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Context of '1987-1991: KSM Works in Afghanistan for Warlord Most Favored by CIA'

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Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) fights and works in Afghanistan. KSM, a Pakistani who spent most of his childhood in Kuwait, went to college at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in the US from 1983 to 1986. Then, in 1987, he goes to Afghanistan to take part in the struggle against the Russians. Two of his brothers die in the fighting there. Another brother, Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, works for a prominent Islamic charity there and introduces KSM to Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an Afghan warlord. KSM serves as Sayyaf’s secretary and helps recruit Arabs to fight in Afghanistan for Sayyaf’s faction. (Gunaratna 6/1/2005) At the time, the CIA and Saudi Arabia are spending billions of dollars funding warlords such as Sayyaf. The Los Angeles Times will later call Sayyaf “the favored recipient of money from the Saudi and American governments.” While in Afghanistan, KSM also gets to know bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and many other future al-Qaeda leaders. (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002)

Ramzi Yousef, the future bomber of the WTC in 1993, stays in the Philippines and trains militants there in bomb-making. According to Philippine intelligence documents, Yousef had developed expertise in bomb-making and worked at a training camp at Khost, Afghanistan, teaching bomb-making for militants connected to bin Laden. But bin Laden dispatches him to the Philippines, where he trains about 20 militants belonging to the Abu Sayyaf group. Abu Sayyaf is heavily penetrated by Philippine undercover operatives at this time, especially Edwin Angeles, an operative who is the second in command of the group. Angeles will later recall that Yousef is introduced to him at this time as an “emissary from bin Laden.” (Abuza 9/1/2005 pdf file) Angeles also claims Yousef decided to use the Philippines as a “launching pad” for terrorist acts around the world. (Kocieniewski 9/6/1996) One of Abu Sayyaf’s top leaders will later recall that Yousef also brings a significant amount of money to help fund the group. (Dinampo 1/22/2007; CNN 1/31/2007) A flow chart of Yousef’s associates prepared in early 1995 by Angeles’ Philippines handler Rodolfo Mendoza shows a box connected to Abu Sayyaf labeled “20 trainees/recruits.” So presumably the Philippine government is aware of this information by then, but it is not known when they warned the US about it (see Spring 1995). Yousef will also later admit to planning the 1993 WTC bombing at an Abu Sayyaf base, which most likely takes place at this time (see Early 1992). The ties between Yousef and Abu Sayyaf will grow stronger, culminating in the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), an early version of the 9/11 plot.

Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993.Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993. [Source: Najlah Feanny/ Corbis]An attempt to topple the World Trade Center fails, but six people are killed and over 1000 are injured in the misfired blast. An FBI explosives expert later states that, “If they had found the exact architectural Achilles’ heel or if the bomb had been a little bit bigger, not much more, 500 pounds more, I think it would have brought her down.” Ramzi Yousef, who has close ties to bin Laden, organizes the attempt. (Friedman 3/30/1993; US Congress 2/24/1998) The New York Times later reports on Emad Salem, an undercover agent who will be the key government witness in the trial against Yousef. Salem testifies that the FBI knew about the attack beforehand and told him they would thwart it by substituting a harmless powder for the explosives. However, an FBI supervisor called off this plan, and the bombing was not stopped. (Blumenthal 10/28/1993) Other suspects were ineptly investigated before the bombing as early as 1990. Several of the bombers were trained by the CIA to fight in the Afghan war, and the CIA later concludes, in internal documents, that it was “partly culpable” for this bombing (see January 24, 1994). (Marshall 11/1/1998) 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is an uncle of Yousef and also has a role in the WTC bombing (see March 20, 1993). (Gumbel 6/6/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002) One of the attackers even leaves a message which will later be found by investigators, stating, “Next time, it will be very precise.” (Neumeister 9/30/2001)

Laurie Mylroie.Laurie Mylroie. [Source: Publicity photo]US authorities re-open the files on Ramzi Yousef, the convicted mastermind of the WTC bombing in 1993, and begin looking into the theory that Yousef may have actually been an Iraqi agent. Presumably this is in response to requests by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz the month before to look into the matter (see June 2001). Yousef was convicted in 1996 (see September 5, 1996) and has been in custody since 1995 (see February 7, 1995). According to the official version of events, Yousef’s real name is Abdul Basit, a 27-year-old Pakistani who until 1989 was a computer student studying in South Wales. In late 2000, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) published Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America arguing in support of the theory that Yousef was actually an Iraqi agent (see October 2000). The book, written by AEI scholar Laurie Mylroie, says that Basit was living with his parents in Kuwait in 1990 when Iraq invaded the country (see November 8, 1990). During the occupation, Iraqis presumably murdered him and his family and then altered police files so Iraqi intelligence could use his identity. (Woolsey 9/13/2001; McGrory 9/22/2001) In February 2001, former CIA Director James Woolsey traveled to Britain in an attempt to find evidence to support this theory (see February 2001). But Mylroie’s theory is debunked by authorities who match the fingerprints of Yousef to those of Basit. (Bergen 12/2003; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 81)

American Enterprise Institute Scholar Laurie Mylroie tells CNN’s Aaron Brown that President Bush has already decided to remove Saddam Hussein. She explains that Bush has ordered the CIA to do it covertly, but that “no one, including the CIA director” believes it can be done by covert means alone. Therefore, the US will have to invade. When asked why Bush wants to overthrow Hussein, she responds that it is partly because of Iraq’s illicit weapons and “partly its prior support for terrorism, including strong suspicions about Iraq’s involvement in 9/11 in the part of the vice president’s office and the office of the secretary of defense.” (CNN 7/31/2002; Isikoff and Corn 2006, pp. 83)

The 9/11 Commission holds its first set of public hearings on al-Qaeda and its connections to other nations and terrorist groups. (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134)
'Political Theater' - The first person to testify is Laurie Mylroie, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Mylroie’s testimony is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “a bizarre bit of political theater.” Mylroie, considered by some to be “one of the most influential political academics of her generation, whose research was cited by the United States government to justify a war,” sits in front of the Commission, “spouting what would later be shown to be—and what many experts in the field already knew to be—nonsense.” Mylroie says that both the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 9/11 were planned and carried out by Iraqi intelligence agents, and the planner of the 1993 attacks, Ramzi Yousef (see December 1991-May 1992 and Late July or Early August 2001), and the chief 9/11 planner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1987-1991), were both Iraqi spies. Iraq had planted phony identification documents—“legends”—in Kuwaiti government offices during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, she says. (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134) “The odds are high that these people are not whom they claim to be, and demonstrating that would constitute a clear link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack, as reasonably only Iraq could have created these legends while it occupied Kuwait,” she states. Al-Qaeda was a front group for Iraq in the same way that Hezbollah is a front group for Syria, she claims, and tells the Commission, “We went to war because senior administration officials believe Iraq was involved in 9/11” (see July 31, 2002). (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134)
Discrediting Mylroie - Several members of the Commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by CIA expert Judith Yaphe further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculations with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the Commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134) Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. (Bergen 12/2003)

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 317-324)

Laurie Mylroie, a neoconservative author whose theories that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see October 2000) and the 9/11 attacks (see September 12, 2001 and July 2003) have been repeatedly discredited (see February 2003, July 9, 2003, and December 2003), produces a report on Iraq for the Pentagon. Reporter Justin Elliott, learning about Mylroie’s position with the Defense Department in 2009, cites Mylroie as an example of “neoconservatives… falling upward,” or “repeatedly getting important things wrong and… being handed new opportunities to pursue their work.” Mylroie’s report, “Saddam’s Foreign Intelligence Service,” follows her February 2007 study entitled “Saddam’s Strategic Concepts: Dealing With UNSCOM.” Both were produced for the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment [ONA], which the Washington Post has described as an “obscure but highly influential” bureau within the department. In 2009, Jacob Heilbrunn, who has written a book about neoconservatives, will say: “It’s kind of astonishing that the ONA would come even within a mile of her. I think she is completely discredited.” The New America Foundation’s Steve Clemons will add: “I’m shocked. If this came out in 2007, she was presumably working on it in 2006, and, by that time, the fate and fortunes of a lot of these people was already switching.” Heilbrunn will explain why Mylroie’s opinions are so sought after within the Pentagon, even though she has been roundly discredited: “She was one of the original fermenters of the idea that Saddam Hussein had these intimate ties with al-Qaeda.” A Defense Department spokesperson will explain Mylroie’s selection as an ONA researcher by saying, “All aspects of researchers and research institutions are considered, with an emphasis on obtaining the widest range of possible intellectual approaches in order to provide a fully balanced approach to the analysis of future developments.” As for her work with ONA, the Defense Department says, “These reports were part of a multi-scope research effort to identify the widest possible range of analysts whose expertise was likely to generate insights and concepts which would contribute to Net Assessments’ ongoing work to develop and refine trends, risks, and opportunities which will shape future (2020) national security environments.” (Elliott 1/29/2009)

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