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Profile: Ben Bonk
Ben Bonk was a participant or observer in the following events:
CIA officer Ben Bonk briefs Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush on the threat posed by Islamic extremist groups, telling him that Americans will die in a terrorist attack during the next four years, and to highlight the danger, he shows Bush a mock briefcase bomb he sneaked into the meeting. Bush was recently selected as the Republican Party’s candidate for the 2000 presidential election, and it is traditional for the CIA to provide a wide-ranging intelligence briefing to the Republican and Democratic nominees during a presidential campaign, to prepare them for the responsibilities of the White House. John McLaughlin, acting deputy director of the CIA, has come to Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, to conduct the briefing, along with three other agency officials, including Bonk, deputy director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Three of Bush’s senior advisers—Condoleezza Rice, Paul Wolfowitz, and Josh Bolten—also attend the briefing.
CIA Officer Says Americans Will Die in a Terrorist Attack - During the final hour of the four-hour session, Bonk briefs Bush on terrorism. He tells Bush: “I can say one thing for sure without any qualification: Sometime in the next four years, Americans will die as a result of a terrorist incident.” [CBS News, 9/1/2000; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 198; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 1-3] According to a book by CIA officer John Helgerson, Bonk specifically says that America’s next president will face “a terrorist attack on US soil.” There is then a “discussion of what certain scenarios could look like.” [Helgerson, 2013]
CIA Officer Says Islamic Extremists Are the Biggest Danger - Bonk tells Bush that numerous terrorist organizations are on the move, but the most dangerous are the Islamic extremist groups, such as al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. He says nothing these groups have so far achieved compares to “what lay in store for America and its allies if the terrorists succeeded in their quest for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear weapons, collectively known as CBRN,” according to journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald. Furthermore, Bonk says, “Al-Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, [is] the group most likely to succeed.” It has “the deepest pockets and the most far-flung operational networks.” If al-Qaeda or another terrorist group got its hands on CBRN weapons, Bonk says, that group “would show no hesitation in using the weapons immediately to murder as many Americans as possible.”
Bush Is Shown a Mock Briefcase Bomb - Furthermore, Bonk says that terrorists “could easily slip compact bombs into a crowd without raising suspicion.” To highlight the danger, he has sneaked a mock briefcase bomb into the meeting. Although the device contains no poison gas, it is otherwise a real weapon, built by the CIA based on a design seized from the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo doomsday cult, which killed 12 commuters in a poison gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in March 1995. Bonk let Bush’s Secret Service agents in on what he was doing, so they would allow him to take the mock bomb into the meeting, but Bush knows nothing about it. Bonk had the briefcase on the floor by his chair during the first three hours of the briefing and activated the mock bomb when his time to speak came. He now picks up the briefcase and carries it toward Bush. He pops it open and tilts it forward, so Bush can see the red digits of its electronic timer counting down. “Don’t worry,” Bonk says. “This is harmless. But it is exactly the kind of chemical device that people can bring into a room and kill everybody. And this one would be going off in two minutes.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 198; Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 2-3] Bush is apparently unimpressed with the mock bomb. According to Helgerson, “Such show-and-tell devices usually intrigued individuals and groups being briefed, but [Bush] gestured to the effect of ‘Get that out of here’ and wanted to settle down to serious discussion.” [Helgerson, 2013, pp. 152]
According to a 2007 book by former CIA Director George Tenet, shortly before 9/11, the CIA learns that a Pakistani charity front has been helping al-Qaeda acquire weapons of mass destruction. The charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), was founded in 2000 by two prominent nuclear scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed (see 2000). UTN allegedly is conducting charitable projects in Afghanistan, but a friendly intelligence service tells the CIA that UTN is really helping al-Qaeda build weapons, especially nuclear weapons. Tenet will claim that he presses “all of our contacts worldwide to find out anything we could about the people and organizations with WMD that might be wiling to share expertise with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” Ben Bonk, deputy chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), meets with Musa Kusa, head of Libya’s intelligence service, and Kusa tells him that Libya had contact with UTN. “Yes, they tried to sell us a nuclear weapon. Of course, we turned them down.” According to Tenet, this confirms other information from a different intelligence agency that UTN approached Libya with an offer to provide WMD expertise. The CIA then informs the Pakistani government of this, and Pakistan brings in seven board members of UTN for questioning. But according to Tenet, “The investigation was ill-fated from the get-go” and the UTN officials “were not properly isolated and questioned.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 262-263] Also shortly before 9/11, the CIA also learns that the two nuclear scientists who founded UTN had recently met with Osama bin Laden and advised him on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). But despite all this the US takes no other action against UTN before 9/11, not even freezing the assets of the charity until December 2001 (see Early October-December 2001).
Analysts at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, initially conclude that Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, is behind the terrorist attacks on the United States. Immediately after the second hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), analysts at the CTC started reviewing a mass of intelligence, looking for any information that might help identify the perpetrators of the attacks.
Report Said Hezbollah Was Seeking Pilots - They find a report, which indicated that Hezbollah had been trying to recruit certified pilots. The information hadn’t been regarded as significant when it was received, but it now seems more sinister and casts suspicion on the Lebanese group. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 32-33] Additionally, “The attack was a sophisticated, complex operation that required planning and resources,” and “Hezbollah had thousands of fighters in southern Lebanon and a worldwide network strong enough to pull off such a feat,” journalist and author Steve Coll will later comment. A recent article written by analysts at the CTC actually claimed that Hezbollah is a greater threat to the US than al-Qaeda (see (Between Late August and Early September 2001)). [Coll, 2018, pp. 33-34] The analysts contact their counterparts at the FBI and they all agree that the possibility of Hezbollah being responsible for the attacks makes sense. One of the analysts goes up to Ben Bonk, deputy director of the CTC, and tells him their findings. Bonk thinks their theory is possible and Hezbollah must at least be included on the list of likely perpetrators. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 33]
Head of Bin Laden Unit Blames Al-Qaeda - An analyst also goes up to Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, and tells him, “This is Mughniyeh,” referring to Imad Mughniyeh, the notorious leader of Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization. However, Blee immediately blamed al-Qaeda after the first crash at the WTC occurred (see Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). He therefore tells the analyst, “It’s not Mughniyeh.” “Intelligence about a spectacular al-Qaeda attack had been piling up all summer from multiple sources” and there has been “no comparable threat stream about Hezbollah,” Coll will point out. All the same, the analysts are unwavering. Blee eventually instructs them to go and prove their case. [Coll, 2018, pp. 30, 34] Sometime later, Blee will go into Bonk’s office with a copy that has been obtained of the passenger manifest for Flight 77, which will have the names of Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi—two men with known ties to al-Qaeda—on it. Bonk will then conclude that al-Qaeda, not Hezbollah, is to blame for the attacks. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 33]
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