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August 12, 2005
One More Look At Prague (Updates With Corroboration)

Read the updates for corroborating links.

My last post reviews a rather obscure report on the discovery of an Iraqi spy ring in Germany in February or March of 2001, resulting in the capture of two Iraqi Intelligence Services agents. The Arabic newspaper that reported it in March 2001 also reported that the CIA tipped the Germans to the Iraqi operation and that the FBI and CIA interrogated the two captured spies. I looked around for any reporting on this story in the American or British mainstream media (anything in English), even in Nexis, and came up empty.

This story may not pan out. However, it apparently has never been denied, and if it is true, one would have expected the CIA and FBI to bring this to the attention of the 9/11 Commission -- or at least the existence of the report itself. The 9/11 report makes no mention of this development at all.

I explained in the last post how this could change the notion that Iraq had no operational involvement in 9/11, as the main effort of the Hamburg cell at that time was supporting Atta for the upcoming attacks. Instead, let's take a look at the effect this would have had on Atta and his ability to get the logistical support he needed from his cell in Germany, now apparently compromised. After all, Mohammed Atta still had to get sixteen terrorists safely into the US using the Hamburg cell as his line of communication to the AQ network at the time of the purported trip to Prague.

Until Atta could make a new connection to AQ in Europe, he could not travel or communicate back to Germany. To do so would be an unpalatable risk to his cover. Instead, Atta would need to go somewhere that could give him new logistical support and rebuild his lines of communication. When the time came to go to the well again, Atta had to carefully relink to the network.

How does Atta reconnect to his support? With the operation compromised, he won't feel safe with either going back to Germany or traveling under his own name until he knows how badly the operations have been disrupted. Instead, he uses a safe cover -- one he likely would use only once -- to make his way to another station to re-establish his logistical support. Prague would be close enough to the situation for others in the network to have assessed the damage done by the Germans and to decide whether to abort the mission altogether.

Again, if the Al-Watan Al-Arabi reports turn out to be correct, this would explain why Atta felt the need to travel under an assumed identity, and why he went to Prague rather than Hamburg to meet with Iraqi agents. That meeting would be necessary for Atta to determine if he and his team should continue to make plans and whether to bring in the "muscle" hijackers, which happened a short while afterwards. If the Germans had found out about their operation and discovered his identity, then sending the other hijackers to the US could have meant walking into a trap.

This would explain why Atta changed his usual routine and traveled under an assumed identity. After reconnecting to the network and getting assurances that the network was secure, he could use his real identity on his next trip.

Does any of this constitute proof? No. But the evidence we see this far fits this theory, and if the Al-Watan Al-Arabi report is true, the 9/11 report doesn't. We need to start rethinking this from the beginning, dump the preconceived notions, and gather all of the evidence together to understand what really happened to us on 9/11.

UPDATE: Thanks to CQ reader Elly, we have multiple media sources for confirmation. The Germans arrested the Iraqi intelligence agents on February 25th and 27th. First the BBC:

Two Iraqis have been arrested in Germany on urgent suspicion of spying.

The German federal prosecutor's office said that the two were suspected of working for an Iraqi intelligence agency.

"The two accused are suspected of having carried out missions on behalf of an Iraqi intelligence agency in various cities in Germany since the beginning of the year 2001," a brief statement said.

Next, Reuters reported it a few hours later (Newsmax had essentially the same report the next day):

German state prosecutors said on Thursday federal police had arrested two Iraqis on suspicion of spying.

The two men were detained in Heidelberg, according to a German television report. German officials declined to comment on the report. ... "They are suspected of carrying out missions for an Iraqi intelligence service in a number of German towns since the beginning of 2001,'' said a spokeswoman for state prosecutor Kay Nehm in Karlsruhe.

Now we have some corroboration for the existence of an Iraqi espionage operation in Germany. Reuters speculated that the spies may have wanted to conduct sabotage operations against American forces in Germany in retaliation for joint Anglo-American attacks that week on Iraqi radar sites. However, all reports mention that the spies had conducted operations in several German cities -- which makes it sound like they had a network-support mission going at least in parallel to whatever else they might have done on their own.

Two weeks later, the Arabic newspaper in Paris might have had better information on the activity of the Iraqi spies, as well as the involvement of the CIA and the FBI. Now that we have some confirmation of the arrests, we need to find out whether any American security services did in fact question these Iraqi agents in Germany, what they found, and whether that information came to the 9/11 Commission. It sure didn't make it into their report.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at August 12, 2005 6:24 PM

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