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Context of 'September 4, 2001: Mueller Takes Over as FBI Director; Criticized for BCCI Investigation'

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According to a 1992 Congressional investigation led by Congressman Charles Schumer (D-NY), between 1979 and 1991, federal law enforcement agencies receive more than 700 tips about BCCI’s criminal activities. The criminal BCCI bank will finally be shut down in 1991 (see July 5, 1991). The tips include BCCI involvement in:
bullet Promoting political unrest in Pakistan.
bullet Smuggling arms to various countries, including Syria, Libya, and Iran.
bullet Financing terrorist groups.
bullet Links to organized crime in the US and Italy.
Time magazine reporters Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwynne will later comment in a book: “Too many people knew too much about BCCI, and they knew it long before the bank spun itself into bankruptcy and scandal.… That [CIA Deputy Director] Robert Gates could jokingly refer to it in a conversation with Customs chief William von Raab as the “bank of crooks and criminals” three years before the scandal broke merely reflects the run of knowledge around Washington. Indeed, it would probably have been difficult to find very many people with real power who did not know about the bank, based on the wide distribution of CIA reports.” Schumer will later conclude: “At the very least, there was nobody putting together all the pieces.… You could make a credible case that somebody told them not to do anything about BCCI.” [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 346]

Entity Tags: William von Raab, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Charles Schumer, Robert M. Gates

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US Justice Department headquarters.US Justice Department headquarters. [Source: GlobeXplorer]Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) stumbles across the criminality of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) while investigating international drug trafficking as part of a congressional oversight committee. He soon starts a vigorous congressional investigation of BCCI, and New York district attorney Robert Morgenthau launches a vigorous investigation as well. [New York Times, 7/29/1991] However, Kerry’s and Morgenthau’s investigations are consistently stifled. Kerry will later say that, “with the key exception of the Federal Reserve, there was almost [no]… information or cooperation provided by other government agencies.” [US Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 12/1992] Kerry will later conclude that the Justice Department in particular went to great lengths to block his and Morgenthau’s investigations “through a variety of mechanisms, ranging from not making witnesses available, to not returning phone calls, to claiming that every aspect of the case was under investigation in a period when little, if anything was being done.” After the Bank of England shuts down BCCI in July 1991 (see July 5, 1991), making big headlines, Under Assistant Attorney General Robert Mueller takes over Justice Department efforts on BCCI and assigns many new attorneys to the case. But Kerry will ultimately conclude that the indictments the Justice Department brings forth against BCCI after that time were narrower and less detailed than those of Morgenthau’s, and often seemed to be in response to what Morgenthau was doing. [US Congress, 12/1992] Kerry submits his report on BCCI in December 1992, and after that investigations into BCCI peter out. President Bush will appoint Mueller to be director of the FBI shortly before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: Robert Morgenthau, John Kerry, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Robert S. Mueller III, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalid bin Mahfouz.Khalid bin Mahfouz. [Source: CBC]Shortly after 9/11, the London Times will report that Osama bin Laden stayed at the London estate of Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz. “Sources close to the bin Mahfouz family say that about 10 years ago, when bin Laden was widely regarded as a religious visionary and defender of the Muslim faith, he visited the property and spent ‘two or three days’ on the estate, relaxing in its open-air swimming pool, walking in the grounds and talking to bin Mahfouz. What the men discussed remains a mystery.” Bin Mahfouz was a major investor in the criminal Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which is closed down around this time (see July 5, 1991). [London Times, 9/23/2001] Bin Laden was also heavily invested in BCCI at the time (see July 1991). There are other reports of bin Laden visiting London around this time (see Early 1990s-Late 1996), and even briefly living there (see Early 1994). The name “bin Mahfouz” appears on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda financial supporters (see 1988-1989). Bin Mahfouz denies any terrorist link to bin Laden.

Entity Tags: Khalid bin Mahfouz, Osama bin Laden, Bank of Credit and Commerce International

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

BCCI logo.BCCI logo. [Source: BCCI]In early 2001, anonymous US officials will say that when the notorious Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) is shut down in July 1991 (see July 5, 1991), Osama bin Laden suffers a heavy blow because he has put much of his money in the bank and he loses everything he invested there. As a result, he begins to launder money from the drug trade to make up for the lost revenue. He cooperates with Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is already diverting profits from the Afghan drug trade to help finance Islamic terrorist movements. Others claim bin Laden begins his involvement with the drug trade several years later. [United Press International, 3/1/2001] It also seems that bin Laden’s financial network eventually grows to at least partly replace the role of BCCI for Islamist militant financing (see After July 1991).

Entity Tags: Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Osama bin Laden, Bank of Credit and Commerce International

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

July 5, 1991: Criminal BCCI Bank Is Shut Down

A Time magazine cover story on BCCI.A Time magazine cover story on BCCI. [Source: Time Magazine]The Bank of England shuts down Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), the largest Islamic bank in the world. Based in Pakistan, this bank financed numerous militant organizations and laundered money generated by illicit drug trafficking and other illegal activities, including arms trafficking. Bin Laden and many other militants had accounts there (see July 1991). [Detroit News, 9/30/2001] One money-laundering expert later claims, “BCCI did dirty work for every major terrorist service in the world.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002] Regulators shut down BCCI offices in dozens of countries and seize about $2 billion of the bank’s $20 billion in assets. BCCI is the seventh largest bank in the world. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), owns 77% of the bank at the time of its closing. He and the UAE government will end up losing about $8 billion. About 1.4 million people had deposits in the bank and will end up losing most of their money. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 98-99] American and British governments were aware of its activities yet allowed the bank to operate for years. The Pakistani ISI had major connections to the bank. [Detroit News, 9/30/2001] The Bank of England is forced to close BCCI largely because of outside pressure. Beginning in February 1991, the mainstream media began reporting on BCCI’s criminal activities as more and more whistleblowers came forward. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 95] However, as later State Department reports indicate, Pakistan remains a major drug trafficking and money-laundering center despite the bank’s closing. [Detroit News, 9/30/2001] Most of the bank’s top officials will escape prosecution, and remnants of the bank will continue operating in some countries under new names (see August 1991). A French intelligence report in 2001 will suggest the that Osama bin Laden will later build his financial network on the ruins of the BCCI network, oftentimes using former BCCI officials (see October 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 2/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Bank of England, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to investigators working with Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh (see December 19, 1986), the Iran-Contra affair is closely linked to the burgeoning scandal surrounding the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI—see 1976, 1978-1982, 1981-1991, 1981-1983, 1984-1986, January 1985, December 12, 1985, February 1988-December 1992, March 1991-December 1992, and July 5, 1991.) Former government officials add that the CIA kept secret funds hidden in BCCI accounts, and used the monies to fund covert operations in Nicaragua and elsewhere. Investigators confirm that a US defense intelligence organization used BCCI to maintain a secret “slush fund” for financing covert operations. And, months before National Security Council (NSC) official Oliver North set up his network for diverting funds to the Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986), the NSC used BCCI to divert funds to the Contras (see Early 1986). [Time, 7/22/1991]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Oliver North, National Security Council, Lawrence E. Walsh, Contras

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

Ghaith Pharaon.Ghaith Pharaon. [Source: Mike Stephens / Getty Images]In the wake of the July 1991 shutdown of the criminal BCCI bank (see July 5, 1991), the Pakistani government indicates that it is willing to shelter BCCI figures wanted in other countries. For instance, an international arrest warrant is issued for BCCI front man Ghaith Pharaon, and Pakistan has signed an extradition treaty with the US and other countries. But in August 1991, Pakistani Interior Minister Shujaat Hussain, who has authority to block extraditions, states flatly that Pharaon is his friend and he will give him citizenship, protection from extradition, and even immunity from local prosecution. Furthermore, the Los Angeles Times reports that some other senior and mid-level BCCI managers being investigated in the US have already fled to Pakistan. Technically, BCCI is not a Pakistani bank, but 10,000 out of BCCI’s estimated 12,000 employees are Pakistani. The Times reports that Hussain has made clear that “BCCI’s blameless and blamed alike can find shelter from investigations into the bank’s conduct in any of the more than 70 countries where it operated.” Asked if Pakistan would extradite BCCI founder Agha Hasan Abedi, Hussein flatly states, “We will not allow it.” Furthermore, BCCI’s offices remain open in Pakistan and the government has stated that it will not investigate the bank. [Los Angeles Times, 8/12/1991] A majority of the bank is owned by Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, President of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the UAE similarly indicates that it will not extradite any of the 18 top BCCI managers living there. The UAE is also sitting on most of BCCI’s financial records. [Time, 8/3/1992] BCCI branches in the UAE are not shut down either, but are simply renamed to become the National Union Bank. [BBC, 8/5/1991] Many years later, Pakistan will still be protecting BCCI figures such as Pharaon (see June 8-August 10, 2006 and June 8-August 10, 2006).

Entity Tags: Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Shujaat Hussain, Agha Hasan Abedi, Ghaith Pharaon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

September 1993: Freeh Becomes FBI Director

President Clinton appoints Louis Freeh to be the new director of the FBI. Freeh was once an FBI field agent. He will forge alliances with Republicans in Congress. This will drive a wedge between the FBI and Clinton’s White House and national security staff. Freeh will retire in the summer of 2001 (see May 1, 2001). The New York Times will later claim that he “left the FBI badly damaged. Lawmakers in both parties clamored for change at an agency they attacked as ineptly managed, resistant to change, and unwilling to admit mistakes.” [New York Times, 6/2/2002] Increasingly opposed to Clinton, Freeh develops a secret back-channel relationship with former president George H. W. Bush. He uses this relationship to liaison with the Saudi royal family without Clinton’s knowledge. [Trento, 2005, pp. 351]

Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Louis J. Freeh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Louis Freeh, FBI Director since September 1993 (see September 1993), unexpectedly announces his resignation. He will continue to serve until June 25. Assistant Director Thomas Pickard will serve as acting director until Robert Mueller will take over in early September 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [BBC, 5/1/2001] The BBC reports, “Mr. Freeh did not give specific reasons for his decision to leave, but he had been the target of criticism following the arrest in February [2001] of Robert Hanssen, an FBI agent accused of working for Moscow for more than 15 years.” [BBC, 7/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Louis J. Freeh, Thomas Pickard

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Robert Mueller assumes the job of FBI Director. He had been nominated for the job in July 2001 after Louis Freeh’s unexpected and sudden resignation (see May 1, 2001). Thomas Pickard was interim director for three months. Mueller held a variety of jobs in the Justice Department for over a decade prior to his nomination. Most notably, he led Justice Department investigations into the 1991 collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) (see July 5, 1991) and the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. [BBC, 7/5/2001; CNN, 9/5/2001] Mueller was heavily criticized for his role in the BCCI investigation (see February 1988-December 1992). For instance, a bipartisan Congressional BCCI investigation led by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Hank Brown (R-CO) stated, “Unfortunately, as time has passed it has become increasingly clear that the Justice Department did indeed make critical errors in its handling of BCCI… and moreover masked inactivity in prosecuting and investigating the bank by advising critics that matters pertaining to BCCI were ‘under investigation,’ when in fact they were not” and also “[hindered] other legitimate investigative efforts, and [failed] to admit that it had made any of these mistakes.” [US Congress, 12/1992] Mueller himself noted in 1991 that there was an “appearance of, one, foot-dragging; two, perhaps a cover-up,” but denied the cover-up claims. A Wall Street Journal editorial notes that “Even George W. Bush bumped up against the outer fringes of the BCCI crowd during his tenure with Harken Energy and in his friendship with Texas entrepreneur James Bath,” and opines, “On general principles, our view is that it would be a mistake to appoint as FBI head anyone who had any role in the failed BCCI probe. Too many important questions remain unanswered…” [Wall Street Journal, 6/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Thomas Pickard, Louis J. Freeh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A 70-page French intelligence report claims: “The financial network of [Osama] bin Laden, as well as his network of investments, is similar to the network put in place in the 1980s by BCCI for its fraudulent operations, often with the same people (former directors and cadres of the bank and its affiliates, arms merchants, oil merchants, Saudi investors). The dominant trait of bin Laden’s operations is that of a terrorist network backed up by a vast financial structure.” The BCCI was the largest Islamic bank in the world before it collapsed in July 1991 (see July 5, 1991). A senior US investigator will later say US agencies are looking into the ties outlined by the French because “they just make so much sense, and so few people from BCCI ever went to jail. BCCI was the mother and father of terrorist financing operations.” The report identifies dozens of companies and individuals who were involved with BCCI and were found to be dealing with bin Laden after the bank collapsed. Many went on to work in banks and charities identified by the US and others as supporting al-Qaeda. About six ex-BCCI figures are repeatedly named, including Saudi multi-millionaire Ghaith Pharaon (see October 10, 2001). The role of Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz in supporting bin Laden is emphasized in the report. In 1995, bin Mahfouz paid a $225 million fine in a settlement with US prosecutors for his role in the BCCI scandal. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Bin Laden lost money when BCCI was shut down, but may have benefited in the long term as other militants began relying on his financial network instead of BCCI’s (see July 1991 and After July 1991). Representatives of bin Mahfouz will later argue that this report is false and was in fact prepared by Jean-Charles Brisard and not the French intelligence service. Bin Mahfouz has begun libel proceedings against Mr. Brisard, claiming that he has made unfounded and defamatory allegations, and denies that he has ever supported terrorism. [Kendall Freeman, 5/13/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jean-Charles Brisard, Ghaith Pharaon, Khalid bin Mahfouz, Al-Qaeda, Bank of Credit and Commerce International, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Talat Othman.Talat Othman. [Source: Hanania]In the wake of the Operation Greenquest raid on the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002), disgruntled Muslim-American leaders meet with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill to complain about the raid. At the time, the Treasury Department had control over the Customs Department, which ran Greenquest. The meeting is arranged by prominent Republican activist Grover Norquist. About a dozen leaders are asked to attend the meeting. O’Neill pledges to look into concerns the leaders have about the raid. [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Harper's, 3/2004] Those who meet with O’Neill include:
bullet Khaled Saffuri. He is head of the Islamic Institute, a group he co-founded with Norquist to organize conservative Muslims (see 1998-September 2001). The institute accepted $20,000 in donations from the Safa Trust, which was targeted in the raid. The Safa Trust in turn has been funded by Youssef Nada, who had his assets frozen shortly after 9/11 on suspicion on funding al-Qaeda (see November 7, 2001). The institute also received donations from Abdurahman Alamoudi, another target of the raid who will later receive a long prison term (see October 15, 2004). [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Harper's, 3/2004]
bullet Talat Othman. The Wall Street Journal calls him “a longtime associate and supporter of President Bush’s family who gave a benediction at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in August 2000.” He serves on the board of Amana Mutual Funds Trust, an investment firm founded by Yaqub Mirza, the director of most of the organizations targeted in the raid. Amana was not a target of the raid, but two other organization that were raided held large blocks of shares in Amana’s mutual funds. Othman claims to know Mirza only slightly. Othman is also on the board of Saffuri’s Islamic Institute. Further, Othman served on the board of Harken Energy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the same time that President Bush did. At the time, Othman represented Saudi businessman Abdullah Bakhsh on Harken Energy’s board, and the investments through Bakhsh were considered essential in saving Harken from bankruptcy. Bakhsh has indirect connections to the notorious criminal bank BCCI (see July 5, 1991), and in 1996 reputedly attended a secret meeting with al-Qaeda representatives, where the attendees agreed to pay al-Qaeda many millions of dollars of protection money (see May 1996). [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/1991; Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002] Bakhsh will head a subsidiary of Halliburton, the oil services company formerly run by Vice President Cheney. Othman reportedly remains a friend of Bush. [Harper's, 3/2004] Harper’s magazine will note that “large sums of money from the suspect groups have moved through Amana, [yet] Greenquest agents chose not to raid the firm,” and will hint that political influence from Othman and others may have saved Amana from being raided. [Harper's, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Talat Othman, Grover Norquist, Khaled Saffuri, SAAR Foundation, Operation Greenquest, Islamic Institute, Paul O’Neill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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