Ten years after Iraq was occupied by the US, RT Arabic channel Rusiya Al-Yaum talked with a man who played a key role in getting intelligence to the Iraqi government right before the invasion. Their guest was General Salim Khalaf al-Jumayli, an Iraqi intelligence officer, former chief of the American desk of the Iraqi Intelligence Service.
RT: Mr. Salim, as an officer you destroyed all documents after the war was over. You burned them in a safe house near Baghdad. But I am sure there is still a lot of information that you committed to memory. Let’s start with the pretext that the US used to justify the invasion. They claimed that Iraq had ties with Al-Qaeda. Is it true or was it just a pretext?
Salim Khalaf al-Jumayli: Of course, America did everything to prepare public opinion inside the US and internationally for the war against Iraq. There were two major parts to this work: the US tried to convince everyone that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that it had close ties with Al-Qaeda and terrorists in general. In the 1980s, we did have certain relations with some organizations. But in the 1990s, we received orders to stop all contact with any organization that had terrorist connections. Talking about ties with Al-Qaeda, George Bush said that President Saddam Hussein had sent his envoys to meet with Osama bin Laden, but he never mentioned what the result of that meeting was. In 1992, after the war with Kuwait, Iraq was trying to restore relations with Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia. At that moment, Saudi Arabia was very anti-Iraq, and the President ordered to put all our efforts into changing that situation. We had to gather intelligence that could help us reach that goal. So we put more personnel in the Gulf countries department, and focused on Saudi Arabia. I was responsible for Syria at the time. We had connections with the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, Adnan Uqla’s group. They had connections with Osama Bin Laden who was in Sudan at the time. That group offered to establish contacts with Bin Laden in order to work against Saudi Arabia. We got permission to establish that contact through the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, namely through a brother of Adnan Uqla, who was in an Arab country bordering with Iraq. We invited him to Baghdad, and I met with him at the Mansour Milia Hotel. I told him to get our message to Osama bin Laden. We all were against the American presence in Saudi Arabia. We had the same enemy, therefore we could work together undermining the Saudi regime and pressuring it to remove Americans from the Arabian Peninsula. This person went to Sudan with our message, there he met with Osama bin Laden. Then we got a reply from bin Laden – he said the Ba’ath regime in Iraq was apostate, and that it was because of the Iraqi regime that the Americans came to the Middle East, therefore he couldn’t have any contacts with this regime. There were other attempts to establish a connection, through Hassan al-Turabi for example. But Osama bin Laden’s position never changed. All of this happened before 1995, when he moved to Afghanistan and began to work against the Russian presence.
RT: Against the Najibullah regime…
SHJ: Americans also contacted bin Laden, they were the ones who transferred him to Afghanistan to fight against the Russians.
RT: If bin Laden refused to work with Saddam Hussein, does it then mean that it was the US who cooperated with al-Qaeda and not Iraq?
SHJ: I would not define it as cooperation though as it was later revealed they did have contacts. They coordinated their actions and supported al-Qaeda’s fight against the Russians in the Soviet Union. When Bush said that Saddam Hussein sent an envoy to bin Laden, he didn’t talk of the results of that mission. So formally his statement was true but in terms of the meaning he was wrong.
RT: So that’s about Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Now let’s talk a little bit about the weapons of mass destruction. Did Iraq really have these weapons as America claimed when it invaded the country?
SHJ: One more thing about Al-Qaeda. Before the war against Iraq, the US media talked a lot about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who allegedly was in Iraq and had connections with the Iraqi regime. I didn’t have any information about that. And since al-Zarqawi was from Jordan, I asked my colleague at the Jordan desk about that. He said that they had received reports from Jordan’s intelligence about Musab al-Zarqawi being sick and getting treatment at a hospital in Baghdad. He even told me that this hospital was in Bataween. We searched the area, but didn’t find Musab al-Zarqawi. So we had no connections with Musab al-Zarqawi or Al-Qaeda. There was an attempt to establish a connection with the Taliban through one of the ministers, who was in Pakistan. Iraqi intelligence proposed this, but Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz said that it was an unstable regime and it wouldn’t benefit Iraq to have relations with it.
RT: What about weapons of mass destruction? Did Iraq actually have WMD that could threaten the entire world or the region?
SHJ: They fabricated a certain problem, analyzed it and drew their conclusions based on that. The data they received from various sources wasn’t true. This was their attempt of swaying public opinion. In terms of the intelligence operation, Iraq was a closed country, and they obviously had no sources within the country that would’ve told them the truth. So they relied on other sources that fed them lies such as, for instance, photos of trucks, portable labs which according to their allegations were used for producing chemical weapons. They were actually used for checking food products supplied for the government. But they took photos of those labs and presented them as units for producing WMD.
RT: Mr. Salim, could you tell us as a counter-intelligence agent whether Iraq actually benefited from this powerful secrecy wall around it? Perhaps, had there been more transparency, and had the opponents known more about it and drew their conclusions based on that, there would not be such a perception of Iraq as an unknown power, like a dreadful black box?
SHJ: Certainly, a counter-intelligence agent’s work implies providing certain data to the opponents but you’re the one who should have it under control. From my experience, I am absolutely convinced, had the Americans had an Iraqi source that was telling them truth they wouldn’t have done what they did, in spite of having problems between the CIA and the National Security Advisor [Condoleezza Rice], who wanted to impose her opinion by making certain changes in the CIA reports. If only the CIA had a trustworthy and truthful information source within Iraq. So I’d like to stress again that in the counter-intelligence operation you should let the opponent have its sources inside your country, who you keep under control. You should ensure there’s a certain information leak to the extent you want to have it. Even if this source gets certain information, as it happened in our case, it’s better to let them learn it as the real situation meets our statements. We’ve always insisted that we didn’t have WMD.
Indeed, the Inspection Commissions lost their trust after particular documents were discovered at a fowl farm in a small area called Salman. They were the only ones we had but they didn’t believe it. Before the war, in our secret communication we confirmed that: they convinced the world in the need of entering Iraq in order to resolve two major issues, WMD and ties with Al-Qaeda. But what would they tell the world if they invaded Iraq and didn’t find WMD or ties with Al-Qaeda? You may have noticed that the entire talk was held in a different key. After a while, they changed the entire plan and said they were pursuing democratic goals in Iraq. And once chaos began in Iraq they called it ‘constructive’. Chaos seized the entire Arabic region. In their strategy they believed that America would rule this whole area once they overthrew Saddam Hussein; but it actually worked out the opposite way when chaos seized the entire area.
RT: As I understand, you had contacts or cooperation with the US political bodies or Intelligence?
SHJ: No, we had contacts in the US Administration via American intermediaries of Lebanese origin. We exchanged letters. So we had no contacts with the US political bodies or intelligence services. We wanted to have a meeting with the CIA or anyone in the US administration to explain the situation to them explicitly but we never succeeded.
RT: Were you prepared for cooperation with the international community, for instance, with Europe or the US in then counter-terrorism area?
SHJ: We were, and we sent a number of letters on that matter. In 1993, a truck full of explosives drove into the World Trade Center. That attack was developed and executed by an Iraqi American who came from Samarra, Iraq. This man fled back to Iraq following the attack. The US intelligence followed him and reported that he arrived at Iraq so we started looking for him. It took us six months before we found him working at a car workshop. The Iraqi intelligence detained him and put him to jail. We delivered a letter saying that we had crucial information on the executor of the WTC attack, and Iraqi American, and that we were willing to cooperate in order to pass this information over to them. Their reply was that we should pass this information to them in writing, and refused to meet with us. At the same time, they promised a $25mln reward to anyone who’d inform them of that individual or his whereabouts. They realized we had him, and that we informed them about it.
Following the 9/11 attack, they tried to act as intermediaries between us and the US intelligence via the Egyptian intelligence in order to arrange for this man’s extradition. The Egyptians and the relevant US forces had a number of meetings. We were willing to extradite him. He was an American and we had no right to keep him. But we wanted to have guarantees that the extradition would take place within the official framework. The US intelligence wanted to fly over for him on a special aircraft, however, our President didn’t approve it. He said it would be unacceptable to come over and pick up that man, as we had our own aircraft and we could send him over in an Iraqi aircraft. The Americans didn’t’ agree to that. Just imagine how persistent they were in this matter. They didn’t want Iraq to prove that it was against terrorism and that it was willing to cooperate in this matter. Following that the intelligence authorities persuaded our President to fly this man over by an Egyptian aircraft. When handing such a man over both sides were supposed to sign statements of transfer and acceptance, in presence of an intermediary. We drew up those statements which were very explicit, and the Americans refused to sign the acceptance statement.
RT: And the only reason they did that was to claim that Iraq was reluctant to cooperate in the war with terror?
SHJ: That’s right.
RT: So what happened to that person?
SHJ: He stayed behind bars until the day the intervention started, and the prisoners were set free. He walked off and to date, no one knows where he is. The only reason why the Americans declined the deal was that they wanted to avoid confirming officially that they had got the guy. And we needed some guarantees! We kept this guy detained after his arrest in 1992, but we held those talks with the US in 2002. We had held him under arrest for ten years.
RT: Do you remember his name?
SHJ: We gave him an alias and used it all the way. We called him Aboud – at least, that was his name in our database. Even in his personal file he is registered as “Aboud”. But I think I remember his original name: it was Saied, I believe. Saied from Samarra.
RT: Was he one of the Islamic fundamentalists? I’m talking of Al-Qaeda, for instance…
SHJ: He had nothing to do with Al-Qaeda. He had perpetrated that attack as an act of revenge for the First Gulf War. He had two accomplices: one from Egypt, the other from Pakistan.
RT: You’ve mentioned a “security belt” in Iraq. In this regard I recall my conversation with the late head of the Soviet intelligence Leonid Shebarshin, who died a year ago. When talking about capturing Kuwait, he told me that US intelligence had failed to penetrate into Iraq and gain information from the inside of the country. They tried recruiting officers of the Soviet intelligence service who were dealing with Iraq. Soviet counter-intelligence revealed their intentions and disrupted the plan. What lessons did Soviet counter-intelligence teach the Iraqi security services?
SHJ: Our counter-intelligence is based on principles borrowed from Russia. The beginning of our work dates back to 1975 – the days of the late Barzan al-Tikriti, an early golden age of intelligence apparatus, which started growing stronger at the time. During the period of Fadhil al-Barak as the head of Iraqi intelligence, from 1984 to 1989, the development of the apparatus was making great strides: the procedure of information processing was formed, the structure of state security and procedure of contacting secret services and sources were shaped. Overall, all our procedures have been adopted from Russia, and all our counter-intelligence “pundits” have been educated in Russia.
They were our first highly qualified specialists. Then we organized training within the state security apparatus, supplementing the process of education with the experience of Germany and Greece. The Russian method of approaching your goal is multi-step, thus the process is long and successive. In the late 90’s we decided to change this strategy of work and began to reduce the number of stages in the recruiting process. The reason for this was that we had to work under huge pressure, which required great commitment and efforts from us. Moreover, the aggression towards Iraq was really serious. We were short of time and couldn’t afford to spend a whole year recruiting a person, so we had to make our decision within one month. Still we stayed subtle and tried not to come out too soon, just in case the person was not inclined to cooperate with us.
RT: You’ve recruited a number of people. It is said that you’ve even penetrated into the US Department of Defense!
SHJ: Our penetrating into the US Department of Defense was something that even Russia failed to implement. We have recruited a high-ranking officer from the National Security Agency of the United States Department of Defense. We managed to leak a great deal of information, and I studied this information twice. However, not all of this information was genuine – a part of it was supposed to mislead us. This officer even unveiled the general scenario of the war with Iraq, the US military strength in Turkey, information about troops and counter-intelligence in countries neighboring Iraq such as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arab states. He was the one who confirmed there would be no attacking from Turkey. Guided by this information we relocated the Adnan division from the Mosul region closer to Baghdad, thus fortifying positions of the troops around the city. The US counter-intelligence suspected we had a source in the Department of Defense and was deliberately exposing tons of all sorts of information. But we knew which of the information was true.
RT: So the information was selected, right?
SHJ: Yes, misleading information was easy to identify, and so was the true. We knew everything.
RT: So you had reasons to be certain that an invasion was imminent. Did you share these findings with the leadership of Iraq, particularly President Saddam Hussein?
SHJ: Our job was to gather information on American presence in the region, and locate CIA presence in Iraq, identifying their strategy and plans, the targets they might be looking for in Iraq, and their proxies in our country. Most CIA lairs in Iraq were located in the north. We had information that the Americans would invade as soon as they amassed 75,000 troops in the Gulf. On February 24, which was about a month ahead of the invasion, we sent a report to the command staff, informing them that the American forces stationed in the Gulf had swollen to 73,000 in strength, coming close to the benchmark for launching an invasion. At the same time, the Americans were feinting leaks to make us believe the invasion would start somewhere in April or May. But we were certain that it would kick off any day now.
RT: Does that mean that the leaders of Iraq actually had a chance of avoiding the war? Or was the war predetermined, and the United States was going to invade Iraq regardless of whether it did or didn’t have weapons of mass destruction and links to Al Qaeda?
SHJ: We were positive that there would be war. The American media propaganda machine had been blatantly manipulating public opinion internationally and inside the United States. It was already too late for them to call off the war effort. And for us, it was difficult to sway public opinion after 9/11. There was a missed opportunity here: prior to the 9/11 attacks, it was still possible for us to come to terms with Washington by making some serious concessions. But after 9/11, with the US administration, and especially the Department of Defense, becoming dominated by hardliners, we found it increasingly difficult to deal with the Americans. We had the American Jewish lobby to thank for that, as they were investing serious efforts in toppling “the Iraqi regime.” For your information, all five of the senior policy advisers in the US Department of Defense at the time were Jewish. All those people who masterminded this war were Jewish. They all subsequently went below the radar, and today, it’s impossible to trace them.
RT: What about the high-profile decision makers – the group of neo-conservative decision makers who are responsible for starting this war?
SHJ: I have already mentioned those who were officially in charge of the war: Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, and on top of them all, Dick Cheney and President Bush. But the policy advisers I’m referring to were a group within the DoD, who effectively assumed the role of intelligence, national security community, the State Department, and so on. Throughout history, decision making powers are normally shared rather than concentrated in a single office. In the United States, the national security agenda is usually shaped collectively by the CIA, the National Security Council, presidential advisors, foreign policy think tanks, mass media, etc. And the Pentagon certainly has a say, too. But during the period in question, strategic decision were made exclusively by a single institution: the Department of Defense. The Department of State objected to their war plan, and so did the CIA.
The CIA told the Pentagon, “Toppling the Iraqi regime is the easy part, but what are your scenarios for Iraq once you remove Saddam Hussein?” The DoD replied, “Just let us overthrow him, and then everything will stabilize.”
That’s the kind of mind frame that dominated the American war effort. There was no sustainable, long-term strategy, and that’s why it all ended in chaos. Of course, any sensible individual who would care to take a good look at the situation in Iraq back then would have realized that “the regime” was actually a secular government that opposed religious extremism. Up until 2003, there wasn’t a single Iraqi citizen who would be a member of Al Qaeda. There was one report – just one report that we received – fingering an individual named Ali al-Jaburi as an operative with Al Qaeda’s financial arm. We did a search and came up with thousands of Iraqis by that name, but we never found the al-Jaburi we were looking for.
Now look what happened to Iraq after 2003. We had warned the Americans that if the regime would fall, Iraq would devolve into a jihadist stronghold, and Iran would expand its area of influence across the Gulf region. It was us who had checked terrorist activity and contained Iran’s quest for regional domination. I am sure that all of our messages and information did reach US decision makers, up to the very top.
RT: Did the Iraqi leadership believe that America would stop short of starting the war because of its pragmatic policy and little interest in wreaking havoc and endangering its allies in the Persian Gulf?
SHJ: I think our leadership believed that the US administration could foresee the implications of toppling the Iraq regime, that they knew this could tear the country apart under the influence of sectarian extremists, and enable Iran’s influence to reach the Gulf. That the American administration would do something as stupid as letting the Iraq regime fall and allowing Al-Qaeda and Iran to spread their influence across the region was totally inconceivable. Our authorities thought that the war wouldn’t last long and that afterwards the US would put forward certain conditions and we would say yes. But no one had expected Americans not only to crush the regime but the whole country as well in such a brutal manner. They even went as far as damaging their own country! They lost people and money. It’s those wars that sparked the economic crisis they are going through now. No one had thought that Americans would act so irrationally.
RT: What happened to your sources in the US?
SHJ: We had three types of sources. Two of them can be characterized as military sources. One at the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, another in the Gulf, one more in the Pentagon. Those were the military sources. Besides, we had our informants in the Congress and the National Security Council. Another category is the so-called “hostile diaspora” or the Iraqi opposition activists abroad who worked to knock down the ruling regime in Iraq. These include people who live in the US and who cooperate with our special department. This department is responsible for our connections in the White House, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the UN. In order to be able to accuse somebody of being our informant in the States, there must be proof that they cooperated with the Iraqi intelligence and were paid for that. The Prosecutor General’s Office should have enough grounds to press charges – in other words, a case should be started either in the FBI or here in Iraq. But we have destroyed all our files on the US, and Americans have failed to submit sufficient proof to take any of those people to court. As for our sources on the American side – they are gone and that’s all we know about them.
RT: You may refuse to answer this question, but I will still try and ask it. A few days after the attack, you were arrested by American soldiers. Did they try to make you speak or find out about your sources in the US?
SHJ: On April 9, Baghdad fell. On April 12, I set on fire all the archives we kept on the US, Western Europe and Asian countries.
RT: How long did it take you to burn them?
SHJ: A total of four days after I took the decision and ordered to burn these files – there were tons of documents. But I made sure they were all destroyed. On April 22, I was arrested. Those guys wanted to make me speak. (In his book, the CIA director wrote that they had successfully located an important informant in the intelligence. The pilots were told to get ready for an air strike. We insisted that we needed him alive. That was important for us….) They broke into my house at five in the evening.
RT: Did you consider attempting an escape?
SHJ: No. I was sure I would get caught no matter where I go. I was responsible for the archive on the US, I had all the information. I wasn’t worried, because the archive had been burned. And words are just words. Then they started investigating me. About 37 investigation teams were assigned to my case. The FBI wanted to know about our sources in the US. The CIA tried to find out the identities of double agents who worked for both Iraq and the US and whether or not we controlled “Sureyya”. I was investigated for 9 months. And a special team from the Pentagon assigned to the Ministry of Defence case also opened a criminal case against me and investigated me for a week, for 8 hours daily. Just in connection with that case.
RT: With no results?
SHJ: No. They asked me about our source in the Pentagon.
RT: Did you try not to reveal your sources?
SHJ: As much as I could, but I couldn’t deny everything. They had some information of their own as for our contacts and sources among the population. The important thing is that none of them talked.
RT: Let’s talk about a sensitive subject – did you really try to bribe Mr El Baradei?
SHJ: I work for intelligence, and 90% of intelligence work is illegal! It’s true for all intelligence services around the world. If you always observe the law, you won’t be able to work for intelligence. We encouraged El Baradei to tell the truth, in which case the Americans would have tried to get rid of him. If they had tried to do that, we were ready to take his side and support him. All he had to do is tell the truth, and there would have been no need to worry about his position or financial security. He started to waver at the meeting that took place on January, 19th, but he didn’t voice support for the use of force against Iraq. We didn’t have a way to contact him directly, only through intermediaries. There were two of them, both Egyptians. One has recently passed away, and the other is in good health. The money was to be delivered to the Egyptian ambassador in Vienna or Geneva, I can’t recall which. My Schengen visa was ready. The person who was in charge of transporting the money is still alive, by the way. I was carrying a letter that I was to deliver to Mr El Baradei. We weren’t going to ask him to sign for the delivery or anything of the sort, of course. I couldn’t say that this money was for him. The deal was to take place in a park on the territory of the Egyptian Embassy, without a word spoken in the process. Eventually this plan was discarded. We wanted to deliver the money before January, 19th, since that was when the decisive meeting was to take place. After that there was no point in going through with the plan.
RT: So you’re not even sure whether Mr El Baradei knew about this deal?
SHJ: No, I don’t know that for sure.
RT: And where did all the experienced, skilled staff of the intelligence service go? It’s like it disappeared after the occupation.
SHJ: After the occupation 600 experienced officers made up the core of a new intelligence service. Neither the head of the intelligence service nor the top officials came back to work there, except maybe one or two. The people who returned were heads of the departments and such. And so the new intelligence service was created. Then the government turned against these people, fired them and made their names public. Their families were banished from the Sunni regions they lived in because they returned to work in the intelligence service. Most of them left Iraq and moved to Dubai, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey and other countries.
RT: And my last question. Were there any cases of treason within senior military command?
SHJ: As far as I know, there were no such cases. I am absolutely sure of it. The military command remained united. But last-minute changes to our battle plans led to the destruction of three Republican Guard divisions that were moving to cut into the rolling American columns as they stretched along the western bank of the Euphrates. Of course, we had no support from the air.
They were able to tap into our communications, so they focused on that. They managed to recruit a communications expert from special services who knew how the communications system of the President’s backup residencies worked.
RT: Was he an Iraqi?
SHJ: Yes, he was an Iraqi. When the Dora neighborhood in Baghdad got hit this person vanished without a trace.
So, the country was occupied. After that the resistance started. I sincerely hope that Iraq will see stability once again.