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Louis Freeh, the FBI, 9-11, the Matrix and the US Virtual Middle East


Former FBI Director Louis Freeh is due to testify today in the US 9-11 hearings. What is more significant than what they will be asking him, is what they won't be asking him, and what he won't say Freeh, along with thousands of officials and media people, both US and Middle Eastern, is part of the crew that is working all the time to create the virtual Middle East Matrix that Americans think exists - or rather doesn't exist. The hearings are part of the same mechanism.

US pundits are quite upset over what President Bush knew and didn't know and why no action was taken against the specific threat of Bin Laden which was supposedly so obvious, and what exactly should have been done about the famous memo of April 6 (for example, see - here ). Well, it wasn't so obvious, and the nature of the threat is still not understood.

Let's be honest. Before 1998, you probably never have heard of Al-Qaeda at all, and possibly you never heard of Osama Bin Laden. Unless you were a student of Middle Eastern affairs, you never heard of Sayid Qutb and the ideological basis of Islamism and hatred of the West, though of course you knew about the Ayatollah Khomeini and the 1993 attack on the Twin Towers. Isn't that curious? Al-Qaida had already perpetrated several attacks against the US and western interests, including the first explosion in the World Trade Center and a less publicized 1992 attack on US military personnel in Yemen. Yet most people in the United States had never heard of them. You didn't know, because nobody told you. Evidently, the option initially chosen by the US government for dealing with these threats was to ignore them in public, and more or less to wall the whole Islamist problem out of the American consciousness by ignoring it, while trying to track it and fight it secretly.

By 1998, in fact, the FBI and CIA had known about Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden for quite some time. In January 1996, they had set up "Station Alex," a virtual intelligence station that was apparently an information clearinghouse. This belies the notion that interagency cooperation was nonexistent, though it may not have been perfect. 18 months later they had found Al-Qaeda cells in 56 countries according to Richard Clarke. Cofer Black, CIA counterterrorism director, testified that they had been following Al-Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden since 1991.

You may therefore be amazed to learn, that in his testimony of January 1998, Louis Freeh, then Director of the FBI, testifying to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about terrorist threats, listed all the threats he could think of, but neither Al-Qaida nor Osama Bin Laden were among them!

Nor was CIA Director George Tenet any more forthcoming in his 1998 Senate testimony, which discussed WMD and terror threats, but said not a word about Osama Bin Ladin or Al-Qaida. So, we cannot say that there was lack of coordination between the FBI and the CIA. They both told the same story, but it was the wrong story. They had the facts, but the facts were withheld, at least in public testimony, from the American people.

By Septmber 1998, things had changed a bit. Al-Qaeda had bombed US embassies in Africa. Even Freeh could not ignore Osama bin Laden. In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the Director of the FBI said,

"As attention focuses on Usama bin Ladin in the aftermath of the East African bombings, I believe it is important to remember that rogue terrorists such as bin Ladin represent just one type of threat that we face. It is imperative that we maintain our abilities to counter the broad range of threats that confronts us."

Osama bin Laden was portrayed as a "rogue" and a loner. There was no hint of any network associated with bin Laden, or of an ideology that had tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of followers, though Freeh certainly had to have known about them. There was no hint that Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda had issued several Fatwas calling for the destruction of the United States. This information was not a secret, since the Fatwas appeared in the European Arabic press, and since the formation of his Islamic Front for the struggle against the Jews and the Crusaders was also reported But Freeh didn't talk about that either, and you didn't hear about it until you really had your ears to the ground, did you?

Quite curiously, in his subsequent testimony to the 9-11 commission in October 2002, Freeh never mentioned these bizarre omissions, nor, apparently, was he questioned about them. He won't be questioned about them now either, though obviously he wasn't telling the truth then, possibly because he was told not to tell the truth. Since by that time it is certain that Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden must have known that they had attracted the attention of the CIA and FBI, there was no possible security reason for keeping this information from the American people.

In his speech after the retaliation for bombing of the US embassies in Africa, President Clinton did speak of "the network of radical groups affiliated with and funded by Osama bin Ladin,'' but he didn't say a word about Islamism or Al-Qaeda. This represented a new view of the virtual Middle East. The problem was no longer blacked out entirely, but it was reduced to a single villain. It was a distorted reality, closer to the truth, but bizarre. Retrospectively, the picture that I got then seemed unbelievable. I remember thinking that it was like a comic strip come to life. Here was Lex Lothar, holed up in a cave somewhere in a remote area of Afghanistan, threatening Truth, Justice, Fair Play and the American Way. In this scenario, Osama bin Laden, a millionaire, had a network of hirelings, and he was intent on using some arcane weaponry to gain control of the precious Kryptonite mineral locked in the sands of Saudi Arabia. In keeping with this new strategy, Clinton had asked for over $2 Billion in a special appropriation to combat use of weapons of mass destruction by terrorists. Both the Clinton administration and the Bush adminstriation were obsessed with the idea that terrorists would use ricin or anthrax or some other sophisticated terror weapon - again straight out of the comic books. This obsession cannot possibly be based on any objective review of the facts. Every single attack by Al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorists, up to and including the attacks of 9-11, was done with quite ordinary explosives, and they had shown even in 1993, that the simplest bomb made of home-made explosives could have a devastating effect in the Twin Towers explosion. Nonetheless, almost nothing at all was done about the potential threat from conventional weapons. By January 1999, CIA Director George Tenet was willing to admit that Osama Bin Ladin existed and was dangerous:

First, there is not the slightest doubt that Usama Bin Ladin, his worldwide allies, and his sympathizers are planning further attacks against us. Despite progress against his networks, Bin Ladin's organization has contacts virtually worldwide, including in the United States and he has stated unequivocally, Mr. Chairman, that all Americans are targets.

Bin Ladin's overarching aim is to get the United States out of the Persian Gulf, but he will strike wherever in the world he thinks we are vulnerable. We are anticipating bombing attempts with conventional explosives, but his operatives are also capable of kidnappings and assassinations.

Notwithstanding the above testimony, nobody did very much to increase intelligence budgets, or to take elementary precautions that would have cost little though they might inconvience some travellers. Better visa check and closed doors between the pilot and the cabin might have discouraged the 9-11 attacks.

In fact, Tenet, like everyone else, guided the effort in the wrong direction. He too was convinced that Osama Bin Laden would probably use fantastic weaponry.

One of my greatest concerns is the serious prospect that Bin Ladin or another terrorist might use chemical or biological weapons. Bin Ladin's organization is just one of about a dozen terrorist groups that have expressed an interest in or have sought chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) agents. Bin Ladin, for example, has called the acquisition of these weapons a ''religious duty'' and noted that ''how we use them is up to us.''

The fact that "bad guys" were entering the USA on shaky visas was evident after the first Twin Towers explosion, and yet, there was no attempt to tighten up visa criteria from Moslem countries or anywhere else. Before 9-11, it was much easier for a Saudi national to get into the United States than it was for an Israeli.

No less amazing than the testimony of former FBI director Freeh, was the testimony of his Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism, Terry Turchie, who testified to the House Subcommittee on National Security on July 26, 2000 that the terror threat to the US was low, and that the major threat, if there was one, came from "animal-rights and environmental extremists," and "right-wing groups." But while terrorism expert (as he now bills himself) Turchie was chasing disgruntled cat-lovers and Republicans, the conspirators of 9-11 were already in the United States. They were admitted without scrutinizing their dubious visas or their connections abroad, while the FBI was presumably hunting Republicans run Amok and batty cat-lovers. They were plotting to take over airliners with box cutter knives, while the CIA was looking for anthrax, ricin, and Buck Rogers ray guns. US intelligence was coordinated, it was together and it was utterly clueless. The views of the 9-11 plotters on environmental issues and rights for our furry friends are not known.

Clearly, a great chunk of reality was, and is, missing from the US national concept of what Al-Qaeda terrorism is and where the threat lies. It is absurd to blame this hiatus on lack of coordination between the FBI and CIA and failure to pass on some obscure information, because the information about Islamism and the plans of Osama bin Laden were all publicly available. Both the FBI and the CIA knew that Al-Qaeda exists and that it is not confined to Afghanistan, even if they didn't have a broad philisophic approach that took them back to the writings of Said Qutb and others. Bin Laden had announced his plans in public. Did someone think that The Islamic Front for the struggle against the Jews and the Crusaders was a harmless social club? Could it have been overlooked as not important relative to the ominous threats of the cat-lovers and the Republicans and the Sierra Club? To believe that this was a failure of coordination between agencies or a simple intelligence failure is like believing that Neville Chamberlain misevaluated Hitler because British Intelligence didn't get him a copy of Mein Kampf. The US, like the British government before WW II, had developed a collective agnosia - an ability to see what should be plainly evident, just as Israelis failed to foresee the 1973 October (Yom Kippur) war, even though the signs were plainly there. Neither the public nor the intelligence community appreciated the problem.

Because the nature and size of the threat were not understood, or misrepresented to the American public, it was not possible to fund the anti-terror effort on the scale necessary. There was no money for proper intelligence, there was no motivation even to invade Afghanistan, which was the least that should have been done. Operation Infinite Resolve, that was launched in 1998 to track and assassinate Osama Bin Laden, failed partly because of poor intelligence and poor resolve, though it was doubtful even then that would be possible to assassinate an individual with cruise missiles from a distance, especially given the quality of intelligence that the US was likely to get in the best case.

What was missing then, and what is still missing, is a broad vision of the origin of al-Qaeda and other Islamic terror. In conequence, we are also most sorely missing a broad program to combat Islamist ideology, whether it is the variety preached by Osama Bin Laden, or some Central Asian or Palestinian variant that may or may not be organizationally related. The fundamentalists have created their own virtual reality in the Middle East, based on generously funded Madrassahs and Islamic Kindergartens that turn out people willing to listen to extremist ideology and unable to judge it critically. Hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on this effort each year. People send their children because there are no other free schools. Ironically, propaganda factories such as these, run by the Hamas, are billed as "education" and "charitable works" and on that basis, groups like Hamas and Jemaa Islamiyeh claim they are worthy of charity donations. Where are the US and other efforts to provide good free education that is not tainted with fanaticism? They are almost nonexistent. Where are the US sponsored universities that should have sprung up in every Arab country to counter the likes of Al-Azhar in Cairo? There are two such universities - underfunded and not always reflecting American values, in Cairo and in Beirut. That is all.

Dozens of newspapers, radio and television stations, of which the much-maligned Al-Jazeera is probably one of the best, not one of the worst, and still pretty bad, help to maintain the "matrix," the illusional world of Middle Easterners, publishing versions of events that could only be true in the anti-matter universe, but which are believed here as if they are facts and articles of faith. The Israeli Mossad and the US were responsible for the attacks of 9-11, the Mossad is responsible for attacks on Shi'ites in Iraq, the Mossad is operating in Iraq, the US used a nuclear weapon in conquering Baghdad, Yasser Arafat worked for peace, and only Ariel Sharon sabotaged the peace efforts... These are typical opinion and news items even in the cleaned up English versions of Arab world media. Opposed to this torrent, at long last, there is at least something - the Al-Hurra station. But Al-Hurra is by all accounts a pathetic and underfunded effort. The US has no money for such "luxuries," as it is probably still fighting the terror threat posed by the cat-lovers and the Republicans.

Of all the black holes of the world with respect to human rights, Central Asia may be one of the blackest. The people of most Central Asian republics are denied the right to worship as muslims or confined to tame "state" versions of Islam. The Chechens have a most remarkable history, since Joseph Stalin exiled all of them in WW II in a single day. The Russians have not given up on persecuting these people, and in the blackness of their despair, their struggle has been taken over by a really monstrous form of Islamism. Curiously, nobody is paying attention at all, but the Hizb-ut-Tahrir group wants to take over these states and set up a nice Islamic Republic there, with a very nice Caliphate and a Vizier in charge of Jihad.

What is important is not the history of mistakes, which are past, but the mistakes that are being hatched right now. Al-Qaeda and Islamism are not confined to Afghanistan. Islamism is an ideology with a broad political base, and therefore the obsession, still current in the US, with striking at Afghanistan and Bin Laden, is misdirected. Bin Laden has shown in the past that he can move his organization from Afghanistan to Saudi Arabia to Sudan and back. Do you really believe that capturing or killing Osama Bin Laden will stop Islamism or Al-Qaeda? I don't, but apparently much of the US commission investigating the attacks of 9-11 does believe it, and the question of attacking Afghanistan was discussed at length in Condoleezza Rice's testimony. Even after attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Spain, nobody thought it absurd or inappropriate to continue to obsess about the question of attacking Afghanistan, because at least, Afghanistan was a more logical (or less illogical) target than Iraq.

The obsession about who knew what about which plan of Al-Qaeda on which day, and the obsession with gadgetry and "WMD" is somewhat out of place. The "war on terror" is being fought against an ideological and political movement, not a lone fanatic with a grudge. They will use whatever method works - they are not obsessed with gadgets. They are not confined to a single place. Almost all of the argument in the USA about terror-preparedness and 9-11 is based on a virtual Middle East that doesn't really exist, whether it is Democrats blaming Republicans or Republicans blaming Democrats. Facts are invented to suit the virtual reality as needed. Thus, though Al-Qaida has existed outside of Afghanistan for years, and though Al-Qaeda itself is composed of anti-American groups that existed before Osama Bin Ladin went into business, it is now convenient to finally explain to the American people that the whole problem is not contained in al-Qaida or Afghan, but it is explained by CIA Director George Tenet in these terms:

"The steady growth of Osama bin Laden's anti-U.S. sentiment through the wider Sunni (Islamic) extremist movement, and the broad dissemination of al Qaeda's destructive expertise, ensure that a serious threat will remain for the foreseeable future with or without al Qaeda in the picture,"

It is quite true that a serious threat will remain with or without Al-Qaeda, but it was also true five years ago, because Al-Qaeda was just an expression of an ideology and an underlying political and religious culture. The Muslim Brothers had after all assassinated Anwar Sadat in 1981 because of similar ideological reasons. The FBI and CIA had traced Al-Qaeda to 56 cities in 1997.

Louis Freeh and George Tenet will probably never be asked the right questions because that would automatically cause people to break out of the matrix and into reality, and that is very very dangerous and inconvenient.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 3 comments

Republicans? You and Senator/Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry are right, Isseroff, the problem is with those damned Republicans. The Democrats are the ones who've got things right! Example: Iraq. Republicans really should push to involve--ahem, re-involve--the United Nations more, shouldn't they? After all, they (the UN) didn't pack up and run like little girls when their headquarters in Iraq were bombed, did they? (And were you around when the whole Oil-for-Food scandal came out of hiding? For those of you who don't know, we're talking senior UN officials of France, Germany, and Russia... forgive me if I'm forgetting anybody... two of which [France and Russia] have veto power in things like, oh, I don't know, going to war with Iraq, accepting billions of dollars in bribes from Saddam. It's a wonder why they were the three UN member countries most opposed to holding Saddam Hussein accountable to UN Resolution 1441!) Furthermore, Saddam did NOT fail to mention in his 11,800-page weapons disclosure to the UN the hundreds of missiles which they continued to produce into early 2003 which exceed the UN-imposed restriction of a range of 150 km by nine HUNDRED kilometers, did he? That's not nearly a large enough range to strike, Israel, Saddam's self-professed No. 1 Target, is it? Furthermore, you're also right about those damn' Republicans being responsible for under-funding of Al-Hurra. Their President (George W. Bush) isn't the one responsible for its existence in the first place, is he? And finding Osama bin Laden is a worthless pursuit, too. The ideology of al-Qaeda would still be there in his absence, so might as well give up on that. (This happens to be the dividing point between you and Kerry, however.) Anyway, so many other parts of what you said I liked, and so many other parts of what you said I could just as easily pick apart (like invading Afghanistan, the real, not potential, threat of terrorists including Osama bin Laden and members of his organization or related organizations using nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons, the fact that Saddam did have WMDs as late as early 2003, the fact that American universities in Arab/Muslim states isn't going to make a difference, as evident in the fact that many of the world's leading Muslim terrorists were educated in American universities on American soil, including Osama bin Laden himself, the direct connection between Saddam Hussein, his regime, and al-Qaeda, etc.)

Sincerely (?),
Patrick Markham

PS - Good luck in your attempt to smear Republicans.

Posted by Patrick Markham @ 04/18/2004 10:39 PM CST

Patrick Markham's comments seem to be a great example of the criticism made by Ami Isseroff. Americans are way too busy fighting with each other to fight terrorism effectively.

On the other hand, while I found Isseroff's comments very interesting criticisms, I found them to be lacking in terms of suggestions about what actions really can be taken to deal with the problems.


Posted by N. F. Smith @ 04/22/2004 12:41 AM CST

you are dumb

Posted by andrew @ 05/14/2004 04:39 AM CST

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