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A meeting of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) takes place in the office of Assistant Defense Secretary Richard Armitage. As in previous RIG meetings, North details the specific activities of the Contras, and asks for approval for each activity (see July 1986 and After). But in this meeting, North makes an extraordinary proposal. Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has offered to conduct sabotage inside Nicaragua on behalf of the Contras for $1 million in cash. According to later testimony from RIG member Alan Fiers, a senior CIA official (see July 17, 1991), it is clear that the $1 million will not come from duly appropriated US funds, but from North’s so-called “Project Democracy,” which collects private funds from US citizens and other governments to fund the Contras. The sabotage would be conducted by mercenaries. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams meets with two aides to Secretary of State George Shultz, M. Charles Hill and Nicholas Platt, to discuss the Noriega proposal. Hill’s notes of the meeting read in part: “Noriega offers to do some sabotage (electric pylons) that we training contras to do but which they can’t do for 18 mos. Wd [would] get us on the map fast—by Oct. . Do it via mercenaries who may not know who employers are. Brits. Wd do it for cash (not from USG [US government]). Wants our go-ahead. Ollie will meet him w/approval of Pdx. [John Poindexter, the head of the National Security Council].” Ultimately, the idea is rejected. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
Entity Tags: Restricted Interagency Group, Contras, Charles Hill, Alan Fiers, Elliott Abrams, Oliver North, George Shultz, Manuel Noriega, Richard Armitage, John Poindexter, Nicholas Platt, National Security Council
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Costa Rica’s Minister of Public Security holds a press conference and announces the discovery of an illegal airstrip in northern Costa Rica that is being used to resupply the Nicaraguan Contras (see Summer 1985). US government officials have tried unsuccessfully to threaten the Costa Rican government with the loss of US aid if they make their knowledge of the airstrip public (see Early September 1986). But two of the US officials closely involved with the Contras, National Security Council officer Oliver North and CIA officer Alan Fiers, succeed in planting a false cover story about the airstrip for the press conference. The cover story denies any US government involvement in securing the airstrip or having it built, portraying it as a rogue operation by private Contra supporters. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
Essam al Ridi, a US-based Muslim who supports the mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan War, helps the CIA obtain photographs of a downed Russian helicopter, according to a statement al Ridi will later make to the New York Times. Al Ridi is an associate of leading Islamists Abdullah Azzam (see Early 1983-Late 1984 and Early 1989) and Osama bin Laden (see 1984 and Early 1993), and helps them purchase weapons. Al Ridi will help the FBI after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see October 1998). [New York Times, 6/3/2002] The CIA introduced stinger missiles into the war in late September 1986 to great effect against Soviet helicopters (see September 1986). [Coll, 2004, pp. 149-151] Presumably therefore, the CIA is asking al Ridi to get photos of a helicopter downed by a stinger shortly after they were introduced.
On the same day that CIA worker Eugene Hasenfus survives the destruction of his transport plane over Nicaragua (see October 5, 1986), Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who is heavily involved in the secret arming of the Nicaraguan Contras, is on his way to Frankfurt, Germany. North is slated to negotiate with representatives of the Iranian government. But news of Hasenfus’s capture forces North to cut short the negotiations and fly back to Washington for damage control. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65]
Eugene Hasenfus sits among the weapons captured from his downed cargo plane. His Sandinista captors surround him. [Source: Nancy McGirr / Reuters / Corbis]A CIA C-123 transport plane (see November 19, 1985) is shot down in southern Nicaragua by a Sandinista soldier wielding a surface-to-air missile. The transport plane left an airfield in El Salvador with arms and other supplies intended for the Nicaraguan Contras. Three crew members—US pilots William Cooper and Wallace Sawyer, Jr, and an unidentified Latin American—die in the crash, but one, a “cargo kicker” named Eugene Hasenfus, ignores CIA orders and parachutes to safety—and capture by the Sandinistas. Hasenfus is a construction worker from Wisconsin who signed on to do temporary work with CIA contractors, and has no intention of “going down with the plane.” The next day, newspapers around the world run stories with Hasenfus’s face peering out from their front pages.
Reveals US's Arming of Contras - The Hasenfus shoot-down will break the news of the Reagan administration’s secret arming of the Contras in their attempt to bring down the democratically elected Socialist government of Nicaragua. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 64]
Damage Control - Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After) is the designated US spokesman on the Hasenfus shootdown. Abrams coordinates with his fellow Contra supporters, the NSC’s Oliver North and the CIA’s Alan Fiers, and with the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, on how to handle the situation. Between the three, they coordinate a denial from the Salvadoran military about any Salvadoran or US involvement in the Hasenfus flight. As for themselves, they agree not to flatly lie about anything, because they cannot be sure of what Hasenfus will say, but they agree to remain as quiet as possible and hope the media sensation surrounding Hasenfus dies down with little long-term effect. According to notes taken by Corr during one meeting, everyone knows that a leak—“eventually someone in USG [the US government] will finally acknowledge some ‘winking.’ Salv role now more public”—is inevitable. It is eventually decided that the Contras themselves will take all responsibility for the flight. Fiers worries that the flight will be connected to previous humanitarian aid supplied to the Contras (see October 1985). They also confirm that Felix Rodriguez, North’s liaison to the Contras in Central America (see Mid-September 1985), is in Miami, hiding from the press. Hasenfus will later acknowledge making at least ten supply flights into Nicaragua (see October 9, 1986). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
CIA cargo handler Eugene Hasenfus, in the custody of Nicaraguan officials after his transport plane filled with weapons and supplies for the Contras was shot down (see October 5, 1986), publicly states that he had made ten other trips to ferry arms and supplies to the Contras. Six of those were from the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador (see Mid-September 1985). He also states that he worked closely with two CIA agents, “Max Gomez” and “Ramon Medina.” “Gomez” is actually Felix Rodriguez, who serves as the liaison between the Contras and National Security Council officer Oliver North. “Medina” is another CIA operative, Rafael Quintero. Hasenfus says that Gomez and Medina oversaw the housing for the crews, transportation, refueling, and flight plans. The same day as Hasenfus’s public statement, Nicaraguan officials reveal that one of Hasenfus’s crew members, who died in the crash, carried cards issued by the Salvadoran Air Force identifying them as US advisers. And, the Nicaraguans claim, one of the crew members had a business card identifying him as an official with the US’s Nicaraguan Humanitarian Assistance Office (NHAO—see October 1985). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993; Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/29/2007]
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams is interviewed by conservative columnist Robert Novak and Novak’s partner, Rowland Evans. Novak, who is openly sympathetic to the Nicaraguan Contras, asks Abrams about his knowledge of the connections between the US government and the Contras as revealed by the downing of a CIA transport plane over Nicaragua (see October 5, 1986). Abrams, who provides false testimony to Congress today and in the following days, tells a similar story to Novak. Abrams goes further with Novak than he does with Congress, denying that any such person as “Max Gomez,” the CIA liaison to the Contras, even exists (Gomez is actually former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez—see October 10-15, 1986). “Whoever that gentleman is, he certainly isn’t named Max Gomez,” Abrams notes. Abrams also denies that “Gomez” has any connection to Vice President Bush (see October 11-14, 1986). Abrams adds that whoever this “Gomez” is, “he is not on the US government payroll in any way.” Novak asks if Rodriguez has any connection to the National Security Council or any other government agency, and Abrams says: “I am not playing games.… No government agencies, none.” In June 1987, Abrams will admit that he lied to Novak. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams (see Late 1985 and After and September 4, 1985) testifies three times to Congress that the Contra resupply operation, exposed by the downing of a CIA transport plane (see October 5, 1986 and October 9, 1986), is not a US government operation. There is no coordination whatsoever from any government official (see Summer 1985, Mid-September 1985, October 1985, Late 1985 and After, February 7-8, 1986, May 16, 1986, July 1986 and After, September 19-20, 1986, September 25, 1986, and January 9, 1986), and no one in the government knows who organized or paid for the transport flight that was shot down.
'Not Our Supply System' - Abrams tells the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that while he and other government officials are aware of the Contra resupply operation, “[i]t is not our supply system. It is one that grew up after we were forbidden from supplying the resistance, and we have been kind of careful not to get closely involved with it and to stay away from it.… We do not encourage people to do this. We don’t round up people, we don’t write letters, we don’t have conversations, we don’t tell them to do this, we don’t ask them to do it. But I think it is quite clear, from the attitude of the administration, the attitude of the administration is that these people are doing a very good thing, and if they think they are doing something that we like, then, in a general sense, they are right.” In testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Abrams is asked by Chairman Lee Hamilton (D-IN), “Can anybody assure us that the United States government was not involved, indirectly or directly, in any way in supply of the contras?” Abrams responds: “I believe we have already done that, that is, I think, the president has done it, the secretary has done it [Secretary of State George Shultz], and I have done it.… Now again, this normal intelligence monitoring is there, but the answer to your question is yes.” Abrams and CIA officials Clair George and Alan Fiers tell the same falsehoods to a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee. “We don’t know,” Abrams asserts, “because we don’t track this kind of activity.”
No Knowledge of 'Gomez' - He also claims under questioning not to know the identity of “Max Gomez,” who he well knows is former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez (see Mid-September 1985). Senator John Kerry (D-MA) asks, “You don’t know whether or not [Gomez] reports to the vice president of the United States?” (see October 10, 1986). Both George and Abrams deny any such knowledge, though Abrams is highly aware of Rodriguez’s activities in El Salvador (he does not inform the committee of those activities). During the Congressional sessions, media reports identify Gomez as Rodriguez. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
Entity Tags: Lee Hamilton, Elliott Abrams, Contras, Clair George, Alan Fiers, Felix Rodriguez, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, House Intelligence Committee, Ronald Reagan, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry, House Foreign Affairs Committee
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
The Washington Post, having gotten wind of a secret fund transfer from a third-party nation to the Nicaraguan Contras (see August 9-19, 1986), reports that Saudi Arabia may be funding the Contras. (The Post’s sources are apparently unaware of the Brunei transaction.) Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who originated and facilitated the Brunei deal (see After May 16, 1986), is asked by Senator John Kerry (D-MA) during his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (see October 10-15, 1986) if he or the CIA representatives accompanying him—Clair George and Alan Fiers—are aware of any third-party funding of the Contras, whether it be Saudi Arabia or anyone else. Abrams says, “No.” George, also aware of the Brunei transaction, says, “No.” Fiers, who was involved in discussions of the transactions, says, “No, sir.” Abrams adds, “I think I can say that while I have been assistant secretary, which is about 15 months, we have not received a dime from a foreign government, not a dime, from any foreign government.” He says that if the Contras have received funding from other nations, he is not aware of it. “The thing is I think I would know about it because if they went to a foreign government, a foreign government would want credit for helping the contras and they would come to us to say you want us to do this, do you, and I would know about that.” Abrams repeats the lie to the House Intelligence Committee. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
After the press identifies former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez as Contra liaison “Max Gomez” (see October 10-15, 1986), and learns that Rodriguez reports to Vice President Bush’s foreign policy adviser, Donald Gregg (see October 10, 1986), Bush denies any knowledge of Rodriguez’s involvement with the Contras. Bush admits to having met Rodriguez a few times, but refuses to clarify what relationship, if any, they may have. Bush tells one reporter that Rodriguez is a US counter-insurgency adviser working with the government of El Salvador, an assertion strongly denied by the Salvadoran government. Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who has lied repeatedly to Congress about the government’s role in supplying and supporting the Contras (see October 10-15, 1986), tells the House Intelligence Committee that he knows nothing of any link between Rodriguez and Bush that concerns the Contras. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
The Reagan administration, reeling from the revelation that it has illegally armed the Nicaraguan Contras (see October 5, 1986), attempts to conceal its workings in Nicaragua. In a closed session of the House Intelligence Committee, Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, joined by CIA officials, assures committee members that the US government is not involved in supplying the Contras. According to the witnesses, the CIA claims it had nothing to do with Eugene Hasenfus, the cargo handler who survived the recent downing of a CIA transport plane and in doing so revealed the existence of the illegal arms deals. Supposedly, the only involvement by US officials was to offer public encouragement. The committee Democrats do not believe anything Abrams or the CIA officials say, but at least one committee member, Dick Cheney (R-WY) offers his support. According to the summary written by the administration staffer taking notes that day, “Mr. Cheney said he found our ignorance credible.” There is far more going on than the committee Democrats know—or than Cheney will tell them. For years, Cheney has been urging Congress to authorize aid to the Contras, but the majority Democrats have been inconsistent in their support. As authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later characterize the situation, Abrams, a self-described former socialist turned enthusiastic neoconservative, and others in the administration, such as National Security Council staffer Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, have now taken matters into their own hands (see October 5, 1986), in direct violation of US law. Committee Democrats are as yet unaware that Reagan officials such as North have also been negotiating arms-for-hostages deals with Iran, in a covert three-way deal involving Iran, the US, and the Contras (see November 3, 1986). [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65]
Osama bin Laden establishes the first training camp, known as Maasada—the Lion’s Den—especially for Arabs fighting in the Soviet-Afghan War. The camp is near the village of Jaji, close to the Pakistani border in eastern Afghanistan. Previously, the Arabs had been integrated with local Afghan forces, although there have been problems with the language barrier and the Arabs’ readiness for battle, which sometimes meant they were used as cannon fodder. A later account by author Lawrence Wright will say that Bin Laden sees the camp as the “first step toward the creation of an Arab legion that could wage war anywhere.”
The Camp - The equipment at the camp includes a bulldozer, Kalashnikov machine guns, mortars, some small anti-aircraft guns, and Chinese rockets (although there are no rocket launchers for them). Most of the people at the camp are Egyptians associated with Ayman al-Zawahiri, or young Saudis. The camp is only three kilometers from a Soviet base, meaning there is a serious danger it could be attacked and fall.
Opposition from Azzam - However, the camp is opposed by bin Laden’s mentor, Abdullah Azzam, because he wants all the Muslims—both Arabs and Afghans—to work together, not a separate camp for Arabic speakers. In addition, Azzam thinks the camp is expensive and, given the guerrilla style of warfare in Afghanistan, impractical.
Construction Work - Bin Laden soon brings in construction vehicles to make the camp more easily defensible. Using equipment from his family firm, he builds seven hidden man-made caverns overlooking an important supply route from Pakistan. Some of the caves are a hundred yards long and twenty feet high, and serve as shelters, dormitories, hospitals, and arms dumps. [Wright, 2006, pp. 111-114]
The Reagan administration, led by CIA Director William Casey and National Security Adviser John Poindexter (Robert McFarlane’s replacement), decides to downplay and deny any arms-for-hostages deals as reported in the world press (see November 3, 1986), while maintaining the secret negotiations with Iran. President Reagan accepts their advice. In notes Reagan takes during a clandestine meeting about the situation, he writes, “Must say something because I’m being held out to dry.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65-66]
Ronald Reagan speaks to the nation. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]President Reagan addresses the nation on the Iran-Contra issue (see October 5, 1986 and November 3, 1986). “I know you’ve been reading, seeing, and hearing a lot of stories the past several days attributed to Danish sailors (see Early November, 1986), unnamed observers at Italian ports and Spanish harbors, and especially unnamed government officials of my administration,” he says. “Well, now you’re going to hear the facts from a White House source, and you know my name.” But despite his direct introduction, Reagan presents the same half-truths, denials, and outright lies that his officials have been providing to Congress and the press (see Mid-October, 1986 and November 10, 1986 and After).
'Honorable' Involvement - He admits to an 18-month “secret diplomatic initiative” with Iran, for several “honorable” reasons: to renew relations with that nation, to bring an end to the Iran-Iraq war, to eliminate Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, and to effect the release of the US hostages being imprisoned by Hezbollah. He calls the press reports “rumors,” and says, “[L]et’s get to the facts.”
Falsehoods Presented as Facts - The US has not swapped weapons to Iran for hostages, Reagan asserts. However, evidence suggests otherwise (see January 28, 1981, 1983, 1985, May 1985, June 11, 1985, July 3, 1985, July 8, 1985, August 6, 1985, September 15, 1985, December 6, 1985, December 12, 1985, Mid-1980s, January 7, 1986, January 17, 1986, Late May, 1986, September 19, 1986, and Early October-November, 1986). Reagan also claims the US has not “trafficked with terrorists,” although Iran is listed as a sponsor of terrorism by the State Department. It “has not swapped boatloads or planeloads of American weapons for the return of American hostages. And we will not.” Reports of Danish and Spanish vessels carrying secret arms shipments, of Italian ports employed to facilitate arms transfers, and of the US sending spare parts and weapons for Iranian combat aircraft, all are “quite exciting, but… not one of them is true.” Reagan does admit to his authorization of “the transfer of small amounts of defensive weapons and spare parts for defensive systems to Iran,” merely as a gesture of goodwill. “These modest deliveries, taken together, could easily fit into a single cargo plane,” he says. (In reality, the US has already sent over 1,000 missiles to Iran over the course of a number of shipments.) He says the US made it clear to Iran that for any dialogue to continue, it must immediately cease its support of Hezbollah and other terrorist groups, and to facilitate the release of US hostages held by that group in Lebanon. Evidence exists, Reagan says, of the Iranians ramping down their support of terrorism. And some hostages have already been freed, a true statement, though he fails to mention that others have been taken.
Admission of May Meeting - Reagan admits that former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane met with Iranian officials (see Late May, 1986). According to Reagan, McFarlane went to Iraq “to open a dialog, making stark and clear our basic objectives and disagreements.” He presents no further information about the meeting, except that the talks were “civil” and “American personnel were not mistreated.”
Exposure Risks Undermining Efforts to Facilitate Peace - The public disclosure of these “honorable” negotiations has put the entire US efforts to broker peace between Iran and Iraq in jeopardy, he says. In negotiations such as these, there is “a basic requirement for discretion and for a sensitivity to the situation in the nation we were attempting to engage.”
Reagan Says Congress Not Lied to - Reagan says that there is no truth to the stories that his officials ever lied to members of Congress about the Iranian negotiations (see Mid-October, 1986). The members of Congress who needed to know about the negotiations were informed, as were the “appropriate Cabinet officers” and others “with a strict need to know.” Since the story has now broken, “the relevant committees of Congress are being, and will be, fully informed.” [Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 11/13/1986; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 65-66]
Attorney General Edwin Meese. [Source: Doug Mills / Bettman / Corbis]Attorney General Edwin Meese undertakes an internal fact-finding investigation focused on President Reagan’s involvement in the November 1985 sale of Hawk missiles to Iran (see 1985). Meese is apparently not interested in finding facts, because he refuses a request to assist from the FBI, and takes no notes during his interviews of administration officials.
'Shredding Party' - Additionally, during his investigation, National Security Council documents are altered or destroyed, including a presidential finding from December 1985 that retroactively authorized US missile sales to Iran (see November 24-25, 1985 and December 5, 1985); National Security Adviser John Poindexter will later admit to destroying this document. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North holds what is later called a “shredding party,” destroying thousands of documents that would likely implicate White House officials in a criminal conspiracy to break the law (see November 21-23, 1986). The Iran-Contra investigative committee will later fault Meese for departing from “standard investigative techniques” during his investigation.
Document Linking Iran Arms Sales, Contra Supplies Survives - Meese also finds a potentially explosive document in the desk of North, the National Security Council staffer who managed the Iran arms deals. The document, an undated memorandum apparently from April 1986, outlined “a planned diversion of $12 million in proceeds from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras” (see April 4, 1986). Meese’s investigation now diverges onto two tracks, one a continuation of the Hawk shipments, and the second an investigation into who knew about, and who had approved, the diversion.
Reagan Courting Impeachment? - Meese confirms from North that the $12 million had indeed been given to the Contras, and informs Reagan, Chief of Staff Donald Regan, and Vice President Bush. Reagan is reportedly shocked by the revelation, in part because he knows he could face impeachment for violating the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984). Meese informs the cabinet the next day. Apparently Meese does not want to know if any senior White House officials knew of the diversion, because he does not ask them about it. When Poindexter informs Meese that before December 1985, his predecessor Robert McFarlane handled the Iran arms sales “all alone” with “no documentation,” Meese accepts his word. Several White House officials present at the meeting—Reagan, Regan, Bush, Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger—all know that Poindexter is lying, but none correct him. After the meeting, Shultz tells his aide, Charles Hill: “They may lay all this off on Bud [McFarlane].… They [are] rearranging the record.” Investigative counsel Lawrence Walsh will later write: “The Select Committees viewed this as an isolated error. It was not.”
'Case for Deniability' for Reagan - In Walsh’s opinion, Meese is not conducting an investigation at all, but instead is “building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan.” Walsh will characterize Meese’s actions as “an effort to obstruct a congressional inquiry.” In 2006, authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The two strands of an illegal policy came together in that memo.” The authors refer to the US arms sales to Iran and the diversion of the profits from those sales to the Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 66]
Entity Tags: Charles Hill, Edwin Meese, Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan, Robert C. McFarlane, Oliver North, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George Herbert Walker Bush, George Shultz, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Donald Regan, Lou Dubose, Lawrence E. Walsh, John Poindexter
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Fawn Hall and her attorney, Plato Cacheris, during her June 1987 testimony before the House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. [Source: Mark Leightman / Bettman / Corbis]National Security Council (NSC) officer Oliver North, the prime coordinator of the illegal funding of the Nicaraguan Contras in the Reagan administration, leads a coordinated effort to alter, remove, and destroy critical documents that could prove criminal intent in the burgeoning Iran-Contra investigation (see November 21-25, 1986). The enormity of the destruction of government records earns the incident the sobriquet “Ollie’s shredding party.” A key figure in the document shredding is North’s secretary, Fawn Hall. Hall, whose mother Wilma was the secretary for North’s former NSC boss, Robert McFarlane, will reluctantly become one of the first, and most damning, witnesses for Lawrence Walsh’s independent investigation of the Iran-Contra affair (see December 19, 1986). Hall has been, in the words of Walsh’s prosecutors, “generally aware” of North’s involvement in both providing illegal funds to the Contras and in illegally selling arms to Iran, maintaining his records and typing his memoranda and letters. Though she knows of the illegal activities, because she did not participate in meetings or telephone conversations with other key figures in the affair, she will later be able to testify, “I did not know many of the details relevant to the Iran and Contra initiatives.” Hall’s participation in North’s “shredding party” is her first direct participation in any criminal activities surrounding the Iran-Contra affair. After North learns that the Department of Justice is opening an inquiry into the sale of arms to Iran, North secures a number of documents from NSC files showing that he had violated the Boland Amendment (see October 10, 1984) by aiding the Contras. North marks the documents with handwritten revisions, changing the text to make it seem as if North had not violated the law. He then gives the documents to Hall, asking her to retype them to include his corrections and then replace them in the files. Hall does so, but does not finish the alterations before North calls her in to help him shred documents, including notes and phone records. Hall later estimates that she and North shredded documents in piles of 12-18 pages for close to an hour, shredding in all a stack of documents almost two feet high. The shredding and alterations continue through November 23. She will later testify that she had never shredded such a large quantity of documents. [Reeves, 2005, pp. 367; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
Attorney General Edwin Meese announces the results of his internal “investigation” of US arms sales to Iran (see November 21-25, 1986). In the conference, Meese announces that President Reagan did not learn of the US shipments of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles (see 1985, November 24-25, 1985, and August 4, 1986) until February 1986. Investigators for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will later conclude that Meese lied; not only did Meese never ask Reagan about his knowledge of the Hawk shipments, he ignored evidence and testimony that proved Reagan did indeed know of the shipments, such as a statement from Secretary of State George Shultz that Reagan had told him that he had known of the Hawk shipments in advance. But Meese will also, reluctantly, admit that the US had illegally diverted between $10 million and $30 million in funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras (see April 4, 1986). National Security Adviser John Poindexter immediately resigns, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is fired from the National Security Council staff. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]
Alan Fiers, the head of the CIA’s Central America task force, testifies to Congress that neither he nor any of his superiors in the agency knew of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986). Fiers is lying. He was ordered by his superior, Deputy Director of Operations Clair George, to conceal his knowledge of the fund diversions (see Summer 1986). Fiers will admit to lying five years later, and plead guilty to misdemeanor charges arising from his false testimony (see July 17, 1991). [Time, 7/22/1991]
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, who has already lied repeatedly under oath to Congress about third-party funding of the Contras (see October 10-14, 1986), lies again to the Senate Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of any such funding (see August 9-19, 1986). Appearing before the committee with senior CIA official Alan Fiers, who has himself lied to Congress about the same activities, Abrams tells the committee: “Well, we—after the Hasenfus shootdown (see October 5, 1986) we were asked about, you know, what did you know about the funding of Hasenfus and his operation. And the answer here is the same answer. That is, that we knew there were private contributions coming in, because they sure weren’t surviving on the money that we were giving them, which at one time was nothing and then the 27 million came along (see August 1985). So there was money coming in. But there was no reason to think it was coming from foreign governments, and I certainly did not inquire as to which individuals it was coming from.” Abrams denies ever discussing third-party funding with anyone on the National Security Council staff, which would include Oliver North, Abrams’s partner in the $10 million Brunei deal (see June 11, 1986). A frankly disbelieving Senator Bill Bradley (D-NJ) says: “Well, you would say gee, they got a lot of problems, they don’t have any money. Then you would just sit there and say, what are we going to do? They don’t have any money. You never said, you know, maybe we could get the money this way?” Abrams replies: “No.… We’re not—you know, we’re not in the fundraising business.” Two weeks later, Abrams will “correct” his testimony, but will still insist that he knows nothing of any such third-party funding. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
After Oliver North is fired by President Reagan over his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair (see November 25, 1986), North’s secretary Fawn Hall (who was also fired) recalls that she has not finished shredding documents that North had ordered destroyed (see November 21-23, 1986). She also realizes that other documents relating to the Iran arms sales and the Contra funding have not yet been destroyed. Hall is not allowed to remove any documents from the suite of offices used by North and other NSC officers. To avoid detection, Hall conceals documents in her clothing, inserting some inside her boots and others inside the back of her skirt. She receives the assistance of another NSC officer, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Earl, who helps her sneak documents out of the office suite. Earl also helps her adjust the documents so they cannot be seen under her clothes. During the process, Hall telephones North, who is not in the office; fearful of being overheard, she whispers to him that there is a problem with the documents and he needs to come in. He agrees, and says that he will be joined by his lawyer, Thomas Green. After Green and North arrive, the two men help shield Hall as she leaves the building with the documents hidden on her person. After the three get into Green’s car, Hall gives North the documents, and tells him that other potentially incriminating materials are still in the offices. Green drops Hall and North off in a parking lot, and, as Hall is leaving the vehicle, Green asks her what she will say if asked about the shredding. Hall replies that she will say, “We shred every day.” Green responds, “Good.” [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams testifies to the House Intelligence Committee about his knowledge of the Iran-Contra affair (see Mid-October, 1986). Like CIA official Alan Fiers (see November 25, 1986), Abrams testifies that neither he nor his superiors at the State Department knew anything of the illegal diversion of funds to the Nicaraguan Contras (see December 6, 1985 and April 4, 1986); like Fiers, Abrams is lying (see Late 1985 and After). Several days later, Abrams testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO) accuses Abrams of lying during the first session, and Abrams replies, “You’ve heard my testimony.” Eagleton retorts, “I’ve heard it, and I want to puke.” [Time, 7/22/1991; Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] Abrams will later admit to lying to both the House and Senate (see October 7, 1991).
Two days after sneaking classified documents out of the National Security Council (see November 25, 1986), Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, downplays the significance of the “shredding party” she and North engaged in days before, when they had worked to destroy evidence of North’s criminal activities surrounding the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986). When asked by Jay Stephens of the White House counsel’s office about reports of her and North shredding documents in North’s office, Hall replies as she has been coached to respond by North’s lawyer, Thomas Green. Hall later testifies, “I told him that we shred every day, and I led him to believe that there was nothing unusual about what had occurred.” [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
John Tower. [Source: Wally McNamee / Corbis]President Reagan appoints former Senator John Tower (R-TX) to head a commission to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. The so-called “Tower Commission” will issue its final report three months later (see February 26, 1987). [PBS, 2000] Tower left the Senate in 1985 and attempted to win the position of defense secretary for Reagan’s second term. Instead, Reagan appointed him to lead the US team of arms reduction negotiators in Geneva. Tower also became very rich very quickly lobbying for a variety of defense contractors. Between his overt lobbying for the defense industry and his notoriously libertine lifestyle—even consorting with prostitutes known to be KGB agents—Tower was unable to secure the position of defense secretary. But he is a Reagan loyalist, and well-known to the White House from their thorough vetting of his background and private life; perhaps this makes Tower a good administration choice to lead the investigative commission. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 85-86]
Barbara Walters, in a 1988 photo. [Source: Raul Vega / Corbis]ABC News reporter Barbara Walters covertly provides the White House with documents from Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar, according to a Wall Street Journal article published in March 1987. The documents, prepared by Walters and given to the White House at Ghorbanifar’s request, report that Ghorbanifar believed, correctly, that National Security Council staffer Oliver North diverted profits from the sale of arms to Iran to Nicaragua’s Contra insurgents (see April 4, 1986). Walters will provide the White House with further documents on the arms sales in January 1987. The documents are given to Walters either just before or just after her interviews with Ghorbanifar and Saudi businessman and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi for the ABC News program 20/20. The documents will eventually be turned over to the Tower Commission (see February 26, 1987). The White House will claim that the documents contain little more than reiterations of Ghorbanifar’s comments to Walters in the interview. ABC News will say that Walters’s actions—essentially acting as an information peddler or middleman between the Arab arms merchants and the US government—are “in violation of a literal interpretation of news policy.… ABC policy expressly limits journalists cooperating with government agencies unless threats to human lives are involved.… Ms. Walters believed that to be the case.” ABC does not explain why Walters believes “threats to human lives” were involved; this assertion also contradicts ABC’s assertions that the documents contained little more that what was said in the interview. [New York Times, 3/17/1987; Nation, 3/28/1987]
A day before he is slated to testify before the Senate on the US’s secret arms sales to Iran and the diversion of profits from those sales to the Nicaraguan Contras, CIA Director William Casey suffers two seizures and is hospitalized. The 73-year old Casey is diagnosed with brain cancer. [New York Times, 12/24/1986] He will undergo surgery three days later (see December 18, 1986) and, unable to continue his duties as CIA director, will resign shortly thereafter (see February 2, 1987). He will die six months after the surgery (see May 6, 1987).
Radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman obtains his first US visa via the CIA. A State Department official will later discover this was the first of six US visas given to him between 1986 and 1990. All are approved by CIA agents acting as consular officers at US embassies in Sudan and Egypt. “The CIA officers claimed they didn’t know the sheikh was one of the most notorious political figures in the Middle East and a militant on the State Department’s list of undesirables.” But one top New York investigator will later say, “Left with the choice between pleading stupidity or else admitting deceit, the CIA went with stupidity.” [Boston Globe, 2/3/1995; New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Abdul-Rahman uses the visas to attend conferences of Islamic students in the US. Then he visits Pakistan, where he preaches at Peshawar, visits the Saudi embassy in Islamabad, and is “lionized at receptions heavily attended by Americans.” He plays a prominent role in recruiting mujaheddin fighters to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. [Kepel, 2002, pp. 300] In 1989, Abdul-Rahman is arrested in Egypt and held under very closely guarded house arrest, but he manages to escape one year later, possibly by being smuggled out of his house in a washing machine. The CIA gives him another US visa and he moves to the US (see July 1990). [New York Times, 1/8/1995] Journalist Simon Reeve will claim in his 1999 book The New Jackals that, “The CIA, it is now clear, arranged the visa[s] to try and befriend the Sheikh in advance of a possible armed fundamentalist revolution in Egypt.” According to a retired CIA official, the CIA recalled mistakes made with the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and were trying to win Abdul-Rahman’s trust. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 60]
Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says that before the Iran-Contra revelations of October 1986 (see October 5, 1986, October 10-15, 1986, and October 11-14, 1986) he had never even heard of CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, the liaison between the Nicaraguan Contras and the National Security Council (see Mid-September 1985). As he has done so many times before, Abrams is lying. When he took his position in July 1985 (see April 19, 1985 and After), Rodriguez was already working out of the Ilopango airfield in El Salvador. Notes taken by the US Ambassador to El Salvador, Edwin Corr, indicate that Abrams knew of Rodriguez by September 1985 at the latest (see September 4, 1985). During that month, Abrams and Corr discussed Rodriguez in at least one meeting. (Corr will later say he cannot recall any such meeting.) Rodriguez was also a frequent topic of discussion in meetings held in late 1985 by the Restricted Interagency Group (RIG—see Late 1985 and After) chaired by Abrams. And Abrams was aware of concerns within the government about Rodriguez’s involvement in disbursing humanitarian funds allocated by the US Congress to the Contras (see October 1985). [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
CIA Director William Casey, one of the key figures in the Iran-Contra affair, undergoes surgery for a brain tumor (see December 15, 1986). [PBS, 2000] The lymphoma tumor will be removed and proven to be malignant. Doctors will refuse to give details about the size and placement of the tumor, any possible cognitive or physical loss caused by the tumor, or any prognosis for possible recovery. The particular cancer is a “B-cell lymphoma of the large cell type,” a quite rare and extraordinarily aggressive form of cancer. Experts say that most cancers of this type occur in people whose immune systems have been compromised, often by treatment for other cancers or people who suffer from AIDS. Casey may have undergone treatment for cancer at an earlier date [New York Times, 12/24/1986] ; it will later be learned that Casey had undergone treatment for prostate cancer. [New York Times, 5/7/1987] Casey will resign as CIA director shortly after his cancer treatments begin (see February 2, 1987). He will die six months after the surgery (see May 6, 1987).
Congress announces the creation of a special counsel to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. Lawrence Walsh is named the special prosecutor in charge of the investigation. [New York Times, 11/19/1987] Walsh, a retired federal judge, later says that he is worried from the outset about the potential for what he calls a “carnival atmosphere” surrounding the hearings. In creating the special counsel and the concurrent Congressional investigation (see January 6-7, 1987), Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) and Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) want to head off any possibility of impeachment. “That is the last thing I wanted to do,” Wright later recalls. “Ronald Reagan had only two years left in his [second and final] term. I was not going to allow a procedure that would lead to his impeachment in his final year in office.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 67-68]
The New York Port Authority’s Office of Special Planning (OSP) is closed down. It had been established in 1984 (see Early 1984) to evaluate and address the vulnerabilities of Port Authority facilities, including the World Trade Center, to terrorist attacks. [Village Voice, 1/5/2000; New York County Supreme Court, 1/20/2004] The reasons for the closure are unknown. However, Peter Goldmark, who’d created the OSP, had resigned as executive director of the Port Authority in 1985 to take a new job. [Glanz and Lipton, 2004, pp. 226-228] So the absence of his support for the office may have been a factor.
The core of the future Philippine militant group Abu Sayyaf fights with bin Laden in Afghanistan and its training there is paid for by the CIA and Pakistani ISI. In 1986, the CIA agreed to support an ISI program of recruiting radical Muslims from other countries, including the Philippines, to fight in the Afghan war (see 1985-1986). By one estimate, initially between 300 and 500 radical Muslims from the southern Philippines go to Afghanistan to fight. [Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 ] In 1987 or 1988, bin Laden dispatches his brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa to the Philippines to find more recruits willing to go to Afghanistan. It is estimated he finds about 1,000 recruits. One of them is Abdurajak Janjalani, who emerges as the leader of these recruits in Afghanistan. When the Afghan war ends in 1989 most of them will return to the Philippines and form the Abu Sayyaf group, still led by Janjalani (see Early 1991). [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002; Manila Times, 2/1/2007] Journalist John Cooley will write in a book first published in 1999 that Abu Sayyaf will become “the most violent and radical Islamist group in the Far East, using its CIA and ISI training to harass, attack, and murder Christian priests, wealthy non-Muslim plantation-owners, and merchants and local government in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao.” [Cooley, 2002, pp. 63] After having read Cooley’s book and gathering information from other sources, Senator Aquilino Pimentel, President of the Philippine Senate, will say in a 2000 speech that the “CIA has sired a monster” because it helped train this core of the Abu Sayyaf. [Senator Aquilino Q. Pimentel website, 7/31/2000]
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin forms Hamas as the military arm of his Islamic Association, which had been licensed by Israel ten years earlier (see 1973-1978). According to Charles Freeman, a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, “Israel started Hamas. It was a project of Shin Bet, which had a feeling that they could use it to hem in the PLO.” [CounterPunch, 1/18/2003; Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 191, 208] Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies, states that Israel “aided Hamas directly—the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO.” A former senior CIA official speaking to UPI describes Israel’s support for Hamas as “a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative.” Further, according to an unnamed US government official, “the thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the other groups, if they gained control, would refuse to have anything to do with the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place.” Larry Johnson, a counterterrorism official at the State Department, states: “The Israelis are their own worst enemies when it comes to fighting terrorism. They are like a guy who sets fire to his hair and then tries to put it out by hitting it with a hammer. They do more to incite and sustain terrorism than curb it.” [United Press International, 2/24/2001 Sources: Larry C. Johnson, Unnamed former CIA official]
Shortly after 1986, mujahedeen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani becomes a direct asset of the CIA, according to author Steve Coll. The CIA is already supporting other mujahedeen leaders by paying cash to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, which in turn gives money to the leaders. But Haqqani is a rare case of the CIA working with an Afghan leader without going through the ISI. But at the same time, the ISI also heavily supports and funds Haqqani. At this time, Osama bin Laden and other Arabs fighting in Afghanistan are based in territory controlled by Haqqani, so the CIA support for Haqqani also benefits bin Laden and other radical Islamists fighting with him. Bin Laden will later call Haqqani a “hero” and “one of the foremost leaders of the jihad against the Soviets.” Coll will later write: “Haqqani traveled frequently to Peshawar to meet with a Pakistani and, separately, with an American intelligence officer, and to pick up supplies. Osama would have no reason to know about Haqqani’s opportunistic work with the CIA, but he and his Arab volunteers benefited from it. They stood apart from the CIA’s cash-laden tradecraft—but just barely.” It is not known how long the relationship between the CIA and Haqqani lasts. [Coll, 2008, pp. 285, 294] However, he is so liked by the US that at one point he visits the White House during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. [Associated Press, 12/29/2009] Haqqani will later join the Taliban, and then he will start his own militant group linked to the Taliban known as the Haqqani network. In 2008, the New York Times will report: “Today [Haqqani] has turned his expertise on American and NATO forces. From his base in northwestern Pakistan, [he] has maintained a decades-old association with Osama bin Laden and other Arabs. Together with his son, Sirajuddin Haqqani, 34, he and these allies now share a common mission to again drive foreign forces from Afghanistan.” [New York Times, 6/17/2008] Haqqani also will maintain his link to the ISI. In 2008, US intelligence will overhear the head of Pakistan’s military calling Haqqani a “strategic asset” (see May 2008).
Khaled Abu el-Dahab. [Source: Egyptian government]In the mid-1980’s, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, an Egyptian medical student, joins the militant group Islamic Jihad, and also meets Ali Mohamed. Mohamed convinces el-Dahab to move to the US and become a sleeper cell agent. El-Dahab does so in 1987, moving to Santa Clara, California, where Mohamed has a residence. El-Dahab marries an American woman, becomes a US citizen, and gets a job at a computer company. In 1987, a female acquaintance of el-Dahab enters his apartment unannounced and finds several men there cleaning rifles. She decides it is something she does not want to know about, and breaks off contact with him. In 1990, Mohamed and el-Dahab travel together to Afghanistan. They are financially supported by a network of US sympathizers, including two Egyptian-American doctors. Beginning in 1990, El-Dahab’s apartment becomes an important communications hub for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad cells all over the world. For much of the 1990’s, the Egyptian government cut direct phone links to countries like Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan or Pakistan in an effort to disrupt communications between radical militants. So Dahab acts as a telephone operator for the Islamic Jihad network, using a three-way calling feature to connect operatives in far-flung countries. He communicates with bin Laden’s base in Sudan (where bin Laden lives until 1996). He receives phone calls from the likes of Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who also visits California twice (see Spring 1993; Late 1994 or 1995). He distributes forged documents and makes money transfers. He is trained to make booby-trapped letters, enrolls in a US flight school to learn how to fly gliders and helicopters, and recruits additional US sleeper agents (see Mid-1990s). He helps translate US army manuals and topographical maps into Arabic for al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad training. El-Dahab will move to Egypt in 1998 and get arrested in October of that year. He will confess his role in all of this in an Egyptian trial in 1999. The Egyptian government will sentence him to 15 years in prison (see 1999). [New York Times, 10/23/2001; London Times, 11/11/2001; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001]
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. [Playboy, 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. [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002]
The al-Kifah Refugee Center shared the same building as the Al-Farooq Mosque. [Source: National Geographic] (click image to enlarge)Ali Mohamed, while still an instructor at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see 1986), frequently spends his weekends traveling to meet with Islamic activists at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 143-144] This center is the Brooklyn branch office of Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, which is a charity front in Pakistan closely tied to bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam. It also has ties to the CIA (see 1986-1993). Mohamed teaches the Islamic activists survival techniques, map reading and how to recognize tanks and other Soviet weapons. He frequently stays at the home of El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990). In July 1989, the FBI monitors him teaching Nosair and some of the future members of the 1993 World Trade Center bomb plot how to shoot weapons (see July 1989). Towards the end of this period he informs his superiors that he has renewed his association with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 143-144] Mohamed will move to Brooklyn in May 1990 while also keeping a residence in Santa Clara, California. His connections to the Islamist network develop rapidly from this point on. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 144]
Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. Apparently this photo was taken in the Philippines. [Source: Asharq al-Awsat]Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, moves to the Philippines and sets up numerous financial fronts to benefit al-Qaeda. Khalifa is not only one of bin Laden’s brothers-in-law, but he also says that during the 1980s, “Osama was my best friend. More than a brother….” [Australian, 1/16/2003; CNN, 11/25/2004] In the mid-1980s, Khalifa was already a very senior member of the Muslim Brotherhood in Lebanon and ran the Peshawar, Pakistan, office of the Muslim World League, where he was active in sending recruits to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). Sent to the Philippines by bin Laden in 1987 or 1988, he soon marries two Filipino women. He sets up more than a dozen businesses and charities, all of which appear to be fronts to fund the Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) militant groups:
The Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM), which will later be blamed for funneling bin Laden money to militants (see February 15, 1999 and October 8-November 8, 2002).
The International Relations and Information Center (IRIC), which is later seen as the main funding vehicle for the Bojinka plot (see Spring 1995).
The Philippine branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), founded in September 1991. The IIRO does some charity work, but a Philippine cabinet official will later note that it “built up the good will of the community through charity and then turned segments of the population into agents.” The IIRO is a charity suspected of funding militant activities in numerous places around the world, but the US has been reluctant to prosecute it due to its direct links to the Saudi government (see January 1996 and October 12, 2001). Khalifa is not only the first head of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, but also the IIRO’s regional director for all of Southeast Asia. The IIRO’s offices are often staffed by members of the Abu Sayyaf and MILF. For instance, one IIRO branch office director is also the Abu Sayyaf’s intelligence chief until he is killed in June 1994. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 8/9/2000; CNN, 1/27/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 8/1/2003; Strategic Studies Institute of the US Army War College, 9/1/2005 ]
It is estimated that as much as 70 percent of the money from these fronts are spent on militant groups. In one case, a charity that Khalifa claimed had built 30 orphanages had only built one. [Newsweek International, 10/22/2001] The Philippines will investigate Khalifa and expel him from the country by late 1994 (see December 15, 1994 and December 1, 1994). He apparently never returns. He will no longer be directly connected to these charities, but they will all continue operating despite widely reported terrorist ties (see 1995 and After, February 15, 1999, August 9, 2000), and they will usually continue to be run by Khalifa’s close associates (see October 8-November 8, 2002 and September 25, 2003). The US will finally officially declare the Philippine branch of the IIRO a terrorism financier in 2006 (see August 3, 2006).
Afghan Arab Essam al Ridi purchases more equipment in the US for the mujaheddin fighting against the Soviets in Afghanistan. He had previously worked as a buyer for the mujaheddin, traveling the world to acquire items for the anti-Soviet jihad (see Early 1983-Late 1984). However, in 1985 he fell out with the others over Osama bin Laden’s influence in the movement, which he thought was excessive, and returned to the US to work as a flight instructor. Al Ridi buys eleven pairs of night vision goggles and gives them to Wadih El-Hage, who will later become Osama bin Laden’s personal secretary (see October 1995). El-Hage takes them to Pakistan for use in his passenger luggage. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Al Ridi will later purchase assassination rifles for the fighters linked to bin Laden, apparently with the CIA’s knowledge, but it is unclear whether the CIA knows about this transaction (see Early 1989).
Yassin Kadi, a Saudi architect and businessman (see 1981), meets with Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. Both are backers of the Afghan rebels in their war with the Soviet Union. Kadi, who will become a millionaire and a suspected terror supporter, will reveal his contacts with bin Laden in a 2008 interview. [New York Times, 12/12/2008]
Warren Rudman and Daniel Inouye. [Source: Time & Life Pictures / Getty Images]Both the House and Senate name special committees to investigate the Iran-Contra affair. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Avoiding Impeachment - The two investigations will quickly merge into one joint, unwieldy committee. Neither Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) nor Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-WV) have any intention of allowing the investigations to become impeachment hearings against President Reagan (see December 19, 1986). They decide to combine the House and Senate investigations in the hopes that the investigation will move more quickly and limit the damage to the presidency. They envision a bipartisan committee made up of wise, sober lawmakers able to prevent the investigation from becoming a witch hunt. Wright will remember telling the Republican minority leadership, “You appoint and we appoint and we can maintain some control.”
Choosing Chairmen, Members - Byrd chooses Senator Daniel Inouye (D-HI), a decorated World War II veteran who had served on the Senate Watergate Committee (see February 7, 1973) and the Senate Intelligence Committee. In turn, Inouye names Warren Rudman (R-NH), a former federal prosecutor, as his vice chairman, promising to share all the powers and responsibilities of the chairmanship with him. According to authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, Rudman “would overshadow” the self-effacing Inouye. For the House side, Wright names conservative Lee Hamilton (D-IN) to chair that portion of the committee. Both Hamilton and Inouye have a deep conviction that to accomplish anything of lasting import, decisions must be arrived at in a bipartisan fashion. Wright names several powerful Democratic committee chairmen to the House committee; their responsibilities as committee chairmen will interfere with their ability to devote the proper time and effort to the investigation. House Minority Leader Robert Michel (R-IN) chooses his members with a very different agenda in mind. Michel, himself a relatively moderate Republican, chooses Dick Cheney (R-WY) as the ranking member of the House investigation. Cheney is well-informed about intelligence and foreign affairs, and, in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, “ruthlessly partisan.” In addition, Cheney will function as the White House “mole” on the committee, alerting White House officials as to the thrust and direction of the investigation and allowing them time to prepare accordingly. Michel salts the House committee with right-wing ideologues, including Henry Hyde (R-IL) and Bill McCollum (R-FL). Few of Michel’s House committee members have any intention of pursuing the facts behind Iran-Contra; instead, they are bent on undermining the Democrats on the committee and ensuring that the committee achieves few, if any, of its goals.
Loss of Leverage - From the outset, Wright and Byrd’s opposition to any consideration of presidential impeachment, no matter what evidence is unearthed, loses them their biggest advantage in the proceedings. Not only will committee Republicans feel more confident in pulling the investigation away from sensitive and potentially embarrassing matters, the committee will ignore important evidence of Reagan’s own involvement in the Iran-Contra decision-making process, including recordings of telephone conversations showing Reagan discussing financing the Contras with foreign leaders. Hamilton in particular will be an easy mark for the ideologues in the Republican group of committee members; his biggest worry is whether Reagan “would be able to govern” after the investigation, and his relentless bipartisanship makes him easy for the committee Republicans to manipulate and sway. As for the Republicans, even fellow GOP committee member Rudman will become disgusted with their naked partisanship and their refusal to pursue the facts. “It was obvious that Dick Cheney and others were more interested in protecting the president than in finding out what had happened,” Rudman will later recall. Dubose and Bernstein add that Cheney has another agenda as well: preserving the powers of the presidency against Congressional encroachment.
Cheney's Influence - Cheney has always succeeded in lulling his opposition with his unruffled demeanor. He is able to do the same thing on the investigative committee. “We totally misread the guy,” a Democratic staffer later recalls. “We thought he was more philosophical than political.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 68-69]
Entity Tags: Robert C. Byrd, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., Jake Bernstein, Henry Hyde, Daniel Inouye, Contras, Bill McCollum, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lee Hamilton, Ronald Reagan, Robert Michel, Warren Rudman, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Alann Steen and his wife on their honeymoon in 1986. [Source: Evelyn Floret / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]Four teachers at Beirut University College—Americans Alann Steen, Jesse Turner, and Robert Polhill, and Indian-born US resident Mithileshwar Singh—are kidnapped by Hezbollah militants. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
President Reagan testifies before the Tower Commission. His chief of staff, Donald Regan, had previously told the commission that the US had not given its approval for the August 1985 sale of TOW missiles to Iran via Israel (see August 6, 1985 and August 20, 1985), but Reagan shocks both Regan and White House counsel Peter Wallison by admitting that he had indeed approved both the Israeli sale of TOWs to Iran and had agreed to replenish the Israeli stocks. Reagan uses the previous testimony of former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane as a guide. After Reagan’s testimony, Regan attempts to refocus Reagan’s memories of events, going through the chain of events with Reagan and asking questions like, “Were you surprised” when you learned about the TOW sales? Reagan responds, “Yes, I guess I was surprised.” Regan hammers the point home: “That’s what I remember. I remember you being angry and saying something like, ‘Well, what’s done is done.’” Reagan turns to Wallison and says, “You know, I think he’s right.” [Cannon, 1991, pp. 630-631]
President Reagan testifies for a second time to the Tower Commission (see January 26, 1987). His testimony is incoherent and confused; some observers outside the White House begin speculating that Reagan suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia. Commission investigators note that while the Meese investigation claimed Reagan did not know of the August 1985 shipment of missiles to Iran (see August 20, 1985 and November 21-25, 1986), Reagan himself claimed in his previous testimony he did know of the shipments. When asked to clarify the inconsistency, Reagan shocks onlookers by picking up a briefing memo he had been given and reading aloud, “If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.” [PBS, 2000] White House counsel Peter Wallison is stunned. “I was horrified, just horrified,” he later recalls. “I didn’t expect him to go and get the paper. The purpose of it was just to recall to his mind before he goes into the meeting” what he, Wallison, and Chief of Staff Donald Regan had agreed was the proper chain of events—that Reagan had not known of the shipments beforehand, and had been surprised to learn of them. [Cannon, 1991, pp. 631-632]
CIA Director William Casey abruptly resigns due to terminal brain cancer (see December 18, 1986). Casey’s illness makes him unavailable to testify before the Congressional Iran-Contra investigation, a huge boon for committee Republicans who are determined to keep the truth of Iran-Contra from being revealed (see January 6-7, 1987). Casey had been one of the prime movers behind the Iran arms sales, and was National Security Council staffer Oliver North’s prime supervisor in what insiders call “the Enterprise”—the ad hoc organization run by North and retired General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) that trained, supplied, and even at times fought for Nicaragua’s Contras. North and Secord’s organization managed to evade Congressional oversight and ignore laws passed to limit US involvement in the Nicaraguan insurgency (see October 10, 1984). According to upcoming testimony from North, Casey saw “the Enterprise” as such a success that it should serve as a model for other US covert operations around the globe. It was Casey’s idea to have foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia (see July, 1984) and Brunei (see June 11, 1986) supply money to the Contras, over the objections of White House officials such as Secretary of State George Shultz, who told Casey in reference to the phrase “quid pro quo” that he should remember that “every quid had a quo.” As one Democratic congressmen later puts it, Casey was the “godfather” of the entire Iran-Contra operation, and his unavailability to the committee is a tremendous blow to its ability to find the truth. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70]
President Reagan sends a memo to the Tower Commission in an attempt to clarify his previous rambling and incoherent testimony (see January 26, 1987 and February 2, 1987). The memo does not improve matters. It reads in part: “I don’t remember, period.… I’m trying to recall events that happened eighteen months ago, I’m afraid that I let myself be influenced by others’ recollections, not my own.… The only honest answer is to state that try as I might, I cannot recall anything whatsoever about whether I approved an Israeli sale in advance or whether I approved replenishment of Israeli stocks around August of 1985 (see August 20, 1985). My answer therefore and the simple truth is, ‘I don’t remember, period.’” [PBS, 2000]
The FBI’s sketch of the as-yet-unidentified ‘Unabomber.’ [Source: FBI]Gary Wright, the owner of CAAMS Inc., a Salt Lake City, Utah, computer shop, is injured when he attempts to remove a “road hazard” at the rear entrance of his shop. The “hazard” is actually a bomb, similar to one that killed another computer shop owner in Sacramento, California, over a year ago (see December 11, 1985). A secretary saw a man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses leave the bag containing the bomb; she becomes the first eyewitness in what will later become the “Unabomber” investigation (see April 3, 1996). [BBC, 11/12/1987; Washington Post, 1998] The “Unabomber” is improving his skills; this bomb contains a more sophisticated triggering device than earlier constructions. [World of Forensic Science, 1/1/2005] Almost six years ago, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber,” planted another bomb in Salt Lake City (see October 8, 1981). But for now, the FBI has no knowledge of Kaczynski’s identity. It has, however, found what it calls “an absolute link” between the Wright bombing and the “Unabom” serial bombings that have been going on since 1978 (see May 25-26, 1978). Federal bomb expert Ron Wolters says the bombs in the different cases display a high level of similarity. Police describe the as-yet-unidentified bomber as a disgruntled academician or computer worker. [Chicago Sun-Times, 2/24/1987]
The Tower Commission issues its final report about the Iran-Contra affair. Among its conclusions, it finds that President Reagan’s top advisers were responsible for creating the “chaos” that led to the affair. It also finds that Reagan was largely out of touch and unaware of the operations conducted by his National Security Council (NSC) staff, and allowed himself to be misled by his closest advisers (see February 20, 1987). Reagan had failed to “insist upon accountability and performance review,” thus allowing the NSC process to collapse. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; PBS, 2000]
Fawn Hall, who was NSC official Oliver North’s secretary and who helped North destroy critical documents pertaining to the Iran-Contra affair (see November 21-23, 1986), admits lying to the FBI about the removal and destruction of documents. In January, Hall told FBI investigators that she had indeed secretly removed documents from the NSC offices by hiding them in her clothes (see November 25, 1986), but had only taken out computer printouts of North’s notes. Now she admits that she secretly removed some of the original documents that North had ordered her to alter to conceal his criminal activities. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
President Reagan tells a national television audience that he has made mistakes on Iran-Contra, and claims he has had massive memory failures. “A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages,” he says (see February 2, 1987 and February 20, 1987). “My heart and my best intentions tell me that’s true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not. As the Tower Board reported (see February 26, 1987), what began as a strategic opening to Iran deteriorated, in its implementation, into trading arms for hostages. This runs counter to my own beliefs, to administration policy, and to the original strategy we had in mind. There are reasons why it happened, but no excuses. It was a mistake.” Reagan’s sympathetic message resonates with US viewers; his popularity rebounds to over 50 percent in national polls. [White House, 3/4/1987; White House, 3/4/1987; PBS, 2000]
The Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigation begin meetings to discuss the logistics of the upcoming public hearings (see May 5, 1987). Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) later recalls that House committee chairman “Lee Hamilton and I bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans.” Many of the committee Republicans are not predisposed to return the favor. Moderate Republican Warren Rudman (R-NH), the co-chairman of the Senate committee, recalls that deep divides were forming between the committee’s moderate Republicans and the more hardline Republicans led by Dick Cheney (R-WY). “The meetings were very, very intensive,” Rudman will recall. Cheney helps put together the Republican committee members’ staff, and includes a number of hardline Reagan loyalists: the Justice Department’s Bruce Fein; the former assistant general counsel to the CIA, David Addington; and others. Notably, it is during the Iran-Contra hearings where Cheney and Addington form their lasting professional association.
Artificial Deadline - The first battle is over the length of the hearings. Cheney’s hardliners want the hearings over with quickly—“like tomorrow,” one former staffer recalls. Hamilton will recall: “Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that.” Committee Democrats, fearful of extending the proceedings into the 1988 presidential campaign and thusly being perceived as overly partisan, agree to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a final report. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that the deadline is “an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information.” When, in the fall of 1987, the committee receives large amounts of new information, such as White House backup computer files, Cheney’s hardliners will succeed in insisting that the committee adhere to the deadline.
Jousting with the Special Prosecutor - The committee also has trouble co-existing with the special prosecutor’s concurrent investigation (see December 19, 1986). The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, wants a long, intensive investigation culminating in a round of prosecutions. The committee worries that in light of Walsh’s investigation, key witnesses like Oliver North and John Poindexter would refuse to testify before the committee, and instead plead the Fifth Amendment. Rudman and committee counsel Arthur Liman want Walsh to quickly prosecute North for obstruction of justice based on North’s “shredding party” (see November 21-25, 1986). Rudman believes that he can get his Republican colleagues to agree to defer their investigation until after North’s trial. But Walsh declines. Rudman later says: “Walsh might have been more successful if he had followed our suggestion.… But he had this grand scheme of conspiracy.” As such, the committee has a difficult choice: abort the investigation or grant North immunity from prosecution so he can testify. Cheney and his hardliners, and even some Democrats, favor not having North testify in deference to his upcoming prosecution. “People were all over the place on that one,” Rudman will recall. Hamilton is the strongest proponent of immunity for North. “He believed that North had information no one else had,” a staffer will recall. Hamilton and the moderate Republicans are more interested in finding the details of the Iran-Contra affair rather than preparing for criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises, and defers the testimony of North and Poindexter until the end of the investigation. Another committee staffer later recalls, “Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn’t have.”
North Deal 'Dooms' Investigation - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The deal the committee struck with North’s canny lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, doomed Walsh’s investigation and the hearings.” The committee offers North “use immunity,” a guarantee that his testimony cannot be used against him in future prosecutions. The committee also agrees, unwisely, to a series of further caveats: they will not depose North prior to his testimony, his testimony will be strictly limited in duration, the committee will not recall North for further testimony, and he will not have to produce documents to be used in his testimony until just days before his appearance. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70-72, 77]
Entity Tags: Oliver North, Jake Bernstein, David S. Addington, Bruce Fein, Brendan Sullivan, Arthur Liman, James C. (‘Jim’) Wright, Jr., John Poindexter, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Lawrence E. Walsh, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Warren Rudman, Lee Hamilton, Lou Dubose
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
Iran-Contra investigative committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) tells a reporter that former CIA Director William Casey, who recently resigned due to terminal brain cancer (see February 2, 1987), was “one of the best CIA directors the agency had ever had.” Referring to Casey’s inability to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings, Cheney says, “I don’t think it’s fair to criticize the man based on speculation and innuendo (see May 5, 1987), and to do so at a time when he is incapable of defending himself strikes me as in extremely poor taste.” As for Iran-Contra itself, Cheney says, “I think there’s a very real possibility that it’s going to be at best a footnote in the history books.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70]
Osama bin Laden commands his first company-sized attack in the Soviet-Afghan War, but the assault is an abject failure. Bin Laden has planned for the attack for months in advance and assembled a force of 120 fighters, including ones not usually based at his Maasada camp and jihad leader Abdullah Azzam (see Late 1986). The Arabs are to attack an Afghan government base just before darkness under covering artillery fire provided by two Afghan rebel commanders, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Following a quick strike, the Arabs will then withdraw, using the night to hide from Soviet aircraft. However, the logistics are badly handled: ammunition is not supplied to forward positions, the Arabs forget electrical wire to connect rockets to detonators, and they run out of food. In addition, an Afghan government soldier overhears their preparations and opens fire with a machine gun, pinning them down. The Arabs are forced to withdraw without even having begun their attack, suffering three casualties, including one killed. This incident is a serious blow to their pride, and Pakistani authorities even begin shutting down Arab guest houses at the mujaheddin staging centers in Pakistan. [Wright, 2006, pp. 115-116]
Bin Laden in Afghanistan, around 1988. [Source: Getty Images]Soviet forces assault a position held by forces commanded by Osama bin Laden, but are repelled. This is the best-known battle in which bin Laden is involved in Afghanistan, and takes place at Jaji, around bin Laden’s Lion’s Den camp (see Late 1986). The attack may be the result of a small skirmish shortly before in which bin Laden’s Arabs attacked a group of Soviet troops, forcing them to withdraw.
Attack - In the initial assault, the Soviets are repulsed by mortar fire, and the defenders are also successful against the second wave, killing and wounding several enemy soldiers. The Soviets then shell bin Laden’s positions for weeks, but the mujaheddin cannot be dislodged. [Wright, 2006, pp. 115-116] Estimates of the number of troops vary. According to author Steve Coll, there are about 50 Arabs facing 200 Soviet troops, including some from an elite Spetsnaz unit. [Coll, 2004, pp. 162]
Withdrawal - However, bin Laden begins to worry that his men will all be killed if they stay longer. As a result, he forces his men to retreat, although some of them protest and have to be cajoled into doing so. Before pulling out, the camp is destroyed so that the Soviets cannot use it; the canons are pushed into a ravine, the automatic weapons buried, and the pantry grenaded.
Ordered to Return - Bin Laden’s men fall back on a camp run by a leading Afghan commander, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, one of the key mujahidden leaders in the area. However, Sayyaf has come to recognize the Lion’s Den’s strategic value, and is angry they pulled back without his approval. Sayyaf orders the Arabs back and sends about twenty of his own men to make sure they hold their position.
Attacked Again, Victorious - After he returns, bin Laden, who has been ill, is too distraught at the camp’s poor condition and lack of food to give orders, and one of his senior assistants, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, takes over. Bin Laden is sent to guard one of the camp’s flanks, but his small group of men encounters a Soviet advance and comes under heavy mortar fire. Bin Laden will later comment, “It was a terrible battle, which ended up with me half sunk in the ground, firing at anything I could see.” Many accounts will say that at this point bin Laden falls asleep under enemy fire, although, according to author Lawrence Wright, he may actually faint due to low blood pressure. In any event, late in the day al-Banshiri is able to outflank the Soviets and force them to withdraw, securing a great victory for the Arabs.
Significance of Battle - The Lion’s Den is only a small part of a larger engagement mostly fought by the Soviets against Sayyaf’s Afghans, but it is a hugely important propaganda victory for the Arabs. Bin Laden, who is given a Soviet AK-47 by al-Banshiri after the battle, will later comment, “The morale of the mujaheddin soared, not only in our area, but in the whole of Afghanistan.” Wright will later comment that it gives the Arabs “a reputation for courage and recklessness that established their legend, at least among themselves,” and becomes “the foundation of the myth that they defeated the superpower.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 118-120] Coll will add: “Chronicled daily at the time by several Arab journalists who observed the fighting from a mile or two away, the battle of Jaji marked the birth of Osama bin Laden’s public reputation as a warrior among Arab jihadists… After Jaji he began a media campaign designed to publicize the brave fight waged by Arab volunteers who stood their ground against a superpower. In interviews and speeches around Peshawar and back home in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden sought to recruit new fighters to his cause and to chronicle his own role as a military leader.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 163]
Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Public testimony begins in the joint House and Senate investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. General Richard Secord (see November 19, 1985) is the first witness (see May 5, 1987). [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
'Hero's Angle' - The televised hearing area in Room 325 of the Senate Office Building, built to accommodate over two dozen committee members, their staff, witnesses, lawyers, and television reporters and camera operators, features a series of two-tiered stages. Film director Steven Spielberg will later tell Senate counsel Arthur Liman that from a visual viewpoint, the staging is a terrible mistake; the witnesses appear on television “at the hero’s angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committees, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will note with some sardonicism that the committee’s two lawyers could not have been better choices to play television villains. Liman is “a nasal-voiced New York ethnic with ‘spaghetti hair,’” and House counsel John Nields is “a balding lawyer with long locks down to his collar who couldn’t keep his distaste for the witnesses from creeping into his voice.”
Opening Statements; Cheney Blames Congress, Not the White House - The hearings open with the usual long-winded opening statements from the various committee members. Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), the leader of the Republican hardline contingent, makes it clear from the outset where he intends to go in the investigation. “Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurrences in the future,” he says. “In my opinion, this would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead.” He then introduces his counter-argument: Congress’s dithering, not the Reagan administration’s clear violation of the law, is the crux of the problem with the Iran-Contra affair. “One important question to be asked is to what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?” Cheney and his colleagues will argue that because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its decision not to continue that support was an unforgivable breach, “a form of actionable negligence,” in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, that made it necessary for the Reagan administration to establish “a parallel support network as a ‘bridging’ mechanism until Congress could be brought around to a sensible policy.” Oliver North will echo this concept in his own testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), driving committee Vice Chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) to retort: “The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong. And what Ronald Reagan thinks, or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit if the American people say, ‘Enough.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 72-75]
Entity Tags: Richard Secord, John Nields, Jake Bernstein, Contras, Arthur Liman, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Reagan administration, Lou Dubose, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Steven Spielberg, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
In the first day of testimony before the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see May 5, 1987), General Richard Secord (see September 19, 1986) testifies that CIA Director William Casey was one of the driving forces behind the illegal sales of arms to Iran, and the equally illegal diversion of profits from those arms to the Nicaraguan Contras. Secord, the leadoff witness, testifies that in addition to Casey, CIA and State Department officials aided in the efforts to provide the Contras with weapons and funds. Secord says he spoke with Casey about arming the Contras three times. He does not go into detail about what specific information he received from Casey during these conversations, but says the quality and amount of information was disappointing: “I was never able to get the professional intelligence I was accustomed to having.” Secord testifies that under Casey, high-ranking CIA agents in Honduras and Costa Rica gave him intelligence and other assistance. [New York Times, 5/7/1987]
Former CIA Director William Casey (see February 2, 1987) dies as a result of his inoperable brain cancer. Casey was a key figure in the Iran-Contra machinations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “In death he would become a helpful scapegoat for Oliver North and a resting place for missing information that would have filled out the contours of the scandal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70] Casey had been named as one of the architects of the scheme to use profits from illegal arms sales to Iran to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contras (see May 5, 1987). He had been hospitalized since April 25, and unable to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings. The immediate cause of death is what doctors call “aspiration pneumonia,” which may mean that Casey inhaled food or food particles in his lungs that set up a toxic chemical reaction. A physician not involved in Casey’s treatment says that Casey may have had trouble swallowing properly. The hospital in Glen Cove, Long Island refuses to give any more details. Despite the swirling Iran-Contra controversy, President Reagan says of his longtime colleague and friend: “His nation and all those who love freedom honor today the name and memory of Bill Casey. In addition to crediting him with rebuilding America’s intelligence capability, history will note the brilliance of his mind and strategic vision, his passionate commitment to the cause of freedom and his unhesitating willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of that cause and his country.” [New York Times, 5/7/1987]
Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter listens with horrified fascination as Oliver North testifies to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987) about the 1985 apprehension of the Arab terrorists who had hijacked the cruise ship Achille Lauro. North accuses unnamed members of Congress of being untrustworthy by leaking the military details of the hijackers’ capture to the press. Alter is fully aware that North is lying—in fact, North himself leaked the information about the capture to reporters. Alter is sure that North believes he will not be exposed because reporters do not, as a rule, reveal their sources. Though North did not speak to Alter himself about the Achille Lauro capture operation, Alter exposes North as the leaker. Alter will later write: “This didn’t exactly make me Mr. Popularity with my colleagues or with North, who threatened to sue. But I would do it all over again.” [Newsweek, 10/13/2003]
Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee (see July 7-10, 1987). A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony. The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.” The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” [Washington Post, 7/31/1987] Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Entity Tags: Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Andrew Kohut, ABC News, Dan Rather, Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Tom Brokaw, USA Today, Oliver North
Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair
On the last day of Oliver North’s testimony to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee (see July 7-10, 1987), ranking Republican Dick Cheney handles the questioning. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will observe that the questioning is more of “a duet than an interrogation.”
Praise from Cheney to North - Cheney opens by praising North’s handling of the hearings, saying, “I know I speak for a great many people who have been watching the proceedings, because the Congress has been absolutely buried in the favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams” (see July 9-31, 1987). North has taken to stacking piles of supportive telegrams on his witness table; what he and Cheney do not tell those watching the hearings is that Western Union is offering a half-price special on pro-North telegrams sent to the committee.
Obvious Orchestration - Dubose and Bernstein later write that Cheney and North’s session is so perfectly carried out that it seems scripted and rehearsed, “complete with programmed queries and answers not available to everyone else.” Committee co-chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) later says, “It was apparent to me that there was coordination going on.” Bruce Fein, the Republican staff’s chief of research, later admits that there was indeed such collaboration, though he says it was nothing more than “coordinat[ing] strategy.” Cheney and North’s duet paints North as nothing more than a guy who wanted “to cut through red tape” to save Nicaragua from Communism. North takes the opportunity to portray the selfless hero: “Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North… but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don’t hang around Ollie North’s neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world.”
'Turnaround from Defense to Offense [Is] Complete' - Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The two men were now in the zone, a parallel radical-right fantasyland, blissfully ignoring the damage to America’s reputation caused by the administration’s support for the Contras and its willingness to barter weapons for hostages with Iran and Hezbollah.” Cheney and North ignore the World Court’s condemnation of the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Contras’ attacks on civilian targets such as medical centers while refusing to engage the Sandinista forces themselves, which had inflamed outrage in Europe, and the ridicule that Iranian hardliners had subjected US attempts to open negotiations. Cheney’s questioning strategy is so successful that he is able to offer North his remaining time to present a slideshow on why funding the Contras is so important. Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The turnaround from defense to offense was complete.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78, 80]
Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Armitage, who has attended some of Oliver North’s Restricted Interagency Group (RIG) meetings (see Late 1985 and After and July 1986 and After), testifies before the Joint House-Senate Committee investigating Iran-Contra (see May 5, 1987). Armitage is asked about RIG meetings in which North recited a list of his activities in coordinating the Contras, discussed the private funding of the Contras, and demanded item-by-item approval from group members: “[D]o you recall, regardless of what dates, regardless of where it was, regardless of whether it had exactly the players he said—because he could have gotten all that wrong—do you recall any meeting at which he did anything close to what his testimony suggests?” Armitage replies, “I do not.” [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993] It is not until RIG member Alan Fiers, a former CIA official, testifies in 1991 about North’s behaviors that verification of North’s discussion of such specifics about Contra activities and funding will be made public (see July 17, 1991).
Michael Springmann. [Source: Michael Springmann]Michael Springmann, head US consular official in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, later claims that during this period he is “repeatedly ordered… to issue [more than 100] visas to unqualified applicants.” He turns them down, but is repeatedly overruled by superiors. [BBC, 11/6/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/25/2001] In one case, two Pakistanis apply for visas to attend a trade show in the US, but they are unable to name the trade show or city in which it will be held. When Springmann denies them a visa, he gets “an almost immediate call from a CIA case officer, hidden in the commercial section [of the consulate], that I should reverse myself and grant these guys a visa.” Springmann refuses, but the decision is reversed by the chief of the consular section. Springmann realizes that even the ambassador, Walter Cutler, is aware of the situation, which becomes “more brazen and blatant” as time goes on. On one occasion Springmann is even told, “If you want a job in the State Department in future, you will change your mind.” [CBC Radio One, 7/3/2002; Trento, 2005, pp. 344-6] Springmann loudly complains to numerous government offices, but no action is taken. He is fired and his files on these applicants are destroyed. He later learns that recruits from many countries fighting for bin Laden against Russia in Afghanistan were funneled through the Jeddah office to get visas to come to the US, where the recruits would travel to train for the Afghan war. According to Springmann, the Jeddah consulate was run by the CIA and staffed almost entirely by intelligence agents. This visa system may have continued at least through 9/11, and 11 of the 19 9/11 hijackers received their visas through Jeddah (see November 2, 1997-June 20, 2001), possibly as part of this program (see October 9, 2002 and October 21, 2002). [BBC, 11/6/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/25/2001; CBC Radio One, 7/3/2002; Associated Press, 7/17/2002 ; Fox News, 7/18/2002]
Francois Genoud (left) and Ahmad Huber, a.k.a. Albert Huber (right). [Source: Seuil, AIJAC]Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood found the Al Taqwa Bank. This bank will later be accused of being the largest financial supporter of al-Qaeda, Hamas, the GIA in Algeria, and other organizations officially designated by the US as groups that sponsor terrorism. For instance, the Treasury Department will later claim that $60 million in funding for Hamas will pass through Al Taqwa in 1997. The bank is mostly based on both sides of the border between Swizterland and Italy, but important branches are established in Liechtenstein and the Bahamas as offshore tax havens. [US Department of the Treasury, 8/29/2002] Newsweek will explain, “Al Taqwa, which means ‘Fear of God,’ was launched… by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, a secret society devoted to the creation of a worldwide Islamic government. The Brotherhood wanted to create a financial institution in which devout Muslims could invest their money. It would operate under strict Islamic law, which prohibits banks from charging interest. But investigators believe the convoluted structure of Al Taqwa made it easy to use as a money-laundering mechanism.… The [central] operation consisted of four men working at computers in a small apartment in Lugano, Switzerland. Lugano, which sits near the Italian border, is a kind of Alpine Tijuana, well known as a haven for tax evaders and money launderers.” [Newsweek, 3/18/2002] Reportedly, in 1995, Italian investigators will tell a Swiss prosecutor that Al Taqwa and related entities comprise “the most important financial structure of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic terrorist organizations.” [Salon, 3/15/2002] Six members of the bin Laden family are among the original contributors to the Bahamas branch. [Wall Street Journal, 12/17/2001] A number of the bank’s leaders have ties to Nazism or fascism. For instance, when board chairman Youssef Nada was a young man, he allegedly worked with both the armed branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and Nazi Germany military intelligence. Ahmad Huber, a Swiss convert to Islam previously known as Albert Huber, is both a director of the bank and an open neo-Nazi. He proudly displays portraits of Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden next to each other in his house. [Washington Post, 4/29/2002; Asia Times, 11/8/2002] According to a reporter who will interview him in 1995, Huber’s office is adorned with portraits of Hitler, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler, and Islamic militants. [Boston Herald, 11/8/2001] Huber will spend decades attempting to forge links between the neo-Nazi movement and the radical Muslim movement, speaking to and networking with both groups. He will be quoted around 2001 saying that the al-Qaeda leaders he met in January 2001 are “very discreet, well-educated, and very intelligent people.”(see Late January 2001). [Financial Times, 11/8/2001; Playboy, 2/1/2002] The founder of Al Taqwa appears to be Francois Genoud, who will die in 1996. Genoud is a Swiss lawyer who funded the Nazis and served as a Nazi agent during World War II. After the war, he funded the secret Odessa organization, which enabled many notorious Nazi fugitives to escape to safe havens in South America and elsewhere. Authorities believe that Genoud uses Al Taqwa to fund international militants like Carlos the Jackal and bin Laden. He also paid for the legal expenses of ex-Nazis such as Klaus Barbie and Adolf Eichmann. Many Muslim radicals and neo-Nazis share a strong hatred for Jews and the United States. [San Francisco Chronicle, 3/12/2002] Al Taqwa will be shut down shortly after 9/11 for its support of al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other groups officially designated as terrorist organizations (see November 7, 2001).
Ali Mohamed, now an instructor at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see 1986), travels to Afghanistan to train mujaheddin. He tells friends that he plans to join the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and “kill Russians.” He informs supervisor Lt. Col. Steve Neely of his plans, who passes the information up the chain of command. Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, Mohamed’s commanding officer, also reports Mohamed’s suspicious activities to Fort Bragg officials and army intelligence, but gets no response. Mohamed takes one month of leave and goes to Afghanistan. No action is taken to prevent him from doing this. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 143] When he returns, he boasts of his combat exploits to his colleagues. Lt. Col. Anderson writes up a second report and again gets no response. Freelance fighting would be a serious breach of military rules, and the New York Times will later note that, “The capture or death of an American serviceman in Afghanistan would have been a major international embarrassment to the United States.” However, no disciplinary action is taken against him. This leads Anderson to conclude that Mohamed’s activities are sponsored by a US intelligence agency. Anderson will state, “I think you or I would have a better chance of winning [the lottery], than an Egyptian major in the unit that assassinated [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat would have getting a visa, getting to California… getting into the Army and getting assigned to a Special Forces unit. That just doesn’t happen.” He will add that it is equally unthinkable that an ordinary US soldier would go unpunished after fighting in a foreign war. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001] Mohamed is also stealing classified documents from the base; some of them will be discovered by US investigators in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). According to a US army spokesperson, an officer working with Mohammed “did have some suspicions about what he did, but nothing came as a result of it. It really depended on who you believed.” [Associated Press, 12/31/2001]
Robin Cook, British Foreign Secretary from 1997 to 2003, will later say that “al-Qaeda” was originally the name of a database. In a 2005 article, Cook will write that bin Laden was “a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the ‘80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda, literally ‘the database,’ was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujaheddin who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians.” Cook will give no explanation as to how he might know this. [Guardian, 7/8/2005] Al-Qaeda the organization will be founded in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988).
The cover of ‘Hunter.’ [Source: ce399 (.com)]William Pierce, the founder of the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974) and the author of the inflammatory and highly influential white supremacist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978), oversees the creation of a publishing firm for the Alliance, National Vanguard Books. It will publish a number of works, most prominently a reprint of The Turner Diaries and Pierce’s second novel, Hunter, which tells the story of a white assassin who kills minorities, particularly interracial couples. He dedicates Hunter to Joseph Paul Franklin, convicted of the sniper murders of two African-American men (see 1980). Pierce will later tell his biographer that he wrote Hunter as a deliberate motivational tool for assassins, saying, “From the beginning with Hunter, I had this idea of how fiction can work as a teaching tool in mind.” In 2002, the Center for New Community will write, “Like The Turner Diaries, the book has inspired several real-life acts of racist terror” (see January 4, 2002 and After). In 1991, National Vanguard will expand into releasing audiotapes, which by December 1992 will spawn a radio show, American Dissident Voices. In 1993, it will begin publishing comic books targeted at children and teenagers. [Center for New Community, 8/2002 ]
Abdullah Azzam in Afghanistan. [Source: Al Jazeera]The Boston Globe will later say that throughout the 1980s, the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, “was a spiritual leader of the CIA-backed mujaheddin.” [Boston Globe, 6/21/1995] The Atlantic Monthly will later report that in the late 1980s in Peshawar, Pakistan, Abdul-Rahman “became involved with the US and Pakistani intelligence officials who were orchestrating the [Afghan] war. The sixty or so CIA and Special Forces officers based there considered him a ‘valuable asset,’ according to one of them, and overlooked his anti-Western message and incitement to holy war because they wanted him to help unify the mujaheddin groups.” He is unable to unify the groups, but he helps coordinate some of their activities. He tends to favor the two most radically anti-Western factions led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf. He also has close links to Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] According to Barnett Rubin, a Columbia University professor and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Azzam was also working with the CIA to help recruit for and unite the mujaheddin groups (see 1985-1989), and when he is assassinated in 1989, the CIA relies even more heavily on Abdul-Rahman. Rubin claims the CIA pays to send him back to Peshawar “to preach to the Afghans about the necessity of unity to overthrow the Kabul regime.” As a reward for his help, the CIA gives him a visa to the US, even though he is on a terrorism watch list (see July 1990). [New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] One source who worked with the CIA supply operation at this time will later say that Abdul-Rahman’s ties to Hekmatyar, the CIA’s most favored Afghan warlord, “put Sheikh Omar in the [CIA’s] good books. And believe me, later on when the Sheikh wanted to come to the States, he cashed in those chips.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 20]
The Golden Chain list. [Source: Public domain]In March 2002, authorities in Bosnia, Sarajevo, will raid the offices of the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) due to suspected funding of al-Qaeda (see March 2002). The raid will uncover a handwritten list containing the name of twenty wealthy donors sympathetic to al-Qaeda. The list, referred to as “The Golden Chain,” contains both the names of the donors and the names of the recipients (but does not mention amounts given). Seven of the payments are made to Osama bin Laden. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] Most accounts will be vague on what year the Golden Chain document was written; some say 1988. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say it dates from 1989. [US Congress, 10/22/2003] Al-Qaeda is formed in late 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988). The Wall Street Journal will later note, “The list doesn’t show any continuing support for al-Qaeda after the organization began targeting Americans, but a number of the Saudis on it have been under scrutiny by US officials as to whether they have supported terrorism in recent years.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003] The donors named include:
The “Bin Laden brothers.” Their first names are not mentioned. They give money to Osama bin Laden. UPI will later point out that “the discovery of this document in Sarajevo calls into question whether al-Qaeda has received support from one of Osama’s scores of wealthy brothers.”
Adel Batterjee, a wealthy Saudi businessman who is also the founder of both BIF and its predecessor, Lajnatt Al-Birr Al-Islamiah. He appears to be mentioned as a recipient three times. [United Press International, 2/11/2003] The US will declare him as a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004).
Wael Hamza Julaidan, a Saudi millionaire and one of the founders of al-Qaeda. He is listed as a recipient. The US will declare him a terrorist financier in 2002 (see September 6, 2002).
Saleh Kamel, a Saudi billionaire, and the majority shareholder of the Saudi conglomerate Dallah Albaraka. In 2003, Forbes will call him one of the richest people in the world. The list has him giving money to Batterjee.
Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, another Saudi billionaire. The SAAR network, which is named after him, will be raided by the FBI in 2002 (see March 20, 2002). [Emerson, 2006, pp. 400]
Khalid bin Mahfouz, another Saudi billionaire. A lawyer for bin Mahfouz will later say bin Mahfouz did contribute a small amount to fund the mujaheddin in the late 1980s, but only at the behest of the US and Saudi Arabia. [Wall Street Journal, 3/18/2003]
Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, the brother of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), works as the head of the Pakistani branch of the charity Mercy International. A book published in 1999 will allege that this charity, based in the US and Switzerland, was used by the CIA to funnel money to Muslim militants fighting against US enemies in places such as Bosnia and Afghanistan (see 1989 and After). It is not known when Zahid got involved with the charity, but he is heading its Pakistani branch by 1988, when his nephew Ramzi Yousef first goes to Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 120] In the spring of 1993, US investigators raid Zahid’s house while searching for Yousef (see Spring 1993). Documents and pictures are found suggesting close links and even a friendship between Zahid and Osama bin Laden. Photos and other evidence also show close links between Zahid, KSM, and government officials close to Nawaf Sharif, who is prime minister of Pakistan twice in the 1990s. The investigators also discover that Zahid was seen talking to Pakistani President Farooq Ahmad Khan Leghari during a Mercy International ceremony in February 1993. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48-49, 120] But despite the raid, Zahid apparently keeps his job until about February 1995, when Yousef is arrested in Pakistan (see February 7, 1995). Investigators learn Yousef had made a phone call to the Mercy office, and there is an entry in Yousef’s seized telephone directory for a Zahid Shaikh Mohammed. Pakistani investigators raid the Mercy office, but Zahid has already fled. [United Press International, 4/11/1995; Guardian, 9/26/2001; McDermott, 2005, pp. 154, 162] It is unclear what subsequently happens to Zahid. In 1999 it will be reported that he is believed to be in Kuwait, but in 2002 the Kuwaiti government will announce he is a member of al-Qaeda, so presumably he is no longer welcome there. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Mercy International’s Kenya branch will later be implicated in the 1998 US embassy bombing in that country, as will KSM, Zahid’s brother (see Late August 1998).
US support for the mujaheddin slows down to “a trickle” because of concerns about dangers of promoting Islamic fundamentalism. The slack is picked up, however, by wealthy individual donors, many of whom are Saudis. These donors seem to favor the most extreme fundamentalist groups among the mujaheddin. [Yousaf and Adkin, 1992, pp. 91-92]
The notes from al-Qaeda’s formation meeting. The short lines on the right side are the list of attendees. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden conducts two meetings to discuss “the establishment of a new military group,” according to notes that are found later. Notes reveal the group is initially called al-Qaeda al-Askariya, which roughly translates to “the military base.” But the name soon shortens to just al-Qaeda, meaning “the base” or “the foundation.” [Associated Press, 2/19/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134] With the Soviets in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, it is proposed to create the new group to keep military jihad, or holy war, alive after the Soviets are gone. The notes don’t specify what the group will do exactly, but it concludes, “Initial estimate, within six months of al-Qaeda (founding), 314 brothers will be trained and ready.” In fact, al-Qaeda will remain smaller than that for years to come. Fifteen people attend these two initial meetings. [Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134] In addition to bin Laden, other attendees include:
Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
Mohammed Atef, a.k.a. Abu Hafs.
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a.k.a. Abu Hajer.
Wael Hamza Julaidan.
Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen, who is notetaker for the meetings. [Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134]
Al-Fadl will reveal details about the meetings to US investigators in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). Notes to the meeting will be found in Bosnia in early 2002. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] It will take US intelligence years even to realize a group named al-Qaeda exists; the first known incidence of US intelligence being told the name will come in 1993 (see May 1993).
Milton Bearden. [Source: Publicity photo]State Department Special Envoy Ed McWilliams, stationed in Islamabad, sends a widely distributed cable to Washington warning that continued support for the Islamist militants will have disastrous consequences. This leads to a long and bitter debate between those who agree with McWilliams, and those, including CIA Station Chief Milton Bearden, who believe that the manipulation of the Islamists has been a huge success that can and should be continued and replicated elsewhere. In response to the warning, the embassy investigates McWilliams, searching for weaknesses such as alcoholism and homosexuality. [Coll, 2004, pp. 184] Additionally, the CIA “raises serious questions about his handling of classified materials.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 176-204]
CIA covert operations manager Ted Shackley. [Source: nndb(.com)]Following the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, the CIA is apparently worried that an investigation of the attack, which may have been conducted or assisted by Iran or one of its surrogates, will uncover dealings between the US and Iran. Journalists Joe and Susan Trento will comment: “To avoid criticism that the United States was doing business with terrorists should the secret negotiations with Iran [Iran-Contra, etc.] be exposed, the CIA participated in a bizarre campaign to divert blame for terrorist acts from Iran and Iran’s surrogate, Hezbollah, to Libya. If there was a comprehensive investigation into the Pan Am 103 tragedy, everything might be exposed. The major behind-the-scenes player in all this activity was the former number two man in covert operations at the CIA, Theodore G. Shackley.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 67]
Holy Land Foundation logo. [Source: Holy Land Foundation]The Holy Land Foundation charity is established in the US, two years after Hamas was founded in the Middle East. From the very beginning, there are signs that Holy Land is supports illegal violent acts committed by Hamas. For instance, In 1990, Haitham Maghawri will apply for asylum in the US. He will tell the INS that he had been arrested several times in Lebanon, once for placing a car bomb. He will be denied asylum, but will gain permanent residence by marrying a US citizen. He then will become executive director of Holy Land. Additionally, government documents, corporate records, and Arabic-language articles show clear connections between Hamas, Holy Land, and a closely related group, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP). For instance, in the late 1980s, Mousa Abu Marzouk, a known political leader of Hamas living in the US, is the chairman of IAP’s advisory committee and donates hundreds of thousands of dollars to the IAP. The IAP publicly recommends Muslims should donate money to Holy Land to support Hamas in the Palestinian intifada (uprising) against Israel. According to international law, violent acts against Israeli military targets are not illegal, but such acts against civilian targets are, and Hamas freely acknowledges that it does both. As a result, financial support in the US for Hamas is controversial and often done in secret. Hamas will not be officially declared a terrorist group until 1995, and after this all US financing support for Hamas will be done in secret (see January 1995). [Dallas Morning News, 4/8/1996; Associated Press, 12/12/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/16/2001; Dallas Morning News, 12/20/2002]
Four men, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, and Bassam Kanj, meet each other in an Afghanistan training camp. All four of them take part in fighting against the Soviets. This is according to testimony by Elzahabi in 2004 (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). Elzahabi will claim that while there, he met Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, later famous for allegedly attacking US soldiers in Iraq, and al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. This appears to be the genesis of a Boston al-Qaeda sleeper cell that will play vital roles in 9/11 and other al-Qaeda plots. The four men go their separate ways in subsequent years, but by 1998 all of them will be working as taxi drivers in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999). [Boston Globe, 6/27/2004]
Ramzi Yousef. [Source: Associated Press]Al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef is said to be recruited by the CIA, though details are not known. Author Richard Labeviere reported without elaboration in a 1999 book, “A classified FBI file indicates that [Yousef] was recruited by the local branch of the CIA.” [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 220-221] In 1995, Newsday will report, “FBI officials also are considering a probe of whether the CIA had any relationship with Yousef, who fought with the CIA-financed mujaheddin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.” [Newsday, 4/16/1995] But there appears to be no further reporting on whether such a probe was conducted. Yousef is believed to have masterminded a series of bombings in the early 1990s, including the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the planned Bojinka attack, before being captured in 1995 (see February 7, 1995). If Yousef was recruited by the CIA, it may have been in the late 1980s when the CIA recruited and trained thousands of people around the world to fight in Afghanistan (see 1986-1992). In the late 1980s, Yousef was studying engineering at a Wales college, but he’d also joined the Muslim Brotherhood while there. During a break from school in 1988, he went to one of bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan and spent several months honing his bomb-making skills. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 78]
Khalil Deek. [Source: Ali Jarekji / Reuters]In 2007, the New Yorker magazine will note, “American intelligence officials had been investigating [Khalil] Deek and [Abu] Zubaida’s activities since at least the late eighties,” but it will not explain why. Deek is a Palestinian and naturalized US citizen living in California for most of the 1990s who will later reportedly mastermind several al-Qaeda bomb plots. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Abu Zubaida, the nom de guerre of Saudi-born Palestinian Zayn al-Abidin Muhammed Hussein (also spelled Zein al-Abideen Muhammad Hassan) [Washington Post, 4/22/2009] , joins the Palestinian uprising in 1987, when he is only sixteen years old. He then goes to Afghanistan, presumably joins with bin Laden, and fights there before the war ends in 1989. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 95] Between 1988 and 1996, Deek is apparently involved with the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a US-based charity which the US government will later call a “front group” for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The IAP is closely tied to the Holy Land Foundation, established near Dallas, Texas, in 1989 (see 1989), and it appears the foundation was investigated from very early on. Deek is living in Dallas that year. [Orange County Weekly, 5/31/2001] Palestinian militant activity through organizations like the IAP may explain why these two are investigated at this time, and/or the two may have engaged in other activities. Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later claim that the Jordanian government “knew about Deek since the early 1990s. They had a lot of interest in him. They really considered him a major terrorist figure.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] Deek and Zubaida will later work together on a number of operations, for instance using the honey trade to ship drugs and weapons (see May 2000), and masterminding a millennium bomb plot in Jordan. [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
Nabil al-Marabh. [Source: Associated Press]Nabil al-Marabh moves to Boston in 1989 and apparently lives there as a taxi driver for several years. [New York Times, 9/18/2001; Boston Herald, 9/19/2001] In a 2003 interview, al-Marabh will claim that he had a conflict with a fellow Boston taxi driver who falsely accused him of planning to bomb a car. He will say he spoke with FBI agents who concluded the allegations were false. But from this time on, the FBI repeatedly tried to recruit him to become an informant. He will claim he refused the offer (see Late August 2000). [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] In a 2002 statement, he will claim that he traveled to Pakistan in 1992 at the behest of a roommate who “both worked for the FBI and fought in Afghanistan.” (Interestingly, when al-Marabh will be briefly detained in Canada in the summer of 2001, fellow prisoners will claim that he repeatedly says he is in contact with the FBI because they find him “special”(see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001).) Al-Marabh stays at the House of Martyrs, a guest house notoriously connected to bin Laden. He says he meets al-Qaeda operative Raed Hijazi there (though it seems likely they already met in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s).) The two of them will later be roommates in Boston in the late 1990s (see June 1995-Early 1999). Curiously, one newspaper account will claim that Hijazi became an FBI informant around the time he was al-Marabh’s roommate (see Early 1997-Late 1998). [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Al-Marabh and Hijazi go to a training camp in Afghanistan and receive training in rifles, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002; Chicago Sun-Times, 9/5/2002; Associated Press, 6/3/2004] Al-Marabh later claims that he spends the next year or two in Pakistan working for the Muslim World League, an Islamic charity some have suspected of funding radical militants. He also later acknowledges distributing as much as $200,000 a month to various training camps in Afghanistan at this time, but claims it is for charitable causes. He says he decides to return to the US in the wake of a Pakistani crackdown on Arabs following the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002; New York Times, 7/31/2003; Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, visits London and gives several talks there to recruit fighters for the war in Afghanistan. The visits may be paid for by the CIA, which is said to be paying for his travel at this point and is also said to arrange US visas for him (see July 1990). The talks are attended by future extremist leader Abu Hamza al-Masri. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 17-18]
CIA contractor Billy Waugh trains various al-Qaeda operatives around the globe, possibly for more than a decade. In his 2004 autobiography he will write, “I worked right there with these al-Qaeda operatives and heard these arguments [about the badness of US policy] firsthand many times, especially during an assignment in Yemen.” This training must take place between 1989, when he is hired by the CIA, and 2001, when he begins his last assignment for the agency in Afghanistan. The reference to Yemen may indicate that Waugh worked there during the 1994 civil war, when the US supported the religiously-oriented North Yemen against the breakaway south (see May 21-July 7, 1994). The descriptions of the extremists’ arguments and attitudes contained in his autobiography indicate that Waugh, who conducted surveillance against Osama bin laden in Sudan in the early 1990s (see February 1991- July 1992), has intimate knowledge of the extremists. For example, he will write, “I have spoken to some of those terrorists [from al-Qaeda and related organizations], and they consider terror attacks against the general public their only outlet to hurt and destroy the infidels who have wrongfully ousted them from their homes so many years in the past.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 173, 303, 308]
Abu Hamza al-Masri, before he was injured and lost an eye. [Source: CIA]Many veteran mujaheddin who have been wounded in the Soviet-Afghan War receive expensive treatment for their injuries in London. The care is paid for by rich Saudis and provided at clinics in Harley Street, an area well known for the high quality and price of the treatment provided there. Local extremist Abu Hamza al-Masri acts as a translator for the wounded. He will later speak of the deep impression this makes on him, “When you see how happy they are, how anxious just to have a new limb so they can run again and fight again, not thinking of retiring, their main ambition is to get killed in the cause of Allah… you see another dimension in the verses of the Koran.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 18] Some wounded mujaheddin are also treated in Saudi Arabia, where their treatment is paid for by the Islamic Benevolence Committee, a charity and early incarnation of the Benevolence International Foundation. The treatment is provided at a hospital owned by the family of the charity’s founder, Adel Batterjee. The committee will go on to help fighters injured in the Bosnian War (see 1993). [Chicago Tribune, 2/22/2004]
Mercy International USA’s logo. [Source: Mercy International USA]The 1999 book Dollars for Terror will allege that in 1989, Mercy International, a “subsidiary of the Muslim Brotherhood, was able to establish its headquarters in the United States, in the state of Michigan, with the assistance of the CIA. The Agency provided significant logistical and financial support to this ‘humanitarian’ organization, enabling it to act clandestinely in the various Balkan conflicts as well as within the Muslim communities of several Russian republics.” [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 364] Mercy International will later be tied to al-Qaeda in a number of ways. For instance, in the mid-1990s its Pakistan branch will be headed by Zahid Shaikh Mohammed, brother of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1988-Spring 1995). [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Its Kenya branch will be tied to the 1998 US embassy bombing there. Its Philippine branch is tied to Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. [Burr and Collins, 2006, pp. 128, 188-189] Branches of this charity in different countries have slightly different names such as Mercy International-USA and Mercy International Relief Agency, and it has been claimed that the US branch has no connection with the terrorism-related branches. However, a 2003 article will draw links between the US branch and other branches. [National Review, 9/4/2003]
The US government sends 25 high-powered sniper rifles to a group of fighters in Afghanistan that includes bin Laden. The armor-piercing weapons have range-finding equipment and night-vision scopes. In an early 2001 US court trial, Essam al Ridi, a pilot for bin Laden in the early 1990s (see Early 1993), will recall that he helped ship the weapons to Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor. Azzam and bin Laden are close to each other at this time, and al Ridi will later testify he sometimes saw the two of them together. The president of the US company that made the rifles will later state that the rifles “were picked up by US government trucks, shipped to US government bases, and shipped to those Afghan freedom fighters.” The rifles are considered ideal for assassination. [Associated Press, 10/16/2001] The order, worth about $150,000 at the time, is a significant one for the manufacturer, accounting for 15-25% of its annual turnover on the guns. Their export would usually require an end user certificate from the US Department of State, but the circumstances of the sale are unknown, as al Ridi is not asked how he manages to purchase such a large number of rifles. [New York Times, 10/7/2001; Sunday Tribune, 10/15/2001] The CIA will deny being involved in the transfer. [Central Intelligence Agency, 3/7/2002] However, al Ridi will say that the CIA was aware that bin Laden ended up with some of the guns. [New York Times, 6/3/2002] This shipment is especially significant because there was a protracted debate within the Reagan administration about sending sniper rifles to Afghanistan due to worries that it could violate a US law against assassinations and put US officials in legal jeopardy. In the end, the US gave less than 100 of such rifles without night-vision scopes to the government of Pakistan to pass on to mujaheddin, but the ones sent to Azzam had night-vision scopes. The timing is also significant since the Soviet Union agreed to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in 1988 and complete the pull out in February 1989, around when these rifles are sent. The rifles given to Pakistan appear to have arrived before 1987. [Washington Post, 7/20/1992]
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, travels to Afghanistan in 1989 and fights against the pro-Soviet government there. He becomes a radical Islamist and reportedly trains at an al-Qaeda training camp there. He forms a militant group later known as al-Tawhid. In 1993, he returns to Jordan but is quickly arrested for possessing grenades and is sentenced to 15 years in prison. But he gathers many followers inside the prison and is connected to growing Jordanian radical militant networks outside the prison. In May 1999, Abdullah II becomes the new king of Jordan and al-Zarqawi is released from prison as part of a general amnesty. [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] In late 1999, al-Zarqawi is allegedly involved in an unsuccessful attempt to blow up the Radisson SAS Hotel in Amman, Jordan (see November 30, 1999). [Guardian, 10/9/2002; Independent, 2/6/2003; Washington Post, 2/7/2003] By the end of 1999, he returns to Afghanistan and meets bin Laden. However, bin Laden reportedly strongly dislikes him, because al-Zarqawi comes across as too ambitious, abrasive, and overbearing, and has differing ideological views. But another al-Qaeda laeder, Saif al-Adel, sees potential and convinces bin Laden to give a token $5,000 to set up his own training camp near the town of Herat, close to the border with Iran. He begins setting up the camp in early 2000 (see Early 2000-December 2001). [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan. [Source: National Geographic]Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan, in accordance with an agreement signed the previous year (see April 1988). However, Afghan communists retain control of Kabul, the capital, until April 1992. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992] It is estimated that more than a million Afghans (eight per cent of the country’s population) were killed in the Soviet-Afghan War, and hundreds of thousands had been maimed by an unprecedented number of land mines. Almost half of the survivors of the war are refugees. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the counterterrorism “tsar” by 9/11, will later say that the huge amount of US aid provided to Afghanistan drops off drastically as soon as the Soviets withdraw, abandoning the country to civil war and chaos. The new powers in Afghanistan are tribal chiefs, the Pakistani ISI, and the Arab war veterans coalescing into al-Qaeda. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 52-53]
Although the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989), the CIA continues to support the mujaheddin because the Soviet-allied Communist government stays in power in Kabul. Apparently, the CIA and the Saudi government continue to fund the mujaheddin at least until December 1990, although it could be longer because the Communist government remains in power in Kabul until 1992. The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, reportedly has been working with the CIA in the 1980s to help unite the mujaheddin factions fighting each other (see Late 1980s). The Village Voice will later report that according to a “very high-ranking Egyptian official,” Abdul-Rahman continues to work with the CIA after moving to Brooklyn in July 1990 (see July 1990). He “work[s] closely with the CIA, helping to channel a steady flow of money, men, and guns to mujaheddin bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But despite working with the CIA, Abdul-Rahman still considers the US the “Great Satan” and does not try to hide this. In one radio broadcast, he says that “Americans are descendants of apes and pigs who have been feeding from the dining tables of the Zionists, Communism, and colonialism.” Matti Steinberg, an expert on Islamic fundamentalism, says that Abdul-Rahman’s “long-term goal is to weaken US society and to show Arab rulers that the US is not an invulnerable superpower.” The Egyptian official will later complain, “We begged America not to coddle the sheikh.” [Village Voice, 3/30/1993]
Norma McCorvey, better known as “Jane Roe” in the landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade that made abortions legal throughout the US (see January 22, 1973), has her house and car damaged by shotgun fire early in the morning. McCorvey, a pro-choice activist, goes into hiding. Neither pro-choice nor anti-abortion groups take credit for the shooting, but spokespersons from both sides of the debate say the shooting is symbolic of a dangerously intensifying battle over abortion rights. McCorvey publicly acknowledged her identity as the Roe plaintiff last year. [Associated Press, 4/6/1989]
Members of Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, whose spiritual head is the ‘Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, hold a series of secret meetings with US officials at the American embassy in Cairo. The meetings are initiated by Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, which wants to co-operate with the US, because it thinks the US is co-operating with and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. At the meetings, representatives of the group tell the US:
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya has between 150,000 and 200,000 members;
One of the representatives at the meetings sat on Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya’s shura, or leadership council, between 1981 and 1988. The 11 members of the group’s shura are named at the meetings, as is its operational commander;
Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya thinks highly of Saudi Arabian King Fahd, but believes he should take a stronger line against Iran. However, Abdul-Rahman met an Iranian delegation in Pakistan in autumn 1988;
The group will not attack US diplomats;
Abdul-Rahman travels to the US yearly, and also travels to Britain;
The group is not as secret and violent as represented by the Egyptian government and has undergone a “change in thinking,” becoming concerned about its radical and violent image.
Embassy officials are skeptical about some of the claims, as the group’s representatives reveal more than the officials think is prudent. One year after the meetings, Abdul-Rahman will be issued a US visa by a CIA officer and move to the US (see July 1990). [US Embassy in Cairo, 4/25/1989 ; US Embassy in Cairo, 5/3/1989 ]
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal (see February 1989), is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents (see November 21-25, 1986 and March 16, 1988), of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony (see July 7-10, 1987), but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.” US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. [BBC, 7/5/1989; New York Times, 9/17/1991] North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court (see September 17, 1991).
Ali Mohamed, a spy for bin Laden working in the US military, trains Islamic radicals in the New York area. Mohamed is on active duty at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, at the time, but he regularly comes to Brooklyn on the weekends to train radicals at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a charity connected to both bin Laden and the CIA. Lawyer Roger Savis will later say, “He came quite often and became a real presence in that [Al-Kifah] office, which later metastasized into al-Qaeda.… He would bring with him a satchel full of military manuals and documents. It was Ali Mohamed who taught the men how to engage in guerrilla war. He would give courses in how to make bombs, how to use guns, how to make Molotov cocktails.” Mohamed’s gun training exercises take place at five different shooting ranges. One series of shooting range sessions in July 1989 is monitored by the FBI (Mohamed apparently is not at those particular sessions in person) (see July 1989). Mohamed’s trainees include most of the future bombers of the World Trade Center in 1993. [Lance, 2006, pp. 47-49]
Ali Mohamed, a spy for Osama bin Laden working in the US military, trains Muslim radicals. On this date, he travels with El Sayyid Nosair to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, a charity connected to bin Laden and the CIA, and shows training videos from the Fort Bragg military base where US Special Forces train. A former FBI agent will later comment: “You have an al-Qaeda spy who’s now a US citizen, on active duty in the US Army, and he brings along a video paid for by the US government to train Green Beret officers and he’s using it to help train Islamic terrorists so they can turn their guns on us.… By now the Afghan war is over.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 48] Nosair, who watches the videos, will assassinate a Jewish leader in New York one year later (see November 5, 1990).
A Philippine government undercover operative later says that bomber Ramzi Yousef comes to the Philippines at this time to set up a new base for bin Laden. The operative, Edwin Angeles, is posing as a member of the militant group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Angeles will later claim that Yousef approaches him as the “personal envoy” of bin Laden and is looking to set up a new base of operations on the rebellious Muslim island of Mindanao. Bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa is already in the Philippines setting up charity fronts. These early contacts will contribute to the creation of the Abu Sayyaf, an offshoot of the MILF that Angeles will join. [Philippine Daily Inquirer, 7/10/2001] Yousef had been studying electrical engineering in Wales until 1989. He first went to Afghanistan in 1988 to learn bomb making at a bin Laden camp (see Late 1980s). After graduating, he moved to Afghanistan, where his father, two of his brothers, and his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are already fighting with bin Laden. [London Times, 10/18/1997] Yousef will frequently return to the Philippines to train and plot attacks (see December 1991-May 1992).
President George H. W. Bush nominates his former foreign policy adviser, Donald Gregg, to become the US Ambassador to South Korea. Gregg is one of the architects of the Contra funding and supply program (see March 17, 1983). Gregg faces some difficulty in his Senate confirmation hearings stemming from his linchpin role in Iran-Contra, with Senator Alan Cranston (R-WY) telling him: “You told the Iran-Contra committee that you and Bush never discussed the Contras, had no expertise on the issue, no responsibility for it, and the details of Watergate-sized scandal involving NSC staff and the Edwin Wilson gang [a group of ‘rogue’ CIA agents operating in apparent conjunction with Bush] was not vice presidential. Your testimony on that point is demonstrably false. There are at least six memos from Don Gregg to George Bush regarding detailed Contra issues.” But Cranston is the only member of the committee to vote against Gregg’s confirmation. [Spartacus Schoolnet, 12/28/2007]
Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden’s mentor Sheikh Abdullah Azzam is killed by a car bomb in Afghanistan. The killing is never solved. Azzam has no shortage of enemies. Suspects include the Mossad, CIA, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ISI, and bin Laden. The reason bin Laden is suspected is because he and Azzam were increasingly at odds over what approach to take since the Soviet Union had been driven from Afghanistan earlier in the year (see February 15, 1989). [Slate, 4/16/2002; Coll, 2004, pp. 204] In 1998, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh will be arrested and later convicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings. He reportedly will tell US interrogators that bin Laden “personally ordered the killing of Azzam because he suspected his former mentor had ties with the CIA.” However, it is not known if Odeh was just passing on a rumor. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 32] Regardless, in the wake of Azzam’s death, bin Laden takes control of Azzam’s recruiting and support network, Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, and merges it with al-Qaeda, which was formed the year before (see August 11-20, 1988). [Slate, 4/16/2002; Coll, 2004, pp. 204]
Osama bin Laden and Hassan al-Turabi in Sudan in the early 1990s. [Source: PBS]Hassan al-Turabi comes to power in Sudan in 1989, and his beliefs are ideologically compatible with bin Laden’s. With the Afghan war ending and the Afghans beginning to fight amongst themselves, al-Turabi sends a delegation and a letter to bin Laden, inviting him to collaborate and move to Sudan. Bin Laden agrees to the offer, but moves slowly. He sends advance teams to buy businesses and houses. He also visits Sudan himself to establish a relationship with al-Turabi. Gradually, about 1,000 bin Laden supporters move to Sudan. But bin Laden also keeps offices and guest houses in Pakistan, as well as training camps in Afghanistan, including the Darunta, Jihad Wal, Khaldan, Sadeek, Al Farooq, and Khalid ibn Walid camps. US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed plays an important role in the move (see Summer 1991). [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 39-41]
Ali Mohamed, an al-Qaeda operative recently discharged from the US army (see November 1989), becomes an informant for the FBI. He applies to be an translator at FBI offices in Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Francisco, and is turned down. However, the San Francisco office hires him to be an informant to help expose a local document forging conspiracy that possibly involves members of Hamas. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 144] Mohamed will continue to have connections with the FBI for much of the rest of the 1990s while also running an al-Qaeda cell in California.
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