The United States has gift-wrapped a special package for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak ahead of his trip to Washington next month. It comes in the form of a large stack of Iraqi intelligence documents that US forces seized in Baghdad. After opening his gift, Mubarak called an emergency session in the presidential palace of his key advisers, intelligence chiefs led by General Omar Suleiman and top military and police commanders.
The documents spelled out in detail how Farhan Hassan, Iraq’s deputy ambassador to the Arab League in Cairo, used his office as a center of espionage and recruitment post for Iraqi agents in Egypt, the United States and the Gulf.
At the end of the meeting, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources, Mubarak ordered security forces to start rounding up all the Egyptians listed in the documents as having been employed by Hassan’s Iraqi network. Some 120 people have been picked up so far.
The package also contained personal reports filed by Hassan – whose codename “Number 3” attested to his ranking in the Iraqi hierarchy – directly to Saddam Hussein.
Number 3 described in detail how he bought the loyalty of “several prominent Egyptian journalists”, among them popular columnist Sayid Nasser, who were willing to publish articles that followed Saddam’s propaganda line. One report outlined Hassan’s steps for the recruitment of Shuwaike Abu Zayad, the wife of one of Egypt’s top diplomats. She passed to Number 3 all the Egyptian foreign ministry’s top-secret cables and documents.
As expectations of a US invasion of Iraq mounted in 2002, Mrs. Abu Zayad handed the Iraqis the ministry’s secret computer codes. Iraqi intelligence then tapped in from Baghdad and downloaded document after document, including the secrets of US-Egyptian military cooperation and transcripts of conversations between Mubarak and the past and present US defense secretaries, William Cohen and Donald Rumsfeld. The Iraqis also read all the secret reports and documents pertaining to the annual US-Egyptian “Bright Star” military maneuvers.
Number 3 was particular fond of boasting to Saddam that he had recruited about 20 Egyptian generals who had been transferred to the reserves and farmed out to administrative jobs in Egypt’s military industries. They positively gushed with information on their former units and new jobs.
Hassan also enlisted engineers, industrialists and doctors, some of them personal physicians to Egypt’s senior military officers and political leaders. Saddam placed extremely high value on information on the health of top Egyptians.
Number 3 performed many services for his master in Baghdad. They included:
Thwarting special operations mounted by the Iraqi opposition in Washington and London. In the US capital, according to one of the documents, Hassan recruited Najib Salhi, an Iraqi general and former commander of Iraq’s 4th Division who defected to the United States. The general’s people collected information in Washington on the activities of Iraqi opposition figures, including Mohammed Chalabi, now a senior member of the Iraqi Governing Council.
Using Iraq’s Arab League office in Cairo to recruit agents from Eastern Europe. The documents are chock full of the names of Russian and Czech diplomats who served Iraqi intelligence. Number 3 was able to pass along to Baghdad volumes of secret cables and military reports that Moscow sent to or received from its embassies in the Middle East and Gulf.
Running a large number of import-export companies registered in Cairo. They were used as fronts for information, goods and money sought by Iraq.
Overseeing operations at the Qatar-based al-Jazeera, the biggest and most influential Arab satellite television in the world. Hassan got first look at intelligence gathered by the station and paid its staffers to tout the Iraqi line. Hassan’s operation was highly successful. His people managed to enlist the services of Faisal al-Qassam, one of the station’s best-known broadcasters. Qassam, a Syrian, edits and moderates al Jazeera’s daily phone-in show, the most popular in the Arab world, called “Counterpoint”. Only a few of the dozens of callers who telephone from across the Arab world to discuss current events manage to get on the air. But before every show, Number 3 or one of his minions would agree with Qassam on the issue to be discussed and hand him a list of viewers who would call in and the questions they had been told to ask. Those viewers, of course, were Iraqi intelligence agents across the Arab world reading questions dictated from Baghdad.
The Egyptian regime meanwhile has its hands full rolling up Hassan’s pro-Saddam network and waiting for a second stack of secret Iraqi files to be handed over by Washington.