Erik Prince is the American Osama Bin Laden: a CIA asset with a lot of money and gunmen working for him.
The parallels extend further than recent reports that Prince was a paid CIA agent. See, http://www.theatlanticwire.com/...
The top people at Blackwater were CIA managers who ran a number of double-agents within al-Qaeda as Agency assets until 9/11. Before he headed a Blackwater subsidiary, Cofer Black was CIA Chief of Station in Khartoum in the mid-1990s at the time that bin Laden, Ali Mohamed, KSM and many other major terrorist figures were running CIA-assisted paramilitary operations against the Serbs and Russians from bases in Sudan. Al-Qaeda continued to operate against the Russians until 9/11, and at least thirteen of the 19 hijackers were originally recruited and trained to fight in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya.(1) Erik Prince also got his start as a Special Forces Operator in Bosnia.
But, that's just the beginning of the strange network that binds together a group of CIA alumni, Blackwater, and al-Qaeda. MORE, below . . .
1991 - 2001: The CIA-al Qaeda Relationship From Afghanistan to 9/11
The U.S. has never officially acknowledged its role in covert operations that occurred inside the breakaway Muslim areas of the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Aside from the open U.S. military intervention that followed the November 1995 Dayton Peace Accord that ostensibly ended major hostilities in Bosnia, U.S. intelligence operations in the region remain classified. It is an open secret, however, that in the civil wars that followed in Bosnia, Kosovo, Dagestan, and Chechnya, the Central Intelligence Agency worked with several Islamic states, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and Iran, and had a cooperative role in arming, financing, and training their paramilitaries and allied mercenary groups and various Jihadist organizations, including what we know today as al-Qaeda.
Because the CIA role is still classified, important details about the relationships between Jihadist groups and U.S. intelligence remain obscured, particularly the contacts with Usama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures. This is an important part of trying to piece together a more accurate picture of the events and motives that led up to the 9/11 and related attacks. It is simply impossible to understand why 9/11 and the USS Cole attacks happened as they did without knowing more about the details of the relationship between U.S. intelligence and non-state actors, such as bin Laden, as well as other private intelligence contractors, particularly those who would go on to run Blackwater, and paramilitary splinter groups.
As anyone who has tried to put together the pieces must acknowledge, there are huge gaps in the official record. The narrative must remain provisional unless and until key individuals involved reveal what they know. Some of them never will. What facts we do know have been assembled below.
1993-95 - Cofer Black and Bin Laden in Khartoum
Black has admitted in Congressional testimony that in 1995 he met bin Laden in Sudan. He is the only CIA officer who admits to having direct contact with UBL since the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan ended in 1989. By Black's telling, it was an angry, armed mano-a-mano, shortly after which they both left the country.
Larger events indicate that Osama bin Laden had a far more cooperative and recent relationship with the CIA than is publicly acknowledged. The partnership did not end with the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Indeed, Bin Laden was central to the secret U.S. war against the Serbs and in the oil-rich region of the former Soviet Republics in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia that followed the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. It is not by coincidence that the head of covert Saudi paramilitary forces moved to Sudan in 1991. That man was Osama bin Laden, and his distancing from the Royal Court at Riyadh gave both room to operate more freely at a time of tension over the U.S. presence inside Saudi Arabia and a coordinated offensive to strip off some of the most valuable real estate of the collapsing Soviet empire.
Numerous accounts point to the conclusion that bin Laden never fully severed his ties with his Saudi intelligence handlers in 1991. Far from it. Given the partnership between the U.S. and Saudi intelligence establishments, and their coordinated paramilitary operations against Russia and Serbia, and their allies throughout the 1990s, the separation between al-Qaeda and the CIA can be measured as only a fraction of a degree, and overall can be characterized as more cooperative than hostile for most of the decade.
This conclusion is backed up by the fact that Bin Laden was allowed to leave Saudi Arabia in 1991 with his own private fortune intact, accompanied by several hundred of his loyal Mujaheddin fighters. In secret, the Saudi Royals continued to fund bin Laden and his forces, allegedly with the understanding that they would direct their wrath at targets outside Saudi Arabia. By striking that deal, Bin Laden effectively acted as a double-agent for the ruling regime, diverting the fundamentalist opposition from internal overthrow. [Posner, 2003, pp. 40-42] Posner states the Saudis “effectively had [bin Laden] on their payroll since the start of the decade.” [Time, 8/31/2003] This arrangement is reaffirmed by the additional tranches paid to bin Laden in 1996 and 1998 by the Saudi Royal family. Alain Chouet, head of French counter-terrorism, echoes the conclusion that bin Laden’s 1994 “loss of Saudi nationality is nothing but a farce.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] Martin Indyk, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs under President Clinton, writes in Foreign Affairs,
“The Saudis had protected themselves by co-opting and accommodating the Islamist extremists in their midst, a move they felt was necessary in the uncertain aftermath of the Gulf War. ... [O]nce Crown Prince Abdullah assumed the regency in 1996, the ruling family set about the determined business of buying off its opposition.” The regime allowed global charities to be “subverted,” turning them into channels for diverting unofficial funds to bin Laden's paramilitaries and allied Jihadist groups. “[T]he Clinton administration indulged Riyadh’s penchant for buying off trouble as long as the regime also paid its huge arms bills, purchased Boeing aircraft, kept the price of oil within reasonable bounds, and allowed the United States to use Saudi air bases to enforce the southern no-fly zone over Iraq and launch occasional military strikes to contain Saddam Hussein.” [Foreign Affairs, 1/1/2002]
Cofer Black: Chief of Station, Agent Handler
In 1993, a new CIA station chief flew into Khartoum. Cofer Black arrived with an intense focus on bin Laden, one that would be his primary mission for most of the the rest of his CIA career. When Black started working in Sudan, Bin Laden was not considered to be the worldwide terrorist mastermind that he would come to be portrayed as after 9/11. He was something else, something between a CIA operational asset and a subject of surveillance, but not a target of disruption.
Not that bin Laden was the type who the CIA would recruit at Embassy cocktail parties. He was viewed as what he was: a ranking Saudi financial and logistical operator, an agent controlled by a "friendly" intelligence service, one who commanded and trained some very dangerous but useful elements. The standing orders were to the effect of keep your eye on him, but hands off. So, that's what happened. Until the final months of their stay in Sudan, Black did not interfere with UBL.
Not that Bin Laden wasn't already considered a threat in some quarters of US intelligence. After the February 26, 1993 WTC bombing, Bin Laden's name came up as one of the associates of Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman and as the financial backer of the Martyr Azzam Hostel in Peshawar where Ramzi Yousef had stayed. Bin Laden's name, along with names of more than 118 others (plus the Sudanese mission to the United States), was included on a list, distributed by federal prosecutors, of potential unindicted co-conspirators. But, the US never sought his extradition from Sudan, and the CIA station in Khartoum never actually made any effort to snatch him, as occurred shortly after Black's arrival to Carlos the Jackal, who was captured in Khartoum by Black's men and renditioned to France for trial.
There were many interesting characters running around Khartoum at this time. One of whom was Ali Mohamed, a double agent for the CIA and al-Qaeda who had helped Bin Laden move to Sudan from Afghanistan in the summer of 1991. Mohamed, a former Egyptian Army officer who enlisted in the U.S. Army, was intimately involved in planning the WTC bombing, returned to Sudan for ten months starting in February 1994 to train bin Laden's bodyguards. Mohamed will later testify at his trial following the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings, “In late 1994, I received a call from an FBI agent who wanted to speak to me about the upcoming trial of United States vs. Abdul Rahman. I flew back to the United States, spoke to the FBI, but didn’t disclose everything that I knew.” [Washington File, 5/15/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Despite admitting this tie to bin Laden, there are no apparent repercussions for Mohamed (or bin Laden), aside from his name appearing along with bin Laden's on the trial’s unindicted co-conspirators list. [Lance, 2006, pp. 173-174] He will not appear at the trial, and it has been alleged the one of the prosecutors told Mohamed to ignore a subpoena and not testify (see December 1994-January 1995). Mohamed was allowed to freely run around the world for another three years, despite the fact that he was a known bin Laden associate who had helped mix the bomb that exploded in the garage of the World Trade Center.
Rather than being isolated and besieged in Sudan at the time Black was Chief of Station, UBL, like Mohamed, freely moved in and out of Sudan during his time there. He was part of an official Saudi delegation to Albania in 1994, where he set up paramilitary cells that would strike out into Kosovo. This morphed into a splinter group of the Kosovo Liberation Army that continued to receive Saudi and CIA assistance for the rest of the decade.
Bin Laden continued his travels, shuttling to Bosnia on numerous occasions even after the Dayton Peace Agreement (which bin Laden violently opposed) was initialed on November 20, 1995. Bin Laden frequently flew in and out of Khartoum International Airport aboard an executive jet purchased for him in the United States in 1993, and used several satellite phones also bought in the U.S.; 1100 calls from these phones were de-encrypted and analyzed by U.S. intelligence before bin Laden stopped using them regularly in 1998. All the while, Al-Qaeda continued large scale paramilitary operations in Kosovo, Chechnya, Dagestan and elsewhere in the former southern Soviet and Yugoslav region. As late as 2000, Bin Laden is reported to have traveled to Kosovo directing al-Qaeda units of the KLA attacking the Serbs.(4)
Six days before the Bosnia Accord was signed, a powerful truck bomb ripped through the offices of the Saudi National Guard in Riyadh, killing five U.S. trainers and wounding 34 other Americans working for Vinnell Corp. (then owned by the Carlyle Group) in an attack for which bin Laden denied involvement but was later indicted by a U.S. Grand Jury. A few days later, several gunmen were killed as they tried to storm bin Laden's Khartoum compound. Billy Waugh, a CIA contract agent posted in Khartoum, approached Black with an alternative idea -- which Black "loved" but rejected -- of grabbing bin Laden in a carjacking and dumping his body on the grounds of the Iranian Embassy, so that Iran would be blamed.
But, neither killing nor renditioning Osama bin Laden was a CIA priority at that time. As Steve Coll acknowledges in Ghost Wars , which includes an account of bin Laden and Black in Sudan, "American strategy in 1995," Coll writes, "was to contain and frustrate Iran and Iraq." Coll continues at p. 277, http://books.google.com/...
"In this mission, Saudi Arabia was an essential but illusive ally. Then, too, there was the crucial importance of Saudi Arabia in the global oil markets . . . There was little impetus to step back and ask, big uncomfortable questions about whether Saudi charities represented a fundamental threat to American national security. The Saudis worked assiduously to maintain contacts with the CIA, outside of official channels. Several retired Riyadh station chiefs and senior Near East Division managers went on the Saudi payroll as consultants during the mid-1990s."
Until shortly before he left Sudan, bin Laden was still seen and treated by the CIA primarily as a Saudi intelligence asset and as a valuable liaison with Islamist paramilitary groups around the world. If there was a falling out with the Agency while Cofer Black was station chief in Khartoum, it resulted from bin Laden's refusal to toe the American line in the Bosnian cease-fire, his suspected involvement in the bombing in Riyadh, and bin Laden's own diminished role as global commander of covert Saudi paramilitary forces after Crown Prince Abdullah took power. Whatever actual conflict occurred between Black and bin Laden did not happen until late in the game in Khartoum, and was likely a result of much larger events and decisions taken about bin Laden at a very high levels in Langley and Riyadh, rather than anything that Black and Waugh might have dreamed up in country.
The official acquiescence of the Saudi regime with the 1995 Bosnia accord signaled a severe blow to bin Laden's own power, prestige and funding. Wherever Saudi Arabia and its allies had challenged the Russians, al-Qaeda fighters had been the point of the Sunni spear, a Holy Warrior's role that bin Laden relished, and all sources acknowledge, did not willingly give up.
The confluence of two events are pivotal in the decision to distance bin Laden further from the Saudi court. On November 29, 1995, nine days after the Dayton Accord was initialed, King Faud suffered a massive stroke, and his half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah assumed power. Faud lingered in a vegetative state for a decade, during which time succession remained in question. On August 1 2005, Faud died and Abdullah officially ascended to the throne. Bin Laden did not come out ahead in this untidy transition of power, but he was not altogether abandoned by the regime, either. He remained under the wing of Prince Turki al Faisal, who at the time of his sudden retirement and departure from Washington on September 4, 2001, had just renewed his 25-year tenure as Director of the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate (GID).
Cofer Black left Sudan in late 1995 shortly before bin Laden removed himself to Afghanistan the following May after reportedly shopping unsuccessfully for political asylum in London. Black has never publicly specified the exact dates of his departure or the terminal confrontation with bin Laden. One clue about when this happened may be that in October 1995 the FBI received a volume of 40 CIA files on bin Laden, thick with NSA and CIA telephone intercepts of bin Laden's communications in Khartoum acquired over several years.[Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244, cited at http://www.historycommons.org/... ] UBL would not be placed on the FBI's international Wanted List until just months before the August 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings.
But, just as bin Laden continued to serve Saudi intelligence interests after his "exile" to Sudan, so too did that role follow him in the next step into Afghanistan, after Pakistani ISI intelligence with the backing of the Saudi GID pushed the Taliban into power in Afghanistan. Bin Laden was an obvious choice for strengthening the Saudi presence in Afghanistan, and bin Laden did not cease being GID's "man in Kandahar" until he reportedly walked out of Tora Bora across unguarded passes into Pakistan in January 2002.
In a little-noted coincidence in early 1995, Ahmed Badeed, chief of staff to GID head Prince Turki, flew into Kandahar airport to meet with Mullah Omar, the spiritual head of the Taliban, who would soon become bin Laden's right-hand man after his arrival in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Cofer Black was appointed Task Force Chief in the CIA Near East and South Asia Division, still focused on bin Laden, a role he would hold for the next three years.
Blowback: Bin Laden Works With the U.S. in Bosnia
Bin Laden had been a critical component in the paramilitary capability of intelligence services of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, as well as the CIA. His network played a central, coordinated role with the U.S. in Bosnia. In November, 1994, bin Laden met with the Bosnian President after delivering hundreds of fighters and tonnes of arms from bases in Sudan, at the same time that US envoy Richard Holbrooke and then head of the US European Intelligence Directorate Gen. Michael Hayden were in Bosnia on the same mission. U.S. Special Forces and bin Laden's Mujahedin carried out joint military operations for a short period in the area around Ploce, Croatia. The mission in Bosnia included a U.S. Navy Seal named Erik Prince.
Prince's biography shows that after he dropped out of Annapolis, he was with the U.S. Navy SEALs from 1993 to 1996, assigned briefly in Haiti as well as Bosnia -- a curiously short career in that most elite U.S. military units -- in another curious coincidence, this was during the same time frame Cofer Black and bin Laden were in Sudan, and bin Laden was heading logistical support of Saudi paramilitary in Bosnia. U.S. Special Forces served not only in Bosnia from 1994 on, but also for a time in Kosovo beginning in 1999.(3) This was at a time of increasing infiltration into Southern Serbia of al-Qaeda militias.
Meanwhile, as bin Laden was supposedly holed up in Afghanistan, al Qaeda was stepping up its activities in Chechnya, operations that included the Flt. 77 hijackers and several of the other primary 9/11 operatives. According to a report in the AP quoting al-Qaeda military instructor Abu Daoud, in May 2000, Osama bin Laden sent four hundred fighters to Chechnya with explosives and weapons. Western intelligence sources confirmed that movement in August 2000. Abu Daoud will also tell the Associated Press that hundreds of other fighters went in February 1999 and many returned to Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 8/30/2000] Two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, reportedly fought in Chechnya. Several others planned to do so, and documentation will show that Ahmed Alghamdi and Saeed Alghamdi have documentation suggesting their travel to a Russian Republic. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 233]
Al-Qaeda activities in the Balkans and former Soviet southern republic was indeed of intense interest to some elements of U.S. intelligence. Going back to Afghanistan, bin Laden maintained ongoing ties to Ibn al-Kattab, the head of a major Chechen Islamist separatist group. An April 2001 memo was prepared for outgoing FBI Director Louis Freeh by then–assistant director Dale Watson. The memo, “Bin Laden/Ibn Khattab Threat Reporting” warned that “significant and urgent” intelligence had been developed indicating “serious operational planning” for terrorism attacks by “Sunni extremists with links to Ibn al Khattab, an extremist leader in Chechnya, and to Usama Bin Laden.” That memo, according to Freeh and the five top FBI counter-terrorism officials to whom it was addressed, remained unread on 9/11, was eventually uncovered in 2011.(5)
Had that memo been more widely circulated, the FBI investigators trying to obtain a FISA warrant to open the laptop of Zakaria Moussaoui, a recruiter for Khattab, would much more likely have been granted when sought in the weeks before 9/11, the contents of which would have led to several of the key hijackers.
That memo was not discussed in the 9-11 Commission report. Nonetheless, other aspects of Bin Laden's activities with the Chechens received some discussion. According to page 58 of the 9-11 Committee report, UBL continued his operations (which the CIA knew were coordinated with Saudi intelligence) against the Russians and their allies. Even after he was billeted to Afghanistan, he was still a major active player and frequent flier:
Bin Ladin’s impressive array of offices covertly provided financial and other support for terrorist activities. The network included a major business enterprise in Cyprus; a “services” branch in Zagreb; an office of the Benevolence International Foundation in Sarajevo, which supported the Bosnian Muslims in their conflict with Serbia and Croatia; ... He also made use of the already-established Third World Relief Agency (TWRA) headquartered in Vienna, whose branch office locations included Zagreb and Budapest.
Bin Ladin now had a vision of himself as head of an international jihad confederation. In Sudan, he established an “Islamic Army Shura” that was to serve as the coordinating body for the consortium of terrorist groups with which he was forging alliances.... Bin Ladin maintained connections in the Bosnian conflict... the groundwork for a true global terrorist network was being laid.
The 9-11 report also speaks of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM). On page 145 of the report it says:
No one exemplifies the model of the terrorist entrepreneur more clearly than Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks.
Page 148 of the Commission Report tells of the same KSM’s role in Bosnia:
In 1992, KSM spent some time fighting alongside the mujahideen in Bosnia and supporting that effort with financial donations.
Page 155 outlines how deeply KSM was involved in the planning of the 9-11 terrorist attacks, and it details that two of the hijackers (Khalid al Mihdhar, and Nawaf al Hazmi) who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77, had also fought in Bosnia, and that it was the Bosnia experience that bound this group together into the extension of Jihad to their erstwhile covert allies, the United States. One set of dots the Commission did not connect was the fact that bin Laden and his network continued to operate freely is the fact that they were protected by Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services, and were viewed by CIA as an extension of major factions within the Saudi Royal family and Pakistani military establishment. This accounts for the ability of known al-Qaeda operatives to enter the U.S. before 9/11 while under CIA surveillance:
Bin Ladin reportedly discussed the planes operation with KSM and Atef in a series of meetings in the spring of 1999 at the al Matar complex near Kandahar. KSM’s original concept of using one of the hijacked planes to make a media statement was scrapped, but Bin Ladin considered the basic idea feasible. Bin Ladin, Atef, and KSM developed an initial list of targets. These included the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the Pentagon, and the World Trade Center. According to KSM, Bin Ladin wanted to destroy the White House and the Pentagon, KSM wanted to strike the World Trade Center, and all of them wanted to hit the Capitol. No one else was involved in the initial selection of targets.
Bin Ladin also soon selected four individuals to serve as suicide operatives: Khalid al Mihdhar, Nawaf al Hazmi, Khallad, and Abu Bara al Yemeni.During the al Matar meetings, Bin Ladin told KSM that Mihdhar and Hazmi were so eager to participate in an operation against the United States that they had already obtained U.S. visas. KSM states that they had done so on their own after the suicide of their friend Azzam (Nashiri’s cousin) in carrying out the Nairobi bombing. KSM had not met them. His only guidance from Bin Ladin was that the two should eventually go to the United States for pilot training.
Hazmi and Mihdhar were Saudi nationals, born in Mecca. Like the others in this initial group of selectees, they were already experienced mujahideen. They had traveled together to fight in Bosnia in a group that journeyed to the Balkans in 1995.
Indeed, long after the Soviets evacuated Afghanistan, Bin Laden and his associates continued to be treated as an important asset of an allied intelligence service. The CIA facilitated travel and training inside the U.S. for a number of Jihadist figures, including bin Laden "Services" operation, later known as al-Qaeda continued throughout the 1990s and into the 21st Century. Persons known by U.S. intelligence to be al-Qaeda paramilitary and financiers traveled into and operating inside the U.S. with apparent impunity until 9/11, and that was during the watch of Cofer Black after he was given command of the CIA unit that dealt with bin Laden.
Bin Laden was also key to financing the Bosnian War, as well as the offensives that sprung up in Kosovo, Chechnya, and in other strategic assets that the west worked with the Saudis to strip away from the Russian sphere in the 1990s. Author Adam Robinson notes that bin Laden took over the leading role in financing Islamist militias after BCCI collapsed in 1991. Bin Laden had just just moved to Sudan, ruled by Hassan al-Turabi. Robinson observes, “Without a system by which money could be transferred around the world invisibly, it would be relatively simple for terrorist funds to be traced. Dealing with this crisis fell to al-Turabi. In desperation he turned to Osama.... The future of the struggle could come to rest on Osama’s shoulders.” After his arrival in Sudan, bin Laden led a small team of financial experts who developed a plan to replace the functions of BCCI. Bin Laden had previously developed contacts with many of the main Islamist backers during the Afghan war.
“During the summer of 1991 he discreetly made contact with many of the wealthiest of these individuals, especially those with an international network of companies....", Robinson recounts. "Within months, Osama unveiled before an astonished al-Turabi what he called ‘the Brotherhood Group.’” This is apparently a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which overlaps "The Golden Chain" that finances al-Qaeda, after a document describing that network was seized in March 2002 raid by Bosnian police authorities of the premises of the Benevolence International Foundation in Sarajevo. Robinson says this group is made up of 134 Arab businessmen with a collective wealth of many billions of dollars. The network will effectively replace BCCI for Islamist militants. [Robinson, 2001, pp. 138-139]
While bin Laden and Black were in Sudan, that country became the center for financing and supporting the Saudi paramilitary forces abroad. The Third World Relief Agency (TWRA), the primary conduit for worldwide financing of Bosnian Serb arms imports, was based in Khartoum with an office in Vienna, was intimately interlinked with al-Qaeda's own financial ties to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Some $200 million flowed through TWRA accounts going to the Bosnian President and his party, much of it originating from Saudi Prince Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz, one of the co-directors of Saudi intelligence, and the leader of the Sudaairi Seven, the primary rival for power with Crown Prince (now King) Abdullah. See, http://www.nytimes.com/...
Many of the details of Saudi financing of the 9/11 attack remain redacted in the 28-page blacked-out section of the Commission Report. While some AQ-Saudi intelligence agency affiliated charities were shut down after 9/11, TWRA continues operating to this day.
In the months leading up to bin Laden's departure, the State Department engaged in some very public diplomatic pressure to force the Sudanese to expel UBL. In May 1996, Bin Laden leased an Ariana Air Afghanistan passenger jet, and relocated his staff and personal body guard to Kandahar ahead of the official expulsion date of May 18. Abu Zubaydeh, who had been coordinating travel and logistics for al-Qaeda in Bosnia, Kosovo and Chechnya, was instrumental in moving Bin Laden's operatives out of Sudan and into Afghanistan.
Strangely, the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum that had been evacuated to Nairobi in February remained closed, the CIA station along with it, for many years. The Bin Laden Issues Unit was given a new home in a warren of kiosks at headquarters on the same floor with the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center (CTC), with Black as chief of the Task Force. The officers assigned to it were dubbed by their CIA colleagues with the unflattering label, "The Manson Family." With bin Laden gone, there just wasn't much for U.S. officials to do in Sudan aside from to count goats and refugees from the decade-long civil war raging in the south. But, the official reason given at the time for the U.S. evacuation from Sudan was heightened security concerns.
Fallout: The post-9/11 Assassination Program
You can draw your own conclusions about whether Cofer Black was UBL's CIA control officer in Sudan, but it has to at least be considered as a possibility. Black would have been ideally placed in Sudan to deal with bin Laden, both in the less confrontational stage early after his arrival and later. Black's thorough familiarity with bin Laden and his network would also explain his appointment in 1999 to head CIA counter-terrorism at a time it was reorganized to focus on Al-Qaeda.
The story advances to the next stage when just before his 2002 CIA retirement as head of CTC, which was charged with killing or capturing bin Laden, Blackwater was given a global CIA contract to assassinate al-Qaeda figures, an assignment that may be connected to the killings of three prominent Saudis and the commander of the Pakistani Air Force reported by Richard Posner. See, http://www.time.com/...
Possibly related, Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul-Aziz, son of the rival Saudi intelligence chief, died at the age of 43 of a heart attack on July 22, 2002. That death has been identified as part of a series of killings that resulted from statements reportedly made by Abu Zubaydeh after his capture in late March, 2002 in which he reportedly revealed the names of a number of prominent Saudi and Pakistani figures behind the 9/11 attack.
One has to appreciate the political context at the time within Saudi Arabia, especially the split within the Saudi Royal family and the succession struggle that many anticipated would turn into a violent civil war in Saudi Arabia. In November 1997, oil prices collapsed, accompanying a financial blowout in the Asian economies. Saudi Arabia experienced further severe economic crises during 1998 and early 1999, when crude oil dipped below 10 dollars a barrel, prompting a slash in spending to counter a 12-billion-dollar deficit. It was at that time that significant domestic insurgency, centered in the Wahhadist clergy, emerged that threatened the rule of the Royal family, that was itself split after King Faud's 1995 debilitating stroke.
Bin Laden was a wild card in several decks, even after his exile. Bin Laden's paramilitaries remained loyal to him, so al-Qaeda continued to be an instrument of various intelligence agencies, and also a tool of contesting factions within the Royal Family. The actual outcome of consolidated power by the Abdullah circle after 9/11 may or may not necessarily have been the intended outcome.
Also, in the late 1990s, interested outside parties saw a range of political and economic opportunities in a destabilized Saudi Arabia. So, despite many opportunities, bin Laden was never done away with, even after the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings. If for no other reason that U.S. and other intelligence agencies harvested such a rich load of information about each other and the Saudi opposition from monitoring UBL, he was worth far more alive. So long as he retained his potential usefulness, there was ample reason to keep him in operation.
1999: Black Brought Back In From the Field
After the 1998 East Africa Embassy bombings, Black was brought in from the field by CIA Director George Tenet to head the CIA Counter-Terrorism Center (CIA/CTC), along with a Tenet protege Richard Blee. They worked closely with Rob Richer, promoted in 1999 to Head of the CIA's Near East Division, who later also went over to Blackwater.
Efforts to locate, track down, and kill or capture bin Laden in Afghanistan using tribesmen, including missions led by Richer, seemed to many to be under-resourced and lacking support in Washington.
In late December 1999, the NSA picked up a communication from Khalid al-Midhar through an AQ message center run by his father-in-law in Yemen. That communique indicated that a summit meeting of al-Qaeda figures was being convened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in the first two weeks of January, 2000.
The CIA/CTC had ten days to prepare surveillance, including videotape, of that meeting. According to the 9/11 Commission, both the 9/11 Planes Operation and the USS Cole attacks were planned there. According to his testimony before the 2002 Joint Intelligence Committee, CIA Director Tenet received more than one briefing at the time about that al-Qaeda planning summit.
January 2000: Black and Blee Let the Flt. 77 Hijackers Into the U.S., Withhold Files from FBI
In the second week of January, al-Midhar and his partner Nawaf al-Hazmi departed Kuala Lumpur in the company of Nawif "Khalad" bin-Atash, who headed bin Laden's personal security detail in Sudan.
On January 15, 2000, al-Hazmi and al-Midhar entered the US at Los Angeles, and immediately met Omar al-Bayoumi, an air attache working under civilian cover (Dallah-AVCO Air Services) out of the Saudi Consulate in LA. Al-Bayoumi gave the pair funds from a Riggs Bank account held in the name of the wife of Saudi Ambassador Bandar bin Sultan and drove them to San Diego, installing them in a rental unit under the supervision of several figures (including an Imam at that mosque who would again emerge as a person of interest in a high-profile terrorist attack at Ft. Hood in 2009, who would then become a target of repeated Predator drone attacks).
The entry into the US of the pair, who went on to hijack AA Flt 77 that crashed into the Pentagon was noted at CTC. A warning cable was drafted by the FBI liaison officer, but withheld at the direct order of the CTC Assn't Director, Richard Blee, Cofer Black's No. 2.
Black and Blee ran CTC and the Bin Laden unit Alec Station during the next 20 months that the Flt. 77 hijackers were allowed to run free inside the US, taking flight training and meeting frequently with other 9/11 attack cell members. During that time, the FBI I-49 National Security Unit, under the command of John O'Neill -- which was charged with monitoring AQ inside the US, and had been frustrated in its investigation of the Cole attack - was kept in the dark. O'Neill resigned from the FBI shortly before 9/11. He was killed during the collapse of the World Trade Center, where he had taken the job as head of security. In the summer of 2001, O'Neill and I-49 officers had repeatedly clashed with Black and Blee over the CIA's refusal to turn over CIA files about the AQ cells the FBI knew from other sources were plotting attacks inside the US. FBI warrants for electronic surveillance requested by field agents were blocked by ranking officials in Washington.
What would explain these extraordinary actions by CTC commanders? One possible explanation is "The Plan" to penetrate Al-Qaeda with double-agents. Tenet has testified that this was part of his own 1998 initiative to "make war" on al-Qaeda following the East Africa Embassy bombings. Cofer Black tells it differently. The Plan was Black's own idea, approved by Tenet, Black claimed in a magazine interview. See, http://www.mensjournal.com/... . Intelligence writer and author Joe Trento has stated that he was told by a U.S. intelligence officer that al-Hazmi and al-Midhar had been treated as double-agents working for a friendly intelligence service, the Saudi General Intelligence Directorate. On the other hand, James Risen cautions that in 1997 the CIA’s bin Laden unit Alec Station sent 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. Alec Station Chief Michael Scheuer, who had founded the "virtual station", was replaced shortly thereafter by Richard Blee, who after 9/11 took over as Chief of Station in Afghanistan. At the very least, the CIA-GID relationship remained as convoluted and ambivalent as the Agency's dealings with bin Laden, himself. The Agency was, in fact, dealing with both factions within the split Saudi intelligence apparatus, while President Bush and his backers also hedged their bets. The result of all this duplicity was chaos and mass murder.
July-August, 2001: Black and Tenet Try to Talk Bush Into Terminating the Planes Operation
By July, it was clear what the targets of the hijackers were and the time-frame they would be hit. On the 10th, Tenet, Black, and Blee got into a CIA SUV, and visited National Security Advisor Condi Rice, and had a tense meeting with her about al-Qaeda. According to Tenet, she seemed to understand the threat, but was ambivalent in her response. Finally, in mid August, Tenet boarded a CIA jet for an unscheduled meeting at the Bush ranch in Crawford, where the President had been deposited for safe-keeping since returning in late July from Genoa, Italy. During that G-8 Conference, US agencies and civil aviation were on high alert over reported Al-Qaeda attacks, and ground-to-air missiles were installed to protect Bush from suspected al-Qaeda attack by aircraft. That alert was stood-down after Bush returned to the US.
Tenet went on to perjure himself before the 9/11 Commission, falsely claiming he had had no communication with Bush during the final 60 days before 9/11. In fact, records showed they had talked on at least a dozen occasions, including the face-to-face on either August 15 or the 23rd, the latter being the date the FBI finally got an alert and received some of the contents of the CIA file that detailed the Kuala Lumpur summit and the entry of al-Hazmi and al-Midhar 19 months earlier.
2002-2009, Containment and Cleanup: From CTC to Blackwater
Black resigned from the CIA in April 2002, after interrogation of Abu Zubaydeh revealed the names of leading Saudi and Pakistani figures who had bankrolled the operation, and after the apparently willful failure of Jawbreaker (or, the White House sabotage thereof), the CIA-run operation to capture bin Laden in Afghanistan the previous December.
In early 2002, after Bin Laden escaped across the unguarded Pakistani Border from Tora Bora, Erik Prince was in Afghanistan meeting with CIA Executive Director "Buzzy" Krongard, who handed Blackwater a series of contracts, including one to carry out worldwide assassinations. The sudden emergence and growth of Blackwater, which had little previous military contracting experience, is curious and startling. In recent statements, US Gov't officials have said that while millions were spent, the CIA-funded Blackwater hit teams did not bag any bad guys. Or, maybe they did, and that must now be plausibly denied.
After his departure from CIA, Krongard was, in turn, appointed a Director of the Whitewater/Xe Board last year. It is strange that the same names keep appearing in the same places in the middle of the same "intelligence failures", and that so many of them ended up at Blackwater/Xe.
Apparently, "willful" is the watchword for the negligent and reckless mismanagement by the White House of this element of the CIA, many of whom went on to Blackwater, and in the actions of these individuals in failing to prevent the 9/11 attacks and their failure to capture top terrorist leaders thereafter. Perhaps, Prince has a point when he pleads that he and the others at Blackwater are being made "scapegoats" for decisions taken at a higher pay-grade. If one views 9/11 and the intelligence disasters that followed, it's clear that there was a systemic policy failure that happened in spite of the efforts of those on the ground.
Finally, there is Erik Prince. The Agency always has an ongoing need for wealthy, well-connected adventurers willing and able to provide trained gunmen for off-the-books operations. In the 1990s, that role was filled by Osama bin Laden. During the Bush years, those shoes were tried on by Erik Prince at Blackwater Lodge and Training Center. Behind the legend of the Sheikh and the Prince, is the shadow of Cofer Black and a small clique of covert operation professionals whose job it was to carry out Presidential policy, no matter how criminal, risky or misconceived.
Always, the buck stops at the President's desk. 9/11 happened on George W. Bush's watch, and he is ultimately the one who must be held accountable. But, that does not seem to be in the cards.
In the small, dark world of black operations, everyone indeed knows each other, all too well. It's time the American people learned more about what really happened, even if the system seems to be headed for yet another catastrophic failure of accountability.
(1) See, http://www.historycommons.org/... ; http://s3.amazonaws.com/... ; http://www.meforum.org/...
(2) See, http://www.mensjournal.com/...
(3) See, Rocky Mountain News, 10/19/01, http://m.rockymountainnews.com/....
(5) See, Philip Shenon, "The Terrible Missed Chance", Newsweek, Sept. 4, 2011, http://mag.newsweek.com/...