Some Phase II Conclusions Beyond Comprehension
By Steve Schippert | September 15, 2006
In the ‘Iraqi Links to Al-Qaeda’ section of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s Phase II Report on prewar intelligence on Iraq, Conclusion 9 - the final conclusion – asserts that “additional reviews of documents recovered in Iraq are unlikely to provide information that would contradict the Committee’s findings or conclusions.” This is a bold statement for many reasons, not the least of which is that this can be interpreted as an assertion that the Committee’s findings hold an air of conclusiveness and/or comprehensiveness.
The Intelligence Community has yet to assemble a comprehensive, definitive report on Iraq’s ties to al-Qaeda. The Phase II Report itself notes “the absence of a single comprehensive Intelligence Community analytic product on Iraq’s links to terrorism” on page 6. Therefore, none of the input data considered by the Committee can be considered comprehensive in nature. Yet, the Phase II Report takes on just such a definitive air, especially when considering Conclusion 9’s bold determination that the millions of recovered Iraqi documents “are unlikely to provide information that would contradict the Committee’s findings or conclusions.”
Yet, there is much collected intel and data outside the publicly available DOCEX collection that does contradict many of the Committee’s findings. The unfortunate reality is that much of this data simply was not considered. While it is impossible to consider every item, prudence and the importance of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s oversight role in the American Intelligence programs would dictate that more information should have been considered than was for the Phase II Report.
Brooks Comment on Salman Pak Field Intelligence Expunged
Some information was removed from consideration, as noted in the Committee Action section (Pg. 135), including the observations of Brigadier General Vincent Brooks upon the US offensive and takeover of the terrorist training camp at Salman Pak. Available in open source, General Vincent told an AP reporter that “The nature of the work being done by some of those people we captured, their inferences about the type of training they received, all these things give us the impression that there is terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak. It reinforces the likelihood of links between this regime and external terrorist organizations." This is actionable field intelligence, shared in part by the deputy operations commander in Iraq, which led to the offensive on Salman Pak.
Conclusion 4 reads, “Postwar findings support the April 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) assessment that there was no credible reporting on al-Qa’ida training at Salman Pak or anywhere else in Iraq.”
There are two issues with this statement. Firstly, the report in Conclusion 4 does not use language to confirm that Salman Pak was indeed a terrorist training camp, but rather seems to skirt the issue by instead stating that it cannot be confirmed as an al-Qaeda terrorist training camp. Even if so, the War is not limited to defending against card-carrying al-Qaeda terrorists, nor should it be.
Secondly, there is much evidence to support claims that al-Qaeda was indeed training elsewhere in Iraq, namely the presence of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi at Ansar al-Islam camps in Iraq immediately following the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan, from where he had fled to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. This will be detailed subsequently in latter installments of this series that will focus on Zarqawi and Ansar al-Islam.
Forged Documents Mentioned, Others Ignored Entirely
As the SSCI Phase II Report notes and rightly dismisses “a number of forged documents captured in Iraq on a variety of topics” including some regarding Zarqawi, not included among those forged documents – nor apparently among the genuine documents that the Committee considered - are those mentioned by a Jordanian security official within the context of describing the manner in which the Hussein regime ignored repeated Jordanian requests for the extradition of Zarqawi. According to the Jordanian official’s account described in the Washington Post, “documents recovered after its overthrow in 2003 show that Iraqi agents did detain some Zarqawi operatives but released them after questioning. Furthermore, the Iraqis warned the Zarqawi operatives that the Jordanians knew where they were.” The existence of these documents has not been disputed, yet these important potential indicators of high-level Iraqi regime support for Zarqawi before the 2003 invasion are not considered in the Committee’s report.
While understood by most of the American public as the deceased leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and responsible for attacks on both coalition forces and civilians – including gruesome taped beheadings as propaganda messages – it should be remembered that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was long before connected to the December 1999 millennium plot designed for coordinated attacks in the United States, Jordan and Israel.
Dr Muhammed al-Masari, like bin Laden, is a Saudi Arabian dissident who opposes the royal family's leadership. al-Masari supports bin Laden and his views and, from London, hosts a jihadi website that posts al-Qaeda news and messages. Described in Intelligence circles as a well-connected al-Qaeda front man, al-Masari helps al-Qaeda engage in the Information Warfare battle for the hearts and minds of potential jihadists. He described al-Qaeda’s influx into Iraq through the terrorist group Ansar al-Islam. While described as “anti-Hussein” and “anti-secular,” their primary foe on the ground in Iraq were the Kurds, a common enemy also held by Saddam, who is currently on trial for crimes against humanity for, among other things, using chemical weapons (mustard gas and VX nerve agents) on Kurdish villages.
Noting that Saddam Hussein, fearing a US military invasion once Afghanistan would be decided, began to actively court the “Arab Afghan” al-Qaeda terrorists to come to Iraq and form a jihadi resistance against a more powerful common enemy. It is worth noting at this point that the SSCI Phase II Report gives full credence to Saddam Hussein’s statement from jail that he did not view America as an enemy, and that “Iraq only opposed U.S. policies. He specified that if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the U.S., he would have allied with North Korea or China.”
The SSCI Phase II report accepts Hussein’s postwar words and logic at face value to support a conclusion that there were no ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. However, it fails to carry this accepted logic to support a view that would contradict Phase II Conclusion 6 which finds that Ansar al-Islam was seen only as “a threat to the regime” and that the IIS only “attempted to collect intelligence” on them.
To apply Hussein’s logic accepted by the SSCI Phase II report, if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the Kurds, whose civilian population he directly used chemical weapons against, he would have allied with Ansar al-Islam. Rather, the report ignores this and applies his statement to only support their conclusion regarding ties to al-Qaeda proper without presenting it as contradictory to its conclusion that there were no ties between Iraq and Ansar al-Islam beyond adversarial.
Yet, the al-Qaeda front man, Dr Muhammed al-Masari, described how Saddam was paying for the terrorists’ move into Iraq. “According to Masari, Saddam saw that Islam would be key to a cohesive resistance in the event of invasion. Iraqi army commanders were ordered to become practising Muslims and to adopt the language and spirit of the jihadis. On arrival in Iraq, Al-Qaeda operatives were put in touch with these commanders, who later facilitated the distribution of arms and money from Saddam’s caches.”
Previous Intelligence Reports Contradicted
While this relationship is dismissed by the report, it is not merely a spur of the moment relationship of survival or convenience. The SSCI Phase II Report in fact acknowledges a DIA report that states al-Qaeda has “proven ties to Ansar al-Islam.”
The SSCI Phase II Report also contradicts the 9-11 Commission Report, which documents Iraqi ties with al-Qaeda, including at least one meeting between the Iraqi Intelligence Service and al-Qaeda leaders. Chapter 2 of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States Report (aka 9-11 Commission Report) states in part:
"In mid-1998, the situation reversed; it was Iraq that reportedly took the initiative. In March 1998, after Bin Ladin's public fatwa against the United States, two al Qaeda members reportedly went to Iraq to meet with Iraqi intelligence. In July, an Iraqi delegation traveled to Afghanistan to meet first with the Taliban and then with Bin Ladin. Sources reported that one, or perhaps both, of these meetings was apparently arranged through Bin Ladin's Egyptian deputy, Zawahiri, who had ties of his own to the Iraqis. In 1998, Iraq was under intensifying U.S. pressure, which culminated in a series of large air attacks in December."
The meetings between Farouq Hijazi, at the time head of the Iraqi Intelligence Service's external operations, and al-Qaeda - reportedly at least one with bin Laden personally - cannot be responsibly dismissed as irrelevant in any assessment exploring Iraq/al-Qaeda ties. The SSCI Phase II Report appears to do just this.
Illogical Confidence In DOCEX Success
Many Iraqi documents are not considered by the Committee’s Phase II report while also confidently prophesying that the millions of other recovered Iraqi documents yet to be analyzed will not come into conflict with any of the Phase II conclusions. Considering that the Phase II Report’s conclusions with regard to Iraqi ties to terrorism often conflict with those of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s own Phase I Report and the 9/11 Commission’s final report, this bold statement is even more curious.
The Committee’s Phase II report openly acknowledges that of 120 million Iraqi documents recovered after the 2003 invasion, only “34 million pages have been translated and summarized to some extent” as of early 2006. Precisely how much analysis is entailed in being “translated and summarized to some extent” for those documents is also unclear.
The documents recovered in Iraq are part of the DOCEX efforts and the task of analyzing them is nothing short of daunting. The ‘documents’ include paper files, government and private hard drives, diskettes and CD’s as well as audio and video tapes. The number of documents – in paper, digital and other media forms – is in the millions, a staggering number. Many of the unclassified documents recovered in Iraq are made publicly available through the US Army Foreign Military Studies Office.
Just how many of the documents have been analyzed is classified information, but to be sure it is a very small percentage. A January 2006 article by Stephen Hayes suggested that there had been at that time only “50,000 documents translated completely out of a total of 2 million.” The Phase II Report rightly points to the fact that the initial wave of analysis focused on WMD, and said one former military intelligence officer quoted in Hayes’ article, "At first, if it wasn't WMD, it wasn't translated. It wasn't exploited." While indicative of a concerted effort, it remains to be seen just how effective these efforts were, especially considering a focus on terrorism came along only later. It cannot be known until all of the documents have been properly translated and vetted.
Speaking to the sheer volume of documents yet to be exploited and the linear approach currently employed to tackle them, Michael Tanji, former chief of the media exploitation division in the office of document exploitation at the Defense Intelligence Agency said to The Weekly Standard, “As most of this material has come to us without any context (‘hard drives found in Iraq’ was a common label attached to captured media) that approach means our great-grandchildren will still be dealing with this problem.”
With these considerations, Conclusion 9 appears to be included in the SSCI Phase II Report for the limited purposes of buttressing the previous eight conclusions while dismissing the value of the remaining millions of documents that may well provide data to support conflicting views. With regards to DOCEX, there are millions of documents yet to be translated and reviewed.
The SSCI Phase II Report in its current form is banking on perfection in US Military and Intelligence procedure and execution in vetting WMD and terrorism related documents written in Arabic, often by hand. Considering the intimidating volume of documents and the relative dearth of Arabic linguists to perform the work, this confidence is misplaced. But this misplaced confidence is through no fault of the analysts and linguists combing though mostly mundane documents, as Michael Tanji puts it, by “brute force.”
With the current linear process for achieving a full review a task requiring years to achieve, Conclusion 9 seeks to assure us that “our great-grandchildren” will have found nothing to contradict the conclusions of a Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Report that utilized select non-comprehensive reports to arrive at purportedly indisputable conclusions. This assertion in Conclusion 9 falls outside the scope of logic and reason, existing data outside the scope of DOCEX notwithstanding.