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....reporters aren't talking about the chapter of "Against All Enemies" that describes how Osama bin Laden cooperated with Iraqi scientists to make weapons of mass destruction - a development that, if true, would more than justify President Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq.
In his book, Clarke describes how the Clinton CIA determined in 1996 that Sudan's Shifa chemical plant, which was allegedly bankrolled by bin Laden, was producing the chemical EMPTA.
The NYT, yesterday, reported that no traces of the VX precursor, Empta, nor its degradation product, Empa, could be found in 13 samples taken from the al-Shifa pharmaceutical plant and its grounds last Oct.
That work was supervised by the chairman of the Boston U. chemistry department, hired by the law firm representing Salih Idris, owner of the plant. Also, Idris' lawyers hired Kroll "to conduct a detailed review of the Shifa controversy. In their report, made available to the New York Times, Kroll Associates found no evidence of a direct link between Idris and bin Ladin," even as the White House maintained, "We stand by our evidence linking this plant to bin Ladin's network."
For nearly two years, starting in 1996, the CIA monitored the al Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum, Sudan. The plant was known to have deep connections to Sudan's Military Industrial Corporation, and the CIA had gathered intelligence on the budding relationship between Iraqi chemical weapons experts and the plant's top officials. The intelligence included information that several top chemical weapons specialists from Iraq had attended ceremonies to celebrate the plant's opening in 1996. And, more compelling, the National Security Agency had intercepted telephone calls between Iraqi scientists and the plant's general manager.
Iraq also admitted to having a $199,000 contract with al Shifa for goods under the oil-for-food program. Those goods were never delivered. While it's hard to know what significance, if any, to ascribe to this information, it fits a pattern described in recent CIA reporting on the overlap in the mid-1990s between al Qaeda-financed groups and firms that violated U.N. sanctions on behalf of Iraq.
The clincher, however, came later in the spring of 1998, when the CIA secretly gathered a soil sample from 60 feet outside of the plant's main gate. The sample showed high levels of O-ethylmethylphosphonothioic acid, known as EMPTA, which is a key ingredient for the deadly nerve agent VX. A senior intelligence official who briefed reporters at the time was asked which countries make VX using EMPTA. "Iraq is the only country we're aware of," the official said. "There are a variety of ways of making VX, a variety of recipes, and EMPTA is fairly unique."
The "al-Shifa" factory in Khartoum was said to be totally destroyed. Sudanese television said there were dozens of casualties, with some people still buried beneath the ruins. Hospital officials said they had the names of 10 people injured in the missile attack, five of them seriously. Sandy Berger said the factory, which was thought to manufacture one of the ingredients for VX nerve gas, was "functionally destroyed."
Most important was the fact that a precursor of VX nerve agent, that has no other use, that does not occur naturally, was found in a sample taken 60 feet, about, from the door of the Al Shifa plant in Sudan. Secondly, it was very clear that Usama bin Ladin had very close connections with the Sudanese. He'd lived with them for a long period of time. Thirdly, it was very clear to us that the Sudanese themselves had a great interest in developing these kinds of weapons.
Kay, who helped identify traces of VX on Iraqi Scud missiles after the Persian Gulf war, suggested that Iraq may have helped build the Sudanese drug plant. He said, for example, that "Sudan is not a state that you'd normally expect to understand, by itself, the intricacies of the production of VX" and for that reason the Iraqis are suspected of helping with the plant's construction.
U.S. intelligence officials, who declined to be identified, told reporters that there were contacts, as the Sudanese company was being developed, between al-Shifa officials and Iraqis working on their country's VX program. Iraq is the only country "we are aware of that
had planned to use EMPTA," the U.S. officials said.
The "smoking gun" that prompted the United States to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles was a soil sample taken from outside the factory by a covert operative. Lab tests revealed that the soil sample contained EMPTA, one of four precursor chemicals needed to make VX. Also, CIA Director George Tenet told U.S. senators during a classified briefing that the United States had intercepted telephone conversations from within the plant that showed evidence of a chemical weapons program. Senior intelligence officials later told the Washington Post that the factory's chairman had visited Iraq to meet with "the father of Iraq's VX program."
4. According to a May 2003 debriefing of a senior Iraqi intelligence officer, Iraqi intelligence established a highly secretive relationship with Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and later with al Qaeda. The first meeting in 1992 between the Iraqi Intelligence Service (IIS) and al Qaeda was brokered by al-Turabi. Former IIS deputy director Faruq Hijazi and senior al Qaeda leader [Ayman al] Zawahiri were at the meeting--the first of several between 1992 and 1995 in Sudan. Additional meetings between Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda were held in Pakistan. Members of al Qaeda would sometimes visit Baghdad where they would meet the Iraqi intelligence chief in a safe house. The report claimed that Saddam insisted the relationship with al Qaeda be kept secret. After 9-11, the source said Saddam made a personnel change in the IIS for fear the relationship would come under scrutiny from foreign probes.
According to the indictment, bin Laden and al Qaeda forged alliances with the National Islamic Front in Sudan and with representatives of the Government of Iran and its associated terrorist group Hezballah with the goal of working together against their common enemies in the West, particularly the United States.
"In addition, al Qaeda reached an understanding with the Government of Iraq that al Qaeda would not work against that government and that on particular projects, specifically including weapons development, al Qaeda would work cooperatively with the Government of Iraq," the indictment said.