"CIA's New Old Iraq File" -- Jim Hoagland in The Washington Post, 10/20/02:
Imagine that Saddam Hussein has been offering terrorist training and other lethal support to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda for years. You can't imagine that? Sign up over there. You can be a Middle East analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Or at least you could have been until recently. As President Bush's determination to overthrow the Iraqi dictator has become evident to all, a cultural change has come over the world's most expensive intelligence agency: Some analysts out at Langley are now willing to evaluate incriminating evidence against the Iraqis and call it just that.
That development has triggered a fierce internal agency struggle pitting officials whose careers and reputations were built on the old analysis of the Iraqis as a feckless, inert and inward-looking bunch of thugs against those willing to take a fresh, untilted look at all the evidence.
One breeze of change came in President Bush's Oct. 7 speech in Cincinnati. Among the terror-related items that were declassified for the speech was an agency finding that Iraq is developing "a growing fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles" to deliver chemical and biological weapons on U.S. targets.
That was new stuff, delivered by a determined and effective CIA collection effort earlier this year. Agency information also allowed the president to assert (accurately) that "Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases." . . .
After four months of inconclusive debate following Sept. 11, the agency produced a new analysis last spring titled: "Iraq and al Qaeda: A Murky Relationship." It fails to make much of a case for anything, I am told. It echoes the views of Paul Pillar, the national intelligence officer for the Middle East and South Asia, and other analysts who have consistently expressed doubts that Iraq has engaged in international terrorism or trained others to do so since 1993.
More damaging to their case than the accumulating new evidence to the contrary is "old" information long available in CIA files: Iraqi intelligence officers meeting in Khartoum and Kandahar with Osama bin Laden, the nonaggression pact Saddam and Osama reached in 1993, training in Baghdad for international terrorism and the multiple trips to Prague made by Mohamed Atta, the head of the Sept. 11 suicide squads, are all there. These specific reports and much more have been explained away and minimized rather than thoroughly investigated.