Cofer Black Headed Unit Alleged to Torture Detainees and Withhold Pre-9/11 Warning Memo to FBI
In the Osama bin Laden story, a former CIA official with the unlikely name "J. Cofer Black" is the character who seems to pop up in the most interesting places.
Indeed, Mr. Black is the one person at CIA who admits to having dealt with bin Laden, face-to-face, after the Soviets departed Afghanistan in the early 1990s.
During the last few years of his CIA career, Cofer Black had an extraordinarily focused, unusual assignment. Until he retired from CIA in late 2002, Cofer Black was one of the few officers within the clandestine service with a real subject matter expertise. Black’s specialty was Usama bin Laden, "UBL", as he’s known in U.S. intelligence circles.
From 1999 until May 2002, Black was in charge of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center, at which some historic decisions and catastrophic failures took place.
While Chief of Station in Sudan in the early 1990s, Black oversaw CIA contact with UBL; al Qaeda flowed in a straight line through Cofer Black to 9/11 and to the present day privatization of intelligence as Vice Chairman of Blackwater, LLC, and as Mitt Romney’s advisor on national security.
Most career officers in the CIA clandestine division are generalists who move from station to station, assigned to fill slots in countries where their foreign languages and backgrounds are needed. Not Cofer Black. He was a specialist.
Before his reassignment, announced in a back-page Washington Post article on May 17, 2002, Black, Chief of the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC), was in charge of renditions and the interrogation of detainees captured and held abroad. That puts Black at the immediate head of the chain-of-command for operational decisions made up until that date in the torture of CIA prisoners held at "black sites" around the world.
James Risen writes in his book about the CIA’s counter-terrorism operations, State of War, cited at, http://emptywheel.firedoglake.com/...
The CIA assigned a group of agency officials to try to find alternative prison sites in countries scattered around the world. They were studying, said one CIA source, "how to make people disappear."
There were a number of third world countries, with dubious human rights records, willing to play host. One African country offered the CIA the use of an island in the middle of a large lake, according to CIA sources, and other nations were equally accommodating. Eventually, several CIA prisons were secretly established, including at least two major ones, code-named Bright Lights and Salt Pit. A small group of officials within the CIA's Counterterrorist Center was put in charge of supporting the prisons and managing the interrogations.
Bright Light is one of the prisons where top al Qaeda leaders--including Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the cenral planner of the September 11 attacks--have been held. Bright Light's location is secret, and it has been used for only a handful of the most important al Qaeda detainees. (30)(emphasis added)
Under Cofer Black’s Command
"A small group of officials within the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center was put in charge of supporting the prisons and managing the interrogations."
By most accounts, Abu Zubaydah was taken into custody in March, 2002 in Pakistan, and after initial U.S. interrogation and treatment for gunshot wounds, sent to a secret CIA torture center in Thailand, where he was waterboarded, in April or May 2002. [FTN. 1] See, e.g., Larry Johnson’s timeline, http://noquarterusa.net/...
If the Johnson timeline is indeed accurate, at the time Abu Zubayda torture was videotaped, Cofer Black was CTC Director, and he shares command responsibility for that action with his CIA superiors right up through McLaughlin and Pavitt to George Tenet and the President.
Nonetheless, the really significant thing about Cofer Black is that he was also in charge of CTC on 01/15/2000 when Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Midhar, the Flt. 77 Pentagon hijackers, entered the U.S. What’s so significant about that? The pair’s entry into the U.S. was noted by CTC after they attended an al-Qaeda planning summit in Kuala Lumur – monitored by the CIA -- where 9/11 and the USS Cole attacks were mapped out in January 5-8. Just so happens, al-Hazmi had earlier trained at Abu Zubayah’s camp in Afghanistan, along with five of the other 9/11 hijackers. There is, indeed, a striking symmetry to this. See, http://www.dailykos.com/...
The second al-Qaeda figure tortured at that time, Abd al-Nashiri, also had a role in recruiting and training the 9/11 attack cell, and was the architect of the Cole bombing. These two worked closely with another trainer, Sakkra, who now states that he was a double-agent working for U.S. and Syrian intelligence in organizing al-Hazmi and the others as part of the CIA’s secret war in Chechnya. See, http://www.dailykos.com/...
Here’s the kicker. Cofer Black was CIA Chief of Station in Khartoum at the same time bin Laden made his base of operations there. Abu Zubaydah was with bin Laden in Sudan. Black admits he had a confrontation with UBL shortly before they both left Sudan in 1996. Bin Laden went to Afhanistan. Black was later made commander of CIA CTC, where he maintained his focus on UBL.
Bottom-line: Cofer Black was in immediate command of CTC at the time CIA let the Flt. 77 hijackers into the U.S. — and an intentional decision was then made at CTC not to alert the FBI when they came in — and Cofer Black was in immediate command of the CIA unit that tortured those who knew the details of the CIA’s role in training at least six of the 9/11 hijackers. Both of those tortured under Black’s command were waterboarded, which cuts off oxygen to the brain, and can result in long term memory loss. Abu Zubaydah is said to have been driven mad by waterboarding and sensory driving techniques, as was Jose Padilla, who AZ fingered during interrogation. See, http://www.dailykos.com/...
Why torture detainees and then "erase" the tapes? In the context of the CIA’s long relationship with Zubaydah and al-Nashiri, this begins to make sense now, doesn’t it?
SUDAN and BOSNIA: Cofer Black and UBL (1993-95)
According to his official biography, Black went to work for CIA fresh out of USC in 1973 where he worked for two decades in various field assignments in Africa, including involvement in Rhodesian and South African proxy wars, until being posted under diplomatic cover as Chief of Station in Khartoum, Sudan.
According to Steve Coll in "Ghost Wars", the main activity of the CIA Khartoum station under Black was UBL.
At this time, the U.S. and Islamic militants were still doing business in the secret war against the Russians in Bosnia. The covert operation to dislodge Russian surrogates from the Balkins and Caspian Sea involved the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Iran in organizing, supplying and funding radical Islamic fighters. In an extraordinarily complex, messy struggle for the disintegrating Yugoslavia on the southern flank of the Former Soviet Union, that strange alliance fought the Serbs, who were in turn supplied by other NATO and U.S. allies, including Greece and Israel, along with the Ukraine, acting as a Russian surrogate. All parties involved were in violation of UN weapons embargo, which the Dutch and some other European countries were helplessly attempting to enforce.
That episode was chronicled in a 2002 Dutch Government report. According to the Independent newspaper (UK), the Dutch: http://www.guardian.co.uk/...
findings are set out in "Intelligence and the War in Bosnia, 1992-1995". It includes remarkable material on covert operations, signals interception, human agents and double-crossing by dozens of agencies in one of dirtiest wars of the new world disorder. Now we have the full story of the secret alliance between the Pentagon and radical Islamist groups from the Middle East designed to assist the Bosnian Muslims - some of the same groups that the Pentagon is now fighting in "the war against terrorism". Pentagon operations in Bosnia have delivered their own "blowback".
In the 1980s Washington's secret services had assisted Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. Then, in 1990, the US fought him in the Gulf. In both Afghanistan and the Gulf, the Pentagon had incurred debts to Islamist groups and their Middle Eastern sponsors. By 1993 these groups, many supported by Iran and Saudi Arabia, were anxious to help Bosnian Muslims fighting in the former Yugoslavia and called in their debts with the Americans. Bill Clinton and the Pentagon were keen to be seen as creditworthy and repaid in the form of an Iran-Contra style operation - in flagrant violation of the UN security council arms embargo against all combatants in the former Yugoslavia.
The result was a vast secret conduit of weapons smuggling though Croatia. This was arranged by the clandestine agencies of the US, Turkey and Iran, together with a range of radical Islamist groups, including Afghan mojahedin and the pro-Iranian Hizbullah. Wiebes reveals that the British intelligence services obtained documents early on in the Bosnian war proving that Iran was making direct deliveries.
Arms purchased by Iran and Turkey with the financial backing of Saudi Arabia made their way by night from the Middle East. Initially aircraft from Iran Air were used, but as the volume increased they were joined by a mysterious fleet of black C-130 Hercules aircraft. The report stresses that the US was "very closely involved" in the airlift. Mojahedin fighters were also flown in, but they were reserved as shock troops for especially hazardous operations.
Light weapons are the familiar currency of secret services seeking to influence such conflicts. The volume of weapons flown into Croatia was enormous, partly because of a steep Croatian "transit tax". Croatian forces creamed off between 20% and 50% of the arms. The report stresses that this entire trade was clearly illicit. The Croats themselves also obtained massive quantities of illegal weapons from Germany, Belgium and Argentina - again in contravention of the UN arms embargo. The German secret services were fully aware of the trade.
Rather than the CIA, the Pentagon's own secret service was the hidden force behind these operations. The UN protection force, UNPROFOR, was dependent on its troop-contributing nations for intelligence, and above all on the sophisticated monitoring capabilities of the US to police the arms embargo. This gave the Pentagon the ability to manipulate the embargo at will: ensuring that American Awacs aircraft covered crucial areas and were able to turn a blind eye to the frequent nightime comings and goings at Tuzla.
Iranian and Afghan veterans' training camps had also been identified in Bosnia. Later, in the Dayton Accords of November 1995, the stipulation appeared that all foreign forces be withdrawn. This was a deliberate attempt to cleanse Bosnia of Iranian-run training camps. The CIA's main opponents in Bosnia were now the mojahedin fighters and their Iranian trainers - whom the Pentagon had been helping to supply months earlier.
Meanwhile, the secret services of Ukraine, Greece and Israel were busy arming the Bosnian Serbs. Mossad was especially active and concluded a deal with the Bosnian Serbs at Pale involving a substantial supply of artillery shells and mortar bombs. In return they secured safe passage for the Jewish population out of the besieged town of Sarajevo.
UBL,the CIA, and MI6 (1984 – 1996)
Since 1984, UBL had been running the logistics of the Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK – Services Office) mujahadin group he had taken over after the assassination of Abdallah Azzam, his former teacher. (Trento, 2005, 341-342)
In addition to global recruiting and logistics for CIA-sponsored operations against the Russians in Afghanistan and Bosnia, during this period bin Laden also contracted with British intelligence in a aborted plot to assassinate Libyan strongman Mohamar Khadaffi, according to David Shayler, an MI-6 whistleblower, and retired French intelligence officer, Jean-Charles Brisard. According to The Guardian (UK), a UBL lieutenant in that operation, Anas al-Liby was later given asylum in Britain. Bin Laden and al-Liby are accused by Interpol of a 1994 murder of a pair of German intelligence officers in Africa, but that warrant was quashed by MI6, and al-Liby was granted asylum by the UK. See, http://politics.guardian.co.uk/...
Before he defected to Britain, Al-Liby reportedly worked closely with Ali Mohamed in plotting the 1998 bombings of two US Embassies in East Africa. See, http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/...
Mohamed, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a former Egyptian military officer, had a long history as a CIA contract employee and had served with the US Army Green Beret as an Arabic language and culture instructor at Ft. Bragg. In "1986, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, the right hand man of double agent Ali Mohamed, informally founds the branch (of the MAK) in Brooklyn, New York, and it soon becomes the most important US branch (of the group that will become known as al-Qaeda, the FBI will later refer to this as "The Brooklyn Cell"). [New York Times, 10/22/1998; Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 269-270] While on active duty in the early 1990s, he was given leave to travel to Bosnia, where he fought as part of the Islamic militias. Mohamed also gave weapons instruction at al-Qaeda camps in Sudan. See, http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/...
The Brooklyn office recruits Arab immigrants and Arab-Americans to go fight in Afghanistan, even after the Soviets withdraw in early 1989. As many as 200 are sent there from the office. Before they go, the office arranges training in the use of rifles, assault weapons, and handguns, and then helps them with visas, plane tickets, and contacts. They are generally sent to the MAK/Al-Kifah office in Peshawar, Pakistan, and then connected to either the radical Afghan faction led by Abdul Rasul Sayyaf or the equally radical one led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. [New York Times, 4/11/1993]
The CIA has some murky connection to Al-Kifah (MAK) that has yet to be fully explained. Newsweek will later say the Brooklyn office "doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujaheddin" fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, the Brooklyn office is where "veterans of (Afghan war arrived) in the United States—many with passports arranged by the CIA." [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]
The New Yorker will later comment that the Brooklyn office was a refuge for ex- and future mujaheddin, "But the highlight for the center’s regulars were the inspirational jihad lecture series, featuring CIA-sponsored speakers.... One week on Atlantic Avenue, it might be a CIA-trained Afghan rebel traveling on a CIA-issued visa; the next, it might be a clean-cut Arabic-speaking Green Beret, who would lecture about the importance of being part of the mujaheddin, or ‘warriors of the Lord.’ The more popular lectures were held upstairs in the roomier Al-Farouq Mosque; such was the case in 1990 when Sheikh [Omar] Abdul-Rahman, traveling on a CIA-supported visa, came to town." One frequent instructor is double agent Ali Mohamed, who is in the US Special Forces at the time (see 1987-1989). Bin Laden’s mentor Azzam frequently visits and lectures in the area. In 1988, he tells "a rapt crowd of several hundred in Jersey City, ‘Blood and martyrdom are the only way to create a Muslim society... However, humanity won’t allow us to achieve this objective, because all humanity is the enemy of every Muslim.’" [New Yorker, 3/17/1995]
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, future Al-Qaeda second-in-command, makes a recruiting trip to the office in 1989 (see Spring 1993). [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] The Brooklyn office also raises a considerable amount of money for MAK/Al-Kifah back in Pakistan. The Independent will later call the office "a place of pivotal importance to Operation Cyclone, the American effort to support the mujaheddin. The Al-Kifah [Refugee Center was] raising funds and, crucially, providing recruits for the struggle, with active American assistance." [Independent, 11/1/1998]
Abdul-Rahman, better known as the "Blind Sheikh," is closely linked to bin Laden. In 1990, he moves to New York on another CIA-supported visa (see July 1990) and soon dominates the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. Shalabi has a falling out with him over how to spend the money they raise and he is killed in mysterious circumstances in early 1991, completing Abdul-Rahman’s take over. Now, both the Brooklyn and Pakistan ends of the Al-Kifah/MAK network are firmly controlled by bin Laden and his close associates. In 1998, the US government will say that al-Qaeda’s "connection to the United States evolved from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center." Yet there is no sign that the CIA stops its relationship with the Brooklyn office before it closes down shortly after the 1993 WTC bombing. [New York Times, 10/22/1998]
Similarly, UBL’s Sudan operation was penetrated at that time by the CIA, which ran a second informant, Jamal al-Fadl: See, http://en.wikipedia.org/...
The name "al-Qaida" could have been introduced to U.S. intelligence by Jamal al-Fadl, who had been providing the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) with intelligence about bin Laden since 1996, before ultimately appearing as a witness in the February 2001 trial of those accused of the 1998 United States embassy bombings.
In 1995, the CIA relationship with UBL soured. After a deal was struck with Russia at the Balkan peace talks in Dayton, Ohio, late in that year, the State Department stepped up pressure on the Sudanese government to expel UBL and the al-Qaeda organization he was organizing from the relative comfort of an air-conditioned office building bin Laden had leased in downtown Khartoum. In May, 2006, bin Laden and a group of lieutenants and bodyguards flew out of Khartoum to Afghanistan on a leased Ariana Afghanistan Airlines jet.
Just as Black’s men were quite aware of what bin Laden was up to, and vis-a-versa, this resulted in conflict between the two. About two years into that posting, Black relates, he had a run-in with several of UBL’s men. As tensions grew between the CIA station and UBL, according to a somewhat sanitized retelling by Richard Sale, bin Laden planned to kill Black: http://washingtontimes.com/...
According to information first published by Steve Coll in "Ghost Wars," but confirmed for United Press International by U.S. intelligence officials, in 1994 bin Laden had been in Khartoum, the dusty capital of Sudan, and so had Black, working in a position that disguised his CIA affiliation. According to Coll's account, bin Laden was living in a three-story compound.
Soon, the CIA in Khartoum knew bin Laden had terrorist training camps in northern Sudan, and that he was getting cooperation and weapons from the Sudanese intelligence service. They also knew he was developing a multinational army, U.S. officials said.
But then U.S. officials discovered bin Laden planned to kill Black. CIA watchers noticed that Black was trailed as he went to and from the American Embassy each day. Near the embassy, CIA analysts saw bin Laden operatives were setting up a "kill zone" -- an area where firing coming from different quarters converges and traps a subject in many streams of bullets.
The CIA watchers were able to stealthily work in to be able to observe Black's supposed killers practice parts of their operation on a quiet city side street, according to Coll's account.
Only after CIA operatives leveled loaded shotguns in the faces of Arabs trailing Black, and Black officially complained to the Sudanese government, did all bin Laden activity against Black suddenly ceased, according to Coll and other sources.
That reveals only part of the story. Indeed, bin Laden’s training camps weren’t only located in Sudan, and it wasn’t only Sudanese intelligence who had been working with al-Qaeda. The CIA had contracted UBL to set up and operate recruitment and training inside the United States and countries around the world through MAK, and later al-Qaeda. Among those trained at UBL and MAK camps were six members of the 9/11 attack group, including Nawaf al-Hazmi. Along with his partner, Khalid al-Midhar, this pair went on to hijack Flight 77 that smashed into the Pentagon.
Al-Hazmi and Al-Midhar were allowed to enter the U.S. on January 15, 2000 after the CIA observed the pair travel to, attend, and depart an al-Qaeda planning summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. According to George Tenet’s testimony to the Joint Intelligence Committee in October 2002, the CIA and "a half-dozen allied services" monitored that meeting. Upon their arrival in Los Angeles, a CIA-CTC officer drafted cable to the FBI about the entrance. That warning cable ordered withheld "by order of" the CTC Assistant Director, and apparently was never sent.
Had Cofer Black's CTC sent that cable, the FBI would have had no trouble obtaining FISA warrants. The Bureau would have observed the pair as they met and communicated with the other principal 9/11 hijackers, al-Qaeda organizers and financiers inside the U.S., and several Saudi intelligence agents. Had the FBI been officially notified through formal channels , the White House would have had no choice but to authorize the arrests of al-Midhar, al-Hazmi, Atta, Jarrah, and the rest. Rolling up that network would have certainly saved 3,000 lives on 9/11.
As for the rationale offered within CTC for why that cable was withheld, part of the answer is provided by author Joe Trento, Unsafe at any Altitude: Failed Terrorism Investigations, Scapegoating 9/11, and the Shocking Truth about Aviation Security Today by Susan and Joseph Trento (2006):
The biggest secret was that Saudi Arabian government agents whom the CIA had relied on for inside information on al Qaeda were, in fact, working for Osama bin Laden. Two of those agents were among the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77 out of Dulles. Those two men were the ones the CIA and FBI had asked Steve Wragg to watch on the video at Dulles Airport. The CIA had known since 2000 that they were in the United States, but it hadn’t notified the FBI until June 2001. The FBI had been looking for them all summer in connection with the October 2000 bombing of the Navy’s USS Cole off the coast of Yemen, but had not been able to find them. (137)
. . .
Prior to 9/11 senior CIA officials had convinced themselves that GID, the Saudi intelligence service, had placed agents inside al Qaeda. Because these two men - Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi - were thought to be Saudi agents, the CIA did not tell the FBI about them when they came into the United States from a terrorist summit meeting in Malaysia. Had the CIA shared what it knew, the FBI might have had a chance to at preventing the 9/11 attacks.(192)
The authors don't explain why senior CIA officials would act based on such an assumption, particularly as Saudi intelligence was not trusted about al-Qaeda within the Agency. Paul Thompson's 9/11 Timeline states: http://www.democraticunderground.com...
- CIA Deems Saudi Intelligence ‘Hostile Service’ Regarding Al-Qaeda
The CIA’s bin Laden unit Alec Station sends a memo to CIA Director George Tenet warning him that the Saudi intelligence service should be considered a "hostile service" with regard to al-Qaeda. This means that, at the very least, they could not be trusted. In subsequent years leading up to 9/11, US intelligence will gather intelligence confirming this assessment and even suggesting direct ties between some in Saudi intelligence and al-Qaeda. For instance, according to a top Jordanian official, at some point before 9/11 the Saudis ask Jordan intelligence to conduct a review of the Saudi intelligence agency and then provide it with a set of recommendations for improvement. Jordanians are shocked to find Osama bin Laden screen savers on some of the office computers. Additionally, the CIA will note that in some instances after sharing communications intercepts of al-Qaeda operatives with the Saudis, the suspects would sometimes change communication methods, suggesting the possibility that they had been tipped off by Saudi intelligence. (Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184)
The Saudi GID angle seems to be a CIA cover story, a "limited hang out", given so that lower levels in the FBI and the rest of the intelligence community wouldn't interfere with the operation. Al-Hazmi and al-Midhar may have have been double-agents, working for both UBL and Saudi Intel, but that doesn't mean CIA would have let them run free, unmonitored, inside the U.S. CIA had long penetrated this cell, and Tenet and Black were intimately familiar with the "Brooklyn Cell", the personalities and the plans of the Planes Operation. If Tenet and Black are to be believed, the only thing holding them back from rolling up the entire Planes Operation on July 10 was the lack of Presidential authorization to make arrests.
As Joe Trento explained to me in 2002, there are rules that are followed. In a long-established, compartmentalized operation, there is "no roll-up until the President issues the order."
That explains why nobody located al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi in the late summer of 2001, and why the FBI didn't arrest the pair, even though the record shows that these two men used their real names to reserve and purchase their own airline tickets.
Consider this timeline:
July 10th: Tenet and Black have their "red alert" meeting with Rice.
Aug. 17 or 24: Tenet suddenly flies to Crawford, TX, later will withhold this fact during public testimony before the 9/11 Commission.
August 23: the CIA sends "cables to the State Department, the FBI, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, requesting that 'four bin Laden related individuals' including Almidhar and Alhazmi, be placed on the watchlist." (Washington Post, A8, September 21, 2002)
August. 24: Bush meets with his core national security team -- Rice, Rumsfeld, Gens. Myers and Pace. http://www.dailykos.com/...
Aug. 25: Khalid al-Midhar and Majed Moqed purchased tickets for American Airlines Flight 77, from Virginia to Los Angeles, scheduled for Sept. 11, 2001.
August 27th: al-Hazmi purchases two tickets.
Only in the context of the long-standing, but often violent, relationship between the CIA and UBL, and between various factions in Washington and Saudi Arabia, can the events that led up to 9/11 be understood.
Cofer Black and George Tenet understood the potential for mass casualties when on July 10, 2001 they rushed to the State Department to try to convince Condi Rice that al-Qaeda attack cells known to be inside the U.S. had to be rolled up. This message was repeated with urgency in late August when Tenet flew to Crawford, Texas to personally brief President George W. Bush.
PART 6 of a series:
CIA Used Banned Cold War "Brainwashing" Techniques on Detainees
Who Got Water Boarded and Why: What Tortured CIA Detainees Had In Common.
CIA Detainee Torture, Memory Loss, and the Bush Administration's Falsification of History
Torture Tapes Weren't The Only Thing Erased by The White House
TORTURE VIDEO: What The CIA Doesn't Want You to Know
FTN 1 cf., emptywheel mentions that some sources say videotaped torture may not have commenced until August, A Justice Dept. opinion letter dated 08/01/2002 endorsed waterboarding as legal. http://www.president-bush.com/tortur... The significance of that DOJ memo is it might give those involved some legal cover.