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Iraq-Qaeda Links Doubted

Some intelligence and Pentagon officials cast doubt on a leaked memo that purports to contain evidence of longstanding links between Saddam Hussein's regime and the al Qaeda terrorist network.

The Weekly Standard magazine this week printed large portions of the Oct. 27 memo from Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The committee is investigating whether prewar intelligence overstated the threat posed by Iraq. Committee Democrats have focused on Feith's Pentagon office as they question whether the Bush administration distorted intelligence to make the case for war.

Critics have said Feith's Office of Special Plans selectively mined intelligence to produce reports, choosing only the data that supported the conclusion Saddam was illegally armed and an imminent threat with terrorist links.

The Standard said the memo culls together intelligence from the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and defense intelligence. The magazine said the memo depicted "a history of collaboration between two of America's most determined and dangerous enemies."

But according to several published reports, the Feith memo contains much old information that was unverified. Some of it, according to Newsweek, was contradicted by other information not mentioned in the memo.

Some information mentioned in the memo were used by the CIA in an October 2002 letter to Congress laying out its suspicions about Iraq.

According to the Washington Post, CIA director George Tenet said in the letter that there were "credible" reports of contact between Iraq and al Qaeda, with the terror group seeking access to weapons of mass destruction.

But Tenet added that the information "was questioned by other sources, comes from third countries that are not reliable or could not be verified."

"If you don't understand how intelligence works, you could look at this memo and say, 'Aha, there was an operational connection between Saddam and Al Qaeda,'" a Pentagon official told The Times. "But intelligence is about sorting what is credible from what isn't, and I think the best judgment about Iraq and al Qaeda is that the jury is still out."

According to the Standard, the memo details a relationship that began in 1990 when al Qaeda sent envoys to Jordan to meet with Iraqi officials. Intelligence suggests Saddam was also interested in a relationship as early as 1991.

The memo, in the account provided by the Standard, details reports of a series of meetings from 1992 on involving various Iraqi officials and al Qaeda operatives, including bin Laden. A former senior Iraqi intelligence official is quoted as claiming that bin Laden met Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz.

During these meetings, the suggestion is that al Qaeda sought instruction on making bombs and deploying poison gas, as well as money, passports and safe haven. Iraq allegedly wanted operatives for sabotage attacks on the United States and Britain. The establishment of terrorist camps in Iraq was also discussed, although it is unclear if any were built.

According to the Standard, the memo repeats disputed claims that Sept. 11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met in Prague in 2001 with the former head of the Iraqi intelligence station there, and that the Iraqi may have given Atta funds. The CIA and FBI have not confirmed that meeting occurred.

It also reports that an Iraqi national working in Malaysia helped a Sept. 11 hijacker get to a January 2000 meeting in Kuala Lampur.

President Bush and other administration officials have recently acknowledged there are no links between Saddam and Sept. 11.

According to portions that have been declassified, the CIA's October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq — a key prewar summary of data on the country — said that Saddam might ally with al Qaeda "if sufficiently desperate."

The NIE reported that under such circumstances, Saddam might decide to assist al Qaeda with an attack using weapons of mass destruction. But it treated that conclusion with a low degree of confidence.

Intelligence committee leaders asked the Justice Department to investigate who leaked the top-secret memo, an act that may have been illegal.

In related news, USA Today reports the CIA's internal review of prewar intelligence is expanding to look at the raw data that underlay the agency's reports.

Despite the Bush administration's claims that Iraq possessed illegal chemical and biological weapons and an active nuclear weapons program, U.S. weapons hunters have found no banned arms or solid evidence of active programs to make them.

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