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Al-Libi’s Tall Tales

A CIA document obtained by NEWSWEEK provides further evidence that the U.S. intelligence community had serious doubts about information from a high-level Qaeda detainee before the Iraq war.


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Updated: 1:31 p.m. ET Nov. 10, 2005

Nov. 10, 2005 - A CIA document shows the agency in January 2003 raised questions about an Al Qaeda detainee’s claims that Saddam Hussein’s government provided chemical and biological weapons training to terrorists—weeks before President George W. Bush and other top officials flatly used those same claims to make their case for war against Iraq.

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The CIA document, recently provided to Congress and obtained by NEWSWEEK, fills in some of the blanks in the mysterious case of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured Al Qaeda commander whose claims about poison-gas training for the Qaeda group by Saddam’s government formed the basis for some of the most dramatic arguments used by senior administration officials in the run up to the invasion of Iraq. 

As NEWSWEEK first reported last July, al-Libi has since recanted those claims. The new CIA document states the agency “recalled and reissued” all its intelligence reporting about al-Libi’s “recanted” claims about chemical and biological warfare training by Saddam’s regime in February 2004—an important retreat on pre-Iraq war intelligence that has never been publicly acknowledged by the White House. The withdrawal also was not mentioned in last year’s public report by the presidential inquiry commission headed by Judge Laurence Silberman and former Sen. Charles Robb which reviewed alleged Iraq intelligence failures.  

The declassified CIA document about al-Libi was recently provided to Sen. Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who has been pressing for a more aggressive investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee into the Bush Administration’s handling of pre-war intelligence on Iraq. It has not been officially released because of Senate Intelligence Committee rules restricting public disclosure of information it receives as part of its inquires—even if the data has been declassified. 

Levin did, however, release other material last weekend that he received through his membership on the Senate Armed Services Committee. This included declassified portions of a four-page February 2002 DIA Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summary (DITSUM) that strongly questioned al-Libi’s credibility. The report stated it was “likely” al-Libi was “intentionally misleading” his debriefers and might be describing scenarios “that he knows will retain their interest.” A DIA official confirmed to NEWSWEEK that the DITSUM report—which also questioned whether the “intensely secular” Iraqi regime would provide such assistance to an Islamic fundamentalist regime “it cannot control”—was circulated at the time throughout the U.S. intelligence community and that a copy would have been sent to the National Security Council. 

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