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Posted by on May 23, 2007 in War | 19 comments

Declassified Intelligence Says Bin Laden Wanted Iraq As Base

Here’s a new report that coupled with President George Bush’s intent to use it in a speech is likely to spark debate — but it’s a tidbit that likely won’t transform the debate or sentiments over the war in Iraq:

President Bush on Tuesday declassified intelligence showing in 2005 Osama bin Laden planned to use Iraq as a base from which to launch attacks in the United States, according to White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

Johndroe said the intelligence was declassified so the president could discuss the previously secret material on Wednesday during a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut.

The speech will be aimed at defending a key part of the president’s war strategy — the contention that the United States cannot withdraw from Iraq because al Qaeda would fill the vacuum in the Middle East.

“This shows why we believe al Qaeda wants to use Iraq as a safe haven,” said Johndroe. He added the president will talk about al Qaeda’s “strong interest in using Iraq as a safe haven to plot and plan attacks on the United States and other countries.”

If the United States learned that bin Laden was toying with the idea of using Lebanon, or a country with a large Muslim population such as France, or Indonesia as a base, would that justify some kind of military action — particularly if that country had a large number of duly-elected legislators who declared they didn’t want the U.S.to be there…before leaving U.S. troops behind as they went on a two month vacation? And what about bin Laden’s clear desire, often noted in various articles, to have a greater foothold in Pakistan (where some believe he already does have a foothold)?

The decision also coincides with an ongoing push by the Democratic majority in Congress to force an end to U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Bin Laden and a top lieutenant — Abu Faraj al-Libbi — planned to form a terror cell in Iraq in order to launch those attacks, Johndroe said.

Al-Libbi was a “senior al Qaeda manager” who in 2005 suggested to bin Laden that bin Laden send Egyptian-born Hamza Rabia to Iraq to help plan attacks on American soil, Johndroe said.

Johndroe noted that bin Laden later suggested to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, then leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, that America should be his top priority. That was followed in the spring of 2005 with bin Laden’s ordering Rabia to brief al-Zarqawi on plans to attack the United States, Johndroe said.

This declassified bit of info will bolster the adminsitration’s case — among those who already are on the same page with the administration’s stated case. It is unlikely to change many minds on existing policy.

Republican talk show hosts, TV talking heads, candidates debating in the Presidential primaries and weblog writers who already support the President will cite it. Democrats and those opposed to the war will largely pooh-pooh it.

Those in the middle may be split, but it’s unlikely those unhappy with administration policy will transform their feelings on staying in Iraq because an intelligence report released by the Bush administration says bin Laden wants to be there (hasn’t there been a teeny-weenie issue with intelligence presented by the administration before?).

The larger, most difficult problem for George Bush is that arguing points, even when peppered with shakes from a spice shaker filled with declassified intelligence, are unlikely to change minds unless (a) the war shows significant notable progress and — much harder for Bush and his administration — (b) the administration is vindicated in some of the many credibility problems it is now facing.

It’s hard to say “trust me on this” when you’re proclaiming Attorney General Alberto “I Don’t Recall” Gonzales is a fine, upstanding Attorney General who is misunderstood by a bunch of partisan hacks with political motives (a group of people that also now include many members of Mr. Bush’s own party).

It’s hard to compartmentalize credibility and that’s Bush’s long-term, ongoing challenge: He’s ending his final months in office with a serious “tune him out problem” among those who don’t already agree with and staunchly support him. Even if he has something important to say, some either won’t listen or won’t believe him. It’s hubris.

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  • SteveK

    President Bush on Tuesday declassified intelligence showing in 2005 Osama bin Laden planned to use Iraq as a base…

    ¿ 2005 ? This is a joke… right?

  • Nope. That’s the report. I just copied and pasted.

  • SteveK

    Joe, I wasn’t sniping at you, my comment was aimed at the NEW spin the Bushies are trying to sell… One could wonder it they’re getting their ideas from reruns of The Twilight Zone.

  • Right, 2005. 2 years after “Mission Accomplished”

    This is a problem of our own creation, and just stresses how badly the war on terrorism has been managed.

  • I didn’t take it as sniping. There are so many things said by these folks that make your jaw drop now, I took it at face value. The concept of credibility and Presidential administrations is very important one and except for the lockstep defenders, this one has very little left. And this is dangerous because there are times where they will have a vital message but a large segment of the population will now either not believe them, tune them out or only partly believe them. You can’t project a trend like this into a positive. It only gets worse.

  • Russians living under Soviet rule learned very quickly to ignore just about everything they were told by their government. Although I’m sure that appeals to nationalism were still received with open arms.

    Americans have been on the same path (albeit more slowly) since the Nixon years. Our free press and relatively open society makes it seem like it would be impossible for our government to lie to us every single minute of every day, but that’s what’s happening.

  • Entropy

    I have no doubt Bin Ladin would like a new “base” in Iraq since he can’t really do much hiding in NW Pakistan. But a desire to have Iraq as a base is quite different from actually achieving that desire. UBL thought the US would be ground down in Afghanistan like the Soviets were – he was wrong. Now that he sees that might be happen in Iraq, its only natural for him to set his sights there. But once again, intent \=\ capability.

  • kritter

    One of the reasons Bush has lost his credibility is this kind of tactic. He releases portions of these reports that he believes boost his case, but it makes you wonder- why did he not release this two years ago? And how good is the intelligence behind it- what is the context, etc. Once your credibility is gone it doesn’t come back, no matter what you have to say. Joe’s point that you can’t one day say “Gonzales has told us everything, and has my full confidence” and the next say “OSB has had plans to put a base in Iraq for 2 years” and expect any converts.

  • casualobserver

    Rudy,

    So what do your arms control wonks have to say about this abc comment?

    The covert action plan comes as U.S. officials have confirmed Iran had dramatically increased its ability to produce nuclear weapons material, at a pace that experts said would give them the ability to build a nuclear bomb in two years. 

    http://blogs.abcnews.com/theblotter/2007/05/bush_authorizes.html

  • Entropy

    Casualobserver,

    The IAEA report became public today. Read it for yourself:

    http://www.isis-online.org/publications/iran/IAEAreport23May2007.pdf

  • casualobserver

    Thanks, E. Doesn’t sound good, but son’t know enough to figure out whether 2 years is realistic or not.

    Although, this report might make McCain’s singing of old Beach Boy songs a bit more popular now.

  • Sam

    How does Osama wanting to use Iraq as a base in 2005 bolster Bush’s case? To me it just says we made an environment that suddenly seemed fertile for Al-Queda, where before there was none. This makes a case for Bush’s policies?

  • Entropy

    Two years is realistic depending on assumptions. It could actually be less than 2 years if Iran feeds the Russian LEU for Bushehr they’re buying into the cascades. But in either case Iran could not do so covertly and the assumption is Iran would withdraw from the NPT and weaponize as rapidly as possible. I don’t think that’s likely. If Iran has a covert program it will take significantly longer than 2 years simply because Iran’s current centrifuges are those made from kits purchased from Khan and they’ve not demonstrated an ability to indigenously make them as of yet. Also, Iran may not have a covert program, it’s intent may simply be to develop the capability to weaponize quickly (in a matter of months) should it so desire.

    So timelines are really dependent upon a scenario. Two years is really a “worst case,” but it also represents the point at which Iran will have the technical capability to do what it wants. That’s why the focus has been on slowing down or stopping Iran from getting that technical capability through Iranian suspension. After another two years, it won’t really matter anymore.

  • Sam,
    Once the President mentions Bin Laden, you’re supposed to abandon all logic and follow the dear leader’s orders.

  • Rudi

    Rudy,

    So what do your arms control wonks have to say about this abc comment?

    This sounds like the Sanger/Miller story at NYT, that Libruls paper.

    Go to ACW and read for yourself. Jeb’s new coblogger also talked about this here at TMV.

    1) The Iranians cant convert yellowcake to clean UF6. The feeder stock is supposedly from China.
    2) 1300 centrifuges in a room isn’t a true cascade. The cascade needs to run 24/7, not 20% of the time under limited conditions. Will the Iranians overcome the engineering problems(probably)?
    3) The Iranians make exagerated claims, the actual technical accomplishments don’t match their rhetoric.

  • Rudi

    Entropy – The Busherh facilty would be an ultimate source of weapons grade plutonium, not uranium. The Naratz facilty is for FEP, the worry is that the Iranians will take LEU (enriched UF6) and squirrel it away that for a weapons program, not the Russian fuel rods. This administration has a history of cherrypicking, what happened with the PRNK uranium enrichment program? The native Iranian uranium program is covered by GS.

    Here is some info from GlobalSecurity.
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/nuke-fac.htm
    http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/world/iran/bushehr.htm

  • Entropy

    Rudi,

    No, the worry is that Iran could take Russia’s “clean” LEU fuel meant for the Bushehr reactor, downconvert it to UF6 and then quickly enrich it to weapons grade. What’s not commonly understood by layman is that 5% enrichment actually represents about 80% of the separative work required to enrich to weapons-grade. In other words, going from natural (0.7%) to 5% is a long, tedious process, but going from 5% to 90% is a much shorter one.

    The Bushehr reactor does not represent a significant plutonium threat. First, Iran has no reprocessing facility. Secondly, making sufficiently pure quantities of Pu239 free from Pu-240 contamination is difficult in a LWR like Bushehr. The heavy-water reactor Iran is building at Arak is where any plutonium will be produced. The reactor design mirrors Pu production reactors in Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea among others – in short it is tailor-made to support plutonium production. But even so, Iran will still need a reprocessing facility and so far it appears they haven’t begun construction of one yet.

    We don’t really know what happened to the North Korean enrichment program. It’s a closed country and the IAEA was booted out. It appears they tried to set a program up, but found that enrichment was a lot more difficult than they thought. The US discovered it and, judging by the lack of recent information, it appears to be abandoned. We won’t really know until the North opens their facilities for inspection however and allows access to the requisite documents and facilities.

  • Rudi

    Entropy – Why would the Iranians convert fuel rods(UO2) to a uranium compound(UF6) suitable for enrichment? If they can’t even make clean UF6 at their UCF, who are they to convert fuel rods? Please supply a link to a technician or scientist who proposes that the Iranians are even capable of this process. Here is a little info on nuke fuel.
    http://www.uow.edu.au/eng/phys/nukeweb/fuel_rod.html

  • Entropy

    Rudi,

    All you need to do is crush the encapsulated UO2 and expose it to fluorine to get it back to UF4 or UF6. It’s not rocket science, just basic chemistry. Again, the fuel has already been purified and enriched to 5%. Once the Hex has been collected, it can be fed into cascades.

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