Tuesday, May 20, 2003

One of the clearest incidents of foresight of September 11 has come back into the news. A sting operation involving an undercover FBI agent and a man about to go to jail for fraud who wanted to help the government in order to reduce his sentence resulted in the ensnarement of two New Jersey men, Diaa Mohsen and Mohammed R. Malik (the whole story is summarized here). The man about to go to jail for fraud, Randy Glass, knew Mohsen, and Mohsen knew Malik, and Malik was able to bring prospective buyers to the sting operation. These prospective buyers included men from Pakistan (not to mention someone referred to as "high-ranking Egyptian official Shirin Shawky") who wanted to buy various weapons, including stinger missiles (they also claimed to be in the market for heavy water, a component of a system to manufacture plutonium). Mohsen has been convicted and is in jail (with a surprisingly short sentence of probably 30 months - it is impossible to be sure for the sentence itself is sealed - considering the possible maximum sentence for what he did), but the prospective purchasers from Pakistan were never apprehended, and Malik's file was sealed and he was never tried. For reasons that remain mysterious, the arrest warrants for the Pakistani purchasers were sealed, and the identity of these purchasers was only confirmed when the warrants were recently unsealed, with the FBI now apparently actively seeking their apprehension. At one of the meetings to discuss the purchase in 1999, at the TriBeca Grill in New York, one of the Pakistanis, called 'Abbas' (or 'R. G. Abbas'), said, pointing to the World Trade Center, that "those towers are coming down". What has been obscured for much of the case is that the prospective purchasers were Pakistani, and even more shocking, that Abbas claimed to be working for the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI. This raises a number of issues:

  1. The nationality of these purchasers has been obscured for much of the case, presumably for political reasons, and the fact that the men were described as working for the ISI has still not been officially admitted. Malik appears to have avoided being tried due to the fact that the U. S. government did not want the name of the country involved to come out (Mohsen's conviction was on the basis of a plea bargain). Early (June 2001) reports mention Pakistan, but specifically state that the purchasers were 'private buyers'. Another account has the defendants claiming that the purchaser, of unspecified nationality, is "a well-known former military official who wanted to partially pay for the weapons with heroin" (see also here and here). Glass believes that the State Department was involved in stopping the investigation in order to protect Pakistani President Musharraf.

  2. Many of the articles on the subject report all the details of the operation, but fail to note the specific prediction concerning the World Trade Center (see here and here and here). It is very odd to print an article containing all the pertinent information except for the most interesting specific threat to bring down the World Trade Center by someone claiming to work for the Pakistani government.

  3. The ISI is the Pakistani equivalent of the CIA, and is associated with the Pakistani military. Many feel that it is the real government of Pakistan. Why, then, would it have to send men to a warehouse in Florida to buy these arms? Presumably, it could buy arms openly in the international market whenever it wanted to. The most obvious reason to buy arms in the United States is that they were intended to be used in the United States. A less obvious reason is that the whole Pakistani connection was intended to lead a false trail back to Pakistan (of course, leaving such a false trail betrays foreknowledge of the eventual fate of the WTC). The name of a Pakistani arms procurement officer mentioned by the prospective Pakistani purchasers apparently checks out as the name of an actual Pakistani arms procurement officer. The deal was never concluded as the Pakistanis strung out the sellers for months and never did come up with any money, but you wouldn't think money would be a problem if they were actually working for the ISI.

  4. The ISI was involved, on behalf of the CIA, in setting up the Taliban in Afghanistan. It was and is involved in the Islamic fundamentalist training camps situated in Afghanistan along the Pakistani border. The route of most of the trainees who attended these camps was to fly into Karachi, take an internal flight within Pakistan to Islamabad, and then be driven from Islamabad across the border into Afghanistan. There appears to be an organized 'underground railroad' to make all these connections, with everything done with the tacit approval of the Pakistani government (the only difficult part seems to be crossing the border into Afghanistan, where the locals are still very suspicious of foreigners). Travelling to Pakistan keeps coming up in the stories we hear about various terrorists and alleged terrorists. It is almost as if the Pakistanis were running a travel agency for trips to Afghanistan.

  5. The ISI constantly appears as the key liason between the CIA and the various groups of Islamic fundamentalist warriors that have been used by the CIA in various places in the world (Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, etc.) to further U. S. geopolitical goals, mainly fighting against what are perceived as Russian interests. It is this connection which may really lie behind the leeway that the American government gives to Pakistan.

  6. When the man calling himself 'Mohamed Atta' was still in Hamburg, Germany, his original 'best friend' was Atif Ahmed bin Mansoor, a pilot in the Pakistani Air Force. Mansoor eventually left Germany and returned to Pakistan, and very little has been found out about him since. One very interesting fact, however, is that he returned to Pakistan to attend the funeral of his brother, another pilot who had died in a Pakistani Air Force crash. If Atif Ahmed bin Mansoor was originally intended to be a suicide pilot, it would make sense to relieve his family of this burden once one son had already died in the service of his country. Atif Ahmed bin Mansoor was immediately replaced as the 'best friend' of 'Mohamed Atta' by Marwan Alshehhi, who of course stayed with him through Florida and the terrorism.

  7. Much, and perhaps too much, has been made of the fact that a senior Pakistani Army general, and in fact the head of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed, was meeting with senior American politicians and bureaucrats in Washington on the morning of September 11, and in fact had been in meetings with American officials for a few days. He had met with with Marc Grossman, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and at the very time of the first crash on the morning of September 11 was at a meeting hosted by Senator Bob Graham and Rep. Porter Goss, the chairmen of the Senate and House Intelligence committees, respectively. On September 12 and 13, he actually met with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (Armitage is truly the darkest figure in the Bush Administration, seemingly the head of covert ops - his probable role behind the attempted Venezuelan coup is starting to come out - and makes evil characters like Perle and Wolfowitz look almost saintly in comparison; he has also always been close to Pakistan). In the evening of September 13, he met with Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who said, of Pakistan: "They will be cooperative in every way." It seems very odd for a Pakistani general to make himself so conspicuous in Washington on the morning of September 11 if in fact Pakistan was involved in the attacks. On the other hand, if part of the Pakistani government was involved in 9-11 and that general was unaware of it, sending him to Washington in that week may have been part of the tactics of the operation. The general would already be in place to coordinate Pakistan's role in the 'war on terror', and to negotiate the restructuring of Pakistani loans that would be made in gratitude for Pakistan's anticipated cooperation in rooting out Islamic fundamentalism. The most important thing to remember was that Pakistan was in deep, deep trouble with the Americans in the summer of 2001, being blamed for supporting fundamentalist terrorism and owing billions of dollars it couldn't pay. It is highly implausible to think that Pakistan would have risked sending a known fundamentalist to negotiate with the Americans at such a critical time.

  8. Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed, the same general who was meeting in Washington at the time of the attacks, allegedly was in cell phone communication with terrorist Omar Shaikh Saeed. Omar Shaikh Saeed transferred $100,000 from a UAE bank to Mohammed Atta. Just before September 11, Atta and one or two other of the September 11 terrorists are supposed to have wired the remaining money back to the UAE, where Omar Shaikh Saeed is said to have collected it and immediately returned to Pakistan. All the reports on this are somewhat vague and improved in the telling, but General Ahmed allegedly either was aware of the payment (or actually directed it, which is the way the issue is often described, possibly without factual basis), and this was discovered by Indian intelligence somehow through the investigation of Omar Shaikh Saeed's cell phone conversations. Somehow they obtained his number, and the FBI, through the use of data at the cell phone company, was able to connect Ahmed to Omar Shaikh Saeed (but how could they be sure of what Ahmed actually knew, and how could they be sure that it was Ahmed who was using the phone?). Indian intelligence is also the probable helpful source behind the idea that Ahmed's September 2001 meeting with Mullah Omar, where he was supposed to ask Mullah Omar to hand over bin Laden, was subverted by Ahmed when he told Mullah Omar not to hand over bin Laden and in fact offered military advice to the Taliban on how to fight the U. S. (I note the rather obvious fact that the failure of this mission to visit Mullah Omar was devoutly wished by the Americans, as the handing over of bin Laden would have removed their excuse for the war on Afghanistan, meaning that Ahmed's actions may prove he was actually working for the Americans!), and the idea that Ahmed tipped bin Laden off to the 1998 American attacks directed at his satellite phone, an attack bin Laden escaped by abandoning his satellite phone (just how would Indian intelligence know this?). It appears that the whole case against Ahmed may be the creation of Indian intelligence, who may have their own reasons for wanting Pakistan to get rid of him. Ahmed was replaced when his role in all this was revealed. Why Ahmed used an insecure cell phone to implicate himself, and why the ISI was forced to use a British fundamentalist fighter to send the money, and why the money was sent by easily traceable bank wire transfer, when the ISI presumably had completely secure methods to transfer this relatively small sum of money (but enough to be noticed), has never been explained. Just think if George Tenet wanted money to be sent to some CIA assassin. Would he discuss it over a cell phone? Would he have it sent in an insecure way that could be traced back to the CIA? Would he get personally involved in the transaction? It is almost racist to see how quickly people accept that Ahmed and the ISI must be incompetent idiots, when in fact that ISI, set up by British intelligence and mentored by the CIA, is as sophisticated as any intelligence operation in the world. It is interesting how Ahmed is described as particularly non-fundamentalist and particularly fundamentalist. My guess is that Indian intelligence has done a particularly good job at confusing the issue. So much has been made of the $100,000 story, which when you think about it is preposterous on its face, and appears to be pure misdirection.

  9. The man about to go to jail who operated the sting, Glass, attempted to pass the information about the World Trade Center threat on to Florida State State Sen. Ron Klein, and more intriguingly, to Sen. Bob Graham and U.S. Rep. Robert Wexler. Graham acknowledged at a news conference in Boca Raton that Glass had contact with his office before September 11 about an attack on the World Trade Center, saying (or here), "I was concerned about that and a dozen other pieces of information which emanated from the summer of 2001." Later, Graham said he was unaware of the infomation supplied by Glass until after the terrorist attacks! Graham is the guy who: 1) was meeting with Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed on the morning of September 11; and 2) said (or here), in an interview with Gwen Ifill of NewsHour with Jim Lehrer: ". . . I was surprised at the evidence that there were foreign governments involved in facilitating the activities of at least some of the terrorists in the United States" and "I think there is very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted not just in financing - although that was part of it - by a sovereign foreign government . . . . "

So what do we make of all this? There is a clear Pakistani connection to the attacks of September 11. However, I feel that much of the evidence of this connection is simply too neat. The transfer of money to Ahmed, which too clearly implicates Ahmed, looks like a set up. Similarly, the presence of Ahmed in Washington at the time of the attacks seems contrived. Ahmed is an interesting character, usually described by the Indian press as a doctrinaire fundamentalist, too close, for emotional and ethnic reasons, to the Taliban, and finally forced out when Indian government investigators convinced the FBI that he was behind the $100,000 sent to Atta. Another view, however, is that he was dismissed by Musharraf because he was too close to the Americans, who wanted Musharraf to make him vice-chief of the army staff, where his position and American friends would have made him a threat to Musharraf himself. The real strangeness is that it is likely Ahmed who was behind the 180 degree shift in Pakistani policy from supporter of Mullah Omar to grudging supporter of the American war against terror, as it was Ahmed who took the American message back to Pakistan, and who left Biden thinking Pakistan 'will be cooperative in every way' (the main evidence of this shift is the constant series of arrests by the Pakistanis of alleged al-Qaeda members of interest to the Americans, not to mention the extreme cost of the 'war on terror'). Graham, who was meeting with Ahmed at the time of the attacks, is probably referring to Pakistan as the foreign government involved in the terrorism, but it may be that he was intended to think that way. All signs point to the fact that there was Pakistani involvement, but probably not Pakistani government involvement or even official ISI involvement. Reasons for suspecting some Pakistani involvement:

  • the general ISI involvement, acting for the CIA, in the establishment of militant Islamic fighters against the Russians in Afghanistan and in many other places right up to the present time

  • the fact that many of the 9-11 terrorists visited Afghan training camps, which were accessed through contacts in Pakistan

  • clear ISI support for the Taliban, reaching all the way up to Musharaff's military role before he became a politician

  • the likelihood that one of the countries Graham was referring to, especially given he was meeting with Ahmed when they received news of the September 11 attacks, was Pakistan

  • the unexplained story of Atta's friend, Pakistani pilot Atif Ahmed bin Mansoor.

Reasons for suspecting that there wasn't official Pakistani government involvement in 9-11:

  • the failure of the American government to pursue the Mohsen/Malik matter, and the short sentencing of Mohsen and non-trial of Malik, and the sealing of the files

  • the suspicious failure of the American press to report the whole story, including the specific threat in 1999 to the WTC (the cynicism of the American press knows no bounds: compare the whitewash treatment of nominal U. S. ally Pakistan to their searching for every little tidbit on Iraq!)

  • the peculiar relationship of Lt. Gen. Mehmood Ahmed to the Americans, for whom he is either a great friend or behind the funding of the 9-11 attacks

  • the fact that a man identified by some as a fundamentalist Islamicist is an odd choice for the man to be representing Pakistan in Washington if you know that there is going to be an Islamic fundamentalist attack on the United States while he is there

  • the fact that Abbas had specific knowledge of the events of 9-11, but never actually came through with the money to buy anything, despite trailing the sellers along for a long time

  • the very important fact, which I will consider later, that the whole operation appears to have been in two parts, with only one part under the control of Pakistanis.

I think 'rogue' elements of the ISI, probably working with 'rogue' elements of some American government agency, were behind the Pakistani support for the September 11 attacks ('rogue' is almost a term of art, and in no way indicates that the actions are against government policy, but provides the veneer of 'plausible deniability' for dangerous political operations). Part of the plan appears to have been to set up and remove Ahmed, possibly as part of some internal Pakistani or ISI politics (Ahmed's removal suited 1) Musharraf, who probably considered him a threat, especially if he was perceived as being thought by the Americans as a better choice to lead Pakistan than Musharraf himself; 2) the Pakistani elites, who sacrificed Ahmed to prove to the Americans how serious they are in fighting terrorism; and 3) the Indian government, who would rather not see a closer friend to the Americans than Musharraf lead Pakistan). The irony may very well be that Ahmed was set up to be removed because he was considered by fundamentalists in the Pakistani government to be too close to the United States, a closeness proven by the number and importance of American officials he was meeting with on and around September 11, and the whole operation may have been intended to force Musharraf, still in a delicate balancing act, to sacrifice Ahmed (Ahmed doesn't look like a fundamentalist, not with a 'stache like that; in fact he looks like the 'very model of a modern Major-General', a modern British Major-General). It may be that Pakistanis feared that the Americans were cultivating Ahmed as a replacement for Musharraf, meaning that Musharraf had to remove him to protect his own position, or it may just be that Ahmed thought he had American backing (it was actually Musharraf himself who, as Director-General of Military Operations at Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, oversaw ISI assistance for the Taliban - maybe people are looking for the fundamentalist in the wrong place). Pakistan is one of the few countries, and the only Muslim country (besides possibly Turkey), to have benefitted from 9-11. The U. S. government is apparently playing a complicated game in its relationship with Pakistan, afraid that pushing too hard on obvious problems will lead to the downfall of Musharraf, who appears to have convinced the Americans that he alone can guide Pakistan away from fundamentalism (while the Pakistani government does nuclear deals with North Korea and continues to support Islamic fundamentalist militants). In order to really figure out what was really behind the events of September 11, the next step is to travel many miles from Pakistan and consider the role of Germany in the events of September 11.