Laurie Mylroie is an American author and analyst who has written extensively on Iraq and the War on Terror. The National Interest first published this work in an article entitled, "The World Trade Center Bombing: Who is Ramzi Yousef? And Why it Matters." In her book Study of Revenge (2000), Mylroie laid out in full her argument that the Iraqi regime under Saddam Hussein had sponsored the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and subsequent terrorist attacks. She claimed those attacks were part of an ongoing war that Saddam waged against America following the cease-fire to the 1991 Gulf War. Less than a year after her book was published, the September 11, 2001 attacks occurred. Study of Revenge implied that Saddam was responsible, and she adopted that view, defending it on many occasions, including before the 9/11 Commission.
Mylroie's writings are considered to have been influential among neoconservatives during the buildup to the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Several of them praised Study of Revenge, including ex-CIA Director James Woolsey, who called it "brilliant and brave" in his blurb for the dust jacket of the book.
Mylroie has been criticized by numerous terrorism experts, including Peter Bergen, Daniel Benjamin, and Dr. Robert S. Leiken, all of whom point out that Mylroie's theories rely on dubious assumptions and were thoroughly refuted by analysts and investigators at the CIA, the FBI, the NTSB, and other investigatory bodies.
Mylroie earned a bachelor's degree from Cornell University and a doctorate in Political Science from Harvard University. She also studied Arabic at the American University of Cairo. Subsequently, she taught as an Assistant Professor at Harvard University in the Department of Government (Political Science), Faculty of Arts and Science, and then as an Associate Professor in the Strategy and Policy Department of the U.S. Naval War College.
She was the consultant on Iraq for Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign—although she later became a strong critic of Clinton for what she came to charge was his mishandling of the terrorism that began on his watch, starting with the February 26, 1993, bombing of New York's World Trade Center.
Mylroie was a research fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and then with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, as well as an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Following the 9/11 attacks, she served on DARPA's Special Task Force on Terrorism and Deterrence and a DTRA panel on counter-terrorism. She deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, where she served as a cultural adviser to the U.S. military. She has written three books and numerous articles, which have appeared in The American Spectator, Atlantic Monthly, Boston Globe, Commentary, The National Interest, The New Republic, Newsweek, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and Washington Times, among others.
Iraq connection claims
|This article's factual accuracy is disputed. (May 2008)|
Senior figures in New York FBI, the lead investigative agency in the February 26, 1993, bombing of the World Trade Center, suspected that Iraq was behind the attack. Mylroie's work—essentially an extension of their own—first appeared at length in an article in The National Interest, "The World Trade Center Bomb: Who is Ramzi Yousef? And Why it Matters." The Washington Monthly included the article in its monthly "Journalism Award," noting "Mylroie also found that lack of coordination between the Justice Department and national security agencies means that national security gets short shrift in dealing with domestic terrorism."
Her National Interest article appeared in expanded form in Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America (2000). Her book was endorsed by James Fox, who headed New York FBI at the time of the World Trade Center bombing and led the investigation of that attack. Fox wrote, "Although we are unable to say with certainty the Iraqis were behind the bombing, that is certainly the theory accepted by most of the veteran investigators.” He described Study of Revenge as "one of the most comprehensive and best-researched reviews of the bombing investigation." Similarly, Vincent Cannistraro, former Chief of Counterterrorism Operations for the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, described Study of Revenge as "one of the most brilliant pieces of research and scholarship in this area that I have ever read. [Mylroie] has not only carefully gathered and set forth the facts of the bombing itself, but has provided original analysis that uncovers linkages that I believe the U.S. government investigators have failed to notice." As Mylroie explained, "The Clinton White House did not want to hear that Iraq was behind the bombing."] Her book is based on an analysis of the voluminous trial documents related to the 1993 bombing. "Only Laurie Mylroie appears to have gone through it carefully," said former CIA Director James Woolsey, who endorsed Study of Revenge as a "brilliant and brave book."
Abdul Rahman Yasin, an Iraqi-American who mixed chemicals for the explosive, was one of two indicted fugitives in the World Trade Center bombing, and he fled to Iraq soon after the bombing. This point is well known and is discussed in Study of Revenge, but the focus of Mylroie's work is the other fugitive, the mastermind, Ramzi Ahmad Yousef, who was arrested in 1995 following a failed plot in the Philippines. Yousef arrived in the United States in September 1992 on an Iraqi passport, and he was known among New York area militants as "Rashid, the Iraqi." In December, just a few months before the February 26, 1993, bombing, Yousef went to the Pakistani consulate in New York, claiming that he was Abdul Basit Karim and that he had lost his passport. The consulate provided Yousef a temporary passport in Karim's name, and he fled New York the night of the bombing on that passport (Yousef had three passports when he was arrested.) During Mylroie's work on the Trade Center bombing, which began as a consultant for a joint ABC News and Newsweek investigation, she spoke with Kuwaiti officials. One official read to her the summary of Kuwait's investigation into Abdul Basit Karim. The Kuwaiti summary noted that a document was missing from Karim's file: a copy of the front page of his passport, with a picture and signature. The Kuwaitis attributed this to Iraq's occupation. The Kuwaiti summary of Karim's file also included a notation that Karim and his family had left Kuwait on August 26, 1990, traveling from Kuwait to Iraq, crossing from Iraq into Iran at Salamchah, on their way to Pakistani Baluchistan, where they live now. After the official finished reading that, Mylroie looked up at him and asked, "What's that information doing in your file?"
Mylroie's point was that such information would not normally be included in a government file, as a traveler would not be expected to provide authorities his entire itinerary. Moreover, on August 26, 1990, there was no Kuwaiti government. Iraq had invaded and occupied Kuwait on August 2, and Kuwait's government was in exile in Saudi Arabia. Mylroie contended that an Iraqi official had to have put that information into Karim's file while Iraq occupied Kuwait.
Information was taken out of the file (the copy of the front page of Karim's passport), as the Kuwaitis recognized. Mylroie argues that information was also added, including the notation about Karim's family leaving Kuwait on August 26, 1990. Moreover, the Kuwaiti official told her that the fingerprint card in Karim's file matched the fingerprint card that U.S. authorities had for Ramzi Yousef. Mylroie argued that Karim and Yousef were two different people, as did the Swansea Institute's deputy principal, Ken Reid, who told the BBC: "I am personally convinced that the person who is held in New York is not our former student," and "I am personally convinced that our former student is no longer alive."
Chaim Kaufmann notes that "On several occasions in 2001–02, Wolfowitz pressured CIA and DIA analysts to validate a claim in a book by Laurie Mylroie that Hussein had been behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Both agencies had studied the book long before and considered it meritless."
In March 2008, the Institute for Defense Analysis released a study of some 600,000 documents captured in Iraq after the 2003 invasion (see 2008 Pentagon Report). The study "found no 'smoking gun' (i.e., direct connection) between Saddam's Iraq and al Qaeda."
The IDA study found that the 1993 World Trade Center bomber Yasin "was a prisoner, and not a guest, in Iraq." Among the documents released was a captured audio file of Saddam Hussein saying that he did not trust Yasin because his testimony was too "organized." Saddam speculated that the 1993 attack had been carried out by Israel or American intelligence, or perhaps a Saudi or Egyptian faction. In a New York Sun article, Mylroie cited numerous shortcomings in the IDA study. Among them: the authors claimed to base their study on 600,000 documents, but failed to explain that they meant that their data base contained 600,000 documents—not that all those documents were used in their study or relevant to it. In fact, she found that the IDA study had used only 41 files—produced by one search—of the voluminous database. She also noted that the IDA study ignored relevant information produced by a second search. Finally, Mylroie affirmed that the idea that one meeting of the Iraqi leadership about the World Trade Center bombing—taken entirely out of context—could constitute proof of Saddam's non-involvement in that attack was naive. She wrote that "one common purpose of such meetings was to develop cover stories for whatever Iraq sought to conceal."
Finally, the IDA study did reveal Saddam's ties to Islamic terrorists. As one former Bush administration official remarked, "[T]his report is damning to those who doubted Saddam Hussein's involvement with Jihadist terrorist groups. It devastates one of the central myths plaguing our government prior to 9-11, that a Jihadist group would not cooperate with a secular regime and vice versa."
After September 11, former Director of Central Intelligence James Woolsey convinced the Pentagon to send him to Britain. Earlier in 2001, Woolsey had visited the Swansea Institute, where Abdul Basit Karim had studied for two years. Woolsey had left Swansea convinced that Mylroie was right: Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Basit Karim were two different people. After 9/11, he was provided a government jet and FBI staff to pursue her claim that Abdul Basit Karim and Ramzi Ahmad Yousef were different people, as Newsweek reported. The purpose of Woolsey's trip was to consult with British authorities on whether latent fingerprints on material that Karim had handled as a student at Swansea matched the fingerprints of Ramzi Yousef in prison. The British press would later report that Yousef and Karim were two different people. But Justice Department officials told Newsweek that the results of the Woolsey mission were what the FBI had predicted: the fingerprints were identical. After the match was made, FBI officials assumed that it had put the Mylroie theory to rest.
However, Woolsey failed to obtain any documentation from British authorities regarding this point. The examination of fingerprints produces two documents: pictures of the prints and their analysis. Mylroie felt that Woolsey erred in not asking for any documentation, particularly as this had become an extremely controversial point. If Mylroie was right, then British (and U.S.) authorities had missed a crucial point.
Mylroie pointed to a British report that stated the opposite of what Woolsey had been told: "According to Britain's Guardian newspaper, latent fingerprints lifted from material Mr. [Basit] Karim left at Swansea bear 'no resemblance' to Yousef's prints. They are two different people." The Guardian cited this finding as evidence against Mylroie's theory: "Mr Woolsey returned empty-handed. 'The two sets of fingerprints were entirely different,' says a source familiar with the investigation." Another British paper, The Sunday Telegraph, reported the same, "The two sets of fingerprints did not match," and reached the same conclusion. However, the point in both The Guardian and Sunday Telegraph is exactly Mylroie's point. As noted above, she has always maintained that Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Basit Karim are two different people.
Yet Ramzi Yousef's inked fingerprints—as taken at JFK, when Yousef entered the U.S. in September 1992—match the inked prints in Karim's file in Kuwait. How can that be, if they are two different people? Maybe, someone switched the fingerprint card in Karim's file in Kuwait? That person took out the original card, with Karim's prints, and inserted a new card with Yousef's prints. Who would do that? Perhaps, Iraq, which occupied Kuwait for seven months. Why? To create a false identity—or "legend"—for a terrorist, which is standard intelligence tradecraft. As Mylroie affirmed: "That conclusion (of The Guardian and Sunday Telegraph) actually supports my argument: Yousef’s inked prints (from JFK immigration) did not match the latent prints on Karim’s project. They are two different people."
Daniel Pipes derided her view, saying that it was "a tour de force, but it's a tour de force of alchemy. It has a fundamentally wrong premise." According to Andrew C. McCarthy, who prosecuted Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in 1995, "Mylroie's theory was loopy... Leaving aside various other implausibilities in her surmise, the government had several sources who knew Basit as Basit both before and after the time he spent in Kuwait." However, J, Gilmore Childers, who prosecuted the Trade Center bombers, had a different view. He believed that Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Basit Karim were two different people. So, too, did Jim Fox, New York FBI Director at the time of the Trade Center bombing, who led the investigation.
Former Bush 43 White House speechwriter, Joseph Shattan, praised Mylroie as "one of America's leading students of terrorism." Shattan believed that the Bush White House should have done more to defend and explain the Iraq war to the American people and felt that its failure to do so contributed directly to the election of Barack Obama.
The Washington Post's "Book World" included Study of Revenge among its "Expert's Picks" following the 9/11 attacks.
The Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, reviewing Study of Revenge before 9/11, called it a "must read," explaining, "This reviewer believes that Mylroie has correctly pinpointed Saddam Hussein as the source of terrorist attacks on Americans, including the World Trade Center bombing.... The Clinton administration, wittingly or unwittingly, has chosen the path of self-delusion: to not investigate the matter seriously....[T]he failure of U.S. officials to address the question of state sponsorship of terrorism will have significant future costs. It encourages future terrorist attacks by eliminating the costs of retribution from the calculations of leaders such as Saddam Hussein.
Mylroie has been criticized by many terrorism experts, particularly those who endorsed the Clinton-era claim that a new kind of terrorism that did not involve states had emerged during his presidency. CNN reporter Peter Bergen called Mylroie a "crackpot" and criticized what he claims is her belief that "Saddam was not only behind the '93 Trade Center attack, but also every anti-American terrorist incident of the past decade, from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to the leveling of the federal building in Oklahoma City to September 11 itself." Bergen claims that Mylroie's argument depends entirely on
|“||a deduction which she reached following an examination of Basit's passport records and her discovery that Yousef and Basit were four inches different in height. On this wafer-thin foundation she builds her case that Yousef must have therefore been an Iraqi agent given access to Basit's passport following the Iraq occupation. However, U.S. investigators say that 'Yousef' and Basit are in fact one and the same person, and that the man Mylroie describes as an Iraqi agent is in fact a Pakistani with ties to al Qaeda.||”|
Bergen claims that "an avalanche of evidence" refutes Mylroie's basic assumption.
Daniel Benjamin, a former Clinton administration official and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, points out that "Mylroie's work has been carefully investigated by the CIA and the FBI.... The most knowledgeable analysts and investigators at the CIA and at the FBI believe that their work conclusively disproves Mylroie's claims.... Nonetheless, she has remained a star in the neoconservative firmament."
Dr. Robert S. Leiken, a former Clinton administration official, complained: "Laurie has discovered Saddam’s hand in every major attack on US interests since the Persian Gulf War, including U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and even the federal building in Oklahoma City. These allegations have all been definitively refuted by the FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other investigatory bodies...."
David Plotz is also among Mylroie's critics. He writes:
|“||"The sharpest critique of Mylroie is that she discounts evidence that Yousef worked not for Iraq but for Osama Bin Laden... Bin Laden biographer Yossef Bodansky, Time magazine, and other media outlets concur that Ramzi Yousef worked for a Bin Laden-funded operation in the Philippines. So does American intelligence, apparently... Mylroie offers no real evidence linking Hussein to the 1998 bombings. Mylroie's strongest contention, that Ramzi Yousef is not Abdul Basit, does not confirm that Iraq bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. It just confirms that Ramzi Yousef is more mysterious than we suspect. It could still be that al-Qaida, not Hussein, provided Yousef with training, fake papers, and resources."||”|
However, Bodansky was an advocate of the broader view that Saddam and bin Laden worked together to carry out terrorist attacks. In his book, Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America, Bodansky described a 1998 meeting between bin Laden and a senior Iraqi intelligence official and then suggested, "Some of the next spectacular terrorist operations may be a joint effort of bin Laden and Iraqi intelligence. In mid-January 1999 their joint plan for such operations was in an advanced stage of preparation, as shown by Iraqi intelligence Unit 999's intensity of operations."
In 2008, Laurie Mylroie, writing in the New York Sun, reviewed Willful Blindness by Andrew C. McCarthy, who had prosecuted Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman in 1995. Mylroie explained that Rahman had not ordered the bombing of the World Trade Center—nor was he charged with doing so. She also explained that other elements of the plot had been organized by Sudan, as the trial transcript made clear. She complained that McCarthy understated "the degree to which the extremists were penetrated by the intelligence agencies of several states." She argued that this was the basic flaw of the Clinton era handling of terrorism: it focused on the arrest and trial of perps and ignored state sponsorship.
Replying on National Review Online, McCarthy accused Mylroie of misunderstanding "the difference between intrigue and evidence, between history and prosecution." Calling Rahman "the central figure in the overarching conspiracy," he wrote: "At trial, we proved that Sheikh Abdel Rahman had close ties to Hassan al-Turabi, leader in the early 1990s of Sudan's de facto government, the National Islamic Front." At this point, Daniel Pipes wrote a blog entry attacking "Laurie Mylroie's Shoddy, Loopy, Zany Theories." Stephen F. Hayes of the Weekly Standard added: "no one I know took her arguments very seriously."
Mylroie responded to McCarthy, noting that McCarthy himself had written in his book that the original case against Rahman was "weak" and so, she wrote, "different acts of violence, including the WTC bombing, were somewhat artificially linked" to strengthen the charges against him. She emphasized McCarthy's comment that Rahman was never charged with the "substantive crime" of bombing the World Trade Center. The debate continued in the New York Sun.
1980s Support for Saddam
Early in her career, Mylroie advocated support for Iraq in the context of its war and rivalry with Iran. In 1988, just before the cease-fire to the Iran-Iraq war, she published an article in the journal Orbis, advocating "The Baghdad Alternative," which involved bolstering U.S. ties to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Ken Silverstein gives this summary:
- Saddam was implementing a policy of economic "perestroika" and political "glasnost," according to Mylroie. Iraqi officials she interviewed told her that Saddam was "much concerned about democracy... He thinks that is healthy," and she suggested this was "not just idle chatter." From an American perspective, Mylroie concluded, "the more Saddam Hussein exercises control over the Baath Party, including the ideologues, the better." She proposed that the Bush (Senior) Administration, already favoring Iraq against Iran, should offer Iraq more support in exchange for overt Iraqi support for U.S. Middle East policy goals. “Iraq and the United States,” she wrote, "need each other."
Isikoff and Corn write:
- Mylroie continued to advocate engaging Saddam, even after the Iraqi dictator slaughtered tens of thousands of Kurds in what became known as the Anfal campaign of 1987 and 1988. In May 1989, Mylroie wrote in The Jerusalem Post that Israel and the United States should not 'poke' Iraq 'with a stick' and should refrain from tossing 'idle threats and harsh words' at Baghdad. She suggested Iraq might become a benign, if not positive, presence in the region.
Isikoff and Corn argue that Mylroie "was looking to change the region through back-channel, private diplomacy – and she aspired to be a behind-the-scenes peacemaker who would broker a deal between Saddam and Israel." To this end, she met with Iraqi officials including Tariq Aziz. After Saddam's invasion of Kuwait, however, the would-be diplomat "turned against the dictator she had once wanted Washington to help, with the passion of one who felt personally betrayed."
In October 1990, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak mentioned Mylroie's trips to Baghdad and Israel, which she later denied. Isikoff and Corn, however, interviewed five of her former associates (including Judith Miller) who all "confirmed that she had been a secret go-between between Baghdad and Jerusalem."
- Saddam Hussein & the Crisis in the Gulf (with Judith Miller). Random House (1990). ISBN 0-09-989860-8
- Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein's Unfinished War Against America. The AEI Press (2000). ISBN 0-8447-4127-2
- Bush vs. the Beltway: The Inside Battle over War in Iraq. Harper Collins (ReganBooks) (2004). ISBN 0-06-059726-7
- Mylroie, Laurie. "The World Trade Center Bomb: Who is Ramzi Yousef? And Why It Matters". The National Interest. 1995/6 (Winter).
- Mylroie, Laurie. "Statement of Laurie Mylroie to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States July 9, 2003". National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. Retrieved February 19, 2104.
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- "Laurie Mylroie on Sept. 11 & Iraq". NationalReview.com. May 29, 2002. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
- Mylroie, Laurie (2000). Study of Revenge. Washington DC: American Enterprise Institute Press. pp. Book Jacket.
- Dickey, Christopher (July 4, 1994). "America's Most Wanted". Newsweek.
- "THE WORLD TRADE CENTER BOMB: Who is Ramzi Yousef? And Why It Matters – The National Interest". Fas.org. Winter 1995–1996. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
- "Swansea Student Links to Bin Laden". BBC. September 18, 2001.
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- Eli Lake, Report Details Saddam's Terrorist Ties, New York Sun, March 14, 2008
- Laurie Mylroie, More To Uncover on Saddam, New York Sun, April 2, 2008
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- "Al-Qaida and Iraq: how strong is the evidence?". The Guardian. January 30, 2003. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
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- "Symposium: The Saddam-Osama Connection: Part IV". FrontPage Magazine. February 11, 2005. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
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- Still Willfully Blind After All These Years[dead link]
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- Yossef Bodansky, Bin Laden: The Man who Declared War on America, Random House, 1999, pp. 380-1
- Laurie Mylroie, Willful Blindness: Prosecuting the War on Terror, New York Sun, April 23, 2008.
- Daniel Pipes (2008). "Laurie Mylroie's Shoddy, Loopy, Zany Theories – Exposed". Danielpipes.org. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
- "McCarthy on Mylroie". WeeklyStandard.com. April 30, 2008. Retrieved 2013-07-30.
- Writing Blind[dead link]
- Laurie Mylroie vs. Andrew McCarthy, Setting the Record Straight, New York Sun, May 8, 2008.
- Ken Silverstein, Laurie Mylroie’s Song of Saddam, Harper's, August 28, 2007, quoting Laurie Mylroie, "The Baghdad Alternative," Orbis, Vol. 32, No. 3, Summer 1988.
- Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (New York: Crown, 2006) p. 69.
- Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (New York: Crown, 2006) p. 70.
- Mylroie, Laurie, "LaurieMylroie.com", Laurie Mylroie's homepage
- Entry about "Laurie Mylroie" on Sourcewatch
- Mylroie, Laurie, Mylroie's statement for the 9/11 Commission (July 2003).