Monday, July 28, 2003

Veteran Journalist Michael Isikoff's Online Session

A few of the more interesting moments:

Chicago, IL: Is Iraq mentioned in the report at all?

Michael Isikoff: Barely. There's one sentence in 900 pages, quoting some earlier testimony from Tenet saying that Mohammed Atta "may" have met with an Iraq intelligence agent in Prague--and that the CIA was working to corroborate this. My sense is that Tenet mentioned this in the first place for political reasons because nobody in the FBI and CIA takes that report seriously anymore--and not a scrap of evidence has surfaced to support the idea that the meeting took place.


Brussels, Belgium: How is it that Bush wants to protect the only foreign country which the CIA had found to have direct links with Al Qaeda whereas he singled out Iraq as the culprit in spite of a CIA report concluding that Iraq had not been involved in terrorist activity in the last 10 years? Is the CIA of any use to this president?

Michael Isikoff: The CIA has been enormously useful to the president. Tenet has helped the Bush White House on many fronts; it was he who would have made the ultimate calls about what could, or could not, have been declassified for this report. My sense is that the CIA has always been skeptical about too strong an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection and only went along with what Powell said to the U.N. after being very careful about the actual wording. (more was implied about this connection than was actually said, if you read the words closely.)


Houston, TX: National-security people came to Crawford, Texas, to brief the president on or about Aug. 6, 2001. Was that standard procedure, and was it about a threat of attack and what was the president's response? Do you know anything about this? Will we people ever know?

Michael Isikoff: Yes, we have learned a lot more about that briefing thanks to the report. It had previously been acknowledged by Condi Rice that the briefing covered the matter of Al Qaeda using airplanes as weapons. When Condi Rice briefed the press on this last year, she dismissed the significance of the briefing, saying it was "very vague" and mostly "historical" and did not constitute a warning for the president. In fact, we now learn, the briefing was much more detailed--and alarming. Bush was told that members of Al Qaeda had come to and resided in the United States "for years" and that the "group apparently maintained a support structure here." It also included recent intelligence that bin Laden supporters were "planning attacks in the United States with explosives." None of this was disclosed by the White House before.

So there you have it. The connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq was, at best, minimal; the CIA was skeptical, but felt pressured into following the Bush administration line. Even more damning: Bush knew more about the potential for bin Laden attacks than he was ever willing to admit for months after they actually happened.

We've all been had in many more ways than one. Of course, I, and many others, have been saying this for a looooong time now...

For more of Isikoff's question and answer session, click here.

Thanks to Eschaton for the link.