CIA source: bin Laden may not have known about the attacks before they happened

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Sep 25 15:38:01 MDT 2001

The Observer                                           September 23, 2001

The clues that point to bin Laden

Race to find the final proof

     Sources in all the principal agencies - the American FBI and CIA, and
     Britain's MI6 and MI5 - insist that, at present, there is nothing
     approaching the standard of proof that would be required to persuade
     a jury in a criminal court of law.

     By David Rose

The thousands of intelligence, security and police officers investigating
the attacks on America on both sides of the Atlantic are racing against an
unknown deadline: they have to produce enough evidence of Osama bin Laden's
involvement to convince world opinion before Western military action begins.
It is a task of awesome complexity, and on its success or failure may hang
the world's fate for many years to come.

Sources in all the principal agencies - the American FBI and CIA, and
Britain's MI6 and MI5 - insist that, at present, there is nothing
approaching the standard of proof that would be required to persuade a jury
in a criminal court of law. Yet all continue to assert, in the words of one
British source, that 'the longer the inquiry has gone on, the stronger the
evidence that bin Laden and his organisation were behind the attacks has

On Friday night, Scotland Yard said it had made three arrests in London in
connection with the attacks. A further arrest was made in Birmingham,
following a steady trickle of similar announcements made by the FBI from all
parts of the United States. So far, no one has been charged, with the FBI
stating that its prisoners are being held under federal law as 'material
witnesses'. However, the agencies insist that all these individuals fit into
a definable pattern: a large but close-knit terrorist network, consisting
both of active suicide pilots and a solid support structure, with most of
its members based in the West, yet linked at crucial points with bin Laden's

Suggestions that a sovereign state, most obviously Iraq, was directly
involved are being swept aside. According to another British source, reports
that one of the hijackers, Mohamed Atta, was observed meeting Iraqi
intelligence officers in Europe last summer are 'plain wrong'. A senior CIA
man added: 'This operation didn't need a state to support it. It probably
cost no more than $2 million. That just isn't a sum that bin Laden's group
finds remotely difficult to raise.'

Nevertheless, hard proof that bin Laden ordered the hijackings may never
come to light. Although bin Laden does control a private army, which helps
the Taliban fight the Afghan civil war, in the analysis of Western
intelligence services al-Qaeda does not operate in a centralised,
hierarchical fashion, and he may personally have done no more than inspire,
or possibly facilitate, the US attacks. 'He is not a leader in a practical
sense. He didn't pick up the blue phone and discuss the attack on Flight 93,
then pick up the green one and go into targeting the White House. It is
quite possible he may not have known about the attacks before they
happened,' said one CIA source.

Al-Qaeda does have money and equipment, derived from fundraising, bin
Laden's inherited fortune and the millions of pounds he made in legitimate
business in Sudan between the defeat of the Soviet forces in Afghanistan and
his expulsion from Africa at US behest in 1996. His construction and
roadbuilding interests there are well documented. Less well known is the
fact that he was also the Sudan representative of the Western multinational
Hunting group, whose military division manufactures about 20 per cent of
Britain's Trident nuclear missiles.

One reason why the investigators remain confident they have the right chief
suspect is the nature of most of the 19 named hijackers: Arabs, mostly
Saudis, some of whom have fought either in Afghanistan or in other conflicts
in the Muslim world which bin Laden supports, such as Chechnya. The 'Afghan
Arabs' who flocked to Afghanistan to join the Mujahideen resistance after
the Soviet invasion in 1980, a group which includes bin Laden himself, were
the first of a now widespread phenomenon - the global Islamic fundamentalist
international brigade. Their ranks have proved a fertile recruiting ground
for terrorists.

Thus the Saudi brothers Waleed and Wali al-Shehri, who helped Atta fly
American Airlines' Flight 11 into the World Trade Centre's north tower,
fought for the Taliban against the Northern Alliance, which still controls
about 10 per cent of Afghanistan. Intelligence sources say bin Laden
directly controls at least 10,000 troops fighting the continuing civil war,
almost all of them Arabs - one reason why, whatever their private feelings,
the Taliban were never likely to expel him. Ahmed al-Ghamdi, one of those
who flew the United Airlines plane into the south tower, had fought in
Chechnya, as had Nawaq al-Hamzi, one of those who crashed into the Pentagon.

There are also reports of several direct connections between some of the
hijackers and men the intelligence services believe to be key bin Laden
operatives. Al-Ghamdi and Satam al-Suqami, one of those aboard the north
tower aircraft, are said to have been closely linked with Raed Hijazi, a US
citizen and Boston taxi driver arrested in Syria and currently on trial in
Jordan for a series of thwarted bomb attacks which had been planned for
Millennium Eve on hotels used by Westerners.

While awaiting trial, Hijazi has begun to co-operate with investigators,
admitting his own membership of al-Qaeda and naming Nabil al-Marabh, another
Boston taxi driver, as a leading bin Laden agent inside the US. FBI sources
say al-Suqami and al-Ghamdi were also close to al-Marabh, who was arrested
near Chicago on Thursday after a nationwide manhunt. He had earlier evaded
arrest at a bin Laden safe house in Detroit, where police found false
passports and a notebook containing plans and notes about security at a US
base in Turkey and an airport in Jordan.

Khalid al-Midhar, another of the hijackers, and the man using the false
identity of Nawaq al-Hamzi, also appear to be linked directly to al-Qaeda.
In January 2000, according to US reports, they were filmed secretly by the
CIA attending a bin Laden operatives' meeting in Malaysia - where al-Qaeda
is said to have bank accounts. Al-Midhar, who was on board the Pentagon
flight, was already being sought by US investigators for his alleged role in
last year's attack on the USS Cole in the Gulf.

The final substantial piece of the prosecution case comes from Germany,
where agents bugged a known bin Laden cell celebrating wildly at the news of
the atrocities, with one voice exclaiming: 'We did it, we did it.'

The rest is more tenuous. No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks,
but then, intelligence sources say, bin Laden has never claimed
responsibility for any terrorist act. Some of the most cogent doubts are
being expressed by intelligence services from friendly countries in the
Muslim world. 'We just aren't so sure bin Laden's organisation works like
this,' one senior Middle Eastern source said last night. 'His previous
attacks have all been quick, simple, easy to plan: this is very different.
Islamic terrorism fell into two main categories, he argued: groups which
took a long-term approach, and those who preferred swifter death and glory.
His agency, which had studied bin Laden for years, assessed al-Qaeda as
belonging firmly in the second category.

In 1998, when President Clinton launched cruise missiles at the harmless
al-Shifa medicine factory in Sudan, claiming it had been making VX nerve gas
for bin Laden, intelligence sources were just as emphatic that they had got
the right target. Piece by piece the US case unravelled, as it emerged that
bin Laden had never owned the factory, while it had been manufacturing two
thirds of Sudan's pharmaceuticals.

The fact that the attacks on America took place at all was a terrible
intelligence failure. The scale of the global catastrophe, if the evidence
that bin Laden was behind them turns out to be unreliable, can barely be

Louis Proyect
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