Peter Dale Scott: Launching the U.S. Terror War (Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus)

Launching the U.S. Terror War: the CIA, 9/11, Afghanistan, and Central Asia
(full paper is available at the Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

Bush’s Terror War and the Fixing of Intelligence

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. 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

Again, the full paper is available at the Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus