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Congress's Secret Saddam Tapes
BY ELI LAKE - Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 7, 2006
The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence is studying 12 hours of audio recordings between Saddam Hussein and his top advisers that may provide clues to the whereabouts of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
The committee has already confirmed through the intelligence community that the recordings of Saddam's voice are authentic, according to its chairman, Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, who would not go into detail about the nature of the conversations or their context. They were provided to his committee by a former federal prosecutor, John Loftus, who says he received them from a former American military intelligence analyst.
Mr. Loftus will make the recordings available to the public on February 17 at the annual meeting of the Intelligence Summit, of which he is president. On the organization's Web site, Mr. Loftus is quoted as promising that the recordings "will be able to provide a few definitive answers to some very important - and controversial - weapons of mass destruction questions." Contacted yesterday by The New York Sun, Mr. Loftus would only say that he delivered a CD of the recordings to a representative of the committee, and the following week the committee announced that it was reopening the investigation into weapons of mass destruction.
The audio recordings are part of new evidence the House intelligence committee is piecing together that has spurred Mr. Hoekstra to reopen the question of whether Iraq had the biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons American inspectors could not turn up. President Bush called off the hunt for those weapons last year and has conceded that America has yet to find evidence of the stockpiles.
Mr. Hoekstra has already met with a former Iraqi air force general, Georges Sada, who claims that Saddam used civilian airplanes to ferry chemical weapons to Syria in 2002. Mr. Hoekstra is now talking to Iraqis who Mr. Sada claims took part in the mission, and the congressman said the former air force general "should not just be discounted." Mr. Hoekstra also said he is in touch with other people who have come forward to the committee - Iraqis and Americans - who claim that the weapons inspectors may have overlooked other key sites and evidence. He has also asked the director of national intelligence, John Negroponte, to declassify some 35,000 boxes of Iraqi documents obtained in the war that have yet to be translated.
"I still believe there are key individuals who have not been debriefed and there are key sites that have never been investigated. I know there are 35,000 boxes of documents that have never been translated. I am frustrated," Mr. Hoekstra said.
He added, "Right now, it's not my job to investigate the specific claims. We are doing this a little with Sada. But we still don't fully understand what happened in Iraq three years after the invasion, three years after we control the country. There are enough people coming to the committee, Sada is not the only one, saying, 'you really ought to look under this rock.' This gives me cause to take up the issue again."
Mr. Hoekstra is one of many who believe the question of what happened to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction is still unresolved. Last week Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld voiced similar doubts at the National Press Club. "We have not found them. We also have found a number of things we didn't imagine. We found a bunch of jet airplanes buried in Iraq. Who buries airplanes? I mean, really. So I don't know what we'll find in the months and years ahead. It could be anything," he said.
The former chief of the State Department's Iraq Intelligence Unit, Wayne White, and Mr. Rumsfeld's former undersecretary of defense for policy, Douglas Feith, have told the Sun they believe the question of what happened to the weapons is still open. The former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Force, Moshe Ya'alon, told the Sun in December that he believed Saddam sent chemical weapons to Syria before the war in 2002. The last chief American weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, said in the preamble to his final report that looting of sites may have severely weakened his team's ability to piece together a complete picture of Iraq's weapons program.
Mr. Hoekstra said he is not yet prepared to say President Bush was premature in calling off the hunt for the weapons last year, but conceded that his inquiries may lead him to that conclusion if some of the leads offered to his committee check out. He also said the White House has been supportive of his inquiry.
The chairman of the House intelligence panel said he is frustrated with the American intelligence community's lack of curiosity on following up these leads, particularly the story from Mr. Sada. "I talked to one person relatively high up in DNI, and I asked him about this and asked are they going to follow up, and he looked at me and said, 'No we don't think so.' At this point, I guess you guys don't get it.
"I am trying to find out if our postwar intelligence was as bad as our pre-war intelligence, " Mr. Hoekstra said.
Even if we did find a DHL tracking number that had the description "WMD" on it, with the origination address of Baghdad and the destination address of Damascus, somehow I don't think the story would get reported by the
ARC: St Wendeler