "good relationship" with the Iraqi Intelligence Service's section in Syria.
3. A 1997 IIS document lists a number of meetings between Iraq, bin Laden and other al Qaeda associates. The memo recounts discussions of cooperating in attacks against American stationed in Saudi Arabia. The document summarizes a number of contacts between Iraqi Intelligence and Saudi oppositionist groups, including al Qaeda, during the mid 1990's. The document says that in early 1995 bin Laden requested Iraqi assistance in two ways. First, bin Laden wanted Iraqi television to carry al Qaeda's anti-Saudi propaganda. Saddam agreed. Second, bin Laden requested Iraqi assistance in performing "joint operations against the foreign forces in the land of Hijaz." That is, bin Laden wanted Iraq's assistance in attacking U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia.
We do not know what, exactly, came of bin Laden's second request. But the document indicates that Saddam's operatives "were left to develop the relationship and the cooperation between the two sides to see what other doors of cooperation and agreement open up." Thus, it appears that both sides saw value in working with each other. It is also worth noting that in the months following bin Laden's request, al Qaeda was tied to a series of bombings in Saudi Arabia.
The document also recounts contacts with Mohammed al-Massari, a known al Qaeda mouthpiece living in London.
4. A 1998 IIS document reveals that a representative of bin Laden visited Baghdad in March 1998 to meet with Saddam's regime. According to the memo, the IIS arranged a visit for bin Laden's "trusted confidant," who stayed in a regime-controlled hotel for more than two weeks. Interestingly, according to other evidence discovered by the U.S. intelligence community, Ayman al-Zawahiri was also in Baghdad the month before. He collected a check for $300,000 from the Iraqi regime. The 9-11 Commission confirmed that there were a series of meetings (perhaps set up by Zawahiri, who had "ties of his own" to the Iraq regime) in the following months as well.
5. Numerous IIS documents demonstrate that Saddam had made plans for a terrorist-style insurgency and coordinated the influx of foreign terrorists into Iraq. In My Year in Iraq, Ambassador Paul Bremer says a secret IIS document he had seen "showed that Saddam had made plans for an insurgency." Moreover, "the insurgency had forces to draw on from among several thousand hardened Baathists in two northern Republican Guard divisions that had joined forces with foreign jihadis."