A document declassified this week by the National Security Archive reveals that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) delivered a briefing to the Bush administration which directly contradicts former Vice President Dick Cheney’s claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta visited an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague.
The document (PDF), dated Dec. 1, 2001 and delivered to the White House on the 8th, claims that Atta “did not travel to the Czech Republic on 31 May 2000,” and adds that “the individual who attempted to enter the Czech Republic on 31 May 2000… was not the Atta who attacked the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001.”
Despite this briefing, just days later on Dec. 9, 2001, Cheney told the late Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press, that the meeting in Prague had been “pretty well confirmed.”
Well, what we now have that’s developed since you and I last talked, Tim, of course, was that report that’s been pretty well confirmed, that he 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. Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don’t know at this point. But that’s clearly an avenue that we want to pursue.
Cheney’s claim was one of the strongest rhetorical links between the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and Iraq in the administration’s arguments for war, even though it was refuted by the CIA more than once. The initial allegation reportedly came from misinformed Czech intelligence agents, and almost became part of a 2003 speech by the president — a plan that was scrapped after the CIA station in Prague issued a still-classified cable insisting that it was not true.
Even after the CIA had again refuted the link between Iraq and the 9/11 hijacker, Cheney still repeated it during a Sept. 2003 appearance on Meet the Press. Shortly after Russert confronted him with polling that showed as much as 69 percent of Americans believed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks, Cheney responded:
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 anymore of that yet either in terms of confirming it or discrediting it. We just don’t know.
The problem with that now appears to be that the vice president did know the intelligence was bogus, but continued repeating it to support his argument for war. No link was ever established between the Iraqi regime and the attacks of Sept. 11.
Despite insisting publicly that no deal had been made to invade Iraq in the run-up to war, notes from aides to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which were subsequently handed to reporters, showed that he directed the Pentagon to draw up invasion plans on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001.
A survey conducted in Sept. of last year (PDF) by the University of Maryland found that at least 38 percent of Americans still believe the U.S. “found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with Al Qaeda.” An additional 15 percent still believe Iraq was “directly involved in carrying out” the Sept. 11 attacks.