Category Archives: Bush Administration

Green Is the New Red: The Crackdown on Environmental Activists

One morning back in 2002, Will Potter, a young newspaper reporter on the metro desk at the Chicago Tribune, heard three heavy knocks on his apartment door. When he opened it, two FBI agents flashed their badges. They told Potter he could either come outside and talk with them, or they would visit him at work.

Downstairs in the alley, the agents brought up a demonstration that Potter and his girlfriend, Kamber Sherrod, had participated in a month earlier. They had joined in an animal rights leafleting campaign in the high-class suburb of Lake Forest, dropping flyers on the doorsteps of houses around the home of an executive in an insurance company that covered an animal testing laboratory. Both were arrested, along with numerous others, and charged by the local police with misdemeanor disorderly conduct. The charges weren’t serious, but the agents warned Potter of other possible consequences if he didn’t cooperate with them.

“He told me I could help them by providing more information about the other defendants and other animal rights groups,” Potter told me in an interview in Washington. “I had two days to decide.” Potter has described in writing what happened next: “He gave me a scrap of paper with his phone number, written on it underneath his name, Chris. ‘If we don’t hear from you by the first trial date,’ he said, ‘I’ll put you on the domestic terrorist list.’”

Potter was stunned. “I felt as if I was staring blankly ahead,” he said, “but my eyes must have shown fear. ‘Now I have your attention, huh?,’” Chris said. The agent went on to tell him, “’after 9/11, we have a lot more authority now to get things done and get down to business. We can make your life very difficult for you. You work at newspapers? I can make it so you never work at a newspaper again.’”

Potter left, and threw away the FBI’s number. The charges against him and the other demonstrators were dropped—but for years afterwards, small incidents recalled the FBI’s threats. When Kamber Sherrod went to the DMV in another state to renew her drivers’ license, “I was detained by several police officers as I was trying to leave the building, because, according to them, my name was ‘flagged’ in the system,” she told me. Before they finally let her go, they asked, “What happened in Chicago,?” and “I overheard one cop mention a ‘t-list.’” When J. Johnson’s car broke down years later in Arkansas and a cop idly ran his license plates, “flashing letters burst forth in bold: ‘member of terrorist organization, animal rights extremists, approach with caution.” And Kim Berardi, also arrested along with Potter, was blocked from boarding a flight at the Seattle airport, handcuffed, and questioned by “two SEATAC security officers, two FBI agents, two Homeland Security operatives, and two officers from the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force.”

For Will Potter, the FBI’s visit marked the beginning of what would become a career as an independent journalist, tracking the government’s prosecutions—and persecutions—of environmental and animal rights activists, which one FBI deputy director, at the height of the war on terror in 2004, identified as “our highest domestic terrorism investigation priority.” Because of this campaign’s similarities to the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1940s and 1950s, Potter dubbed his blog on the subject, launched five years ago, “Green Is the New Red.”

Potter’s book, published last month and also titled Green Is the New Red, documents the scare tactics used by the government, often in concert with large corporations, against even patently non-violent activist groups, which they dub “animal rights extremists and eco-terrorists.” Prime targets were the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Earth Liberation Front (ELF) and especially Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC). Far from targeting only their clandestine operations (which focused on corporate property damage), the FBI “argued that terrorism laws must be radically expanded to include the above-ground campaigns of groups like SHAC,” Potter writes. In November 2006, George W. Bush signed into law the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.

Activists prosecuted under AETA have in several cases ended up in the “Communications Management Units” at two federal prisons. Created secretly during the Bush administration, these “experimental” units were supposedly designed to hold high-risk inmates, including terrorists, whose crimes warrant heightened monitoring of their external and internal communications. But the reality, as a current lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights asserts, is that many prisoners end up in the CMUs “for their constitutionally protected religious beliefs, unpopular political views, or in retaliation for challenging poor treatment or other rights violations in the federal prison system.”

 Even attempting to communicate with those in a Communications Management Unit can subject a person to surveillance and harassment, as Potter learned early this year when he received some documents from Public Intelligence, a Wikileaks-style organization. The documents included what appeared to be a running report to law enforcement officials around the nation from the federal Bureau of Prison’s Counter-Terrorism Unit, which monitors correspondence in and out of CMU’s. (Sample reports appear here and here).

On his blog, Potter wrote about the reports’ contents.  Acknowledging that even “mundane” prisoner letters could include “coded threats,” Potter argues “that’s not what’s going on with the reports on environmentalists labeled ‘eco-terrorists.’” In these documents, “government officials make clear they are much more concerned about bad PR.” In one instance, “The Counter-Terrorism Unit notes an August 7, 2009 email received by Daniel McGowan, an Earth Liberation Front prisoner, regarding a possible vigil to raise awareness” about the CMUs. McGowan is part of the Center for Constitutional Rights’ lawsuit against the prison units. The report also describes an email to McGowan from CCR attorney Matthew Strugar, discussing efforts to raise awareness about the CMUs and challenge them. And here, Potter discovered his own name. According to the report:

Strugar described attending the animal rights conference in Los Angeles two weeks prior, in which an individual identified as Will spoke about inmate McGowan and his co-defendants’ cases, as well as the Communications Management Units (CMU). Will is believed to be Will Potter, an independent journalist based in Washington, DC…

In his email, Strugar wrote to McGowan: “Will was on four panels, I think, and talked a bit about you and your co-defendants’ cases and the situation with the CMUs. He’s a good advocate on that issue. There is still a lot of organizing and discussion about the Green Scare generally, which is good, and I talked a bit about green scare speech repression and the like. It was interesting.”

Potter writes that “It’s unsettling to see my name in documents produced by the Counter-Terrorism Unit. What’s even more disturbing, though, is the thought of scarce government resources being wasted on such reports…Lectures, public websites and First Amendment activity by journalists and attorneys should not be the purview of the Counter-Terrorism Unit. And even if you think that it should be, and even if you think I am some kind of potential terrorist, this “intelligence briefing” is absolutely useless. Any intern could have created the same report using Google.”

When I phoned the Bureau of Prisons media relations office to ask about this report, a spokeswoman said I would have to request the documents under the Freedom of Information Act.  “I know what you mean,” she said, “but I can’t comment on it.”

Bin Laden: Destroying the Monster We Created (Part 2)

Yesterday I ran an excerpt from my book The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11 about how the CIA, aided by the Pakistani Secret Service (ISI), helped to create Al Qaeda and launch Osama Bin Laden’s terrorist career during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Here the story continues into the 1990s, through the rise of the Taliban and up to the eve of the 9/11 attacks.

How The ISI Sustained the Taliban and Protected Bin Laden

Like thousands of others, Osama Bin Laden had cut his jihad teeth in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan. Those who knew him when he first arrived, in 1980, depict him as a gentle, modest Saudi whose only desire was to put a shoulder to the wheel in ousting the Soviets. He was not considered a fighter, or much of a leader. He was considered wealthy, and over time his wealth took on mythic proportions. Although nowhere near as rich as the rumor had it, Bin Laden drew on other members of the Saudi elite, and helped finance hospitals, camps, and other construction projects.

Bin Laden was never viewed as a military commander until the Russians attacked his camp in eastern Afghanistan in 1987. Bin Laden appears to have been wounded in the foot (although there also have been reports of kidney problems and the need for dialysis at the time). Thanks to his own public relations campaign he was from then on celebrated as a jihad fighter, often filmed on horseback. His experiences were told and retold in his own propaganda.

As the Soviets began their pullout, Bin Laden and his closest associates “agreed that the organization successfully created for Afghanistan should not be allowed to dissolve. They established what they called a base or foundation (al Qaeda) as a potential general headquarters for future jihad,” as Ahmed Rashid describes it. But without a local jihad to fight, Bin Laden moved back to Saudi Arabia in 1989. Then, disgusted by the Saudi alliance with the United States in the Gulf War, he moved on to Sudan, where he continued to build his operation to finance and support terrorist enterprises. He and dozens of his supporters returned to Afghanistan in 1996, just months before Kandahar finally fell to the Taliban.

Here, again, Pakistan played a decisive role. As the 9/11 Commission report acknowledged, “Though his destination was Afghanistan, Pakistan was the nation that held the key to his ability to use Afghanistan as a base from which to revive his ambitious enterprise for war against the United States.” Pakistan would continue to be the source of madrassah-bred militants, and clearly hoped that the Taliban and its like “perhaps could bring order in chaotic Afghanistan and make it a cooperative ally.”

“It is unlikely,” the Commission continues, “that Bin Laden could have returned to Afghanistan had Pakistan disapproved. The Pakistani military and intelligence services probably had advance knowledge of his coming, and its officers may have facilitated his travel. During his entire time in Sudan, he had maintained guesthouses and training camps in Pakistan and Afghanistan. These were part of a larger network used by diverse organizations for recruiting and training fighters for Islamic insurgencies in such places as Tajikistan, Kashmir, and Chechnya. Pakistani intelligence officers reportedly introduced Bin Laden to Taliban leaders in Kandahar, their main base of power, to aid his reassertion of control over camps near Khowst, out of an apparent hope that he would now expand the camps and make them available for training Kashmiri militants” for Pakistan’s ongoing standoff with India.

Bin Laden himself acknowledged his debt to the ISI, which he surely must have had in mind when he told Time magazine, in a 1999 interview, “As for Pakistan, there are some governmental departments which, by the grace of God, respond to Islamic sentiments of the masses in Pakistan. This is reflected in sympathy and cooperation. However, some other governmental departments fell into the trap of the infidels. We pray to God to return them to the right path.”

Cementing his relationship with the new Taliban regime (to which he brought considerable monetary support), Bin Laden helped expand the jihadist training camps in the safe sanctuary of Afghanistan; these camps would, according to U.S. intelligence estimates, train from 10,000 to 20,000 fighters between his 1996 return and September 11, 2001.

In February 28, 1998, Bin Laden issued his famous fatwa. Less than six months later, on August 7, 1998, Al Qaeda carried out its most devastating terrorist attacks up to that time, on the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, killing 224 and injuring more than 5,000. In the days following the embassy bombings, the CIA learned military and extremist groups would be gathering on August 20 at a camp near Khost in eastern Afghanistan. The reports said Bin Laden was expected. This might seem to be the moment to respond with force to the embassy attacks and kill Bin Laden. Weak as it was, at the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Clinton Administration readied a response to the African embassy bombings by planning a surprise cruise missile attack on the camp, hoping they might find Bin Laden there and kill him.

But the attack was anything but a surprise. Seventy-five Tomahawk cruise missiles landed on the camp that evening–just as everyone knew they would. Twenty odd Pakistani jihad fighters died. Numerous others were wounded. Bin Laden was not there.

On August 19, the day before the planned attack, Pakistani cabinet minister Mushahid Hussain was in Saudi Arabia, and on an open phone line called the head of Pakistan’s Intelligence Bureau. Hussain later recounted his conversation to Steve Coll: “So I said, ‘what’s happening?’ [He said] ‘Bin Laden is having a meeting tomorrow. He’s called it a summit.’ I said, ‘do the Americans know?’ He said, ‘of course.’” Hussain concluded that “the attacks will come this evening,” and commented that if he could anticipate the strikes, “Surely Bin Laden with all of his resources would have known what was coming.” In other words, between the Saudis and the ISI, it is likely that someone warned Bin Laden that the United States knew of the meeting and was planning an attack. Apparently, Bin Laden’s “resources” included high-ranking individuals within the leadership of America’s two most important regional allies.

One of these “resources” was Hamid Gul, then head of the ISI. By all appearances, Gul was dedicated to protecting the Taliban, which in turn maintained close ties with Al Qaeda. In Against All Enemies, former terrorism “czar” Richard Clarke writes, “I believed that if Pakistan’s ISID [ISI] wanted to capture bin Laden or tell us where he was, they could have done so with little effort. They did not cooperate with us because ISID saw al Qaeda as helpful to the Taliban. They also saw al Qaeda and its affiliates as helpful in pressuring India, particularly in Kashmir. Some, like General Hamid Gul, . . . also appeared to share bin Laden’s anti-Western ideology.”

But when the United States repeatedly asked the ISI to provide Bin Laden’s location for a U.S. attack, Pakistani intelligence officers told the CIA that Al Qaeda no longer trusted them, so they could not pinpoint his whereabouts. According to Coll, “The Americans doubted this. . . . Pakistan’s army and political class had calculated that the benefits they reaped from supporting Afghan-based jihadist guerrillas—including those trained and funded by Bin Laden—outstripped the costs, some of Clinton’s aides concluded. As one White House official put it bluntly, ‘Since just telling us to fuck off seemed to do the trick,’ why should the Pakistanis change their strategy?”

The CIA, in tracking Bin Laden, had desperately—and foolishly–turned to its old ally the ISI, which had been so useful during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But the situation a decade later was quite different. The ISI had hated the Russian invaders, but many of them were more than sympathetic to the Taliban, and even to Bin Laden. Now, the United States wanted the Pakistanis to help them quell the rise of Islamic extremism, rather than encourage it. Some lip service was given to cooperation on both sides. The Pakistani government wanted to preserve a decent relationship with the United States, especially in 1998, when it was conducting tests of nuclear weapons. But it never took any real action to limit the ISI’s support of the Taliban or Al Qaeda. And the ISI, always an entity unto itself, did worse than nothing. There can be little doubt that many ISI operatives were functioning, in effect, as double agents, getting information from the CIA, and passing it on either directly to Bin Laden, or to the Taliban, which in turn informed Bin Laden.

ISI operatives were clearly involved in destroying enemies that threatened the Taliban. In early 1999, after Abdul Haq, the respected anti-Soviet fighter and Pashtun warlord, became an independent voice and stood up against the Taliban, the ISI called on him and told him to shut up. Haq paid them no heed. On returning later, he found his children and wife murdered. Several sources trace the attack to the ISI. The ISI would subsequently be implicated in Haq’s murder, as well as the murder of legendary Northern Alliance mujahedeen leader Ahmed Shah Massoud.

When General Pervez Musharaff took power in a 1999 coup, he appointed as his new ISI chief Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmed. Always a strong supporter of the Taliban, Mahmoud himself soon found new meaning in religion and started calling himself a “born against Muslim.” By the summer of 2000, the longstanding relationship between the ISI and the CIA had “turned icy.”

The Agency also began to realize it could not count on the jihadists within Pakistani intelligence, and began recruiting and training its own team of Afghan assets. Whether due to divided loyalties or limited competence, these recruits seem to have provided little useful intelligence on Al Qaeda.

What the ISI May Have Known About the Coming Attacks

The Taliban was largely the creation of the ISI. The Pakistani intelligence agency shepherded its rise, participated in its councils, kept away the CIA in order to protect it, and together with the Saudis appear to have warned the Taliban and Al Qaeda when an American attack was coming. It seems impossible that a major strategy debate could take place within the Taliban leadership, without ISI having some knowledge of it.

According to the 9/11 Commission report, based on testimony from Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other captured operatives, just such a debate took place in the spring and summer of the 2001. The Taliban’s debating partner was Al Qaeda, and subject was the wisdom of launching the planned direct attacks on the United States.

According to this account, a general warning had been issued in Al Qaeda camps in July or early August—a warning similar to the one issued before the bombing of the Cole. Bin Laden disappeared, Al Qaeda members and their families were dispersed, and security was increased. The alert was cancelled after thirty days.  The Commission states, “While details of the operation were strictly compartmented, by the time of the alert, word had begun to spread that an attack against the United States was coming.”

As the Taliban leadership became aware of the attack plans, they initially opposed them. Their first priority was defeating the Northern Alliance, which continued to control portions of Afghanistan and launch attacks on the Taliban. They were depending on military equipment and support from Al Qaeda. An attack on the United States might be counterproductive in that it would draw the U.S. into an Afghan conflict on the side of the Northern Alliance.

Mullah Omar also opposed Bin Laden’s plans on ideological grounds, preferring to attack Jews and not necessarily the United States. Khalid Shaikh Mohammed also subsequently claimed that Omar was under pressure from Pakistan to keep Al Qaeda operations inside Afghanistan. Matters came to a head at an Al Qaeda shura council meeting. While several top Al Qaeda leaders sided with the Taliban, Bin Laden overrode his opponents, asserting that Omar had no authority to stop jihads outside of Afghanistan’s borders.

Given the Taliban’s intimate knowledge of the plan for the 9/11 attacks—the debate within the top ranks of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, a shura council meeting, and the suggestion Pakistan was pressuring Omar to keep Al Qaeda inside Afghanistan—it seems evident that the ISI must have known what was about to happen. In a so-called ally, this is treachery of the highest order. It is also another sad indictment of both an intelligence service that could not detect such treachery, and a White House that chose to turn its face away.

Bin Laden: Destroying the Monster We Created (Part 1)

Back in the 1980s, before the Cold War gave way to the War on Terror, American money and supplies helped Osama Bin Laden create Al Qaeda and build it into one of the world’s most successful terrorist organizations. And without the close alliances between Al Qaeda and our “allies” Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the attack on the World Trade Towers could not have been carried out. What follows are the bare bones of what we know of this world as it existed in the days before September 11, 2001, as pieced together in my book The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11.

In August 1998, shortly after the Al Qaeda bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa, Osama Bin Laden was interviewed by Agence France Press.  In grandiose but concise terms, he described his own rise to power in the early 1980s, during the years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. “To counter these atheist Russians, the Saudis chose me as their representative in Afghanistan,” he said. “I settled in Pakistan in the Afghan border region. There I received volunteers who came from the Saudi kingdom and from all over the Arab and Muslim countries. I set up my first camp where these volunteers were trained by Pakistani and American officers. The weapons were supplied by the Americans, the money by the Saudis. I discovered that it was not enough to fight in Afghanistan, but that we had to fight on all fronts, communist or western oppression.”

In spite of its self-serving message and self-aggrandizing tone, the basic facts of Bin Laden’s account are not inaccurate. The terrorist organization that would one day launch the most devastating attacks ever to take place on American soil owes its existence, in large part, to U.S. covert operations and U.S. allies. At its inception, Al Qaeda was trained and supported by Pakistani agents, funded by Saudi sympathizers, and supplied by the CIA.

Later, when Bin Laden turned his sights on the United States, the CIA’s former friend in Afghanistan became its enemy. But the strategic and financial support provided by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia continued, right up to the moment of the 9/11 attacks. Without these two countries—and especially their powerful intelligence services—the attacks could not have taken place. Attacks of this magnitude required money, and they required a friendly regime in Afghanistan to provide a training base; these were supplied courtesy of our “allies” in the region. Their support for Al Qaeda continued over nearly two decades, with little intervention from the United States beforehand, and few consequences after the fact.

How the CIA and the Pakistani Secret Service Launched Al Qaeda

After the attacks of September 11, 2001, the trail of the terrorists quickly led back to Afghanistan, where Al Qaeda maintained its camps under the protection of the Taliban regime. But in reality, the trail leads further back into Afghan history, to the final decade of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union perceived a threat on its southern border and made the disastrous decision to invade and occupy Afghanistan.

The launch of U.S. covert actions in Afghanistan did not merely respond to the Soviet invasion—it helped to provoke the invasion. In January 1998, Jimmy Carter’s National Security advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, told Nouvel Observateur, “According to the official history, CIA aid to the [anti-Soviet] Mujahaddin began during 1980, that’s to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan.  But the reality, kept secret until now, is completely different: On 3 July 1979 Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And on the same day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained that in my opinion this aid would lead to a Soviet military intervention.”

Brzesinski continued, “On the day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, saying, in essence: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.’ Indeed, for almost ten years, Moscow had to carry on a war unsupportable by the government, a conflict that brought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.”

 Asked whether he regretted having supported an operation that would foment Islamic fundamentalism in Afghanistan, giving aid to future terrorists, Brzesninski said, “What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

The “agitated Muslims” indeed became a key part of the CIA’s strategy in Afghanistan, where a full-scale covert war was carried out during the Reagan Administration, with hundreds of millions in funding eventually provided by Congress. The covert operation took place under the zealous leadership of CIA Director William J. Casey, from 1982 until he became incapacitated in the autumn of 1986. Afghanistan seems to have held a special place in Casey’s heart, representing an opportunity to fight the Soviets right on their own border. In his book Ghost Wars, Steve Coll describes Casey in his famed black C 141 Starlifter transport, streaking through the night sky from CIA headquarters in Langley to Islamabad and back, sometimes stopping off in Riyadh to drum up funding. Casey promoted the idea that would eventually blaze a trail directly from the Cold War to the attacks of 9/11. He wanted to see the formation of an “All Arab” volunteer force that could recruit Muslims from around the world to come to Afghanistan to join the jihad against the Soviet Union.

Pakistan quickly became the U.S.’s number one ally in the Afghan campaign. Although it was long viewed as a strategic ally in the Cold War, relations between Pakistan and the United States at that time had been strained by Pakistani human rights abuses and nuclear weapons development, and most U.S. aid had been cut off. According to Soviet journalist Artyom Borovik, Pakistani leader General Mohammed Zia ul-Haq “saw in the Afghan conflict a unique opportunity to obtain a sharp increase in U.S. military and financial aid to Pakistan. The Pakistani generals regarded the entrance of Soviet troops into Afghanistan as ‘Brezhnev’s gift.’” And indeed, soon after the Soviet invasion, Jimmy Carter described Pakistan as a “frontline state” in the Cold War, and offered Zia $400 million in military and economic aid. In 1981, Reagan increased the aid package to $3.2 billion over six years, renewed in 1986 at the level of $4 billion. This aid required waivers to Congressional measures forbidding aid to countries developing nuclear capabilities—the first of many instances where the United States would look the other way when it came to Pakistan.

 Zia was more than willing to support Casey’s strategy of building an international Islamic force to fight in Afghanistan. According to Ahmed Rashid in his book Taliban, Pakistan issued standing orders to all its embassies to grant visas to anyone who wanted to come and fight with the mujahaddin against the Soviets. As a result, a growing force of Muslims from around the world gathered in camps in easternmost Afghanistan, just across the Pakistani border. These camps, Rashid notes, became “virtual universities for future Islamic radicalism.”

The CIA in Afghanistan worked closely with its Pakistani counterpart, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI. According to Mohammad Yousaf, the ISI operations chief for the Afghanistan campaign, most of the U.S. money and supplies were channeled right to the ISI, which then made the decisions as to which commanders in Afghanistan got what weapons. The ISI maintained four base commands within Afghanistan, and they in turn reached out to smaller units, organized around clans and villages.              

As reported in the Financial Times, in the early 1980s, the ISI even “started a special cell for the use of heroin for covert actions”– initiated, according to the article, “at the insistence of the Central Intelligence Agency.” This cell “promoted the cultivation of opium and the extraction of heroin in Pakistani territory as well as in the Afghan territory under mujahideen control for being smuggled into the Soviet controlled areas in order to make the Soviet troops heroin addicts. After the withdrawal of the Soviet troops, the ISI’s heroin cell started using its network of refineries and smugglers for smuggling heroin to the Western countries and using the money as a supplement to its legitimate economy. But for these heroin dollars, Pakistan’s legitimate economy must have collapsed many years ago. . . . Not only the legitimate State economy, but also many senior officers of the Army and the ISI benefited from the heroin dollars.”

Mikail Gorbachev made the decision to withdraw Soviet forces from Afghanistan, and pullout took place in early 1989. By that time, reports and complaints about the growing force of militant Islamic volunteers began to come back to the CIA. But with the advent of the Soviet wind-down and withdrawal, and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union and demise of the Cold War, the West lost all interest in Afghanistan. The United States never made any real attempt to deal with the realities it had helped create on the ground in Afghanistan. The war left behind a country where 1.5 million citizens—10 percent of the total population–had been killed, and 6 million had fled as refugees; where a third of the towns and villages had been destroyed outright or rendered unlivable, three-quarters of the paved roads were gone, and half of the agricultural production and livestock had been lost. It also left behind a heavily armed and heavily mined country in a state of virtual anarchy.

As the leaders of former mujaheddin factions fought one another for control, Afghan and Pakistani students were building a new political movement. This movement grew up around the thousands of madrassahs, or religious schools, that had taken root within Pakistan along the northwestern Afghan border. The founders of the new Taliban had no trouble finding recruits in the madrassahs, and in the crowded refugee camps on the Afghan-Pakistani border, and they soon became a force to reckon with within the warring factions in Afghanistan.

Among those keeping their eye on the growing Taliban movement was the ISI, long a major instrument of Pakistani foreign policy. The jihadists within the Pakistani government, and especially within the intelligence service, were unstinting in their support of the Taliban, and the ISI as a whole looked upon the Taliban with increasing favor. The ISI would be instrumental in bringing the Taliban to power, and would continue to provide them aid and advice in managing the country once they had assumed control. At times, Afghanistan almost seemed to be an administrative appendage of Pakistan.

At the same time, the cadre of militant Islamic guerrilla fighters who had converged from across the Islamic world were determined to maintain Afghanistan as a headquarters for future jihads. The time was ripe for the completion of what would prove a deadly troika joining the Pakistani secret service, the Taliban, and Al Qaeda.

Tomorrow: How The ISI Sustained the Taliban and Protected Bin Laden

On 9/11, Rumsfeld Fiddled While Cheney Ran the Country

In her interview with last night with former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, author of a new autobiography, Diane Sawyer asked him about a tough decision he had to make on the morning of 9/11. Was it not difficult, she asked, to order military pilots to shoot down passenger jets that the government believed to be hijacked and headed targets in Washington–maybe the White House, maybe the Capitol. For a moment, Rumsfeld dropped his generally arrogant stance, and instead looked as if he were about to cry as he recalled the agony he went through in making the decision.

It might have been a poignant moment, were it not for the fact that Rumsfeld didn’t make the decision. It was Vice President Dick Cheney who made the decision. And it was Cheney who was running the country with a confused Rumfeld watching from the sidelines.

When the nation is threatened, it is the President, the  Commander-in-Chief who must make the decision to engage the military. Under the law, he orders the Secretary of Defense to implement his commands down through the military chain of command.  While President Bush was being shuttled around from bunker to bunker, on the morning of September 11, 2001, supposedly out of cell phone contact at times, Rumsfeld was next in line. But Rumsfeld’s role on 9/11 has always been a mystery. In his new book, on page 339, the former secretary of Defense casts a little light on what he did that morning .

Feeling the Pentagon shake when American Airlines Flight 77 hit at 9:38, and seeing the smoke, Rumsfeld, by his own report, rushed into the Pentagon parking lot, which was in chaos amid frantic rescue efforts and treating the wounded.  Then he returned to his office. He  spoke briefly to Bush, who was on Air Force One flying around somewhere in the southeast, who wanted to know about the damage to the Pentagon. From there Rumsfeld went to the military command post in the basement. And there, he writes, heeding the advice of General Dick Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who wa also in the room, he raised the threat level to a state of alert, and launched  fighters to protect Air Force One. Rumsfeld was supposed to be removed to a secret site, but he says he was “unwilling to be out of touch during the time it would take  to relocate me to the safe site.’’  

Shortly afterwards, he writes, “the Vice President reached me by phone.’’ Cheney reportedly told Rumsfeld, “There’s been at least three instance here where we’ve had reports of aircraft approaching Washington…A couple were confirmed hijacked. And pursuant to the President’s instructions I gave authorization for them to be taken out.”

In fact, there is considerable doubt as to when Cheney actually received “the President’s instructions,” and considerable evidence that he acted on his own volition, as even the timid 9/11 Commission report makes clear. But in any case, his orders clearly violated the military chain of command–something Rumsfeld failed to point out, according to his own account of the subsequent conversation.

“Yes, I understand,” I replied. “Who did you give that direction to?”

“It was passed from here through the [operations] center at the White House,” Cheney answered.

“Has that directive been transmitted to the aircraft?”

“Yes, it has,” Cheney replied.

“So we’ve got a couple of aircraft up there that have those instruction at  this present time?” I asked.

“That is correct,” Cheney answered. Then he added, “[I]t’ my understanding they’ve already taken a couple of aircraft out.”

“We can’t confirm that,” I told him. We had not received word that any US military pilots had even contemplated engaging and firing on a hijacked aircraft.

“We’re told that one aircraft is down,” I added, “but we do not have a pilot report…”

As it turned out the only other aircraft that crashed had not been shot down. It was  United Airlines Flight 93, a hijacked plane that went down in a field near Shankville, Pennsylvania.’’

This from the man directly charged under the law with putting into action the orders from the Commander-in-Chief. The Vice President is nowhere listed in the chain of command and has no authority to act. In the above passage, Rumsfeld himself describes how he essentially was a bystander that morning, with little or no input in the crisis. Our multi-billion-dollar Defense Department and its chief were unprepared, incompetent, and  ignored as Cheney seized the reins and ran the country.

Later, before the 911 commission, Rumsfeld  provided a rather astonishing explanation for his behavior:

The Department of Defense…did not have responsibility for the borders. It did not have responsibility for the airports….And the fact that I might not have known something ought not to be considered unusual. Our task was to be oriented out of this country…and to defend against attacks from abroad. And a civilian aircraft was a law enforcement matter to be handled by law enforcement authorities and aviation authorities. And that is the way our government was organized and arranged. So those questions you’re posing are good ones.And they are valid and they ought to be asked. But they ought to be asked of people who had the statutory responsibility for those things.

In his book, Rumsfeld laments the fact  he did not resign after Abu Ghraib. In truth, he should have resigned or been fired for failing to protect the nation in the face of the worst attack since Pearl Harbor.

Pay Back Time for Mubarak

The details of Mubarak’s fortune are a bit muddy, but according to various press reports, the family’s total wealth runs well into the tens of billions of dollars.

In Asia Times Online, Pepe Escobar reports:

According to a mix of United States, Syrian and Algerian sources his personal fortune amounts to no less than US$40 billion – stolen from the public treasury in the form of “commissions”, on weapons sales, for instance. The Pharaoh controls loads of real estate, especially in the US; accounts in US, German, British and Swiss banks; and has “links” with corporations such as MacDonald’s, Vodafone, Hyundai and Hermes. Suzanne, the British-Irish Pharaoh’s wife, is worth at least $5 billion. And son Gamal – the one that may have fled to London, now stripped of his role as dynastic heir – also boasts a personal fortune of $17 billion. Or some $60 billion. Some speculate the fortune is around $70 billion.’

Should Mubarak skip the country, as Corey Pein points out in War Is Business, he might well do it in a  business jet provided free of charge by the US taxpayers. “Pentagon contracts show that the US government has spent at least $111,160,328 to purchase and maintain Mubarak’s fleet of nine Gulfstream business jets. (For those keeping score, Gulfstream is a subsidiary of General Dynamics.)” War Is Busines provides copies of the actual contracts. Here is one of them:

Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., Savannah, Ga., is being awarded a $19,825,221 firm fixed price contract modification to provide for the Foreign Military Sales Program in support of FMS Case Egyptian. The Air Force provides follow-on maintenance support for the Egyptian Government’s Presidential fleet of Gulfstream aircraft. The program will provide depot maintenance support, parts and material repair, and supply, field team, and Aircraft on Ground or urgent situation support. At this time, $14,825,221 of the funds has been obligated. Further funds will be obligated as individual delivery orders are issued. This work will be complete by November 2005. Solicitation began October 2003 and Negotiations were completed October 2003. The Headquarters Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center, Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., is the contracting activity (FA8106-04-C-0001).

It’s tit for tat with Egypt. Pein again:

When the two military leaders met in May 2009 to discuss “a wide range of security issues,” Egyptian Defence Minister Hussein Tantawi presented US Defense Secretary Robert Gates with a set of gifts. They included a shotgun (with five bullets), a decorative rug and a gilded photo album.With a confidence that, in retrospect, seems dubious, Gates said “he looks forward to expanding the two countries’ military-to-military relationships in ways that promote regional stability.’Five months after that meeting, the Pentagon announced it would sell a new batch of two dozen F-16 fighter aircraft to Egypt—a $3.2 billion deal that is among the most recent of a long string of arms deliveries from America to its North African ally. These F-16s, according to the Pentagon announcement (pdf) would support “Egypt’s legitimate need for its own self-defense.”

In her blog, Sibel Edmonds,the former FBI translator who exposed corruption and incompetence at the Bureau, writes:

This is where our government takes our dollars, gives it to dictator allies, and then asks them to turn around, give that money (minus the personal share for personal wealth) to our military industrial complex corporations. Then, we have those CEO’s with $$$$$$$ salaries, and $$$$$$$ to the lobbyists and $$$$$$ to our elected representatives, who then in turn, sanction giving more money, aid, tax payers’ dollars, to these dictators; and the cycle repeats, repeats, repeats…well, it’s been repeating nonstop for more than half a century.’

Behind the Battle Over Social Security

As the midterm elections near, the future of the Social Security system has become a hot-button issue–and a confusing one. A number of Republican politicians have hit on it as yet another way to undermine Obama and the Democratic leadership, by criticizing their supposed fiscal irresponsibility. Some must also see victory at hand in the conservatives’ longstanding battle to destroy one of the most hated remnants of the New Deal. These include the GOP’s chief architect of change Paul Ryan,who wants to turn Medicare into a voucher program and privatize Social Security. He is backed up by House minority leader John Boehner, who, if the Republicans take the House, could become the next speaker. 

Some Democrats have risen to defend the best–and most solvent–anti-poverty program the nation has ever known. But for other Democrats–including those in the White House–the response is more triangulation. It was Obama who set in motion the Fiscal Commission, supposedly to study the deficit but in fact, as just about everyone in Washington knows, to pare entitlements, cutting Medicare and Social Security. Originally, this commission was thought ready to propose lifting the limit at which one could draw Social Security from 62 to 67. Now scuttlebutt  is that the entry age should be 70. Our supposedly “socialist” president has placed the country’s premier social program in the hands of Alan Simpson, a Republican crank who views old people as the new welfare queens. 

It’s not surprising, then, that a lot of older voters don’t know what to make of it. A piece in Sunday’s New York Times reported on “tales of political burnout and withdrawal among older voters” in one swing county in Colorado. Many in this consituency, which can usually be counted upon to vote in large numbers, seemed to be withdrawing altogether from the fray. Others were preparing to shoot themselves in the foot:

Bill Benton, 79, a lifelong Colorado resident who described himself as an Eisenhower Republican, supports Mr. Buck and believes that his comments suggesting that the private sector could perhaps do a better job with Social Security were “just talk.” Mr. Buck has said that despite his comments, he would not support privatizing the retirement program. “I like him, but he says some dumb things,” Mr. Benton said.

With all the rhetoric flying out of Washington, it’s likely that some older people have come to view the whole topic of Social Security as the centerpiece in a Washington charade of boasts and lies, another turn in the game of smoke and mirrors, much in the manner of the shouting match over health care. It turns the stomach, feeds the hate against Washington, and sends people fleeing to escape a nightmare they can’t understand–sometimes, it appears, right into the arms of the Tea Party.

And in fact, people who suspect a smoke-and-mirrors game are pretty much on the money. Social Security’s elevation to a central political debate is tied to another hot-button issue: The future of the Bush tax cuts. Those tax cuts, which benefit the very rich—the people who pump cash into a candidate’s campaign—are set to expire next year. “In 2010, when all the Bush tax cuts are finally phased in, a staggering 52.5 percent of the benefits will go to the richest 5 percent of taxpayers,” according to Citizens for Tax Justice, the Washington-based  public interest group that follows and analyzes tax policy.

The impact of these cuts on the national treasury–and the deficit–cannot be overestimated: “The tax legislation enacted under President George W. Bush from 2001 through 2006 will cost $2.48 trillion over the 2001-2010 period,” Citizens for Tax Justice reports. “This includes the revenue loss of $2.11 trillion that resultsdirectly from the Bush tax cuts as well as the $379 billion in additional interest.’’

Obama has declared his opposition to extending the tax cuts for the highest income brackets. But some conservative Democrats will have other ideas. And if the White House’s resolve fails, as it often does, there’s another deficit-cutting alternative at hand in Medicare and Social Security. It’s a lot easier for politicians to talk about paring down entitlements than it is to attack the rich on whose largesse they depend.

9/11: One Family’s Brave Effort to Expose Airline Culpability

An article in Saturday’s  New York Times describes how all the families suffering losses on 9/11 have now taken settlements, receiving some $7 billion from the government and $500 million in private suits–all the families, that is, save one.

The one holdout is the family of Mark Bavis, a passenger on United Airlines Flight 175, the second plane to strike the World Trade Center. Ever since the family filed suit in 2002, it has spurned efforts to negotiate, despite settlement attempts and a court mediation session.

They recognize that they could have obtained a quicker resolution by settling; they say the case is not about money. They say they want to prove in a public courtroom what they and their lawyers believe was a case of gross negligence by United and other defendants that allowed the hijackers to board Flight 175 and the attacks to occur.

The Bavis family is seeking damages directly from the airlines. Their suit represents the last real possibility for an independent inquiry into the culpability of these private carriers–not to mention the “regulators” at the Federal Aviation Administration, who appeared intent on serving the airlines rather than the public. It’s a long shot perhaps, but the Bavis suit might achieve some of what the expensive, timid, and inconclusive 9/11 Commission Report could not. 

As the Times article points out, they have identified several areas in which the airlines’ negligence contributed to the events of 9/11 (emphasis added):

Donald A. Migliori, a lawyer with Motley Rice, the firm that represents the Bavises and was involved in more than 50 other cases, said the firm’s investigation had focused on failures at airport security checkpoints, flawed cockpit doors, inadequate training and how the industry ignored confidential government warnings about terrorist threats.“The security breaches that day,” he said, “were absolutely known to these defendants before 9/11, and should have been addressed before this could happen.”

My 2005 book, The 5 Unanswered Questions About 9/11, also explores these same areas, and sets out in detail the chain of evidence that demonstrates airline and government negligence leading up to the attacks. A few excerpts, citing factual records, follow. Readers can judge for themselves whether the airlines and government are culpable.

Failures at Airport Security Checkpoints

[In the 1990s], following the Pan Am 103 bombing, the FAA had been directed by Congress to create a “Red Team” to test airport security. A Red Team consists of a handful of people, often drawn from military special operations, to pose as terrorists and attempt to break through airport security–in effect, to stage unannounced mock terrorist attacks, and report on the airlines’ performance in thwarting these attacks…

An October 1998 report by one airline, which was passed around the company offices in the United States, describes a meeting held the previous month with the FAA to discuss security at the San Francisco airport. Among other things, the report noted that the FAA’s Red Team “worked around different areas in SFO airport. They managed to break through different security screenings repeatedly in many different areas. Of 450 times when they were working their way past different security points to get to secure areas they were caught only 4 times.” SFO was one of the airports that had been targeted in the 1993 tests, and cited for a 60 percent failure rate. Five years later, the failure rate was 99.11 percent.

The report stated that the Red Team “managed to get by passenger Xray screening repeatedly (7 times) having on them a gun sealed under their belt-buckle. Also, having an automatic Mac machine gun under their jacket on their back.” The team also easily entered the airlines’ private lounges and put bombs in the passengers’ carry-on luggage, which was not examined before they boarded the plane. Gaining entrance to the ramp area, they entered Skychef catering trucks, and with ease placed whatever they wanted to in the food trolleys. No one questioned them. “Most of the times the catering truck driver was either asleep or reading a book or just looking at the sky or waving a friendly hello,” according to the San Fransisco report. The intruders showed false IDs and then easily drove a van onto the ramp area, although the vehicle had no official plates or security seals. They boarded aircraft at will, and “could easily have placed a bomb on board.”

All of this activity was videotaped by the Naval Surface Warfare Center at Port Hueneme, California, with the idea of using it as a training film for airport security personnel. But when the FAA saw how bad things were, they deep-sixed the video…

According to Andrew Thomas [in his book Aviation Insecurity], “For years, Logan was known throughout the industry as one of the least secure airports in the nation.” In April 2001, Deborah Sherman of Boston’s Fox News station undertook her own investigation of air security at Logan airport, with the help of former Red Team member Steve Elson. Airing on May 6, 2001, her report showed serious security flaws, including knives smuggled through security and unguarded access to secure areas–making Logan clearly vulnerable to terrorist attack.

The report had been instigated by Brian Sullivan, an FAA New England security agent who had retired earlier in the year and was seeking to blow the whistle on what he had observed on the job. On May 7, the day after the program aired, Sullivan sent a tape, along with a detailed and eloquent letter, to Senator John Kerry: “This report once again demonstrated what every FAA line agent already knows, the airport passenger screening system simply doesn’t work as intended. The FAA would like [rather] continue to promulgate a façade of security, than to honestly assess the system. Management knows how ineffective the current system is, but continues to tell Congress that our airport screening is an effective deterrent.”

Flawed Cockpit Doors

There was ample  evidence of how easily cockpits could be breached. As Andrew Thomas reports in Aviation Insecurity, in the two years prior to September 11, 2001, passengers managed to enter the cockpits of commercial airplanes thirty times. In one 2000 case, a passenger aboard a Southwest Airlines flight was suffocated to death—apparently by other passengers—after he made repeated attempts to take over the cockpit. In another case the same year, a deranged passenger entered the cockpit of a British Airways 747, bit the captain’s ear, grabbed the controls, shut off the autopilot, and sent the plane into a 10,000-foot dive before the co-pilot managed to regain control. Lack of cockpit security would, of course, become key to the terrorists’ success in the 9/11 attacks.

Inadequate Training

In 1996, President Clinton appointed a White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, headed by Vice President Al Gore, to examine security within the industry–and especially security against possible terrorist attacks…A preliminary report, released in September 1996, elicited a flurry of unhappy responses from airline lobbyists. Gore quickly capitulated to the airline industry, writing a sheepish letter to Carol Hallet, president of the Air Transport Association, the industry trade group: “I want to make it very clear that it is not the intent of this administration or of the Commission to create a hardship for the air transportation industry,” and suggesting that government and industry could work “in full partnership.” According to a study conducted by the Center for Responsive Politics, during the final weeks of the 1996 election campaign, with Clinton pitted against Bob Dole, the airlines poured $585,000 into the Democratic party coffers.

The Gore Commission did make some 50 recommendations, but many of the most vital proposals were gutted or simply ignored. The Commission recommended criminal background checks for airport security personnel, along with a changed work system that would reward performance, rather than just low costs, for both individual security staff and the security companies used by the airlines. The airlines scoffed that these measures would be too expensive, and the FAA (then under the leadership of Linda Daschle [who later became an airline industry lobbyist]) never pursued them.

One Commission member, Victoria Cummock, widow of a Pan Am 103 victim, wrote to Gore, “I register my dissent with the final report. . . . Sadly, the overall emphasis of the recommendations reflects a clear commitment to the enhancement of aviation at the expense of the Commission’s mandate of enhancing aviation safety and security. I can not sign a report that blatantly allows the American flying public to be regularly placed at unnecessary risk.” Cummock was quoted by CNN as saying, “I don’t know how we could really get a fair commission based on the degree of collusion that I see between the [airline] industry, the FAA, the DOT (Department of Transportation), and Al Gore.”

Industry Ignored Government Warnings About Terrorist Threats

In the six months prior to 9/11, FAA senior officials received 52 intelligence briefings regarding threats from Al Qaeda. “Among the 105 summaries issued between April 1, 2001 and September 10, 2001, almost half mentioned Bin Ladin, Al Qaeda, or both, mostly in regard to overseas threats,” the report said. In addition, the National Security Council’s Counterterrorism Security Group invited the FAA to a “meeting in early July 2001 at the White House to discuss with domestic agency officials heightened security concerns.”

The FAA also sent out informational circulars to warn airports and air carriers about security issues. Seven circulars were sent before 9/11–one on the threat posed by surface to air missiles, five on threats overseas, and one on July 31 mentioning hijacking. Yet while Jane Garvey said “she was aware of the heightened threat during the summer of 2001,” several other top agency officials, as well as senior airline official and veteran pilots, said they were not aware.