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Thursday, September 18, 2003

Iraq and 9/11

I know a lot of people today are buzzing about the President acknowledging that the US has no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to 9/11. This clarification, if we want to call it that, could spell more trouble for the administration over Iraq.


Well, if it wasn't about 9/11 and there are no WMD in Iraq, but Americans are still dying and it costs $1 billion per week.... Hmmm. Was the invasion a good idea?

Setting aside that question for the minute, I'm interested in how the American people came to believe, as polls still show, that Hussein was directly linked to 9/11.

One person who does believe is Laurie Mylroie. Her book Study of Revenge -- Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America argues that Hussein was behind the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and she has often expressed the opinion that Hussein was behind 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks. For example, Mylroie told FOX News in November 2001:

"Hussein has also been involved in all major terrorist attacks on the West since the Gulf War....The cumulative evidence that Iraq was a key player in the September 11 attack and subsequent anthrax attacks is overwhelming."

Mylroie has been making these arguments since September 2001. Indeed, she made essentially the same points to CNN, October 29, 2001. And don't think this is it, search around the internet and you'll learn that Mylroie is a frequent neoconservative guest on a wide variety of programs, from CNN's "Inside Politics" to "The Big Story With John Gibson" (apparently on FOX News).

Mylroie's claims are in direct contrast to evidence presented in the State Department's annual report on terrorism, which in April 2001 found that "The [Iraqi] regime has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack since its failed plot to assassinate former President Bush in 1993 in Kuwait."

So what's going on here? Well, according to Mylroie, a grand conspiracy is at work. The State Department and CIA have tried to block the release of information linking Iraq to terrorism like 9/11. She presented this theory to Fox News in fall 2002 and repeats it in her latest book, Bush vs The Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror.

Still, despite the bureaucratic opposion, according to Mylroie (in an interview she gave to PBS in October 2002), some people in Washington agree with her:

"The Pentagon believes Iraq is behind the terrorism that began on September 11 and wants to include Iraq as a central target in our war on terrorism. "

If you stick with Mylroie, however, you soon uncover other rather odd conclusions she's drawn over the years (she even tries to link Iraq to the Oklahoma City bombing!). For example, she thinks bin Laden and Hussein have long been in direct cahoots and that bin Laden is essentially, a cover for state terrorism:

"Bin Laden and Saddam are working together; they're both in it together. But between Iraqi intelligence and Al Qaeda, the far more important party is Iraqi intelligence. Bin Laden also worked with Sudanese intelligence. That came out in the trial for the 1998 embassy bombing. Bin Laden works with the Taliban. He's not as important as we think. He does not work independently of a state, of a government. But because we have not seen the links, or perhaps not wanted to see the links between Osama bin Laden and various governments, we ourselves have attributed to him capabilities that he alone does not possess."

By the way, this is not "old news." Mylroie is still making the same arguments in widely distributed conservative circles. For example, on the 2-year anniversary of 9/11, National Review ran an interview with her. She repeated the same basic claims and tried to bolster her case:

"After the 9/11 Commission panel, former Navy Secretary John Lehman, one of the commissioners, told the press that he thought Iraq was involved in the attacks, citing the terrorist training camp at Salman Pak."

Do (or did) the neocons and/or Bush take Mylroie seriously over the past 2 years?

James Woolsey, former director of the CIA and frequent neocon guest on various TV programs, wrote an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, October 18, 2001. In that piece (the prior link is to the google archive), Woolsey speculates about state assistance to bin Laden: "But by far the more likely candidate for involvement with al Qaeda is Iraq, for several reasons." He goes on to make some of the claims Mylroie makes in her books and interviews. And he has repeated these claims on various occasions.

There has already been plenty written about the neocon influence on Bush's foreign policy, but much of that has focused on the role played by those embedded in the Pentagon or State Department like Wolfowitz, Libby and Bolton.

The outsiders like Mylroie and Woolsey perhaps played an even bigger role shaping public opinion in preparation for war -- on grounds that even the administration now openly denies.

And there are clearly connections among these neocons. As Tony Karon of Time reported in July Wolfowitz provided a complementary blurb on Mylroie's book. He wrote that she "argues powerfully that the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing was actually an agent of Iraqi intelligence."

That Time story also quotes Richard Perle's blurb, a neocon serving on Bush's Defense Policy Advisory Board: "Laurie Myroie has amassed convincing evidence of Saddam Hussein's involvement in the first attempt to blow up the World Trade Center. If she is right -- and there are simple ways to test her hypothesis -- we would be justified in concluding that Saddam was probably involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks as well."

The story does a very good job of showing why Mylroie is wrong -- and points out that her testimony before government authorities (congressional hearings and the 9/11 Commission) has been effectively questioned and refuted.

However, who countered Mylroie when she shaped public opinion on FOX or CNN?

No one, apparently.

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