Unanswered Questions

20 Years After 9/11

Bharat Dogra

The 9/11 terrorist attack in the USA was the most horrible and destructive terrorist attack and was mounted against the most powerful and resourceful country with the most extensive intelligence system and highest media concentration. Hence it is highly surprising that it has been investigated in detail time and again, officially as well in numerous indepndent efforts. Despite this, as we come close to the 20th anniversary of this tragedy, many unanswered or inadequately answered questions still continue to linger and trouble.

Very recently (in August) Newsweek magazine has published a widely discussed report titled ‘All the Way America Failed to Stop the 9/11 Terrorist Attack’ written by William M. Arkin, the author of book ‘On That Day—The Definite Timeline of 9/11.’ This report says, “US intelligence knew that something big was coming, but it (US intellegence) was anything but methodical. Despite countless signs that some terrorist planning and preparations involved large commercial airliners, the CIA was never able to put the pieces together. But more important, neither the CIA nor the FBI (nor the other agencies) effectively used the tools at their disposal. There was no nationwide manhunt, no definitive warning to airlines or airport security”. Despite the advance warnings that something very disruptive may happen, several important leaders were on vacation.

As this report points out, Zakarias Moussaoui, identified as a sectarian/fanatic person who was trying to learn how to fly Boeing 747s, was arrested on August 16 but the FBI did not pursue the option available to it of searching his computer and belongings rigorously. It was only in 2002 that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM)was identified as the lead planner of the attack but it was clear before the attack that using different aliases he was involved in earlier terrorist attacks like the one on a Bali night club and even the earlier 1993 attack on World Trade Centers, in earlier planning to use hijacked planes for attacks and later even in sending terrorists to the USA for airplne flight related training, but despite having him on radar the US intelligence let him off the hook and he apparently continue his work in the days preceding 9/11 (he was finally arrested in 2003 in Pakistan). Amidst the mounting evidence, particularly regarding airline related plots of Al-Qaeda ,four to five hundred thousand dollars flowed to hijacker attackers or their collabora-tors for making their preparations and this could not be intercepted or detected in time. Many dots were seen but not connected. Warnings commensurate with the gathered evidence were not issued to airlines and airports in time.

These questions are not new, although some new facts related to them continue to emerge from time to time. In fact such questions were raised much more forcefully in the years immediately following the 9/11 tragedy. Such qustions also led to much speculation about what actually happened. This was not confined to a few persons on the fringe . Instead the number of people who nurtured such questions and doubts was clearly in the millions. Five years after the attack (Sept. 11, 2006) the Time magazine quoted a Scripps-Howard poll of August 2006 which found that 36% Americans found it 'very likely' or 'somewhat likely' that government officials either allowed the 9/11 attacks to be carried out or carried out the attacks themselves. At the same time sections of the peace movement became increasingly concerned that the USA government's distorted response to 9/11, instead of improving the prospects for peace, had further increased the possibilities of violence, even terrorist violence.

Many independent investigators pointed out that there were several holes in US government's official explanation of 9/11. The USA is reputed to have the best funded, the best equipped and best trained intelligence and counter insurgency network having almost worldwide reach. So it appears strange that such highly destructive terrorist attacks could take place in the USA, that too when several warnings or indications of such attacks had been received.

Richard Clarke, the White House counter-terrorism chief, who saw the passenger lists soon after the 9/11 attacks, commented—"I was stunned... that there were Al-Qaeda operatives on board using names that the FBI knew were Al-Qaeda."

A report written by British Labour MP and former (1997-2003) Minister Michael Meacher (The Guardian July 22, 2004) further questioned—Why the US government continues to withhold from public some very important documents relating to 9/11 which particularly throw light on intelligence failure.

Sibel Dine Edmonds was hired as a translator of Turkish and Middle-East languages by the FBI. She tried to expose the cover-up of intelligence which could have revealed some of the culprits behind 9/11. She not only lost her job but in addition she was also placed under orders that forbade her from testifying in court or mentioning the names of the persons or the countries involved. However sporadic statements indicate that she had evidence to show that 'real specific' warnings for 9/11 attacks had been received. She has been quoted as saying that real investigations will lead to high level criminal prosecutions and "they will do anything to cover this up."

A report in the French daily Le Figaro (31 October 2001) said that Osama bin Laden underwent surgery in an American hospital in Dubai in July 2001. During his stay in the hospital he met with a CIA official. Despite the fact that he was on the 'most wanted' list no attempt was made to arrest him during his two week stay at the hospital.

This report also stated, "According to Arab diplomatic sources as well as French intelligence, very specific information was transmitted to the CIA with respect to terrorist attacks against American interests around the world, including on US soil".

Elsewhere it has been stated that more specific warnings of planning by terrorists to destroy World Trade Centers had been circulating in intelligencr circes well in advance of the actual attack.Some of the 9/11 attackers and those close to them were under surveillance by US agencies as suspected terrorists. Yet they could travel freely and finally carry out the horrific 9/11 attacks.

Several experts have given an opinion that such a huge terrorist operation involving such detailed planning and logistics at several levels could not have been possible without the help of a government or its secret service.

Senator Bob Graham, chairman of the Senate select committee on intelligence said, "I think there is very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted, not just in financing.... by a sovereign foreign government."

Horst Ekmke, former coordinator of the West German secret services, said, "Terrorists could not have carried out such an operation with four hijacked planes without the support of a secret service".

Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmed, the then head of Pakistan's ISI had asked Omar Sheikh, a British-born terrorist with strong Pakistani connections, to wire $100,000 before the 9/11 attacks to Mohammed Atta, a lead hijacker. When this was exposed by the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers Ahmed lost his job on October 8, 2001.

It is also interesting to know that Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmed was in the USA at the time of 9/11 attacks. In fact he reached there on September 4. He met senior officials in the CIA and Pentagon before September 11, including veterans involved with CIA clandestine operaions. Later on September 12 and 13 he met Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

When some time after the attack it was revealed that the chief of Pakistan's main intelligence agency Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmed had sent $100,000 to a lead hijacker, he was removed of course but remained safe. Keeping in view how volatile this information is, one would've normally expected that the USA will adopt a very hostile attitude towards Pakistan. At the very least one would have expected that it'll demand that Lt. Gen. Ahmed and his associate in this work Omar Sheikh should be brought to trial for this very grave charge. But nothing of this kind was done.

Omar Sheikh was later arrested not for this but for his involvement in the Daniel Pearl murder case.Incidentally this is the same Omar Sheikh who was in Indian jails for five years 1994-99 for kidnapping tourists, then was released under the pressure of Kandahar hijackers, and even when in jail after Pearl’s murder made audacious fake calls to Indian and Pakistani high authorities from his jail cell to provoke hostilities, as confirmed by a report in the Dawn.

It is very strange that for sending money to hijackers, Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmed and Omar Sheikh were not prosecuted in Pakistan, and what is even more surprising, this was not demanded and insisted by the USA. Apart from leading Indian newspapers like The Times of India, very few leading newspapers abroad pursued this story, one important exception being the Wall Street Journal. The South Asia Chief of the Wall Street Journal Daniel Pearl, who was reportedly keen to pursue such issues including CIA-ISI links, was murdered in Pakistan, and Omar Sheikh was clearly involved in this (whether he had the main role or not is disputed)! He was given a death sentence which was never implemented, then waived. He is reported to be now living in a jail in relative comfort.

Some time afer his sacking Lt. Gen. Ahmed, who was otherwise known to be close to the Taliban, re-surfaced as the head of a business consortium, something which observers have said needed government approval if not backing. After all this, co-operation between Pakistan and USA continued to grow —particularly in intelligence and defence issues.

Thus it is evident that several important questions relating to 9/11 attacks remain unanswered, or else are inadequately answered. It remains an important challenge to link the dots and bring out the truth.

[The writer, a journalist and author, is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Protect Earth Now. His recent books include Man Over Machine (Gandhian Ideas For Our Times), Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children.]

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Vol. 54, No. 9, Aug 29 - Sep 4, 2021