How did the U.S. government lead its people to war?
Bush Administration Claims vs. The Facts
Mohamed Atta, the lead 9/11 hijacker, did not meet with Iraqi intelligence in Prague
Senior members of the Bush administration alleged that there was a meeting in a cafe in Prague between September 11th hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, in early April 2001 – five months prior to 9/11.
Czech intelligence agents, who had initially presented this story to U.S. officials, had only one source for this alleged meeting: an Arab student who saw Atta’s newpaper photo after the September 11th attacks, and claimed that he had seen Atta months earlier in a cafe in Prague.
As early as September 2001, there were doubts within the CIA and FBI that this meeting occurred and that the source was reliable. Despite these doubts, the Bush administration repeatedly cited this alleged meeting in interviews.
By October 2002 – five months before the war began – the CIA, FBI and Czech government had all concluded that there was no evidence to support this claim. Furthermore, the FBI produced records indicating that Atta was in Virginia Beach, Virginia and Coral Springs, Florida at the time of the alleged meeting in Prague in early April.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary from the CIA and FBI, Bush administration officials continued to suggest that the Prague meeting between Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence agent had occurred.
September 11, 2001
Al-Qaeda terrorists hijack four U.S. commercial airliners, crashing them into the New York World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania.
“An unconfirmed link to Iraq emerged Tuesday [September 18] in the intelligence community.
“A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has received information from a foreign intelligence service that Mohamed Atta, a hijacker aboard one of the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center, met earlier this year in Europe with an Iraqi intelligence agent.”
September 21, 2001 [reported at a later date]
After Vice President Dick Cheney asks CIA director George Tenet to investigate an alleged meeting in Prague between an Iraqi intelligence agent and one of the 9-11 hijackers, Mohamed Atta, Tenet reports (as revealed in The One Percent Doctrine, by Ron Suskind, published June 2006): The One Percent Doctrine, page 23.
[link to source] [link to source]
"Our Prague office is skeptical about the report. It just doesn't add up."
October 27, 2001
The New York Times reports [link to source]
“The Czech interior minister said today that an Iraqi intelligence officer met with Mohammed Atta, one of the ringleaders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, just five months before the synchronized hijackings and mass killings were carried out.”
BLITZER: “As you know, some former government officials and perhaps some within the government are saying there are some strong signs that the Iraqis were connected to the September 11 terrorist attack, specifically the meetings in Prague between Mohammed Atta, the suspected ringleader, and Iraqi intelligence, an Iraqi intelligence agent. As far as you're concerned, was there a connection there?”
POWELL: “Certainly, these meetings took place.”
December 9, 2001
Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC News’ Meet the Press
“It's been pretty well confirmed that [Mohamed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.”
December 17, 2001
The U.K.’s Daily Telegraph reports
“Czech police said yesterday they had no evidence that the ringleader of the suicide attacks, Mohammed Atta, met an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague earlier this year.
“…Jiri Kolar, the police chief, said there were no documents showing that Atta visited Prague at any time this year…”
December 28, 2001
Richard Perle, chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board, writes an Op-Ed entitled “The U.S. Must Strike at Saddam Hussein” for the New York Times
“Evidence of a meeting in Prague between a senior Iraqi intelligence agent and Mohamed Atta, the Sept. 11 ringleader, is convincing.”
February 23, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle reporter Robert Collier interviews Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
COLLIER: “Is there any, have you seen any convincing evidence to link Iraq to Al Qaeda or its international network?”
WOLFOWITZ: “A lot of this stuff is classified and I really can't get into discussing it… The amount that we don't know is still, I think, much larger than the amount that we do know… We also know that there are things that haven't been explained... like the meeting of Mohammad Atta with Iraqi officials in Prague. It just comes back to the fact that...”
COLLIER: “Which now is alleged right? There is some doubt to that?”
WOLFOWITZ: “Now this gets you into classified areas again. I think the point which I do think is fundamental, is that, the premise of your question seems to be, we wait for proof beyond a reasonable doubt. I think the premise of a policy has to be we can't afford to wait for proof beyond a reasonable doubt.”
April 28, 2002
Journalist Michael Isikoff reports in “The Phantom Link to Iraq” in Newsweek that
“… Newsweek has learned that a few months ago, the Czechs quietly acknowledged that they may have been mistaken about the whole thing [Atta allegedly meeting with an Iraqi agent in Prague]. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement officials now believe that Atta wasn’t even in Prague at the time the Czechs claimed. ‘We looked at this real hard because, obviously, if it were true, it would be huge,’ one senior U.S. law enforcement official told Newsweek. ‘But nothing has matched up.’
May 1, 2002
The Washington Post reports
“…More recently, FBI and CIA analysts who went over thousands of travel records concluded that ‘there was no evidence Atta left or returned to the U.S.’ at the time he was supposed to be in Prague, the official said…
“‘We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on, from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts,’ FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III said in a speech in San Francisco last month, setting out for the first time the extent of the investigation and its results.”
September 8, 2002
Vice President Dick Cheney speaks with Tim Russert on NBC News’ Meet the Press
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We spent time looking at that relationship between Iraq, on the one hand, and the al-Qaeda organization on the other. And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years. We've seen in connection with the hijackers, of course, Mohamed Atta, who was the lead hijacker, did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center...
Mr. RUSSERT: What does the CIA say about that? Is it credible?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It's credible. But, you know, I think a way to put it would be it's unconfirmed at this point.
September 10, 2002
The Washington Post reports
“… CIA officials who scrutinized the report's source – an Arab student not considered particularly reliable who relayed the information to the Czech government – concluded there was no evidence to support the claim.”
October 21, 2002
The New York Times reports
“The Czech president, Vaclav Havel, has quietly told the White House he has concluded that there is no evidence to confirm earlier reports that Mohamed Atta, the leader in the Sept. 11 attacks, met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague just months before the attacks on New York and Washington, according to Czech officials…
“Czech officials did not say precisely when Mr. Havel told the White House to disregard the reports of the meeting, but extensive interviews with leading Czech figures make clear that he did so quietly some time earlier this year in an effort to avoid publicly embarrassing other prominent officials in his government…
“For months, American intelligence and law enforcement officials have cast doubt on the reports of the Prague meeting, which proved to be based on the statements of a single informant, and last week the director of central intelligence, George J. Tenet, told Congress that his agency could find no evidence to confirm that the meeting took place.”
February 5, 2003 [reported at a later date]
Lawrence Wilkerson, retired U.S. Army Colonel and former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, chronicled the days he spent at CIA headquarters helping to prepare Powell’s U.N. presentation of February 5, 2003 (from Wilkerson’s testimony on June 26, 2006, before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee’s “Oversight Hearing on Pre-War Intelligence Relating to Iraq”)
“In the rehearsal and discussion sessions at Langley [CIA headquarters], the give and take was mostly the Secretary of State trying to eliminate unsubstantiated and/or unhelpful material and others from the White House trying to keep that material in, or add more. One such incident occurred several times and the final time it occurred provided an example of the Secretary’s growing frustration. Repeatedly, the OVP [Office of the Vice President] or NCS [U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Communications System] staff personnel tried to insert into the presentation the alleged meeting in Prague between al-Qaeda operative and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and Iraqi intelligence personnel. Repeatedly, Secretary Powell eliminated it based on the DCI’s [Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet’s] refusal to corroborate it. Finally, at one of the last Langley rehearsals, Secretary Powell was stopped in mid-presentation by deputy national security advisor Steve Hadley and asked what had happened to the paragraph describing the meeting in Prague. Secretary Powell fixed Hadley with a firm stare and said with some pique, ‘We took it out, Steve — and it’s staying out.’”
March 19, 2003
The U.S. launches military strikes, commencing the Iraq War.
August 3, 2003
The Boston Globe reports
“Last week, congressional investigators declared in their major report on the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that after tracing Atta's movements for two years, including trips made under all known aliases, there was no evidence of the Prague meeting. A former intelligence official in the Bush administration told the Globe the CIA obtained evidence soon after the Czech report that the Iraqi agent [al-Ani] was elsewhere at the time of the purported meeting.
“‘The CIA had proof that Iraqi guy was not in Prague at the time,’ said the official, who asked not to be named. ‘The mystery here is why did the CIA allow that story to live when it could disprove it with hard information.’”
September 14, 2003
Vice President Dick Cheney on NBC News’ Meet the Press
“With respect to 9/11, of course, we've had the story that's been public out there. The Czechs alleged that Mohamed Atta, the lead attacker, met in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official five months before the attack, but we've never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know.”
December 19, 2003
Newsweek reports that the FBI has found no evidence to support the alleged meeting
“… [The FBI] has long since discounted claims by Czech intelligence—and widely promoted by some Iraq hawks in the Bush administration—that Atta had flown to Prague to meet with an Iraqi intelligence agent around April 8, 2001.
“FBI records show Atta and fellow hijacker Marwan Al-Shehhi checking out of the Diplomat Inn in Virginia Beach, Va., and writing a check for cash for $8,000 for a SunTrust account in that city on April 4, 2001. For the rest of that week, Atta's cell phone was used to make repeated calls to Florida. On April 11, Atta rented an apartment in Coral Springs, Fla. While acknowledging that a few days are unaccounted for, the FBI has found no evidence that Atta departed the country overseas during this period, an official said.”
January 9, 2004
Vice President Dick Cheney in an interview with the Rocky Mountain News
“We did have reporting that was public, that came out shortly after the 9/11 attack, provided by the Czech government, suggesting there had been a meeting in Prague between Mohamed Atta, the lead hijacker, and a man named al-Ani [Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani], who was an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague, at the embassy there, in April of '01, prior to the 9/11 attacks… That was the one that possibly tied the two together to 9/11.”
March 9, 2004 [reported at a later date]
CIA director George Tenet testifies before a closed session of the Senate Armed Service Committee. He responds to a question from Senator Carl Levin (declassified and made public on July 8, 2004)
“Although we cannot rule it out, we are increasingly skeptical that such a meeting occurred. The veracity of the single-threaded reporting on which the original account of the meeting was based has been questioned, and the Iraqi official with whom Atta was alleged to have met has denied ever having met Atta.
“We have been able to corroborate only two visits by Atta to the Czech Republic: one in late 1994, when he passed through enroute to Syria; the other in June 2000…
“… In the absence of any credible information that the April 2001 meeting occurred, we assess that Atta would have been unlikely to undertake the substantial risk of contacting any Iraqi official as late as April 2001, with the [9/11] plot already well along toward execution.”
June 17, 2004
Vice President Dick Cheney appears in an interview with Gloria Borger on CNBC’s Capital Report
BORGER: Well, let's get to Mohamed Atta for a minute because you mentioned him as well. You have said in the past that [the Atta meeting in Prague] was, quote, “pretty well confirmed.”
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No, I never said that.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I never said that.
BORGER: I think that is...
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Absolutely not. What I said was the Czech intelligence service reported after 9/11 that Atta had been in Prague on April 9 of 2001, where he allegedly met with an Iraqi intelligence official. We have never been able to confirm that, nor have we been able to knock it down, we just don't know.
Gloria Borger is refering to a statement Vice President Cheney made two years earlier on MEET THE PRESS, on December 9, 2001 where he said:
"It's been pretty well confirmed that [Mohamed Atta] did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack".
BORGER: Well, this [9/11 Commission] report says it didn't happen.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No, this report says they haven't found any evidence.
BORGER: That it happened.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Right.
BORGER: But you haven't found the evidence that it happened either, have you?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. All we have is that one report from the Czechs. We just don't know.
BORGER: So does this put it to rest for you or not on Atta?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: It doesn't add anything from my perspective. I mean, I still am a skeptic. I can't refute the Czech claim, I can't prove the Czech claim, I just don't know…
BORGER: Let me just ask you bottom line, though, on 9/11...
VICE PRES. CHENEY: On 9/11.
BORGER: Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We have never been able to prove that there was a connection there on 9/11. The one thing we had is the Iraq– the Czech intelligence service report saying that Mohamed Atta had met with senior Iraqi intelligence official at the embassy on April 9, 2001. That's never been proven; it's never been refuted.
July 8, 2004
In late 2002, the bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (known as the 9/11 Commission) was created by Congress to prepare a report accounting the U.S.’s preparedness for and response to the 9/11 attacks. In response to early reports from the 9/11 Commission, as well as newly declassified testimony by CIA chief George Tenet, Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) issued a press release
“As we learned Tuesday, the 9/11 Commission reviewed all of the intelligence, including investigations by both U.S. and Czech officials, and indeed all of the intelligence that the Vice President received, and stands by its conclusion that the meeting did not occur. The CIA and 9/11 Commission staff statements are not equivocal; while it is impossible to disprove a negative, after a systematic and thorough review of the evidence it is their judgment that the meeting was unlikely or did not take place. However, the Vice President continues to simply claim that the evidence is somehow ambiguous or unclear, and leaves out the conclusion of the CIA.
July 22, 2004
The 9/11 Commission’s final report is released publicly, stating on pages 228–229 that there is no evidence to support the alleged meeting [link to source]
“The FBI has gathered evidence indicating that Atta was in Virginia Beach on April 4 (as evidenced by a bank surveillance camera photo), and in Coral Springs, Florida on April 11, where he and Shehhi leased an apartment… But there are no U.S. records indicating that Atta departed the country during this period… No evidence has been found that Atta was in the Czech Republic in April 2001.
“… There was no reason for such a meeting, especially considering the risk it would pose to the [9/11] operation. By April 2001, all four pilots had completed most of their training, and the muscle hijackers were about to begin entering the United States. The available evidence does not support the original Czech report of an Atta-Ani meeting.”
September 19, 2004
The Boston Globe reports
“… press reports have suggested that a second man named Mohammed Atta (a Pakistani businessman who spells his first name with two m’s) also traveled to Prague at about the same time… confusing Czech authorities…
“Officials say evidence of the alleged meeting in April 2001 came from a single informant from Prague’s Arab community who saw Atta’s picture in the news after the Sept. 11 attacks, and who later told his handlers that he had seen him meeting with Ani. Some officials have called the source unreliable…”
March 29, 2006
Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed for Fox News Radio’s The Tony Snow Show, and states
“We had one report early on from another intelligence service that suggested that the lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, had met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague, Czechoslovakia. And that reporting waxed and waned where the degree of confidence in it, and so forth, has been pretty well knocked down now at this stage, that that meeting ever took place.”
September 8, 2006
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issues Phase II of its comprehensive report on prewar intelligence on Iraq, entitled Postwar Findings About Iraq's WMD Programs and Links To Terrorism and How They Compare With Prewar Assessments. Onpages 110–111, it concludes...
“Postwar findings support CIA’s January 2003 assessment, which judged that ‘the most reliable reporting casts doubt’ on… an alleged meeting between Muhammad Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer in Prague, and confirm that no such meeting occurred… Prewar assessments described reporting on the Atta lead as contradictory and unverified… By January 2003, CIA assessed that ‘the most reliable reporting casts doubt on this possibility’ and said they were ‘increasingly skeptical that Atta traveled to Prague in 2001 or met with IIS [Iraqi Intelligence Service] officer al-Ani.’ Postwar debriefings of al-Ani indicate that he had never seen or heard of Atta until after September 11, 2001, when Atta’s face appeared on the news.”
September 10, 2006
Vice President Dick Cheney speaks with Tim Russert on NBC News’ Meet the Press:
MR. RUSSERT: You said here that it was pretty well confirmed that Atta may have had a meeting in Prague, that that was credible. All the while, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee in January and in June and in September, the CIA was saying that wasn’t the case. And then the president...
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, let me, let me—on that—well, go ahead.
MR. RUSSERT: No, go ahead.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No, I want a, I want a chance to jump on that.
MR. RUSSERT: OK, but, but you said it was pretty well confirmed that it was credible and now the Senate Intelligence Committee says not true, the CIA was waving you off.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No.
MR. RUSSERT: Any suggestion there was a meeting with Mohamed Atta, one of the hijackers, with Iraqi officials?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. The sequence, Tim, was, when you and I talked that morning, we had not received any reporting with respect to Mohamed Atta going to Prague. Just a few days after you and I did that show, the CIA, CIA produced an intelligence report from the Czech Intelligence Service that said Mohamed Atta, leader of the hijackers, had been in Prague in April of ‘01 and had met with the senior Iraqi intelligence official in Prague. That was the first report we had that he’d been to Prague and met with Iraqis. Later on, some period of time after that, the CIA produced another report based on a photographer– on a photograph that was taken in Prague of a man they claim 70 percent probability was Mohamed Atta on another occasion. This was the reporting we received from the CIA when I responded to your question and said it had been pretty well confirmed that he’d been in Prague. The– later on, they were unable to confirm it. Later on, they backed off of it.
But what I told you was exactly what we were receiving at the time. It never said, and I don’t believe I ever said, specifically, that it linked the Iraqis to 9/11. It specifically said he had been in Prague, Mohamed Atta had been in Prague and we didn’t know...
MR. RUSSERT: And the meeting with Atta did not occur?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: We don’t know. I mean, we’ve never been able to, to, to link it, and the FBI and CIA have worked it aggressively. I would say, at this point, nobody has been able to confirm...
MR. RUSSERT: Then why, in the lead-up to the war, was there the constant linkage between Iraq and al-Qaeda?
VICE PRES. CHENEY: That’s a different issue.