Blowback chronicles

Mark Jones mark.jones at
Sat Sep 15 10:49:47 MDT 2001

Giles Foden on the murky deals that fuelled international terrorism
Special report: Afghanistan
Special report: Terrorism in the US

Saturday September 15, 2001
The Guardian

During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, US officials passed billions 
in funding and training to the mojahedin. The CIA, in particular while 
under the direction of William Casey - head of the agency during the Reagan 
administration - was the main manager of these operations. With the Russian 
withdrawal in 1989, the CIA "celebrated its victory with champagne". So 
says Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism (Pluto 
Press, £12.99), the definitive account by ABC journalist John Cooley.
The celebrations, under the presidency of George Bush senior (himself a 
former CIA director), were premature. The sophisticated methods taught to 
the mojahedin, and the thousands of tonnes of arms supplied to them by the 
US - and Britain - are now tormenting the west in the phenomenon known as 
"blowback", whereby a policy strategy rebounds on its own devisers. The 
sins of the father, it might well be said, are being heaped on the head of 
the son.
Self-laceration may seem the last thing the US needs right now. But the 
lesson of these books is that only by facing up to its dark past will a 
beleaguered country be able to create a future in which terrorist attacks 
on this scale can be avoided. The whole issue of American "creation" of bin 
Laden in the Frankenstein's laboratory of Afghanistan during the 1980s is 
generally avoided by government sources. Cooley points out that while the 
State Department released a fact sheet on bin Laden in 1997 (the year prior 
to the bombing of the East African embassies), the document "omits the 
background facts which help to explain how early and close were his 
connections in the United States - making it easier for the Reagan-Casey 
jihad team to enlist his talents and his fortune".
The British military establishment colluded with the US in supporting the 
mojahedin, with SAS and Green Berets going into Afghanistan itself. As 
ex-SAS soldier Tom Carew explains in his Andy McNab-like Jihad: The Secret 
War in Afghanistan (Mainstream, £7.99), they were inevitably drawn into 
actual combat. "We came to a small hamlet and were stopped by a couple of 
mojahedin. They asked us, surprisingly politely, whether we would mind 
helping them, as their commander had decided he was going to make some kind 
of stand against the Russians."
As Cooley points out, in this country, "it was only Prime Minister Margaret 
Thatcher's British government which supported the jihad with full 
enthusiasm". Hindered by Congressional interference, the CIA covertly 
sought Mrs Thatcher's help - in one incident, during the Falklands war, 
they curried favour by handing over an illegal supply of Stinger missiles 
to British officials in a Washington car park.
Much of the help given to the mojahedin was coordinated by an MI6 field 
officer in Islamabad. It was surely only a matter of time before some of 
this aid would find its way to the likes of bin Laden. Like the covert 
British and American teams, many of which received dollar-for-dollar 
funding from the Saudi royal family, he arrived in Afghanistan directly 
after the Soviet invasion in 1979. Everyone was getting along famously, 
according to Cooley. "Delighted by his impeccable Saudi credentials, the 
CIA gave Osama free rein in Afghanistan, as did Pakistan's intelligence 
In Ken Connor's Ghost Force: The Secret History of the SAS (Orion, £7.99), 
it is claimed that the elite regiment actually trained Afghan fighters in 
remote locations in Scotland. In Afghanistan itself, the services of 
Keenie-Meenie Services were used. This was an offshoot of British security 
firm Control Risks, mainly comprising ex-SAS members and former members of 
Rhodesian and South African special forces. It took its name from the 
Swahili word for the movement of a snake through grass. KMS later played a 
role in the Oliver North, Iran-Contra affair of 1987.
On American soil, the CIA used Muslim charities and mosque communities as 
fronts for recruitment of fighters in their secret war against the USSR in 
the Hindu Kush. As Cooley writes in Unholy Wars : "One was [in] New York's 
Arab district, in Brooklyn along Atlantic Avenue... Another was a private 
rifle club in an affluent community of Connecticut."
Bin Laden and a man named Mustafa Chalaby, who ran a jihad refugee centre 
in Brooklyn, were both protégés of Abdullah Azzam. A formative influence on 
bin Laden, the charismatic Azzam was killed in a car-bomb in 1987: 
according to some rumours he was killed by the CIA. Others claim he was 
himself a CIA agent.
Cooley says that those directly recruited by the US went to Camp Peary - 
"the Farm", as the CIA's spy training centre in Virginia is known in the 
intelligence community - in scenes, as he tells them, reminiscent of the 
preparations for the killing of JFK recounted in Don DeLillo's Libra. At 
the Farm and other secret camps, young Afghans and Arab nationals from 
countries such as Egypt and Jordan learned strategic sabotage skills. 
Passed down to the younger jihad generation which filled the ranks of the 
bin Laden organisation, these skills would come back to haunt the US. Simon 
Reeve's The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden and the Future of 
Terrorism (Deutsch, £17.99) looks at how they were applied at the time of 
the 1993 attack on the World Trade Centre and the 1998 embassy bombings in 
Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam.
In the financial world, too, there is a blowback scenario, given that for 
years global banking has gained considerable benefits from lack of 
transparency and regulation. BCCI, the British-Pakistani bank that was 
closed down in 1991 after a massive fraud, was a regular route for 
mojahedin funding, including that provided by Saudi intelligence.
Financing for Pentagon and CIA "black budget" operations - particularly in 
the era of William Casey - also passed through BCCI, as did drug money. 
Some analysts claim black-budget US and British operatives flew out opium 
on the planes with which they brought in arms. Later, jihad funding came 
from the construction-industry coffers of Osama bin Laden and other Muslim 
"philanthropists". Bin Laden established his own bank, the Al-Shamal 
Islamic, in Khartoum.
In Unholy Wars, Cooley provides convincing evidence that Arab businessman 
and arms merchant Adnan Kashoggi had dealings with bin Laden's father, 
receiving a $50,000 cheque from him. Oil broker Roy Furmark, Cooley says, 
provided a link between his CIA friend Casey and Kashoggi, introducing the 
latter to Manuchehr Ghorbanifar, "the Iranian middleman who became a 
central figure in the arms for hostages and funds for Contras deals with 
Iran, in which Kashoggi got involved".
Oil itself has long been a factor in the "great game" of Asian geopolitics, 
one which brings the other big player in the blowback scenario, Russia, 
into the picture. As Afghan expert Michael Griffin puts it in Reaping the 
Whirlwind: The Taliban Movement in Afghanistan (Pluto, £19.95): "A 
trans-Afghan pipeline would undermine Russia's control of energy prices 
from Central Asia".
Griffin argues that the US under Clinton trimmed its opposition to the 
Taliban to gain an advantage in oil politics. By that time, in this 
high-stakes game of snakes and ladders, Clinton's successor was effectively 
already in the picture, as the son of a man with close ties to the oil 
company Unocal, which wanted to put a pipeline across Afghanistan. Among 
their partners in the venture were BP and the Saudi royal family. The 
future was beginning to cast as heavy a shadow as the past.
Griffin's introduction was penned seven months ago, but what he has to say 
still makes sobering reading.
"The accession in the US of President George W Bush... may shed yet fresh 
light on at least two central mysteries of the Taliban ... The first is the 
extent to which the administration of Bill Clinton actively encouraged its 
former cold war allies, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, to assemble and finance 
a tribal military force to end the misrule of the mojahedin in the 
post-Soviet years. The second - of greater sensitivity - is to provide a 
coherent explanation for the studied incompetence of the FBI, CIA and other 
American intelligence agencies in addressing the alleged threats posed to 
the US by Osama bin Laden and his network. Bush's links with the US energy 
industry, most notably Unocal, are, regrettably, more likely to restrict 
the current state of knowledge about US policy in Afghanistan in the late 
1990s, than to enlarge it."
Appalling as they are, this week's events may yet begin to force some dark 
secrets out into the light.
• Zanzibar, Giles Foden's novel about the US embassy bombings in East 
Africa, is published by Faber next year

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