By Greg Palast
The Right Wing has gone hog-ass wild over the New York Times’ “shocking” report that the Bush Administration is actually tracking terrorists’ money transfers. Oh my!
The fruitcakes are in flames! “Stand them in front of a firing squad or put them in prison for the rest of their lives,” says one pinhead on Fox TV.
For what? The stunning news that the government is hunting the source of al-Qaeda’s cash? “Osama! You must stop using your ATM card! Condi Rice is reading our bank statements!”
Somehow, I suspect bin Laden already assumes his checkbook is getting perused.
It is worth noting that the fanatic screeching for a “firing squad” is a guy who claims to be a former CIA agent. No one can confirm his claim of course, but this character, Wayne Simmons, has made his career blabbering away juicy intelligence secrets to sell himself as an “expert,” stuff far racier than the Times’ weak report. Well, hypocrisy never stood in the way of the Foxes in the news house.
You want to talk “treason”? OK, let’s talk treason. How about Dick Cheney telling his creepy little hitman ‘Scooter’ Libby to reveal information that led to the naming of a CIA agent? Mr. Simmons, do you have room in your firing squad schedule for the Vice-President?
And no one on Fox complained when the Times, under the by-line of Judith Miller, revealed the secret “intelligence” information that Saddam was building a bomb.
Yes, let’s talk treason. How about this: Before the 9/11 attack, George Bush’s intelligence chieftains BLOCKED the CIA’s investigation of the funding of al-Qaeda and terror.
The “Back-Off” Directive
On November 9, 2001, BBC Television Centre in London received a call from a phone booth just outside Washington. The call to our Newsnight team was part of a complex pre-arranged dance coordinated with the National Security News Service, a conduit for unhappy spooks at the CIA and FBI to unburden themselves of disturbing information and documents.
The top-level U.S. intelligence agent on the line had much to be unhappy and disturbed about: what he called a “back-off” directive.
This call to BBC came two months after the attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Towers. His fellow agents, he said, were now released to hunt bad guys. That was good news. The bad news was that, before September 11, in those weeks just after George W. Bush took office, CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) personnel were told to “back off” certain targets of investigations begun by Bill Clinton.
The agent said, “There were particular investigations that were effectively killed.”
Which ones? His reply was none too comforting: Khan Labs.
On February 11, 2004, President Bush, at an emergency press briefing, expressed his shock — shock! — at having learned that Dr. A. Q. Khan of Pakistan was running a flea market in fissionable material. But, we knew that from the agent’s call — nearly three years earlier. As the intelligence insider told us, the Khan investigation died because the CIA was not allowed to follow down the money trail … to Saudi Arabia.
Apparently, the Saudis, after Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait in 1991, switched their funding for an “Islamic bomb” from Iraq to Pakistan. Dr. Khan used the Saudi loot to build and test his bomb — then sell off the blueprints and bomb-fixings to North Korea and Libya. This was, one might say, a somewhat dangerous situation. But Bush’s spymasters made it a policy to “See No Saudi Evil” — so the investigation died.
What You “Ought Not to Know.”
Closing the agencies eyes to the Khan bomb was not the only spike. That same week in November 2001, unhappy FBI agents “accidentally” left an astonishing dozen-page fax on the desks of our NSNS colleagues. It was marked, “199-I — WF” and “SECRET.”
The code “199-I” means “national security matter” in FBI-speak. It was about what the FBI deemed “a suspected terrorist organization.” What made the document special — and earned the anger of the two agents who “lost” it for us — is that it indicates that the “suspected terrorist” activities were not investigated until September 13, 2001, despite a desire by agents to investigate these characters years earlier.
Who was exempt from investigation? That was on page 2 of the 199-I document. The FBI was hunting in Falls Church, Virginia, for “ABL,” Abdullah bin Laden, nephew of Osama. They were also seeking another relative, Omar bin Laden (or “Binladden” in the alternative translation of the Arabic name). But by September 13, when the restrictions on agents were removed, the bin Ladens were gone.
Why did buildings have to fall before the FBI could question the bin Ladens? Because, frustrated agents noted, the “suspected terrorist organization” was funded directly by the Saudi Royal family.
The suspect group, the World Association of Muslim Youth, operated soccer clubs — and a whole lot more. For example, there was its shuttle operation for jihadi warriors to Bosnia and, foreign intelligence agencies told us at BBC, alleged involvement of WAMY members in bombings.
In the face of these accusations, the Saudi supreme dictator, King Abdullah, praised WAMY, saying, “There is no extremism in the defending of the faith.” That’s his opinion.
Abdullah bin Laden brought WAMY to the USA where, in a summer camp in Florida, little kids were given instruction in baseball and in the glories of hostage-taking (no kidding).
But the FBI’s investigation of the bin Ladens and their group was out of the question so long as the Bush Administration kept intelligence agencies from following the funds transfers of the House of Saud.
That November night in 2001, when we were about to televise the 199-I memo, my BBC producer, Meirion Jones, sought out the FBI’s comment, assuming we’d get the usual, “It’s baloney, a fake, you misunderstand, it ain’t true.”
But we didn’t get the usual response.
Rather, FBI headquarters in Washington told us: “There are lots of things the intelligence community knows and other people ought not to know.”
“Ought not to know”?!?
We ran the story of the Bush Administration’s impeding investigations of the funding of terror. BBC ran it at the top of the nightly news in Britain and worldwide. It hit the front pages of newspapers around the globe — except in the USA. In America, the New York Times and our other news outlets were still accepting the Bush Administration’s diktat that intelligence “information” — that is, news of disastrous intelligence failures — was something the Times’ readers, “ought not to know.”
So I’m tempted to say that, Yes, the New York Times has committed treason — not by reporting on what Bush’s spies are doing, but on failing to report on what Bush’s spies did not do: a deadly failure to follow the money before September 11 because the House of Bush chose to protect the House of Saud.
Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestseller, Armed Madhouse: Who’s Afraid of Osama Wolf?, China Floats Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal ’08, No Child’s Behind Left and other Dispatches from the Front Lines of the Class War.
Interview requests and media inquiries to Interviews (at) GregPalast.com