Monday, September 29, 2008

Media War on "Conspiracy Theorists"/Letter to the NYT - 9/11 and the “War on Terrorism”: Facts and Myths

By Jeremy R. Hammond
28 September 2008

A recent New York Times article examined how Arabs in the Middle East don’t believe the official story of what happened on September 11, 2001 and are rather apt to think the U.S. government itself had a hand in the terrorist attacks. The title of the article dismisses the notion, reading “9/11 Rumors That Become Conventional Wisdom” [by Middle East correspondent MICHAEL SLACKMAN]. But what the Times fails to recognize is that behind many myths often lies an element of truth.

The article begins, “Seven years later, it remains conventional wisdom here that Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda could not have been solely responsible for the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and that the United States and Israel had to have been involved in their planning, if not their execution, too.”

This is the talk, the article notes, in Dubai, in Algiers, in Riyadh, and in Cairo. A Syrian man living and working in the United Arab Emirates told the Times, “I think the U.S. organized this so that they had an excuse to invade Iraq for the oil.”

This kind of thinking, the Times tells us “represents the first failure in the fight against terrorism — the inability to convince people here that the United States is, indeed, waging a campaign against terrorism, not a crusade against Muslims.”

No, the U.S. Is not waging a crusade against Muslims. But neither is it waging a campaign against terrorism. No doubt, Ahmed Issab, the Syrian quoted above, could point out to the Times that this is one of the biggest myths of them all, as the case of Iraq clearly demonstrates.

Iraq has repeatedly been called “the central front in the war on terrorism” by President Bush and others. And it certainly became so, as was well predicted would occur – as a result of the U.S. Invasion.

To speak of myths that have become conventional wisdom, take the notion that there was an “intelligence failure” leading up to the war on Iraq. This is pure nonsense. There was no intelligence failure. The simple fact of the matter, easily demonstrable, is that U.S. Government officials lied about, misled, spun, and exaggerated the “threat” posed by Iraq and it’s alleged WMD and supposed ties to al Qaeda. To document the deceptions employed is beyond our purposes here; suffice to say that there never was any credible evidence that Iraq still possessed weapons of mass destruction, or that it had any sort of operational relationship with al Qaeda. Many people, myself included, were saying that for many months before the U.S. Invaded, and time certainly confirmed the truth of what we were trying to warn others about.

And how can one argue that the war against Iraq was waged to combat terrorism? What evidence is there of this? We have only the declarations of benevolent intent from the same people who engaged in a campaign of deception to convince the American public of the necessity of the war in the first place. Sure, they say it’s a “war on terrorism”. But statements of intent are not evidence. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator who terrorized his own people. But the U.S. didn’t care about that. After all, our government supported Saddam during his most heinous crimes; including when he “gassed his own people”, killing 5,000, in the village of Halabjah.

Moreover, it was well predicted by every competent analyst that invading Iraq would only cause more resentment towards the U.S. And hatred of its foreign policies. A war in Iraq would be a “poster” for al Qaeda, many experts noted, and recruitment at militant schools and terrorist training camps would only increase as a result. The world would become an even more dangerous place and acts of terrorism would only increase.

It would have been welcome had such dire predictions been wrong. But they weren’t. Acts of terrorism worldwide have increased considerably since the “war on terrorism” began. A great many of these terrorist incidents have occurred in Iraq, a country where such heinous crimes were virtually unknown prior to the U.S. Invasion.

And there’s the even bigger fact that war itself is terrorism. In fact, the crime of aggression is even worse than state-sponsored international terrorism under international law. A war of aggression is “the supreme international crime”, as defined at Nuremberg, “differing only from other crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

But what about Afghanistan? It’s “the good war”, after all, we’re told. Even many who opposed the invasion of Iraq were in favor of invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban. But there’s an all-too-often missing context here, too, that should be considered when ultimately judging U.S. military intervention. And that is that the Taliban – and al Qaeda – is ultimately a creation of U.S. foreign policy.

The U.S. support for the Afghan mujahedeen is well known. But in the official history the myth is propagated – regarded as conventional wisdom – that this support for the radical militants President Reagan called “freedom fighters” was a response to the Soviet invasion. In fact, covert aid began under Carter six months prior to the Soviet invasion, and according to Carter’s national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski himself, the purpose was to try to draw the Soviets in to a conflict – to give them “their Vietnam war”, as he put it.

So the CIA financed, armed, and trained – acting through their intermediary, Pakistan’s Inter-Service Intelligence agency (ISI) – the most radical militants they could find. One Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, for instance, was the principle recipient of U.S. aid. His name is still in the media from time to time – he is now one of the principle enemies fighting U.S. coalition forces in Afghanistan.

And, of course, the CIA’s base of operations was in Peshawar, Pakistan. Religious schools, or madrassas, were established along Pakistan’s northwest border regions, where recruits were trained and radicalized to fight the Soviets. In fact, it is from these madrassas that the movement known as the Taliban would later come – “Taliban” is the plural form of “Talib”, Pashto for “student”.

And another well known figure of the Soviet-Afghan war also set up his base of operations in Peshawar – Osama bin Laden. At the very least, the CIA was knowledgeable of and approved bin Laden’s operations. In fact, the U.S. looked the other way while branches of his organization established bases of operation within the United States, and may have even actively supported his efforts with the mindset during the “Cold War” that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”.

Before bin Laden’s organization became known as “al Qaeda”, or “the Base”, it was known as Makhtab al-Khidamat. Either as an alias or subsidiary branch, it was also known as Al Kifah. The U.S. Department of the Treasury has this to say about it: “Makhtab al-Khidamat/Al Kifah (MK) is considered to be the pre-cursor organization to al Qaida and the basis for its infrastructure. MK was initially created by Usama bin Laden’s (UBL) mentor, Shaykh Abdullah Azzam, who was also the spiritual founder of Hamas, as an organization to fund mujahideen in the Soviet-Afghan conflict. MK has helped funnel fighters and money to the Afghan resistance in Peshawar, Pakistan, and had established recruitment centers worldwide to fight the Soviets.”

One of those recruitment centers was the Alkifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York. One of the mosques from which a certain Omar Abdel Rahman, a.k.a. “the Blind Sheikh”, preached was a few doors down from Alkifah.

The Sheikh was good friends with Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, and had travelled to Peshawar to meet with the CIA’s favored beneficiary.

Despite being on the terrorist watch list, Sheikh Omar was allowed to enter the U.S. In fact, his visa was approved by the CIA. And in fact, the Sheikh travelled in and out of the country at will and it was the CIA itself which reviewed and approved his application on at least six separate occasions.

You read correctly. It was reported in the New York Times, in several separate stories, that the CIA had approved a known suspected terrorist, believed to have masterminded acts of terrorism in Egypt, including the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, and allowed him into the country, where he helped to recruit young Muslims through a cell in the organization that would eventually become known as al Qaeda.

What’s more, that same individual would later be named as one of the masterminds of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

There’s much more to that story, too – such as the case of one Ali Mohammed, terrorist mastermind extraordinaire. If you’ve never heard of him, that’s perhaps not too surprising. Despite being named as one of the planners and organizers of the 1993 WTC bombing and having a web of connections that suggest he was also a principle figure in paving the way for the terrorist cells that would carry out the 9/11 attacks, his name is rarely mentioned. That might have something to do with the embarrassing fact that Mohammed was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army and at one time or another worked for both the FBI and the CIA.

But lest we digress down that road too much further, let us return to the war in Afghanistan. Not everyone agreed after 9/11 that invading Afghanistan was the correct response to that horrible atrocity. Many of us argued that waging a war that would certainly result in even more innocent people being killed would not be justice. Indeed, more Afghan civilians were killed in the first several months of the war than died on 9/11. Many more have died since then in the violence that is ongoing, nearly seven years later.

And those of us who opposed this military action also pointed out that the people whom the U.S. was gearing up to recruit as its allies in the fight against the Taliban, the leaders of the so-called Northern Alliance, were many of the same brutal warlords whom the Afghan people were so glad to be rid of the first time that they actually welcomed the Taliban as liberators when the Taliban drove the warlords out.

And we warned that such action would only destabilize the region further. Just as the U.S.’s intervention in Afghanistan throughout the 80s – and its total abandonment of the country it used as its battlefield in its proxy war against the Soviet Union; a war that devastated the nation, killed a million of its inhabitants, and made refugees out of three million more – resulted in the “blowback” terrorism of the 90s and of 9/11, so too would yet another major war in Afghanistan sow the seeds of misery and death and hatred that could only end in more “blowback” in the future.

Afghanistan, for instance, is the world’s leading producer of opium poppies. Most of the world’s heroin is now manufactured from poppies grown in Afghanistan. The drug trade in Afghanistan initially grew and flourished during the Soviet-Afghan war. If not actually participating in the trade itself (for which there is precedent), the CIA at the very least turned a blind eye while its main assets profited from drug trafficking and used the proceeds to help fight the war against the Soviet occupation. Afghanistan became the world’s leading producer of opium during this period.

Then the Taliban succeeded in nearly eradicating the crop in 2001. But with their overthrow, many – including warlord allies of the U.S. – began profiting once more from the trade. It wasn’t long after the ousting of the Taliban that experts began warning that Afghanistan was becoming a narco-terrorist state. Opium production grew to surpass all previous records. And while there has been some success, mostly in just the past year, in eradicating the crop from government-controlled provinces, production has increased in areas now under control of the resurging Taliban.

Moreover, members of al Qaeda and the Taliban, most likely including Osama bin Laden – who, needless to say, was never caught – fled into Pakistan, where they reestablished themselves. The chickens had gone home to roost. The war on Afghanistan has led directly to the increasing destabilization of neighboring nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Fortunately, there is some hope that the principles of democracy might prevail in Pakistan, where the prevailing public mind is more moderate and who view the militants and terrorists as a plague upon their land – a plague that was allowed not only a place to sustain itself, but to grow and expand under the government of Pervez Musharraf.

After 9/11, Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf pledged to assist the U.S. in its “war on terrorism”. This was an absurdity. Pakistan had been up to that very day the principle benefactor of the Taliban, and arguably continued to be long after. Pakistan’s shadowy intelligence agency, the ISI – sometimes referred to as a state within a state – has long been accused of links to terrorists and acts of terrorism.

In fact, according to reports in the international media (it only received one brief mention in the U.S., outside of the alternative media, in a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal website) – including Pakistan’s Dawn, the Times of India, Agence-France Presse, the London Times, and the Guardian – it was the head of the ISI himself, Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, who was responsible for authorizing the transfer by Omar Sayeed Sheikh of $100,000 to 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta.

According to the reports, the FBI had worked in tandem with India’s intelligence services to track where the 9/11 “money trail” led to – until it ended up leading to the ISI chief himself. Then suddenly the story of the money trail – up until then big news – quietly disappeared from the headlines. Mahmud Ahmed was even more quietly removed and replaced just as the story broke.

The Bush administration opposed any independent investigation of 9/11. It was only due to tremendous public pressure, with the families of 9/11 victims themselves taking a lead role, that led to the 9/11 Commission being established – a commission that only with the greatest cynicism could one call “independent”. The families submitted lists of questions for the 9/11 Commission to investigate and answer. One of them had to do with the alleged financing of the operation by Pakistan’s ISI chief.

The Commission report is not silent on the matter of financing. No, indeed. It states that no evidence has emerged indicating the involvement of any state or government official in the attacks. What’s more, it states that ultimately the question of who financed the attacks “is of little practical significance”.

That’s right. The 9/11 Commission concluded in its report that it isn’t important to follow the money trail leading to those ultimately responsible for this crime. We know for a fact that its members were made aware of the allegations of ISI involvement, so they can’t claim ignorance as an excuse. And if the Commission in fact investigated the allegations and found that they were unsubstantiated, wouldn’t that be worthy of even a footnote? Instead, the report simply denies with its silence that the reports even exist and tries to convince its readers that they needn’t bother to trouble themselves with the question. Don’t look at that man behind the curtain.

But again we digress. Despite continuing evidence of Pakistani support for terrorists and armed militants from within the ISI and Pakistani military, the U.S. continued to back Musharraf, a dictator who seized power in a coup in 1999. The government in Washington continued to support him even as he held a fraud election last year, declared martial law, suspended the constitution, replaced judges – including on Pakistan’s Supreme Court – with his own lackeys, and cracked down on his political opposition – all in the name of fighting terrorism, a cynical euphemism he could only get away with under the backing of those in Washington only too well familiar with employing the same rhetorical device to push through their own ideologically driven policies and agendas.

There is no shortage in history of governments violating human rights and freedoms in the name of security. That trend continues today, and the United States is no exception.

Returning to the point, the fact is that those who argue that the U.S. is fighting a “war on terrorism” don’t have a leg to stand on. The very notion is an absurdity. The world’s leading culprit of state-sponsored terrorism – the only country ever to have been found guilty of what amounts to international terrorism, the “unlawful use of force”, for its proxy terrorist war against the elected government of Nicaragua (giving the U.S. the benefit of the doubt that its actions didn’t amount to the even greater crime of aggression) by the World Court – cannot possibly fight a “war on terrorism”.

This would be like Panama declaring under Manuel Noriega (a long-time CIA asset) that it was waging a “war on drugs”.

It’s an absurdity to even suggest that the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today”, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it during the war against Vietnam (words that ring even more true today), could be fighting a “war on terrorism”, particularly by such means as invading and bombing other countries. Bringing death, sorrow, and even further hardship to peoples of other regions does not help bring about an end of the scourge of terrorism that plagues the Earth. It only contributes to that scourge.

So let’s return to the Times’ assumption that there is a “campaign against terrorism” going on. This is a myth. On the opinion of Mr. Ahmed Issab that 9/11 was actually the result of a plot by the U.S. government to serve as a pretext for expanding its global hegemony overseas, the author of the piece states, “It is easy for Americans to dismiss such thinking as bizarre.”

Perhaps the Times reporter has spent too much time overseas. One needn’t travel to Riyadh or Cairo to find people who believe just that. There’s no shortage of Americans who share in that belief.

Such Americans point to the fact that the so-called neo-conservatives setting policy in the Bush administration are the same bunch of folks who had for so long argued that the U.S. needed a “transformation” of its military into a force capable of fighting multiple simultaneous wars to be able to further the goal of global hegemony, particularly over the energy-rich Middle East and Central Asian regions.

They point out that plans to overthrow the Taliban existed prior to the 9/11 attacks, and that Iraq – its people long the victim of the U.S. policy of “regime change” – was in the government’s sights immediately after the attacks, despite there not being any evidence of Iraqi involvement whatsoever.

They also point out that there was a consensus among policy-makers that this “transformation” and the expansion of U.S. global dominance could not happen without some sort of catalyst – “like a new Pearl Harbor”, to use their own words. And these same planners were among those to compare the 9/11 attacks to the attack on Pearl Harbor after the fact. 9/11, some even said openly, was an “opportunity” to further their goals for the U.S. in its foreign policy.

But the Times, while suggesting the idea is without foundation, says we shouldn’t dismiss such thinking as that expressed by Mr. Issab. The reason given is instructive; to do so would be to fail to learn the lesson that the U.S. has failed “in the fight against terrorism” to actually “convince people” in the Middle East “that the United States is, indeed, waging a campaign against terrorism”.

In other words, the U.S. is losing the propaganda war.

The Times notes that many Arabs are convinced that the U.S. and Israel were actually behind the 9/11 attacks. “The rumors that spread shortly after 9/11 have been passed on so often that people no longer know where or when they first heard them. At this point, they have heard them so often, even on television, that they think they must be true.”

It is indeed a disturbing trend, for whole groups of people to believe something is true just because it is repeated on television again and again. Take, for another example, the widely held belief among Americans that Iraq was a threat to the U.S. and had weapons of mass destruction. One poll taken by the Washington Post showed that as many 70% of Americans actually believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks.

But let’s get back to the rumors the Times tells us Arabs have come to regard as fact.

“First among these,” the article continues, “is that Jews did not go to work at the World Trade Center on that day. Asked how Jews might have been notified to stay home, or how they kept it a secret from co-workers, people here wave off the questions because they clash with their bedrock conviction that Jews are behind many of their troubles and that Western Jews will go to any length to protect Israel.”

Of course, it is true that it is an urban legend that no Jews went to work at the WTC on September 11. But that myth seems to have sprung from the fact that there were indeed reports that Jews working in the building were warned of the coming attack. One is tempted to dismiss this with the assumption that it is propaganda from Arab media sources. In fact, it was an Israeli paper, Haaretz, that reported that workers at Odigo, an Israeli owned messaging service company with an office four blocks from the WTC, had received warnings that very day of an impending attack.

The Washington Post followed up on the report, saying that officials at Odigo “confirmed today that two employees received text messages warning of an attack on the World Trade Center two hours before terrorists crashed planes into the New York landmarks.” Despite the fact that Odigo said it had the IP address of the sender and was working with the FBI to track down whoever was responsible, to the best of my knowledge it was never reported that they either succeeded or failed in doing so.

Incidentally, Odigo was partnered with another Israeli company called Comverse.

Fox News reported in a series of reports on the uncovering of a massive Israeli spy ring operating in the U.S., saying that “There is no indication that the Israelis were involved in the 9-11 attacks, but investigators suspect that they may have gathered intelligence about the attacks in advance and not shared it.” One investigator told Fox News, “Evidence linking these Israelis to 9-11 is classified, I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered.”

As many as 60 Israelis were detained on suspicion of their participation in the spy ring. Part of their operation involved supposed “art students” trying to get into the homes of government personnel, including members of the military, the DEA, FBI, and other law enforcement and intelligence personnel, under the guise of selling art.

Fox News also revealed that “virtually all call records and billing in the U.S. are done for the phone companies by Amdocs Ltd., an Israeli-based private communications company.” According to Fox News, the National Security Agency (NSA) has warned U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement numerous times about the potential security breaches that this situation could make possible.

Reporter Carl Cameron also noted that Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad, had warned the U.S. of a possible attack prior to 9/11, but that the warning “was nonspecific and general, and [investigators] believe that it may have had something to do with the desire to protect what are called sources and methods in the intelligence community; the suspicion being, perhaps those sources and methods were taking place right here in the United States.”

The third report in the series reported on another Israeli company that “provides wiretapping equipment for law enforcement.” The company? Comverse Infosys. But there were fears about the system Comverse provided because “wiretap computer programs made by Comverse have, in effect, a back door through which wiretaps themselves can be intercepted by unauthorized parties. Adding to the suspicions is the fact that in Israel, Comverse works closely with the Israeli government, and under special programs, gets reimbursed for up to 50 percent of its research and development costs by the Israeli Ministry of Industry and Trade.”

“But,” Cameron added, “investigators with the DEA, INS and FBI have all told Fox News that to pursue or even suggest Israeli spying through Comverse is considered career suicide.”

A fourth installment in the series noted that the number of Israeli citizens that had been detained as suspected members of a foreign intelligence operation was nearly 200, and that most of them had been deported. Most “had served in the Israeli military, which is compulsory there. But they also had, most of them, intelligence expertise, and either worked for Amdocs or other companies in Israel that specialize in wiretapping.”

The Jewish newspaper, Forward, reported that “In recent years two reports, one by the Government Accounting Office, the other by the Defense Intelligence Agency, warned against Israeli economic and military espionage activity in the United States. In addition, the FBI conducted an investigation during the late 1990s into alleged Israeli wiretapping of the White House, the State Department and the National Security Council. The investigation ended in May 2000 without any result, according to The New York Times.”

Then there were the reports of the five dancing Israelis who were arrested after behaving suspiciously upon witnessing the burning towers from New Jersey. The five were witnessed by their white van videotaping or taking photos of the smoking buildings and celebrating. The FBI put out an alert on the vehicle after a witness reported its license plate number, which was registered to a company called Urban Moving Systems, an Israeli owned company.

When they were found, the driver told the arresting officers, “We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.” The suspects’ names came up in a search of the national intelligence database and they were suspected of conducting an intelligence operation. Forward noted that Urban Moving was a “company with few discernable assets that close up shop immediately afterward and whose owner fled to Israel.”

Forward also noted the Israeli “art students” who had been detained on suspicion of espionage, and added that “a counterintelligence investigation by the FBI concluded that at least two” of the Israelis seen celebrating the attacks on the World Trade Center “were in fact Mossad operatives”.

Reports such as these naturally fueled any number of conspiracy theories surrounding the events of 9/11. But the fact remains that despite two so-called “investigations” into 9/11, first the Joint Inquiry and then the 9/11 Commission, countless questions remain yet unanswered about just about every facet of the attacks.

Many of the alleged hijackers, to name just one further notable example, have been reported by reputable news agencies, such as the BBC, as being alive and well.

The New York Times article continues: “Americans might better understand the region, experts here said, if they simply listen to what people are saying – and try to understand why – rather than taking offense. The broad view here is that even before Sept. 11, the United States was not a fair broker in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that it capitalized on the attacks to buttress Israel and undermine the Muslim Arab world.

“The single greatest proof, in most people’s eyes, was the invasion of Iraq. Trying to convince people here that it was not a quest for oil or a war on Muslims is like convincing many Americans that it was, and that the 9/11 attacks were the first step.”

“There are Arabs who hate America, a lot of them, but this is too much,” Hisham Abbas, a student at Cairo University told the Times. “And look at what happened after this – the Americans invaded two Muslim countries. They used 9/11 as an excuse and went to Iraq.”

Of course, under the prevailing assumption that defines the framework for the article, such ideas, though perhaps “conventional wisdom” in the Middle East, should be considered merely “rumors”.

The conventional wisdom, on the other hand, that the U.S. is fighting a “campaign against terrorism”, is accepted by the Times without question – it is simply an article of faith. Yet the conventional wisdom shared by the Times that there is no truth to the “rumors” that many people in the Middle East believe is belied by the facts. In many cases, there are elements of truth behind the myths that deserve our attention and demand answers to the reasonable questions they precipitate.

Americans would do well to take the above advice, given by experts in the Middle East and relayed to us through the New York Times, into consideration; to try to listen to what people in the Middle East are saying, and to understand.

If we ever truly wish to engage in a campaign against terrorism, that would be an elementary first step and a worthy alternative to spreading even more violence.

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