NPR KUOW Interview

NPR KUOW – 12/22/2011

When we learned US troops would leave Iraq by the end of the year, I asked people how life would be different for them once everyone came home. I heard from Nada Bakos. Knowing the troops were coming home was a relief to her. She worked for the Central Intelligence Agency, and she was fresh out of agency analyst school in 2001.

Nada: “As an agency analyst it is pounded into you to be objective. It’s your faith, as it were, as an analyst at the agency. If you lose your objectivity you lose everything. It is out the window.”

Her objectivity was about to be tested.

Nada: “On 9/11 there was just no question who had conducted the attacks. I remember seeing it on the news. There was no question. Everybody knew. Even people who were working closely with that topic knew who it was.”

Now Nada’s assignment was to establish whether there was a link between al–Qaida and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

Nada: “I hadn’t expected to be focusing on Iraq so quickly after that — focusing on Iraq at all for myself. It wasn’t in my purview.”

There was no evidence of Iraq’s involvement in 9/11, not to start with. Work on the Iraq file began, and so did the phone calls from the White House.

Nada: “This was really answering questions from the administration. We were coming at it from the other end. Here’s what we think is a problem. Tell us if that’s accurate. It didn’t feel right – right away to me.”

But Nada trusted herself to stay objective. And she decided her role was valuable.

Nada: “The rest of the agency was focused on a very important topic. They were focused on Afghanistan. They were focused on al–Qaida. We had to free up the rest of the counter–terrorism center to work the immediate problem.”

Despite the pressure to find something, Nada’s team turned up no evidence between Iraq and al–Qaida. Another team worked on the idea that Iraq might hold weapons of mass destruction. Both teams gave information to the White House. Then Secretary of State Colin Powell stood up to speak at the United Nations.

Nada: “We’re all collectively holding their breath. Hoping that the information that we provided would come out through the speech.”

Powell: “Satellite photos indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction facilities.”

Powell didn’t say there was a link between Iraq and al–Qaida. But the war was on anyway, over weapons of mass destruction. Nada was sent to Iraq to find out if there were terrorists.

Nada: “I remember landing in Baghdad thinking this was not the mission that I signed up for. This was not where I was feeling the fight should be. I just remember calling my now–husband saying, ‘I can’t stay here that long. I can’t just watch this play out at this point.’ I have, still, obviously some guilt just about being involved in the conflict. It’s remorse. I mean everybody has seen the toll that this has taken.”

Now that America is letting go of Iraq, Nada says the community must not let go of its responsibility to those who served there.

© Copyright 2011, KUOW

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