||(See also Part 1: 'Independent' commission)
If the 9-11 Commission is really looking for a smoking gun, it should look no further than at Lieutenant-General Mahmoud Ahmad, the director of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) at the time.
In early October 2001, Indian intelligence learned that Mahmoud had ordered flamboyant Saeed Sheikh - the convicted mastermind of the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl - to wire US$100,000 from Dubai to one of hijacker Mohamed Atta's two bank accounts in Florida.
A juicy direct connection was also established between Mahmoud and Republican Congressman Porter Gross and Democratic Senator Bob Graham. They were all in Washington together discussing Osama bin Laden over breakfast when the attacks of September 11, 2001, happened.
Mahmoud's involvement in September 11 might be dismissed as only Indian propaganda. But Indian intelligence swears by it, and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed the whole story: Indian intelligence even supplied Saeed's cellular-phone numbers. Nobody has bothered to check what really happened. The 9-11 Commission should pose very specific questions about it to FBI director Robert Mueller when he testifies this month.
In December 2002, Graham said he was "surprised at the evidence that there were foreign governments involved in facilitating the activities of at least some of the [September 11] terrorists in the United States ... It will become public at some point when it's turned over to the archives, but that's 20 or 30 years from now." He could not but be referring to Pakistan and Mahmoud. If Mahmoud was really involved in September 11, this means the Pakistani ISI -"the state within the state" - knew all about it. And if the intelligence elite in Pakistan knew it, an intelligence elite in Saudi Arabia knew it, as well as an intelligence elite in the US.
Get Osama bin Laden
On August 22, 2001, Asia Times Online reported Get Osama! Now! Or else ...
On September 9, the legendary "Lion of the Panjshir", Ahmed Shah Masoud, the key Northern Alliance commander, was assassinated by two suicide bombers posing as journalists in his base in northern Afghanistan. The Northern Alliance tells Washington that the ISI may be involved. Masoud himself had told this correspondent, two weeks before he was killed, of the incestuous link between bin Laden and al-Qaeda, the Taliban and the ISI. A 2002 Asia Times Online investigation would later establish that Masoud was killed as a gift from al-Qaeda to the Taliban, with heavy involvement by Abdul Sayyaf, an Afghan mujahideen commander very close to the ISI and the Saudis. From Washington's perspective, this was also a gift. Masoud was the crucial Afghan nationalist leader, supported by Russia and Iran; after the Taliban being smashed he would never have accepted a feeble, US-sponsored, Hamid Karzai-style government.
On September 10, the Pakistani daily The News reported that the Mahmoud visit to the United States "triggered speculation about the agenda of his mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council". If he'd been to the National Security Council, he had certainly met Rice. Mahmoud did meet with his counterpart, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director George Tenet. Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had been in Islamabad in May, when Tenet had "unusually long" meetings with Musharraf. Armitage for his part has countless friends in the Pakistani military and the ISI. Mahmoud also met a number of high officials at the White House and the Pentagon and had a crucial meeting with Marc Grossman, the under secretary of state for political affairs. Rice maintains she did not meet Mahmoud then.
On the morning of September 11, Mahmoud was having a breakfast meeting at the Capitol with Graham and Goss. Goss spent as many as 10 years working on numerous CIA clandestine operations. He is very close to Vice President Dick Cheney. It's interesting to note that two weeks ago Goss suggested to the Justice Department to bring perjury charges against the new Cheney nemesis, Clarke. As it is widely known, Graham and Goss were co-heads of the joint House-Senate investigation that proclaimed there was "no smoking gun" as far as President George W Bush having any advance knowledge of September 11.
According to the Washington Post, and also to sources in Islamabad, the Mahmoud-Graham-Goss meeting lasted until the second plane hit Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. Graham later said they were talking about terrorism coming from Afghanistan, which means they were talking about bin Laden.
Pakistani intelligence sources told Asia Times Online that on the afternoon of September 11 itself, as well as on September 12 and 13, Armitage met with Mahmoud with a stark choice: either Pakistan would help the US against al-Qaeda, or it would be bombed back to the Stone Age. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented an ultimatum in the form of seven US demands. Pakistan accepted all of them. One of the demands was for Musharraf to send Mahmoud to Kandahar again and force the Taliban to extradite bin Laden. Mahmoud knew in advance Mullah Omar would refuse. But when he went to Kandahar the Taliban leader said he would accept, as long as the Americans proved bin Laden was responsible for September 11. There was no proof, and Afghanistan was bombed anyway, a policy already decided well in advance.
It's important to remember than on September 13 Islamabad airport was shut down - allegedly because of threats against Pakistan's strategic assets. On September 14, Islamabad declared total support for the US: the airport was immediately reopened. Mahmoud remained in Washington until September 16 - when the war on Afghanistan was more than programmed, and Pakistan was firmly in the "with us" and not the "against us" column.
Million-dollar questions remain. Did Mahmoud know when and how the attacks of September 11 would happen? Did Musharraf know? Could the Bush administration have prevented September 11? It's hard to believe high echelons of the CIA and FBI were not aware of the direct link between the ISI and alleged chief hijacker Mohammed Atta.
On October 7, Mahmoud was demoted from the ISI. By that time, Washington obviously knew of the connection between Mahmoud, Saeed Sheikh and Mohamed Atta: the FBI knew it. The official version is that Mahmoud was sacrificed because he was too close to the Taliban - which, it is never enough to remind, are a cherished creature of the ISI. Two other ISI big shots, Lieutenant-General Mohammed Aziz Khan and Chief of General Staff Mohammed Yousouf, are also demoted along with Mahmoud. Saeed Sheikh was under orders to Khan.
The fact remains that even with this Musharraf-conducted purge of the ISI elite, the bulk of ISI officers remained, and still are, pro-Taliban. Other former ISI directors living in Pakistan, such as the colorful, outspoken Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, did not "disappear" and always renew their support for the Taliban. But as Asia Times Online has reported, Mahmoud did disappear. He lives in near seclusion in Rawalpindi. And he is definitely not talking. Graham and Goss may not be interested in talking to him either. Because he may be the ultimate September 11 smoking gun.
The Karl Rove-designed campaign to re-elect Bush is in essence anchored on September 11. The Republican convention in New York will happen in the first week of September. Bush's speech will be on September 2 - to force the connection with the three-year commemoration of September 11.
This whole affair is not about whether Clarke committed "perjury"; whether Rice was really up to her job; or whether George W Bush knew something and then "forgot" about it. The families of September 11 victims, US public opinion, the demonized Islamic world, the whole world for that matter, all everybody wants to know is what really happened on September 11. The only party that does not seem interested in getting to the bottom of it is the Bush administration. The official fable of 19 kamikaze Arabs turning Boeings into missiles with military precision, armed only with box cutters and a few flight lessons and directed from an Afghan cave by a satellite phone-shy bin Laden simply does not hold. The commission is not asking the really hard questions. Here are just a few - and they are far from being the most embarrassing.
1) The "stand down" order: Why, despite more than an hour's warning that an attack was happening, were no F-16s protecting US airspace? Documents easily available online reveal why the Pentagon could not act: because of bureaucracy. Why did the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) claim it took 25 minutes after the transponder was shut down to learn that Flight 11 - which hit World Trade Center Tower 1 - was hijacked? Why did fighters not take off from Andrews Air Force base just outside Washington to protect the Pentagon?
2) The pre-September 11 suspicious stock option trades in American Airlines and United Airlines were never fully investigated. Who profited?
3) What happened to the FBI investigation into flight schools - when it was proved that at least five of the 19 hijackers were trained in US military schools?
4) Why did Bush keep reading a pet-goat story for more than half an hour after the first WTC hit, and 15 minutes after Chief of Staff Andrew Card told him there had been an attack?
5) What really happened to Flight 93? An Associated Press story last August quoting a congressional report said the FBI suspected the plane was crashed on purpose. The FBI has a flight-simulation video of what happened: the video - as well as the black box - remain top secret. And as far as four "indestructible" black boxes are concerned, how come none were found, unlike Mohammed Atta's intact passport lying in the WTC rubble?
6) Why have no scientific experts examined the physical and mathematical evidence that a Boeing 757 could not have possibly "disappeared" without a trace after hitting the Pentagon? For the most exhaustive and practically incontrovertible analysis available on the net, see this report.
7) What remains of the very tight 1980s bin Laden-ISI-CIA connection? How much did the CIA know about what the ISI was up to? And how much did the ISI know about what al-Qaeda was up to?
8) What does Rice really know about the very close relations between Mahmoud and the top echelons of the Bush administration?
The genie - the crucial information - is still in the bottle.
(Copyright 2004 Asia Times Online Ltd.