|What George W. Bush Knew Before The 911 attacks|
May 16, 2002
"We were trying to figure out what they (al Qaeda) would do. We never had specifics about time, place, MO (method of operation)."
U.S. intelligence official, commenting anonymously.
President Bush was told in the months before the Sept. 11 attacks that Osama bin Laden's terrorist network might hijack U.S. passenger planes - information which prompted the administration to issue an alert to federal agencies - but not the American public.
CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin says the warning was in a document called the President's Daily Brief, which is considered to be the single most important document that the U.S. intelligence community turns out. The document did not, however, mention the possibility of planes being flown into buildings.
An agent in the FBI's Arizona office did, however, speculate about that, writing in his case notes about Zacarias Moussaoui that Moussaoui seemed like the type of person who was capable of flying an aircraft into the World Trade Center.
It was the observation of an agent taking notes as he thought about his case - an observation whose significance simply did not register at the time.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says that while President Bush was told last summer that bin Laden's al Qaeda network might hijack planes, he did not receive information suggesting that airplanes might be used as suicide bombs, as they were on Sept. 11.
Fleischer emphasizes that "until the attack took place, I think it's fair to say that no one envisioned that as a possibility."
The revelation about the president's security briefing comes as House and Senate Intelligence Committee investigators prepare for public hearings beginning next month on whether an intelligence community which spends $30 billion a year should have been able to provide a more specific warning in advance of Sept. 11.
The New York Times reports that an FBI agent in Arizona warned his superiors last summer that bin Laden might be sending students to U.S. flight schools.
Investigators have since Sept. 11 suspected bin Laden's al Qaeda network of masterminding the terror attacks on America, which killed more than 3,000 people.
"There's been a long-standing awareness in the intelligence community, shared with the president, about the potential for bin Laden to have hijackings," says Fleischer. "The information the president got dealt with hijackings in the traditional sense - not suicide bombers, not using planes as missiles."
According to Fleischer, after the information was presented to President Bush, the administration put domestic agencies on alert in the summer, just months before the Sept. 11 attacks.
That alert was not announced publicly but Fleischer suggests it may have prompted the hijackers to change their tactics.
"The administration, based on hijackings, notified the appropriate agencies and, I think, that's one of the reasons that you saw that the people who committed the 9-11 attacks used box cutters and plastic knives to get around America's system of protecting against hijackings," he said.
Fleischer does not say which agencies were put on alert and what they did in response.
In contrast, he says the Bush administration did go public last summer with a warning about terrorist threats on the Arabian peninsula.
Fleischer's comments followed the New York Times report that an agent at the FBI's Arizona office last July sent a memo to FBI headquarters warning that there were a large number of Arabs seeking pilot, security and airport operations training. The memo pointed to those statistics at one flight school and urged a check of all U.S. flight schools to identify any other students from the Middle East.
The memo also makes a passing reference to bin Laden, speculating that al Qaeda and other such groups could be behind a push for flight training. No evidence, however, was offered to back up that theory.
The FBI failed to make a connection between that warning and the August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui - a French citizen of Moroccan descent detained in Minnesota after raising suspicions among his instructors at a flight school where he said he wanted to know how to fly, but not how to land or take off.
Moussaoui has emerged as the lone defendant charged in the aftermath of the attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. He is charged with conspiring with bin Laden and the 19 suicide hijackers to attack Americans.
FBI Director Robert Mueller has said repeatedly that he wishes the FBI had acted more aggressively in addressing the Arizona and Minnesota leads. Mueller has also said that nothing the FBI possessed before Sept. 11 pointed to the plot.
When hijacked airliners plowed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania, Middle Eastern men trained at U.S. flight schools were at the controls.
Earlier this month, Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham complained that the Justice Department and CIA had not provided congressional investigators with adequate access to documents and witnesses for a probe into intelligence failures related to the Sept. 11 attacks.
Graham said through a spokesman Wednesday that the revelations in the FBI memo mark an important discovery in Congress' investigation into why the FBI, CIA and other U.S. agencies failed to learn of and prevent the Sept. 11 plot.
"It represents a failure to connect the dots," says Graham spokesman Paul Anderson. "This was dismissed rather lightly at FBI headquarters."
On Feb. 6, in his first public comments after the Sept. 11 attacks, CIA Director George Tenet told a congressional hearing that the CIA had seen "spectacular threat reporting about massive casualties against the United States" in the spring and summer last year, but there was no specific information.
A U.S. intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the CIA had continuously informed policymakers throughout the summer before Sept. 11 that bin Laden and his network might try to harm U.S. interests and discussed a range of possibilities that included hijackings.
"That was among the many things that we talked about all the time as a potential terrorist threat," says the intelligence official. "But when we talked about hijackings, we talked about that in the traditional sense of hijackings, not in the sense of somebody hijacking an aircraft and flying it into a building. We talked about concern about the general noise level about al Qaeda planning and we were trying to figure out what they would do. We never had specifics about time, place, MO (method of operation)."
May 16, 2002
"How in the world could somebody have read this document and not had lights, firecrackers, rockets go off in their head that this is something that is really important? --- Sen. Bob Graham (D-fl)
"Members of Congress are raising questions as to whether the Bush administration should have reacted better to warnings in August that Osama bin Laden's followers might hijack a jet.
The White House revealed Wednesday night that President Bush was briefed on U.S. intelligence in August, while at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, that bin Laden's network might hijack U.S. passenger planes.
CBS News National Security Correspondent David Martin first disclosed the fact that the White House had received the bin Laden warning.
On Thursday, Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said all possible action was taken given what was known.
"All appropriate action was taken based on the threat information that we had," Fleischer said. “The president did not - not - receive information about the use of airplanes as missiles by suicide bombers. This was a new type of attack that was not foreseen.”
Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, said the disclosures in the memos marked an important discovery in Congress' investigation into why the FBI, CIA and other U.S. agencies failed to learn of and prevent the Sept. 11 plot.
“How in the world could somebody have read this document and not had lights, firecrackers, rockets go off in their head that this is something that is really important?” Graham said of the Phoenix FBI memo.
After the information was presented to Mr. Bush, the administration put domestic agencies on alert in the summer, just months before the Sept. 11 attacks, Fleischer said. That alert was not announced publicly but Fleischer said it may have prompted the hijackers to change their tactics.
Members of Congress pointed to three pre-Sept. 11 warning signs : the U.S. intelligence Bush received, the fact that an FBI agent had written a memo urging FBI headquarters to investigate Middle Eastern men enrolled in American flight schools, and the arrest in Minnesota of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was believed to be training for a suicide hijacking.
Moussaoui has emerged as the lone defendant charged in the aftermath of the attacks, which killed more than 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. He is charged with conspiring with bin Laden and the 19 suicide hijackers to attack Americans.
FBI Director Robert Mueller repeatedly has said he wished the FBI had acted more aggressively in addressing the Arizona and Minnesota leads but said nothing the FBI possessed before Sept. 11 pointed to the multiple-airliner hijacking plot.
The disclosure came amid questions about whether U.S. authorities failed to recognize and respond to warnings about possible terrorist attacks before the hijackings of the four passenger planes on Sept. 11.
“We've got terrorists connected to al Qaeda out in Arizona engaging in flight training, we've got Moussaoui arrested and being interrogated in Minnesota, we've got the president being briefed while he was on vacation in Texas about the possibility of these airplanes being hijacked. I mean, was anything done about any of those things?” said Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C.
Edwards called on the administration to help Congress investigate what happened, saying there has been some tension from the White House over starting a probe.
Mr. Bush made no immediate comment on the situation. He attended a National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast in Washington and said prayer has helped Americans of faith to get through the last eight months.
“The last eight months have showed the world the American character is incredibly strong and confident. Yet, prayer reminds us that a great people must be humble before God, searching for wisdom - constantly searching for wisdom from the Almighty,” he said.
May 17, 2002Washington has said it could not have prevented the attacks
In the months leading up to 11 September US agencies and officials received a series of intelligence warnings and reports of suspicious activity.
Intelligence agencies report "an increase in traffic concerning terrorist activities".
Instructors at a flying school in Phoenix, Arizona express concern to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) officials about the poor English and limited flying skills of one of their students, Hani Hanjour.
They believe his pilot's licence may be fraudulent.
The FAA finds it is genuine - but school administrators tell Mr Hanjour he will not qualify for an advanced certificate.
Mr Hanjour allegedly flew a hijacked plane into the Pentagon on 11 September.
April - May 2001
Washington receives a "specific threat" about possible al-Qaeda attacks against US targets in the Middle East, the Arabian peninsular and Europe.
State Department issues a statement on 11 May warning that "American citizens abroad may be the target of a terrorist threat from extremist groups with links to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation."
On 29 May, the department warns US citizens to "take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness to reduce their vulnerability".
The FAA issues a warning to airlines of possible hijackings.
The State Department issues a worldwide caution and closes the US embassies in Senegal and Bahrain to the public to "review its security posture".
An unnamed FBI agent in Phoenix, Arizona, issues a memo calling for an investigation into the large number of Middle Eastern men enrolled in pilot training programmes.
The agent warns that al-Qaeda could be attempting to place terrorists as pilots, security guards or aircraft maintenance workers.
However, senior FBI officials pay little attention to the memo.
On 2 July the FBI issues a warning of potential threats overseas and adds that domestic attacks cannot be discounted.
President Bush asks National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to review and assess the apparent upsurge in threat warnings.
A counterterrorism group coordinated by the National Security Council meets due to heightened concern over possible attacks in Paris, Turkey and Rome.
The US goes on a heightened state of alert after an apparent threat to President Bush at the G8 summit in Genoa.
As the third anniversary of the embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania passes, the FBI issues a further warning urging caution.
On 6 August, President Bush receives a report detailing Osama Bin Laden's alleged operating methods, including hijacking. The report is based on intelligence data from a 1998 British report according to officials.
On 13 August, the FBI arrests Zacharias Moussaoui, a French national who had raised suspicions among instructors at the Pan Am International Flight Academy in Minnesota.
Mr Moussaoui had reportedly paid $6,800 in cash and asked for training on large jets, despite his limited experience.
On 16 August the FAA warns that terrorists may have developed a range of modified mobile phones, key chains and pens for use as weapons.
French intelligence agencies later disclose that they believe Mr Moussaoui to be a radical Islamist, who has trained at al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan.
He is later charged with being involved in the 11 September attacks.
In late August, the CIA issues an alert to the Immigration and Naturalisation Service over two men it is treating as suspects in the attack on the destroyer USS Cole in Yemen.
However it is later disclosed that one of the men - Khalid al-Midhar - had arrived in the US on 4 July.
The FBI are warned, but fail to track him down.
On 7 September, the State Department warns of possible attacks on US military facilities or personnel in Japan and Korea.
An FBI agent who questioned Moussaoui reports a vaguely-defined terrorist plot targeting the World Trade Center to his superiors.
May 17, 2002
"Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaida's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with
high explosives ... into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA, or the White House."
1999 federal report
Two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, an analysis prepared for U.S. intelligence warned that Osama bin Laden's terrorists could hijack an airliner and fly it into government buildings like the Pentagon.
"Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al Qaeda's Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House," the September 1999 report said.
The Bush administration has asserted that no one in government had envisioned a suicide hijacking before it happened.
"Had I know that the enemy was going to use airplanes to kill on that fateful morning, I would have done everything in my power to protect the American people," Mr. Bush told U.S. Air Force Academy football team members who were visiting the White House on Friday. It was his first public comment on revelations this week that he was told Aug. 6 that bin Laden wanted to hijack planes.
CBS Senior White House Correspondent Bob Schieffer reports that other top officials were less forthcoming. The usually talkative Attorney General John Ashcroft just stared when reporters asked him about the terror warnings. FBI Chief Robert Mueller also refused to comment.
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the administration was aware of the 1999 report prepared by the Library of Congress for the National Intelligence Council, which advises the president and U.S. intelligence on emerging threats. He said the document did not contain direct intelligence pointing toward a specific plot but rather included assessments about how terrorists might strike.
"What it shows is that this information that was out there did not raise enough alarm with anybody," Fleischer acknowledged.
Former CIA Deputy Director John Gannon, who was chairman of the National Intelligence Council when the report was written, said officials long have known a suicide hijacking was a threat.
"If you ask anybody could terrorists convert a plane into a missile, nobody would have ruled that out," he said.
Democrats and some Republicans in Congress Friday raised the volume of their calls to investigate what the government knew before Sept. 11.
"I think we're going to learn a lot about what the government knew," Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said during an appearance in New York. She said she was unaware of the report created in 1999 during her husband's administration.
Sen. Charles Grassley, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary and Finance committees, demanded the CIA inspector general investigate the report, which he called "one of the most alarming indicators and warning signs of the terrorist plot of Sept. 11."
Meanwhile, court transcripts reviewed by The Associated Press show the government had other warning signs between 1999 and 2001 that bin Laden was sending members of his network to be trained as pilots and was considering airlines as a possible target.
The court records show the FBI has known since at least 1999 that Ihab Mohammed Ali, who was arrested in Florida and later named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa, had been sent for pilot training in Oklhhoma before working as a pilot for bin Laden.
He eventually crashed a plane owned by bin Laden in Sudan that prosecutors alleged was used to transport al Qaeda members and weapons. Ali remains in custody in New York.
In February 2001, federal prosecutors told a court they gained information in September 2000 from an associate of Ali's, Morrocan citizen L'Houssaine Kherchtou, that Kherchtou was trained as an al Qaeda pilot in Kenya and attended a meeting in 1993 where an al Qaeda official was briefing Ali on Western air traffic control procedures.
"He (Kherchtou) observed an Egyptian person who was not a pilot debriefing a friend of his, Ihab Ali, about how air traffic control works and what people say over the air traffic control system," then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald told a New York court.
"And it was his belief that there might have been a plan to send a pilot to Saudi Arabia or someone familiar with that to monitor the air traffic communications so they could possibly attack an airplane perhaps belonging to an Egyptian president or something in Saudi Arabia."
That intelligence is in addition to information the FBI received in July 2001 from its Phoenix office that a large number of Arabs were training at U.S. flight schools and a briefing President Bush received in August of that year suggesting hijacking was one possible attack the al Qaeda might use against the United States.
The September 1999 report, entitled "Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism : Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why?" described suicide hijacking as one of several possible retribution attacks the al Qaeda might seek for a 1998 U.S. airstrike against bin Laden's camps in Afghanistan.
The report noted an al Qaeda-linked terrorist first arrested in the Philippines in 1995 and later convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing had suggested such a mission.
"Ramzi Yousef had planned to do this against the CIA headquarters," the report said.
Bush administration officials have repeatedly said no one in government had imagined such an attack.
"I don't think anybody could have predicted that ... they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile," National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.
The report was written by the Federal Research Division, an arm of the Library of Congress that provides research for federal agencies.
"This information was out there, certainly to those who study the in-depth subject of terrorism and al-Qaeda," said Robert L. Worden, the agency's chief.
"We knew it was an insightful report," he said. "Then after Sept. 11 we said, 'My gosh, that was in there.'"
Gannon said the 1999 report was part of a broader effort by his council to identify the full range of attack options of U.S. enemies.
The vice president has repeatedly asked Congress not to investigate the intelligence failures. But with the new commotion, the White House now says it will cooperate with an investigation if it's done the right way.
May 8, 2002
One of the unanswered questions of September 11th is whether there was anything U.S. intelligence could have done to stop the attacks. New information suggests a key to the conspiracy could have been discovered before the attack - if it hadn’t been for what appears to be a communication breakdown between the FBI and French intelligence.
A month before September 11th, the FBI hauled in a French citizen, Zacarias Moussaoui. He’s now in jail-- the only person charged in the attacks. Prosecutors call him “the 20th hijacker.”
We now know that, back in August, Moussaoui’s possessions contained evidence that would expose key elements of the September 11th conspiracy. The FBI didn’t search Moussaoui’s things because it says it didn’t have enough evidence for a search warrant. Critical evidence was in the hands of French intelligence. The FBI says that if that evidence exists, the Bureau never received it.
If there was a yellowen opportunity to stop the attacks, Moussaoui was it. Prosecutors say he was following the same path as the other 19 hijackers. But there was a difference; Moussaoui couldn’t keep his mouth shut. That got him in trouble in August when he was taking flight simulator training at a school in Minnesota. He was a strange student with strange questions. He was interested in flight patterns around New York City. He asked whether the doors of a 747 could be opened in flight. And there was more.
He paid for his flight lessons, nearly $7,000, in cash and he told his instructors that he urgently needed to learn how to fly big jets, even though at the time he didn't have so much as the license to fly a Cessna. Within two days some of the instructors were openly talking about whether Moussaoui might be a hijacking suspect, so they decided to call the FBI.
That was August 15th and the next day, FBI and immigration agents staked out Moussaoui’s hotel. Sources familiar with the investigation tells us when Moussaoui stepped out, the agents asked him about his flight training and how he was paying for it.
Moussaoui told them that he always wanted to learn how to fly and he was a successful salesman. The FBI asked him what company he worked for and Moussaoui told the agents that he couldn't remember. It was all downhill from there. Moussaoui became belligerent - he told the agents that they wouldn't be harassing him if he wasn't an Arab. The agents asked to see his personal belongings and Moussaoui said no. The FBI didn't have any reason to arrest him at that point, but Moussaoui had overstayed the 90 days that he was supposed to be in the United States, so the immigration officer took him in.
They took him to the Sherburne County jail in Minnesota. The FBI was sure Moussaoui was up to something. They actually discussed whether he was plotting to crash a plane into a building in New York City. It was a hunch and a brilliant one. They wanted to search Moussaoui’s laptop and belongings. But they couldn’t without a warrant. So the agents asked FBI headquarters in Washington to try to get a special search warrant under a law called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — or FISA for short.
Until last year Eric Holder was deputy attorney general in the Justice Department. One of his responsibilities was reviewing hundreds of FISA applications. “Under FISA you have the ability, over a specified period of time, to not only do one search, but to do a number of searches, and then to take that from that person anything that's of foreign intelligence value,” he says.
To get the search warrant, the FBI needed evidence to link Moussaoui to a specific terrorist group. A computer search at the National Security Agency and at the FBI, and CIA found nothing. Moussaoui is a French citizen of Moroccan descent, so the FBI asked French intelligence what they had.
The French had reason to link Moussaoui to Osama bin Laden’s organization. 60 Minutes talked with several sources in French intelligence and they all agree on three points. First, back as early as 1995 French agents traced Moussaoui to Afghanistan on what they believe was a trip to an Al Qaeda camp. Second, in 1999, the French put Moussaoui on a watch list of potential terror suspects. Third, in 2000, French intelligence followed Moussaoui to Pakistan. They believe he went to see a man named Abu Jaffa—a top lieutenant to Osama bin Laden.
Jean-Louis Bruguiere is a French judge and one of the world’s top terror investigators. The law prevents him from talking about classified intelligence related to Moussaoui, but he did tell 60 Minutes that French agents were closely watching French citizens in Afghanistan.
“We know that people were training in Afghanistan to come back in Europe and be able to set up, organize and run terrorist networks,” he says.
Was Moussaoui placed on a watch list of terrorist suspects in 1999? “If by a watch list you mean everyone who could be of interest to the security services, well then probably Mr. Moussaoui is on that list,” Bruguiere says.
Bruguiere is famous for being a step ahead of most other terror investigators—including one case similar to the Moussaoui investigation. In 1999 Bruguiere wanted to question Al Qaeda’s Ahmed Ressam, who was living in Canada. The Canadians refused and Ressam was next seen in Washington state with a trunk load of explosives meant to bomb the Los Angeles airport. Ressam was convicted last year. Bruguiere says that when the FBI asked about Moussaoui, French intelligence was eager to help.
“For this particular case, I can’t discuss the specific details. But overall all the information we had, we handed it over,” he says.
“We gave them everything we had,” says Bruguiere. “Or what we knew when these requests were made.”
The French had been following Moussaoui for years. In the 1990’s they tracked him to London where he learned militant Islam from radical clerics including Abu Qatada. French intelligence has linked Qatada to Osama bin Laden. Qatada preaches a particularly violent brand of Islam and encourages Muslims to take up jihad wherever they can. So Moussaoui took that advice and went to Chechnya to join Muslims in their fight against Russian troops. French intelligence was aware of that move and his later trip to Afghanistan.
The French had a thick file on Moussaoui. But U.S. government sources tell us the FBI never received all the information from the French. These sources say the French sent only a few pages to FBI headquarters that described Moussaoui as an Islamic extremist and dangerous—but never mentioned what the French believed about the bin Laden connections in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Three months after the attacks, FBI director Robert Mueller said this about the effort to get the search warrant. “All I can tell you is that the agents on the scene attempted to follow up aggressively. The attorneys back at FBI determined that there was insufficient probable cause for a FISA, which appears to be an accurate decision. And September 11th happened.”
The FBI has characterized the quality of French information after the arrest of Moussaoui in August, as vague and sketchy - in other words, not very good.
“We don’t only give general information,” says Bruguiere. “We have detailed information, we give as much detail as we know. If the FBI thinks that the information is valuable, that’s its own responsibility.”
Judge Bruguiere refuses to criticize the FBI but he is adamant that in the weeks before September 11th, French intelligence shared its wealth of information on Moussaoui.
“French authorities have always given all their partners, including the United States, all information they had and I am sure that in this case, as in others, we didn’t hide any information,” he says.
It’s not possible to reconcile what the French say they sent and what the FBI says it received; neither the French nor the FBI will let 60 Minutes see those communications, and the FBI has declined an interview. We do know that by the end of August, after a series of meetings at headquarters, FBI lawyers decided they would not even try to get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s things.
At the Minnesota jail, the FBI’s field agents felt their backs were against a wall—headquarters told them they couldn’t search Moussaoui’s possessions and time was running out before he would be deported—so they tried something desperate.
They decided to try to bluff Moussaoui into a confession. Federal sources familiar with this investigation tell us that FBI agents came here for a final confrontation. They told Moussaoui that they knew he was a terrorist, knew he was a hijacker and they weren’t going to let him leave the country. The FBI agents warned Moussaoui that he was in serious trouble, but he could still help himself if would just told the FBI everything he knew.
But if Moussaoui couldn’t keep his mouth shut before—he was certainly doing it now. He did say if the agents just would let him go, he’d finish his flight training and head back to France. His deportation was scheduled for September 17th. The FBI planned to put him on a commercial flight with three armed agents. In Paris, Moussaoui and his still untouched possessions would be turned over to Judge Bruguiere. But, of course, that never happened.
After September 11th the FBI got a search warrant that its field agents had wanted for three weeks, and they immediately found the evidence that led to key conspirators in the attacks. According to Moussaoui’s indictment, the FBI found his notebook, listing a German phone number. That number traced back to Ramzi bin al Shibh. Bin al Shibh was the roommate of Mohammad Atta, the leader of the attacks. Bin al Shibh and Atta created a German Al Qaeda cell together. Bin al Shibh wired tens of thousands of dollars to Moussaoui and another hijacker, Marwan al-Shehhi, who flew into the World Trade Center’s South tower.
“It's a good lead,” says Holder. “We certainly know more about al-Shibh now than we did then. I don't know exactly what we knew about him, you know, prior to September 11th, but clearly the connection to him, the German connection, knowing now what we know about Atta and his German connections, all of these things would have been important.
Of course, that’s hindsight. In the days before September 11th no one could have anticipated the horror that was about to unfold. What we know now is that the German phone number is the key to the government’s case connecting Moussaoui to the September 11th conspiracy. We’ll never know what might have happened if the FBI had been able to make that connection in the days before September 11th.
November 7, 2001
US special agents were told to back off the bin Laden family and the Saudi royals soon after George Bush became president, although that has all changed since September 11, it was reported today.
And the BBC2's Newsnight program also said the younger George Bush made his first million 20 years ago with an oil company partly funded by the chief US representative of Salem bin Laden, Osama's brother, who took over as head of the family after his father Mohammed's death in a plane crash in 1968.
The program said it had secret documents from the FBI investigation into the terror attacks on New York and Washington which showed that despite the myth that Osama is the black sheep of the family, at least two other American-based members of it are suspected of links with a possible terrorist organisation.
The program said it had obtained evidence that the FBI was on the trail of bin Laden family members living in the US after, and even before, September 11.
A document showed that special agents from the Washington field office were investigating Abdullah, a close relative of Osama, because of his relationship with the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a suspected terrorist organisation, it said.
The program said it had found where he used to live with another close relative, Omar, also an FBI suspect, in Falls Church, Virginia, a suburb of Washington. The house was conveniently close to WAMY, it said, and just a couple of blocks down the road was a place listed by four of the alleged hijackers as their address.
The US Treasury has not frozen WAMY's assets, and insists it is a charity, the program said, yet Pakistan had expelled WAMY "operatives" and India claimed WAMY was funding an organisation linked to bombings in Kashmir.
The FBI did look into WAMY, but for some reason agents were pulled off the trail, it said.
The program has uncovered a long history of shadowy connections between the State Department, the CIA and the Saudis, it said.
The former head of the American visa bureau in Jeddah from 1987 to 1989, Michael Springman, told the program: "In Saudi Arabia I was repeatedly ordered by high-level State Department officials to issue visas to unqualified applicants.
"People who had no ties either to Saudi Arabia or to their own country. I complained there. I complained here in Washington to Main State, to the inspector-general and to Diplomatic Security and I was ignored."
He added : "What I was doing was giving visas to terrorists - recruited by the CIA and Osama bin Laden to come back to the United States for training to be used in the war in Afghanistan against the then Soviets."
The US wanted to keep the pro-American Saudi royal family in control of the world's biggest oil spigot, even at the price of turning a blind eye to any terrorist connection - so long as America was safe, the program said.
The program said the younger George Bush made his first million 20 years ago with an oil company partly funded by the chief US representative of Salem bin Laden, Osama's brother, who took over as head of the family after his father Mohammed's death in a plane crash in 1968.
Young George also received fees as director of a subsidiary of Carlyle Corporation, a little-known private company which in just a few years of its founding has become one of America's biggest defence contractors, and his father, Bush Senior, is also a paid adviser, the program said.
And it became embarrassing when it was revealed that the bin Ladens held a stake in Carlyle, sold just after September 11, it added.
The program said it had been told by a highly-placed source in a US intelligence agency that there had always been "constraints" on investigating Saudis, but under President Bush it had become much worse.
After the elections, the intelligence agencies were told to "back off" from investigating the bin Laden family and the Saudi royals, and that angered field agents, the program added.
The policy was reversed after September 11, it reported.
The program was told by FBI headquarters that it could not comment on its findings.
A spokesman reportedly said: "There are lots of things that only the intelligence community knows and that no one else ought to know."
Bush held up plan to hit Bin Laden
August 5, 2002
The Bush administration sat on a Clinton-era plan to attack al-Qaida in Afghanistan for eight months because of political hostility to the outgoing president and competing priorities, it was reported yesterday.
The plan, under which special forces troops would have been sent after Osama bin Laden, was drawn up in the last days of the Clinton administration but a decision was left to the incoming Bush team.
However, a top-level discussion of the proposals took place only on September 4, a week before the al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington. In the months in between, the plan was shuffled through the bureaucracy by an administration distrustful of anything to do with Bill Clinton and which appeared fixated on national missile defence and the war on drugs, rather than the struggle against terrorism.
The news emerged as the political truce that followed the terrorist attacks evaporates in the heat of the looming congressional elections in November. It represents the strongest indictment so far of the Bush team's preparedness for an attack.
The plan to take the counter-terrorist battle to al-Qaida was drafted after the attack on the warship the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000. Mr Clinton's terrorism expert, Richard Clarke, presented it to senior officials in December, but it was decided that the decision should be taken by the new administration.
According to today's Time magazine, Mr Clinton's national security adviser, Sandy Berger and Mr Clarke outlined the threat in briefings they provided for Condoleezza Rice, George Bush's national security adviser, in January 2001, a few weeks before she and her team took up their posts.
At the key briefing, Mr Clarke presented proposals to "roll back" al-Qaida which closely resemble the measures taken after September 11. Its financial network would be broken up and its assets frozen. Vulnerable countries like Uzbekistan, Yemen and the Philippines would be given aid to help them stamp out terrorist cells.
Crucially, the US would go after Bin Laden in his Afghan lair. Plans would be drawn up for combined air and special forces operations, while support would be channelled to the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies.
Mr Clarke, who stayed on in his job as White House counter-terrorism tsar, repeated his briefing for vice president Dick Cheney in February. However, the proposals got lost in the clumsy transition process, turf wars between departments and the separate agendas of senior members of the Bush administration.
It was, the Time article argues, "a systematic collapse in the ability of Washington's national security apparatus to handle the terrorist threat".
Bush administration officials have played down the significance of the January briefings, describing them as simply advocating "a more active approach". Ms Rice issued a statement saying she did not even recall a briefing at which Mr Berger was present.
But the Time report quotes Bush officials as well as Clinton aides as confirming the seriousness of the Clarke plan. The sources said it was treated the same way as all policies inherited from the Clinton era, and subjected to a lengthy "policy review process".
The proposals were not re-examined by senior administration officials until April, and were not earmarked for consideration by the national security heads of department until September 4.
"If we hadn't had a transition," a senior Clinton administration official is quoted as saying, "probably in late October or early November 2000, we would have had [the plan to go on the offensive] as a presidential directive."
However, Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, was more interested in the national missile defence plan, and the new attorney general, John Ashcroft, was more interested in using the FBI to fight the "war on drugs" and clamping down on pornography. In August, he turned down FBI requests for $50m for the agency's counter-terrorist programme.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, appeals from the Northern Alliance's leader, Ahmed Shah Massoud, for more US aid fell on deaf ears. He was assassinated on September 9.
August 4, 2002
Long before the tragic events of September 11th, the White House debated taking the fight to al-Qaeda. It didn't happen and soon it was too late. The saga of a lost chance
Sometimes history is made by the force of arms on battlefields, sometimes by the fall of an exhausted empire. But often when historians set about figuring why a nation took one course rather than another, they are most interested in who said what to whom at a meeting far from the public eye whose true significance may have been missed even by those who took part in it.
One such meeting took place in the White House situation room during the first week of January 2001. The session was part of a program designed by Bill Clinton's National Security Adviser, Sandy Berger, who wanted the transition between the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations to run as smoothly as possible. With some bitterness, Berger remembered how little he and his colleagues had been helped by the first Bush Administration in 1992-93. Eager to avoid a repeat of that experience, he had set up a series of 10 briefings by his team for his successor, Condoleezza Rice, and her deputy, Stephen Hadley.
Berger attended only one of the briefings-the session that dealt with the threat posed to the U.S. by international terrorism, and especially by al-Qaeda. "I'm coming to this briefing," he says he told Rice, "to underscore how important I think this subject is." Later, alone in his office with Rice, Berger says he told her, "I believe that the Bush Administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject." The terrorism briefing was delivered by Richard Clarke, a career bureaucrat who had served in the first Bush Administration and risen during the Clinton years to become the White House's point man on terrorism. As chair of the interagency Counter-Terrorism Security Group (CSG), Clarke was known as a bit of an obsessive-just the sort of person you want in a job of that kind. Since the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen on Oct. 12, 2000-an attack that left 17 Americans dead-he had been working on an aggressive plan to take the fight to al-Qaeda. The result was a strategy paper that he had presented to Berger and the other national security "principals" on Dec. 20. But Berger and the principals decided to shelve the plan and let the next Administration take it up. With less than a month left in office, they did not think it appropriate to launch a major initiative against Osama bin Laden. "We would be handing (the Bush Administration) a war when they took office on Jan. 20," says a former senior Clinton aide. "That wasn't going to happen." Now it was up to Rice's team to consider what Clarke had put together.
Berger had left the room by the time Clarke, using a Powerpoint presentation, outlined his thinking to Rice. A senior Bush Administration official denies being handed a formal plan to take the offensive against al-Qaeda, and says Clarke's materials merely dealt with whether the new Administration should take "a more active approach" to the terrorist group. (Rice declined to comment, but through a spokeswoman said she recalled no briefing at which Berger was present.) Other senior officials from both the Clinton and Bush administrations, however, say that Clarke had a set of proposals to "roll back" al-Qaeda. In fact, the heading on Slide 14 of the Powerpoint presentation reads, "Response to al Qaeda : Roll back." Clarke's proposals called for the "breakup" of al-Qaeda cells and the arrest of their personnel. The financial support for its terrorist activities would be systematically attacked, its assets frozen, its funding from fake charities stopped. Nations where al-Qaeda was causing trouble-Uzbekistan, the Philippines, Yemen-would be given aid to fight the terrorists. Most important, Clarke wanted to see a dramatic increase in covert action in Afghanistan to "eliminate the sanctuary" where al-Qaeda had its terrorist training camps and bin Laden was being protected by the radical Islamic Taliban regime. The Taliban had come to power in 1996, bringing a sort of order to a nation that had been riven by bloody feuds between ethnic warlords since the Soviets had pulled out. Clarke supported a substantial increase in American support for the Northern Alliance, the last remaining resistance to the Taliban. That way, terrorists graduating from the training camps would have been forced to stay in Afghanistan, fighting (and dying) for the Taliban on the front lines. At the same time, the U.S. military would start planning for air strikes on the camps and for the introduction of special-operations forces into Afghanistan. The plan was estimated to cost "several hundreds of millions of dollars." In the words of a senior Bush Administration official, the proposals amounted to "everything we've done since 9/11."
And that's the point. The proposals Clarke developed in the winter of 2000-01 were not given another hearing by top decision makers until late April, and then spent another four months making their laborious way through the bureaucracy before they were readied for approval by President Bush. It is quite true that nobody predicted Sept. 11-that nobody guessed in advance how and when the attacks would come. But other things are true too. By last summer, many of those in the know-the spooks, the buttoned-down bureaucrats, the law-enforcement professionals in a dozen countries-were almost frantic with worry that a major terrorist attack against American interests was imminent. It wasn't averted because 2001 saw a systematic collapse in the ability of Washington's national-security apparatus to handle the terrorist threat.
The winter proposals became a victim of the transition process, turf wars and time spent on the pet policies of new top officials. The Bush Administration chose to institute its own "policy review process" on the terrorist threat. Clarke told Time that the review moved "as fast as could be expected." And Administration officials insist that by the time the review was endorsed by the Bush principals on Sept. 4, it was more aggressive than anything contemplated the previous winter. The final plan, they say, was designed not to "roll back" al-Qaeda but to "eliminate" it. But that delay came at a cost. The Northern Alliance was desperate for help but got little of it. And in a bureaucratic squabble that would be farfetched on The West Wing, nobody in Washington could decide whether a Predator drone-an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and the best possible source of real intelligence on what was happening in the terror camps-should be sent to fly over Afghanistan. So the Predator sat idle from October 2000 until after Sept. 11. No single person was responsible for all this. But "Washington"-that organic compound of officials and politicians, in uniform and out, with faces both familiar and unknown-failed horribly.
Could al-Qaeda's plot have been foiled if the U.S. had taken the fight to the terrorists in January 2001? Perhaps not. The thrust of the winter plan was to attack al-Qaeda outside the U.S. Yet by the beginning of that year, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi, two Arabs who had been leaders of a terrorist cell in Hamburg, Germany, were already living in Florida, honing their skills in flight schools. Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar had been doing the same in Southern California. The hijackers maintained tight security, generally avoided cell phones, rented apartments under false names and used cash-not wire transfers-wherever possible. If every plan to attack al-Qaeda had been executed, and every lead explored, Atta's team might still never have been caught.
But there's another possibility. An aggressive campaign to degrade the terrorist network worldwide-to shut down the conveyor belt of recruits coming out of the Afghan camps, to attack the financial and logistical support on which the hijackers depended-just might have rendered it incapable of carrying out the Sept. 11 attacks. Perhaps some of those who had to approve the operation might have been killed, or the money trail to Florida disrupted. We will never know, because we never tried. This is the secret history of that failure.
Berger was determined that when he left office, Rice should have a full understanding of the terrorist threat. In a sense, this was an admission of failure. For the Clinton years had been marked by a drumbeat of terror attacks against American targets, and they didn't seem to be stopping.
In 1993 the World Trade Center had been bombed for the first time; in 1996 19 American servicemen had been killed when the Khobar Towers, in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, was bombed; two years later, American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were attacked. As the millennium celebrations at the end of 1999 approached, the CIA warned that it expected five to 15 attacks against American targets over the New Year's weekend. But three times, the U.S. got lucky. The Jordanians broke up an al-Qaeda cell in Amman; Ahmed Ressam, an Algerian based in Montreal, panicked when stopped at a border crossing from Canada while carrying explosives intended for Los Angeles International Airport; and on Jan. 3, 2000, an al-Qaeda attack on the U.S.S. The Sullivans in Yemen foundered after terrorists overloaded their small boat.
From the start of the Clinton Administration, the job of thwarting terror had fallen to Clarke. A bureaucratic survivor who now leads the Bush Administration's office on cyberterrorism, he has served four Presidents from both parties-staff members joke that the framed photos in his office have two sides, one for a Republican President to admire, the other for a Democrat. Aggressive and legendarily abrasive, Clarke was desperate to persuade skeptics to take the terror threat as seriously as he did. "Clarke is unbelievably determined, high-energy, focused and imaginative," says a senior Clinton Administration official. "But he's totally insensitive to rolling over others who are in his way." By the end of 2000, Clarke didn't need to roll over his boss; Berger was just as sure of the danger.
The two men had an ally in George Tenet, who had been appointed Director of Central Intelligence in 1997. "He wasn't sleeping on the job on this," says a senior Clinton aide of Tenet, "whatever inherent problems there were in the agency." Those problems were immense. Although the CIA claims it had penetrated al-Qaeda, Republican Congressman Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, chairman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security, doubts that it ever got anywhere near the top of the organization. "The CIA," he says, "were not able to recruit human assets to penetrate al-Qaeda and the al-Qaeda leadership." Nobody pretends that such an exercise would have been easy. Says a counterterrorism official: "Where are you going to find a person loyal to the U.S. who's willing to eat dung beetles and sleep on the ground in a cave for two or three years? You don't find people willing to do that who also speak fluent Pashtu or Arabic."
In the absence of men sleeping with the beetles, the CIA had to depend on less reliable allies. The agency attempted to recruit tribal leaders in Afghanistan who might be persuaded to take on bin Laden; contingency plans had been made for the CIA to fly one of its planes to a desert landing strip in Afghanistan if he was ever captured. (Clinton had signed presidential "findings" that were ambiguous on the question of whether bin Laden could be killed in such an attack.) But the tribal groups' loyalty was always in doubt. Despite the occasional abortive raid, they never seemed to get close to bin Laden. That meant that the Clinton team had to fall back on a second strategy : taking out bin Laden by cruise missile, which had been tried after the embassy bombings in 1998. For all of 2000, sources tell Time, Clinton ordered two U.S. Navy submarines to stay on station in the northern Arabian Sea, ready to attack if bin Laden's coordinates could be determined.
But the plan was twice flawed. First, the missiles could be used only if bin Laden's whereabouts were known, and the CIA never definitively delivered that information. By early 2000, Clinton was becoming infuriated by the lack of intelligence on bin Laden's movements. "We've got to do better than this," he scribbled on one memo. "This is unsatisfactory." Second, even if a target could ever be found, the missiles might take too long to hit it. The Pentagon thought it could dump a Tomahawk missile on bin Laden's camp within six hours of a decision to attack, but the experts in the White House thought that was impossibly long. Any missiles fired at Afghanistan would have to fly over Pakistan, and Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) was close to the Taliban. White House aides were sure bin Laden would be tipped off as soon as the Pakistanis detected the missiles.
Berger and Clarke wanted something more robust. On Nov. 7, Berger met with William Cohen, then Secretary of Defense, in the Pentagon. The time had come, said Berger, for the Pentagon to rethink its approach to operations against bin Laden. "We've been hit many times, and we'll be hit again," Berger said. "Yet we have no option beyond cruise missiles." He wanted "boots on the ground"-U.S. special-ops forces deployed inside Afghanistan on a search-and-destroy mission targeting bin Laden. Cohen said he would look at the idea, but he and General Hugh Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were dead set against it. They feared a repeat of Desert One, the 1980 fiasco in which special-ops commandos crashed in Iran during an abortive mission to rescue American hostages.
It wasn't just Pentagon nerves that got in the way of a more aggressive counterterrorism policy. So did politics. After the U.S.S. Cole was bombed, the secretive Joint Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C., drew up plans to have Delta Force members swoop into Afghanistan and grab bin Laden. But the warriors were never given the go-ahead; the Clinton Administration did not order an American retaliation for the attack. "We didn't do diddly," gripes a counterterrorism official. "We didn't even blow up a baby-milk factory." In fact, despite strong suspicion that bin Laden was behind the attack in Yemen, the CIA and FBI had not officially concluded that he was, and would be unable to do so before Clinton left office. That made it politically impossible for Clinton to strike-especially given the upcoming election and his own lack of credibility on national security. "If we had done anything, say, two weeks before the election," says a former senior Clinton aide, "we'd be accused of helping Al Gore."
For Clarke, the bombing of the Cole was final proof that the old policy hadn't worked. It was time for something more aggressive-a plan to make war against al-Qaeda. One element was vital. The Taliban's control of Afghanistan was not yet complete; in the northeast of the country, Northern Alliance forces led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, a legendary guerrilla leader who had fought against the Soviet invaders of Afghanistan in the 1980s, were still resisting Taliban rule. Clarke argued that Massoud should be given the resources to develop a viable fighting force. That way, terrorists leaving al-Qaeda's training camps in Afghanistan would have been forced to join the Taliban forces fighting in the north. "You keep them on the front lines in Afghanistan," says a counterterrorism official. "Hopefully you're killing them in the process, and they're not leaving Afghanistan to plot terrorist operations. That was the general approach." But the approach meant that Americans had to engage directly in the snake pit of Afghan politics.
THE LAST MAN STANDING
In the spring of 2001, afghanistan was as rough a place as it ever is. Four sets of forces battled for position. Most of the country was under the authority of the Taliban, but it was not a homogeneous group. Some of its leaders, like Mullah Mohammed Omar, the self-styled emir of Afghanistan, were dyed-in-the-wool Islamic radicals; others were fierce Afghan nationalists. The Taliban's principal support had come from Pakistan-another interested party, which wanted a reasonably peaceful border to its west-and in particular from the hard men of the isi. But Pakistan's policy was not all of a piece either. Since General Pervez Musharraf had taken power in a 1999 coup, some Pakistani officials, desperate to curry favor with the U.S.-which had cut off aid to Pakistan after it tested a nuclear device in 1998-had seen the wisdom of distancing themselves from the Taliban, or at the least attempting to moderate its more radical behavior. The third element was the Northern Alliance, a resistance movement whose stronghold was in northeast Afghanistan. Most of the Alliance's forces and leaders were, like Massoud, ethnic Tajiks-a minority in Afghanistan. Massoud controlled less than 10% of the country and had been beaten back by the Taliban in 2000. Nonetheless, by dint of his personality and reputation, Massoud was "the only military threat to the Taliban," says Francesc Vendrell, who was then the special representative in Afghanistan of the U.N. Secretary-General.
And then there was al-Qaeda. The group had been born in Afghanistan when Islamic radicals began flocking there in 1979, after the Soviets invaded. Bin Laden and his closest associates had returned in 1996, when they were expelled from Sudan. Al-Qaeda's terrorist training camps were in Afghanistan, and bin Laden's forces and money were vital to sustaining the Taliban's offensives against Massoud.
By last spring, the uneasy equilibrium among the four forces was beginning to break down. "Moderates" in the Taliban-those who tried to keep lines open to intermediaries in the U.N. and the U.S.-were losing ground. In 2000, Mullah Mohammed Rabbani, thought to be the second most powerful member of the Taliban, had reached out clandestinely to Massoud. "He understood that our country had been sold out to al-Qaeda and Pakistan," says Ahmad Jamsheed, Massoud's secretary. But in April 2001, Rabbani died of liver cancer. By that month, says the U.N.'s Vendrell, "it was al- Qaeda that was running the Taliban, not vice versa."
A few weeks before Rabbani's death, Musharraf's government had started to come to the same conclusion : the Pakistanis were no longer able to moderate Taliban behavior. To worldwide condemnation, the Taliban had announced its intention to blow up the 1,700-year-old stone statues of the Buddha in the Bamiyan Valley. Musharraf dispatched his right-hand man, Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider, to plead with Mullah Omar for the Buddhas to be saved. The Taliban's Foreign Minister and its ambassador to Pakistan, says a Pakistani official close to the talks, were in favor of saving the Buddhas. But Mullah Omar, says a member of the Pakistani delegation, listened to what Haider had to say and replied, "If on Judgment Day I stand before Allah, I'll see those two statues floating before me, and I know that Allah will ask me why, when I had the power, I did not destroy them." A few days later, the Buddhas were blown up.
By summer, Pakistan had a deeper grievance. The country had suffered a wave of sectarian assassinations, with gangs throwing grenades into mosques and murdering clerics. The authorities in Islamabad knew that the murderers had fled to Afghanistan (one of them was openly running a store in Kabul) and sent a delegation to ask for their return. "We gave them lists of names, photos and the locations of training camps where these fellows could be found," says Brigadier Javid Iqbal Cheema, director of Pakistan's National Crisis Management Cell, "but not a single individual was ever handed over to us." The Pakistanis were furious.
As the snows cleared for the annual spring military campaign, a joint offensive against Massoud by the Taliban and al-Qaeda seemed likely. But the influence of al-Qaeda on the Taliban was proving deeply unpopular among ordinary Afghans, especially in the urban centers. "I thought at most 20% of the population supported the Taliban by early summer," says Vendrell. And bin Laden's power made Massoud's plea for outside assistance more urgent. "We told the Americans-we told everyone-that al-Qaeda was set upon a transnational program," says Abdullah Abdullah, once a close aide to Massoud and now the Afghan Foreign Minister. In April, Massoud addressed the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, seeking support for the Northern Alliance. "If President Bush doesn't help us," he told a reporter, "these terrorists will damage the U.S. and Europe very soon. "
But Massoud never got the help that he needed-or that Clarke's plan had deemed necessary. Most of the time, Northern Alliance delegates to Washington had to be satisfied with meeting low-level bureaucrats. The Alliance craved recognition by the U.S. as a "legitimate resistance movement" but never got it, though on a visit in July, Abdullah did finally get to meet some top National Security Council (NSC) and State Department officials for the first time. The best the Americans seemed prepared to do was turn a blind eye to the trickle of aid from Iran, Russia and India. Vendrell remembers much talk that spring of increased support from the Americans. But in truth Massoud's best help came from Iran, which persuaded all supporters of the Northern Alliance to channel their aid through Massoud alone.
Only once did something happen that might have given Massoud hope that the U.S. would help. In late June, he was joined in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, by Abdul Haq, a leading Pashtun, based in Dubai, who was opposed to the Taliban. Haq was accompanied by someone Massoud knew well: Peter Tomsen, a retired ambassador who from 1989 to '92 had been the U.S. State Department's special envoy to the Afghan resistance. Also present was James Ritchie, a successful Chicago options trader who had spent part of his childhood in Afghanistan and was helping bankroll the groups opposed to the Taliban. (Haq was captured and executed by the Taliban last October while on a quixotic mission to Afghanistan.) Tomsen insists that the June 2001 trip was a private one, though he had told State Department officials of it in advance. Their message, he says, was limited to a noncommittal "good luck and be careful."
The purpose of the meeting, according to Tomsen, was to see if Massoud and Haq could forge a joint strategy against the Taliban. "The idea," says Sayeed Hussain Anwari, now the Afghan Minister of Agriculture, who was present at the meeting, "was to bring Abdul Haq inside the country to begin an armed struggle in the southeast." Still hoping for direct assistance from Washington, Massoud gave Tomsen all the intelligence he had on al-Qaeda and asked Tomsen to take it back to Washington. But when he briefed State Department officials after his trip, their reaction was muted. The American position was clear. If anything was to be done to change the realities in Afghanistan, it would have to be done not by the U.S. but by Pakistan. Massoud was on his own.
CLARKE : CRYING WOLF
In Washington, dick clarke didn't seem to have a lot of friends either. His proposals were still grinding away. No other great power handles the transition from one government to another in so shambolic a way as the U.S.-new appointments take months to be confirmed by the Senate; incoming Administrations tinker with even the most sensible of existing policies. The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear. "If we hadn't had a transition," says a senior Clinton Administration official, "probably in late October or early November 2000, we would have had (the plan to go on the offensive) as a presidential directive."
As the new Administration took office, Rice kept Clarke in his job as counterterrorism czar. In early February, he repeated to Vice President Dick Cheney the briefing he had given to Rice and Hadley. There are differing opinions on how seriously the Bush team took Clarke's wwarnings. Some members of the outgoing Administration got the sense that the Bush team thought the Clintonites had become obsessed with terrorism. "It was clear," says one, "that this was not the same priority to them that it was to us."
For other observers, however, the real point was not that the new Administration dismissed the terrorist theat. On the contrary, Rice, Hadley and Cheney, says an official, "all got that it was important." The question is, How high a priority did terrorism get? Clarke says that dealing with al-Qaeda "was in the top tier of issues reviewed by the Bush Administration." But other topics got far more attention. The whole Bush national-security team was obsessed with setting up a national system of missile defense. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was absorbed by a long review of the military's force structure. Attorney General John Ashcroft had come into office as a dedicated crime buster. Rice was desperately trying to keep in line a national-security team-including Rumsfeld, Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell-whose members had wildly different agendas and styles. "Terrorism," says a former Clinton White House official , speaking of the new Administration, "wasn't on their plate of key issues." Al-Qaeda had not been a feature of the landscape when the Republicans left office in 1993. The Bush team, says an official, "had to learn about (al-Qaeda) and figure out where it fit into their broader foreign policy." But doing so meant delay.
Some counterterrorism officials think there is another reason for the Bush Administration's dilatory response. Clarke's paper, says an official, "was a Clinton proposal." Keeping Clarke around was one thing; buying into the analysis of an Administration that the Bush team considered feckless and naive was quite another. So Rice instructed Clarke to initiate a new "policy review process" on the terrorism threat. Clarke dived into yet another round of meetings. And his proposals were nibbled nearly to death.
This was, after all, a White House plan, which means it was resented from the moment of conception. "When you look at the Pentagon and the cia," says a former senior Clinton aide, "it's not their plan. The military will never accept the White House staff doing military planning." Terrorism, officials from the State Department suggested, needed to be put in the broader context of American policy in South Asia. The rollback plan was becoming the victim of a classic Washington power play between those with "functional" responsibilities-like terrorism-and those with "regional" ones-like relations with India and Pakistan. The State Department's South Asia bureau, according to a participant in the meetings, argued that a fistful of other issues-Kashmir, nuclear proliferation, Musharraf's dictatorship-were just as pressing as terrorism. By now, Clarke's famously short fuse was giving off sparks. A participant at one of the meetings paraphrases Clarke's attitude this way : "These people are trying to kill us. I could give a f___ if Musharraf was democratically elected. What I do care about is Pakistan's support for the Taliban and turning a blind eye to this terrorist cancer growing in their neighbor's backyard."
It was Bush who broke the deadlock. Each morning the CIA gives the Chief Executive a top-secret Presidential Daily Brief (PDB) on pressing issues of national security. One day in early spring, Tenet briefed Bush on the hunt for Abu Zubaydah, al-Qaeda's head of international operations, who was suspected of having been involved in the planning of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. After the PDB, Bush told Rice that the approach to al-Qaeda was too scattershot. He was tired of "swatting at flies" and asked for a comprehensive plan for attacking terrorism. According to an official, Rice came back to the nsc and said, "The President wants a plan to eliminate al-Qaeda." Clarke reminded her that he already had one.
But having a plan isn't the same as executing it. Clarke's paper now had to go through three more stages: the Deputies' Committee, made up of the No. 2s to the main national-security officials; the Principals' Committee, which included Cheney, Rice, Tenet, Powell and Rumsfeld; and finally, the President. Only when Bush had signed off would the plan become what the Bush team called a national-security presidential directive.
On April 30, nearly six weeks after the Administration started holding deputies' meetings, Clarke presented a new plan to them. In addition to Hadley, who chaired the hour-long meeting, the gathering included Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby; Richard Armitage, the barrel-chested Deputy Secretary of State; Paul Wolfowitz , the scholarly hawk from the Pentagon; and John McLaughlin from the cia. Armitage was enthusiastic about Clarke's plan, according to a senior official. But the CIA was gun-shy. Tenet was a Clinton holdover and thus vulnerable if anything went wrong. His agency was unwilling to take risks; it wanted "top cover" from the White House. The deputies, says a senior official, decided to have "three parallel reviews-one on al-Qaeda, one on the Pakistani political situation and the third on Indo-Pakistani relations." The issues, the deputies thought, were interrelated. "They wanted to view them holistically," says the senior official, "and not until they'd had three separate meetings on each of these were they able to hold a fourth integrating them all."
There was more. Throughout the spring, one bureaucratic wrangle in particular rumbled on, poisoning the atmosphere. At issue : the Predator.
The Predator had first been used in Bosnia in 1995. Later, the CIA and the Pentagon began a highly classified program designed to produce pictures-viewable in real time-that would be fine-grained enough to identify individuals. The new, improved Predator was finally ready in September 2000, and the CIA flew it over Afghanistan in a two-week "test of concept." First results were promising; one video sent to the White House showed a man who might have been bin Laden. For the first time, the CIA now had a way to check out a tip by one of its agents among the Afghan tribes. If there was a report that bin Laden was in the vicinity, says a former aide to Clinton, "we could put the Predator over the location and have eyes on the target."
But in October 2000, the Predator crashed when landing at its base in a country bordering Afghanistan. The unmanned aerial vehicle needed repairs, and in any event, the CIA and the Pentagon decided that the winter weather over Afghanistan would make it difficult to take good pictures. The Clinton team left office assuming that the Predator would be back in the skies by March 2001.
In fact, the Predator wouldn't fly again until after Sept. 11. In early 2001 it was decided to develop a new version that would not just take photos but also be armed with Hellfire missiles. To the frustration of Clarke and other White House aides, the CIA and the Pentagon couldn't decide who controlled the new program or who should pay for it-though each craft cost only $1 million. While the new uav was being rapidly developed at a site in the southwestern U.S., the CIA opposed using the old one for pure surveillance because it feared al-Qaeda might see it. "Once we were going to arm the thing," says a senior U.S. intelligence official, "we didn't want to expose the capability by just having it fly overhead and spot a bunch of guys we couldn't do anything about." Clarke and his supporters were livid. "Dick Clarke insisted that it be kept in the air," says a Bush Administration official. The counterterrorism team argued that the Taliban had shot at the uav during the Clinton test, so its existence was hardly a secret. Besides, combined with on-the-ground intelligence, a Predator might just gather enough information in time to get a Tomahawk off to the target. But when the deputies held their fourth and final meeting on July 16, they still hadn't sorted out what to do with the Predator. Squabbles over who would pay for it continued into August.
Administration sources insist that they were not idle in the spring. They set up, for example, a new center in the Treasury to track suspicious foreign assets and reviewed Clinton's "findings" on whether the CIA could kill bin Laden. But by the summer, policy reviews were hardly what was needed.
Intelligence services were picking up enough chatter about a terrorist attack to scare the pants off top officials. On June 22, the Defense Department put its troops on full alert and ordered six ships from the Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, to steam out to sea, for fear that they might be attacked in port. U.S. officials thought an attack might be mounted on American forces at the nato base at Incirlik, Turkey, or maybe in Rome or Belgium, Germany or Southeast Asia, perhaps the Philippines-anywhere, it seems, but in the U.S. When Independence Day passed without incident, Clarke called a meeting and asked Ben Bonk, deputy director of the CIA's counterterrorism center, to brief on bin Laden's plans. Bonk's evidence that al-Qaeda was planning "something spectacular," says an official who was in the room, "was very gripping." But nobody knew what or when or where the spectacular would be. As if to crystallize how much and how little anyone in the know actually knew, the counterterrorism center released a report titled "Threat of Impending al- Qaeda Attack to Continue Indefinitely."
Predictably, nerves frayed. Clarke, who was widely loathed in the cia, where he was accused of self-aggrandizement, began to lose credibility. He cried wolf, said his detractors; he had been in the job too long. "The guy was reading way too many fiction novels," says a counterterrorism official. "He turned into a Chicken Little. The sky was always falling for Dick Clarke. We had our strings jerked by him so many times, he was simply not taken seriously." Clarke wasn't the only one living on the edge. So, say senior officials, was Tenet. Every few days, the CIA director would call Tom Pickard, who had become acting director of the FBI in June, asking "What do you hear? Do you have anything?" Pickard never had to ask what the topic was.
In mid-July, Tenet sat down for a special meeting with Rice and aides. "George briefed Condi that there was going to be a major attack," says an official; another, who was present at the meeting, says Tenet broke out a huge wall chart ("They always have wall charts") with dozens of threats. Tenet couldn't rule out a domestic attack but thought it more likely that al-Qaeda would strike overseas. One date already worrying the Secret Service was July 20, when Bush would arrive in Genoa for the G-8 summit; Tenet had intelligence that al-Qaeda was planning to attack Bush there. The Italians, who had heard the same report (the way European intelligence sources tell it, everyone but the President's dog "knew" an attack was coming) put frogmen in the harbor, closed airspace around the town and ringed it with antiaircraft guns.
But nothing happened. After Genoa, says a senior intelligence official, there was a collective sigh of relief : "A lot of folks started letting their guard down." After the final deputies' meeting on Clarke's draft of a presidential directive, on July 16, it wasn't easy to find a date for the Principals' Committee to look at the plan-the last stage before the paper went to Bush. "There was one meeting scheduled for August," says a senior official, "but too many principals were out of town." Eventually a date was picked : the principals would look at the draft on Sept. 4. That was about nine months after Clarke first put his plan on paper.
A BURNED-OUT CASE
Clarke wasn't the only person having a bad year. In New York City, John O'Neill led the FBI's National Security Division, commanding more than 100 experienced agents. By spring they were all overloaded. O'Neill's boss, Assistant FBI Director Barry Mawn, spent part of his time pleading with Washington for more agents, more linguists, more clerical help. He got nowhere. O'Neill was a legend both in New York, where he hung out at famous watering holes like Elaine's, and in the counterterrorism world. Since 1995, when he helped coordinate the arrest in Pakistan of Ramzi Yousef, the man responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, O'Neill had been one of the FBI's leading figures in the fight against terrorism. Brash, slick and ambitious, he had spent the late 1990s working closely with Clarke and the handful of other top officials for whom bin Laden had become an obsession.
Now O'Neill was having a lousy few months. The New York City field office had primary responsibility for the investigation of the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. But the case had gone badly from the start. The Yemeni authorities had been lethargic and uncooperative, and O'Neill, who led the team in Aden, had run afoul of Barbara Bodine, then the U.S. ambassador to Yemen, who believed the FBI's large presence was causing political problems for the Yemeni regime. When O'Neill left Yemen on a trip home for Thanksgiving, Bodine barred his return. Seething, O'Neill tried to supervise the investigation from afar. At the same time, his team in New York City was working double time preparing for the trial in January 2001 of four co-conspirators in the case of the 1998 African embassy bombings. That involved agents shuttling between Nairobi, Dar es Salaam and New York, escorting witnesses, ferrying documents and guarding al-Qaeda turncoats who would give evidence for the prosecution.
Yet the FBI as a whole was ill equipped to deal with the terrorist threat. It had neither the language skills nor the analytical savvy to understand al-Qaeda. The bureau's information-technology capability dated to pre-Internet days. Chambliss says the counterterrorism investigations were decentralized at the bureau's 56 field offices, which were actually discouraged from sharing information with one another or with headquarters.
That was if the cases ever got started. An investigation by Chambliss's subcommittee found that the FBI paid "insufficient attention" to tracking terrorists' finances. Most agents in the field were assigned to criminal units; few field squads were dedicated to gathering intelligence on radical fundamentalists. During the Clinton Administration, says a former senior aide, Clarke became so frustrated with the bureau that he began touring its field offices, giving agents "al- Qaeda 101" classes. The bureau was, in fact, wiretapping some suspected Islamic radicals and debriefing a few al-Qaeda hands who had flipped. But at the end of the Clinton years, the aide says, the FBI told the White House that "there's not a substantial al-Qaeda presence in the U.S., and to the extent there was a presence, they had it covered." The FBI didn't, and O'Neill must have known that it didn't. So, as it happens, did some of his key allies, who were not in the U.S. at all but overseas. In Europe and especially in France the threat of Islamic terrorism had been particularly sharp ever since the Algerian Armed Islamic Group launched a bombing campaign in Paris in 1995. By 2000, counterterrorism experts in Europe knew the Islamic diaspora communities in Europe were seeded with cells of terrorists. And after the arrest of Ressam, European officials were convinced that terrorists would soon attack targets in the U.S. Jean-Louis Bruguire, a French magistrate who has led many of the most prominent terrorist cases, says Ressam's arrest signaled that the U.S. "had to join the rest of the world in considering itself at acute risk of attack."
Throughout the winter and spring of 2001, European law-enforcement agencies scored a series of dramatic hits against al-Qaeda and associated radical Islamic cells, with some help from the cia. The day after Christmas 2000, German authorities in Frankfurt arrested four Algerians on suspicion of plotting to bomb targets in Strasbourg. Two months later, the British arrested six Algerians on terrorism charges. In April, Italian police busted a cell whose members were suspected of plotting to bomb the American embassy in Rome. Two months later, the Spanish arrested Mohammed Bensakhria, an Algerian who had been in Afghanistan and had links to top al-Qaeda officials, including bin Laden. Bensakhria, the French alleged, had directed the Frankfurt cell involved in the Strasbourg plot. And in the most stunning coup of all, on July 28, Djamel Beghal, a Frenchman of Algerian descent who had been on France's terrorist watch list since 1997, was arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. After being persuaded of terrorism's evil by Islamic scholars, Beghal told of a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris and gave investigators new details on al-Qaeda's top leadership, including the international-operations role of Abu Zubaydah. (Now back in France, he has tried to recant his confession.) French sources tell Time they believe U.S. authorities knew about Beghal's testimony.
This action by cops in Europe was meat and drink to O'Neill. The problem was that it convinced some U.S. antiterrorism officials that if there was going to be an attack on American interests that summer, it would take place outside the U.S. In early June, for example, the FBI was so concerned about threats to investigators left in Yemen that it moved the agents from Aden to the American embassy in Sana'a. Then came a second, very specific warning about the team's safety, and Washington decided to pull out of Yemen entirely. "John (O'Neill) would say, 'There's a lot of traffic,'" recalls Mawn. "Everybody was saying, 'The drumbeats are going; something's going to happen.' I said, 'Where and what?' And they'd say, 'We don't know, but it seems to be overseas, probably.'"
Some didn't lose sight of the threat at home. On Aug. 6, while on vacation in Crawford, Texas, Bush was given a PDB, this one on the possibility of al-Qaeda attacks in the U.S. And not one but two FBI field offices had inklings of al-Qaeda activity in the U.S. that, had they been aggressively pursued, might have fleshed out the intelligence chatter about an upcoming attack. But the systemic weaknesses in the FBI's bureaucracy prevented anything from being done.
The first warning came from Phoenix, Ariz. On July 10, agent Kenneth Williams wrote a paper detailing his suspicions about some suspected Islamic radicals who had been taking flying lessons in Arizona. Williams proposed an investigation to see if al-Qaeda was using flight schools nationwide. He spoke with the voice of experience; he had been working on international terrorism cases for years. The Phoenix office, according to former FBI agent James Hauswirth, had been investigating men with possible Islamic terrorist links since 1994, though without much support from the FBI's local bosses. Williams had started work on his probe of flight schools in early 2001 but had spent much of the next months on nonterrorist cases. Once he was back on terrorism, it took only a few weeks for alarm bells to ring. He submitted his memo to headquarters and to two FBI field offices, including New York City. In all three places it died.
Five weeks after Williams wrote his memo, a second warning came in from another FBI field office, and once again, headquarters bungled the case. On Aug. 13, Zacarias Moussaoui , a 33-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan ancestry, arrived at Pan Am International Flight Academy in Minnesota for simulator training on a Boeing 747. Moussaoui, who had been in the U.S. since February and had already taken flying lessons at a school in Norman, Okla., was in a hurry. John Rosengren, who was director of operations at Pan Am until February this year, says Moussaoui wanted to learn how to fly the 747 in "four or five days." After just two days of training, Moussaoui's flight instructor expressed concern that his student didn't want it known that he was a Muslim. One of Pan Am's managers had a contact in the FBI; should the manager call him? "I said, 'No problem,'" says Rosengren. "The next day I got a call from a Minneapolis agent telling me Moussaoui had been detained at the Residence Inn in Eagan."
Though Moussaoui is the only person to be indicted in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks, his role in them is as clear as mud. (He is detained in Alexandria, Va., awaiting trial in federal district court.) German authorities have confirmed to Time that-as alleged in the indictment-Ramzi Binalshibh, a Hamburg friend of Atta and Al-Shehhi, wired two money transfers to Moussaoui in August. Binalshibh, who was denied a visa to visit the U.S. four times in 2000, is thought to have been one of the conduits for funds to the hijackers, relaying cash that originated in the Persian Gulf. But no known telephone calls or other evidence links the hijackers directly to Moussaoui.
Whatever Moussaoui's true tale may be, the Minnesota field office was convinced he was worth checking out. Agents spent much of the next two weeks in an increasingly frantic-and ultimately fruitless- effort to persuade FBI headquarters to authorize a national-security warrant to search Moussaoui's computer. From Washington, requests were sent to authorities in Paris for background details on the suspect. Like most things having to do with Moussaoui, the contents of the dossier sent over from Paris are in dispute. One senior French law-enforcement source told Time the Americans were given "everything they needed" to understand that Moussaoui was associated with Islamic terrorist groups. "Even a neophyte," says this source, "working in some remote corner of Florida, would have understood the threat based on what was sent." But several officials in FBI headquarters say that before Sept. 11 the French sent only a three-page document, which portrayed Moussaoui as a radical but was too sketchy to justify a search warrant for his computer.
The precise wording of the French letter isn't the issue. The extraordinary thing about Moussaoui's case-like the Phoenix memo-is that it was never brought to the attention of top officials in Washington who were, almost literally, sleepless with worry about an imminent terrorist attack. Nobody in the FBI or CIA ever informed anybody in the White House of Moussaoui's detention. That was unforgivable. "Do you think," says a White House antiterrorism official, "that if Dick Clarke had known the FBI had in custody a foreigner who was learning to fly a plane in midair, he wouldn't have done something?"
In blissless ignorance, Clarke and Tenet waited for the meeting of the Principals. But the odd little ways of Washington had one more trick to play. Heeding the pleas from the FBI's New York City office, where Mawn and O'Neill were desperate for new linguists and analysts, acting FBI director Pickard asked the Justice Department for some $50 million for the bureau's counterterrorism program. He was turned down. In August, a bureau source says, he appealed to Attorney General Ashcroft. The reply was a flat no.
Pickard got Ashcroft's letter on Sept. 10. A few days before, O'Neill had started a new job. He was burned out, and he knew it. Over the summer, he had come to realize that he had made too many enemies ever to succeed Mawn. O'Neill handed in his papers, left the FBI and began a new life as head of security at the World Trade Center.
THE TWO VISITORS
As the first cool nights of fall settled on northeast Afghanistan, Ahmed Shah Massoud was barely hanging on. His summer offensive had been a bust. An attempt to capture the city of Taloqan, which he had lost to the Taliban in 2000, ended in failure. But old allies, like the brutal Uzbek warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, had returned to the field and Massoud still thought the unpopularity of the Taliban might yet make them vulnerable. "He was telling us not to worry, that we'd soon capture Kabul," says Shah Pacha, an infantry commander in the Northern Alliance.
Around Sept. 1, Massoud summoned his top men to his command post in Khoja Bahauddin. The intention was to plan an attack, but Zahir Akbar, one of Massoud's generals, remembers a phone call after which Massoud changed his plans. "He'd been told al-Qaeda and the Pakistanis were deploying five combat units to the front line," says Akbar. Northern Alliance soldiers reported a buildup of Taliban and al-Qaeda forces; there was no big push from the south, although there were a number of skirmishes in the first week in September. "We were puzzled and confused when they didn't attack," says a senior Afghan intelligence source. "And Taliban communications showed the units had been ordered to wait."
What were they waiting for? Some of Massoud's closest aides think they know. For about three weeks, two Arab journalists had been waiting in Khoja Bahauddin to interview Massoud. The men said they represented the Islamic Observation Center in London and had a letter of introduction from its head, Yasser al-Siri. The men, who had been given safe passage through the Taliban front lines, "said they'd like to document Islam in Afghanistan," recalls Faheem Dashty, who made films with the Northern Alliance and is editor in chief of the Kabul Weekly newspaper. By the night of Sept. 8, the visitors were getting antsy, pestering Massoud's officials to firm up the meeting with him and threatening to return to Kabul if they could not see Massoud in the next 24 hours. "They were so worried and excitable they were begging us," says Jamsheed, Massoud's secretary.
The interview was finally granted just before lunch on Sunday, Sept. 9. Dashty was asked to record it on his camera. Massoud sat next to his friend Masood Khalili, now Afghanistan's ambassador to India. "The commander said he wanted to sit with me and translate," says Khalili. "Then he and I would go and have lunch together by the Oxus River." The Arabs entered and set up a TV camera in front of Massoud; the guests, says Khalili, were "very calm, very quiet. " Khalili asked them which newspaper they represented. When they replied that they were acting for "Islamic Centers," says Khalili, he became reluctant to continue, but Massoud said they should all go ahead.
Khalili says Massoud asked to know the Arabs' questions before they started recording. "I remember that out of 15 questions, eight were about bin Laden," says Khalili. "I looked over at Massoud. He looked uncomfortable; there were five worry lines on his forehead instead of the one he usually had. But he said, 'O.K. Let's film.'" Khalili started translating the first question into Dari; Dashty was fiddling with the lighting on his camera. "Then," says Dashty, "I felt the explosion." The bomb was in the camera, and it killed one of the Arabs; the second was shot dead by Massoud's guards while trying to escape. Khalili believes he was saved by his passport, which was in his left breast pocket-eight pieces of shrapnel were found embedded in it. Dashty remembers being rushed to a helicopter with Massoud, who had terrible wounds. The chopper flew them both to a hospital in Tajikistan. By the time they arrived, Massoud was dead. The killers had come from Europe, and they were members of a group allied with al-Qaeda. Massoud's enemies had been waiting for the news. Within hours, Taliban radio began to crackle : "Your father is dead. Now you can't resist us." "They were clever," says a member of Massoud's staff. "Their offensive was primed to begin after the assassination." That night the Taliban attacked Massoud's front lines. One last time, his forces held out on their own.
As the battle raged, Clarke's plan awaited Bush's signature. Soon enough, the Northern Alliance would get all the aid it had been seeking-U.S. special forces, money, B-52 bombers, and, of course, as many Predators as the CIA and Pentagon could get into the sky. The decision that had been put off for so long had suddenly become easy because a little more than 50 hours after Massoud's death, Atta, sitting on American Airlines Flight 11 on the runway at Boston's Logan Airport, had used his mobile phone to speak for the last time to his friend Al-Shehhi, on United Flight 175. Their plot was a go.
That morning, O'Neill, Clarke's former partner in the fight against international terrorism, arrived at his new place of work. He had been on the job just two weeks. After Atta and Al-Shehhi crashed their planes into the World Trade Center, O'Neill called his son and a girlfriend from outside the Towers to say he was safe. Then he rushed back in. His body was identified 10 days later.
— Reported by Massimo Calabresi, John F. Dickerson, Elaine Shannon, Mark Thompson, Douglas Waller and Michael Weisskopf/Washington; Hannah Bloch and Tim McGirk/Islamabad; Cathy Booth Thomas/Dallas; Wendy Cole and Marguerite Michaels/ Chicago; Bruce Crumley/Paris; James Graff/Brussels; David Schwartz/Phoenix; and Michael Ware/Kabul
Glen Rangwala and Raymond Whitaker
July 13, 2003
Falsehoods ranging from exaggeration to plain untruth were used to make the case for war. More lies are being used in the aftermath.
A supposed meeting in Prague between Mohammed Atta, leader of the 11 September hijackers, and an Iraqi intelligence official was the main basis for this claim, but Czech intelligence later conceded that the Iraqi's contact could not have been Atta. This did not stop the constant stream of assertions that Iraq was involved in 9/11, which was so successful that at one stage opinion polls showed that two-thirds of Americans believed the hand of Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks. Almost as many believed Iraqi hijackers were aboard the crashed airliners; in fact there were none.
Persistent claims by US and British leaders that Saddam and Osama bin Laden were in league with each other were contradicted by a leaked British Defence Intelligence Staff report, which said there were no current links between them. Mr Bin Laden's "aims are in ideological conflict with present-day Iraq", it added.
Another strand to the claims was that al-Qa'ida members were being sheltered in Iraq, and had set up a poisons training camp. When US troops reached the camp, they found no chemical or biological traces.
The head of the CIA has now admitted that documents purporting to show that Iraq tried to import uranium from Niger in west Africa were forged, and that the claim should never have been in President Bush's State of the Union address. Britain sticks by the claim, insisting it has "separate intelligence". The Foreign Office conceded last week that this information is now "under review".
The US persistently alleged that Baghdad tried to buy high-strength aluminum tubes whose only use could be in gas centrifuges, needed to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. Equally persistently, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the tubes were being used for artillery rockets. The head of the IAEA, Mohamed El Baradei, told the UN Security Council in January that the tubes were not even suitable for centrifuges.
Iraq possessed enough dangerous substances to kill the whole world, it was alleged more than once. It had pilotless aircraft which could be smuggled into the US and used to spray chemical and biological toxins. Experts pointed out that apart from mustard gas, Iraq never had the technology to produce materials with a shelf-life of 12 years, the time between the two wars. All such agents would have deteriorated to the point of uselessness years ago.
Apart from the fact that there has been no sign of these missiles since the invasion, Britain downplayed the risk of there being any such weapons in Iraq once the fighting began. It was also revealed that chemical protection equipment was removed from British bases in Cyprus last year, indicating that the Government did not take its own claims seriously.
This allegation was made by the Secretary of State, Colin Powell, in his address to the UN Security Council in February. The following month the UN said there was nothing to support it.
According to Jack Straw, chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix "pointed out" that Iraq had 10,000 litres of anthrax. Tony Blair said Iraq's chemical, biological and "indeed the nuclear weapons programme" had been well documented by the UN. Mr Blix's reply? "This is not the same as saying there are weapons of mass destruction," he said last September. "If I had solid evidence that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction or were constructing such weapons, I would take it to the Security Council." In May this year he added: "I am obviously very interested in the question of whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction, and I am beginning to suspect there possibly were not."
Tony Blair told this newspaper in March that the UN had "tried unsuccessfully for 12 years to get Saddam to disarm peacefully". But in 1999 a Security Council panel concluded: "Although important elements still have to be resolved, the bulk of Iraq's proscribed weapons programmes has been eliminated." Mr Blair also claimed UN inspectors "found no trace at all of Saddam's offensive biological weapons programme" until his son-in-law defected. In fact the UN got the regime to admit to its biological weapons programme more than a month before the defection.
Britain's February "dodgy dossier" claimed inspectors' escorts were "trained to start long arguments" with other Iraqi officials while evidence was being hidden, and inspectors' journeys were monitored and notified ahead to remove surprise. Dr Blix said in February that the UN had conducted more than 400 inspections, all without notice, covering more than 300 sites. "We note that access to sites has so far been without problems," he said. : "In no case have we seen convincing evidence that the Iraqi side knew that the inspectors were coming."
This now-notorious claim was based on a single source, said to be a serving Iraqi military officer. This individual has not been produced since the war, but in any case Tony Blair contradicted the claim in April. He said Iraq had begun to conceal its weapons in May 2002, which meant that they could not have been used within 45 minutes.
Mr Blair told the Commons in February, when the dossier was issued : "We issued further intelligence over the weekend about the infrastructure of concealment. It is obviously difficult when we publish intelligence reports." It soon emerged that most of it was cribbed without attribution from three articles on the internet. Last month Alastair Campbell took responsibility for the plagiarism committed by his staff, but stood by the dossier's accuracy, even though it confused two Iraqi intelligence organisations, and said one moved to new headquarters in 1990, two years before it was created.
Public fears of war in the US and Britain were assuaged by assurances that oppressed Iraqis would welcome the invading forces; that "demolishing Saddam Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk", in the words of Kenneth Adelman, a senior Pentagon official in two previous Republican administrations. Resistance was patchy, but stiffer than expected, mainly from irregular forces fighting in civilian clothes. "This wasn't the enemy we war-gamed against," one general complained.
The fall of Iraq's southernmost city and only port was announced several times before Anglo-American forces gained full control - by Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, among others, and by Admiral Michael Boyce, chief of Britain's defence staff. "Umm Qasr has been overwhelmed by the US Marines and is now in coalition hands," the Admiral announced, somewhat prematurely.
Claims that the Shia Muslim population of Basra, Iraq's second city, had risen against their oppressors were repeated for days, long after it became clear to those there that this was little more than wishful thinking. The defeat of a supposed breakout by Iraqi armour was also announced by military spokesman in no position to know the truth.
Private Jessica Lynch's "rescue" from a hospital in Nasiriya by American special forces was presented as the major "feel-good" story of the war. She was said to have fired back at Iraqi troops until her ammunition ran out, and was taken to hospital suffering bullet and stab wounds. It has since emerged that all her injuries were sustained in a vehicle crash, which left her incapable of firing any shot. Local medical staff had tried to return her to the Americans after Iraqi forces pulled out of the hospital, but the doctors had to turn back when US troops opened fire on them. The special forces encountered no resistance, but made sure the whole episode was filmed.
As US forces approached Baghdad, there was a rash of reports that they would cross a "red line", within which Republican Guard units were authorised to use chemical weapons. But Lieutenant General James Conway, the leading US marine general in Iraq, conceded afterwards that intelligence reports that chemical weapons had been deployed around Baghdad before the war were wrong.
"It was a surprise to me ... that we have not uncovered weapons ... in some of the forward dispersal sites," he said. "We've been to virtually every ammunition supply point between the Kuwaiti border and Baghdad, but they're simply not there. We were simply wrong. Whether or not we're wrong at the national level, I think still very much remains to be seen."
"I have got absolutely no doubt that those weapons are there ... once we have the co-operation of the scientists and the experts, I have got no doubt that we will find them," Tony Blair said in April. Numerous similar assurances were issued by other leading figures, who said interrogations would provide the WMD discoveries that searches had failed to supply. But almost all Iraq's leading scientists are in custody, and claims that lingering fears of Saddam Hussein are stilling their tongues are beginning to wear thin.
Tony Blair complained in Parliament that "people falsely claim that we want to seize" Iraq's oil revenues, adding that they should be put in a trust fund for the Iraqi people administered through the UN. Britain should seek a Security Council resolution that would affirm "the use of all oil revenues for the benefit of the Iraqi people".
Instead Britain co-sponsored a Security Council resolution that gave the US and UK control over Iraq's oil revenues. There is no UN-administered trust fund.
Far from "all oil revenues" being used for the Iraqi people, the resolution continues to make deductions from Iraq's oil earnings to pay in compensation for the invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
After repeated false sightings, both Tony Blair and George Bush proclaimed on 30 May that two trailers found in Iraq were mobile biological laboratories. "We have already found two trailers, both of which we believe were used for the production of biological weapons," said Mr Blair. Mr Bush went further : "Those who say we haven't found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons - they're wrong. We found them." It is now almost certain that the vehicles were for the production of hydrogen for weather balloons, just as the Iraqis claimed - and that they were exported by Britain.
September 10, 2003
In a healthy democracy, the grave act of going to war wouldn’t be justified under false pretenses and false impressions. Plus, government officials responsible for spreading false rationales wouldn’t be allowed to slide away from the first batch of lies and distortions to begin offering a new set of slippery excuses.
But the United States is not a healthy democracy at this time. It is dominated by a politician who chooses to manipulate rather than lead; who would rather trick the people into following him than engage them in a meaningful debate; who has demonstrated such a shallow regard for democracy that he took office despite losing the national popular vote and then only by blocking a full counting of ballots in one key state.
A healthy democracy wouldn’t put up with this trifling of the people’s will. But in today’s United States, there appears to be little shame in gullibility. Indeed, for some, it is a mark of patriotism. Others just act oblivious to their duties as citizens to be informed about even basic facts, even when the consequences are as severe as those of wartime.
This sad state of affairs was highlighted in a new Washington Post poll, which found that seven in 10 Americans still believe that Iraq’s ousted leader Saddam Hussein was involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks although U.S. investigators have found no evidence of a connection.
As the Post notes, this widely held public misperception explains why many Americans continue to support the U.S. occupation of Iraq even as the other principal casus belli – trigger-ready weapons of mass destruction – has collapsed. [For more details on the poll, see the Washington Post, Sept. 6, 2003.]
The search for Iraq's WMD apparently has become such a farce that George W. Bush barely mentioned it during his nationally televised speech on Sunday.
He slipped into the past tense in saying the former regime "possessed and used weapons of mass destruction," without attaching a year or a decade to his statement. Iraq's alleged use of chemical weapons dates back to the 1980s and its possession of effective WMD may have ended in the 1990s, according to some information that U.S. intelligence has received from former senior Iraqi officials.
While downplaying the WMD case, however, Bush continued to work the subliminal connection between the Sept. 11th murders and Iraq.
Indeed, after listening to Bush on Sunday juxtapose references to the Sept. 11th murders, their al-Qaeda perpetrators and Iraq, it shouldn’t be surprising how seven out of 10 Americans got the wrong idea. It’s pretty clear that Bush intended them to get the wrong idea.
In speech after speech, Bush has sought to create public confusion over these connections. Though no Iraqis were involved in the terror attacks two years ago – and though Osama bin Laden and most of the attackers were Saudis – Bush and his top aides routinely have inserted references about Iraq and the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the same paragraphs. They often used unsubstantiated assertions that Iraq was sharing or planning to share WMD with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda as the connection.
That practice of blending Sept. 11 with Iraq continued into Bush’s speech Sunday night defending the U.S. occupation of Iraq and asking for $87 billion more to pay for it. “Since America put out the fires of September the 11th, and mourned our dead, and went to war, history has taken a different turn,” Bush said. “We have carried the fight to the enemy.”
Given that Iraq was the context of the speech, a casual listener would assume that Iraq attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and the United States was simply hitting back. An average American, who wasn’t steeped in the facts of the Middle East, would be left with the impression that Saddam Hussein’s government and Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda were allies.
The reality is that Hussein and bin Laden were bitter rivals. Hussein ran a secular state that brutally suppressed the Islamic fundamentalism that drives al-Qaeda. Indeed, many of the atrocities committed by Hussein’s government were done to suppress Islamic fundamentalists, particularly from Iraq’s large Shia population. Bin Laden despised Hussein as an “infidel” who was repressing bin Laden's supporters and corrupting the Islamic world with Western ways.
Other inconvenient facts that Bush has left out of all his speeches about Iraq include that his father, George H.W. Bush, was one of the U.S. officials in the 1980s who was assisting and encouraging Hussein in his bloody war with Iran to contain the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.
The younger Bush also doesn’t mention that the CIA and its allies in Pakistani intelligence – not Iraqis – were involved in training al-Qaeda fundamentalists in the arts of explosives and other skills useful to terrorists. That was part of the U.S. covert operation against Soviet forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
Bush also trusts that the American people will have forgotten that other little embarrassment of the Iran-Contra Affair, when the elder Bush and President Reagan were involved in a secret policy of shipping missiles to Iran’s government. At the time, Iran's Islamic fundamentalist regime was designated a terrorist state by the U.S. government.
Nor does the public hear much about how the U.S. government taught the dictators of Saudi Arabia techniques of suppressing political dissent to keep that oil-rich kingdom in pro-U.S. hands. Saudi leaders also financed Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East as part of the Saudi strategy for buying protection for their dictatorial powers. Out of this mix of repression and corruption emerged an embittered Osama bin Laden, a scion of a leading Saudi family who turned against his former patrons.
If Americans knew more about this convoluted history, they might draw a very different conclusion than the one George W. Bush wants them to draw. Rather than seeing black-hatted villains who need a taste of Bush’s Western-style justice, the American people might conclude that Bush’s father and other top U.S. officials were at least as implicated in supporting Osama bin Laden and other international terrorists as Saddam Hussein was.
Indeed, if the full history were known, Hussein might appear less like a rogue leader than a U.S. client who was useful during his violent rise to power but then went awry. Not only did the CIA collaborate with Hussein’s Baathist Party as a bulwark against communism in the 1960s and 1970s, but Hussein personally sought U.S. advice at key moments from the 1980s to as late as 1990.
In ordering invasions of two neighboring countries – Iran in 1980 and Kuwait in 1990 – Hussein may well have believed he had received “green lights” from the United States. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s "Missing U.S.-Iraq History
U.S. intelligence also understood the implausibility of Hussein sharing WMD with his arch Islamic fundamentalist rivals. A year ago, a CIA assessment was released acknowledging this reality. The CIA told Congress that Hussein would not share weapons of mass destruction with Islamic terrorists unless he saw a U.S. invasion as inevitable. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s Misleading the Nation to War
In seeking to manipulate U.S. public opinion now, however, the Bush administration has done all it can to “lose” this history and these nuances. With a few exceptions, the U.S. news media has gone along, as journalists appear more interested in proving their “patriotism” – and keeping their high-paying jobs – than telling the full story. The American people have been fed a steady diet of false impressions and misleading arguments.
New Half Truths
Now, as the bloody reality of conquering Iraq intrudes on the pre-war fantasies of happy Iraqis showering U.S. troops with rose petals, the administration’s misleading rhetoric has switched from exaggerating the danger posed by Saddam Hussein’s government to exaggerating the gains attributable to the invasion.
New half-truths and lies are quickly replacing the old ones, lest Americans begin to wonder how they got fooled by the earlier bogus rationales. In Bush’s speech Sunday night, he highlighted two of these new arguments for a long-term military occupation of Iraq.
One of the new reasons is that the resistance to the U.S. occupation can be attributed to two groups – die-hard Hussein loyalists and foreign terrorists slipping into Iraq. “Some of the attackers are members of the old Saddam regime who fled the battlefield and now fight in the shadows,” Bush said. “Some of the attackers are foreign terrorists who have come to Iraq to pursue their war on America and other free nations.”
But what Bush leaves out is that there is a third force in Iraq: nationalist Iraqis who resent foreign occupation of their country. Many of them had no fondness for Hussein and may have welcomed the overthrow of the brutal dictator.
Some of these nationalists may have served in Iraq’s army while others appear to be young Iraqis who have begun fighting the U.S. occupation of Iraq much as young Palestinians have battled the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Other Iraqi fighters may be driven by revenge for the thousands of Iraqis killed in the U.S. invasion.
This likelihood of widespread resistance was known by Bush and his advisers before the war. “U.S. intelligence agencies warned Bush administration policymakers before the war in Iraq that there would be significant armed opposition to a U.S.-led occupation, according to administration and congressional sources familiar with the reports,” the Washington Post reported on Sept. 9, 2003.
But this information shared the fate of other facts that didn't support Bush's propaganda themes. It disappeared. The American people now are supposed to believe that the resistance is only a mixture of Saddam “dead-enders” and “foreign terrorists.”
The second new myth is that by killing “terrorists” in Iraq and elsewhere, the U.S. homeland will be made safer. “The surest way to avoid attacks on our own people is to engage the enemy where he lives and plans,” Bush said Sunday night. “We are fighting that enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan today so that we do not meet him again on our own streets, in our own cities.”
While this argument is another not-so-subtle appeal to the residual fears from Sept. 11, 2001, and America’s hunger for revenge, it is not a logical formulation. Indeed, there is no reason to believe that killing Iraqis and other Middle Easterners in Iraq won’t incite other people to attack Americans in the United States or elsewhere. Indeed, many savvy U.S. military analysts expect just such a response as revenge for the deaths inflicted by Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
It also is clear that Bush still is resisting the time-tested lessons of counterinsurgency -- that blunt force is no more likely to achieve peace than is abject cowardice, that peace and security are achieved through a combination of factors: a measured application of force combined with a sensible strategy for achieving political justice and economic improvements.
History also teaches that there are limits of national power no matter how noble a cause might be, that in geopolitics as in personal lives, the road to hell is often paved with good intentions.
In Bush's televised speech, however, he presented the ongoing war as a choice of weakness or strength, good or evil, with no sense of the subtleties of history or the gray areas of past diplomacy. “We have learned that terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness,” Bush said.
Beyond the speech, the Bush administration has issued reports that engage in such obvious P.R. tricks that they must assume the American people have the sophistication of pre-schoolers.
For instance, to commemorate Aug. 8, the 100th day since Bush donned his flight suit and declared “mission accomplished,” the White House released a report entitled “Results in Iraq : 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom.” The paper, which offered 10 reasons in 10 categories to support the thesis, declared “substantial progress is being made on all fronts.”
The artificial construct, requiring 10 reasons in each of the 10 categories, led to much stretching of facts and some repetition of examples. For instance, Reason No. 9 under “signs of cultural rebirth” used a quote from a member of Baghdad’s city council declaring that “if you want to civilize society, you must care about education.” The same trite-and-true quote crops up again three pages later as another example in another category.
But more significantly, the report repeats much of the elliptical reasoning and selective intelligence used before the war to exaggerate Iraq’s WMD threat and to connect Iraq with al-Qaeda.
“Saddam Hussein’s regime posed a threat to the security of the United States and the world,” the report asserts. “The old Iraqi regime defied the international community and 17 U.N. resolutions for 12 years and gave every indication that it would never disarm and never comply with the just demands of the world.”
There is no acknowledgment in the report that U.S. troops have failed to find any WMD. Nor is there any reference to the fact that U.N. weapons inspectors, such as Hans Blix, believed that Iraq was demonstrating greater compliance in the weeks before the U.S. invasion or that the invasion was carried out in defiance of a majority on the U.N. Security Council.
The White House report also continues to use selective information to support the administration’s case, while leaving out contrary facts or a fuller context.
For instance, the report states that “a senior al-Qaeda terrorist, now detained, who had been responsible for al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, reports that al-Qaeda was intent on obtaining WMD assistance from Iraq.” The report leaves out the fact that nothing resulted from this overture.
The report also repeats the story that an al-Qaeda associate, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, went to Baghdad in May 2002 for medical treatment, but leaves out that no evidence has surfaced that the Iraqi government was aware of his presence or cooperated with him.
Similarly, the report notes that “a safe haven in Iraq belonging to Ansar al-Islam – a terrorist group closely associated with Zarqawi and al-Qaeda – was destroyed during Operation Iraqi Freedom.” Left out is that the Ansar al-Islam base was in a northern section of Iraq that was outside the control of the Baghdad government and under the protection of a U.S. no-fly zone.
But the report, like Bush’s Sunday speech, is just another indication that the administration never wanted a real debate about its war policy in Iraq. The goal has always been to tilt the evidence – often with a dose of public abuse for anyone who asks too many questions – so the American people can be herded like sheep into Bush’s desired direction.
As the nation plunges deeper into a costly and bloody war, there is little about this process that resembles a healthy – or even meaningful – democracy. Though Bush claims that his goal is to bring democracy to Iraq, he apparently thinks very little of the process at home. Rather than invite a full debate, he tries to rig the process to manufacture consent.
Bush’s contempt for an informed electorate on the issue of war in the Middle East also doesn’t stand alone. In December 2000, his respect for democracy didn’t even extend to the basic principle that in a democracy, the candidate with the most votes wins.
Not only did Bush lose the popular vote to Al Gore by more than a half million ballots, Bush blocked a full and fair counting of votes in Florida for the simple reason that he was afraid of losing. Instead, he ran to his father’s powerful friends on the U.S. Supreme Court and got them to shut down the troublesome recount, which had been ordered by the state supreme court. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com's So Bush Did Steal the White House.
But Bush is only partly to blame for this steep decline in American democratic traditions and for the nation's stumble into the dangerous quicksand of a Middle East occupation.
As in any democracy – even a troubled one – it remains the ultimate responsibility of the people to shoulder the burden of citizenship, which includes getting the facts and acting on them. That responsibility also demands that the people hold politicians accountable when they lead the country to war with lies and distortions.
Alan Simpson, MP - Chair of Labour Against the War and
Dr.Glen Rangwala - Lecturer in politics at Cambridge University, UK.
September 20, 2002
There is no case for a war on Iraq. It has not threatened to attack the US or Europe. It is not connected to al-Qa'ida. There is no evidence that it has new weapons of mass destruction, or that it possesses the means of delivering them.
This pamphlet separates the evidence for what we know about Iraq from the wild suppositions used as the pretext for a war.
For there to be a threat to the wider world from Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, there need to be two distinct components : the capability (the presence of weapons of mass destruction or their precursor elements, together with a delivery system) and the intention to use weapons of mass destruction.
Most of the discussion on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction from British and American governmental sources has focused on Iraq's capabilities. However, a more fundamental question is why the Iraqi regime would ever use weapons of mass destruction. There are three aspects to this :
a. External military use
The US administration has repeatedly stated that Iraq is a "clear and present danger" to the safety and security of ordinary Americans. Yet the Iraqi leadership have never used weapons of mass destruction against the US or Europe, nor threatened to. Plans or proposals for the use of weapons of mass destruction by Iraq against these countries have never been discovered, and in their absence can only be presumed to be non-existent.
Iraq would face with massive reprisals if its leadership ever ordered the use of weapons of mass destruction on the US or Europe. It is difficult to imagine circumstances in which the Iraqi regime would use these weapons directly against any western country. The only conceivable exception would be if the Iraqi leaders felt they had nothing left to lose : that is, if they were convinced of their own imminent demise as a result of an invasion. Weapons of mass destruction were not used by Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, despite having both a much more developed capacity than it holds at present (see below) and the routing of its army. The best way to avoid prompting Iraqi leaders to use any non-conventional capacity would be to refrain from invading Iraq or attempting to assassinate or depose its rulers.
The only occasion on which the Iraqi government used weapons of mass destruction against another country was against Iran from 1981/82 to 1988. The use of mustard agents had a devastating impact on Iranian troops in the first years of the war and the civilian death toll from the use of sarin and tabun numbers in the thousands. However, it should be noted that the use of chemical weapons was undertaken with the compliance of the rest of the world. The US Secretary of State acknowledged that he was aware of reports of Iraqi use of chemical weapons from 1983, and a United Nations team confirmed Iraqi use in a report of 16 March 1984. Nevertheless, the US administration provided "crop-spraying" helicopters to Iraq (subsequently used in chemical attacks on the Kurds in 1988), gave Iraq access to intelligence information that allowed Iraq to "calibrate" its mustard attacks on Iranian troops (1984), seconded its air force officers to work with their Iraqi counterparts (from 1986), approved technological exports to Iraq's missile procurement agency to extend the missiles' range (1988), and blocked bills condemning Iraq in the House of Representatives (1985) and Senate (1988).
Most crucially, the US and UK blocked condemnation of Iraq's known chemical weapons attacks at the UN Security Council. No resolution was passed during the war that specifically criticised Iraq's use of chemical weapons, despite the wishes of the majority to condemn this use. The only criticism of Iraq from the Security Council came in the form of non-binding Presidential statements (over which no country has a veto). The 21 March 1986 statement recognised that "chemical weapons on many occasions have been used by Iraqi forces against Iranian forces"; this statement was opposed by the United States, the sole country to vote against it in the Security Council (the UK abstained).
In summary, Iraq has never used chemical weapons against an external enemy without the acquiescence of the most powerful states. It has done so only in the knowledge that it would be protected from condemnation and countermeasures by a superpower. There is no reason to suspect that the Iraqi leadership now places any military gains it might achieve through the use of chemical weapons above its desire to form international alliances with major powers.
b. Arming terrorists
One prospect raised by President Bush in his State of the Union address of 29 January was that hostile countries such as Iraq could supply non-state organisations with weapons of mass destruction, to use against the US :
"By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States."
The State Department's annual report on terrorism, released on 30 April 2001, stated that the Iraqi regime "has not attempted an anti-Western terrorist attack" since 1993. The small paramilitary groups that Iraq supports, such as the Arab Liberation Front (in Palestine) and the Mujahidin e-Khalq (for Iran), have no access to Iraq's more advanced weaponry, let along weapons of mass destruction. Furthermore, these groups have never carried out attacks on the US or Europe, and have little if any supporting infrastructure in those countries. The Iraqi regime has no credible links to al-Qa'ida, either in the perpetration of the 11 September attack, or in the presence in eastern Iraqi Kurdistan (controlled by the US-backed Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, not the Iraqi government, since 1991) of Ansar al-Islam. This group is an off-shoot of the US-backed Islamic Movement of Iraqi Kurdistan which has taken funds and arms from Iran and (reportedly) from al-Qa'ida.
The Iraqi regime has not been shown to have any intention of attacking the Western world, and it knows that it would be subject to massive reprisals if it did so. In summary, Iraq has shown no indication that it would be willing to use terrorists to threaten the outside world with weapons of mass destruction.
Further reading : "Did Mohamed Atta Meet an Iraqi Spy in Prague?"
c. Internal repression by the Iraqi military
As part of the Anfal campaign against the Kurds (February to September 1988), the Iraqi regime used chemical weapons extensively against its own civilian population. Between 50,000 and 186,000 Kurds were killed in these attacks, over 1,200 Kurdish villages were destroyed, and 300,000 Kurds were displaced . The most infamous chemical assault was on the town of Halabja in March 1988, which killed 5,000 people. Human Rights Watch regards the Anfal campaign as an act of genocide.
The Anfal campaign was carried out with the acquiescence of the West.
Rather than condemn the massacres of Kurds, the US escalated its support for Iraq. It joined in Iraq's attacks on Iranian facilities, blowing up two Iranian oil rigs and destroying an Iranian frigate a month after the Halabja attack. Within two months , senior US officials were encouraging corporate coordination through an Iraqi state-sponsored forum. The US administration opposed, and eventually blocked, a US Senate bill that cut off loans to Iraq. The US approved exports to Iraq of items with dual civilian and military use at double the rate in the aftermath of Halabja as it did before 1988. Iraqi written guarantees about civilian use were accepted by the US commerce department, which did not request licenses and reviews (as it did for many other countries). The Bush Administration approved $695,000 worth of advanced data transmission devices the day before Iraq invaded Kuwait.
As for the UK, ten days after the Foreign Office verbally condemned the Halabja massacre, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry rewarded Iraq by extending £400 million worth of credits to trade with Iraq.
The Iraqi regime has never used chemical weapons in the face of formal international opposition. The most effective way of preventing any future use against Iraqi civilians is to put this at the top of the human rights agenda between Iraq and the UN. The Iraqi regime's intentions to use chemical weapons against the Kurds will not be terminated by provoking a further conflict between the Iraqi state and its Kurdish population in which the Kurds are recruited as proxy forces. The original repression of the Kurds escalated into genocide in response to Iran's procurement of the support of the two main Kurdish parties for its military efforts from 1986. This is essentially the same role that the US sees for the Kurds in its current war preparations.
Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction are a false focus if the concern is with regional security. Chemical weapons were not used for Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. A peaceful Gulf region can be achieved only through building political links between Iraq and its neighbours. This is why the Arab states of the Middle East have started to reintegrate Iraq into regional networks and purposeful dialogue. Their interests are ill-served by attempts to turn the countries of the Gulf against each other once again.
Further reading : Dilip Hiro, "When US turned a blind eye to poison gas"
In 1998, when the US ordered UN weapons inspectors to leave Iraq, it was widely accepted the Iraq's nuclear capacity had been wholly dismantled. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), charged with monitoring Iraq's nuclear facilities after the Gulf War, reported to the Security Council from 8 October 1997 that Iraq had compiled a "full, final and complete" account of its previous nuclear projects, and there was no indication of any prohibited activity. The IAEA's fact sheet from 25 April 2002, entitled "Iraq's Nuclear Weapons Programme" , recorded that "There were no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of amounts of weapons-usable nuclear material of any practical significance."
In recent months, however, the UK government has put primary emphasis on Iraq's alleged nuclear programme. UK ministers have made three major claims :
a. That Iraq was within three years of developing a nuclear bomb in 1991.
This could be true. Uranium was imported from Portugal, France, Italy and other countries; uranium enrichment facilities operated at Tuwaitha, Tarmiya, and Rashidiya, and centrifuge enrichment facilities were being built at al-Furat, largely with German assistance. Theoretical studies were underway into the design of reactors to produce plutonium, and laboratory trials were carried out at Tuwaitha. The main centre for the development of nuclear weapons was al-Atheer, where experiments with high explosives were carried out. However, IAEA experts maintain that Iraq has never had the capacity to enrich uranium sufficiently for a bomb and was extremely dependent on imports to create centrifuge facilities (report of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, 28 June 2002). If this is so, Iraq may have only been close to developing a bomb if US and European assistance had continued to the same extent as before.
In the Gulf War, all Iraq's facilities capable of producing material for a nuclear programme and for enriching uranium were destroyed. The IAEA inspected and completed the destruction of these facilities, with the compliance of the Iraqi government. From 1991, the IAEA removed all known weapon usable materials from Iraq, including 22.4kg of highly enriched uranium. The IAEA left 1.8 tonnes of low-grade uranium in heavyweight sealed barrels at the Tuwaitha facilities. This uranium has remained untouched by the Iraqis, and is inspected annually by experts from the IAEA, who have confirmed that the seals had never been tampered with. The remaining facilities at Tuwaitha and buildings at al-Atheer were destroyed by the IAEA by 1992.
b. That Iraq could make a nuclear device "within three years" without foreign assistance
This claim, repeated by a UK Foreign Office minister, derives from a statement from the head of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) in February 2001 that Iraq could enrich its own uranium and construct its own nuclear device in three to six years. This claim was backed up by a statement from the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control that Iraq's only uranium extraction facility at al-Qaim has been rebuilt (it had been destroyed in 1991). If Iraq was again extracting uranium, then it could reasonably be presumed that it was intending to enrich and weaponise it. The allegation about Iraq's extraction of uranium, however, seems to be wrong.
Since the emergence of these claims, a number of journalists have visited al-Qaim and have found it in a state of disrepair. Paul McGeough, the much-respected Middle East correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, wrote on 4 September 2002 that the site appeared to be a "near-vacant lot ... as the result of a clean-up supervised by the [IAEA]". Reuters reporters have confirmed the same impression. If Iraq was hiding its nuclear extraction facilities every time a journalist visits, this would beg the question of when any extraction could actually take place.
If Iraq has no operating facilities to extract uranium, and if it continues to refrain from accessing the low-grade uranium sealed at Tuwaitha, then there is no way it could produce a nuclear device without foreign assistance.
Furthermore, enriching uranium requires substantial infrastructure and a power supply that could be easily spotted by US satellites. No such information has been provided. Over the past year, US and UK sources have made much of the fact that Iraq has attempted to import specialized steel and aluminium tubes that could be used in gas centrifuges that enrich uranium. According to the Washington Post (10 September 2002), such tubes are also used in making conventional artillery rockets, which Iraq is not prohibited from developing or possessing under UN resolutions. As David Albright, former IAEA inspector in Iraq and director of the Institute for Science and International Security, told the Washington Post, "This is actually a weak indicator for suggesting centrifuges -- it just doesn't build a case. I don't yet see evidence that says Iraq is close."
c.That Iraq could have a nuclear bomb "within months" if fissile material is acquired from abroad
Even the US Department of Defense recognises that claims about Iraq's imminent production of a nuclear bomb are not credible: "Iraq would need five or more years and key foreign assistance to rebuild the infrastructure to enrich enough material for a nuclear weapon" (January 2001 intelligence estimate). However, the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) managed to hit the headlines in September 2002 by claiming that Iraq "could assemble nuclear weapons within months if fissile material from foreign sources were obtained." This claim is no more than a tautology.
If Iraq could import the core material for a bomb, then it would have a bomb. Obtaining the fissile material is the most difficult part of constructing any nuclear device, and there are no signs that Iraq has attempted to obtain any such material from abroad. According to the Nuclear Control Institute (nci.org/heu.htm), "With bomb-grade, high-enriched uranium (HEU), a student could make a bomb powerful enough to destroy a city". Unless we are to stop any students of physics from entering Iraq, the best control on the circulation of fissile material would be to invest resources into safeguarding Russia's nuclear material. We would then need to complete a fissile-material cut-off treaty as agreed by the UN General Assembly in 1993.
On 7 September 2002, Tony Blair and George Bush proclaimed that commercial satellite photographs showing new buildings near a facility that had been part of Iraq's nuclear programme before 1991 were "proof" of Iraqi intentions. By contrast, a spokesperson from the IAEA - which had provided the pictures months earlier - said : "We have no idea whether it means anything. Construction of a building is one thing. Restarting a nuclear program is another."
Further reading :
Garry Dillon (IAEA Action Team in Iraq : Director of Operations from January 1994, head from June 1997), "The IAEA Iraq Action Team Record: Activities and Findings ", in Iraq: A New Approach (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 2002) [PDF format]
Allegations about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons fall into three categories :
* that Iraq has retained weapons that were produced before 1991.
* that Iraq has kept or rebuilt facilities since 1998, which are allegedly producing or able to produce new chemical or biological agents that can subsequently be weaponised
* that Iraq could threaten other countries by delivering these agents, by missile or through other means.
(a) Retained stocks? Up to 1998, a substantial part of the work of the weapons inspectors in Iraq was to track down chemical and biological agents that Iraq produced before their entry in 1991, and to check the documentation that showed how much of each agent Iraq had manufactured. However, the amount Iraq is thought to have produced in the 1980s was found to be greater than the quantity that Iraq or the inspectors verified as having destroyed. The discrepancy between the two levels is the amount that remains - in the inspectors' language - "unaccounted for".
The levels of agents that are unaccounted for in this way is large: 600 metric tonnes of chemical agents, such as mustard gas, VX and sarin; and extensive amounts of biological agents, including thousands of litres of anthrax as well as quantities of botulinum toxin, aflatoxin, and gas gangrene, all of which had been weaponised before 1991. But the fact that these quantities are unaccounted for does not mean that they still exist. Iraq has never provided a full declaration of its use of chemical and biological weapons against Iran in the 1980-88 war, and destroyed large quantities of its own stocks of these weapons in 1991 without keeping sufficient proof of its actions.
In some cases, it is quite clear that the stocks no longer exist in usable form. Most chemical and biological agents are subject to processes of deterioration. A working paper by the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq (Unscom) from January 1998 noted that : "Taking into consideration the conditions and the quality of CW-agents and munitions produced by Iraq at that time, there is no possibility of weapons remaining from the mid-1980's" (quoted in Ritter, Arms Control Today, June 2000). Many other chemical or biological warfare agents have a shorter shelf life. The sarin produced by Iraq in the 1980s was found to have up to 40% impurities, entailing that it would deteriorate within two years. With regard to biological weapons, the assessment by Professor Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies should be taken seriously: "The shelf-life and lethality of Iraq's weapons is unknown, but it seems likely that the shelf-life was limited. In balance, it seems probable that any agents Iraq retained after the Gulf War now have very limited lethality, if any" (Iraq's Past and Future Biological Weapons Capabilities, 1998, p.13).
There are two potential exceptions for materials that would not be expected to have deteriorated if produced before 1991. Mustard gas has been found to persist over time, as shown when Unscom discovered four intact mustard-filled artillery shells that would still have constituted a viable weapon. Unscom oversaw the destruction of 12,747 of Iraq's 13,500 mustard shells. The Iraqi regime claimed that the remaining shells had been destroyed by US/UK bombardment. This claim has not been verified or disproved. However, as former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter notes, "A few hundred 155 mm mustard shells have little military value on the modern battlefield. A meaningful CW attack using artillery requires thousands of rounds. Retention of such a limited number of shells makes no sense and cannot be viewed as a serious threat."
The other potential exception is VX nerve agent. It became clear to Unscom during the 1990s that Iraq had succeeded before 1991 in producing stabilised VX in its laboratories - that is, VX agents that would not deteriorate over time. However, to produce significant stocks of VX requires advanced technology that Iraq did not have. Iraq did have some elements of the production equipment for developing VX on a large scale. Unscom tested this equipment before destroying it in 1996, and found that it had never been used. This would indicate that Iraq, despite its attempts before 1991, had never succeeded in producing VX on a significant scale.
(b) Re-built facilities? If the stocks that Iraq had produced before 1991 are no longer a credible threat, then what of the facilities that Iraq may still have to produce more weapons of mass destruction? The major facilities that Iraq had prior to 1991 have all been destroyed. The Muthanna State Establishment, Iraq's main plant for the production of chemical warfare agents, was destroyed partially through aerial bombardment and partly under Unscom supervision. Al-Hakam, Iraq’s main biological weapons facility that was designed to make up to 50,000 litres of anthrax, botulinum toxin and other agents a year, was destroyed in May-June 1996.
However, US and UK officials have claimed that new plants have been built since 1998. Among the allegations are that two chemical plants that were used to produce weapons before 1991 have been rebuilt at Fallujah; further chemical and biological weapons sites have been partially constructed at Daura and Taji; and that "mobile biological production laboratories" have been deployed that would be able to circumvent any inspectors who are re-admitted into Iraq. It has also been claimed that other existing civilian facilities have been partially converted so as to be able to produce agents for weapons of mass destruction.
These allegations are difficult to assess. Even the IISS study of September 2002 - edited by Gary Samore who had been a senior member of President Clinton's staff and thus involved two years before in the making of the allegations - concluded that the claims about mobile laboratories were "hard to confirm". Much of the information comes from individuals who claim to have been scientists employed by the Iraqi government but who have now "defected" to Europe or the US. The US has offered financial rewards to scientists who defect, as well as guarantees of asylum. As a result, many of the claims may be exaggerated, highly speculative or simply concocted . US State Department officials have often mentioned that they do not take verbal information obtained from defectors seriously; it may be more plausible to assume that their information is publicised more as part of attempts to win support for a war than to make a realistic assessment of Iraqi weapons development.
The Iraqi government has invited journalists to visit some of the sites that the UK and US have mentioned. For example, journalists who visited the Taji warehouse in mid-August - which the US claimed days before was a major biological weapons facility - found only "boxes of powdered milk from Yemen, Vietnam, Tunisia and Indonesia and sacks of sugar imported from Egypt and India", according to the Reuters correspondent. The visiting journalists are not weapons inspectors, and do not have the resources to monitor facilities for chemical agents or radiation; but they are able to ascertain if major new production facilities have been constructed. Now that the Iraqi Foreign Minister has made an unconditional offer to the UN to readmit weapons inspectors (on 16 September), allegations about the production of new facilities can be checked. However, the British Foreign Secretary and the White House have both disparaged the Iraqi offer, even though it could lead to the verified disarmament of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.
(c) Delivering an attack? Possession of chemical or biological agents is not enough to threaten another country, even if the Iraqi regime desired to. British and American claims about possession have therefore been linked to allegations that Iraq could fire these agents on missiles, which could even reach Europe.
The first problem with this claim is the very low number of longer range missiles that Iraq might have. According to Unscom, by 1997, 817 out of Iraq's known 819 ballistic missiles had been certifiably destroyed. On the worst-case assumption that Iraq has salvaged some of the parts for these missiles and has reconstructed them since 1998, even Charles Duelfer - former US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State , deputy head of Unscom and strong proponent of an invasion of Iraq - has provided an estimate of only 12 to 14 missiles held by Iraq. Even under this scenario, it is difficult to see Iraq posing a threat to the rest of the world through its missiles. Furthermore, biological weapons cannot be effectively disbursed through ballistic missiles. According to the IISS, much of the biological agent would be destroyed on impact and the area of dispersal would be small. For example, if anthrax is filled into missile warheads, up to 95% of the content is not dispersed according to the Director of Intelligence of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff [PDF format].
British ministers have made much of the claim that Iraq has experimented with using small Czech-built L-29 training jets as remote-controlled drones, which could deliver chemical and biological weapons. Such drones were apparently spotted at Iraq's Talil airbase in 1998. A British defence official invoked the possibility that if these drones were flown at low altitudes under the right conditions, a single drone could unleash a toxic cloud engulfing several city blocks. He labelled them "drones of death". The hyperbole is misleading: even if Iraq has designed such planes, they would not serve their purpose, as drones are easy to shoot down. A simple air defence system would be enough to prevent the drones from causing damage to neighbouring countries. The L-29 has a total range of less than 400 miles : it would be all but impossible to use it in an attack on Israel. The only possibility for their use against western targets would be their potential deployment against invading troops.
Many of the assessments of Iraq's development of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons are based largely on a hypothetical analysis of what could be done by the Iraqi regime if it was determined to produce these weapons. Using worst-case scenarios, they present Iraq's potential activities - such as importing fissile material or producing anthrax spores - as an immediate threat. Whilst such assessments may be valuable in order to understand the range of possibilities, they do not provide any evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or the Iraqi regime's intention to use them. As Hans Blix, executive chairman of Unmovic - the new UN weapons inspection body - said on 10 September, there is much that is unknown about Iraq's programmes, "but this is not the same as saying there are weapons of mass destruction. If I had solid evidence that Iraq retained weapons of mass destruction or were constructing such weapons I would take it to the Security Council."
You cannot launch a war on the basis of unconfirmed suspicions of both weapons and intentions. It would be better to take up Iraq's unconditional offer of 16 September to allow inspectors to return, and to reject the plans for an invasion to achieve "regime change".
The US and UK policy has been to provide disincentives to Iraqi compliance rather than incentives. The UK has refused to rule out its support for "regime change" even if a full weapons inspections system is in place : Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has only said that the possibility of an invasion "recedes" in such circumstances. Senior members of the present US administration have been more forthright: Vice-President Cheney labelled the return of weapons inspectors to Iraq as counterproductive in his Nashville speech of 26 August. Inspections would be counterproductive to US war plans, but would also serve to discover - and if necessary, constrain - Iraq's weapons programmes.
If the Iraqi regime is led to believe that the US has made an invasion inevitable, it will have no reason to cooperate with weapons inspectors. As Hans Blix said on 18 August, "If the Iraqis conclude that an invasion by someone is inevitable then they might conclude that it's not very meaningful to have inspections."
The Iraqi regime also has a clear disincentive if it believes that the weapons inspectors will - like their predecessors in Unscom - collect information that the US government would use to plot its overthrow. That Unscom was engaged in such actions is now beyond doubt. Its executive director from 1991 to 1997, Rolf Ekéus, said on 28 July that the US tried to gather information about Iraq's security services, its conventional military capacity and even the location of Saddam Hussein through the supposedly impartial weapons inspections programme. It is not hard to guess why the US wanted such information.
Iraq has repeatedly asked for a clear timetable for the lifting of economic sanctions to be coupled with the weapons inspections system. This is not an unreasonable demand: in fact, it was the agreement made in the ceasefire that ended the Gulf War, and which the US in particular has done so much since 1991 to obscure. The ceasefire agreement - Security Council Resolution 687 - lays out the elements of a political solution : an independent weapons inspectorate, an end to the threat of war, a clear timetable to lifting economic sanctions, and the creation of a weapons of mass destruction free zone in the Middle East (entailing the need for the end of Israel's nuclear arsenal).
On each of these four points, the US in particular stands in clear violation of the terms of the agreement.
The consequences of that violation have been apparent in the deterioration of the weapons inspections system. Garry B. Dillon, the Director of Operations of the IAEA Action Team in Iraq from January 1994, and its head from June 1997, characterised Iraq's compliance with the nuclear inspectorate from late 1991 to mid-1998 as "essentially adequate" (in the paper cited above). Dillon concludes that "Iraq’s motivation to cooperate was shattered by the statement [by the then-US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright] that, regardless of Iraq’s compliance, the embargo and the sanctions would not be lifted as long as President Saddam Hussein remained in power". Backing a "carrot and stick" approach to Iraq, Dillon argues that "the carrot should represent a tangible benefit, not merely the withholding of the stick. Indeed, during 1998, Iraq repeatedly claimed that 'the light at the end of the tunnel had gone out.'"
If the US and UK re-engage with the political process that was laid out in the ceasefire resolution, Iraq will once again be provided with reasons to cooperate with the weapons inspectorate. That possibility, which will remove the need for instigating a humanitarian crisis inside Iraq and instability in the region, should not be dismissed lightly.
Important Link : Campaign Against Sanctions on Iraq - a must see website that has lead the campaign against sanctions in the UK. CASI aims to raise awareness of the effects of sanctions on Iraq, and campaigns on humanitarian grounds for the lifting of non-military sanctions. The site includes an excellent lising of links to campaign groups.
Congressman Ron Paul (R - TX (14th district))
September 10, 2002
Soon we hope to have hearings on the pending war with Iraq. I am concerned there are some questions that won’t be asked- and maybe will not even be allowed to be asked. Here are some questions I would like answered by those who are urging us to start this war.
"Clinton's advisors met nearly weekly on how to stop bin Laden ...
"I don't believe any longer that it's a matter of connecting the dots.
"Of course Bush knew about the impending attacks on America .
He did nothing to warn the American people, because he needed this war on terrorism. His daddy had Saddam and he needed Osama. His presidency
was going nowhere. He wasn't elected by the American people, but placed in the Oval Office by the conservative Supreme Court; the economy was
sliding into the usual Republican pits and he needed something to hang his presidency on. This guy is a joke. His silence was sleazy and
"It looks like congress has finished investigating the 9-11 attacks and doesn't it figure? They spent three weeks and two million dollars investigating the 3000
WTC murders ... but they spent three YEARS and $200 million chasing after Clinton's zipper!"
"A nation that maintains a 72% approval rating on George W. Bush is
a nation with a very loose grip on reality."
"After pulling together the information in the 9/11 Report,
it is understandable why Bush is stonewalling. It is not very difficult to deduce what the president knew, and when he knew it. And the portrait that results is devastating."
"The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him."
"I don't know where he is. I have no idea and I really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority."