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While America held its breath in the days immediately following 9/11, a small but determined group of CIA agents covertly began to change history.
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The first is the paradox that this supposed pursuit of al Qaeda was conducted in alliance with the two nations, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, that were most actively supporting al Qaeda in other parts of the world. In this essay we shall see U. The second anomaly is that although the CIA may have been focused on crushing al Qaeda, Rumsfeld and Cheney were intent from the outset on a much wider war.

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The terror war from its outset was designed as an instrument to implement this objective. As I went back through the Pentagon in November , one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said.

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But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan. In the course of this essay we shall see that the agreement to use the first and one of the most important of these bases, Karshi-Khanabad or K-2 in Uzbekistan, grew out of an earlier Pentagon arrangement, supplemented by a CIA liaison agreement negotiated in by Richard Blee of the Alec Station Group, a central figure in this essay.

Special Forces were already at K-2 on an Uzbek training mission, and that by September 22, two weeks before a formal U. A third anomaly is that the Terror War led to a dramatic increase in the resort to terror, and even torture, by America itself, including against its own citizens. Bill of Rights by the warrantless surveillance and detention of dissenters.

As I have argued elsewhere, the U. Kennedy assassination. The meeting drew instant and high-level US attention because of indirect links to a support element a key telephone in Yemen used by al Qaeda suspected of acting as a communications center in the bombings of US Embassies. This was just the beginning of a systematic, sometimes lying pattern, where NSA and CIA information about al-Mihdhar and his traveling companion, Nawaf al-Hazmi, was systematically withheld from the FBI, lied about, or manipulated or distorted in such a way as to inhibit an FBI investigation of the two Saudis and their associates.

Fenton concludes with a list of thirty-five different occasions where the two alleged hijackers were protected in this fashion, from January to about September 5, , less than a week before the hijackings. In his analysis, the incidents fall into two main groups. Fenton suspects that Wilshire anticipated a future review of his files; and was laying a false trail of documentation to neutralize his embarrassing earlier performance. Initially, I believe, al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi may have been protected because they had been sent to America by the Saudi GID intelligence service, which would explain why after their arrival they were apparently bankrolled indirectly by the Saudi embassy in Washington.

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Many of the cheques were signed over to Manal Bajadr, wife of Omar al-Bayoumi, himself suspected of covertly working for the kingdom. It was al-Bayoumi who greeted the killers when they first arrived in America, and provided them, among other assistance, with an apartment and social security cards. He even helped the men enroll at flight schools in Florida. If the two Saudis were in fact sent by the GID, they would almost certainly have been admitted to the U. This was a Blee specialty.

Steve Coll reports that Richard Blee and his superior Cofer Black, excited about the opportunities presented by liaison arrangements for expanding the scope of CIA reach in critical regions, had flown together into Tashkent in , and negotiated a new liaison agreement with Uzbekistan. This involvement in Uzbekistan was part of a wider regional pattern. Beginning in , the U. Speaking as a former junior diplomat, let me observe that a liaison arrangement would probably have required special access clearances for those privy to the arrangement and sharing the liaison information.

Alec Station needed both to protect the double identity of the two Saudis, and to make sure that they were not embarrassingly detained by the FBI.

What the CIA knew before 9/11: New details

In particular there is reason to think that Ali Mohamed, a double agent who was protected by the FBI from being detained in Canada, thus allowing him to help organize the al Qaeda embassy bombings of , was permitted under such arrangements to enter the US as an agent of foreign intelligence, probably Egyptian. These arrangements can be traced in one form or another, at least back to the s.

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As Prince Turki later explained, the purpose of the Safari Club was not just to exchange information, but to conduct covert operations that the CIA could no longer carry out directly in the wake of the Watergate scandal and subsequent reforms. Among these decisions was the creation of a foreign legion to assist the Afghan mujahideen in their war against the Soviets — in other words, the creation of that support network which, since the end of that war, we have known as al Qaeda.

In espionage, double agents are prized and often valuable; but to rely on them as the example of Ali Mohamed illustrates can also be dangerous. But in all cases the handling of illegal informants is not just dangerous and unpredictable, but corrupting. To act their parts, the informants must break the law; and their handlers, knowing this, must protect them by failing to report them, and then, all too often, intercede to prevent their arrest by others.

In this way, handlers, over and over again, become complicit in the crimes of their informants.

CIA officer who hunted bin Laden to speak

In such moments, agencies are all too likely to make the choice that is not in the public interest. Law-enforcement officials [i. The informer was to have helped the plotters build the bomb and supply the fake powder, but the plan was called off by an F. Salem, should be used , the informer said. The account, which is given in the transcript of hundreds of hours of tape recordings Mr. Salem secretly made of his talks with law-enforcement agents, portrays the authorities as in a far better position than previously known to foil the Feb.

The explosion left six people dead, more than 1, injured and damages in excess of half a billion dollars. Four men are now on trial in Manhattan Federal Court in that attack. This suggestion is both speculative and problematic, but it has the advantage of offering a relatively coherent explanation for otherwise baffling behavior.

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This explanation does not at all rule out the possibility that some officials had more sinister motives for allowing the bombing to take place and covering it up afterwards. Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman was at this very time a key figure in a sensitive Saudi program, signed on to by U. Even after Rahman himself was finally indicted in the conspiracy case to blow up New York landmarks, the US Government continued to protect Ali Mohamed, a key figure in the conspiracy. The FBI and NY police actually detained two of the murderers in that case and then released them, allowing them to take part in the WTC bombing of A key trainer of the two men was Ali Mohamed while still in U.

Special Forces, whose name was systematically protected from disclosure by the prosecuting attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald. Ali Mohamed was finally detained by the Americans in , but still not imprisoned. The conditions of secrecy created by special clearances have not just masked this dysfunctionality; they have, I would argue, helped create it. The history of espionage demonstrates that secret power, when operating in the sphere of illegal activities, becomes, time after time, antithetical to public democratic power.

Add to these conditions of unwholesome secrecy the fundamentally unhealthy, indeed corrupt, relationship of U. This has been profoundly anti-democratic both at home and in Asia. The US dependency on Saudi oil has in effect subsidized a wealth-generated spread of Islamic fundamentalism throughout the world, while what the Even without the suggestive precedent of the WTC bombing, it is legitimate to posit that liaison agreements may have inhibited the roundup of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi. I believe that in fact there are a number of possibilities about the intention, ranging from the relatively innocent the inhibitions deriving from a liaison agreement to the nefarious.

But it is possible that the liaison minders of the two Saudis did not imagine that their targets were capable of such a feat. Recall that their flying lessons, even in a Cessna, were such a fiasco that the lessons were quickly terminated. It is at least possible that the Alec Station liaison team, as a group, contemplated only the first stage, without ever imagining the two stages that ensued.

A minimal, least malign initial explanation for the withholding of information about two of the alleged hijackers would be the hypothesis I proposed in the case of Emad Salem — the restricted access created by the special clearance for a liaison agreement. But just as in , the secret power created behind the wall of restrictive clearances may have been exploited for ulterior purposes. The dangerous situation thus created — of potential would-be-hijackers being protected from detention at a time of expected attack — may have inspired some to exploit the resulting conditions of secrecy as an opportunity to plan an incident to justify war.

One important analogy with the false Second Tonkin Gulf Incident that was used to justify attacking North Vietnam is the same presence of a powerful faction — in the PNAC clique inside government — that was bent on unilateral military action. One clue to this more sinister intention is that the pattern of withholdings detailed by Fenton is not restricted exclusively to the two Saudis and their CIA station handlers.

There are a few concatenating withholdings by other agencies — above all the Able Danger info that was destroyed at SOCOM and the withholding — apparently by NSA -- of an important relevant intercept, apparently about the alleged hijackers and Moussaoui. Fenton speculates that one of those seeking a pretext for an escalated war against al Qaeda may have been Richard Blee. We saw that Blee, with Cofer Black, negotiated an intelligence-sharing liaison agreement with Uzbekistan.

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Special Forces began to work more overtly with the Uzbek military on training missions. Blee, meeting with Massoud in October , agreed to lobby in Washington for more active support for the Northern Alliance. After the USS Cole bombing in Aden in , Blee was pushing to expand the Uzbek military mission still further into a joint attack force in conjunction with the Northern Alliance forces of Massoud. There was considerable objection to this while Clinton was still president, partly on the grounds that Massoud was fighting Pakistani-backed Taliban forces with Russian and Iranian support, and partly because he was known to be supporting his forces by heroin trafficking.

One wants to know why Tenet was sharing with a hawk in the Pentagon information that has apparently never been shared by anyone outside the CIA since. The plan had now been modified so that the tribals would keep Bin Ladin in a hiding place for up to a month before turning him over to the United States-thereby increasing the chances of keeping the U.

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In a May 6 cable to CIA headquarters, he pronounced their planning "almost as professional and detailed. Although the tribals thought they could pull off the raid, if the operation were approved by headquarters and the policymakers, Schroen wrote there was going to be a point when "we step back and keep our fingers crossed that the [tribals] prove as good and as lucky as they think they will be.

General Canavan said he had actually thought the operation too complicated for the CIA-"out of their league"-and an effort to get results "on the cheap. In his meeting with Tenet, Berger focused most, however, on the question of what was to be done with Bin Ladin if he were actually captured.

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He worried that the hard evidence against Bin Ladin was still skimpy and that there was a danger of snatching him and bringing him to the United States only to see him acquitted. A presidential finding had authorized worldwide covert action against terrorism and probably provided adequate authority. But mindful of the old "rogue elephant" charge, senior CIA managers may have wanted something on paper to show that they were not acting on their own.

Discussion of this memorandum brought to the surface an unease about paramilitary covert action that had become ingrained, at least among some CIA senior managers. James Pavitt, the assistant head of the Directorate of Operations, expressed concern that people might get killed; it appears he thought the operation had at least a slight flavor of a plan for an assassination. Moreover, he calculated that it would cost several million dollars. He was not prepared to take that money "out of hide," and he did not want to go to all the necessary congressional committees to get special money.

Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and her staff. Though "Jeff" also used the 30 percent success figure, he warned that someone would surely be killed in the operation.