Friday, December 3, 2010

The Siege vs. Real Life Readings


Patriot Raid

By Jason Halperin, AlterNet
Posted on April 29, 2003, Printed on December 3, 2010

A month ago I experienced a very small taste of what hundreds of South Asian immigrants and U.S. citizens of South Asian descent have gone through since 9/11, and what thousands of others have come to fear. I was held, against my will and without warrant or cause, under the USA PATRIOT Act. While I understand the need for some measure of security and precaution in times such as these, the manner in which this detention and interrogation took place raises serious questions about police tactics and the safeguarding of civil liberties in times of war.

That night, March 20th, my roommate Asher and I were on our way to see the Broadway show "Rent." We had an hour to spare before curtain time so we stopped into an Indian restaurant just off of Times Square in the heart of midtown. I have omitted the name of the restaurant so as not to subject the owners to any further harassment or humiliation.

We helped ourselves to the buffet and then sat down to begin eating our dinner. I was just about to tell Asher how I'd eaten there before and how delicious the vegetable curry was, but I never got a chance. All of a sudden, there was a terrible commotion and five NYPD in bulletproof vests stormed down the stairs. They had their guns drawn and were pointing them indiscriminately at the restaurant staff and at us.

"Go to the back, go to the back of the restaurant," they yelled.

I hesitated, lost in my own panic.

"Did you not hear me, go to the back and sit down," they demanded.

I complied and looked around at the other patrons. There were eight men including the waiter, all of South Asian descent and ranging in age from late-teens to senior citizen. One of the policemen pointed his gun point-blank in the face of the waiter and shouted: "Is there anyone else in the restaurant?" The waiter, terrified, gestured to the kitchen.

The police placed their fingers on the triggers of their guns and kicked open the kitchen doors. Shouts emanated from the kitchen and a few seconds later five Hispanic men were made to crawl out on their hands and knees, guns pointed at them.

After patting us all down, the five officers seated us at two tables. As they continued to kick open doors to closets and bathrooms with their fingers glued to their triggers, no less than ten officers in suits emerged from the stairwell. Most of them sat in the back of the restaurant typing on their laptop computers. Two of them walked over to our table and identified themselves as officers of the INS and Homeland Security Department.

I explained that we were just eating dinner and asked why we were being held. We were told by the INS agent that we would be released once they had confirmation that we had no outstanding warrants and our immigration status was OK'd.

In pre-9/11 America, the legality of this would have been questionable. After all, the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."

"You have no right to hold us," Asher insisted.

"Yes, we have every right," responded one of the agents. "You are being held under the Patriot Act following suspicion under an internal Homeland Security investigation."

The USA PATRIOT Act was passed into law on October 26, 2001 in order to facilitate the post 9/11 crackdown on terrorism (the name is actually an acronym: "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act.") Like most Americans, I did not recognize the extent to which this bill foregoes our civil liberties. Among the unprecedented rights it grants to the federal government are the right to wiretap without warrant, and the right to detain without warrant. As I quickly discovered, the right to an attorney has been seemingly fudged as well.

When I asked to speak to a lawyer, the INS official informed me that I do have the right to a lawyer but I would have to be brought down to the station and await security clearance before being granted one. When I asked how long that would take, he replied with a coy smile: "Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe a month."

We insisted that we had every right to leave and were going to do so. One of the policemen walked over with his hand on his gun and taunted: "Go ahead and leave, just go ahead."

We remained seated. Our IDs were taken, and brought to the officers with laptops. I was questioned over the fact that my license was out of state, and asked if I had "something to hide." The police continued to hassle the kitchen workers, demanding licenses and dates of birth. One of the kitchen workers was shaking hysterically and kept providing the day's date, March 20, 2003, over and over.

As I continued to press for legal counsel, a female officer who had been busy typing on her laptop in the front of the restaurant, walked over and put her finger in my face. "We are at war, we are at war and this is for your safety," she exclaimed. As she walked away from the table, she continued to repeat it to herself: "We are at war, we are at war. How can they not understand this?"

I most certainly understand that we are at war. I also understand that the freedoms afforded to all of us in the Constitution were meant specifically for times like these. Our freedoms were carved out during times of strife by people who were facing brutal injustices, and were intended specifically so that this nation would behave differently in such times. If our freedoms crumble exactly when they are needed most, then they were really never freedoms at all.

After an hour and a half the INS agent walked back over and handed Asher and me our licenses. A policeman took us by the arm and escorted us out of the building. Before stepping out to the street, the INS agent apologized. He explained, in a low voice, that they did not think the two of us were in the restaurant. Several of the other patrons, though of South Asian descent, were in fact U.S. citizens. There were four taxi drivers, two students, one newspaper salesman -- unwitting customers, just like Asher and me. I doubt, though, they received any apologies from the INS or the Department of Homeland Security.

Nor have the over 600 people of South Asian descent currently being held without charge by the Federal government. Apparently, this type of treatment is acceptable. One of the taxi drivers, a U.S. citizen, spoke to me during the interrogation. "Please stop talking to them," he urged. "I have been through this before. Please do whatever they say. Please for our sake."

Three days later I phoned the restaurant to discover what happened. The owner was nervous and embarrassed and obviously did not want to talk about it. But I managed to ascertain that the whole thing had been one giant mistake. A mistake. Loaded guns pointed in faces, people made to crawl on their hands and knees, police officers clearly exacerbating a tense situation by kicking in doors, taunting, keeping their fingers on the trigger even after the situation was under control. A mistake. And, according to the ACLU a perfectly legal one, thanks to the PATRIOT Act.

The PATRIOT Act is just the first phase of the erosion of the Fourth Amendment. From the Justice Department has emerged a draft of the Domestic Securities Enhancement Act, also known as PATRIOT II. Among other things, this act would allow the Justice Department to detain anyone, anytime, secretly and indefinitely. It would also make it a crime to reveal the identity or even existence of such a detainee.

Every American citizen, whether they support the current war or not, should be alarmed by the speed and facility with which these changes to our fundamental rights are taking place. And all of those who thought that these laws would never affect them, who thought that the PATRIOT Act only applied to the guilty, should heed this story as a wake-up call. Please learn from my experience. We are all vulnerable so speak out and organize, our Fourth Amendment rights depend upon it.

Jason Halperin lives in New York City and works at Doctors Without Borders/Medicins San Frontieres. If you are moved by this account, he asks that you consider donating to your local ACLU chapter.


Published on Friday, June 27, 2003 by the Inter Press Service
Post-9/11 Immigrant Roundup Backfired - Report
by Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON - Measures take by the U.S. administration against Arab and Muslim immigrants after the Sep. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against New York and the Pentagon have not only failed to protect U.S. security, but may have made it more vulnerable, according to a major report released here Thursday.

The round-up and detention of more than 1,200 immigrants after the attacks were particularly abusive, says the report by the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute (MPI) an influential think tank.

It said that the government's efforts to depict some of those who were detained as terrorists were simply wrong." The only charges brought against them were actually for routine immigration violations or ordinary crimes,'' concludes the 165-page report, ''America's Challenge: Domestic Security, Civil Liberties and National Unity After September 11''.

''Many of the policies that have been adopted in the wake of Sep. 11 are an attempt to use immigration as a proxy for anti-terrorism,'' said Vincent Cannistraro, a former senior counter-terrorism official in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), who is on MPI's board of advisers and helped prepare the report.

''We haven't learned anything about pre-empting terrorism in America, but we have intimidated, antagonized and alienated many (minority) communities (which is) counter-productive to what the FBI and other agencies are trying to do," he added at the report's release.

What breakthroughs have been made in identifying and apprehending terrorists have been the result of traditional police and intelligence work and co-operation and information-sharing with foreign intelligence agencies, not from any of the immigration initiatives taken by the administration, says the report, which also includes the most comprehensive compilation of the individuals detained after 9/11 and their experiences.

''Arresting a large number of non-citizens ... only gives the nation a false sense of security,'' the document added.

The report is likely to be taken seriously. The MPI's advisory board members include the last two commissioners of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS): James Ziglar, who just served in the current administration; and Doris Meissner, INS head under former President Bill Clinton. Meissner co-authored the report.

In addition to Cannistraro, it also includes Mary Jo White, who, as a former U.S. attorney in the southern federal district of New York, gained a reputation as a tough and relentless prosecutor in high-profile terrorism cases.

The report also coincided with news that the Justice Department's inspector general (IG) is investigating possible abuses by federal prison guards in Brooklyn against immigrants detained there.

In a widely noted report released earlier this month, the IG found ''significant problems'' in the way federal officials dealt with the post-Sep. 11 roundups. Dozens of detainees were subject to verbal and physical abuse by guards at the facility, where they were left to languish in ''unduly harsh'' conditions for months, some without access to family members or attorneys, it said.

The MPI report, whose scope is broader than the plight of the detainees, nonetheless ''puts flesh on the bones of the IG's report'', according to David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor who also contributed to the document.

It found, for example, that, unlike the Sep. 11 hijackers, the majority of those detained had significant ties to the United States and roots in their communities here. Of the detainees on which relevant information was available, almost half had lived in this country for at least six years and had close family relationships here.

The report examines the government's post-9/11 immigration measures from three distinct perspectives -- their effectiveness in actually fighting terrorism; their impact on civil liberties; and their effect on America's sense of community as a nation of immigrants. In each case, it concludes that the administration's policies were largely counter-productive.

The key to fighting terrorism, according to the report, is focusing on improved intelligence, information and information sharing; better and more targeted border protection; vigorous intelligence-based law enforcement; and engagement with Arab- and Muslim-American communities.

''We believe it is possible to use immigration measures more effectively to defend against terrorism, while also protecting the fundamental liberties at the core of American identity,'' Meissner said.

The latest raids follow an established pattern in U.S. history, according to the report. During the McCarthy era in the 1950s, Congress enacted strong anti-immigration measures while, during the ''Red Scare'' that followed World War I, the attorney general at the time, A. Mitchell Palmer, ordered thousands of immigrants rounded up and detained without due process.

During national security crises, Washington has often followed ''the course of least resistance'', according to Cole, who noted that immigrants are particularly vulnerable to abuses at such times.

But the greatest harm to U.S. anti-terrorist efforts in this case has been the impact of the administration's harsh measures on Arab- and Muslim-American communities says the report. Programs such as requiring special registration by males from certain countries carried out last year has discouraged co-operation with law-enforcement agencies, in part because they became a vehicle for sweeping up those with minor immigration violations.

At the same time, the alienation and persecution felt by the same communities immediately after Sep. 11 have also had the unintended effect over time of reaffirming their identity as Muslims and Arabs in the United States, according to Muzaffar Chishti, an MPI senior fellow and co-author.

''The experience of Muslim and Arab communities post-Sep. 11 is, in many ways, an impressive story of a community that first felt intimidated, but has since started to assert its place in the American body politic,'' he said.

But Cannistraro stressed that the administration's ham-handed attack on immigrant communities had also taken a heavy toll on its image in the immigrants' homelands overseas.

''If anything, we have painted an image of us as a narrow, biased society that really believes in the Clash of Civilizations,'' he said, singling out Attorney General John Ashcroft as especially responsible. ''It serves us poorly abroad, and it has provided ammunition to some of the fiery imams who encourage young people (to sacrifice) themselves.''


MI6 and CIA 'sent student to Morocco to be tortured'

David Rose

The Observer, Sunday 11 December 2005

An Ethiopian student who lived in London claims that he was brutally tortured with the involvement of British and US intelligence agencies.

Binyam Mohammed, 27, says he spent nearly three years in the CIA's network of 'black sites'. In Morocco he claims he underwent the strappado torture of being hung for hours from his wrists, and scalpel cuts to his chest and penis and that a CIA officer was a regular interrogator.

After his capture in Pakistan, Mohammed says British officials warned him that he would be sent to a country where torture was used. Moroccans also asked him detailed questions about his seven years in London, which his lawyers believe came from British sources.

Western agencies believed that he was part of a plot to buy uranium in Asia, bring it to the US and build a 'dirty bomb' in league with Jose Padilla, a US citizen. Mohammed signed a confession but told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, he had never met Padilla, or anyone in al-Qaeda. Padilla spent almost four years in American custody, accused of the plot. Last month, after allegations of the torture used against Mohammed emerged, the claims against Padilla were dropped. He now faces a civil charge of supporting al-Qaeda financially.

A senior US intelligence official told The Observer that the CIA is now in 'deep crisis' following last week's international political storm over the agency's practice of 'extraordinary rendition' - transporting suspects to countries where they face torture. 'The smarter people in the Directorate of Operations [the CIA's clandestine operational arm] know that one day, if they do this stuff, they are going to face indictment,' he said. 'They are simply refusing to participate in these operations, and if they don't have big mortgage or tuition fees to pay they're thinking about trying to resign altogether.'

Already 22 CIA officers have been charged in absentia in Italy for alleged roles in the rendition of a radical cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, seized - without the knowledge of the Italian government - on a Milan street in February 2003.

The intense pressure on US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last week, coupled with Friday's condemnation of the use of evidence extracted under torture by the House of Lords, has intensified concerns within the CIA. The official said: 'Renditions and torture aren't just wrong, they also expose CIA personnel and diplomats abroad to enormous future risk.'

Mohammed arrived in Britain in 1994. He lived in Wornington Road, North Kensington, and studied at Paddington Green College. For most of this time, said his brother, he rarely went to a mosque. However, in early 2001 he became more religious.

The Observer has obtained fresh details of his case which was first publicised last summer. He went to Pakistan in June 2001 because, he says, he had a drug problem and wanted to kick the habit. He was arrested on 10 April at the airport on his way back to England because of an alleged passport irregularity. Initially interrogated by Pakistani and British officials, he told Stafford Smith: 'The British checked out my story and said they knew I was a nobody. They said they would tell the Americans.'

He was questioned by the FBI and began to hear accusations of terror involvement. He says he also met two MI6 officers. One told him he would be tortured in an Arab country.

The interrogations intensified and he says he was taken to Islamabad; then, in July 2002, on a CIA flight to Morocco. His description of the process matches independent reports. Masked officers wore black. They stripped him, subjected him to a full body search and shackled him to his seat wearing a nappy.

In Morocco he was told he had plotted with Padilla and had dinner in Pakistan with Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the planner of 9/11, and other al-Qaeda chiefs. 'I've never met anyone like these people,' Mohammed told Stafford Smith. 'How could I? I speak no Arabic... I never heard Padilla's name until they told me.'

During almost 18 months of regular beatings in Morocco, Mohammed says he frequently met a blonde woman in her thirties who told him she was Canadian. The US intelligence officer told The Observer this was an 'amateurish' CIA cover. 'The only Americans who historically pretended to be Canadian were backpackers travelling in Europe during the Vietnam war. Apart from the moral issues, what disturbs me is that, as an attempt to create plausible deniability, this is so damn transparent.'

According to Mohammed, he was threatened with electrocution and rape. On one occasion, he was handcuffed when three men entered his cell wearing black masks. 'That day I ceased really knowing I was alive. One stood on each of my shoulders and a third punched me in the stomach. It seemed to go on for hours. I was meant to stand, but I was in so much pain I'd fall to my knees. They'd pull me back up and hit me again. They'd kick me in the thighs as I got up. I could see the hands that were hitting me... like the hands of someone who'd worked as a mechanic or chopped with an axe.'

Later he was confronted with details of his London life - such as the name of his kickboxing teacher - and met a Moroccan calling himself Marwan, who ordered him to be hung by his wrists. 'They hit me in the chest, the stomach, and they knocked my feet from under me. I have a shoulder pain to this day from the wrenching as my arms were almost pulled out of their sockets.'

Another time, he told Stafford Smith: 'They took a scalpel to my right chest. It was only a small cut. Then they cut my left chest. One of them took my penis in his hand and began to make cuts. He did it once, and they stood still for maybe a minute watching. I was in agony, crying, trying desperately to suppress myself, but I was screaming... They must have done this 20 to 30 times in maybe two hours. There was blood all over.'

In September he was taken to Guantanamo Bay where he has been charged with involvement in al-Qaeda plots and faces trial there by military commission. Stafford Smith said: 'I am unaware of any evidence against him other than that extracted under torture.'

The Foreign Office, the Moroccan Embassy and the CIA refused to comment yesterday.


Sources: Hijackers' ex-landlord was FBI informant

From Dana Bash, Kelli Arena and David Ensor

WASHINGTON (CNN) --A former landlord of two of the September 11 hijackers was an FBI informant at the time, knowledgeable sources confirm to CNN.

The two hijackers, Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, lived in San Diego in the fall of 2000 and were taken in by a Muslim man after he met them at a local Islamic center. The landlord had been an informant for the FBI, supplying information about the Islamic terrorist groups Hamas and Hezbollah.

The revelation, first reported by Newsweek, focuses renewed attention on possible mistakes made by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence prior to September 11. Newsweek reported that the FBI informant lived in close quarters with the two future hijackers.

"The FBI concedes that a San Diego case agent appears to have been at least aware that Saudi visitors were renting rooms in the informant's house," Newsweek reported.

Some members of the congressional committee investigating the intelligence failures and the September 11 attacks knew about the relationship between the landlord and the FBI, and the point will probably come up when the panel holds public hearings, expected later this month.

U.S. intelligence officials said that in January of 2000, when Almidhar and Alhazmi attended a meeting of known terrorists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that fact was communicated by the CIA to the FBI. Yet it was not until August 23, 2001, that the CIA warned the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to watch for the two men, and that they might try to enter the United States.

By that time, Almidhar and Alhazmi had been in the U.S. for more than 11 months.

The FBI contends the agency was never told about the two men before August 23 and says it can find no record of any such communication between CIA and FBI to show the information might have been overlooked. The FBI has maintained that position in its dealings with congressional investigators and has asked the CIA to document, if possible, having sent word earlier.

The San Diego landlord, reached by CNN on Monday, has refused comment.

This landlord's history gets even weirder

Plot Warning Is Reviewed By the F.B.I.
BLUMENTHAL, RALPH. New York Times. Oct 29, 1993.

(Italics and bold-face added)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is reviewing the allegations of an informer who said after the World Trade Center explosion that he had warned law-enforcement agents of a plot to build a bomb, and that if they had worked with him, they would have prevented the blast, officials said.

But some officials disputed important parts of the informant's account yesterday, saying that conversations with him took place half a year before the attack on the trade center, and months before the bomb was actually built.

The comments of the informer, Emad A. Salem, are in transcripts of telephone conversations with the police and F.B.I. agents that Mr. Salem secretly recorded. In the transcripts, Mr. Salem is quoted as saying that the bombing could have been foiled but for an F.B.I. supervisor's rejection of a plan to have him work with the plotters building the bomb, then substitute harmless powder for the explosives.

The review of Mr. Salem's allegations that has been undertaken by the F.B.I. is not a formal investigation. The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, which looks into suspected ethical lapses, has not been called in, officials said. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity. Reno Declines to Comment

Asked repeatedly about the allegations at her regular news briefing in Washington yesterday, Attorney General Janet Reno declined comment, citing the trial in Manhattan Federal Court of four men charged with the Feb. 26 blast that killed six. In court at that trial yesterday, defense lawyers sought copies of the informer's transcripts. [ Article, page B4. ]

Spokesmen for the new F.B.I. director, Louis J. Freeh, also said they were barred from making any response about the informer's allegations. But other bureau officials acknowledged that an internal inquiry into the handling of Mr. Salem and his information was under way. They said it did not suggest any wrongdoing.

Representative Charles E. Schumer of Brooklyn, chairman of the subcommittee on crime and criminal justice, wrote Ms. Reno yesterday that the panel would call her and Mr. Freeh to testify at a hearing on the F.B.I.'s handling of the trade center bombing and other counterterrorism issues. Mr. Schumer said he would wait until after the trial to convene that hearing.

Senator Alfonse M. D'Amato, who was himself a target of a terrorist assassination plot, according to Government charges in the related bombing case, said yesterday that he was confident that Mr. Freeh would conduct an inquiry into the matter. "No one has to ask him," he said.

The Salem tapes emerged as a volatile issue this week when the Government, under the Federal court's rules of evidence, turned over 903 pages of transcripts from 45 tape cassettes to defense lawyers representing 15 defendants charged with plotting to blow up city landmarks in the second bombing case. Transcripts of another 25 tapes have been withheld for "security and other issues," prosecutors said.

The transcripts, which Federal Judge Michael B. Mukasey barred the lawyers from disseminating but which were reviewed by The New York Times and other newspapers, quote Mr. Salem complaining to F.B.I. agents that "I told you the World Trade Center," among other planned targets, "but nobody listened." Foiled His Chance

One unnamed F.B.I. supervisor in particular, Mr. Salem says, forced him into the role of witness and thus foiled his chance to remain under cover and be "building the bomb with a phony powder and grabbing the people who was involved in it."

But the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity disputed Mr. Salem's account yesterday. For one thing, they said, although he had begun working for the F.B.I. in late 1991, he and the bureau had angrily parted ways in the middle of 1992 and did not resume contact until after the bombing the following February.

Contrary to Mr. Salem's repeated tape-recorded protestations after the bombing, they said, he had not warned them that the trade center was to be attacked; nor, they said, could he have done that by the time his relationship to the bureau was interrupted, half a year before the attack. Link to Suspects

It took the tracing of a vehicle part found in the wreckage six days after the explosion to link the bombing to the suspects whom Mr. Salem had earlier cultivated, the officials said.

The sequence of events was confirmed yesterday by Mr. Salem's former wife, Barbara Rodgers, who said he had not been in touch with the F.B.I. for many months before the bombing.

Ms. Rodgers also said that to gain favor with the F.B.I. early on, Mr. Salem gave agents videotapes from Egypt showing supporters of Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and other Muslim extremists. The sheik is at the heart of the second bombing trial.

One law-enforcement official said yesterday that there was dismay in the F.B.I. over how Mr. Salem caught agents' ready affirmations on tape to his complaints that the bureau had mishandled the trade center bombing. "We all wish they wouldn't have said, 'yeah, yeah,' said the official ruefully. Officials have said the agents may have been trying simply to mollify their often combative and flighty informant.

Officials declined to identify the supervisor Mr. Salem complains about as being responsible for not following through on a plan that would have thwarted the blast, and said no one was facing discipline as a result of the allegations. Basis for Dispute

They said that dispute with the informer was based on the supervisor's proper insistence that Mr. Salem, whose information had not always proved reliable, wear a hidden body recorder to gather evidence so he could take the witness stand in a trial.

Although out of touch with the F.B.I. for half a year before the bombing, Mr. Salem continued to circulate in Muslim militant circles and thus may have picked up information about the pending attack, officials said. But, they said, he did not turn it over until after the bombing, when he re-established his relationship with the F.B.I.


U.S. supported al-Qaeda cells during Balkan Wars
Isabel Vincent. National Post. Mar 15, 2002.

Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorist network has been active in the Balkans for years, most recently helping Kosovo rebels battle for independence from Serbia with the financial and military backing of the United States and NATO.

The claim that al-Qaeda played a role in the Balkan wars of the 1990s came from an alleged FBI document former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic presented in his defence before the Hague tribunal last week. Mr. Milosevic faces 66 counts of war crimes and genocide.

Although Hague prosecutors have challenged the veracity of the document, which Mr. Milosevic identified as a Congressional statement from the FBI dated last December, Balkan experts say the presence of al-Qaeda militants in Kosovo and Bosnia is well documented.

Today, al-Qaeda members are helping the National Liberation Army, a rebel group in Macedonia, fight the Skopje government in a bid for independence, military analysts say. Last week, Michael Steiner, the United Nations administrator in Kosovo, warned of "importing the Afghan danger to Europe" because several cells trained and financed by al-Qaeda remain in the region.

"Many members of the Kosovo Liberation Army were sent for training in terrorist camps in Afghanistan," said James Bissett, former Canadian ambassador to Yugoslavia and an expert on the Balkans. "Milosevic is right. There is no question of their participation in conflicts in the Balkans. It is very well documented."

The arrival in the Balkans of the so-called Afghan Arabs, who are from various Middle Eastern states and linked to al-Qaeda, began in 1992 soon after the war in Bosnia. According to Lenard Cohen, professor of political science at Simon Fraser University, mujahedeen fighters who travelled to Afghanistan to resist the Soviet occupation in the 1980s later "migrated to Bosnia hoping to assist their Islamic brethren in a struggle against Serbian [and for a time] Croatian forces."

The Bosnian Muslims welcomed their assistance. After the Bosnian war, "hundreds of Bosnian passports were provided to the mujahedeen by the Muslim-controlled government in Sarajevo," said Prof. Cohen in a recent article titled Bin Laden and the war in the Balkans. Many al-Qaeda members decided to stay in the region after marrying local Muslim women, he said.

They also set up secret terrorist training camps in Bosnia -- activities financed by the sale of opium produced in Afghanistan and secretly shipped through Turkey and Kosovo into central Europe.

In the years immediately before the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, the al-Qaeda militants moved into Kosovo, the southern province of Serbia, to help ethnic Albanian extremists of the KLA mount their terrorist campaign against Serb targets in the region.

The mujahedeen "were financed by Saudi and United Arab Emirates money," said one Western military official, asking anonymity. "They were mercenaries who were not running the show in Kosovo, but were used by the KLA to do their dirty work."

The United States, which had originally trained the Afghan Arabs during the war in Afghanistan, supported them in Bosnia and then in Kosovo. When NATO forces launched their military campaign against Yugoslavia three years ago to unseat Mr. Milosevic, they entered the Kosovo conflict on the side of the KLA, which had already received "substantial" military and financial support from bin Laden's network, analysts say.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes on the United States, NATO began to worry about the presence in the Balkans of the Islamist terrorist cells it had supported throughout the 1990s.


CIA Wanted Visas for bin Laden's Crew

Transcript of CBC (Canada) Interview with Michael Springman, Former State Department Official In The US Visa Bureau, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Interview Date 3 July 2002

Springman: Well it began in Jeddah when I was repeatedly told to issue visas to unqualified applicants. This went on for quite some time, during most of my tour there.

CBC: When you say unqualified applicants, what kind of qualifications didn't they have?

Springman: Under the American immigration laws, you need to demonstrate that you are going to the United States for a specific purpose, and typically in such a situation you are going to sign a business deal, or you're going to go as a tourist to see the Grand Canyon, or you're going as a student to study a particular course of study. And these were people that had no job; in one instance he was a Sudanese, who was unemployed in Saudi Arabia, and a refugee from the Sudan. But he got a visa for National Security purposes, after it was taken out of my hands by the chief of the consular section. The King's barber's secretary apparently got a visa. There were other people in similar situations that really demonstrated no clear idea of what they were going to do.

CBC: All right, King's barber's aside, to be the Devil's advocate your superior from time to time overruled your findings. Why is that unusual?

Springman: Well it's unusual because in State department practice, you are supposed to have new concrete and substantive information that was not available to the fellow who adjudicated the visa at the beginning. And this was never done.

CBC: So what do you think you were dealing with here; it all sounds a bit like a case of visa fraud perhaps, but why to you think there was anything more than that?

Springman: Well initially I thought that is what it was. There was visa fraud. I had been told by one contact that the price for a visa at the American consulate was the equivalent of $2500 US. But once I got back to the United States, and was out of the foreign service, I ran across a couple of people with ties to the American government, that told me another story; that the CIA was recruiting fighters for the Afghan war against the then Soviets, and that their asset, Osama bin Laden was working with them. They had a recruiting office in Jeddah, they had a recruiting office in Riyadh, and third one somewhere in the Eastern province. And they would send these people to Jeddah, the fifth largest visa issuing post in the Middle East, for visas. They would apparently run these people straight over from their recruiting office over to my visa window. Well obviously, when they were not good solid businessmen, or good upstanding upper class people I would refuse them.

CBC: How many would you estimate that got into the United States that shouldn't have through this back door?

Springman: Well, in my case I would say as many as 100.

CBC: And when you questioned them, what would they say were their reasons for expecting to get a visa with such slight credentials?

Springman: There was one instance of two Pakistanis who came to me, and they wanted to got to an American auto parts trade show. They couldn't name the show, and they couldn't name the city in which it was going to be held. And then the case officer came over and called me on the phone, and said, "Give them a visa". I said "No, it doesn't wash". "Well, we need it, I'm sorry." Then he went to the head of the consular section and got me overruled, and they got their visas. But when I complained to the powers in the consulate, and the people in Riyadh, I was told to keep quiet, that there was reasons for doing this, that it wasn't a case of my poor judgment, it was this and it was that. This simply fueled my suspicions that something untoward was going on.

CBC: Was there ever any pattern to these applicants that you could see? To their situations, their skills, their nationalities?

Springman: They seemed to basically people with no real skills. Their nationalities for the most part were Pakistani, Palestinian, Syrian, Lebanese. They were young, in their 20s and their 30s say, and they seemed to have no ties to any place in particular.

CBC: Where did Afghanistan seem to fit into this whole pattern? Because it seems they were going to the US to collect or be rewarded for some past deed, or to be trained for another. Where did Afghanistan fit in?

Springman: Afghanistan was the end user of their facilities. My sources told me that they were coming to the United States for training as terrorists, and they would be sent back to Afghanistan. But then the countries that had originally had supplied them certainly didn't want them back. These were people that had been given skills in overthrowing governments, destroying armored columns and things like this, and the various governments in the region frankly didn't want them back, because they thought they might apply these skills at home.

CBC: So if your theory is true, you can demonstrate a relationship between the CIA and Osama bin Laden dating back as far as 1987.

Springman: That's right. And as you recall, they believe that this fellow Sheikh Abdel Rahman over in New York that was tied to the first Trade Center bombing, had gotten his visa from a CIA case officer in the Sudan. And that 15 or so of the people who came from Saudi Arabia to participate in the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon had gotten their visas through the American consular general at Jeddah.

CBC: Well what does that suggest? That this pipeline was never rolled up, that it is still operating?

Springman: Exactly. I had thought it had been, because I had raised sufficient hell that I thought they had done it. I had complained to the embassy in Riyadh, I had complained to the diplomatic security in Washington, I had complained to the General Accounting Office, I had complained to the State Department Inspector General's office, and I had complained to the Bureau of Consular Affairs at the State Department. Apparently the reverberations from this where heard all over the State Department.

CBC: And if what you say may be true, many of the terrorists who allegedly flew those planes into those targets got their US visas through the CIA and your US consulate in Jeddah. That suggests an relationship ongoing as recently as September [2001]. What was the CIA presumably recruiting these people for, as recently as September 11th?

Springman: That I don't know. That's one of the things that I tried to find out through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests starting 10 years ago. And at the time, the State Department and the CIA stonewalled my requests; they are still doing so.

CBC: If the CIA had a relationship with the people responsible for September 11, are you suggesting that they are in some way complicit?

Springman: Even through omission or failure to act.

CBC: Do you have any evidence, any paperwork from all of these years that might go towards supporting all of this?

Springman: Regrettably not. I had something at some point. My predecessor in Jeddah had begun a file of people with peculiar attributes who got had got visas. I kept it up, I added to it. I learned later on after I had left, that this file had been mysteriously been shredded.

CBC: But you complained, and you complained and you complained, but what eventually happened to you?

Springman: My appointment in the State Department was terminated, and I was never given a coherent statement why.

CBC: You will above all will appreciate that conspiracy theories are a dime a dozen these days with regard to September 11th, what makes yours different or any more credible than the others?

Springman: I have floated around the international affairs community for the past 20 years. I was in the middle of this in Jeddah; I knew people in the foreign service, I knew people out of it, I knew people in the CIA. I had at one time great respect for the CIA, but this operation in Jeddah was so peculiar, so strange, and it went against anything I had ever seen or heard in my 20 years in government, that I thought that what these people were telling me about CIA involvement with Osama, and with Afghanistan had to be true because nothing else would fit. By the attempts to cover me up and shut me down, this convinced me more and more that this was not a pipe-dream, this was not a machination, this was not a conspiracy theory.

CBC: But when you take the events of 1987, when visas were being issued to people unqualified for them, and suggest that happened again to the same people responsible for the attacks in New York and Washington: that's a quantum leap. How do you justify that?

Springman: For all I know, and for all we know, this might not have been the intended consequence. It could have been a mistake, it could have been a misjudgment. Or for all that we know, it could have been an effort to get the US directly involved in some fashion. I mean it's only a few thousand dead, and what's this against the greater gain in the Middle East.

CBC: But you're quite sure that Mohammed Atta and others had their visas issued in Jeddah?

Springman: This is what I was told by reading an article in the Los Angeles Times.

CBC: Well, an intriguing tale and we thank you for telling us.

Springman: You're quite welcome.

Audio file of interview can be downloaded at

Additional interview with Springman on BBC Newsnight 6 November 2001

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