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 officer does.

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 meeting.

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 support it.

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.

This is a totally commerce-free site. No charges, no advertising.