Cover-Up or Complicity?
Role of Pakistan’s ISI in the September 11 Attacks
As discussed in Chapter III, the US Administration has consciously used international terrorism in the pursuit of its foreign policy objectives by engaging Pakistan’s ISI as a “go-between”. Ironically, while Pakistan’s ISI has supported and abetted international terrorism (including Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda), the Bush administration, in the wake of September 11, chose to seek the assistance of Pakistan’s ISI in its “campaign against international terrorism”.
Two days after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, it was reported that a delegation led by the head of Pakistan’s ISI, Lt. Gen. Mahmoud Ahmed, was in Washington for high level talks at the State Department.(1)
Most US media conveyed the impression that Islamabad had put together a delegation at Washington’s behest, and that the invitation to the meeting had been transmitted to the Pakistan government “after” the tragic events of September 11.
However this is not what happened.
Pakistan’s chief spy, Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad,”was in the US when the attacks occurred”.(2) According to the New York Times, “he happened to be [in Washington] on a regular visit of consul-tations”.(3) Not a word was mentioned regarding the nature of his “business” in the US in the week prior to the terrorist attacks. According to Newsweek, he was “on a visit to Washington at the time of the attack, and, like most other visitors, is still stuck there”, unable to return home because of the freeze on international airline travel.(4)
General Ahmad had in fact arrived in the US on the 4th of September, a full week before the attacks.5 Bear in mind that the purpose of his meeting at the State Department on the 13th was only made public “after” the September 11 terrorist attacks, when the Bush administration took the decision to formally seek the “cooperation” of Pakistan in its “campaign against international terrorism”.
The press reports confirm that Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad had two meetings with Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, on the 12th and 13th.(6) After September 11, he also met Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the powerful Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate.
Confirmed by several press reports, however, General Ahmad also had “a regular visit of consultations” with US officials during the week prior to September 11-i.e., meetings with his US counterparts at the CIA and the Pentagon.(7)
The nature of these routine “consultations” was not made public. Were they in any way related to the subsequent “post-September 11 consultations” pertaining to Pakistan’s decision to “cooperate with Washington”, which were held behind closed doors at the State Department on September 12 and 13? Was the planning of war being discussed between Pakistani and US officials? One can only speculate based on what happened later in Afghanistan.
“The ISI-Osama-Taliban Axis”
On the 9th of September, the leader of the Northern Alliance, Commander Ahmad Shah Masood, was assassinated. The Northern Alliance had informed the Bush administration that the ISI was allegedly implicated in the assassination. The Northern Alliance had confirmed in an official statement that:
A “Pakistani ISI-Osama-Taliban axis” [was responsible for] plotting the assassination by two Arab suicide bombers….”We believe that this is a triangle between Osama bin Laden, ISI, which is the intelligence section of the Pakistani army, and the Taliban.”
The complicity of the ISI in the “ISI-Osama-Taliban axis” was a matter of public record, confirmed by congressional transcripts and intelligence reports. (See Chapter 3.)
The Bush Administration Cooperates with Pakistan’s Military-Intelligence
The Bush administration consciously took the decision in “the post-September 11 consultations” at the State Department to directly “cooperate” with Pakistan’s ISI, despite its links to Osama bin Laden and the Taliban and its alleged role in the assassination of Commander Massoud, which occurred coincidentally two days before the terrorist attacks.
TEXT BOX 4.1
Schedule of Pakistan’s Chief Spy, Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad, Washington, 4 to 13 September 2001
4 September: Ahmad arrives in the US on an official visit.
4-9 September: He meets his US counterparts including CIA Head, George Tenet.
9 September: Assassination of General Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance. The Official statement by the Northern Alliance points to the involvement of the ISI-Osama-Taliban axis.
11 September: Terrorist attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon.
12-13 September: Meetings between Lt. General Ahmad and Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage. Agreement on Pakistan’s “collaboration” negotiated with the Bush administration.
13 September: Ahmad meets Senator Joseph Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Meanwhile, the Western media-in the face of mounting evidence-remained silent on the insidious role of Pakistan’s ISI. The assassination of Massoud was mentioned, but its political significance in relation to September 11 and the subsequent decision to go to war against Afghanistan was barely touched upon. Without discussion or debate, Pakistan was heralded as a “friend” and an ally of America.
In an utterly twisted piece of logic, the US media concluded in chorus that:
US officials had sought cooperation from Pakistan [precisely] because it is the original backer of the Taliban, the hard-line Islamic leadership of Afghanistan accused by Washington of harboring bin Laden.(9)
“Patterns of Global Terrorism”
Nobody seemed to have noticed the obtrusive and unsubtle falsehoods behind the Administration’s “campaign against international terrorism”, with perhaps the exception of one inquisitive journalist who questioned Colin Powell at the outset of his State department briefing on Thursday September 13th:
[Does] the US see Pakistan as an ally or, as the “Patterns of Global Terrorism” pointed out, “a place where terrorist groups get training.” Or is it a mixture?(10)
Colin Powell’s reply was:
We have provided to the Pakistani government a specific list of things we think would be useful for them to work on with us, and we’ll be discussing that list with the President of Pakistan later this after-noon.(11)
“Patterns of Global Terrorism” referred to by the journalist is a publication of the US State Department.(12) In other words, Colin Powell’s evasive response at the Press Conference is refuted by official US Government documents, which confirm unequivocally that the government of President Pervez Musharraf (including Pakistan’s Military and Intelligence apparatus) has links to international terrorism:
Credible reporting indicates that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with material, fuel, funding, technical assistance, and military advisers. Pakistan has not prevented large numbers of Pakistani nationals from moving into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. Islamabad also failed to take effective steps to curb the activities of certain madrasas, or religious schools, that serve as recruiting grounds for terrorism.(13)
Behind Close Doors at the State Department
The Bush administration sought, therefore, the “cooperation” of those (including Pakistan’s ISI) who were directly supporting and abetting the terrorists. This may seem absurd, but at the same time consistent with Washington’s broader strategic and economic objectives in Central Asia and the Middle East.
The meeting behind closed doors at the State Department on September 13, between Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, and Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad was shrouded in secrecy. It is noteworthy that President Bush was not even involved in these crucial negotiations: “Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage handed over [to ISI chief Mahmoud Ahmad] a list of specific steps Washington wanted Pakistan to take.”(14)
After a telephone conversation between [Secretary of State Colin] Powell and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Pakistan had promised to cooperate.(15)
President George W. Bush confirmed later on September 13, that the Pakistan government had agreed “to cooperate and to participate as we hunt down those people who committed this unbelievable, despicable act on America”.(16)
Pakistan’s Chief Spy on Mission to Afghanistan
On September 13th, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf promised Washington that he would send chief spy Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad to meet the Taliban and negotiate the extradition of Osama bin Laden. This decision was at Washington’s behest, most probably agreed upon during the meeting between Dick Armitage and General Mahmoud at the State Department.
Pakistan’s chief spy returned immediately to prepare for the delivery of a practically impossible ultimatum:
At American urging, Ahmad traveled…to Kandahar, Afghanistan. There he delivered the bluntest of demands. Turn over bin Laden without conditions, he told Taliban leader Mohammad Omar, or face certain war with the United States and its allies.(17)
Mahmoud’s meetings on two separate occasions with the Taliban were reported as a “failure.” Yet this “failure” to extradite Osama was part of Washington’s design, providing a pretext for a military intervention which was already in the pipeline.
If Osama had been extradited, the main justification for waging a war “against international terrorism” would no longer hold. And the evidence suggests that this war had been planned well in advance of September 11 in response to broad strategic and economic objectives.
Meanwhile, senior Pentagon and State Department officials had been rushed to Islamabad to put the finishing touches on America’s war plans. And on Sunday, October 7th, prior to the onslaught of the bombing of major cities in Afghanistan by the US Air Force, Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad was removed from his position as head of the ISI in what was described as a routine “reshuffling”. It was later reported that he had been appointed to the powerful position of Governor of Punjab bordering India’s Western frontier.
The Missing Link
In the days following Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad’s removal, a report published in The Times of India, which went virtually unnoticed by the Western media, revealed the links between Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad and the presumed “ring leader” of the WTC attacks Mohammed Atta. The Times of India report constitutes “the missing link” to understanding who was behind the terrorist attacks of September 11:
While the Pakistani Inter Services Public Relations claimed that former ISI Director-General, Lt.-General Mahmoud Ahmad, sought retirement after being superseded on Monday [8 October], the day the US started bombing Afghanistan, the truth is more shocking. Top sources confirmed here on Tuesday [October 9], that the General lost his job because of the “evidence” India produced to show his links to one of the suicide bombers that wrecked the World Trade Center. The US authorities sought his removal after confirming the fact that $100,000 was wired to WTC hijacker Mohammed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the instance of Gen. Mahmoud. Senior government sources have confirmed that India contributed significantly to establishing the link between the money transfer and the role played by the dismissed ISI chief. While they did not provide details, they said that Indian inputs, including Sheikh’s mobile phone number, helped the FBI in tracing and establishing the link.
A direct link between the ISI and the WTC attack could have enormous repercussions. The US cannot but suspect whether or not there were other senior Pakistani Army commanders who were in the know of things. Evidence of a larger conspiracy could shake US confidence in Pakistan’s ability to participate in the anti-terrorism coalition.
According to FBI files, Mohammed Atta was “the lead hijacker of the first jet airliner to slam into the World Trade Center and, apparently, the lead conspirator”.(19)
The Times of India article was based on an official intelligence report of the Delhi government that had been transmitted through official channels to Washington. Agence France Press (AFP) confirms that:
A highly-placed government source told AFP that the “damning link” between the General and the transfer of funds to Atta was part of evidence which India has officially sent to the US “The evidence we have supplied to the US is of a much wider range and depth than just one piece of paper linking a rogue general to some misplaced act of terrorism,” the source said.(20)
The information in the Indian Intelligence report regarding the money transfer by Pakistan’s ISI is corroborated by the FBI-led investigation in the wake of September 11. While not mentioning the role of Pakistan’s ISI, the FBI nonetheless points to a Pakistan connection and to “the people connected to Osama bin Laden” who are the “money men” behind the terrorists:
As to September 11th, federal authorities have told ABC News they have now tracked more than $100,000 from banks in Pakistan, to two banks in Florida, to accounts held by suspected hijack ring leader Mohammed Atta. As well, this morning, Time Magazine is reporting that some of that money came in the days just before the attack and can be traced directly to people connected to Osama bin Laden. It’s all part of what has been a successful FBI effort so far to close in on the hijackers’high commander, the money men, the planners and the mastermind.(21)
Pakistan’s Military-Intelligence Agency Behind 9/11?
The revelation by the Times of India article (confirmed by the FBI Report) has several implications. The report not only points to the links between ISI Chief General Ahmad (the presumed “Money Man”) and terrorist ringleader Mohammed Atta, but it also indicates that other ISI officials might have had contacts with the terrorists. Moreover, it suggests that the September 11 attacks were not an act of “individual terrorism” organized by a single Al Qaeda cell, but rather they were part of a coordinated military-intelligence operation emanating from Pakistan’s ISI.
The Times of India report also sheds light on the nature of General Ahmad’s “business activities” in the US during the week prior to September 11, raising the distinct possibility of ISI contacts with Mohammed Atta in the US in the week “prior” to the attacks on the WTC, precisely at the time when General Mahmoud and his delegation were on a “regular visit of consultations” with US officials. Remember, Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad arrived in the US on the 4th of September.
Despite the fact that the FBI investigation had uncovered Pakistan’s complicity in the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration was, nevertheless, determined to get the support of the Pakistani government in the “war on terrorism”.
US Approved Appointee
In assessing the alleged links between the terrorists and the ISI, it should be pointed out that Lt. General Mahmoud Ahmad, as head of the ISI, was a “US-approved appointee”. As head of the ISI since 1999, he was in liaison with his US counterparts in the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Pentagon. One should also bear in mind that Pakistan’s ISI remained, throughout the entire post-Cold War era until the present, the launch pad for CIA covert operations in the Caucasus, Central Asia and the Balkans. (See our earlier analysis on this issue.)
In other words, General Mahmoud Ahmad was serving US foreign policy interests. His dismissal on the orders of Washington was not the result of a fundamental political disagreement. Without US support channeled through the Pakistani ISI, the Taliban would not have been able to form a government in 1996. Jane Defense Weekly confirms in this regard that “half of Taliban manpower and equipment originate[d] in Pakistan under the ISI,” which in turn was supported by the US.(22)
Moreover, the assassination of the leader of the Northern Alliance, General Ahmad Shah Masood,-in which the ISI is alleged to have been implicated-was not at all in contradiction with US foreign policy objectives. Since the late 1980s, the US had consistently sought to sidetrack and weaken Masood, who was perceived as a nationalist reformer, by providing support to both to the Taliban and the Hezb-I-Islami group led by Gulbuddin Hektmayar against Masood. Moreover, Masood was supported by Moscow.
After his assassination, which broadly served US interests, the Northern Alliance became fragmented into different factions. Had Masood not been assassinated, he would have become the head of the post-Taliban government formed in the wake of the US bombings of Afghanistan.
Corroborated by Congressional Transcripts
Corroborated by the House of Representatives International Relations Committee, US support funnelled through the ISI to the Taliban and Osama bin Laden has been a consistent policy of the US Administration since the end of the Cold War. According to Rep. Dana Rohrbacher:
…[T]he United States has been part and parcel to supporting the Taliban all along, and still is, let me add…. You have a military government [of President Musharraf] in Pakistan now that is arming the Taliban to the teeth …. Let me note that [US] aid has always gone to Taliban areas…. We have been supporting the Taliban, because all our aid goes to the Taliban areas. And when people from the outside try to put aid into areas not controlled by the Taliban, they are thwarted by our own State Department…. At that same moment, Pakistan initiated a major resupply effort, which eventually saw the defeat, and caused the defeat of almost all of the anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan.(23)
Cover-up and Complicity?
The existence of an “ISI-Osama-Taliban axis” is a matter of public record. The links between the ISI and agencies of the US Government, including the CIA, are also a matter of public record. Pakistan’s ISI has been used by successive US Administrations as a “go-between”. Pakistan’s military-intelligence apparatus constitutes the core institutional support to both Osama’s Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Without this institutional support, there would be no Taliban government in Kabul. In turn, without the unbending support of the US Government, there would be no powerful military-intelligence apparatus in Pakistan.
Senior officials in the State Department were fully cognizant of General Mahmoud Ahmad’s role. In the wake of September 11, the Bush administration consciously sought the “cooperation” of the ISI which had been aiding and abetting Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
The Bush administration’s relations with Pakistan’s ISI-includ-ing its “consultations”with General Mahmoud Ahmad in the week prior to September 11-raise the issue of “cover-up” as well as “complicity”. While Ahmad was talking to US officials at the CIA and the Pentagon, the ISI allegedly was in contact with the September 11 terrorists.
According to the Indian government intelligence report (referred to in the Times of India), the perpetrators of the September 11 attacks had links to Pakistan’s ISI, which in turn has links to agencies of the US Government. What this suggests is that key individuals within the US military-intelligence establishment might have known about the ISI contacts with the September 11 terrorist “ring leader” Mohammed Atta and failed to act.
Whether this amounts to complicity on the part of the Bush administration remains to be firmly established. The least one can expect at this stage is an inquiry. But the Bush administration refuses to investigate these ISI links, as well as the money trail, not to mention the precise circumstances of the September 11 attacks.
What is crystal clear, however, is that this war is not a “campaign against international terrorism”. It is a war of conquest with devastating consequences for the future of humanity. And the American people have been consciously and deliberately deceived by their government.
- The Guardian, London, 15 September 2001
- Reuters, 13 September 2001.
- The New York Times, 13 September 2001.
- Newsweek, 14 September 2001.
- The Daily Telegraph. London, 14 September 2001.
- The New York Times, September 13th, 2001, confirms the meeting on the 12th of September 2001.
- The New York Times, 13 September 2001.
- The Northern Alliance’s statement was released on 14 September 2001, quoted in Reuters, 15 September 2001.
- Reuters, 13 September 2001, emphasis added.
- Journalist’s question to Secretary of State Colin Powell, State Department Briefing, Washington DC, 13 September 2001.
- See http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2000/.
- US State Department, “Patterns of Global Terrorism”, State Department, http://www.state.gov/s/ct/rls/pgtrpt/2000, Washington, DC, 2000.
- Reuters, 13 September 2001.
- Remarks in a telephone conversation with New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York Governor George Pataki and an exchange with reporters, Presidential Papers, 13 September 2001.
- The Washington Post, 23 September 2001.
- The Times of India, Delhi, 9 October 2001.
- The Weekly Standard, Vol. 7, No. 7, October 2001.
- AFP, 10 October 2001.
- Statement of Brian Ross reporting on information conveyed to him by the FBI, ABC News, This Week, September 30, 2001.
- Quoted in the Christian Science Monitor, 3 September 1998.
- US House of Representatives: Statement by Rep. Dana Rohrbacher, Hearing of The House International Relations Committee on “Global Terrorism And South Asia”, Washington, DC, July 12, 2000.