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News, documents and analysis on violent extremism

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Report: Secret Post-9/11 Mission Debunked Ramzi Yousef-Iraq Link

By J.M. Berger

Shortly after September 11, the FBI helped investigate — and disprove — Laurie Mylroie's theory that Ramzi Yousef was an Iraqi intelligence agent using another man's identity, Newsweek reported Wednesday.

Performed at the insistence of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the investigation refuted one of Mylroie's primary claims, that Ramzi Yousef was an Iraqi intelligence officer, Newsweek said, sourcing the report to unnamed Justice Department officials.

A controversial academic reputed to have significant support within the Bush Administration, Mylroie claims Yousef was an Iraqi who switched identities with Abdul Basit, a Pakistani, after the invasion of Kuwait. Mylroie's theories and analysis of alleged Iraqi support for specific terrorist acts is known to have influenced Vice President Dick Cheney, and her opinions are thought to have influenced the administration's decision to go to war in Iraq.

+ Click here for the Newsweek article.

The Justice Department provided staffers and resources to a secret mission ordered by Wolfowitz, which showed that Yousef and Basit are the same person, which is the conclusion reached by virtually every other credible investigation. The secret mission, led by former CIA director James Woolsey, compared Yousef's fingerprints (taken in prison) with prints on file for Abdul Basit in England, where he attended college in the late 1980s — prior to the date Mylroie claims "Basit" was replaced by an Iraqi agent.

Newsweek first reported about the investigation on April 5. In a story on Richard Clarke's Against All Enemies, the magazine reported that the White House had excised the story from Clarke's draft of the book, claiming that it dealt with classified information. The April 5 story cited Clarke as the source of the anecdote. The story published Wednesday featured original reporting by Newsweek on the investigation.

Mylroie has theorized that Iraq sponsored the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11 attack. There is very little evidence to support the idea that Iraq was a driving force in any of those attacks, although specific Iraqis may have played minor roles in some of them.

In the WTC 1993 and the September 11 attacks, the available evidence points to the broadest definition of the al Qaeda network, well within a reasonable doubt. The investigation into Oklahoma City was recently reopened by the FBI after the Associated Press uncovered evidence related to possible additional American conspirators. Some questions remain about possible involvement by al Qaeda operatives.

+ Click here for INTELWIRE's Oklahoma City coverage.

The misconception that Yousef was an Iraqi began with the first news accounts of the 1993 attack, which reported his national origin incorrectly because he had entered the country using an Iraqi passport. Yousef had dozens of forged passports and identity cards. During a 1994 airplane bombing, for instance, he traveled posing as an Italian.

An Iraqi named Abdul Rahman Yasin was involved in the 1993 bombing and fled to Iraq after the attack. Vice President Dick Cheney has repeatedly charged that Saddam Hussein's regime sheltered Yasin and rewarded him for his role in the bombing. However, the BBC and CBS News reported in 2002 that Yasin had been arrested in 1994 and had been a prisoner of the Saddam regime since.

In 2003, Cheney said U.S. occupation forces had uncovered evidence that Hussein was sheltering Yasin, citing unspecified intelligence from seized Iraqi files. But unnamed sources told the Associated Press soon after that the material Cheney referenced was inconclusive, and the claim has not been repeated since.

Many investigators have used Mylroie's theories to buttress other claims that Iraq sponsored the Oklahoma City bombing. The very first allegation that Iraq was involved in OKC came from the government of Saudi Arabia, in a phone call made just hours after the attack.

According to Timothy McVeigh's defense attorney Stephen Jones, writing in Others Unknown, representatives of Saudi intelligence called Vincent Cannistraro, a former CIA official, in the afternoon of April 19, 1995, with a claim that Iraqi intelligence agents in the U.S. were behind the attack. Cannistraro told Jones that he questioned the credibility of his source.

Jones wrote that he had hired Laurie Mylroie to consult for his defense team and that she had placed him in contact with Cannistraro.

Jones uncovered an FBI interrogation record which appeared to cite a second source who had also received a phone call from Saudi intelligence that day, and who said that Iraqi intelligence had sponsored the attack and that the attack had been assisted by "Afghani Freedom Fighters," a term which usually refers to terrorists linked to al Qaeda and its predecessor groups.

In December 2003, terrorism expert Peter Bergen wrote an article for Washington Monthly which further examines Mylroie's claims about Iraqi involvement in various terrorist plots and how her views shaped the U.S. drive to war in Iraq. Bergen, the respected author of Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden, was highly critical of the factual basis for Mylroie's views.

+ Click here for Peter Bergen's article in Washington Monthly.


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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