Following the expulsion of Al Qaida from Afghanistan and their arrival in northern Iraq, Abu Musab al Zarqawi (a senior Al Qaida figure) was relatively free to travel within Iraq proper and to stay in Baghdad for some time. Several of his colleagues visited him there. In October 2002, the JIC said that:
Although Saddam’s attitude to Al Qaida has not always been consistent,he h as generally rejected suggestions of cooperation. Intelligence nonetheless indicates that . . . meetings have taken place between senior Iraqi representatives and senior Al Qaida operatives. Some reports also suggest that Iraq may have trained some Al Qaida terrorists since 1998. Al Qaida has shown interest in gaining chemical and biological (CB) expertise from Iraq,but we do not know whether any such tra ining was provided. We have no intelligence of current cooperation between Iraq and Al Qaida and do not believe that Al Qaida plans to conduct terrorist attacks under Iraqi direction.
[JIC, 10 October 2002]
By March 2003, the JIC was able to add further information that al Zarqawi’s activities might be of military significance:
Reporting since [February] suggests that senior Al Qaida associate Abu Musab al Zarqawi has established sleeper cells in Baghdad,to be activated during a US occupation of the city. These cells apparently intend to attack US targets using car bombs and other weapons. (It is also possible that they have received CB materials from terrorists in the KAZ.) Al Qaida-associated terrorists continued to arrive in Baghdad in early March.
[JIC, 12 March 2003]
We conclude that the JIC made clear that, although there were contacts between the Iraqi regime and Al Qaida, there was no evidence of co- operation. It did warn of the possibility of terrorist attacks on coalition forces in Baghdad.
OPERATION MASS APPEAL
In November 2003, the former United Nations weapons inspector Scott Ritter was reported to have told journalists that, in the late-1990s, the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) ran “Operation Mass Appeal” – an alleged disinformation campaign to disseminate “single source data of dubious quality” about Iraq, in order to “shake up public opinion”.
Mr Ritter was quoted as follows:
I was brought into the operation in 1997 because at the UN . . . I sat on a body of data which was not actionable,but was sufficiently sexy that if it could appear i n the press could make Iraq look like in a bad way.
I was approached by MI6 to provide that data,I met with the Mass Appeal opera tives both in New York and London on several occasions. This data was provided and this data did find its way into the international media.