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The Safari Club, a newly formed secret cabal of intelligence agencies (see September 1, 1976-Early 1980s), decides it needs a network of banks to help finance its intelligence operations, investigative journalist Joseph Trento will later report. Saudi Intelligence Minister Kamal Adham is given the task. “With the official blessing of George H. W. Bush as the head of the CIA, Adham transformed a small Pakistani merchant bank, the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), into a worldwide money-laundering machine, buying banks around the world to create the biggest clandestine money network in history.” BCCI was founded in 1972 by a Pakistani named Agha Hasan Abedi, who was an associate of Adham’s. Bush himself has an account at BCCI established while he was still director of the CIA. French customs will later raid the Paris BCCI branch and discover the account in Bush’s name. (Trento 2005, pp. 104) Bush, Adham, and other intelligence heads work with Abedi to contrive “a plan that seemed too good to be true. The bank would solicit the business of every major terrorist, rebel, and underground organization in the world. The intelligence thus gained would be shared with ‘friends’ of BCCI.” CIA operative Raymond Close works closely with Adham on this. BCCI taps “into the CIA’s stockpile of misfits and malcontents to help man a 1,500-strong group of assassins and enforcers.” (Trento 2005, pp. 104) Soon, BCCI becomes the fastest growing bank in the world. Time magazine will describe it as not just a bank, but also “a global intelligence operation and a Mafia-like enforcement squad. Operating primarily out of the bank’s offices in Karachi, Pakistan, the 1,500-employee black network has used sophisticated spy equipment and techniques, along with bribery, extortion, kidnapping, and even, by some accounts, murder. The black network—so named by its own members—stops at almost nothing to further the bank’s aims the world over.” (Beaty and Gwynne 7/22/1991)
In 1981, the criminal BCCI bank sets up a charity called the BCCI Foundation. Pakistani Finance Minister Ghulam Ishaq Khan grants it tax-free status, and it supposedly spends millions on charitable purposes. Khan serves as the chairman of the foundation while also running the books for A. Q. Khan’s Kahuta Research Laboratories. Ghulam Ishaq Khan will be president of Pakistan from 1988 to 1993. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 126-127) BCCI founder Agha Hasan Abedi announces that he will donate up to 90% of BCCI’s profits to charity through the foundation, and he develops a positive reputation from a few well-publicized charitable donations. But the charity is actually used to shelter BCCI profits. Most of the money it raises goes to A. Q. Khan’s nuclear program and not to charitable causes. For instance, in 1987 it gives a single $10 million donation to an institute headed by A. Q. Khan. Millions more go to investments in a front company owned by BCCI figure Ghaith Pharaon. (Beaty and Gwynne 1993, pp. 290-291) An investigation by the Los Angeles Times will reveal that less than 10% of the money went to charity. (Fineman 8/9/1991) BCCI uses other means to funnel even more money into A. Q. Khan’s nuclear program (see 1980s).
NBC News later reports that CIA Director William Casey secretly meets with the head of the criminal Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) from 1984 until 1986, shortly before Casey’s death. The NBC report, quoting unnamed BCCI sources, will claim that Casey met with BCCI head Agha Hasan Abedi every few months in a luxury suite at the Madison Hotel in Washington. The two men allegedly discussed the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages transactions and CIA weapons shipments to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. The CIA denies all the allegations. (Gordon 2/21/1992) But books by Time magazine and Wall Street Journal reporters will corroborate that Casey repeatedly met with Abedi. (Scott 2007, pp. 116) Casey also meets with Asaf Ali, a BCCI-connected arms dealer, in Washington, DC, and in Pakistan. On one occasion, Casey has a meeting in Washington with Abedi, Ali, and Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq. (Beaty and Gwynne 1993, pp. 308)
Shortly after takeoff from Gander, Newfoundland, Arrow Air Flight 1285 stalls and crashes about half a mile from the runway. All 256 passengers and crew on board are killed, including 248 US soldiers. The plane was coming from Egypt and refueling in Newfoundland before continuing on to the US. The crash will initially be widely reported to have been an accident, caused by icing on the airplane wings. Official US and Canadian investigations will also support this conclusion. However, information will later come out suggesting it was not an accident:
Members of Islamic Jihad, a branch of the Hezbollah militant group (not to be confused with the Islamic Jihad group headed by Ayman al-Zawahiri), immediately take credit for the crash. In one call to the Reuters news agency in Beirut, the caller knows details of the plane flight not yet mentioned in the press.
Within hours of the crash, Major General John Crosby arrives at the crash site and reportedly tells maintenance workers he wants to “bulldoze over the crash site immediately.” The White House also quickly publicly claims there is “no evidence of sabotage or an explosion in flight,” despite the fact that Hezbollah has just taken credit for the crash and the investigation is just beginning. While the site is not bulldozed, there is no effort to meticulously sift the wreckage for clues, which is standard procedure for such air crashes.
An FBI forensic team flies to Newfoundland within hours of the crash, but then merely sits in a hotel room. After 36 hours, the team accepts a declaration that terrorism was not involved and returns home. The FBI will claim the Canadian government did not allow its team to visit the site. (Rowan 4/27/1992)
In 1988, the nine-member Canadian Aviation Safety Board will issue a split verdict. Five members will attribute the crash to ice formation and four members will claim it was the result of an explosion. A former Canadian Supreme Court justice will be appointed to decide if there should be a new investigation. He will conclude that the available evidence does not support ice on the wings as being a cause, let alone a probable cause, of the crash. But he will also rule against a new investigation, saying it would cause more pain to the victims’ families. (Rowan 4/27/1992; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 12/12/2005)
Later declassified autopsy reports will show that soldiers had inhaled smoke in the moments before they died, indicating there was a fire on board before the plane hit the ground. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 12/12/2005)
Five witnesses in the remote location where the plane crashes will sign sworn statements that they saw the plane burning before it fell.
An examination of the fuselage will show outward holes, indicating an explosion from within.
Four members of the refueling crew will assert there was no icing problem before the plane took off. The plane crashed about one minute after take off.
Six heavy crates were loaded into the plane’s cargo bay in Egypt without military customs clearance. Witnesses will claim that weapons, including TOW anti-tank missiles, were being stockpiled in Egypt near where the plane took off. At the time, the US was secretly selling these types of missiles to Iran as part of an arms-for-hostages deal.
In the wake of public exposure of the Iran-Contra affair, it will be revealed that Arrow Air is a CIA front company and was regularly used by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North to ship arms.
Most of the crash victims are US Airborne troops returning from multinational peacekeeping duties in Egypt, but more than 20 Special Forces personnel were also on board. They were from elite counterterrorist units often used on hostage rescue missions.
Just days before the crash, Iranian officials threatened to retaliate after North sent them a shipment of the wrong missiles. North wrote three days earlier that he was determined to continue arms shipments. “To stop now in midstream would ignite Iranian fire,” he wrote, adding, “Hostages would be our minimum losses.” One theory will be that Iran used militant surrogates connected to Hezbollah to punish North for sending the wrong missiles. (Rowan 4/27/1992)
Gene Wheaton, a private investigator hired by victims’ relatives unsatisfied with the official explanation, will claim that a duffel bag stuffed with US currency was found in the wreckage. Two men in civilian clothes, who other personnel at the crash cite believe were from the CIA, took custody of the money. Neither the money nor the heavy crates will be mentioned by the official investigation.
In the early 1990s, two Time magazine reporters will be writing a book about the BCCI bank scandal. They will develop a reliable source, a private arms dealer using the alias Heinrich. Heinrich will tell them that a large amount of cash was on the Gander flight and he will tell them this before any accounts of cash being on the plane are reported in the media. Heinrich, who takes part in numerous arms deals with high-level BCCI officials, will tell the reporters: “This money on the plane was money that [BCCI founder Agha Hasan] Abedi, money that the bank had provided US intelligence for covert operations. The money was being used by the American military. I have no idea what for. You don’t ask these kinds of questions of these people.…. One of the bank men—perhaps I should call him an associate of the bank men—was a little angry about this money. He believed it was being, ah, appropriated, by some of the Special Forces soldiers. Someone else thought perhaps it was being diverted to another operation. I only know that the subject of the Gander crash came up and these people talked about BCCI money going down with it.” (Beaty and Gwynne 1993, pp. 231-233)
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. (Fineman 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. (Beaty and Gwynne 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).
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