In the wake of 9/11 no one knew when the next attack would come, or where it would come from. America's enemies seemed gathered on all sides, and for several nerve-racking months, we lived in fear that the perpetrators might be plotting another action or, worse, that our most dangerous enemies -- al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's murderous regime in Iraq -- could be banding together against us.
The Bush administration and CIA director George Tenet warned against complacency and pointed to growing indications that al Qaeda and Iraq were in league. But their case was undercut by unnamed intelligence officials, skeptical politicians, and a compliant media. So America relaxed. A comforting consensus settled in: Osama bin Laden was an impassioned fundamentalist, Saddam a secular autocrat. The two would never, could never, work together. ABC News reported that there was no connection between them, and the New York Times said so too, and pretty soon just about everyone agreed.
Just about everyone was wrong.
In The Connection, Stephen Hayes draws on CIA debriefings, top-secret memos from our national intelligence agencies, and interviews with Iraqi military leaders and Washington insiders to demonstrate that Saddam and bin Laden not only could work together, they did -- a curious relationship that stretches back more than a decade and may include collaboration on terrorist acts, chemical-weapons training, and sheltering some of the world's most wanted radicals.
Stephen Hayes's bombshell Weekly Standard piece on this topic was cited by Vice President Cheney as the "best source of information" about the Saddam-al Qaeda connections. Now Hayes delves even deeper, exposing the inner workings of America's deadliest opponents and providing a clear-eyed corrective to reams of underreported, politicized, and just plain wrong information.
The Connection is both a gripping snapshot of the War on Terror and a case study in how bureaucratic assumptions and media arrogance can put us all at risk.
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About the Author
Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer for the Weekly Standard and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America. He has been a commentator on many television and radio broadcasts, including the Today show, Meet the Press, the Diane Rehm Show, Fox News Sunday, the O'Reilly Factor, and CNN's Late Edition. His writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Wall Street Journal, The National Review, and the New York Post. He lives on the Chesapeake Bay with his wife and two children.
Read an Excerpt
The ConnectionHow Al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America
By Hayes, Stephen F.
HarperCollins PublishersISBN: 0060746734
Who is Ahmed Hikmat Shakir?
In August 2000, Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, a thirty-seven-year-old Iraqi, quietly began his job as a "greeter" at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. The job, a common one in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, normally involves little more than welcoming visiting dignitaries and making certain that they move smoothly through the laborious entry process.
But Shakir was not a typical greeter. Although he was nominally employed by Malaysian Airlines, he had told associates he had been hired by a contact in the Iraqi embassy. More important, it was his embassy contact, not his employer, who told him when to report and when to take days off. So when the Iraqi embassy contact instructed him to report to work on January 5, 2000, Shakir dutifully obliged. His assignment that day would later make him the subject of an international manhunt and a suspect in the worst single act of terrorism on American soil.
The events of that day and those that followed provide the government's strongest suggestion that Saddam and al Qaeda may have worked together on September 11. The evidence is far from conclusive, but it cannot be dismissed. Those events are also an unfortunate example of the difficulty of maintaining effective liaison relationships between American and foreign intelligence services, and of how, even in the months following the worst intelligence failure in American history, dangerous terrorists were allowed to walk away from their cramped holding cells as free men.
In late December 1999, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the State Department all received intelligence about a meeting of al Qaedaassociated terrorists to take place in Malaysia in early January of the next year. The NSA had intercepted communications from individuals tied to the 1998 al Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Although the information was incomplete, the intercepts picked up three first names: Khalid, Nawaf, and Salem.
The CIA, on high alert for potential attacks on millennium celebrations, immediately sent word to operatives around the world to track the would-be terrorists. On December 31, 1999, CIA officials in Pakistan cabled to headquarters that they "were following the situation." Nawaf was in Pakistan and Khalid was in Yemen. The CIA determined that they planned to meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, arriving on January 4, 2000, and established an operation -- to be conducted jointly with Malaysian intelligence -- to monitor the comings and goings of the men. CIA officials assumed the meeting was called to plan attacks in Southeast Asia.
That same day, the CIA obtained a photocopy of the passport belonging to one of the suspected participants, Khalid al Mihdhar. Although al Mihdhar, a Saudi citizen, was known to have connections to al Qaeda and the Yemeni mujahideen, he was not yet on any terrorist watch lists on April 7, 1999, when the U.S. consulate in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, had given him a oneyear visa granting him multiple-entry privilege to the United States.
The intelligence on Nawaf al Hazmi, at that point known only by his first name, was sketchier. The CIA determined that he was scheduled to leave Karachi, Pakistan, for Malaysia on January 4, 2000. In fact, he had departed two days earlier.
On January 5, 2000, officials at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, sent a dispatch to operatives around the world that "we need to continue the effort to identify these travelers and their activities ... to determine if there is any true threat posed." Information about the meeting was included in the al Qaedarelated intelligence given to the most senior officials in the U.S. government. On at least two occasions, the director of the CIA's al Qaeda unit gave briefings to his superiors about the meeting.
Khalid al Mihdhar, a thin, dark-haired man with a slightly crooked face, arrived at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport on January 5. The airport is an architectural wonder -- a glass-enclosed tribute to modernity that attracts even tourists who arrive elsewhere in the Malaysian capital. The marble floors are buffed constantly, producing a surface so shiny, it's possible to catch a glimpse of yourself simply by looking down. Round white beams shoot like three-dimensional spiderwebs from the floor to the unfinished ceiling, and Western stores such as the Tie Rack line the halls of the main terminal.
Ahmed Hikmat Shakir, the Iraqi greeter, met al Mihdhar shortly after he deplaned and escorted him through the bureaucratic entry procedures. Malaysian authorities photographed the arrival.
When they had finished the paperwork, Shakir walked al Mihdhar to a waiting car, much as any facilitator would. But then, rather than bidding his VIP good-bye and returning to work, Shakir jumped in the car and accompanied al Mihdhar to a condominium owned by Yazid Sufaat, an American-educated al Qaeda associate, where he was once again photographed by Malaysian intelligence. The Kuala Lumpur condo would serve as the site of a three-day meeting that the CIA later concluded was the main planning session for the October 12, 2000, bombing of the USS Cole and for the attacks of September 11, 2001. It is not yet known whether Shakir took an active part in the meeting, but he was certainly in fast company. The FBI believes as many as nine top al Qaeda terrorists attended the meeting, including Ramzi bin al Shibh, who later boasted to a journalist of his role as "coordinator of the Holy Tuesday operation" -- the September 11 attacks.
The meeting ended on January 8, 2000, when three of the participants -- Khalid al Mihdhar, Nawaf al Hazmi, and Khallad bin Attash -- left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand. Of the three, the CIA was still able to identify only al Mihdhar by his full name. CIA officials in Kuala Lumpur notified their counterparts in Thailand and asked them to pick up the surveillance, and the agency's Langley, Virginia, headquarters sent an urgent cable the next day with the same instructions. These messages came too late; the al Qaeda suspects had disappeared into the busy streets of Bangkok ...Continues...
Excerpted from The Connection by Hayes, Stephen F. Excerpted by permission.
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