Accuracy in Media’s annual conference got off to a great start on October 20 with two panels focusing on the events of 9/11. James Woolsey, Kenneth Timmerman, Charles Key, I.C. Smith, Reed Irvine and Cliff Kincaid discussed who was behind them and why the terrorists succeeded in wreaking such havoc.
James Woolsey, who served as director of Central Intelligence from 1993 to 1995, and prior to that as under secretary of the Navy, said the difference in the war on terrorism and previous wars was identifying and finding the enemy. He said it was clear that the Taliban regime was harboring Osama bin Laden and his network, but it was not clear that they were the only ones behind the terrorist attacks on September 11. He said the complicated nature of the operation, the long-time preparation, and the clever use of false identities suggest that a government intelligence service was behind it. Woolsey suspected Iraq, but he thought Iran was also a possibility.
The Flawed Clinton Approach
The Clinton administration explained terrorist incidents over the years as the responsibility of networks not connected to any foreign government. Woolsey pointed out that one of the very earliest attacks was clearly the work of Iraq. That was the attempted assassination of former President Bush in early 1993 when he visited Kuwait. Woolsey said both the CIA and FBI blamed that on Saddam Hussein, but Clinton’s response was “to fire a few cruise missiles in the middle of the night into an empty intelligence building headquarters.” Woolsey added sarcastically, “I’m not quite sure what Saddam thought of our apparent high technology attack on night watchmen, cleaning women and masonry, but I doubt seriously that it had any very disciplining effect on him.”
Saddam Hussein survived the Gulf War when the U.S. failed to move on Baghdad and support the anti-Saddam rebels who were eager to topple his regime. Woolsey suggested that Saddam has been biding his time over the years until September 11, when an attack that he supported was executed successfully. Woolsey emphasized that he has no direct proof of this, but he had his suspicions. He said the Clinton administration discouraged investigators from accusing any foreign regime of employing terrorism. He said the law enforcement approach to terrorism, developing a legal case and using a grand jury, keeps a lot of critical information secret. That was the case with the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, which was blamed on Ramzi Yousef and other individuals, not on any foreign government. Woolsey believes Yousef was an Iraqi agent.
Woolsey suggested that building a coalition against terrorism in response to September 11th could fail because members of the coalition don’t want to put the blame on any country except Afghanistan. Another problem he saw was that intelligence agencies rely on their own informants, rather than defectors who may offer vital information about the involvement of the governments they had served. He said intelligence agencies also have a bias against supporting rebel movements against foreign dictatorships because they are not under strict control. He cited the CIA’s bias against the Iraqi National Congress, a group created to oppose the Saddam Hussein regime.
Woolsey faulted both the first Bush and the Clinton administrations for not trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein. In 1991, U.S. fighter pilots were told not to intervene when Saddam was eliminating an opposition group. In 1995, the Iraqi National Congress moved against Saddam but the U.S. pulled back on its support. The next year we again failed to support a group of Iraqi resistance fighters engaged in a battle with Saddam.
New Thinking Needed
Woolsey said we now need to figure out where we are vulnerable to terrorist attacks. He said our national infrastructure, including energy and communications, is an inviting target and that it should be decentralized so that one or more strikes can’t cripple the entire nation.
Panelist Kenneth Timmerman, author and currently senior writer at Insight magazine, published a prescient article in Reader’s Digest in 1998, just a few weeks before Osama bin Laden’s network destroyed two U.S. embassies in Africa. It was titled “This Man Wants You Dead.” Last December, Timmerman had urged the incoming Bush administration to promote democratic alternatives to the Arab/Muslim regimes in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. That advice has been ignored, he said. The problem is that the State Department and various corporate interests favor the status quo.
He said the State Department is guided by a number of myths. One of them is that the Arabs can’t handle democracy. He said we haven’t tried to promote it in the Arab world. He criticized the inadequacy of our efforts to foster democracy in Iraq, pointing out that our support of the Iraqi National Congress was feeble, giving it only $3 million out of the $92 million allotted by Congress. Timmerman said we should aggressively promote democracy and freedom in the Middle East. He said we need to look at who is making our policy there and what their interests are.
Timmerman said it is also a myth that we can’t get rid of Saddam Hussein because the Saudis won’t let us. Timmerman said that if we had overthrown him during the Gulf war, we could have greatly reduced our dependence on Saudi oil. He said that if we had a pro-American regime in Baghdad pumping 6 million barrels a day, we wouldn’t have to worry about the 2 to 3 million barrels a day we import from Saudi Arabia. If we promote good policies in the Middle East designed to create democratic governments, he said, the oil will come. As it is, we badly need a national energy plan. Timmerman praised Vice President Dick Cheney for putting such a plan together, but it was sabotaged by an alliance of liberals and environmentalists.
The myth that Islam is not a threat is very dangerous, Timmerman warned. He said it is clearly a threat even here in the U.S. He said that none of the 2000 mosques in the U.S. has an American-born Imam, or spiritual leader. He charged that they come from Arab states, speak to their people in Arabic, and want to transform the U.S. into a Muslim state.
Terror In Oklahoma City
“There is a Middle East connection to the Oklahoma City bombing case.” That’s the verdict delivered by former Oklahoma State Representative Charles Key at the conference. Key spent years investigating the bombing and was one of the organizers of the Oklahoma County grand jury investigation that was launched over the opposition of federal and state officials.
Under his supervision, a 555-page report on the investigation was published this year. It contains a wealth of information, including reproductions of important documents such as Gen. Benton K. Partin’s detailed report that convincingly shows that the damage to the Murrah Building could not possibly have been caused by an ANFO Ryder truck bomb alone.
Key said that Iraqis had settled in the U.S. and established cells of terrorist groups. He was referring to former Iraqi soldiers who had been taken prisoner during the Gulf War and had been allowed to come to the U.S. by the State Department because they were said to be friends of the U.S. At the time, Key said, several members of Congress expressed concern about this. He said that some of the Iraqi soldiers who settled in Oklahoma may have been involved in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building. The FBI blamed this terrorist act exclusively on Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, ignoring swarthy “others unknown” who were seen with these two principal suspects. Key said that although investigative reporters have identified some of them by name, these leads have not been followed up. His report points out that the FBI had probably acquired fingerprints of one of them, “John Doe No. 2,” but its fingerprint expert testified in November 1997 that no check had been run on them. Key implied that the FBI’s failure to find and prosecute the Middle Easterners associated with McVeigh left them free to commit more acts of terrorism against America.
However, James Woolsey commented that he had represented some of those Iraqis, who were members of the resistance to Saddam Hussein. He said they had been put in prison when they arrived here. “They are all Iraqi patriots,” Woolsey said. “Several of them have been injured several times in battle against Saddam Hussein.”
This disagreement about the involvement of Iraqis in the Oklahoma City bombing does not negate the evidence that there was a Middle Eastern connection. Terry Nichols had links to associates of Osama bin Laden in the Philippines. He visited there and made numerous phone calls to the area where they are active. John Doe No. 2 may be Al Qaeda’s link to Oklahoma City, a link that has been demonstrated by a document about the formula for the explosives “used in Oklahoma” that was found by western journalists in the Taliban Defense Ministry after Kabul fell.
The Failure Of Intelligence
This critical view of the FBI’s performance was shared by I.C. Smith, who was the FBI Special Agent in Charge for the state of Arkansas from 1995 to 1998 and was involved in many important investigations, including Oklahoma City. On a panel on the failure of intelligence with Cliff Kincaid and Reed Irvine, he said that if our intelligence agencies had done their job, we shouldn’t have to fight a war on terrorism. A key problem was that Americans were killed in numerous terrorist incidents over the years and our government failed to respond adequately.
Not only did the FBI fail, Smith said, but it has claimed to have played a role in successes for which it had no responsibility. He cited the case of Ahmed Ressam, the Millennium bomber apprehended as he was entering the U.S. from British Columbia by ferry. The trunk of his car was filled with explosives which he was going to use to bomb the Los Angeles airport at the beginning of the year 2000. He was caught by an alert customs officer, who saw that he was very nervous. It was not as a result of any input from the FBI.
Smith, who is now retired, has written an 800-page manuscript which the FBI approved for publication after a long delay. He said the FBI has failed to analyze the evidence it collects which could warn of new terrorist attacks. He cited its failure to take Project Bojinka seriously. He said the plan to hijack planes and crash them into U.S. buildings was not an immediate crisis when it was discovered in Manila in January 1995, and so “it wasn’t considered important enough to analyze.”
Smith said that when he was involved in monitoring and forecasting the terrorist threat, he found that the FBI analysts working for him were weak in academic and intellectual skills. But when he trained them, they were moved to another department where they functioned as “high paid clerks.” Some of them simply followed the political line. Independent thinking was discouraged. Domestic terrorism was given priority status while the international threat was discounted. Smith described a series of decisions and shifting responsibilities within the bureau that also led to the mishandled investigation of Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist who came under suspicion of being a spy for China.
He said that under former Director Louis Freeh, FBI “promotions were based on personal loyalties resulting in sycophants who had no background for the job being placed in command positions.” He said that dropping all suspects in the Oklahoma City case except for McVeigh and Nichols was strange. He believes that it was probably done to simplify the case and make it possible for the FBI to claim a speedy disposition of the case even though other persons unknown were clearly involved. Smith said the FBI blames its failure to prevent the September 11 attacks on its being hamstrung by guidelines preventing investigations of potential terrorists. He said bluntly that is “bunk.”
What did we get for the many billions of dollars that are spent annually on U.S. intelligence agencies? AIM Chairman Reed Irvine said the obvious answer was the September 11 tragedy, and that this was followed by the launching of a war on terrorism that could last for years. By contrast, he said, Osama bin Laden’s expenditures on his attacks on New York City and the Pentagon may have been as low as half a million dollars for flight training and living and travel expenses for the hijackers.
Irvine said that intelligence officials have said that what happened on Sept. 11 was so unthinkable that there was no way they could have predicted and prevented those suicide attacks. But they had been warned in 1995 that Al Qaeda was thinking of crashing hijacked planes into buildings. That was Project Bojinka, which AIM had taken the lead in publicizing after seeing a story about it on the Internet that ran in the Sydney, Australia Morning Herald.
Irvine said that Ramzi Yousef, who had helped organize the 1993 truck bombing of the World Trade Center, was plotting with Abdul Murad in Manila to bring down 11 American airliners with bombs, have a suicide bomber murder the Pope and train suicide pilots to crash hijacked planes into important American buildings. The latter, the most unimaginable to our intelligence agencies, was the only one of the three projects that was successfully carried out.
It should not have been considered unthinkable, Irvine said, in view of the fact that four Arabs had hijacked an Air France airliner in Algiers in 1994 with the intent of crashing it into the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They had to depend on the French pilots to fly the plane, and their plan was foiled. That taught Osama bin Laden that he should train young fanatics willing to die for him learn how to fly airliners and how to hijack them. And he did so right under our noses. No one suspected anything until mid-August when an Algerian named Zacarias Moussaoui told his flight instructors in Minnesota that he didn’t want to learn how to take off or land an airliner, only how to steer it. He was arrested on an immigration charge. The FBI agents asked Washington for a warrant to search his computer and his phone records. The request was denied.
When Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Murad were brought to New York and put on trial, Yousef for his role in the WTC truck bombing and for conspiring to blow up U.S. airliners and Murad for the latter only, the hijacking side of Bojinka was mentioned in court documents but did not play any role in the trial. Irvine said an opportunity to put the FBI on guard against this may have been lost when Mary Jo White, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, rejected a plea bargain proffer by Abdul Murad in 1999. Perhaps he intended to give evidence that suicidal fanatics were being trained to fly airliners so they could use them as missiles to destroy buildings and kill lots of people.
There is a good chance such a warning would not have been taken seriously. The FBI’s counter-terrorism chief, Dale Watson, had testified before a Congressional committee in 1998. He mentioned Bojinka, but not the hijacking side of it. He also mentioned the presence of foreign terrorists in the U.S. If Murad had warned that some of those foreign terrorists were learning how to fly airliners here, Watson might or might not have decided to keep an eye on Arabs taking flight training.
Irvine said the FBI had not demonstrated great skill in finding possible Middle Eastern terrorists. He cited a high priority request from the CIA last August that two Arabs, Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, be placed on a special watch list. Almidhar had been videotaped conferring with a bin Laden agent in Malaysia in Dec. 2000 or Jan. 2001. He and Alhazmi arrived in Los Angeles on the same plane on Jan. 15, 2001. It took over 20 months for the CIA to ask that they be watched. They lived together at several different addresses in San Diego while going to a flying school. Alhazmi was listed in the 2001 San Diego phone book. The FBI was unable to locate either one in the two weeks prior to Sept. 11. It didn’t tell its field offices throughout the country to be on the lookout for them.
Washington’s Mixed Messages
Cliff Kincaid, contributing editor to the AIM Report and president of America’s Survival, pointed out that the intelligence agencies had their defenders. Congressman Ray LaHood, R-Illinois, took the House floor to argue passionately that it would be inappropriate to hold any U.S. intelligence officials responsible for what happened on September 11. He declared, “I think it is a slap in the face at the intelligence community for those people who want to get their pound of flesh against whomever, the CIA director, the FBI director, people in the defense intelligence community, to drag them before the public and require them to ‘fess up with whatever happened.”
Suggesting there was no way the intelligence community could have predicted or stopped the attacks, Rep. Peter Deutsch, D-Florida, said, “I am not a big fan of Tom Clancy, but maybe I should become one, because as many of us have learned since September 11, Tom Clancy predicted it. One of his novels has exactly this attack, an airplane commandeered by hijackers hitting a building.” Deutsch was apparently unaware that Project Bojinka was a real terrorist plan, not a fantasy in a Clancy novel.
Kincaid observed that former Amb. Gerald P. Carmen, who served in the Reagan administration, took a different view. He said that, “In most countries, after such a catastrophe, those responsible for our protection would have resigned on their own.” Carmen explained, “Patriotism and unity should not be used as a cover for those who have failed us.”
Instead of firing anybody, Kincaid pointed out, the Bush administration embraced the view that the “solution” was to reward the officials and agencies who had fumbled the ball with more money and more power and authority over us. “Suddenly,” declared USA Today, “the era of big government is NOT over. There’s a new cabinet-level department, a federal bailout for the airlines, and some pushed a federal takeover of airport security.” In a dramatic shift, nearly two out of three Americans said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing always or most of the time.
But Washington, plagued by an anthrax scare, a contracting economy and continued fear of more terrorist attacks, was in a state of some disarray and was sending out mixed messages. Kincaid noted that the Defense Intelligence Agency building was paralyzed for over an hour when a suspicious letter was discovered in the mailroom. The air conditioning system was turned off because of fears it would spread anthrax. The elevators in the seven-story building were shut down.
Security guards were preventing people from leaving the building but admitting those who were coming in. No announcements of what was happening were made throughout the building so people were climbing up and down stairs trying to go to lunch in the cafeteria only to discover it was closed. The suspicious letter turned out to be from a fourth grader in Maryland who had expressed condolences to the families and co-workers of the Pentagon victims of the September 11th attack. The mysterious substance on the letter turned out to be decorative glitter. This got very little publicity.
Noting that the government was telling us that we should get back to business, back to normal, and resume our lives, Kincaid recalled that President Bush had urged the public to get over their fear of flying and take to the air again. To set an example, he said that his cabinet members would fly on commercial flights. Then it was disclosed by USA Today that air marshals, who were already scheduled to ride other aircraft, were reassigned to protect the cabinet members’ flights. The security chief of the Federal Aviation Administration resigned in protest, arguing that the air marshals were desperately needed on flights that presented more of a risk of hijacking.
After the discovery of anthrax on Capitol Hill, one paper said “the Capitol was filled with a near unanimous sense of determination among lawmakers and their aides not to be frightened away from their historic home.” But that changed quickly. The House adjourned and members headed for the hills. Speaker Dennis Hastert said they did it for the young staffers and interns. The Senate, however, stayed put despite the fact that majority leader Tom Daschle was the target of an anthrax attack.
Kincaid said that the record of the federal government bureaucracy’s failures in recent months does not encourage confidence in the idea that making security screeners at the airports federal employees will greatly improve security. He pointed out that, for the last two years, Congress has held hearings into the granting of security clearances to defense personnel and employees of military contractors with histories of drug use, alcoholism, sexual misconduct, financial problems and criminal activity. Convicted felons get security clearances under the current system. The backlog of security clearance investigations stands at 318,000 and could reach 1.2 million cases by 2002. The federalization of security screening at the nation’s airports will increase that backlog by an additional 26,000. The new employees will be better paid, have greater benefits and more job security than the employees of the private companies now handling the security screening.
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