Front row, from left: Major Gen. Hamid Gul, director general of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate (ISI), Director of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Willian Webster; Deputy Director for Operations Clair George; an ISI colonel; and senior CIA official, Milt Bearden at a Mujahideen training camp in North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan in 1987. (source RAWA)
Ronald Reagan meets Afghan Mujahideen Commanders at the White House in 1985 (Reagan Archives)
We Created Al Qaeda to Fight the Soviets in Afghanistan
Brzezinski told Al Qaeda’s forefathers – the Mujahadin:
We know of their deep belief in god – that they’re confident that their struggle will succeed. – That land over-there is yours – and you’ll go back to it some day, because your fight will prevail, and you’ll have your homes, your mosques, back again, because your cause is right, and god is on your side.
CIA director and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates confirmed in his memoir that the U.S. backed the Mujahadin in the 1970s.
As his unclassified CIA biography states, bin Laden left Saudi Arabia to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan after Moscow’s invasion in 1979. By 1984, he was running a front organization known as Maktab al-Khidamar – the MAK – which funneled money, arms and fighters from the outside world into the Afghan war.
What the CIA bio conveniently fails to specify (in its unclassified form, at least) is that the MAK was nurtured by Pakistan’s state security services, the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, the CIA’s primary conduit for conducting the covert war against Moscow’s occupation.
The CIA, concerned about the factionalism of Afghanistan … found that Arab zealots who flocked to aid the Afghans were easier to “read” than the rivalry-ridden natives. While the Arab volunteers might well prove troublesome later, the agency reasoned, they at least were one-dimensionally anti-Soviet for now. So bin Laden, along with a small group of Islamic militants from Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria and Palestinian refugee camps all over the Middle East, became the “reliable” partners of the CIA in its war against Moscow.
To this day, those involved in the decision to give the Afghan rebels access to a fortune in covert funding and top-level combat weaponry continue to defend that move in the context of the Cold War. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee making those decisions, told my colleague Robert Windrem that he would make the same call again today even knowing what bin Laden would do subsequently. “It was worth it,” he said.
“Those were very important, pivotal matters that played an important role in the downfall of the Soviet Union,” he said.
Indeed, the U.S. started backing Al Qaeda’s forefathers even before the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. As Brzezinski told Le Nouvel Observateur in a 1998 interview:
Question: The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs [“From the Shadows”], that American intelligence services began to aid the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet intervention. In this period you were the national security adviser to President Carter. You therefore played a role in this affair. Is that correct?Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention.
Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?
B: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?
The United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings ….
The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system’s core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books ….
The 9/11 Commission report (PDF) released in 2004 said some of Pakistan’s religious schools or madrassas served as “incubators for violent extremism.” Since then, there has been much debate over madrassas and their connection to militancy.
New madrassas sprouted, funded and supported by Saudi Arabia and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency,where students were encouragedto join the Afghan resistance.
For half a century the United States and many of its allies saw what I call the “Islamic right” as convenient partners in the Cold War.
In the decades before 9/11, hard-core activists and organizations among Muslim fundamentalists on the far right were often viewed as allies for two reasons, because they were seen a fierce anti-communists and because the opposed secular nationalists such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, Iran’s Mohammed Mossadegh.
By the end of the 1950s, rather than allying itself with the secular forces of progress in the Middle East and the Arab world, the United States found itself in league with Saudi Arabia’s Islamist legions. Choosing Saudi Arabia over Nasser’s Egypt was probably the single biggest mistake the United States has ever made in the Middle East.
A second big mistake … occurred in the 1970s, when, at the height of the Cold War and the struggle for control of the Middle East, the United States either supported or acquiesced in the rapid growth of Islamic right in countries from Egypt to Afghanistan. In Egypt, Anwar Sadat brought the Muslim Brotherhood back to Egypt. In Syria, the United States, Israel, and Jordan supported the Muslim Brotherhood in a civil war against Syria. And … Israel quietly backed Ahmed Yassin and the Muslim Brotherhood in the West Bank and Gaza, leading to the establishment of Hamas.
Still another major mistake was the fantasy that Islam would penetrate the USSR and unravel the Soviet Union in Asia. It led to America’s support for the jihadists in Afghanistan. But … America’s alliance with the Afghan Islamists long predated the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and had its roots in CIA activity in Afghanistan in the 1960s and in the early and mid-1970s. The Afghan jihad spawned civil war in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, gave rise to the Taliban, and got Osama bin Laden started on building Al Qaeda.
Would the Islamic right have existed without U.S. support? Of course. This is not a book for the conspiracy-minded. But there is no question that the virulence of the movement that we now confront—and which confronts many of the countries in the region, too, from Algeria to India and beyond—would have been significantly less had the United States made other choices during the Cold War.
In other words, if the U.S. and our allies hadn’t backed the radical violent Muslims instead of more stable, peaceful groups in the Middle East, radical Islam wouldn’t have grown so large.
Every religion, including Islam, has its crazed fanatics. Few in numbers and small in strength, they can properly be assigned to the “loony” section. This was true for Islam as well until 1979, the year of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Indeed, there may well have been no 911 but for this game-changer.
Officials like Richard Perle, Assistant Secretary of Defense, immediately saw Afghanistan not as the locale of a harsh and dangerous conflict to be ended but as a place to teach the Russians a lesson. Such “bleeders” became the most influential people in Washington .
The task of creating such solidarity fell upon Saudi Arabia, together with other conservative Arab monarchies. This duty was accepted readily and they quickly made the Afghan Jihad their central cause…. But still more importantly, to go heart and soul for jihad was crucial at a time when Saudi legitimacy as the guardians of Islam was under strong challenge by Iran, which pointed to the continued occupation of Palestine by America’s partner, Israel. An increasing number of Saudis were becoming disaffected by the House of Saud – its corruption, self-indulgence, repression, and closeness to the US. Therefore, the Jihad in Afghanistan provided an excellent outlet for the growing number of militant Sunni activists in Saudi Arabia, and a way to deal with the daily taunts of the Iranian clergy.
The bleeders soon organized and armed the Great Global Jihad, funded by Saudi Arabia, and executed by Pakistan. A powerful magnet for militant Sunni activists was created by the US. The most hardened and ideologically dedicated men were sought on the logic that they would be the best fighters. Advertisements, paid for from CIA funds, were placed in newspapers and newsletters around the world offering inducements and motivations to join the Jihad.
American universities produced books for Afghan children that extolled the virtues of jihad and of killing communists. Readers browsing through book bazaars in Rawalpindi and Peshawar can, even today, sometimes find textbooks produced as part of the series underwritten by a USAID $50 million grant to the University of Nebraska in the 1980′s . These textbooks sought to counterbalance Marxism through creating enthusiasm in Islamic militancy. They exhorted Afghan children to “pluck out the eyes of the Soviet enemy and cut off his legs”. Years after the books were first printed they were approved by the Taliban for use in madrassas – a stamp of their ideological correctness and they are still widely available in both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
At the international level, Radical Islam went into overdrive as its superpower ally, the United States, funneled support to the mujahideen. Ronald Reagan feted jihadist leaders on the White House lawn, and the U.S. press lionized them.
And the chief of the visa section at the U.S. consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia (J. Michael Springmann, who is now an attorney in private practice) says that the CIA insisted that visas be issued to Afghanis so they could travel to the U.S. to be trained in terrorism in the United States, and then sent back to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets.
1993 World Trade Center Bombing
New York District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau believed that the intelligence services could and should have stopped the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, but they were preoccupied with other issues cover. As well-known investigative journalist Robert I. Friedman wrote in New York Magazine in 1995:
Shiekh Omar Abdel Rahman commands an almost deified adoration and respect in certain Islamic circles. It was his 1980 fatwa – religious decree – condemning Anwar Sadat for making peace with Israel that is widely believed to be responsible for Sadat’s assassination a year later. (Rahman was subsequently tried but acquitted.)
The CIA paid to send Abdel Rahman to Peshawar ‘to preach to the Afghans about the necessity of unity to overthrow the Kabul regime,’ according to Professor Rubin. By all accounts, Rahman was brilliant at inspiring the faithful.
As a reward for his services, the CIA gave the sheikh a one-year visa to the United States in May, 1990 – even though he was on a State Department terrorism watch list that should have barred him from the country.
After a public outcry in the wake of the World Trade Centre bombing, a State Department representative discovered that Rahman had, in fact, received four United States visas dating back to December 15, 1986. All were given to him by CIA agents acting as consular officers at American embassies in Khartoum and Cairo. The CIA officers claimed they didn’t know the sheikh was one of the most notorious political figures in the Middle East and a militant on the State Department’s list of undesirables. The agent in Khartoum said that when the sheikh walked in the computers were down and the Sudanese clerk didn’t bother to check the microfiche file.
Says one top New York investigator: ‘Left with the choice between pleading stupidity or else admitting deceit, the CIA went with stupidity.’
The sheikh arrived in Brooklyn at a fortuitous time for the CIA. In the wake of the Soviet Union’s retreat from Afghanistan, Congress had slashed the amount of covert aid going to the mujaheddin. The international network of Arab-financed support groups became even more vital to the CIA, including the string of jihad offices that had been set up across America with the help of Saudi and American intelligence. To drum up support, the agency paved the way for veterans of the Afghan conflict to visit the centres and tell their inspirational war stories; in return, the centres collected millions of dollars for the rebels at a time when they needed it most.
There were jihad offices in Jersey City, Atlanta and Dallas, but the most important was the one in Brooklyn, called Alkifah – Arabic for ‘the struggle.’ That storefront became the de facto headquarters of the sheikh.
On November 5, 1990, Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultra-right-wing Zionist militant, was shot in the throat with a .357 magnum in a Manhattan hotel; El-Sayyid Nosair was gunned down by an off-duty postal inspector outside the hotel, and the murder weapon was found a few feet from his hand.
A subsequent search of Nosair’s Cliffside Park, New Jersey home turned up forty boxes of evidence – evidence that, had the D.A.’s office and the FBI looked at it more carefully, would have revealed an active terrorist conspiracy about to boil over in New York.
In addition to discovering thousands of rounds of ammunition and hit lists with the names of New York judges and prosecutors, investigators found amongst the Nosair evidence classified U.S. military-training manuals.
Also found amongst Nosair’s effects were several documents, letters and notebooks in Arabic, which when eventually translated would point to e terror conspiracy against the United States. The D.A.’s office shipped these, along with the other evidence, to the FBI’s office at 26 Federal Plaza. ‘We gave all this stuff to the bureau, thinking that they were well equipped,’ says one source close to the D.A.’s office. ‘After the World Trade Centre, we discovered they never translated the material.’
According to other sources familiar with the case, the FBI told District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau that Nosair was a lone gunman, not part of a broader conspiracy; the prosecution took this position at trial and lost, only convicting Nosair of gun charges. Morgenthau speculated the CIA may have encouraged the FBI not to pursue any other leads, these sources say. ‘The FBI lied to me,’ Morgenthau has told colleagues. ‘They’re supposed to untangle terrorist connections, but they can’t be trusted to do the job.’
Three years later, on the day the FBI arrested four Arabs for the World Trade Centre bombing, saying it had all of the suspects, Morgenthau’s ears pricked up. He didn’t believe the four were ‘self-starters,’ and speculated that there was probably a larger network as well as a foreign sponsor. He also had a hunch that the suspects would lead back to Sheikh Abdel Rahman. But he worried that the dots might not be connected because the U.S. government was protecting the sheikh for his help in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, some in the D.A.’s office believe that until the Ryder van exploded underneath New York’s tallest building, the sheikh and his men were being protected by the CIA. Morgenthau reportedly believes the CIA brought the sheikh to Brooklyn in the first place….
As far as can be determined, no American agency is investigating leads suggesting foreign-government involvement in the New York terror conspiracy. For example,Saudi intelligence has contributed to Sheikh Rahman’s legal-defence fund, according to Mohammed al-Khilewi, the former first secretary to the Saudi mission at the U.N.
Friedman notes that intelligence agents had possession of notes which should have linked all of these terrorists, but failed to connect the dots prior to 1993.
Some Afghan groups that have had close affiliation with Pakistani Intelligence are believed to have been involved in the  New York World Trade Center bombings.
Pro-Western afghan officials … officially warned the U.S. government about Hekmatyar no fewer than four times. The last warning delivered just days before the  Trade Center attack.” Speaking to former CIA Director Robert Gates, about Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Peter Arnett reports, “The Pakistanis showered Gulbuddin Hekmatyar with U.S. provided weapons and sang his praises to the CIA. They had close ties with Hakmatyar going back to the mid-1970′s.”
This is interesting because it is widely-acknowledged that Gulbuddin Hekmatyar was enthusiastically backed by the U.S. For example, U.S. News and World Report says:
[He was] once among America’s most valued allies. In the 1980s, the CIA funneled hundreds of millions of dollars in weapons and ammunition to help them battle the Soviet Army during its occupation of Afghanistan. Hekmatyar, then widely considered by Washington to be a reliable anti-Soviet rebel, was even flown to the United States by the CIA in 1985.
As the New York Times, CBS News and others reported, an FBI informant involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center begged the FBI to substitute fake bomb power for real explosives, but his FBI handler somehow let real explosives be used.
As reported by Newsweek, the New York Times and others, an FBI informant hosted and rented a room to 2 of the 9/11 hijackers in 2000 while they were in the U.S., but then failed to stop them.
Indeed, former counter-terrorism boss Richard Clarke theorizes that top CIA brass tried to recruit the hijackers and turn them to our side, but were unsuccessful. And – when they realized had failed – they covered up their tracks so that the FBI would not investigate their illegal CIA activities , “malfeasance and misfeasance”, on U.S. soil.
One of the main trainers of Bin Laden and Al Qaeda worked at various times for the Green Berets, the CIA and the FBI. As former ABC News investigative reporter Peter Lance says (as summarized by Raw Story):
Ali Mohamed … was something of an al Qaeda super-spy who managed to work with terrorists, the Green Berets, the CIA and become an FBI informant, even while ensuring Osama bin Laden’s safe passage around the middle east.
Mohamed … was actually responsible for writing portions of the terror network’s training manual and played a key role in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa which left over 200 dead…
“He believes that chagrin over the fact that bin Laden’s spy stole top-secret intelligence (including, for example, the positions of all Green Beret and SEAL units worldwide) led to a decision on high to bury the entire Able Danger intelligence program, which identified the Al Qaeda cell active in Brooklyn months before the 9/11 attacks, and also identified Ali Mohamed as a member of bin Laden’s inner circle as early as March 2000.”
Mohamed trained terrorists how to hijack airliners, bomb buildings and assassinate rivals. He created al-Qaeda cells in the U.S., even helping with fund raising. He also arranged meetings between bin Laden and Hezbollah leaders and scouted bombing targets, including U.S. embassies in East Africa.
What makes it all especially disturbing is that during much of this time Mohamed was a U.S. citizen, an operative for the CIA and FBI, and a member of the U.S. Army.
Mohamed’s initial infiltration of the U.S. military came in 1981 when, at the age of 29, he participated in an exchange program at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the Green Berets and Delta Force.
After returning to Egypt he was drummed out of that country’s military because of his radical Islamic views. No matter. The CIA took him on in 1984, sending him to infiltrate a Hamburg mosque. There, Mohamed quickly blew his cover, resulting in his name being added to a watch list of suspected terrorists.
That still didn’t stop Mohamed, who was allowed to re-enter the U.S. in 1985.
He joined the U.S. Army a year later, which took him back to Fort Bragg, where his superiors were alarmed by his praise of the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. His radicalism did not lead to his dismissal, though. Instead, Mohamed was asked to share his views with officers so that they might better understand the Islamic way.
He stole documents at Fort Bragg and fashioned them into a terrorism training manual, which he used to help bin Laden’s personal security forces and countless terrorists. He also used his military credentials to take an unauthorized trip to Afghanistan, where he fought Soviet forces, a violation for which he was not disciplined.
After his military service ended, Mohamed did bin Laden’s bidding on many other fronts, including scouting bombing targets such as U.S. embassies in East Africa. He was arrested in 1998 after his part in the plots was revealed, and pleaded guilty in 2000 to five counts of conspiracy.
Mohamed is thought to be supplying information helpful to the U.S. government from an undisclosed prison cell, and at least one person thinks his final chapter has yet to be written.
David Runke, a defense attorney in the African embassies bombing case, says, “I think the most likely thing that will happen is he’ll be released, he’ll be given a new name and a new identity, and he will pick up a life someplace.”
Currently in U.S. custody, his whereabouts and legal status are closely guarded secrets, according to National Geographic Channel officials.
UC Berkeley Professor emeritus Peter Dale Scott is even less generous in regards to our government’s failure to stop Mohamed:
It is now generally admitted that Ali Mohamed (known in the al Qaeda camps as Abu Mohamed al Amriki — “Father Mohamed the American”) worked for the FBI, the CIA, and U.S. Special Forces. As he later confessed in court, he also aided the terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, a co-founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and by then an aide to bin Laden, when he visited America to raise money.
The 9/11 Report mentioned him, and said that the plotters against the U.S. Embassy in Kenya were “led” (their word) by Ali Mohamed.
Ali Mohamed. …. trained most of al Qaeda’s top leadership – including Bin Laden and Zawahiri – and most of al Qaeda’s top trainers. He gave some training to persons who would later carry out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing…. From 1994 until his arrest in 1998, he lived as an American citizen in California, applying for jobs as an FBI translator.
Patrick Fitzgerald knew Ali Mohamed well. In 1994 he had named him as an unindicted co-conspirator in the New York landmarks case, yet allowed him to remain free. This was because, as Fitzgerald knew, Ali Mohamed was an FBI informant, from at least 1993 and maybe 1989. Thus, from 1994 “until his arrest in 1998 [by which time the 9/11 plot was well under way], Mohamed shuttled between California, Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia and at least a dozen other countries.” Shortly after 9/11, Larry C. Johnson, a former State Department and CIA official, faulted the FBI publicly for using Mohamed as an informant, when it should have recognized that the man was a high-ranking terrorist plotting against the United States.
[I]n 1993 Ali Mohamed had been detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada, when he inquired at an airport after an incoming al Qaeda terrorist who turned out to be carrying two forged Saudi passports. Mohamed immediately told the RCMP to make a phone call to the United States, and the call secured his release. We’ve since been told that it was Mohamed’s West coast FBI handler, John Zent, “who vouched for Ali and got him released.”
This release enabled Ali to go on to Kenya, take pictures of the U.S. Embassy, and deliver them to bin Laden for the Embassy bombing plot.
In August 2006 there was a National Geographic Special on Ali Mohamed. We can take this as the new official fallback position on Ali Mohamed, because John Cloonan, the FBI agent who worked with Fitzgerald on Mohamed, helped narrate it. I didn’t see the show, but here’s what TV critics said about its contents:
Ali Mohamed manipulated the FBI, CIA and U.S. Army on behalf of Osama bin Laden. Mohamed trained terrorists how to hijack airliners, bomb buildings and assassinate rivals. [D]uring much of this time Mohamed was …, an operative for the CIA and FBI, and a member of the U.S. Army. …Mohamed turned up in FBI surveillance photos as early as 1989, training radical Muslims who would go on to assassinate Jewish militant Meir Kahane and detonate a truck bomb at the World Trade Center. He not only avoided arrest, but managed to become an FBI informant while writing most of the al Qaeda terrorist manual and helping plan attacks on American troops in Somalia and U.S. embassies in Africa.
That Mohamed trained al Qaeda in hijacking planes and wrote most of the al Qaeda terrorist manual is confirmed in a new book by Lawrence Wright, who has seen US Government records. Let me say this again: one of al-Qaeda’s top trainers in terrorism and how to hijack airplanes was an operative for FBI, CIA, and the Army…
Within days of 9/11 Cloonan rushed backed from Yemen and interviewed Ali, whom the Feds had allowed to slip into witness protection, and demanded to know the details of the plot. At that point Ali wrote it all out – including details of how he’d counseled would-be hijackers on how to smuggle box cutters on board aircraft and where to sit, to effect the airline seizures.
If all these latest revelations about Ali Mohamed are true, then:
1) a key planner of the 9/11 plot, and trainer in hijacking, was simultaneously an informant for the FBI.
2) This operative trained the members for all of the chief Islamist attacks inside the United States – the first WTC bombing, the New York landmarks plot, and finally 9/11, as well as the attacks against Americans in Somalia and Kenya.
3) And yet for four years Mohamed was allowed to move in and out of the country as an unindicted conspirator. Then, unlike his trainees, he was allowed to plea-bargain. To this day he may still not have been sentenced for any crime.…
All three had been trained by Ali Mohamed back in the late 1980s at a rifle range, where the FBI had photographed them, before terminating this surveillance in the fall of 1989.
The U.S. Government was thus in an excellent position to arrest, indict, and convict all of the terrorists involved, including Mohamed…
While this post does not address any “inside job” theories, there is evidence that intelligence services made other priorities – perhaps 1) covering up their previous backing of Al Qaeda, 2) trying to turn Al Qaeda operatives to our side, or 3) reserving the possibility of using them in future missions in other parts of the world – more important than capturing and disrupting Al Qaeda leadership:
A high-level military intelligence officer says that his unit – tasked with tracking Bin Laden prior to 9/11 – was pulled off the task, and their warnings that the World Trade Center and Pentagon were being targeted were ignored
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