[Congressional Record Volume 160, Number 151 (Thursday, December 11, 2014)]
[Pages S6608-S6621]

                        Prewar Iraq Intelligence

  Mr. LEVIN. Madam President, I wish to speak for a few moments about 
one of the most significant events in my 36 years as a U.S. Senator, 
the war in Iraq. I want to speak about important historical records 
crucial to our understanding of why we went to war against Iraq in 
2003, I want to enter into the public record recent revelations not yet 
made public, and I make one more public call for a key document to be 
made fully public.
  I will begin by renewing a request to the Director of the Central 
Intelligence Agency, John Brennan. It is a request I have also made to 
his predecessors: I ask Director Brennan to declassify fully a March 
13, 2003 CIA cable debunking the contention that 9/11 hijacker Mohammad 
Atta had met in Prague with an Iraqi intelligence official named Ahmad 
  Earlier this year, Director Brennan wrote to me, refusing, as did his 
predecessors, to fully declassify the CIA cable. But in his letter to 
me he makes public for the first time a few lines from that document. 
While this is a significant addition to the public record, and I will 
discuss that in a moment, it is still not the full cable, and I am 
calling on him to declassify and release the full cable.
  In order to understand why I am making that request, we need to 
return to early 2003.
  On March 6, 2003, just two weeks before U.S. troops would cross the 
Iraqi border, President Bush held a prime-time televised press 
conference. In that press conference he mentioned the Sept. 11, 2001, 
terror attacks eight times, often in the same breath as Iraqi dictator 
Saddam Hussein. 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. According to public 
polls in the week before the Iraq war, half or more of Americans 
believed Saddam was directly involved in the attacks. One poll taken in 
September 2003, 6 months after we invaded Iraq, found that nearly 70 
percent of Americans believed it likely that Saddam Hussein was 
personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. Americans who believed in 
a link between Iraq and 9/11 overwhelmingly supported the idea of 
invading Iraq. Of course, connections between Saddam and 9/11 or al 
Qaeda were fiction.
  America's intelligence community was pressed to participate in the 
administration's media campaign. Just a week after the President's 
prime-time press conference, on March 13, 2003, CIA field staff sent a 
cable to CIA headquarters, responding to a request for information 
about a report that Mohammad Atta, the leader of the Sept. 11 
hijackings, had met in 2001 with an Iraqi intelligence official in the 
Czech capital of Prague. In stark terms, this CIA cable from the field 
warned against U.S. government officials citing the report of the 
alleged Prague meeting.
  Yet the notion of such a meeting was a centerpiece of the 
administration's campaign to create an impression in the public mind 
that Saddam was in league with the al Qaeda terrorists who attacked us 
on 9/11. On multiple occasions, including national television 
appearances, Vice President Dick Cheney cited reports of the meeting, 
at one point calling it ``pretty well confirmed.'' Officials from 
Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon, who set up a sort of rogue intelligence 
analysis operation, briefed senior officials with a presentation citing 
the Prague meeting as a ``known contact'' between Iraq and al Qaida.
  Why am I bringing up a CIA cable from more than a decade ago? Isn't 
this old, well-covered terrain? No, it isn't. This is about giving the 
American people a full account of the march to war as new information 
becomes available. It is about trying to hold leaders who misled the 
public accountable. It is about warning future leaders of this nation 
that they must not commit our sons and daughters to battle on the basis 
of false statements.
  There is no more grave decision for a nation to make than the 
decision to go to war, and there is no more important issue for every 
member of Congress than the decision to authorize the use of military 
force--A decision to authorize force is a decision to unleash the

[[Page S6616]]

might of our Armed Forces, the strongest military on the planet. It 
commits the men and women of our Armed Forces to fight, and perhaps to 
die, on the battlefield. The decision to go to war must be careful, 
considered, and based on the facts.
  Such careful consideration was tragically absent in the march to war 
in Iraq.
  Here is what the Vice President said on December 9, 2001, in an 
interview on ``Meet the Press'': ``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. Just a single unsubstantiated report, from a 
single source, and a mountain of information indicating there was no 
such meeting, including the fact that travel and other records 
indicated that Atta was almost certainly in the United States at the 
time of the purported meeting in Prague.
  It was highly irresponsible for the Vice President to make that 
claim. Calling a single, unconfirmed report from a single source 
``pretty well confirmed,'' as he did on Dec. 9, 2001, was a reckless 
statement to make on such a grave topic as war, in the face of 
overwhelming doubt that such a meeting occurred.
  Yet Vice President Cheney's reckless statements continued, even as 
evidence mounted that there was no Prague meeting. In September 2002, 
he said Atta ``did apparently travel to Prague on a number of 
occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places 
him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official.''
  The Vice President made those statements in the face of a then-
classified June 2002 CIA assessment that said the alleged meeting was 
``not verified,'' called the information about it ``contradictory,'' 
and described assessments of Iraqi cooperation with al Qaida terror 
plots as ``speculative.'' The Vice President made those statements in 
the face of a July 2002 Defense Intelligence Agency analysis, which 
reported that there was no evidence that Atta was in the Czech Republic 
at the time. He made those statements despite a Defense Intelligence 
Agency memorandum in August 2002 rejecting the claims by a rogue 
intelligence analysis shop at the Pentagon that the meeting was an 
example of a ``known contact'' between Iraq and al Qaida.
  That brings us to the March 13, 2003 cable. It is unfortunate that I 
cannot fully lay out the contents of that cable, because much of it 
remains classified. But as the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2006 
``Phase II'' report indicates, it appears that the cable was sent in 
response to a request from headquarters at Langley for comment on the 
claim that Atta and al-Ani had met in Prague because the White House 
was considering a reference to a Prague meeting in a speech. At that 
time, according to then-CIA Director George Tenet's memoir, the CIA had 
been given a draft of a speech by Vice President Cheney containing 
assertions about connections between Iraq and al Qaida. Tenet writes in 
his memoir that he had to object to the President that the speech went 
``way beyond what the intelligence shows. We cannot support the speech 
and it should not be given.''
  The text of this cable and the information surrounding it was almost 
entirely redacted by the CIA from the Intelligence Committee's 2006 
Phase II report. A number of us objected to that redaction at the time 
the report was made public; indeed, the Majority Leader introduced 
legislation which I cosponsored that would have declassified the cable, 
legislation Republicans blocked. At the time of the report's release, I 
joined several members of the Intelligence Committee, including Ranking 
Member Rockefeller, Senators Feinstein, Wyden, Bayh, Mikulski and 
Feingold, in concluding that the administration's decision to keep the 
contents of the cable classified ``represents an improper use of 
classification authority by the intelligence community to shield the 
White House.''
  In the years since I have sought declassification of the March 2003 
CIA cable on numerous occasions. Twice, in 2011 and 2012, I wrote to 
then-CIA Director Petraeus asking him to declassify the cable. Then in 
February 2013, I asked Director Brennan during his confirmation hearing 
whether he would contact the Czech government to ask if they would 
object to declassification of the cable, and he responded, 
``Absolutely, Senator, I will.''
  Despite his commitment, I heard nothing from Director Brennan for 
some time. Finally, in March of this year, more than a year after his 
public commitment to me, I received a letter from Director Brennan.
  Madam President, I ask unanimous consent that Director Brennan's 
March 13, 2014, letter to me be printed in the Record.
  There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in 
the Record, as follows:

                                                     The Director,

                                  Central Intelligence Agency,

                                    Washingon, DC, March 13, 2014.
     Hon. Carl Levin,
     Chairman, Committee on Armed Services,
     U.S. Senate, Washington, DC.
       Dear Mr. Chairman: At my confirmation hearing you requested 
     that I pursue declassification of a 2003 communication 
     related to an alleged meeting between Mohammed Atta and an 
     Iraqi intelligence officer, which was referenced in the 
     Senate Select Committee on Intelligence's September 2006 
     report entitled Postwar Findings about Iraq's WMD Programs 
     and Links to Terrorism and How They Compare with Prewar 
       I understand that your principal concern is that the 
     historical record be as complete as possible regarding this 
     period in our history, and on this point we are in agreement. 
     The American people deserve as full an understanding as 
     possible of these historical events, consistent with the 
     national security interests of the United States. 
     Consequently, having worked with our declassification review 
     experts, I can confirm the following information, which 
     describes the substance of what the communication relayed 
     with respect to the meeting at issue, without compromising 
     national security:
       On 13 March 2003, CIA headquarters received a communication 
     from the field responding to a request that the field look 
     into a single-source intelligence report indicating that 
     Muhammed Atta met with former Iraqi intelligence officer al-
     Ani in Prague in April 2001. In that communication, the field 
     expressed significant concern regarding the possibility of an 
     official public statement by the United States Government 
     indicating that such a meeting took place. The communication 
     noted that information received after the single-source 
     report raised serious doubts about that report's accuracy.
       In particular, the field noted that while it remained 
     possible that a meeting between Atta and al-Ani took place, 
     investigative records subsequently placed Atta in the United 
     States just before and just after the date on which the 
     single-source report said the meeting was to have occurred, 
     making it unlikely that Atta was in Prague at the time of the 
     alleged meeting. The field also warned that both FBI and CIA 
     had previously told foreign intelligence officials that they 
     were skeptical that Atta was in Prague. Finally, the field 
     observed that ``identifications'' like the one that was made 
     by the source of the earlier report, during a period of high 
     emotion four months after the September 11 attacks, could be 
     faulty and would require further evidence. The field added 
     that, to its knowledge, ``there is not one USG 
     [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.''
       I hope this letter answers any outstanding questions about 
     the correspondence in question and addresses our shared 
     interest in creating an accurate and complete historical 
                                                  John O. Brennan.

  Mr. LEVIN. The letter contains no indication that he had asked the 
Czech government for its view, as he committed to do. But Director 
Brennan's letter includes, and therefore finally declassifies, this 
very clear statement from the cable: ``[T]here is not one USG 
[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.''
  Again, that cable was sent to CIA headquarters on March 13, 2003--a 
week before our invasion of Iraq. But the Vice President of the United 
States, Dick Cheney, continued to suggest the meeting may have taken 
place. He said the following about the meeting on ``Meet the Press'' on 
September 14, 2003--6 months after CIA received that cable: ``We've 
never been able to develop any more of that yet either in terms of 
confirming it or discrediting it. We just don't know.'' Here is what he 
told the Denver Post newspaper on January 9, 2004: ``We've never been 
able to collect any more information on that. That was the one that 
possibly tied the two together to 9/11.'' Here is what he told CNN on 
June 17, 2004: ``We

[[Page S6617]]

have never been able to confirm that, nor have we been able to knock it 
down. We just don't know.''
  Mr. President, those statements were simply not true. We did know. We 
did know that there was no evidence that such a meeting had taken 
place. We did know there was ample evidence it did not take place. We 
did know that there was, as the CIA cable says, ``not one'' government 
expert who said there was evidence that Atta met with Iraqi 
intelligence in Prague. The Vice President recklessly disregarded the 
truth, and he did so in a way calculated to maintain support for the 
administration's decision to go to war in Iraq.
  There is a second recent revelation about how the ``Prague meeting'' 
progressed from unsubstantiated report to justification for war. It 
comes from Jiri Ruzek, who headed the Czech counterintelligence service 
on and after 9/11. Mr. Ruzek published a memoir earlier this year, 
which we have had translated from Czech. It recounts the days after the 
terror attack, including how his nation's intelligence services first 
reported a single-source rumor of a Prague meeting between Atta and al-
Ani, how CIA officials under pressure from CIA headquarters in turn 
pressured him to substantiate the rumor, and how U.S. officials 
pressured the Czech government when Czech intelligence officials failed 
to produce the confirmation that the Bush administration sought.
  Mr. Ruzek writes:

       It was becoming more and more clear that we had not met 
     expectations and did not provide the `right' intelligence 

  Mr. Ruzek continues:

       The Americans showed me that anything can be violated, 
     including the rules that they themselves taught us. Without 
     any regard to us, they used our intelligence information for 
     propaganda press leaks. They wanted to mine certainty from 
     unconfirmed suspicion and use it as an excuse for military 
     action. We were supposed to play the role of useful idiot 
     thanks to whose initiative a war would be started.

  That is chilling. We have a senior intelligence official of a 
friendly nation describing the pressure that he and other Czech 
officials were under to give the Bush administration material it could 
use to justify a war.
  When it came to the most serious decision a government can make--the 
decision to commit our sons and daughters to battle--the Bush 
administration was playing games with intelligence. The full, still 
classified cable includes critically important, relevant information, 
and it has been redacted and denied to the public in order to protect 
those in the Bush White House who are responsible.
  The March 13, 2003, cable is an invaluable record in helping the 
American people understand how their elected officials conducted 
themselves in going to war. Continuing to cloak this document with a 
veil of secrecy, revealing a few sentences at a time, allows those who 
misled the American people to continue escaping the full verdict of 
history. It deprives the American people of a complete understanding of 
how we came to invade Iraq. In his letter to me, Director Brennan 
writes, ``I understand that your principal concern is that the 
historical record be as complete as possible regarding this period in 
our history, and on this point we are in agreement.'' But Director 
Brennan's apparent refusal to do what he has committed to do--to ask 
the Czech government if it objects to release of the cable--now takes 
on the character of a continuing cover-up.
  I believe decisionmakers should have to face the full, unadulterated, 
unredacted truth about their decisions. The American people should know 
the full story, not just so we can understand the decisions in 2002 and 
2003 that took us to war, but as a warning to future leaders against 
the misuse of intelligence and the abuse of power.
  Very briefly, what I am doing in this statement, which is now in the 
record, is I am asking CIA Director Brennan to fully declassify a March 
13, 2003 cable from CIA field officers to headquarters. This cable 
provides information about the Bush administration's campaign to build 
public support for the Iraq invasion.
  One part of that campaign was the repeated misleading suggestion that 
Mohammed Atta, leader of the 9/11 hijackers, had met with an Iraqi 
intelligence official in Prague.
  I received a letter from Director Brennan making public for the first 
time some of the cable's contents. He quotes the cable as saying:

       There is not one USG [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 

  In my statement just entered into the Record, I also discussed recent 
revelations by the former head of the Czech intelligence agency about 
U.S. pressure to confirm the report of that meeting.
  The American people deserve to know the full truth about this episode 
and particularly in light of the new revelations from a top Czech 
  I have renewed my request to Director Brennan to declassify the 
entire cable.
  I yield the floor.
  The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator from Louisiana.