February 22, 2004 | The New York Sun

Ex-Chief of CIA Keeps Date for a Power Lunch

Co-Authored by Eli Lake

When Haidar al-Bandar was released from his eighth Immigration and Naturalization Service prison in 2000, he invited his lawyer to lunch in his hometown once Saddam Hussein's regime fell.

On Saturday, his lawyer, R. James Woolsey, finally took Mr. Bandar up on his invitation and was greeted with applause by his tribe, al-Timimi.

“When Haidar and I first met, Haidar was in prison in the United States and Saddam was in power. Now Saddam is in prison, and Haidar is quite rightly free.I'm glad to see it's the other guy behind bars,” Mr. Woolsey said.

He was speaking to an audience of American soldiers, tribal elders, and representatives of the Iraqi National Congress, under a painting of Imam Ali. Yethreb is a Shiite outpost in the heart of the “Sunni triangle” that has won a reputation as the center of Iraqi resistance to the American presence here.

Mr. Woolsey is better known as President Clinton's first director of central intelligence and as a frequent commentator in the press before the war trumpeting the links between Saddam and Al Qaeda.

Before the Iraq question became central in Washington, Mr.Woolsey represented a group known as the “Iraqi six,” members of the Iraqi resistance evacuated by America from northern Iraq in 1996 only to be detained on supposed national security grounds once arriving in America.

In 1998, Mr.Woolsey was brought onto the case because the INS had used secret evidence provided by the CIA to suggest that the six resistance fighters once supported by the agency now presented a risk to America's national security.

In 2000, Mr. Bandar moved to Lincoln, Neb., after Mr.Woolsey gained access to the secret evidence with pressure from Congress. But after the fall of Saddam he was able to move back home, where he is an adviser to the governing council on democracy and debaathification. He said he was renovating a vacant property on the banks of the Tigris near here that belonged to his family.

“I felt so happy when he came to my home. He released me from jail,” Mr. Bandar said over a feast of noodles, rice, and lamb presented on large steel platters.

The town was run down, relying on an electric pump and outside basin for water. Like so many Shiite villages, Yethreb was denied many basic services under Saddam.

Lieutenant Colonel Tim Ryan, the commander of the 223rd military intelligence battalion that covers the Sunni triangle, said that when he was given money for rebuilding schools in the town, he had to improvise. “We would rebuild a school from one brick or one piece of stone,” he said. Since the fall of Baghdad, his soldiers have built seven schools in the area for $50,000 each.

While constructing schools may not seem like the work of battalion responsible for gathering human intelligence, Colonel Ryan insists that it is vital.

“A big part of our job is to show people that there is no financial motivation to placing a bomb along the roadside,” he said.

Colonel Ryan is particularly close with al-Timimi. The hosts of the lunch here have even said he is an honorary member of the tribe, calling him Timothy Ryan al Timimi. And the colonel says this relationship has paid off. He said that a few weeks ago an unmanned aerial vehicle turned up near here, and he “found out about it immediately. Before, a UAV would have been stripped clean before we would get to it.”

While the colonel did not have exact statistics on the number of attacks against Americans in the Sunni triangle since the capture of Saddam Hussein in December, he said they had declined in the area.

“I will tell you that as the U.S. forces have developed techniques to counter insurgent activities, the former regime elements have begun to focus their attacks on soft targets like the police headquarters. They are trying to get the big media shocker, big bangs for less bucks,” he said.

The colonel also said the counterinsurgency has begun to run out of money.

Colonel Ryan said individuals planning attacks often pay local villagers to carry out the attacks. “Six months ago, someone might say, 'here's one hundred dollars to put a bomb on the road.' As democracy and the free market take hold, there is more to work with than to work against.”

The Timimi tribe is working with the American forces here. This weekend' s lunch in honor of Mr. Woolsey was the second one with Americans this month. As the tribe's elders gathered for tea at the end of the meal, a young girl handed a rose to an American adviser for the Iraqi National Congress who was accompanying Mr. Woolsey on the visit. The recipient of the flower, Francis Brooke, placed it in his lapel and said,”See, I told you they would throw flowers.”