In 1995, the CIA and the FBI learned that Osama bin Laden was planning to hijack U.S. airliners and use them as bombs to attack important targets in the U.S. This scheme was called Project Bojinka. It was discovered in the Philippines, where authorities arrested two of bin Laden’s agents, Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Hakim Murad. They were involved in planting a bomb on a Philippine airliner. Project Bojinka, which Philip-pine authorities found outlined on Abdul Murad’s laptop, called for planting bombs on eleven U.S. airliners and hijacking others and crashing them into targets like the CIA building.
The hijacking part of the plan got less attention than the planting of bombs. It required aviators like Japan’s kamikaze pilots who were willing to commit suicide. Bin Laden had no such pilots in 1995, but he set out to train young fanatics willing to die for him to fly airliners. Abdul Murad, whose laptop had revealed the plan, admitted that he was being trained for a suicide mission. Bin Laden began training pilots in Afghanistan with the help of an Afghan pilot and a Pakistani general.
Project Bojinka was known to the CIA and the FBI. It was described in court documents in the trial in New York of Ramzi Yousef and Abdul Murad for their participation in the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. Since the CIA had been mentioned as one of the targets in Project Bojinka, it should have had an especially strong interest in any evidence that bin Laden was preparing to carry it out. The most obvious indicator, and one that should have been watched most carefully, was the recruitment of young, dedicated followers to learn to fly American airliners. That would require keeping a close watch on flight schools where that training is given.
Foreigners, including many from the Middle East, flock to flight schools in the U.S. Visas are given almost automatically to those who apply to these schools. It is especially easy for those with Saudi Arabian passports. At Huffman Aviation International in Venice, Florida, about 70 percent of the students are foreigners. That is one of the schools where Mohammed Atta, 33, who steered American Airlines flight 11 into the north WTC tower, and Marwan Yousef Alshehhi, who flew United Airlines flight 175 into the south tower were trained. Both had back-grounds that would have sounded an alarm had the CIA checked them.
A Huffman Aviation employee says that if the FBI had informed them that bin Laden had a plan to hijack our airliners and crash them into important buildings and had asked them to report any suspicious students, they would have cooperated. It was news to him that the FBI and CIA knew about this plan. It has been reported that a student who was training on a flight simulator at a Minnesota school wasn’t interested in learning how to land a plane. If true, that would surely have been reported if the school had been contacted by the FBI.
Osama bin Laden apparently knew better than the FBI how lax our government was about checking out students who come here for flight training. He took full advantage of it. Now that we have paid a horrendous price for this intelligence failure, the FBI and the CIA are scurrying to learn more about young men from countries where bin Laden’s Al Qaeda has support who have taken flight training in recent years. The Washington Post reports that at least 44 of those the FBI wants to question are pilots. As of Sept. 20, we had seen no reports in the papers that had identified more than three of the 19 dead hijackers as pilots. That means that bin Laden still has an ample supply of manpower to continue Project Bojinka. Louis Freeh bears a lot of the blame for this, but he has already resigned. George Tenet, who heads the CIA, should resign or be fired.
BIN LADEN GATE
By Cliff Kincaid
Several Clinton administration top officials appeared on television to express their surprise and anger over the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon by agents of Osama bin Laden. But just two years ago, they were accepting help from bin Laden in NATO’s war on Yugoslavia. They were assisting the Kosovo Liberation Army which bin Laden was assisting with fighters trained in his camps in Afghanistan.
A story by Jerry Seper in the Washington Times on May 4, 1999, reported, “Some members of the Kosovo Liberation Army, which has financed its war effort through the sale of heroin, were trained in terrorist camps run by international fugitive Osama bin Laden?who is wanted in the 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa that killed 224 persons, including 12 Americans.” Seper said that newly obtained intelligence reports showed that the KLA had enlisted Islamic terrorists in its conflict with Serbia and that bin Laden’s organization, known as al-Qaeda, had both trained and financially supported the KLA, which had been labeled a terrorist group by a Clinton State Department official.
Despite that, General Wesley Clark, who was NATO’s supreme commander during the war in Kosovo, said in a September 14th column in the Washington Post that the U.S. must use decisive force against international terrorism. He had worked closely with the KLA during the war, implementing a Clinton policy that ignored more serious human rights problems in other parts of the world. The Clinton administration, for example, remained largely indifferent to the persecution of Christians in Sudan, where an Islamic regime has killed almost 2 million people and was, for a time, Osama bin Laden’s home.
The CIA Connection
Bin Laden, a Saudi by birth, was supported by the CIA when he was battling the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan during the 1980s. A former U.S. Army sergeant, Egyptian-born Ali Mohamed, told a New York court that after he had left the army in 1989, he had helped train members of bin Laden’s terrorist organization, al Qaeda. Last year, he admitted his involvement in the bombing of the embassies in Africa ordered by bin Laden.
Dollars for Terror, a book by Swiss television journalist Richard Labeviere, claims that Mohamed trained Islamic militants in several camps in the New York area and suggests that he was an active U.S. agent. Labeviere, who conducted a four-year investigation and has written extensively on Arab and African affairs, has concluded that the international Islamic networks linked to bin Laden have been nurtured and encouraged by elements of the U.S. intelligence community, especially during the Clinton years. He says the international Islamic network was protected because it was designed to serve U.S. foreign policy and military interests.
Labeviere claims that the CIA blocked the FBI from cracking down on these terrorist networks. “Bin-Ladengate is unfolding, and there is no escape,” he says. “If it blows up one day, this scandal will reveal exactly how the various American intelligence agencies were involved in the process that led to the Nairobi [Kenya] and Dar es Salaam [Tanzania] bombings.” Labeviere claims that Clinton and his top aides did not anticipate that this radical Islamic network would turn against the United States. But even when it did, they figured the U.S. would gain more from it in the long run.
Labeviere argues that the Clinton administration viewed the bin Laden network and the radical Taliban regime in Afghan-istan as a bulwark against Russian, Iranian and even Chinese influence in Asia. He quotes a former CIA analyst as saying, “The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvelously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia.” It was believed that Sunni Islam could be used to undermine Russia in Chechnya and China in southern Xingjiang.
It was also present in all the Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. Labeviere says, “with the active support of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other oil monarchies and with the benevolence of the American [intelligence] services engaged in these areas, we can expect a ‘Talibanization’ of Central Asia, particularly in Chechnya.” Labeviere says that between 1994 and 1997, “Bill Clinton was happy to allow Pakistan and Saudi Arabia to support the Taliban, seeing them as a useful counterbalance to Iran’s influence?” [Iran’s Muslims are Shiites].
On January 13, 2000, a Los Angeles Times article headlined, “Some See U.S. as Terrorists’ Next Big Target,” quoted Labeviere as saying, “For America, the bill is now coming due.” The bill for “Bin Ladengate” was paid in blood on September 11, 2001. Labeviere’s book has received favorable reviews in Europe. But it has been ignored by the U.S. press except for the Los Angeles Times.
The Labeviere analysis, as shocking as it appears, could also explain why the perpetrators of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon operated freely in the U.S., without interference from law enforcement or intelligence agencies. Three weeks before the attacks, the CIA and FBI reportedly knew that two of the hijackers, including one with a link to the bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole last October, were in the U.S. But they were not apprehended.
This shocked the Washington Post. It said, “The scattered details that have emerged about the plot put this failure in stark relief: More than 50 people were likely involved, Justice Department officials have said, and the plot required extensive communications and planning to pull off. The group’s size ? not to mention the complexity of its endeavor ? should have offered many opportunities for intelligence infiltration. Yet the conspirators proceeded unmolested. What is striking is how safe these people apparently felt, how unthreatened by law enforcement. Some of the terrorists were here for long periods. They left and entered the country unimpeded. Some were reportedly on the so-called ‘watch list,’ a government catalogue of people who ostensibly are not permitted to enter the country. Yet this apparently caused them no problems.”
Friends in High Places
Labeviere claims that Saudi Arabia is bankrolling bin Laden’s networks as a way to further its own brand of Sunni Islam. This runs counter to the story that bin Laden, whose family runs the largest construction firm in Saudi Arabia, is a disowned renegade. Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates are the only countries that recognize the Taliban regime. On Octo-ber 29, 1999, Jack Kelley reported in USA Today that “prominent businessmen in Saudi Arabia continue to transfer tens of million of dollars to bank accounts linked to Osama Bin Laden.” Citing senior U.S. intelligence officials and a Saudi government document, Kelley said the money transfers had begun five years earlier. Kelley said one of the businessmen under investigation, Mohammad Hussein al-Amoudi, runs the largest bank in Saudi Arabia, as well as the Capitol Trust Bank in New York. Vernon Jordan, one of Bill Clinton’s close friends, is his lawyer.
In August 1998, the situation seemed to change when bin Laden was blamed for the destruction of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He was placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and a reward was offered for his capture. But Labeviere says the State Department never exerted any real pressure on the Taliban to apprehend him. The U.S. attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan as retaliation for the embassy bombings diverted attention from the Lewinsky scandal. At first, some senators questioned the timing of the attacks, and there was talk of a “Wag-the-Dog” scenario. By creating the appearance that he was acting presidential and rallying support under the banner “America Strikes Back,” Clinton weathered the storm. The A.P. subsequently reported that the Clinton administration had “specific intelligence”about bin Laden’s whereabouts but had decided not to try to capture or kill him.
Peter M. Leitner, a senior strategic trade adviser at the Defense Department, said, “The real issue in this tragedy is how were these people able to plan and coordinate such a strike over a period of months without the NSA intercepting their signals?” Leitner, who reviews commercial license applications for exports of sophisticated military-related technology, said, “The technology that would allow these terrorists to mask their communications was given away, hand over fist, by the Clinton administration.” In an interview with Paul Sperry of WorldNetDaily, Leitner said the previous administration ap-proved the shipment of high-tech military-related telecommunications equipment to Syria. “They provide infrastructure to bastards like bin Laden,” he said. “They provide backup and support and communications abilities to these terrorist cells.” Leitner is now having the same problem with the Bush administration.
President Bush has fingered bin Laden as a prime suspect but also says countries which harbor terrorists will be held accountable. The Clinton administration identified seven state sponsors of terrorism?Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Cuba, North Korea, and Sudan?but bin Laden is reported to have thousands of followers and terrorist cells in 50-60 countries, including the U.S. The Washington Post published a long article about bin Laden’s worldwide activities, noting his presence in places like NATO- and U.N.-occupied Bosnia and Kosovo, but failed to explain how this occurred under the watchful eye of the Clinton administration.
Bob Woodward of the Post co-authored a September 14 front-page article insisting that the CIA has been authorized since 1998 to use covert means to disrupt bin Laden’s operations under a presidential directive signed by Clinton. This article had the earmarks of a damage control operation on the part of the U.S. officials who worked with bin Laden’s followers in the Balkans and now realize that their efforts have backfired. CBS News correspondent Lesley Stahl aired a similar report on September 16, adding the tantalizing tidbit that Clinton may have authorized bin Laden’s apprehension or assassination. Virtually admitting she had been leaked this information by former Clinton officials, Stahl said “there are people in Washington who want the American people to know they have not been asleep at the wheel in the war on terrorism and, even though there may have been some failures, they have been trying.”
The Clinton administration’s soft-on-terrorism policy actually began when it blamed the 1993 World Trade Center bombing on individual terrorists, not on any state. Evidence to the contrary has been assembled in the important book, Study of Revenge, by Laurie Mylroie, that the mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, was in fact an Iraqi agent. The book was published by American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Press at a time when Vice President Dick Cheney was vice-chairman of the AEI board of trustees.
James Woolsey, who served as a CIA director under Clinton, has also become an advocate of the view that Iraq was behind the first World Trade Center bombing. Woolsey notes that James Fox, the FBI’s chief investigator into the 1993 bombing until his replacement in 1994, believed in the Iraqi connection. “And indeed,” Woolsey adds, “ever since Fox’s ouster, federal prosecutors and the White House have hewed to the line that most terrorist attacks on the United States are either the products of ‘loose networks’ of folks who just somehow come together or are masterminded by the mysterious and unaccountable bin Laden. Explicit state sponsorship, especially by Iraq, has not been on the agenda.”
Woolsey says intelligence and law enforcement officials would be well-advised to consider the possibility that the recent attacks, “whether perpetrated by bin Laden and his associates or by others?were sponsored, supported, and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein.” However, on NBC’s Meet the Press on September 16, just five days after the new attacks when investigations were still presumably underway, Cheney seemed to arbitrarily rule out an Iraqi role.
Officially, the Clinton administration opposed terrorism and funded reports on the problem. A so-called National Commission on Terrorism, a bipartisan group headed by Paul Bremer of Kissinger Associates, released its report on June 5, 2000. The commission wanted more taxpayer dollars spent on fighting terrorism, and it said that the CIA and the FBI needed more power. Some of the media argued that giving the government more power would provoke the opposition of civil libertarians.
But the real story was why the commission failed to subject the Clinton administration’s policy on terrorism to serious scrutiny. The commission was mildly critical of the administration’s handling of Iran and Libya, but it failed to explain the adoption of a policy of appeasement of Libya in the 1988 Pan Am 103 bombing that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans. The Bremer report simply suggested that “prosecuting and punishing low- level operatives for an act almost certainly directed by Gadhafi is a hollow victory, particularly if the trial results in his implicit exoneration.”
Documents showed that the Clinton administration and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, in preparation for a trial of the two Libyans in the case, made a deal that let Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi off the hook for his role in the mass murder. In the documents outlining the deal, which included handing over the two defendants, Gadhafi received a get-out-of-jail-free card through a promise that the trial would not “undermine” the Libyan regime. This was widely viewed as a guarantee not to charge Gadhafi or his top aides in the terrorist incident. The documents had been kept secret for more than a year because the State Department had classified them. Gadhafi, of course, had them all along. He confirmed the existence of the deal in an interview with British Sky TV. The trial before a Scottish judge resulted in the conviction of a Libyan intelligence official.
The commission didn’t explain why the Clinton administration failed to pursue a foreign connection to the Oklahoma City bombing. Convicted bomber Terry Nichols had connections to the Philippines, where Muslim terrorists are very active. Middle East analyst Laurie Mylroie believes the government of Iraq was behind the Oklahoma City bombing, as well as the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Stephen Jones, lawyer for the other convicted bomber, Timothy McVeigh, also believes Iraq was ultimately behind the plot.
The Attack on the USS Cole
The establishment media helped the Clinton administration put on a good face in the aftermath of the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000. 60 Minutes aired an interview with Clinton’s “terrorism czar” Richard Clarke, who was responsible for counter-terrorism at the National Security Council. He told Lesley Stahl that the U.S. was trying to determine who staged that attack, and suggested it may have been committed by Osama bin Laden. He also warned that terrorists have infiltrated the U.S. and that it was just a matter of time before American territory was the site of a nuclear, biological or chemical attack. If this was true, it was because Clinton had allowed such a situation to develop. But that’s not the conclusion Stahl came to. Bin Laden took credit for the attack on the Cole but no retribution was ever exacted for that. Mylroie says Iraq probably assisted in this attack.
The Clinton administration’s handling of the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia became a subject of some controversy in the media. Bin Laden was suspected of bankrolling this terrorist incident, which left 19 American servicemen dead and scores injured, and which was reportedly carried out with Iranian government support. The evidence connecting Iran to the plot was the subject of a report by John McWethy of ABC World News Tonight, who cited overwhelming evidence of Iranian involvement. He said the evidence included U.S. intercepts of Iranian communications and admissions of Iranian involvement by the bombers themselves. McWethy said the bombers were recruited by Iran during a trip to an Islamic meeting in Syria, took religious training in Iran, and terrorist training in Lebanon. Kenneth R. Timmerman has also cited evidence of an Iranian link to the Khobar Towers bombing. However, Saudi Arabia was reluctant to provide evidence on the Iranian role, and the Clinton administration put the blame on Osama bin Laden. Still, no retaliation was ordered. The August 2, 1996 USA Today identified a network of 11 different terrorist-training facilities in Iran, citing classified U.S. intelligence documents. Yet no U.S. action was ever been taken by Clinton against those camps.
The Bush Response
It appears that much of the world wants the U.S. to go after bin Laden in Afghanistan. Iran has even condemned the most recent attacks on America, but that does not mean that the regime has turned over a new leaf. Most commentators fail to point out that Iran has been at war with the extremist Taliban.
NATO, having assisted Clinton and the Muslims in Bosnia and Kosovo, says it, too, wants to help us fight terrorism. The United Nations, a host to all of the terrorist regimes in the world except the Taliban, has condemned the terrorist attacks. Russia, concerned about the bin Laden networks in Chechnya, is on our side. China abstained last December when the U.N. voted to condemn the Taliban’s support of terrorism and demand the extradition of bin Laden. On Sept. 11, the day of the attacks, it signed an economic deal with the Taliban.
Unless we are prudent, the war President Bush has declared on terrorism, for which Congress has already appropriated $40 billion, could cost more lives and money than the attacks. The Soviet Union, bordering on Afghanistan, could not win a ground war there. That may not be a feasible option for the U.S. If we employ weapons of mass destruction to kill tens of thousands of innocent noncombatants, we risk making enemies of all the Muslims throughout the world and shattering the nearly universal support we now enjoy. The result could be an increase in terrorist acts, playing into Osama bin Laden’s hands.
If the Taliban refuse to give him up, we would be justified in using our air power and missiles to deliver a blow sufficiently punishing to weaken them and bin Laden very seriously. We could increase the reward for delivering him into our hands a 100 or even 200 times the $5 million we are now offering. We could mobilize international support for the Northern Alliance, the Taliban’s domestic foes, and launch a psychological warfare campaign, saturating Afghanistan with broadcasts designed to turn people against the Taliban.
What You Can Do