June 22, 2004

You Know, Kih-nekt-tid

My review of Stephen Hayes's The Connection is up at TechCentralStation.

Hayes returns to some of the material from the book as he looks at last weeks kerfuffle over the 9/11 comission staff reports in the current Weekly Standard, in an article well worth reading.

(Brownie points to the first person to identify the allusion in the title to this post.)

Posted by John Tabin at June 22, 2004 02:39 AM

I haven't had the chance to read Hayes' book, but I have followed his articles, including the one you linked to in this post. What troubles me is that he keeps bringing up the Atta-meeting-an-Iraqi-agent-in-Prague story. Does he do so in the book as well?

The evidence for that story amounts to one eye-witness who made the identification some months later, after 9/11, when Atta's picture was all over the world.
Despite years of trying, there's not been one piece of evidence found that supports that identification. While nothing has conclusively proven that Atta wasn't there, all the evidence that has emerged has been consistent with the meeting never having taken place.

I'm suspicious of arguments that are placed next to a case that is so lacking; it rather makes me think that his other examples are similiarly flawed.

There's a number of posts on my own blog on the subject, if you're interested.

Posted by: George Cerny at June 22, 2004 04:15 PM

Hayes does have a chapter called "What Happened in Prague?"; his look at the evidence is extremely fair. There's a lot to the story of Atta's various trips to Prague and the activities in Prague of Ahmed Khalil Lbrahim Samir al Ani, the spy working out of the Iraqi embassy. An Arab informant reported a meeting between al Ani and a "student from Hamburg" in April 2001; as you say, it was after 9/11 that the informant contacted the Czechs to say that the student had been Atta.

There are details of the investigation that have not been made public, and some top officials are convinced by it. According to Hayes, Condi Rice "strongly believes" the meeting took place, Dick Cheney "is less certain, but think it more likely than not that the two got together... Paul Wolfowitz, often portrayed as the most hawkish among top administration officials, is more skeptical," and George Tenet "says in private the same thing he says in public: the meeting cannot be proven or disproven on the available evidence. But when pressed, Tenet has told associates and some journalists that he, too, thinks that Atta met with Iraqi intelligence."

Posted by: John Tabin at June 22, 2004 10:15 PM

It's tough to evaluate evidence when they won't make it available. This is rather much to take on faith, particularly since Cheney has been backing away from the story. After 3 years, it's time to put all the cards on the table.

Does Hayes mention al Ani's appointment book?

Posted by: George Cerny at June 23, 2004 12:18 PM

To Mr. Cerny,

You refer to the entire case for the ``Prague Connection`` as being based on the word of one person. You fail to note that this was not a casual passerby but was a trained watcher who worked for the Czech intelligence agency, and who was ASSIGNED to watch Atta. The Czech government has insisted that these meetings took place despite an immediate dismissal by U.S. intelligence (who would not want to admit to dropping the ball like that). Further, the circumstantial evidence is very compelling-note the comments made by Mr. Tabin above. What was Atta doing at this time if not meeting with the Iraqis? The principle of Occams Razor would suggest meeting with SOMEONE important to the cause. There is every reason to think the Czech government is correct.

Tim Birdnow

Posted by: Tim Birdnow at June 23, 2004 07:35 PM

The evidence is, at best, sketchy. There are no photographs, no documentary evidence, no recordings; nothing, really, beyond that one eye-witness. Jan Kavan, Stanislav Gross, every Czech pol. back to Masaryk can swear that this one eye-witness was correct, but there is nothing at all to say how they could possibly know that the ID was correct.

Against that we have:
Al-Ani's denial of the meeting.
The absence of any record placing Atta in Europe in April, 2001.
Vaclav Havel's denial of the story-- well if you're going to credit Jan Kavan, why not?
Denials by other Al Qaeda leaders in custody.
The absence of any documentary evidence from Iraq.

I should add that your faith in the competence of the Czech intelligence agencies is touching, but not shared by most Czechs.

Posted by: George Cerny at June 23, 2004 08:36 PM

The New York Times reported that Havel called Bush to say there was no evidence of the meeting, but both Czech officials and Havel's spokesman (as reported in the Times) two days later say that that phone call never happened. Unless you have another source for it, you can strike Havel's denial from your list of counter-evidence.

Posted by: John Tabin at June 24, 2004 09:29 AM

The whole history of Havel's denial is given here:

I will add that a commentator on my own blog post on the subject, a Prague-based journalist, says that Peter Green, who wrote the second Times story, believed the substance of the first story.

See my post, Atta in Prague, for more.

Posted by: George Cerny at June 24, 2004 10:00 AM

Oh, wow, I just noticed that no one ever got around to identifying the post's title allusion. That would be a reference to a line in the movie, Fargo, when the female detective is noting two facts that seem likely to connect in some way.

Posted by: C lar Hale at July 28, 2004 08:43 PM