Now that fingers are pointing to Osama bin Laden as the prime suspect
behind the hijacked plane attacks against the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, informed sources are wondering why more wasn't
done to rein in bin Laden or infiltrate his inner circle.
As In These Times went to press, numerous scenarios were
suggested for how the attacks had been planned and carried out.
Sources close to the Lebanese Hezbollah and the London-based al-Muhajiroun
Islamic movement say the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington
were possibly aided by members of Iraqi intelligence. Al-Muhajiroun
is headed by Syrian-born Sheik Omar Bakri, who, while not an associate
of bin Laden, has supported his cause with rhetorical denunciations
of the West in general and the United States in particular. The
Iraqi pilot scenario might explain how the commercial pilots of
American and United airlines flights were so easily replaced by
Another source familiar with bin Laden's al-Qaeda network suggested
some of the
pilots may have been veteran Mirage and Mig pilots of the Iraqi Air
Force who could easily have been trained to understand the cockpit
instrumentation of Boeing 757s and 767s in order to vector their kamikazes
into their targets.
Yet another scenario--backed by information from sources knowledgeable
about al-Qaeda--is that the terrorist pilots were trained by bin
Laden within Afghanistan. A Federal Aviation Administration source,
speaking on conditions of anonymity, claimed a likely scenario was
that the some of the terrorists cleared security at overseas airports
and then transferred to the domestic flights upon their arrival
in the United States.
In what may be the worst case of "what goes around, comes around,"
an Iranian source has reported that the 20 terrorists may have been
given phony passports by officials of Pakistan's Inter-Services
Intelligence (ISI)--the top intelligence agency in the country.
The passports were supposedly used by the terrorists to transit
through Europe and to eventually enter the United States. It was
the ISI, during the '80s, that funneled CIA weapons and money to
the mujahedin forces in Afghanistan. If it is true that the terrorists
were aided by Pakistani government officials, Islamabad may join
Kabul as a target for American military retaliation.
Bin Laden's fingerprints on the attack may also have a historical
precedent. In 1995, the laptop computer of Ramzi Yousef, a bin Laden
associate, was confiscated in the Philippines. Police discovered
that Yousef planned to hijack 11 inbound U.S. commercial aircraft
taking off from Asia. The plan then may have been to blow them up
in mid-air or crash them into targets in the United States.
Those who have followed the warming of relations between the Bush
administration and Kabul are asking why the Bush administration
wasn't alerted to an impending attack through Taliban back-channels.
According to sources close to the Taliban and Pakistan's Jamiaat-i-Islami
Party--the Pakistani fundamentalist movement that nurtured and trained
the Taliban--a senior Jamiaat official, Qazi Husein Ahmad, recently
traveled to both London and Washington. While in Washington, he
reportedly re-established ties with the Taliban's old CIA contacts
from the Reagan and first Bush administrations.
Ahmad is the second Islamist radical to have been welcomed by Langley
in recent months. No sooner had the Bush administration taken over
than the Taliban's ambassador-at-large, Rahmatullah Hashami, sat
down with senior CIA, State and Pentagon officials in a meeting
arranged by Laili Helms, the Taliban's unofficial representative
in the United States and niece-in-law of Richard Helms, former CIA
director and U.S. ambassador to Iran.
According to Pakistani sources, the Taliban and the Pakistani veterans
of the CIA-led mujahedin war against the Soviets had been keen to
rekindle old ties with the former South Asia CIA chief Richard Armitage,
now Secretary of State Colin Powell's deputy, and Christina Rocca,
assistant secretary of state for South Asia, who is a 15-year veteran
of the CIA's Operations Directorate, a position where she also interfaced
with the Islamist guerrillas. Rocca had previously met in Islamabad
with Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan,
and his assistant, Sohail Shaheen. Armitage, however, is considered
anti-Taliban because he favors restoring the elderly ousted Afghan
monarch, King Zahir Shah, to power.
Powell was reportedly upset about the re-establishment of ties
with the Taliban and Pakistani Islamists, but has apparently been
overruled by the dominant CIA interests in the administration. Intelligence
sources point out that, for its part, the CIA wanted to re-establish
contact with murky ex-mujahedin and Taliban-allied arms- and drug-smuggling
fronts in Rawalpindi and Peshawar. According to one senior U.S.
government source, the Taliban's greatest cheerleaders are the CIA
and the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research.
The source said the CIA had always argued that bin Laden was "overblown"
as a threat.
The United States has recently tilted toward the Taliban and against
the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance of Gen. Ahmed Shah Massoud. The
Defense Department largely supports Massoud, but the CIA and State
Department argue that supporting the general would put the United
States on the same side as Russia and Iran--his two major backers.
Massoud was the target of a suicide bomb assassination attempt
by two bin Laden allies disguised as television journalists the
day before the attack on the United States. (At press time, there
were conflicting reports as to whether he was dead or alive.) But
that did not stop Massoud's forces from launching a missile attack
on Kabul Airport the night of September 11--to the delight of many
Americans, many of whom were surprised it was not a U.S. military
attack. After the recovery and mourning period, Washington will
go into its traditional finger-pointing mode. Then, the CIA and
other Bush administration officials who have had close contact with
the Taliban should be asked by Congress about the nature of their
relationships with the protectors of bin Laden. For starters, CIA
Director George Tenet should be asked what the United States received
in return for even talking to the brutal mullahs who run Kabul.
The State Department should be questioned as to why it has banned
Massoud's movement from occupying the vacant Afghan Embassy in Washington
even though it is recognized by the United Nations as the legitimate
government of Afghanistan.
At the very least, the American people deserve to know why the
Bush administration, through its words and actions, has given tacit
support to a government that has provided safe haven to the man
who may be the worst mass murderer of American civilians in the
Wayne Madsen is an investigative journalist based in
Washington and the author of Genocide and Covert Operations