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November 18, 2003
Slate Picks Up the Scent

Slate (no friend of the Bush administration) has picked up the story of the Hayes memo and the Saddam/al-Qaeda connection in two articles today; the first revisits the thread of the Prague-Mohammed Atta visit, and the second deals directly with the apathy of the press regarding the Feith memo. (via Croooow Blog)

Edward Jay Epstein retraces the investigation into Mohammed Atta's travels prior to 9/11, specifically the Czech intelligence report -- never repudiated by the Czechs -- that Atta met with Iraqi officials known to be IIS operatives:

The reason there had been joint Czech-American interest in the case traced back to the December 1998 when al-Ani's predecessor at the Iraq Embassy, Jabir Salim, defected from his post. In his debriefings, Salim said that he had been supplied with $150,000 by Baghdad to prepare a car-bombing of an American target, the Prague headquarters of Radio Free Europe. (This bombing never took place because Salim could not recruit a bomber.)

So when al-Ani replaced Salim at the Iraq Embassy in Prague in 1999, both the United States and the Czech Republic wanted him closely watched in case he had a similar assignment. ... Then, on April 8, 2001, a BIS watcher saw al-Ani meeting in a restaurant outside Prague with an Arab man in his 20s. This set off alarm bells because a BIS informant in the Arab community had provided information indicating that the person with whom al-Ani was meeting was a visiting "student" from Hamburg—and one who was potentially dangerous.

Three days after the 9/11 attack, the Czech Republic was able to identify the "student" as Mohammed Atta. The Czechs contacted the FBI, who became extremely interested, at least at first, before the story leaked out of Washington. Clearly embarrassed by the implications, the FBI then backtracked and let out a story that Atta could not possibly have been in Prague at the time of that meeting; "federal law enforcement officials" told the New York Times that the FBI had in its possession records of car rentals and hotel receipts that coincided with that date. The press reported that Atta had definitely been in Virginia Beach at the time, and the story was treated like a rumor, one with an express purpose to erroneously link Saddam to 9/11. It is still presented as an argument of American dementia by the left, specifically as an argument against Fox News and Rupert Murdoch.

The only problem is that the FBI had no car rental records or hotel receipts for Atta that covers that time:

All these reports attributed to the FBI were, as it turns out, erroneous. There were no car rental records in Virginia, Florida, or anywhere else in April 2001 for Mohamed Atta, since he had not yet obtained his Florida license. His international license was at his father's home in Cairo, Egypt (where his roommate Marwan al-Shehhi picked it up in late April). Nor were there other records in the hands of the FBI that put Atta in the United States at the time. Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet testified to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in June 2002, "It is possible that Atta traveled under an unknown alias" to "meet with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague." Clearly, it was not beyond the capabilities of the 9/11 hijackers to use aliases.

Obviously, just because he could have traveled to Prague doesn't mean he actually did. But Atta was in Prague before then. Despite knowing that he could not leave the airport terminal because of a snag in his visa, Atta traveled from Bonn to Prague on May 30, 2000 and spent six hours in the transit lounge, staying out of surveillance camera range. He flew back to Hamburg without ever leaving the airport. Why is this significant? Because his visa would have allowed him to leave the airport on May 31. Why then fly on the 30th? Did he have a meeting that could not wait, and if so, what could it have been? Perhaps not coincidentally, large sums of money began flowing to the 9/11 conspirators in June 2000.

Unfortunately, the FBI is no longer cooperating with the Czech probe, so no further answers have been forthcoming. Perhaps this is a good time to ask why.

In the second story, Jack Shaefer wonders why the national press hasn't aggressively reported on the leaked Feith memo:

One anonymous "former senior intelligence officer" quoted by Pincus sniffs that the memo is not an intelligence product but "data points ... among the millions of holdings of the intelligence agencies, many of which are simply not thought likely to be true."

Help me! Many a reporter has hitched a ride onto Page One with the leak of intelligence much rawer than the stuff in Feith's memo. You can bet the farm that if a mainstream publication had gotten the Feith memo first, it would have used it immediately—perhaps as a hook to re-examine the ongoing war between the Pentagon and CIA about how to interpret intelligence. Likewise, you'd be wise to bet your wife's farm that had a similar memo arguing no Saddam-Osama connection been leaked to the press, it would have generated 100 times the news interest as the Hayes story.

Shaefer hits the nail on the head -- this memo doesn't conform to the accepted wisdom of the mainstream press, so they're choosing to ignore it, except in terms of who leaked it. Read Shaefer's entire column; it's encouraging to those of us who want the memo explored in much more depth than we're seeing right now. As a commenter said over at Roger Simon's blog, "This is the most important story of the war." The media should start recognizing that.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 18, 2003 10:43 PM

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