The CIA will ask the Justice Department to investigate the leak of a 16-page classified Pentagon memo that listed and briefly described raw agency intelligence on any relationship between Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government and Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda terrorist network, according to congressional and administration sources.
In addition, the leaders of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Vice Chairman John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), are considering making their own request for a Justice investigation. The top-secret memo was attached to an Oct. 27 letter to them from Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith. Feith was answering a request that he support his assertion during a closed-door hearing in July that there was intelligence to support a longtime relationship between the Iraqi leader and the terrorist group.
Excerpts from the memo were first published Saturday in the issue of the Weekly Standard dated Nov. 24. Under the headline "Case Closed," the article described the memo as documenting "an operational relationship from the early 1990s to 2003" between bin Laden and Hussein. It describes the memo as containing "50 numbered points" that are "best viewed as sort of a 'Cliff's Notes' version of the relationship. It contains the highlights, but it is far from exhaustive."
In making their case for invading Iraq, President Bush, Vice President Cheney and other senior administration officials stressed both Hussein's possession of weapons of mass destruction and his connection to bin Laden. To date, the administration has been unable to come up with unconventional weapons in Iraq or evidence that there was a close connection between the Iraqis and al Qaeda.
A Washington Post poll in August found that 69 percent of the American public believed Saddam Hussein was connected to the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
A CIA request to Justice is automatic when classified information purported to come from the CIA is involved in an unauthorized disclosure, according to a senior intelligence official, who declined to comment specifically on the Feith memo. Under the normal referral system, a request would be made to Feith to determine who had access to the memo and what other distribution it may have had beyond the Senate committee, the official said.
In a news release, the Defense Department late Saturday described the Feith memo as containing "either raw reports or products of the CIA, the NSA [the National Security Agency, which performs electronic intelligence intercepts] or in one case, the DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency]." The release said that leaking such a document "is deplorable and may be illegal."
One item reported in the Weekly Standard began, "According to CIA reporting, bin Laden and [top bin Laden deputy Ayman] Zawahiri met with two Iraqi intelligence officers in Afghanistan in Dec. 1998." Another item refers to "sensitive CIA reporting" about the Saudi National Guard going on alert in December 2000 "after learning Saddam agreed to assist al Qaeda in attacking U.S./U.K. interests in Saudi Arabia."
In its Saturday release, the Pentagon took the unusual step of saying, "News reports that the Defense Department recently confirmed new information with respect to contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq . . . are inaccurate." The release also said the memo "was not an analysis of the substantive issue of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda and drew no conclusions."
A senior intelligence official said yesterday that the NSA and the DIA may make their own referrals to Justice, based on their analysis of the information disclosed from the Feith memo.
While Stephen F. Hayes, author of the Weekly Standard article, concluded that "there can no longer be any serious argument about whether Saddam Hussein's Iraq worked with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda to plot against Americans," some critics of the administration policy came to a different conclusion.
W. Patrick Lang, former head of the Middle East section of the DIA, said yesterday that the Standard article "is a listing of a mass of unconfirmed reports, many of which themselves indicate that the two groups continued to try to establish some sort of relationship. If they had such a productive relationship, why did they have to keep trying?"
Another former senior intelligence official said the memo is not an intelligence product but rather "data points . . . among the millions of holdings of the intelligence agencies, many of which are simply not thought likely to be true."