Joe Conason's Journal

American personnel are more devoted to linking Osama to Saddam than to finding and "neutralizing" him.

By Salon Staff
Published July 30, 2003 9:40PM (EDT)

Scenes from the front (and rear) of the terror war
Did the president promise new proof of Saddam Hussein's connections with al-Qaida at his morning press conference? A reporter asked about the CIA's National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, which downplayed those alleged links last fall (and which I discuss in more detail here), and then challenged him to provide "definitive evidence" of the connection.

In response, Bush cited the "mounds of evidence, literally, the miles of documents that we have uncovered," and then mentioned that he had just met with the chief U.S. weapons hunter, a former employee of UNSCOM:

"David Kaye came to see me yesterday. He's going to testify in closed hearing tomorrow -- which in Washington may not be so closed, as you know. And he was telling me the process that they were going through to analyze all the documentation. And that's not only to analyze the documentation on the weapons programs that Saddam Hussein had, but also the documentation as to terrorist links. And it's just going to take awhile, and I'm confident the truth will come out."

Pending the arrival of "the truth," however, a reader has suggested that the Niger yellowcake/aluminum tubes fraud be referred to henceforth as Exaggerate-gate.

For a sense of what the government's preoccupation with Iraq may have cost us in the war against real terror, don't miss Jane Mayer's extraordinary "Letter From Washington" in the current New Yorker on the aborted search for Osama bin Laden. More American personnel and effort are now devoted to finding any scrap of paper that might link Osama to Saddam than to finding and "neutralizing" him.

Among Mayer's telling quotes is this from Rohan Gunaratna, a Sri Lankan expert on al-Qaida: "I feel that if they had not gone to Iraq they would have found Osama by now. The best people were moved away from this operation. The best minds were moved to Iraq. It's a great shame. It's the biggest military failure in the war on terrorism so far. The Americans need more resources, and more high-level people exclusively assigned to this task."

And for historical interest, Mayer also elicited former counterterror "czar" Richard Clarke's recollection of a notorious episode in the hunt for bin Laden:

"CIA officials went to the White House and said they had 'specific, predictive, actionable' intelligence that bin Laden would soon be attending a particular meeting, in a particular place. 'It was a rare occurrence,' Clarke said. Clinton authorized a lethal attack. The target date, however -- August 20, 1998 -- nearly coincided with Clinton's deposition about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Clarke said that he and other top national security officials at the White House went to see Clinton to warn him that he would likely be accused of 'wagging the dog' in order to distract the public from his political embarrassment. Clinton was enraged. 'Don't you fucking tell me about my political problems, or my personal problems,' Clinton said, according to Clarke. 'You tell me about national security. Is it the right thing to do?' Clarke thought it was. 'Then fucking do it,' Clinton told him."

On a somewhat lighter note, consider this takedown of the Pentagon's loony (and now inoperative) Policy Analysis Market scheme, delivered by an astute reader named Henry:

"Once you have a futures market, you have derivative instruments and people selling them and speculating on them ... Scenario: Some rich clown doesn't like Tony Blair -- so he puts $1 million on Blair getting offed in six months. After three months, he doubles [the bet]. People notice and jump on the bandwagon. Pretty soon, people are blowing millions on the idea that Blair's dead meat.

"When it appears that it isn't going to happen because the seed money was [bet] by someone who had no intention of offing Blair -- but now there are millions riding on it -- some asshole is going to figure: 'Hey, it's [been] five months, and I don't see or hear any movement on the Blair thing -- I'm going to lose my shirt!'

"So, he hires some sleazy hit man to perforate Tony. Not even a terrorist -- but someone doing the work for the terrorists at the behest of the logic of a market-speculation instrument ... Now the original options were placed for peanuts, so the originator gets filthy rich, and he never had anything to do with Blair's death.

"And all these people who invested early in derivatives based on the future options get rich. Their investment forced an assassination. It's like these [Pentagon] people never heard of Heisenberg ... That was the evil of this whole thing."
[3:30 p.m. PDT, July 30, 2003]

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