— Gave al Qaeda US President’s Secret Evacuation Route
In the hierarchy of America’s war objectives, the break-up of Iraq’s formidable intelligence-security apparatus takes precedence even over the targeting of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. US war planners know that capturing and killing Saddam and his two sons (See separate article on hunt for Saddam) – or even wiping out all or the bulk of his missiles and non-conventional weapons systems – will go for naught if Iraqi intelligence lives on.
This conclusion was reached in the consultations among senior security and intelligence officials in Washington in the run-up to the US military offensive, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources report. It was laid before the Congressional leaders President George W. Bush briefed on strategy at the Oval Office on September 17, as part of his efforts to get Capitol Hill behind his Iraq campaign. The lawmakers were asked not to air this most sensitive part of their briefing since it touches on a vital step in the war against terrorism.
The destruction of Iraqi Intelligence, they were told, would represent the first truly important tactical step toward eliminating intelligence networks that continue to prey on the United States and which the US-led war on Afghanistan left untouched. (“Intelligence” in this sense is a cynical euphemism for the service’s real functions, as will be seen in the detailed rundown below.)
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in Washington say the administration made the following points to the members of Congress:
A. No more than scraps of information have been garnered about the men who planned the 9/11 attacks, notwithstanding a whole year of intense tracking during and after the Afghan War. The Al Qaeda and Taliban heavyweights in US hands know very little, if anything, about al-Qaeda’s command structure and the identity of the men who ordered the attacks. Under interrogation, no captive – however senior – could name any commander more than one level above him in the chain of command, the source of his orders and operational plans. They had no notion who gave that source his orders.
B. One conclusion reached by the American and other counter-terror agencies investigating al Qaeda’s record of destruction is that each strike was masterminded by a different group of planners from the top-level ideological and operational leadership level. This applies to the East African US embassy bombings in August 1998, the crippling of the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000 and the September 11, 2002 attacks.
C. The names of certain organizations crop up repeatedly in one probe after another. Among them are:
— Iraq’s Special Security Service – Al Amn al-Khas.
— The Saudi general intelligence service (GIS) – al-Istakhabarah al-Amah.
— Syrian air force intelligence – Idarat al-Mukhabarat. Far from supplying the air force with tactical intelligence, as it name would suggest, this service is Damascus’s instrument for clandestine overseas operations, also supervising and managing the terrorist organizations under Syrian patronage.
— The terrorist-intelligence group attached personally to Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
— The Iranian Intelligence Ministry and other Iranian intelligence bodies.
— Yasser Arafat’s special intelligence apparatus, including agencies formerly grouped under Palestinian Central Surveillance, once run by Abu Iyyad, deputy PLO chief and one of Arafat’s go-betweens with the CIA. He was assassinated on January 16, 1991, one day before the launching of the Gulf War in a joint “intelligence” operation mounted by Arafat and Saddam. This assassination displaced Washington’s influence in Palestinian intelligence in favor of Iraqi military intelligence which up to the present day retains its control of the sections of Palestinian intelligence still loyal to Arafat, such as the intelligence arm of the Fatah’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades commanded by Colonel Tawfik Tirawi and the intelligence wing of another Fatah wing, Force 17, Arafat’s presidential guard.
— Hizballah intelligence, including the special security and intelligence branch run by Imad Mughniyeh.
— Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence, the ISI.
— Yemeni military intelligence.
The list is not complete, covering only the main groups who maintain operational links with al Qaeda – and then only certain elements of those groups, whose top and middle level commanders may not always be completely in the picture.
The most intensely active allies of Osama Bin Laden’s network are the organizations most committed to the path of terror – the Iraqi, Iranian and Hizballah’s undercover agencies.
D. American and other authorities countering terrorism have come to believe that the collaborative links between these agencies and al Qaeda are far deeper and more malignant than mere logistics or even shared operational planning. Their agents penetrate US intelligence, gleaning and trading the types of inside information that enabled Bin Laden’s masterminds to set up the 9/11 attacks without putting the American authorities on guard and arming al-Qaeda cells in Yemen – via Iraqi military intelligence operatives in Aden – with the data needed to blast the USS Cole.
The card up al Qaeda planners’ sleeves for the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon was, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts, this:
They had obtained full details of the emergency plan to evacuate the US president, cabinet, White House staff, Congress, essential government employees, military chiefs and top CIA and FBI personnel from Washington, in the event of nuclear threat. They knew the paths of the removals and their destinations.
This information could only have come from Iraqi intelligence operatives who had been fed by certain intelligence sources in Moscow.
Moscow obtained the top-secret plan from FBI turncoat Robert Hanssen, a high-ranking counter-intelligence operative for the bureau for 25 years. Hanssen was close enough to top FBI, CIA, Pentagon and National Security Agency (NSA) officials to be privy to their most classified secrets. Last year, Hanssen was arrested for passing secrets to Russia and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
Certain factions of Russian intelligence traditionally maintain close ties with Iraq’s clandestine agencies from the days of the Soviet Union. The super-sensitive data passed to al Qaeda ahead of 9/11 would have enabled the terrorists to target not only the White House, but also the president and vice president in the course of their evacuation and at their safe destination. The president was therefore kept airborne in the first hours of the emergency, for fear he might be targeted on his way from the White House in the course of the pre-arranged evacuation.
By handing this secret to Osama bin Laden, Iraqi intelligence may have intended al Qaeda to use it to assassinate the president of the United States. (See first article on the pursuit of Saddam Hussein.)
The United States has a long score to settle with Iraqi “intelligence”, but also with its helpers. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence experts estimate that US military action will not stop at destroying the mighty Iraqi intelligence machine; it will have no choice but to go after Iranian and Hizballah intelligence as well.