On September 11, 2001, within hours of the murderous 9/11 attacks, Bush, Rumsfeld, and Cheney had committed America to what they later called the “War on Terror.” It should more properly, I believe, be called the “Terror War,” one in which terror has been directed repeatedly against civilians by all participants, both states and non-state actors.1 It should also be seen as part of a larger, indeed global, process in which terror has been used against civilians in interrelated campaigns by all major powers, including China in Xinjiang and Russia in Chechnya, as well as the United States.2 Terror war in its global context should perhaps be seen as the latest stage of the age-long secular spread of transurban civilization into areas of mostly rural resistance -- areas where conventional forms of warfare, for either geographic or cultural reasons, prove inconclusive.
Terror War was formally declared by George W. Bush on the evening of September 11, 2001, with his statement to the American nation that "we will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them."3 But the notion that Bush’s terror war was in pursuit of actual terrorists lost credibility in 2003, when it was applied to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a country known to have been targeted by terrorists but not to have harbored them.4 It lost still more credibility with the 2005 publication in Britain of the so-called Downing Street memo, in which the head of the British intelligence service MI6 reported after a visit to Washington in 2002 that "Bush wanted to remove Saddam Hussein, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."5 False stories followed in due course linking Iraq to WMD, anthrax, and Niger yellowcake (uranium).
This essay will demonstrate that before 9/11 a small element inside the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit and related agencies, the so-called Alec Station Group, were also busy, “fixing” intelligence by suppressing it, in a way which, accidentally or deliberately, enabled the Terror War. They did so by withholding evidence from the FBI before 9/11 about two of the eventual alleged hijackers on 9/11, Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, thus ensuring that the FBI could not surveil the two men or their colleagues.
This failure to share was recognized in the 9/11 Commission Report, but treated as an accident that might not have occurred “if more resources had been applied.”6 This explanation, however, has since been refuted by 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean. Asked recently by two filmmakers if the failure to deal appropriately with al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi could have been a simple mistake, Kean replied:
Oh, it wasn’t careless oversight. It was purposeful. No question about that .… The conclusion that we came to was that in the DNA of these organizations was secrecy. And secrecy to the point of ya don’t share it with anybody.7
In 2011 an important book by Kevin Fenton, Disconnecting the Dots, demonstrated conclusively that the withholding was purposive, and sustained over a period of eighteen months.8 This interference and manipulation became particularly blatant and controversial in the days before 9/11; it led one FBI agent, Steve Bongardt, to predict accurately on August 29, less than two weeks before 9/11, that “someday someone will die.”9
As will be seen, the motives for this withholding remain inscrutable. At one time I was satisfied with Lawrence Wright’s speculations that the CIA may have wanted to recruit the two Saudis; and that “The CIA may also have been protecting an overseas operation [possibly in conjunction with Saudi Arabia] and was afraid that the F.B.I. would expose it.”10 The purpose of this essay is to suggest that the motives for the withholding may have had to do with the much larger neocon objective being imposed on American foreign policy at this same time: the consolidation of U.S. global hegemony by the establishment of U.S. forward-based bases around the oil fields of Central Asia.
In short, the withholding of evidence should be seen as part of the larger ominous pattern of the time, including the malperformance of the U.S. government (USG) in response to the 9/11 attacks, and the murderous anthrax letters which helped secure the passage of the Patriot Act.
I am now persuaded by Fenton that Lawrence Wright’s explanation, that the CIA was protecting a covert operation, may explain the beginnings of the withholding in January 2000, but cannot explain its renewal in the days just before 9/11. Fenton analyzes a list of thirty-five different occasions where the two alleged hijackers were protected in this fashion, from January 2000 to about September 5, 2001, less than a week before the hijackings.11 We shall see that in his analysis, the incidents fall into two main groups. The motive he attributes to the earlier ones, was “to cover a CIA operation that was already in progress.”12 However after “the system was blinking red” in the summer of 2001, and the CIA expected an imminent attack, Fenton can see no other explanation than that “the purpose of withholding the information had become to allow the attacks to go forward.”13
Fenton’s second sentence would imply that a homicidal crime was committed by members of the Alec Station group, even if the crime was one of manslaughter (unintended homicide) rather than deliberate and premeditated murder. One can imagine benign reasons for withholding the information: for example, the CIA may have been tolerating the behavior of the two Saudis in order to track down their associates. In this case, we would be dealing with no more than a miscalculation – albeit a homicidal miscalculation.
The Terror War and the Rumsfeld-Cheney-Wolfowitz Project of Global Dominion
But in the course of this essay I shall dwell on the activities of the head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, Richard Blee, in Uzbekistan as well as Afghanistan. Uzbekistan was an area of concern not only to Blee and his superior Cofer Black; it was also in an area of major interest to Richard Cheney, whose corporation Halliburton had been active since 1997 or earlier in developing the petroleum reserves of Central Asia. Cheney himself said in a speech to oil industrialists in 1998, "I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian.”14
I shall suggest that the purpose as well as the result of protecting the two Saudis may have been to fulfill the objectives of Cheney, Rumsfeld, and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) neocon group for establishing “forward-based forces” in Central Asia.15 We shall see that a phone call on 9/11 from CIA Director Tenet to Stephen Cambone, a key PNAC figure in the Pentagon, apparently transmitted some of the privileged information that never reached the FBI.
This neocon agenda was partially to maintain American and Israeli domination of the region for security purposes, and (as we shall see) to create the conditions for future unilateral preemptive actions against unfriendly states like Iraq. In particular it was designed to establish new secure bases in the Middle East, anticipating Donald Rumsfeld’s predictable announcement in 2003 that the U.S. would pull “virtually all of its troops, except some training personnel,” out of Saudi Arabia.16 But it was partly also to strengthen American influence in particular over the newly liberated states of Central Asia, with their sizable unproven oil and gas reserves.
Fenton’s alarming conclusion about CIA actions leading up to the 9/11 attacks makes more sense in the context of this agenda, and also in the context of three other revealing anomalies about Bush’s Terror War. The first is the paradox that this supposed pursuit of al-Qaeda was conducted in alliance with the two nations, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, that were most actively supporting Al Qaeda in other parts of the world. In this essay we shall see U.S. and Saudi intelligence cooperating in such a way as to protect, rather than neutralize, Saudi agents in al Qaeda.
The second anomaly is that although the CIA may have been focused on crushing al Qaeda, Rumsfeld and Cheney were intent from the outset on a much wider war. In September 2001 there was no intelligence on 9/11 linking the attacks to Iraq, yet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, supported by his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, was already observing on September 12 “that there were no decent targets for bombing in Afghanistan and that we should consider bombing Iraq, which, he said, had better targets.”17 Rumsfeld’s argument was supported by a Defense Department paper prepared for the ensuing Camp David meetings of September 15-16, which “proposed that ‘the immediate priority targets for initial action’ should be al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Iraq.”18
Iraq had been a target for Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz since at least 1998, when the two men co-signed a PNAC letter to President Clinton, calling for “the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power.”19 But Iraq was not the only target in the Cheney-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz agenda, which since at least 1992 had been nothing less than global U.S. dominance, or what former U.S. Colonel Andrew Bacevich called “permanent American global hegemony.”20 It was a high priority for the neocons. Even before Bush had been elected by the Supreme Court in December 2000, Cheney was at work securing key posts for the 1998 letter’s cosigners (including Richard Armitage, John Bolton, Richard Perle, along with other PNAC personnel like Stephen Cambone) in the White House, State, and Defense.
The terror war from its outset was designed as an instrument to implement this objective. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on September 24 “raised the issue of state sponsorship of terrorism: ‘What is our strategy with respect to countries that support terrorism like Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Sudan?’”21 In his memoir, General Wesley Clark reports that the question had evolved by November into a Pentagon five-year plan:
As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat. Yes, we were still on track for going against Iraq, he said. But there was more. This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.22
At about this time, former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht published an article in The Weekly Standard about the need for a change of regime in Iran and Syria.23 (Gerecht continues to warn in The Weekly Standard about the menace of both nations today.)
In the Clinton era Gerecht, like Cheney and Rumsfeld, had been part of the Project for the New American Century, a hawkish group calling both for action against Iraq in particular and also more generally for an expanded defense budget that would “increase defense spending significantly” in “the cause of American leadership.” The PNAC report of September 2000 – Rebuilding America’s Defenses had much to say about Gulf oil and the importance of retaining and strengthening “forward-based forces in the region.”24
It is relevant that by the end of 2001, in the wake of 9/11 and the Terror War, the United States had already established new bases in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan, and was thus better positioned to influence the behavior of the newly liberated governments in the huge oil and gas region east of the Caspian. In the course of this essay we shall see that the agreement to use the first and one of the most important of these bases, Karshi-Khanabad or K-2 in Uzbekistan, grew out of an earlier CIA liaison agreement negotiated in 1999 by Richard Blee of the Alec Station Group, a central figure in this essay. Most Americans are unaware that on 9/11 U.S. Special Forces were already at K-2 on an Uzbek training mission, and that by September 22, two weeks before a formal U.S.-Uzbek military agreement, “the CIA was already flying its teams into the massive Karshi-Khanabad, or K2, air base in southern Uzbekistan, where U.S. army engineers were repairing the runway.”25
A third anomaly is that the Terror War led to a dramatic increase in the resort to terror, and even torture, by America itself, including against its own citizens. In this context it is relevant that Cheney and Rumsfeld, through their participation in the Defense Department’s super-secret Doomsday Project, had also been part of Continuity of Government (COG) planning for undermining the U.S. Bill of Rights by the warrantless surveillance and detention of dissenters.26 These plans, dating back to the fear of Communists in the McCarthyite 1950s, have been the underpinnings for the elaborate plans in the Pentagon and elsewhere for dealing with antiwar protests against the Pentagon’s plans for global domination.
As I have argued elsewhere, the U.S. is now spending billions every year on Homeland Security in no small part because of the belief, articulated by Marine Colonel Oliver North, that the Vietnam War was lost in the streets of America, and that this deterrent to U.S. military operations needed to be dealt with.27 Cheney and Rumsfeld, as part of the so-called Doomsday Project for Continuity of Government (COG) planning, had been part of this effort also.28 In short, 9/11 fulfilled agendas long contemplated by a small group of officials for radical new policies both in Central Asia and also inside America.
The homicidal crime suggested by Fenton’s meticulous research is one both difficult and painful to contemplate. America is in a crisis today because of the activities of the Banks Too Big to Fail, which, as has been pointed out, were also Banks Too Big to Jail – for to punish them as criminals would endanger America’s already threatened financial structure.29 This essay, though detailed, is dealing with something analogous, what may have been a Crime Too Big to Punish.
9/11, as will be developed in this essay, has other points in common with the John F. Kennedy assassination.
The Cover-Up of 9/11 and of the CIA’s Role in Letting It Happen
After ten years it is important to reassess what we know and do not know about the events that culminated in 9/11, particularly the actions of the CIA and the FBI and the denial of critical information to the 9/11 Commission.
Today, we can confidently say:
1) the most important truths still remain unknown, in large part because many of the most important documents are still either unreleased or heavily redacted;
2) the efforts at cover-up continue, if anything more aggressively than before;
3) In addition to the cover-up, there has been what former 9/11 Commission staffer John Farmer has called either “unprecedented administrative incompetence or organized mendacity” on the part of key figures in Washington.30 These figures include President Bush, Vice-President Cheney, NORAD General Richard Myers, and CIA Director George Tenet. They include also President Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Samuel Berger, who prior to testifying on these matters, went to the National Archives and removed, and presumably destroyed, key relevant documents.31 In his book, Farmer has in effect endorsed both of these alternatives.
Farmer’s first alternative, of “unprecedented administrative incompetence,” is in effect the explanation offered by the 9/11 Commission Report, to deal with a) striking anomalies both on 9/11 itself, and b) the preceding twenty months during which important information was withheld from the FBI by key personnel in the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit (the so-called Alec Station). But thanks to the groundbreaking new book by Kevin Fenton, Disconnecting the Dots, we can no longer attribute the anomalous CIA behavior to “systemic problems,” or what Tony Summers rashly calls “bureaucratic confusion.”32
Building on earlier important books by James Bamford, Lawrence Wright, Peter Lance, and Philip Shenon, Fenton demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that there was a systematic CIA pattern of withholding important information from the FBI, even when the FBI would normally be entitled to it. Even more brilliantly, he shows that the withholding pattern has been systematically sustained through four successive post-9/11 investigations: those of the Congressional Inquiry chaired by Senators Bob Graham and Richard Shelby (still partly withheld), the 9/11 Commission, the Department of Justice inspector general, and the CIA inspector general.
Most importantly of all, he shows that the numerous withholdings, both pre- and post 9/11, were the work of relatively few people. The withholding of information from the FBI was principally the work of the so-called “Alec Station group” – a group within but not identical with the CIA’s Osama Bin Laden Unit or “Alec Station,” consisting largely of CIA personnel, though including a few FBI as well. Key figures in this group were CIA officer Tom Wilshire (discussed in the 9/11 Commission Report as “John”), and his immediate superior at Alec Station, Richard Blee.
The post-9/11 cover-up of Wilshire’s behavior was principally the work of one person, Barbara Grewe, who worked first on the Justice Department Inspector General’s investigation of Wilshire’s behavior, then was transferred to two successive positions with the 9/11 Commission’s staff, where, under the leadership of Executive Director Philip Zelikow, she was able to transfer the focus of investigative attention from the performance of the CIA to that of the FBI.33 Whether or not Grewe conducted the interviews of Wilshire and other relevant personnel, she “certainly drew on them when drafting her sections of the Commission’s and Justice Department inspector general’s reports.”34