Wall Street Journal quietly reported on September 27 that the Bin Laden family had invested with The Carlyle Group, a merchant bank that boasts several Reagan-era former government figures including George Bush Sr. among its management. The story received some attention from the alternative media, but even the fact that George W. Bush sat on the firm's board for four years barely raised eyebrows in the mainstream media or among the public.
In fact, the Journal's revelation was the tip of the iceberg. Growing out of their roots in the oil business, the interests, ambitions, and achievements of Bushes, the Bin Ladens, and most importantly the Saudi royal family have been intertwined for a quarter century. What follows is The Dubya Report's brief chronicling of that history. The Beginnings The Reagan Era Bush I Courting the Taliban The Fatwa and its Aftermath Bush II Familiar Faces
The Beginnings George Bush Sr. became Director of the CIA in 1976. The same year, according to a trust document, James Bath of Houston, TX, became the U.S. representative for Salem bin Laden, brother of Osama bin Laden, accused of playing a central role in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Also that year, according to William White, identified by MSNBC as "an associate of Bath's" and fellow "Annapolis graduate and Naval fighter pilot," Bath began working as the CIA liaison to Saudi Arabia. White also claimed Bath was part of a secret conspiracy to "funnel Saudi money into the U.S."
At the time, Bath operated an aviation business named Skyway Aircraft Leasing, based in the Cayman Islands. Skyway was actually owned by Khalid bin Mahfouz, a Saudi banker. The following year Mahfouz and Saudi businessman Ghaith Pharaon invested in the Main Bank of Houston, a small bank in which Bath also had an interest. Years later, Pharaon was identified in a Senate committee investigation (the "Kerry committee") as a front man for the Bank of Commerce and Credit International (BCCI), an international criminal enterprise officially dissolved in the early 1990's, but still in the process of liquidating. Mahfouz was a principal investor in BCCI. The former Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The same year a young civil engineering student named Osama bin Laden obtained his degree from the University of King Abdul Aziz in Jedda, Saudi Arabia. At the university bin Laden encountered Dr. Abdullah Azzam, a Jordanian Palestinian who was an influential member of the Muslim Brotherhood. According to Jane's Intelligence Review, "Azzam is regarded as the historical leader of Hamas ." Between 1982 and 1984 Azzam founded Maktab al Khidmat lil-mujahidin al Arab (MaK), commonly known as the Afghan bureau. After graduating, bin Laden left Saudi Arabia for Afghanistan, and became MaK's main financier.
Two Saudi Banks were instrumental in bin Laden's financing activities: Dalla al Baraka. Founded by King Fahd's brother in law, and Bar al Islami, founded by Prince Mohammad Faisal, brother of Prince Turki bin Faisal, head of the Saudi Arabian intelligence service. Another major channel was the National Bank of Oman. Among the organizations funneling money through the bank in the 1980s was the CIA. The Kerry committee report quotes a Wall Street journal interview with a former Pakistani cabinet member in which he says, "It was Arab money that was pouring through BCCI," using the National Bank of Oman as a conduit through Pakistan to Afghanistan. BCCI owned 29% or the National Bank of Oman. About this time, a Senate staffer named Michael Pillsbury, who had been staff coordinator for the Congressional Task Force On Afghanistan, became an assistant undersecretary of Defense in the Reagan administration. The Kerry report quotes the Washington Post as saying that Pillsbury was a member of the 208 Committee, which oversees CIA covert operations for the President.
Pillsbury appears in the Kerry report in connection with a BCCI front man, Mohammed Hammoud. "The Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare -- House Republican Research Committee claims that Hammoud was an arms merchant…" who helped Hizbollah set up a network of companies to facilitate the import of explosives and related equipment. During his time at the Department of Defense, Pillsbury advocated providing advanced weapons systems -- especially stinger missiles -- to anti-communist insurgencies including the mujahadin in Afghanistan. Pillsbury has denied using BCCI or Hammoud to finance arms provisioning.
The Reagan Era
By 1984, George Bush Sr. was Vice President in the Reagan administration. As reported elsewhere in The Dubya Report , George W. Bush had attempted unsuccessfully to follow in his father's footsteps, starting an oil exploration company with a Spanish name -- Arbusto. (According to Molly Ivins, the best English translation for Arbusto is "shrub," although W's intention was clearly "bush." His father's firm had been called Zapata.). Jr's company name was subsequently changed to Bush Exploration, and James Bath was one of his investors. As Bush Exploration floundered, it first merged with a company called Spectrum 7. Philip Uzielli, a director of Spectrum 7 and friend of the Bush family told the Asian Wall Street Journal in 1991, "We lost a lot of money in the oil business. We had a lot of dry wells. . . . Things were terrible. It was dreadful." In an environment of uncertain oil prices, finding a buyer was difficult, but in September 1986, a company called Harken Energy purchased Spectrum 7 in a stock swap worth approximately $2 million. Bush's cut was worth $600,000 and he was retained as a director and consultant for annual compensation of $120,000 (later reduced to $50,000).
Among W.'s consulting responsibilities was "equity placements." When Harken needed an infusion of cash, Bush turned to family friend and investment banker Jackson Stephens of Little Rock, AK. The firm of Stephens Inc. was at the time one of the largest investment banks outside Wall Street. (The Stephens family were also active in Republican circles: Jackson Stephens would later contribute at least $200,000 to the Bush for President campaign, and his wife would become the Arkansas campaign chair.) Stephens rescue plan was to obtain $25 million in investment capital from Union Bank of Switzerland -- a joint venture of BCCI and the Banque de Commerce et de Placements in Geneva. UBS did not normally invest in small U.S. companies, but it made an exception in this case. As originally structured, the deal apparently did not comply with U.S. banking regulations, according to the Asian Wall Street Journal . In the course of restructuring the deal, UBS decided to sell its shares as soon as possible, and Stephens obligingly found a new buyer: Sheikh Abdullah Bakhsh, a Saudi Arabian real-estate magnate. Bakhsh's representative is Talat Othman, a Palestinian born Chicago investor. For several years Bakhsh was chairman of Saudi Finance Co., a holding company based in Luxembourg that operated French and Swiss financial enterprises. Bakhsh sold his interest in Saudi Finance Co. in 1983, although it is not clear to whom. By 1989 the firm was under partial control of the Gokal family of Pakistan -- shipping magnates who were BCCI shareholders. Bakhsh conducted business with the most prominent people in Saudi Arabia, reportedly including two oil ministers and members of the Saudi royal family. Among his notable co-investors was Ghaith Pharaon; Khalid bin Mahfouz was Bakhsh's banker. Bakhsh's stake in Harken was 17.6% in 1991, making him the third largest shareholder. The first with 24.5% is a Harvard University investment fund.
Jackson Stephens was identified by the Kerry committee as possibly "BCCI's Principal U.S. Broker," having facilitated BCCI's first acquisitions of U.S. banking concerns National Bank of Georgia and its former parent, Financial General Bankshares.
Ghaith Pharaon is still wanted by the FBI for wire fraud and racketeering conspiracy, according to the Justice Department's Interagency International Fugitive Lookout . (Incidentally, the DOJ site lists him as 93 inches tall, although "of short stocky build….") Pharaon's own web site relates that he is the son of the personal physician and advisor to former King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia. He attended the Colorado School of Mines and Stanford University, graduating with a degree in petroleum engineering. In 1965 he received an MBA from Harvard Business School, as his web site says. "a degree and training which became common to a number of other Saudis and Middle Easterners who later rose to prominence in government, business and commerce in the area," -- not to mention George W. Bush. Pharaon's site claims that his involvement with BCCI was just another venture in which he invested, as a wealthy and prominent businessman in the Middle East. He claims that he "discovered that they had been used to camouflage the bank's irregular practices. The liquidators of BCCI as well as various authorities are trying to use these individuals as scapegoats."
The picture from the Kerry committee report is somewhat different. The report is rife with accounts of Pharaon bilking high-profile clients of BCCI, including governments. For instance, Pharaon arranged for what appeared to be BCCI financing of a luxury hotel in downtown Buenos Aires. Most of the financing was to come from selling Argentine debt. BCCI did purchase Argentine debt -- at a huge discount, and then cashed it with the Argentine central bank. The net result was that the Argentine national bank financed most of the hotel.
Sheikh Bakhsh's banker, Khalid bin Mahfouz, now 73, is the son of the founder of the leading bank in Saudi Arabia, the National Commercial Bank, founded in 1950. In the 70's the Mahfouz family joined the Hunt brothers of Texas in cornering the world silver market in an attempt to manipulate the price . Silver prices rose more than 2500% before regulatory changes eventually put an end to the gambit, but not before a near financial panic worldwide. The Hunt brothers declared bankruptcy and many investors suffered huge losses as prices dropped precipitously, achieving a single day decline of 50% on March 27, 1979. Although the Mahfouz family sold its 20% stake in BCCI, during their involvement with the bank they reportedly used it as a private cash register, obtaining over $175 million in unsecured loans. In 1985, then CIA Director William Casey took three significant (and then secret) actions in connection with the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He convinced Congress to adopt Michael Pillsbury's suggestion to supply the Mujadheddin with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, and provide American advisers to train the guerillas. With the British MI6 and Pakistani ISI, the CIA agreed to mount guerilla actions in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The Afghan opposition leader with whom these operations were coordinated was Gulbuddin Hikmetyar. Casey committed the CIA to support an ISI operation recruiting Muslims from all over the world to come to Pakistan and fight with the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan. The ISI had been involved in this activity since 1982. Pakistani President Zia viewed it as an opportunity to make Pakistan a leader of the Muslim world. Washington wanted to demonstrate that the Muslim world was fighting with their American benefactors against the Soviets. The Saudis saw it as an opportunity to promote their Wahabbi school of puritanical Islam. Writing about these activities in Taliban, Ahmed Rashid notes, "None of the intelligence agencies involved wanted to consider the consequences of bring together thousands of Islamic radicals from all over the world. 'What was more important in the world view of history? The Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire?' said Zbigniew Brzezinski," National Security Adviser in the Carter Administration. During this time bin Laden traveled widely, recruiting and raising funds. According to Jane's Intelligence Review , "MaK worked closely with Pakistan, especially the Inter Services Intelligence, the Saudi government and Egyptian governments, and the vast Muslim Brotherhood network." Bush I The Senate Committee on Foreign Relations investigated BCCI from 1988 to 1992. Among its many findings, the committee report of its investigation criticized the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and the Office of the Controller of the Currency, all arms of the Treasury Department, for poor coordination and failing to act on information concerning BCCI's criminal intentions. For example, " Even after [BCCI] was indicted on drug money laundering charges, the Federal Reserve undertook only limited investigative efforts." In fact, the report states, "The Federal Reserve's extensive … investigation of BCCI began after the Federal Reserve was notified by the New York District Attorney that BCCI had massive loans securing First American's stock which had never been disclosed to the Federal Reserve. As late as the spring of 1991, after the Federal Reserve understood that BCCI and many of First American's shareholders had lied to the regulators, and that BCCI itself was involved in massive fraud, the Federal Reserve still took no position as to whether BCCI should be closed globally, so long as the bank was shut down in the United States." With regard to the overarching role of the Treasury Department in particular, the Kerry report found, " U.S. regulatory handling of the U.S. banks secretly owned by BCCI was hampered by lack of coordination among the regulators, which included the Federal Reserve, the FDIC, and the OCC, highlighting the need for further integration of these separate banking regulatory agencies on supervision and enforcement. It also noted, that in 1985 and 1986 the Treasury Department had received information from the CIA that BCCI was behind the takeover of Financial General Bankshares (renamed First America), but did not pass the information along to the Federal Reserve. In 1985 and 1986, the Secretary of the Treasury was James A. Baker, III. When Bush Sr. became President, Baker became Secretary of State, and was recently in the public eye for his role as director of Bush campaign operations following the November 2000 election. During the Kerry committee investigation, the Secretary of the Treasury was Nicholas Brady. Brady had worked at the Wall Street firm of Dillon, Read before being tapped to fill out the term of Senator Harrison Williams of New Jersey who was indicted in the FBI's Abscam sting. Brady was part of the same social circles in which the Bushes traveled; for example, both belonged to the Bohemia Club of San Francisco. In 1985 financier T. Boone Pickens and Mesa Petroleum tried to takeover the oil company Unocal. Pickens et al. proposed a so-called "two-tiered tender offer," in which shareholders siding with the takeover would receive cash for their stocks, but any who did not would receive high-risk "junk" bonds after the takeover. Unocal called upon Dillon Read and Goldman Sachs to defend against the hostile takeover bid. Brady and his colleagues designed an anti-takeover defense for Unocal, in which the company offered to buy back much of it's own stock at a higher price than Pickens offered, while at the same time refusing any shares held by Pickens. Pickens fought the measure in the Delaware courts, but lost. The "self-tender" maneuver left Unocal with $3.6 billion of high interest debt, but was successful in warding off Pickens' takeover attempt. In 1989 Michael Pillsbury became Special Assistant for Asian Affairs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. His time in the defense department brought him into contact with three secretaries of Defense: Caspar Weinberger and Frank Carlucci (now chairman of the Carlyle Group) in the Reagan administration, and Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense in the administration of Bush Sr., and the current vice president. Pillsbury's BCCI associate, Mohammed Hammoud, allegedly died in Geneva in 1990, and, according to law enforcement documents viewed by the Kerry committee staff, Michael Pillsbury traveled to Geneva to identify the body. However, the body was found by insurance companies to be several inches shorter than Hammoud's last recorded height. Several BCCI officials told the Kerry committee that they did not believe Hammoud was dead. A video provided to Hammoud's lawyers by his family allegedly shows Syrian intelligence officials present at his funeral. In August 1992, Newsweek reported. "Intelligence officials now say that Mohammed Hammoud, an alleged BCCI front man, was taped saying over the telephone, 'If anybody knew how dirty the Americans are in this BCCI business, they'd be surprised -- they're dirtier than the Pakistanis.' He then said he was about to tell someone about the American role. Eight hours later he was found dead." Meanwhile, in Afghanistan the Soviet army withdrew, but left a pro-communist leader in installed in Kabul. During the previous year, Osama bin Laden had created Al Qaeda (The Base). Al Qaeda inherited from MaK a pan-Islamic as contrasted to pan-Arab ideology. Al Qaeda also benefited from the financial and technical resources that had been amassed during the long campaign against the Soviets. Bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia that year where he lent support to anti-establishment movements, and worked for his family business the Binladin Group. The same year Hasan al Turabi's National Islamic Front rose to power in Sudan, and sent a delegation to Pakistan. Bin Laden moved Al Qaeda's infrastructure to Sudan. In the late 80's high-tech seismic surveys in the tiny emirate of Bahrain, which hadn't had a significant new oil discovery since 1932, identified a large likely undersea oil deposit between what the Asian Wall Street Journal called "two of the greatest oil and gas fields on the planet." The company chosen to drill exploratory wells would have to invest over $12 million, but could receive a payoff in the billions if oil was found. Amoco and three other oil companies entered into discussion with Bahrain in 1987. Amoco was optimistic at the directions discussions had taken, when suddenly in 1990 the contract was awarded to Harken Energy. Harken officials claim the Bahrainis wanted a small company that could focus on their country's project. The Bahrainis had enlisted help from Michael Ameen, a Houston oil consultant who had worked for Mobil and the Arabian American Oil company (Aramco). As head of government relations for Aramco, Ameen spent years dealing with members of the Saudi royal family and their associates, including Kamal Adham. As we've noted elsewhere Adham was the CIA's principal liason for the entire Middle East, from the mid-60s through 1979. The latter years overlapped with the period when George Bush Sr. was Director of the CIA. According to the Kerry committee report, Adham "was the lead front-man for BCCI in its takeover of First American, was an important nominee shareholder in BCCI, and remains one of the key players in the entire BCCI affair. On July 29, 1992, he reached a plea agreement with the District Attorney of New York, acknowledging that he had been a BCCI front-man in the United States, and agreeing to provide full cooperation with U.S. law enforcement in BCCI-related investigations and prosecutions." Adham has been referred to as "the godfather of Middle East intelligence." The Kerry committee observes "It was impossible to determine where Saudi interests in these arrangements ended and American CIA interests began." For instance, in 1970 Adham was responsible for making payments on the CIA's behalf to Anwar Sadat, then Gamal Nasser's vice president. Adham also reportedly played a significant behind-the-scenes diplomatic role during the Camp David accords. His role may have been to discourage Arab leaders from repudiating Sadat for agreeing to peace with Israel. While many Arab leaders nonetheless spoke out in opposition publicly, in private many supported the Camp David accords because they thought they would help the Saudi royal family maintain stability in the region. Quoting again from the Kerry committee report, "To recapitulate: Adham was at the same time in business with a retired CIA station chief whose activities caused people in the U.S. and Saudi governments to question whether he was truly 'retired,' acting as an intermediary for the U.S. in negotiations regarding Camp David, and acting as a phony 'lead shareholder' in a take-over of the largest bank in the nation's capital on behalf of BCCI." Michael Ameen was also a close friend of the Pharaon family, and knew Sheikh Bakhsh for 25 years. During the Harken-Bahrain negotiations, Ameen was also working as a paid consultant to the State Department. In that role, he briefed incoming Ambassador to Bahrain, Charles Hostler. Hostler, a San Diego real-estate developer and major contributor to the Republican party met BCCI figure Mohammed Hammoud in the 60s when Hostler was stationed in Lebanon with the Air Force and Hammoud was a businessman in Beirut. Hostler admitted "giving financial advice" to Hammoud from time to time. Chris Hagen, a real estate broker who represented Hammoud reported after a meeting in NYC overhearing Hammoud tell Hostler that "there will be a Cadillac in your driveway, tomorrow morning." The Kerry committee was unable to determine whether Hostler had received the Cadillac. The Harken contract was signed in January 1990. In August of that year Iraq invaded Kuwait. Sheikh Bakhsh's agent, Talat Othman, who six months earlier "didn't have the President's ear," according the the Asian Wall Street Journal , was one of 15 Arab Americans invited to the White House two days after the invasion, for a meeting with President Bush, National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft, and chief of staff John Sunnunu.
During the Gulf War, thousands of U.S. and other foreign troops were based in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi rulers had promised to expel foreign troops from the country after the war. When they reneged, bin Laden initiated a campaign of opposition. He labeled the royal family "false Muslims," and advocated a so-called "true" Islamic state. In 1992 bin Laden had a meeting with Interior Minister Prince Naif, during or after which he denounced Naif as a traitor. Bin Laden was declared persona no grata after Naif complained to King Fahd. Bin Laden left the country for Sudan that year -- widely reported as a deportation -- but retained ties to some members of the Saudi Royal family who also disliked Naif. Bin Laden also retained ties to Saudi Intelligence and Pakistan's ISI..
According to Pakistani investigators, Ramzi Youssef, convicted mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York, lived at a Bin Laden-funded safe house in Peshawar during most of the three years before his capture in 1995. Youssef, whose real name according to Pakistani intelligence is Abdul-Basit Mahmud Abdul Karim, was implicated by his co-conspirators and eventually betrayed by a fellow follower of Abdurrab Rasul Sayyaf in Pakistan. Youssef and two co-conspirators were sentenced in 1998 to life in prison without parole for the WTC bombing and a plot to bomb airplanes in Manila, Phillipines.
A third co-conspirator, Wali Khan Amin Shah, was not sentenced initially, because he had agreed to cooperate with the FBI. Federal investigators hoped Shah would provide information about the financing of Youssef's activities. Shah was ultimately convicted, but apparently provided authorities with information linking bin Laden to the Alkifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn. A NY Times article that strangely does not identify Shah by name, reports that he told Federal authorities he met twice with Texan, Wadih el Hage, to buy weapons for associates in Brooklyn. Federal prosecutors reportedly link El Hage to several habitués of the Alkifah center, including El Sayyid A. Nosair, the Egyptian immigrant convicted on Federal charges in the slaying of Rabbi Kahane. El Hage, would later be convicted for the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.
When Youssef came to the U.S. in 1992, the Alkifah center, which had been founded by bin Laden's mentor Abdullah Azzam, was his first stop. Alkifah has been identified by an aide to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a CIA front for transferring funds, weapons, and recruits to the anti-Soviet mujaheddin in Afghanistan. During one period, over $2 million annually was reportedly being transferred. A 1998 article in the New York Times referred to Alkifah as "the American outpost of Mr. bin Laden's international terrorist organization." Courting the Taliban In 1991 Condoleeza Rice left the administration of George Bush Sr. where she was a specialist in Soviet relations. The same year she joined the board of San Francisco-based multinational oil company Chevron. Also in 1991, Chevron committed to investing $5 billion in the Tenghiz oil fields in Kazakhstan. Chevron is the largest oil company member of the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, and has a 45 percent ownership interest with the Republic of Kazakhstan in Tengizchevroil, formed in 1993. A proposed 900-mile pipeline would link the Tenghiz oil fields to the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk in Russia. Meanwhile in the Sudan, bin Laden continued his criticism of the Saudi Royal family. His personal secretary during this time was Wadih El Hage. Some time before 1993, during the administration of George Bush Sr., the Saudis reportedly dispatched hit squads to Khartoum with a contract on bin Laden's life. In 1994 Saudi Arabia took the unprecedented step of revoking bin Laden's citizenship. A declassified State Department report dated August 1996 reports that while in the Sudan: Bin Laden's company Al-Hijrah for Construction and Development, Ltd. built the Tahaddi road linking Khartoum with Port Sudan, as well as a modern airport near Port Sudan. Bin Laden's import-export firm, Wadi al-Aqiq Company, Ltd. monopolized Sudan's major agricultural exports: vegetable gum, corn, sunflower, and sesame products, in cooperation with members of the governing political party. Bin Laden capitalized Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Khartoum, investing $50 million. This was a joint venture with wealthy NIF members. (NIF is the National Islamic Front, the governing political organization in Sudan at the time.) By 1994 Bin Laden was financing at least three terrorist training camps in northern Sudan. In Afghanistan, the pro-communist regime of President Najibullah was overthrown in 1992, and the capital of Kabul was controlled by ethnically Tajik forces under Ahmad Shah Masud and Uzbek forces under Rashid Dostum. Civil war broke out almost immediately, in part because this was the first time in 300 years that the capital was not under the control of Pashtun tribes, who predominate in southern Afghanistan. Leading up to 1994, the country was carved up into fiefdoms with warlords joining and breaking up alliances with each other. Masud was allied with the government of President Burhanuddin Rabbani, and initially Dostum was, as well. In 1994 Dostum split with the Rabbani regime and joined with Gulbuddin Hikmetyar, who controlled a small region south and east of Kabul, to attack the capital. Southern Afghanistan was divided among dozens of factions at war with each other. The city of Kandahar itself was divided into warring groups; international aid agencies were reluctant to continue operations there. Out of this chaos in southern Afghanistan, the Taliban emerged, when Mullah Mohammed Abbas and others came to Kandahar to join Mullah Omar. The agenda outlined at that time remains the Taliban's public agenda: restore peace, disarm the population, enforce Islamic Sharia law, and defend the integrity and Islamic nature of Afghanistan. Many of the Taliban's leaders had grown up in Pakistan. Pakistan had initially backed Hikmetyar in his assault on Kabul, but by 1994 it was clear that he was losing. Pakistan's key concern in Afghanistan was a trade route to the Central Asian Republics. With the help of what Ahmed Rashid calls the "transport mafia," Taliban forces captured an arms dump at Spin Baldak, near the Pakistan border, that had been guarded by Hikmetyar's forces. The dump included 18,000 rifles, dozens of artillery items, ammunition, and vehicles. In October of 1994 Pakistani Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar ordered a convoy across Afghanistan from Quetta, in Pakistan, to Ashkhabad, in Turkmenistan. Personnel for the convoy were drawn from the Pakistani army's National Logistics Cell (NLC) which had been set up by the ISI (the Pakistani CIA) in the 80s to channel US arms to the Mujaheddin. A prominent ISI field officer was also in the convoy. The convoy was hijacked 12 miles outside of Kandahar. On November 3, the convoy was freed by Taliban forces, who went on to attack Kandahar. After two days of fighting the local forces were routed. Subsequent reports suggested that one of the local commanders, who controlled a force of 2500 men, had received a substantial bribe from the ISI. In capturing Kandahar, the Taliban also gained tanks and other vehicles, including six Mig-21 fighters and six transport helicopters left behind from the Soviet occupation. The Taliban instituted highway patrol on the road from Afghanistan; it also almost immediately implemented the strictest Sharia law in the Muslim world. Measures included the now famous closing of girls schools, banning of women working, and prohibition on most forms of sport and entertainment. By early 1995 the Taliban controlled 12 of Afghanistan's 31 provinces. In May 1996, according to a declassified CIA document, "largely in response to U.S. insistence and to the threat of UN sanctions following Sudan's alleged complicity in an attempted assassination of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak," Sudan expelled Osama bin Laden. The following month a bomb in a fuel truck near the Khobar Towers military complex in Dharan exploded, killing 19 U.S. servicemen and injuring hundreds. The Saudis arrested 600 so-called Afghan Arabs -- ethnic Arabs who had fought in the war in Afghanistan -- suggesting that they believed bin Laden associates might be responsible. Members of Saudi Hezbolla , a Shiite Muslim group with Iranian connections, were eventually indicted in the U.S. for the bombing. Bin Laden later told CNN "I have great respect for the people who did this," but denied any involvement himself. Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan with a large entourage including three wives and thirteen children. In August of 1996 he issued his first declaration of holy war against Americans. Strangely, in November 1996 the Saudi royal family invited bin Laden to return home. Saudi officials will not confirm or deny that such an offer was made, but bin Laden told the Arab-language newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi that the Saudis offered to restore his citizenship and property if he swore an allegiance to King Fahd. Bin Laden refused. Writing recently in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh reported that the National Security Agency has been monitoring electronic communications among members of the Saudi royal family since 1994. According to Hersh, the intercepts reveal the Saudi regime "increasingly corrupt, alienated from the country's religious rank and file, and so weakened and frightened that it has brokered its future by channelling hundreds of millions of dollars in what amounts to protection money to fundamentalist groups that wish to overthrow it. "Ninety-six is the key year," an American intelligence official told Hersh. "Bin Laden hooked up to all the bad guys-it's like the Grand Alliance- and had a capability for conducting large-scale operations." The official said the Saudi regime had "gone to the dark side." About this time, Carlos Bulgheroni, Chairman of the Argentine oil company Bridas, emabarked on a kind of industrial shuttle diplomacy. Bulgheroni envisioned a pipeline across Afghanistan connecting Bridas oil fields in Turkmenistan with Pakistan and India. In 1995 and 1996 Bulgheroni spent nine months lobbying parties with an interest or potential interest in his project, from factions in Afghanistan to the capitals of Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Russia and the U.S. Bridas had been the first western company to bid for oil leases in Turkmenistan, and by 1993 had obtained agreements to operate in two areas of the country. Bridas was content to have some of it's output travel north through Russian pipelines, but wanted to develop other markets in China or South Asia. Bulgheroni saw a pipeline through Afghanistan as having the potential to promote peace in the region. In June 1995 Bridas discovered a huge natural gas deposit on one of their tracts, and by 1996 signed a 30-year agreement with the government of Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul, for Bridas and an international consortium to build and operate a gas pipeline. Bridas began negotiating with other oil companies in connection with the pipeline plans. Among them was Unocal, which had been operating in the region since 1976. Some time in 1995 a Unocal delegation visited Ashkhabad, Turkmenistan, and Islamabad, Pakistan, ostensibly to discuss the Bridas venture. Bridas now began to have problems with the government of Turkmenistan, which wanted to renegotiate the terms of their agreement. Bridas agreed to reduce its percentage of profits from the Turkmenistan fields, but by then Unocal had put forward its own pipeline proposal. Between 1991 and 1995 U.S. government policy toward Central Asia had undergone significant change -- a change that would redound to Unocal's benefit. President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan was courted by Presidents Bush and Clinton, but by 1995 was viewed as a corrupt despot. Although Kazakhstan had turned over its nuclear weapons to Russia in 1993, and had capitulated to Russian economic and security requirements, Chevron had been unsuccessful in persuading Russia to transport Tenghiz oil over Russian pipelines. In 1995 Chevron had invested only $700 million of the $5 billion promised in 1991, and reduced its commitment. Under the influence of Clinton administration Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Washington was pursuing a pro-Russian policy in Central Asia. However, as Russia deteriorated, Talbott's policy came under criticism, in particular from pro-Israeli lobbies and oil companies. As Ahmed Rashid writes, "US oil companies who had spearheaded the first US forays into the region now wanted a greater say in US policy making." A lobbying organization called the Foreign Oil Companies group was formed in 1995 to promote oil interests in the Caspian Sea region. Members included Pennzoil, Chevron, Amoco, and Unocal among others. The group met with Sheila Heslin of the National Security Council, and later with an interagency committee including representatives from Departments of State, Energy, and Commerce, as well as the NSC and the CIA. Foreign Oil Companies group members already had significant operations in Azerbaijian. As Washington's concern about offending Russia diminished, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were the immediate beneficiaries. Policy makers concluded that if they did not support President Niyazov in Turkmenistan, he would ally himself with Iran; and Uzbekistan was regarded as the only state in the region with the size and resources to stand up to Russia. In a conclusion not far from Bulgheroni's original vision, Washington came to view a pipeline through Afghanistan as solving a economic and logistical problem while simultaneously avoiding Iran, and signaling support for Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and the Taliban. On October 21, 1995, President Niyazov of Turkmenistan signed an agreement with Unocal and the Saudi firm Delta Oil, to construct a pipeline through Afghanistan. Unocal subsequently signed a second agreement for an even more ambitious pipeline connecting Chardzhou in Turkmenistan with a oil port in Pakistan. Bridas sued Unocal under Texas tort law in February 1996, claiming interference with business relations, and civil conspiracy, and began arbitration with the International Chamber of Commerce against Turkmenistan, claiming three instances of breach of contract. The Clinton administration swung its full support behind Unocal. The U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan committed a major diplomatic gaffe when he accused then President of Pakistan Bhutto of extortion, while trying to convince her to support the Unocal pipeline. Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel said at a news conference in Islamabad in April of that year that "The pipeline contract will be good for Turkmenistan, Pakistan, and Afghanistan." For its part, Unocal announced that it would give humanitarian aid as "bonuses" to Afghan warlords if they formed a council to supervise the pipeline project. The Taliban captured Kabul in September, 1996. Chris Taggert, a Unocal spokesmen told reporters that the pipeline would be easier to develop, now that the Taliban had captured Kabul. The company later retracted the statement. Mere hours after the Taliban captured Kabul, the US State Department announced that it would establish diplomatic relations with the new regime. That statement was also subsequently retracted. Observers in Russia and Iran, already suspicious that the U.S. was supporting the Taliban, were now convinced. Pakistani cabinet ministers leaked to Pakistani journalists that Washington was backing the Taliban. Appearances notwithstanding, Ahmed Rashid suggests these suspicions were fed as much by bungling and confusion, as by actual evidence. "Unocal's real influence with the Taliban was that their project carried the possibility of U.S. recognition, which the Taliban were desperately anxious to secure," he wrote. Once Nawaz Sharif was elected Prime Minister, Pakistan, including officials of the Pakistani army and the ISI, eventually sided with Unocal. The U.S accepted the Pakistani analysis that a Taliban victory would simplify the Unocal pipeline project. Pakistan believed U.S. recognition of the Taliban would stabilize the region. They also needed cheaper supplies of gas and oil. And the Unocal pipeline had the potential for making Pakistan a key player in Central Asian energy commerce. In contrast to Unocal, which wanted an internationally recognized government in place so that it could obtain project funding through the World Bank, Bridas told the Taliban it had no need for funding outside the region. Backing up their claim, they entered into a partnership with the Saudi firm Ningarcho. Ningarcho had connections to Prince Turki, chief of Saudi intelligence and one of Osama bin Laden's mentors. Unocal's Saudi partner, Delta Oil, was connected to Crown Prince Abdullah. Thus, Ahmed Rashid observes, "the competition between Unocal and Bridas also reflected competition within the Saudi Royal family." By November 1996 Bridas claimed that the Taliban and General Dostum added their signatures to a pipeline construction agreement that President Rabbani had already signed. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary tried to persuade Mullah Omar to accept the Unocal deal in December 1996. In addition to receiving rent or royalties for the pipeline, the Taliban wanted the oil companies to undertake major infrastructure construction in Afghanistan: roads, power supplies, etc. Whether or not it was directly or indirectly backing the Taliban, by 1997 the CIA had a special working group monitoring bin Laden and his ties to other Islamic militants. That year the CIA organized a squad that came to Peshawar, Pakistan to try to kidnap or "snatch" him. Partly in response, bin Laden moved to Kandahar, and befriended Taliban leader Mullah Omar. During 1997 Bridas and Unocal both expanded their courtship of the Taliban. Taliban delegations traveled to Buenos Aires where they were treated as royalty. Another delegation traveled to the U.S. to meet with Unocal and government officials, and to lobby for diplomatic recognition. Bridas was painstakingly negotiating a contract with various Afghani factions. Unocal donated just under $1 million to create a Center of Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska. As reported elsewhere in The Dubya Report , it was during this period that Unocal hired Iran-Contra figure and former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Robert Oakley as a high-level representative and expert on the region. Oakley's history reinforced the perception that the CIA's Afghan network from the 1980s was being re-established. The Fatwa and its Aftermath In February of 1998, bin Laden issued a "fatwa" or religious pronouncement, that stated in part "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to." On August 7, 1998 a car bomb exploded in front of the American Embassy in Nairobi Kenya, killing 213 and injuring 4000. Five minutes later a suicide bomber attacked the American Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, killing 11. Bin Laden appeared on the Arabic-language television channel Al Jazeera, saying "Thanks to God's grace to Muslims the blow was successful and great. They deserved it." Two weeks later the U.S. launched cruise-missile strikes on camps in Afghanistan where Clinton advisers believed a bin Laden leadership conference was scheduled. Missiles also attacked a pharmaceutical plant in Khartoum where a component of nerve gas was believed to be produced. Bin Laden was not present at the camps that were attacked, and it has not been proved that the factory made chemical weapons. The only apparent effect of the missile attacks was to make bin Laden an international celebrity. Unocal removed its staff from Pakistan and Kandahar, and in December withdrew from the CentGas consortium it had set up. With oil prices dropping world wide, Unocal went on to close most of its offices throughout Central Asia. U.S. oil companies now realized what, in Ahmed Rashid's view they should have realized earlier, namely that no U.S. company could build and Afghan pipeline with the continued fighting, human rights issues, and perhaps the leading financier of international terrorism bunkered nearby. Area experts described U.S. policy as "a cluster of confusions," and "arrogant, muddled, naive, and dangerous."
The new resolution would impose an arms embargo against the Taliban, hitting the regime -- not the people -- where it hurts. The resolution reiterates the demand that the Taliban turn over Osama bin Laden so he can be brought to justice, and freezes bin Laden's financial assets. The resolution also includes a measure to ban the export to Afghanistan of a precursor chemical, acetic anhydride, which is used to manufacture heroin. The international community agrees that this measure is essential because of the Taliban's refusal to put into deeds their empty promise to end opium production, which goes to support the regime and terrorists.
Despite Sheehan's thorough condemnation, the Bush administration began to negotiate with the Taliban in February, 2001, according to Jean Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasque, authors of Bin Laden: La Vérité Interdite . Handling public relations for the Taliban in this phase was Laila Helms, niece of former CIA Director Richard Helms. The Taliban reportedly offered to extradite bin Laden in exchange for diplomatic recognition. In May Secretary of State Colin Powell announced that the U.S. would provide $43 million in drought relief aid Brisard and Dasque point to the preponderance of energy industry officials in the Bush administration and an "oil above all" philosophy in explaining why a U.S. government would resume negotiations with a regime such as that characterized in Michael Sheehan's testimony. They regard with special suspicion the continued refusal of Vice President Cheney to release information about the deliberations of the Energy Policy Task Force. At a minimum, the Bush administration apparently was seduced by the same arguments that influenced U.S. behavior in the Unocal pipeline episode: oil development in the region required a stable government in Afghanistan. Initially, the Taliban appeared to offer that possibility. Several meetings with the Taliban took place under the auspices of the United Nations, the book asserts. Facilitated by Fransesc Vendrell, personal representative of UN Secretary General Kofi-Annan, the meetings were attended by representatives of the six countries bordering Afghanistan, plus Russian and the US. The assemblage was sometimes referred to as the group of 6+2. Taliban representatives reportedly sat in on some of the group's meetings. Former Pakistani Minister of Foreign Affairs, Naif Naik confirmed to French television that during a July 6+2 meeting in Berlin, the formation of a "government of national unity" in Afghanistan was discussed. "If the Taliban had accepted this coalition, they would have immediately received international economic aid. And the pipelines from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan would have come," he said. According to Naik, Tom Simons, the US representative at these meetings, openly threatened the Taliban and Pakistan, saying "…either the Taliban behave as they ought to, or Pakistan convinces them to do so, or we will use another option'. Naik claimed Simons used the words 'a military operation'. The last meeting between the Taliban and the U.S. government took place in August. Christina Rocca, director of the State Departments's bureau of Asian affairs who had reportedly worked on Central Asian matters for the CIA between 1982 and 1997, met with the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan in Islamabad. Another assertion in Ben Laden: La Vérité Interdite -- "the main obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were US oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it". John P. O'Neill, former director of counterterrorism for the FBI's New York had been leading the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000, but had been barred by the U.S. Ambassador to Yemen from returning there in July of this year. The reasons given were that O'Neill had no cultural sensitivity and was harming U.S. relations.
FBI investigations into the Khobar Towers bombing in 1996, and an earlier car bomb near a joint U.S.-Saudi facility in Riyadh were directly obstructed by the Saudi government. The Saudis did not allow U.S. agents to interview any suspects in Saudi jails. They did not share the results of their own investigation either. In the spring of 1998 the Saudi Minister of the Interior announced without warning that his investigation of the Khobar Towers bombing was complete, and that he had found no evidence of foreign involvement. U.S. investigators learned from the press that their own investigation had been closed down. As of October 22, 2001 the Saudis had not allowed background checks -- so-called "traces" -- on the 19 men who participated in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, according to The New Yorker. Intelligence officials told The New Yorker recently that the instability of the Saudi regime and the vulnerability of their oil fields to terrorist attack, are "the most immediate threat to American economic and political interests in the Middle East." Even in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration refuses to face this reality. For example, shortly before the start of the air campaign in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had a widely publicized meeting with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia. King Fahd has been incapacitated since suffering a stroke in 1995. He is barely able to sit in a chair and open his eyes, and reportedly does not usually recognize even close friends. NSA intercepts of Saudi family communications reveal that Fahd is being kept on the throne to forestall a family dispute between Crown Prince Abdullah, and Prince Sultan, the defense minister. Abdullah has sought unsuccessfully to get his fellow princes to address corruption issues; his opponents are reportedly keeping Fahd alive to that Abdullah cannot become king. Sultan and others view Abdullah as someone who would risk the "special relationship" that Saudi Arabia has with the U.S. and its oil companies, over Washington's support for Israel. The Fahd regime has supported The Reagan administration's anti-communist campaign in Latin America The war against the former Soviet Union in Afghanistan U.S. charities and educational programs (hundreds of millions of dollars) Democratic administrations have not been above providing special handling for the Saudi regime. In 1994 Mohammed al-Khilewi, the first secretary at the Saudi Mission to the United Nations defected and sought political asylum in the United States. Al-Khilewi brought with him tens of thousands of documents, including, he claimed, evidence that the Saudis gave technical and financial support to Hamas, an extremist Islamic group that has claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks against Israel. But at a meeting with the FBI, agents refused to accept any of the documents, although Al-Khilewi was granted asylum. Even in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has not confronted Saudi leadership over its support for terrorist organizations and its refusal to cooperate with investigations. "…[N]othing but cooperative," Bush said on September 24. "The United States is hostage to the stability of the Saudi system," a prominent Middle Eastern oil man told The New Yorker.
After September 11, officials from the Saudi embassy quickly called together members of the bin Laden family living in the U.S. -- most of them students in colleges and prep schools.
With FBI approval, family members flew from Los Angeles to Orlando to Boston. Abdullah bin Laden, who remained in the U.S. for another month, has told reporters that he would have been willing to try to help investigators, but he was never questioned in person. He reportedly spoke briefly to an agent by telephone. Osama bin Laden's son Abdullah Osama is under travel restrictions in Saudi Arabia. Other family members in Saudi Arabia apparently are not, however. Vincent Canistraro, former CIA counterterrorism chief told The New Yorker that two of Osama bin Laden's sisters had traveled to Abu Dhabi earlier this year, and were suspected of delivering cash to an Al Qaeda representative. Prince Turki al-Faisal, then head of Saudi intelligence, arranged for bin Laden's mother to visit him in 1998. A second visit was reportedly arranged with the knowledge of the Saudi royal family, in early 2000. According to Saudi dissident Saad Al-Fagih, the second trip was to try to discourage bin Laden from taking action against the royal family.
The BBC television program, Newsnight, reported on November 6, 2001 that the Bush administration may have interfered with an FBI investigation of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth, in Falls Church, Virginia. Abdullah bin Laden is president and treasurer of WAMY. Omar bin Laden, another brother, also lives in Falls Church. WAMY operates out of the basement of a building at 5613 Leesburg Pike. A few blocks away is 5913 Leesburg Pike, where four of the hijackers that attacked New York and Washington are listed as having lived. Joe Trento, identified in the broadcast as a "national security expert" said, "The FBI wanted to investigate these guys. This is not something that they didn't want to do - they wanted to, they weren't permitted to."
BBC reporter Gregory Palast: "I received a phone call from a high-placed member of a US intelligence agency. He tells me that while there's always been constraints on investigating Saudis, under George Bush it's gotten much worse. After the elections, the agencies were told to 'back off' investigating the Bin Ladens and Saudi royals, and that angered agents. I'm told that since September 11th the policy has been reversed. FBI headquarters told us they could not comment on our findings. A spokesman said: 'There are lots of things that only the intelligence community knows and that no-one else ought to know.'" Familiar Faces Many high-level Republicans are connected to or participate in Saudi business interests. Nicholas Brady, Secretary of Treasury under Bush I, and Edith E. Holiday, a Bush Sr. assistant, both serve on the board of Amerada Hess, an American oil company currently undertaking a joint venture with several Saudi investors to develop oil resources in Azerbaijan. Vice President Dick Cheney's former company Halliburton was awarded was awarded a $140 million contract by Saudi state-owned firm Aramco last month to develop an oil field in Saudi Arabia. A Halliburton subsidiary was hired, along with two Japanese companies, to build a $40 million ethylene plant. We've reported elsewhere on the Bush connection to the Carlyle Group, a merchant bank specializing in defense-related businesses. In addition to Bush Sr. currently, and Bush Jr. previously, prominent Republicans now at the Carlyle group include: Frank C. Carlucci, secretary of defense and national security adviser in the Reagan administration, former deputy director of the CIA, now chairman of the Carlyle group. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III Former budget chief Richard Darman Former Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Arthur Levitt The Carlyle Group held a controlling interest in defense contractor B.D.M. until 1998 when it sold its stake to TRW. Through its subsidiaries B.D.M. holds lucrative contracts to train and manage the Saudi National Guard. Philip A. Odeen, president of B.D.M. served in the defense department of the Nixon administration. TRW board members include former CIA director Robert M. Gates, and Michael H. Armacost, undersecretary of state in the Reagan administration and ambassador to Japan during Bush I. The Carlyle group was a paid adviser during the development of the Saudi "Economic Offset Program." The program is effectively a legalized kickback scheme that requires U.S. arms manufacturers doing business with Saudi Arabia to return some of their revenue through contracts with Saudi businesses, some controlled by the royal family. A Carlyle spokesman told the Boston Herald recently that the program had been discontinued, although it is not clear when.
Bush has characterized the war against terrorism as a battle between good and evil. And although few would deny the evil of terrorist violence, several of the same players who have enriched him, his family, and associates over the years have also been involved in the funding and management of enterprises directly or indirectly connected to Osama bin Laden. Ben Laden: La Vérité Interdite includes an extensive "Report on the economic environment of Osama Bin Laden". Recent reporting by the Boston Herald has highlighted "the complex web connecting U.S. and Saudi powerbrokers."
Khalid bin Mahfouz, banker for Harken Energy investor Sheikh Bakhsh, supports bin Laden almost directly, through two organizations in Great Britain: International Development Foundation, and International Islamic Relief Organization. More indirectly, bin Mahfouz supported bin Laden's Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant, through the Saudi Sudanese Bank. The Al Shifa plant was thought by U.S. intelligence officials to be involved in producing chemical weapons materials, and was destroyed by cruise missiles in 1998, in retaliation for the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Mahfouz invests indirectly in the Inter-Maritime Bank of Switzerland, by way of the National Commerce Bank of Jeddah. Inter-Maritime Bank in turn is connected to SICO in Geneva. Bin Laden's family company, the Saudi Binladin Group also invests in SICO, which in turn has invested in Ghaith Pharaon's company Attock Oil. Kamal Adham, the "godfather of Middle East intelligence" himself is also an investor in Pharaon's Attock Oil, as well as FAMCO, of Boulogne, France, in which Saudi Prince Abdulla Bin Musaid is an investor. Osama bin Laden and the Saudi royal family's investments also intersect in the Al Shamal Islamic Bank, in which bin Laden invests indirectly through his import-export company Wadi Al-Aqiq, and Saudi Prince Mohammed Al Faisal invests indirectly through a chain of five companies starting with the Dar-Al-Maal-Al-Islami in Switzerland. George R. Salem, partner in Washington law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, is a Bush fund raiser, and led the Bush campaign's outreach to Arab Americans. Salem defended Saleh Idris, a banking associate of Khalid bin Mahfouz who was owner of the Al Shifa pharmaceutical plant. $24 million of Idris's assets were frozen in 1998, but were released when Akin, Gump filed a lawsuit. Akin, Gump represented Khalid bin Mahfouz himself during the BCCI investigations. The firm also represents Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development in Richmond, Texas, the largest Islamic charity in the U.S. The charity's assets, and those of the North Texas Internet firm InfoCom who the foundation had hired, were frozen by federal investigators the week of December 3, 2001. Akin, Gump partner, Barnett A. Kress, has an office in the White House. Former president of the Dallas School Board, Kress was appointed by Bush as an "unpaid consultant" on education. Akin, Gump maintains an office in Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia, and the firm is a registered foreign agent.
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