How Could I Forget?

June 17, 2008 4:20 p.m.

Back on the topic of using Jim Woolsey as your presidential surrogate to call your competitor “delusional” and “naive”, I’d almost forgotten Woolsey’s freelance James Bond mission to England back in 2001 to prove the crackpot theory of Laurie Mylroie who came up with the idea that Saddam wasn’t just behind the 9/11 attacks but was actually behind the original attack on the Twin Towers back in 1993. For a wonderful article on Mylroie, her theories and expertise, see this wonderful article by Peter Bergen — I guy who’s actually interviewed bin Laden, not just had fever dreams about him.

Mylroie’s theory was that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 bombing who is now in the federal supermax facility serving a life sentence, was actually a covert Iraqi intelligence agent sent to America by Saddam to blow up the World Trade Center. Like other delusional fantasies, it’s always difficult to know quite how deeply to delve into their internal logic. But in brief, Woolsey and Mylroie’s idea was that the Iraq intelligence agent had stolen the identity of a man named Abdul Basit. In the weeks just after 9/11, Woolsey went to England to check fingerprints on documents Basit had handled in the UK back in 1988 and 1989 and the compare fingerprints of Basit and Yousef to see whether they were in fact the same person.

Like the guy who’s not a doctor but plays one on TV, Woolsey didn’t go in any official capacity representing the US government, but Doug Feith gave him the thumbs up on the idea. So he apparently thought that was good enough. And according to subsequent reports, Woolsey led the Brits on to believe that he actually was in the country on a secret mission from Washington.

We catch some of the antic detail in this October 2001 Knight-Ridder article by Warren Strobel …

Woolsey, in an article in the New Republic magazine last month, said the only way to determine the truth is to “investigate the materials that Abdul Basit handled while in the United Kingdom in 1988 and 1989, which were taken into custody by Scotland Yard.”

Woolsey went to England to determine whether Basit’s fingerprints matched Yousef’s, current and former officials said.

“It was implied that he was doing so on behalf of the U.S. government, but it doesn’t appear it was coordinated through the U.S. Embassy” in London, one official said.

But another official said the former CIA chief “was careful not to hold himself out as representing the U.S. government in any way,” but went “to look at some of the evidence that he thought had not been looked at carefully enough.”

On at least one of the trips, Woolsey visited the Swansea Institute, a technical school in Wales where Basit studied, as well as the South Wales Constabulatory. The constabulatory contacted the legal attache at the U.S. Embassy in London to ask if Woolsey was acting in an official capacity, an official in Washington said.

The British “were intrigued” that a former CIA chief “was asking these questions,” another official said.

Several of those with knowledge of the trips said they failed to produce any new evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks.

Anyway, this little excursion became what I think you’d have to generously call both sad and sympathetic eye-rolling by close-watchers of the Iraq story back in the early part of this decade. So I’m more than a little amused that this is the guy who’s advising McCain today.

Late Update: I’d almost forgotten. But TPM Reader DB reminded me: Woolsey also apparently thinks Saddam blew up the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City.

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