Iraqi Spies and the Voodoo Secret

By Al Kamen
Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Media reports on the Pentagon's five-volume translation of truckloads of Saddam Hussein- era documents tended to skim the surface, picking the highlights and the obvious, such as the absence of evidence of an "operational relationship" between Hussein and al-Qaeda.

"By the middle of Volume 5" of the tome prepared for the military's Joint Forces Command, Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists tells us, "most people will have entered an altered state of consciousness." But not the eagle-eyed folks over at the federation, who sifted through the review and came up with a stunner.

It's in a 50-page analysis by Iraq's crack military intelligence crew that "disparages the austerely conservative Wahhabi school of Islam by claiming that its eighteenth century founder, Ibn 'Abd al Wahhab, had ancestors who were Jews," the FAS reported.

Talk about burying the lead! Who cares about warmed-over stuff about Saddam and Osama? Now, this is news.

The shocking Iraqi analysis says that Ibn 'Abd al Wahhab's grandfather's true name was not "Sulayman" but "Shulman." (Of course! The Saudi Shulmans! ) "Tawran," a source often cited by Iraqi intelligence in the reports as an expert, "confirms that Sulayman, the grandfather of the sheikh, is (Shulman); he is Jew from the merchants of the city of Burstah in Turkey, he had left it and settled in Damascus, grew his beard, and wore the Muslim turban, but was thrown out for being voodoo," the Iraqi document says, according to a Defense Intelligence Agency translation.

The FAS said the analysis by the Air Defense Security System of Iraq's General Military Intelligence Directorate was "not a very reliable guide to Islamic or Jewish history, though it may explain something about Iraq's air defenses." Indeed.

Not Quite Ignored

News reports of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's two-day visit to Brazil and Chile earlier this month speculated that she deliberately avoided Argentina because of that country's growing ties to Venezuela's president, Hugo Ch¿vez.

A quick look at the map shows it wouldn't have been too hard for Rice to pop in and visit President Cristina Fern¿ndez de Kirchner, Argentina's first elected female leader, so it appeared to some observers as a snub.

Anti-U.S. protests during President Bush' s 2005 visit frayed relations, and more recently there was the flap over some curious campaign donations to Fern¿ndez de Kirchner, which American prosecutors say came from Venezuela's government. Even worse, she was recently in Caracas, nailing down a big oil deal.

State Department officials insist that Rice had only a few days for the trip and couldn't squeeze in Buenos Aires. Besides, it should be noted that the department dispatched Olympic figure-skating medalist Michelle Kwan down there right after Rice's non-snub "to begin her third tour as a State Department Public Diplomacy Envoy."

Kwan's trip, we're told, followed "highly successful envoy visits to China and Russia in 2007."

Okay, so ice skating may not exactly be Argentina's national pastime, but Kwan probably got a warmer greeting than Rice would have.

New at State

Speaking of public diplomacy, Goli Ameri, an Oregon businesswoman and unsuccessful 2004 Republican congressional candidate, started her new job Monday as assistant secretary of state for educational and cultural affairs.

The Iranian-born Ameri graduated from Stanford University in 1977 and became a U.S. citizen in 1989. President Bush appointed her to head the U.S. delegation to the U.N. General Assembly in 2005. Ameri succeeds Egyptian American Dina Habib Powell, who left for Wall Street in May. Ameri is fluent in Farsi and French and has a working knowledge of Spanish, according to a State Department announcement.

No Arabic? Oh, well -- Iran is in the same region.

Finland or Fin?

Also on the diplomatic front, Barbara Barrett, who had been talked about last summer as a contender for the top spot at the Federal Aviation Administration, has been nominated to be ambassador to Finland.

Barrett, an aviation lawyer who unsuccessfully ran for the GOP nomination for Arizona governor in 1994, is married to Intel Chairman Craig Barrett.

Big problem may be that, with 10 months left for the administration, this is a brutal time for any Bush nominee to get confirmed by the majority Democrats in the Senate. Senatorial holds and such can easily doom late-season nominations. Historically, the best chance of getting through now would be to be part of an omnibus, brokered deal. Even then, political ambassadors might have a tough time of it.

Bridge Battle

Seems that National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark V. Rosenker is sticking to his decision not to hold a public hearing on the causes of last summer's collapse of the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis.

This is making Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, most unhappy. Rosenker called Oberstar last week to tell him of the board's decision, saying the staff concluded a hearing wouldn't produce new information.

But in a follow-up letter, Oberstar said he was "highly concerned" that the 3 to 2 board vote was on party lines -- Dems dissenting -- and Oberstar found out from news reports that the staff was concerned about a "political" debate over the matter.

Finding this out in the press, Oberstar wrote, "is unacceptable; you should have been fully candid with me." The Minnesota press had been reporting that Gov. Tim Pawlenty, prominently mentioned as a possible GOP veep candidate, has been saying his state's transportation department is not responsible for the collapse because the culprit was the bridge's design. Others say they'd like to hear more about whether inadequate inspections were a contributing factor.

"I strongly urge you to reconsider your decision and hold a public hearing," Oberstar said.

Not gonna happen. But we're told Oberstar will get a formal response, perhaps as early as today.

Weakly Standard

A hearty Loop congratulations to FDA Commissioner Andrew C. von Eschenbach, who has joined the ranks of senior government officials using the Internet to communicate with the public.

But unlike some officials -- for example, his boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt -- Eschenbach's weekly "Andy's Take" is not a give-and-take blog. It's a weekly posting, sort of an electronic newsletter. There's no section for pesky reader questions about tainted spinach or his responses.

"Hello," he says in his "Inaugural Edition," posted last week. "I want to take this opportunity to introduce you to the inaugural edition of my new weekly communication to the American public!"

The newsletter will give you Andy's take "on some of the events about food and medical products that you have been hearing about in the news," he writes, including "the inside story" on future FDA announcements and changes at the FDA and so on.

"I hope that you will visit Andy's Take frequently and that you will add it to your bookmarks so that the FDA will . . . be your source for reliable information about food, medical products, and staying healthy" and so the FDA can learn "what we need to do to . . . be responsive to the rapidly changing world."

Great idea. He might explain a little more about that recent contaminated-Heparin problem where inspectors inspected the wrong plant in China. As many as 19 people died, and the FDA has received nearly 800 reports of serious illnesses associated with using the blood thinner.

Or perhaps he'll give us "the inside story" on why it is that all these former commissioners are testifying that the FDA is seriously underfunded, especially for dealing with that rapidly changing world, but he hasn't asked for big budget increases.

Well, maybe the weekly posting can reduce the constant pounding he gets whenever he goes up to testify on the Hill?

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company