Saturday, June 26, 2004

Bush and 9/11 Report: Into the Frame

DEBKAfile Special Analysis http://www.debka.com/

June 17, 2004, 3:33 PM (GMT+02:00)

The US independent commission’s interim account of the September 11 terror attacks in the United States is full of holes and inconsistencies, according to American and Israeli intelligence experts close to the war against al Qaeda. One of its least plausible claims is that Osama bin Laden had pressed to launch the strikes in the summer of 2000, shortly after Israel’s soon-to-be prime minister Ariel Sharon made a highly controversial visit to a disputed holy site in Jerusalem. Later, he pressured the hijackers to strike in May 2001 and in June and July when Sharon would be visiting the White House. Each time, he was told the commandos were not ready, the report said.

A senior expert gave this comment to DEBKAfile: “We see here the outcome of a cynical attempt to link Sharon, Israel and the Jews to the September 11 atrocities. Sharon is suddenly being blamed not only for the Palestinian uprising - which was planned years before he visited Temple Mount - but is also being dragged into focus in relation to al Qaeda’s attacks on America.

This twisted leap is easily traced: the US commission based its findings on the testimony of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed now in US custody after being captured in Karachi.”

Many senior counter-terror officials, some of whom have had access to Shaikh Mohammed and other top captured al Qaeda operatives, have long come to the conclusion that he and others let themselves be seized for the sake of advancing a wider al Qaeda disinformation plot. Their mission is to plant red herrings in the path of US intelligence and lead its investigators away from the organization’s real operations, especially during reorganizations of the group’s command structure and terror networks.

This is how it is managed. The designated sacrifice is discovered after tip-offs lead pursuers to his hideout. Under questioning, he spills the tales he has been briefed to reveal – usually about past operations - and withholds anything of real value about al Qaeda’s current activities. His interrogation is meant to divert US intelligence from noticing preparations for the terrorist organization’s next moves. Being thrown to the Americans for such missions is just as much an honor as dying in combat or a suicide terrorist attack.

Khalid Shaikh Mohammed should have been expected, say the experts, to throw sand in American eyes. Instead, he found a way to link Sharon to the 9/11 attacks and get the link accepted in an official report - just as his masters in their broadcast tapes matter-of-factly tie Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kashmir, Chechnya, Afghanistan and Spain into a single package. This tie-in fits the gospel drummed into every al Qaeda member, from the chiefs to the lowliest courier, that the two enemies of Islam are the Crusaders and the Jews.

By falling into the Sharon trap, the compilers of the report cast doubt on their other conclusions, although their final report due next week may make some necessary corrections.

The obvious point here is if the Israeli motivation was so important in the chain of events leading up to September 11, why did bin Laden decide to attack America and not Israel? Or why not both?

DEBKAfile’s experts on terrorism point to some more weak points and misses in the independent panel’s interim report.

1. It is claimed that the planning of the 9/11 attacks began in 1996. This is factually erroneous. The planning to destroy the World Trade Center began in 1991 or 1992 - at latest. Proof of this reposes in the archives of Manhattan federal court, which tried Ramzi Yousuf for carrying out the first attack in February 1993. He admitted that the bomb truck he had set up on Osama bin Laden’s instructions was meant to cause one tower to lean into the second, bringing both down. Yousuf told the court he was bitterly disappointed at having killed only six Americans when al Qaeda had counted on at least a quarter of a million dead. (Incidentally, Sharon held no official position in 1993, 1996 – or even in 2000)

Bin Laden and his senior lieutenant Ayman Zuwahiri have been in operation long enough for al Qaeda watchers to understand that they never give up on a target. If they fail once, they are sure to try again – whatever the cost in the lives of their own men. The organization is motivated by religious and operational fanaticism alike. Using this dictum as a working hypothesis, the heads of the US campaign against the fundamentalist terrorists are sure they have not seen the end of al Qaeda’s attacks in America.

2. Another instance of Shaikh Mohammed’s wiles is his claim that he had initially envisioned hijacking 10 planes to target CIA and FBI headquarters, nuclear stations, the World Trade Center, the White House, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill, as well as blowing up several aircraft over the Pacific. He said bin Laden had scaled the plan down. The commission fell for this too. In actual fact, there was a much older plot that never came off to hijack 10 airliners bound for New York from the Philippines and crash them over key targets in the United States. This plot originated in 1994 – not 2001. Ramzi Yousuf was to have orchestrated the 10-plane assault from Manila after he failed to bring down the Twin Towers. Shaikh Mohammed recycled this plot and mixed it up with subsequent plans in order to muddy the trail of al Qaeda agents into America and, still more importantly, to cover up a mystery that has never been solved and which the report fails to address: How did US air control authorities and its air defenses come to be blinded to the hijackings after they were already in progress?

One answer which has not been considered seriously enough is that the terrorists or their ground support commanded the electronic capabilities for jamming US tracking devices that ought to have picked up – but didn’t - the captured airliners as they cut through American air space from airport to target.

The videotape the Americans found in 2001 in Afghanistan, showing bin Laden and Zuwahiri discussing their 9/11 success and how it was prepared, contradicts the Shaikh Mohammed account. They made no reference to a big plan or a small plan. Bin Laden is seen expressing surprise at how well his plan worked. He bends his hands together to demonstrate how the towers tipped towards each other - exactly as he had planned in the early 1990s.

3. The most implausible conclusion that suggests the 9/11 panel is influenced by a political agenda is its failure to find credible evidence of links between the Saddam regime and al Qaeda. It is on record that Musab Zarqawi, who is at present running al Qaeda’s terror campaign in Iraq, was seen in that country in 1996 or 1997. From 1998 to 2000, he set up a training base in the northern Kurdistan town of Biyara near the Iranian border, then under the control of Iraqi military intelligence and the Ansar al-Islam terrorist group. Iraqi intelligence officers and instructors helped Zarqawi set up laboratories in Biyara for testing chemical, biological and radiological weapons.

DEBKAfile’s report appeared in September 2000, before the 9/11 attacks and well ahead of any US plan to invade Iraq. Indeed the sequence of events that blew up in the Bush term of office was busy ticking away when Bill Clinton was still president.

Most authorities ignored the deadly Saddam-al Qaeda association for developing WMD capabilities then. Now too, the independent inquiry in Washington neglects to address crucial developments from the time they began evolving in the early 1990s until 2000. These happenings were pivotal to subsequent actions and to al Qaeda’s spreading menace.

4. Neither has the panel found evidence that the Saudi government “as an institution or senior officials within the Saudi government” helped finance al Qaeda before September 11. This conclusion makes a careful point of referring to al Qaeda – not Osama bin Laden, whom Saudi intelligence most certainly did supply with funds. The Saudi ambassador to London, Prince Turki bin Faisal and brother of Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal, was until August 9, 2001 the omnipotent chief of Saudi intelligence and maintained close ties with the CIA. It is common knowledge in Saudi Arabia and among Middle East intelligence and political circles that Prince Turki lost his job because of his close relations with the bin Laden clan. Through them, he stayed in touch with Osama and use roundabout channels to send him money.

The interim conclusions reached by the 9/11 commission make sense only if it is presumed that the panel was set up to whitewash certain American and Saudi political and intelligence bodies and pin the entire blame for al Qaeda’s attacks in America on the Bush administration – incidentally dragging in the US president’s ally, the Israeli prime minister. However, as a state commission charged with an independent inquiry into the causes that led up to this cataclysmic disaster, the panel is far from fulfilling its mandate. Indeed, its findings are just as misleading as Shaikh Mohammed must have intended. The captured terrorist has accomplished his mission admirably.


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