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January 23, 2004
Notes from the Pentagon

Iraq-Cuba axis
A senior Defense Department official tells us one of the alarming after-action intelligence reports that reached the Pentagon is that the communist government of Cuba shared intelligence on the United States with Saddam Hussein's regime.

The reports stated that Cuban intelligence, which is known to have extensive "coverage" of U.S. military bases, supplied information to Saddam's intelligence service on the movement of troops and other military activities.

The intelligence ties are believed to be an offshoot of Cuba's covert oil-purchasing arrangement with Iraq under Saddam. Those deals have been under way since the late 1990s and involve oil tankers that were sent to Mexico. The oil then was pumped from the tankers to smaller boats for delivery to Cuba.

The intelligence sharing also comes amid reports from Cuban exiles that Cuba became a safe haven for fleeing Iraqi government officials following the U.S.-led invasion.

Asked about the Cuba-Iraq intelligence-sharing, a second U.S. official said the CIA had no information about it.

Match game
The world's most sought-after terrorist may be caught thanks to common matchbooks.

The State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security is circulating thousands of the most-wanted matchbooks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The green books feature a picture of Osama bin Laden and, in Arabic, information on why he is sought, the reward of up to $25 million and a 1-800-number to report a tip.

Bin Laden is believed to be moving around in the no-man's-land tribal areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Like the tip that resulted in the Dec. 13 capture of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration is hoping some local will read the matchbook and decide to pinpoint the terror master's location.

Open the book and the recipient gets 30 matches and this passage: "Osama bin Laden has been indicted for the murders of 220 innocent civilians in Kenya and Tanzania on Aug. 7, 1998. The U.S. government is offering a reward of up to $25 million for information leading to the arrest and conviction in any country of bin Laden. Persons providing such information may be eligible for reward up to $25 million, protection of their identity and possible relocation."

The book also instructs, "close covering before striking."

Handing out matches seems like an ingenious way to catch a criminal. But in Afghanistan, a State Department official has objected to the handout, according to a joint investigation by the House International Relations Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, state and judiciary.

Hyde hearings
Months before the U.S. Navy seized al Qaeda-linked boats carrying heroin, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, Illinois Republican, was warning the administration of ties between drug trafficking and terrorists, including Osama bin Laden.

Mr. Hyde, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld Oct. 30 suggesting the Pentagon become more active in counternarcotics, especially in Afghanistan. There, a burgeoning poppy crop is producing huge quantities of heroin whose proceeds are diverted to bin Laden's al Qaeda network, U.S. officials say.

"I am growing increasingly concerned about the reported role which illicit drugs play in financing terrorism," Mr. Hyde said in his letter to Mr. Rumsfeld. "As you know, reports indicate that the proceeds from illegal drug trafficking are supporting many of the foreign terrorist organizations which the Defense Department and law enforcement agencies fight every day around the world."

The congressman added, "A greater role by the Defense Department may be called for. In Afghanistan, for example, military intelligence should work cooperatively with the [Drug Enforcement Administration] to identify and destroy the opium depots and heroin production labs in that country when the opportunity presents itself to the military."

The staff of Mr. Hyde's committee and of the Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, state and judiciary recently completed a joint, five-day fact-finding trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The investigators interviewed sources who said bin Laden's group is now garnering millions of dollars from heroin after the West cut off some of its traditional sources of money.

Mr. Hyde now plans committee hearings to expose the trip's findings. He also will summon Bush administration officials to get their assessment of the bin Laden drug connection.

Next chairman
Republicans are starting to whisper about who is going to be the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee if the GOP retains control of the Senate in 2006.

Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and the current chairman, is term-limited and must step down after the 2006 elections. GOP Senate rules limit the position of chairman to six years.

The next in line is Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican. That's where the whispering comes in.

Some in the Senate are wondering whether the Republican caucus will endorse Mr. McCain in light of the fact he is "anti-pork" that he deems a number of military projects for home-state senators as superfluous. The other mark against him is that as an anti-Republican Republican, he has voted against the Republican leadership on key issues, such as tax cuts and President Bush's Medicare prescription bill.

Then, there is a chance Republicans will remove the term-limit rule. Some wonder whether it is an inducement for safe-seat senators to retire after running out of committees to chair. The Democrats have no such term-limit rule.

Baghdad story
One of the Iraqi translators working for the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) lucked out. The translator came in to work on Tuesday with a special gift for Dan Sudnick, a CPA senior adviser for communications.

The female translator was crying as she explained how grateful she was that Mr. Sudnick had encouraged her to take Sunday off from work (the normal Iraqi day off is Friday).

As a result, she stayed home and was not standing in line when a devastating car bomb exploded outside the entrance to CPA headquarters that day. The bomb killed 20 persons and injured 60, many of them friends. For the Iraqi workers, the jobs at CPA office, located in a former Saddam Hussein palace on the Tigris River, are the only sources of income for their families.

"Our translator explained that she too was very poor and was supporting her family, but she presented a beautiful hand-carved box to Mr. Sudnick and told him it was something from her home that she had selected to give to him, something beautiful and precious, in gratitude for the kindness he consistently showed to her, that ultimately saved her life," said Bonnie Carroll, a reserve Air Force major and Veterans Affairs employee on loan to the Pentagon. "We all cried and hugged, and were one family mourning the losses and being thankful for those who were spared."

Maj. Carroll continued: "Each day here in Iraq is a triumph of heroes who are coming forward to rebuild their country. I am in a constant state of amazement at their courage and strength and commitment, even if it means their lives, for this powerful cause."

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

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