Did Our President Spike The Investigation Of Bin Laden?
On my BBC television show, Newsnight, an American journalist confessed that,
since the 9/11 attacks, U.S. reporters are simply too afraid to ask the
uncomfortable questions that could kill careers: "It's an obscene comparison,
but there was a time in South Africa when people would put flaming tires around
people's necks if they dissented. In some ways, the fear is that you will be
neck-laced here, you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around
your neck," Dan Rather said. Without his makeup, Rather looked drawn, old and
defeated in confessing that he too had given in. "It's that fear that keeps
journalists from asking the toughest of the tough questions and to continue to
bore in on the tough questions so often."
Investigators were ordered to "back off" from any inquiries into Saudi Arabian
financing of terror networks....
The reports I did based on this information won the California State University
School of Journalism's Project Censored Award in 2002. It's not the kind of
prize you want to win -- it's given to crucial stories that were effectively
banned from U.S. airwaves and papers.3 I don't want any misunderstanding here,
so I must emphasize what we did not find: We uncovered no information, none
whatsoever, that George W. Bush had any advance knowledge of the plan to attack
the World Trade Center on 9/11, nor, heaven forbid, any involvement in the
FBI Document 199I
What we did discover was serious enough. To begin with, from less-than-happy
FBI agents we obtained an interesting document, some 30 pages long,
marked "SECRET." I've reproduced a couple of pages here (figure 2.1). Note the
designation "199I" -- that's FBI-speak for "national security matter."
According to insiders, FBI agents had wanted to check into two members of the
bin Laden family, Abdullah and Omar, but were told to stay away by superiors --
until September 13, 2001. By then, Abdullah and Omar were long gone from the
Why no investigation of the brothers bin Laden? The Bush administration's line
is the Binladdins (a more common spelling of the Arabic name) are good folk.
Osama's the Black Sheep, supposedly cut off from his Saudi kin. But the
official line notwithstanding, some FBI agents believed the family had some
gray sheep worth questioning -- especially these two working with the World
Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), which the file labels "a suspected terrorist
No matter how vile WAMY's indoctrination chats, they are none of the FBI's
business. Recruitment for terror, however, is. Before 9/11, the governments of
India and the Philippines tied WAMY to groups staging murderous attacks on
civilians. Following our broadcast on BBC, the Dutch secret service stated that
WAMY, "support(ed) violent activity." In 2002, The Wall Street Journal's Glenn
Simpson made public a report by Bosnia's government that a charity with
Abdullah bin Laden on its board had channeled money to Chechen guerrillas. Two
of the 9/11 hijackers used an address on the same street as WAMY's office in
Falls Church, Virginia.
The "Back-Off" Directive and the Islamic Bomb
Despite these tantalizing facts, Abdullah and his operations were A-OK with the
FBI chiefs, if not their working agents. Just a dumb SNAFU? Not according to a
top-level CIA operative who spoke with us on condition of strictest anonymity.
After Bush took office, he said, "there was a major policy shift" at the
National Security Agency. Investigators were ordered to "back off" from any
inquiries into Saudi Arabian financing of terror networks, especially if they
touched on Saudi royals and their retainers. That put the bin Ladens, a family
worth a reported $12 billion and a virtual arm of the Saudi royal household,
off-limits for investigation. Osama was the exception; he remained a wanted
man, but agents could not look too closely at how he filled his piggy bank. The
key rule of any investigation, "follow the money," was now violated, and
investigations -- at least before 9/11 -- began to die.
And there was a lot to investigate -- or in the case of the CIA and FBI under
Bush -- a lot to ignore. Through well-known international arms dealers (I'm
sorry, but in this business, sinners are better sources than saints) our team
was tipped off to a meeting of Saudi billionaires at the Hotel Royale Monceau
in Paris in May 1996 with the financial representative of Osama bin Laden's
network. The Saudis, including a key Saudi prince joined by Muslim and non-
Muslim gun traffickers, met to determine who would pay how much to Osama. This
was not so much an act of support but of protection -- a payoff to keep the mad
bomber away from Saudi Arabia....
Clinton Closed an Eye
True-blue Democrats may want to skip the next paragraphs. If President Bush put
the kibosh on investigations of Saudi funding of terror and nuclear bomb
programs, this was merely taking a policy of Bill Clinton one step further.
Following the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, Clinton hunted Osama
with a passion -- but a passion circumscribed by the desire to protect the
sheikdom sitting atop our oil lifeline. In 1994, a Saudi diplomat defected to
the United States with 14,000 pages of documents from the kingdom's sealed file
cabinets. This mother lode of intelligence included evidence of plans for the
assassination of Saudi opponents living in the West and, tantalizingly, details
of the $7 billion the Saudis gave to Saddam Hussein for his nuclear program --
the first attempt to build an Islamic Bomb. The Saudi government, according to
the defector, Mohammed Al Khilewi, slipped Saddam the nuclear loot during the
Reagan and Bush Sr. years when our own government still thought Saddam too
marvelous for words. The thought was that he would only use the bomb to
In 1997, the Canadians caught and extradited to America one of the Khobar
Towers attackers. In 1999, Vernon Jordan's law firm stepped in and -- poof! --
the killer was shipped back to Saudi Arabia before he could reveal all he knew
about Al Qaeda (valuable) and the Saudis (embarrassing). I reviewed, but was
not permitted to take notes on, the alleged terrorist's debriefing by the FBI.
To my admittedly inexpert eyes, there was enough on Al Qaeda to make him a
source on terrorists worth holding on to. Not that he was set free -- he's in
one of the kingdom's dungeons -- but his info is sealed up with him. The
terrorist's extradition was "Clinton's." "Clinton's parting kiss to the
Saudis," as one insider put it.
This make-a-sheik-happy policy of Clinton's may seem similar to Bush's, but the
difference is significant. Where Clinton said, "Go slow," Bush policymakers
said, "No go." The difference is between closing one eye and closing them both.
Blowback and Bush Sr.
Still, we are left with the question of why both Bush Jr. and Clinton would
hold back disclosure of Saudi funding of terror. I got the first glimpse of an
answer from Michael Springmann, who headed up the U.S. State Department's visa
bureau in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, during the Reagan-Bush Sr. years. "In Saudi
Arabia I was repeatedly ordered by high-level State Department officials to
issue visas to unqualified applicants. These were, essentially, people who had
no ties either to Saudi Arabia or to their own country. I complained bitterly
at the time there." That was Springmann's mistake. He was one of those
conscientious midlevel bureaucrats who did not realize that when he filed
reports about rules violations he was jeopardizing the cover for a huge
multicontinental intelligence operation aimed at the Soviets. Springmann
assumed petty thievery: someone was taking bribes, selling visas; so he
couldn't understand why his complaints about rule-breakers were "met with
silence" at the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
Springmann complained himself right out of a job. Now a lawyer, he has obtained
more information on the questionable "engineers" with no engineering knowledge
whom he was ordered to permit into the United States. "What I was protesting
was, in reality, an effort to bring recruits, rounded up by Osama bin Laden, to
the United States for terrorist training by the CIA. They would then be
returned to Afghanistan to fight against the then-Soviets."
Clinton hunted Osama with a passion ... circumscribed by the desire to protect
the sheikdom sitting atop our oil lifeline.
But then they turned their talents against the post-Soviet power: us. In the
parlance of spook-world, this is called "blowback." Bin Laden and his bloody
brethren were created in America's own Frankenstein factory. It would not do
for the current president nor agency officials to dig back to find that some of
the terrorists we are hunting today were trained and armed by the Reagan-Bush
administration. And that's one of the problems for agents seeking to
investigate groups like WAMY, or Abdullah bin Laden. WAMY literature that talks
about that "compassionate young man Osama bin Laden" is likely to have been
disseminated, if not written, by our very own government. If Abdullah's Bosnian-
operated "charity" was funding Chechnyan guerrillas, it is only possible
because the Clinton CIA gave the wink and nod to WAMY and other groups who were
aiding Bosnian guerrillas when they were fighting Serbia, a U.S.-approved
enemy. "What we're talking about," says national security expert Joe
Trento, "is embarrassing, career-destroying blowback for intelligence
officials." And, he could add, for the presidential father.
The Family Business
I still didn't have an answer to all my questions. We knew that Clinton and the
Bushes were reluctant to discomfort the Saudis by unearthing their connections
to terrorists -- but what made this new president take particular care to
protect the Saudis, even to the point of stymying his own intelligence agencies?
The answers kept coming back: "Carlyle" and "Arbusto."
While some people have guardian angels, our president seems to have guardian
Behind Carlyle is a private, invitation-only investment group whose holdings in
the war industry make it effectively one of America's biggest defense
contractors. For example, Carlyle owned United Technologies, the maker of our
fighter jets. Carlyle has the distinction of claiming both of the presidents
Bush as paid retainers. Dubya served on the board of Carlyle's Caterair
airplane food company until it went bust. The senior Bush traveled to Saudi
Arabia for Carlyle in 1999. The bin Ladens were among Carlyle's select backers
until just after the 9/11 attacks, when the connection became impolitic. The
company's chairman is Frank Carlucci, Bush Sr.'s former defense secretary. The
average Carlyle partner has gained about $25 million in equity. Notably, Saudi
Prince Al Waleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz employed Carlyle as his advisor in
buying up 10 percent of Citicorp's preferred stock. The choice of Carlyle for
the high-fee work was odd, as the group is not an investment bank. One would
almost think the Saudi potentate wanted to enrich Carlyle's members....
Who Lost the War on Terror?
So who lost the War on Terror? Osama? From his point of view, he's made the
celebrity cutthroats' Hall of Fame. Where is he? Don't ask Bush; our leader
just changes the subject to Iraq. So we have the 82nd Airborne looking for
Osama bin Laden among the camels in Afghanistan when, in all likelihood, the
billionaire butcher -- now likely beardless -- is chillin' by the pool at the
Ritz Carlton, knocking back a brewsky and laughing at us while two blonde
Barbies massage his feet.
Bush failed to get Osama. But we did successfully eliminate the threat of
Congresswoman McKinney -- you remember, the one who dared question ChoicePoint,
the company that helped Katherine Harris eliminate Black voters.
Following our BBC broadcast and Guardian report in November 2001, McKinney
cited our stories on the floor of Congress, calling for an investigation of the
intelligence failures and policy prejudices you've just read here. She was
labeled a traitor, a freak, a conspiracy nut and "a looney" -- the latter by
her state's Democratic Senator, who led the mob in the political lynching of
the uppity Black woman. The New York Times wrote, "She angered some Black
voters by suggesting that President Bush might have known in advance about the
September 11 attacks but had done nothing so his supporters could make money in
war." The fact that she said no such thing doesn't matter; the Times is always
more influential than the truth. Dan Rather had warned her, shut up, don't ask
questions, and you can avoid the neck-lacing. She didn't and it cost her her
seat in Congress.
McKinney's electoral corpse in the road silenced politicians, the media was
mum, but some Americans still would not get in line. For them we have new laws
to permit investigating citizens without warrants, and the label of terrorist
fellow-traveler attached to groups from civil rights organizations to trade
treaty protestors. Yet not one FBI or CIA agent told us, "If only we didn't
have that pesky Bill of Rights, we would have nailed bin Laden." Not one
said, "What we need is a new bureaucracy for Fatherland Security." Not one said
we needed to jail everyone in the Midwest named "Ahmed." They had a single
request: for George W. Bush's security henchmen to get their boot heels off
agents' necks and remove the shield of immunity from the Saudis.
[Cynthia] McKinney's electoral corpse in the road silenced politicians, the
media was mum, but some Americans still would not get in line.
That leaves one final, impertinent question. Who won?
(See http://tompaine.com/feature.cfm/ID/7310 for the entire article including