WASHINGTON (AP) — The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee released new information on Thursday that he claims is evidence that the Bush administration misled the nation in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
In a speech on the Senate floor, retiring Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., outlined a 2003 CIA cable that warns George W. Bush administration officials against making references to claims that Mohammad Atta — the man who led the 9/11 hijackers — met with an Iraqi intelligence officer in the Czech Republic before the Sept. 11, 2011, attacks. Levin claims Bush officials used the unconfirmed meeting to link Iraq to 9/11 to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
"There was a concerted campaign on the part of the Bush administration to connect Iraq in the public mind with the horror of the Sept. 11 attacks. That campaign succeeded," said Levin, who cited opinion polls from that time showing many Americans believed former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein was involved in the attacks. "Of course, connections between Saddam and 9/11 or al-Qaida were fiction."
He referenced a Dec. 9, 2001, appearance by Vice President Dick Cheney on "Meet the Press." Cheney said: "It's been pretty well confirmed that he (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."
"Far from 'pretty well confirmed,' there was almost no evidence that such a meeting took place," Levin said. "Just a single, unsubstantiated report, from a single source, and a mountain of information indicating there was no such meeting. ... Travel and other records indicated that Atta was almost certainly in the United States at the time of the purported meeting in Prague."
Levin released a letter he received earlier this year from CIA Director John Brennan. In the letter, Brennan offered this statement from the cable: "(T)here is not one USG (U.S. government counterterrorism) or FBI expert that . has said they have evidence or 'know' that (Atta) was indeed (in Prague). In fact, the analysis has been quite the opposite."
Levin has asked previous CIA directors to declassify the entire March 13, 2003, cable to no avail and has called on Brennan to fully declassify it too.
Levin also shared a translated excerpt from a memoir released earlier this year by Jiri Ruzek, a former head of Czech counterintelligence. The book describes how U.S. officials pressured Czech intelligence to confirm that the meeting had taken place.
"It was becoming more and more clear that we had not met expectations and did not provide the 'right' intelligence output," Ruzek wrote.
"Without any regard to us, they used our intelligence information for propaganda press leaks," Ruzek continued. "They wanted to mine certainty from unconfirmed suspicion and use it as an excuse for military action."