What are the intelligence implications
of the liaison in Prague between Mohamed Atta and Ahmed
Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani?
Al-Ani was, aside from the Iraqi Consul, an officer of
the Iraq Intelligence Service stationed at the Iraq Embassy
in Prague. He was not (as the New York Times called him)
an "Iraqi Agent," he was an Iraqi case officer. The difference
is not just semantic. An intelligence agent executes assignments,
such as stealing documents or blowing up buildings, and
may or may not know the identity of true principal for
whom he is acting. A case officer, on the other hand,
serves as the intermediary between an agent and the state
intelligence service controlling the agent. An agent does
not necessarily knows the identity of either the case
officer or the principal he represents whereas the case
Al-Ani was a case officer working under diplomatic cover
in the Republic of Czechoslovakia as 2nd Secretary of
the Iraq Embassy and Consul. This gave him diplomatic
immunity which meant he could not be arrested for his
activities so long as he had his agents meet him on Czech
territory. And, as Consul, he could meet agents overtly
in the Iraq Consulate under the plausible pretext of issuing
them visas for travel to Iraq.
On April 8th, 2001, Al-Ani met with Mohammed Atta. But
he did not meet him at the Iraq consul, but at a discreet
location in Prague. Unknown to either al-Ani or Atta,
they were observed by Czech counterintelligence (BIS),
which had been watching Al-Ani on an unrelated matter
(for which he was expelled from the Czech Republic later
that same month). But Czech intelligence considered the
circumstances of this liaison suspicious enough to follow
and identify Atta, and keep a record of it.
Atta had gone to considerable lengths to attend this meeting.
He flew to Prague from Virginia Beach, Florida the day
before and returned the following day to Florida. He had,
according to Czech records, made an earlier trip to Prague
from Germany on May 30, 2000. The records showed he was
not allowed entry because he lacked a visa to enter the
Czech Republic. Atta then he flew back to Germany, obtained
a visa from the Czech consulate in Bonn and took a German
bus to Prague on June 2. Since he then left for US on
June 3rd, he presumably had a reason for making these
two trips to Prague. Within the next two weeks following
the Prague excursion, Atta opened a bank account at the
Sun Bank in Florida and received $100,000 from an anonymous
source through a money changer in the Emirate of Shirzah,
money that presumably funded his mission.
According to an ex-CIA source who was familiar with the
mechanics of Czech counterintelligence, the Czechs would
not have reported the encounter to the US State Department,
as foreign minister Jan Kevan did after the September
11 attack, unless the behavior of Atta and Al-Ani suggested
that this was an intelligence tryst between an intelligence
officer and his operative. Such behavior would include
efforts at evasion, passwords, aliases, etc. techniques.
The BIS, in short, knew that this was not an innocent
The implications are that:
1) Atta was an intelligence case assigned to al-Ani.
2) The case was considered sensitive enough by Iraqi intelligence
to merit bringing Atta to Prague for what it intended
to be a clandestine meeting, since it would be outside
the purview of German (or US) surveillance.
3) That Iraq intelligence elected to hold the meeting
with its agent outside the safety of its embassy grounds
suggested it wanted to add a further layer of distancing
between itself and its agent. Otherwise, why not have
come to the Embassy for a visa? A remote location in Prague,
not connected to Iraq, would allow al-Ani to misidentify
himself to Atta. Such an alias, or false flag, could both
aid the recruitment by appealing to Atta's ideologic interest
and conceal Iraq's involvment. False flags are a common
tool of recruitment by intelligence services, and, in
this case, the Iraqi service would have no problem providing
Al-Ani with convincing documents and other material to
4) Atta's previous trip to Prague implies the liaison
may have been on-going. If so, the Iraq Intelligence service
would use the same case officer to maintain Atta's confidence
(especially if it was being done under a false flag).
5)The urgency in which Atta made 2 trips to Prague on
May 30 and June 2 in 2000, prior to his departure to the
US, suggests that he may have needed documentation of
some sort, or money, prior to his departure.
6) There is also a report that Al-Ani also met a second
hijacker, Khalid Almihdar— who preceded Atta to the US
and took flying lessons in San Diego. The Czech ministry
has not confirmed (or denied) this report. But, if it
is true, it would suggest that Al Ani was handling multiple
cases involved in the same mission. Using a single case
officer would be standard intelligence practice for agents
who might work together.
Whatever else it may be, the liaison between Atta (and
possibly Almihdar) and Al- Ani was not accidental. Al-Ani
was not a comrade, fellow student or mosque associates
of Atta's in Germany, or some shadowy operative in a loosely-defibed
network. He was an official of a state intelligence (and
diplomatic) service, posted, at the time of the liaison,
to an important embassy to carry out missions on behalf
of a state: Iraq.
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