WaPo : Psychologist found accused Sept. 11 plotter to be mentally incompetent in 2009

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Psychologist found accused Sept. 11 plotter to be mentally incompetent in 2009

By Adam Goldman | December 26, 2013

A psychologist who examined one of the defendants on trial at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in connection with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, concluded that the high-value detainee was mentally incompetent, raising questions about his fitness to stand trial, according to individuals familiar with the finding.

For three days in January 2009, Xavier Amador, a professor at Columbia University, interviewed Ramzi Binalshibh, an al-Qaeda operative and protege of alleged Sept. 11 co-conspirator Khalid Sheik Mohammed. He determined that Binalshibh didn’t understand the proceedings against him and suffered from delusions, said one of the individuals who has reviewed the case.

Amador’s assessment, which has not been known publicly until now, comes as the military commission case against Binalshibh, 41, has stalled over questions about his mental health and whether he is fit to stand trial with four other suspected al-Qaeda members, including Mohammed. He was held for years at secret CIA prisons, where he was subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” that human rights advocates have described as torture.

The psychologist’s conclusion could presage a similar finding by a medical review board that was ordered by a judge last week to evaluate Binalshibh. Such a determination could cast into doubt the prosecution of one of the key defendants in the Sept. 11 attacks.

The individuals familiar with Binalshibh’s case spoke on the condition of anonymity because details are being kept under protective order from the court at Guantanamo Bay.

Prosecutors previously told the court that Binalshibh suffered mental health problems and was taking a variety of medications for “schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder,” but the military commission at Guantanamo Bay has never come to a determination about his fitness to stand trial.

Binalshibh is accused of playing a key role in the Sept. 11 conspiracy. According to the 9/11 Commission report, he provided assistance to the hijackers and colluded with ringleader Mohamed Atta, who piloted American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Binalshibh, the report found, sought to participate in the attacks but was unable to get a U.S. visa.

Last week, a military judge ordered a medical board to evaluate Binalshibh after the detainee was repeatedly thrown out of the courtroom during proceedings because of erratic behavior.

Binalshibh has been given a diagnosis of persecutory delusional disorder, but prosecutors said in their most recent court filing that psychiatrists who examined him in the past thought he was fit to stand trial. Prosecutors did not mention Amador’s finding, but court records indicate that he spoke with Binalshibh in 2009 as part of a hearing to determine whether Binalshibh could challenge his detainment in federal court.

Binalshibh refused to cooperate with a 2008 order that he be examined by a medical board. The issue was never resolved because the case was put on hold after President Obama took office in 2009 and halted the tribunals at Guantanamo. Charges against detainees were later refiled.

The issue of Binalshibh’s fitness to stand trial resurfaced after prosecutors requested that doctors examine him. The move was unusual because it is usually defense lawyers who make such a request; in Binalshibh’s case, prosecutors probably need to address the issue to avoid the chance that a conviction could be overturned.

One of Binalshibh’s previous defense lawyers has said the Yemeni’s time in CIA custody appears to have contributed to his mental health problems. People familiar with the case say he was angered when those lawyers raised questions about his sanity, possibly explaining why his current counsel has not.

Binalshibh spent four years in CIA custody, beginning in September 2002. He languished in prolonged isolation in “black sites” in Poland, Morocco and Romania. He could be defiant and petulant, according to former CIA officials.

In the secret prisons, detainees were exposed to interrogation techniques that were “designed to psychologically ‘dislocate’ the detainee, maximizing his feeling of vulnerability and helplessness, and reduce or eliminate his will to resist,” the CIA inspector general’s report on the program said.

By the time Binalshibh landed at Guantanamo Bay in 2006, he was having problems, according to a 2009 unredacted court document obtained by The Washington Post.

A U.S. Navy psychiatrist examined him shortly after he was transferred to the prison and found he had an “Adjustment Disorder with Depressed Mood.” In a follow-up visit with Binalshibh the next month, the doctor reported that the detainee could not sleep “day or night” because of problems he suffered at another facility and that he complained about “noises, odors, and slight vibrations.”

By January 2007, his condition had worsened, and the same doctor submitted a memorandum requesting that Binalshibh be given anti-psychotic medication without his consent.

The memorandum said Binalshibh had a “history of fixed, firm, false beliefs” and “as a result of his delusional beliefs, the detainee becomes irritable, angry, and agitated episodically, which has resulted in two Forced Cell Extractions this month.”

The Navy doctor said Binalshibh had a delusional disorder for which he has “no insight,” meaning he might not have known he was mentally ill.

Binalshibh’s lawyer, James Harrington, said Amador’s 2009 opinion has no bearing on the case today because Amador never testified and his findings were never admitted into the court record.

Amador, a clinical and forensic psychologist, once examined Zacarias Moussaoui, the only person convicted in a U.S. court in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. In 2006, he testified in the Moussaoui case that “of about 30 cases I have worked on, I find people competent in the overwhelming majority of those cases. I have only found people incompetent four times.”

Jury selection in the case of Binalshibh and the other Sept. 11 co-conspirators could begin in January 2015, but it has been delayed repeatedly in the past.

ABC : 9/11 Families 'Ecstatic' They Can Finally Sue Saudi Arabia

Friday, December 20, 2013

9/11 Families 'Ecstatic' They Can Finally Sue Saudi Arabia


Families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks today celebrated a federal court's ruling that allows relatives of people who died in the 9/11 terror attacks to sue Saudi Arabia.

Most of the hijackers who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001 were from Saudi Arabia, and the complaint states that much of the funding for the al-Qaeda terrorists came from Saudi Arabia.

An attempt to Saudi Arabia in 2002 was blocked by a federal court ruling that said the kingdom had sovereign immunity. That ruling was reversed Thursday by a three-judge federal panel.

"I'm ecstatic.... For 12 years we've been fighting to expose the people who financed those bastards," said William Doyle, the father of Joseph Doyle, 25, a Cantor-Fitzgerald employee who was killed in the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

"Christmas has come early to the 9/11 families. We're going to have our day in court," he told ABCNews.com.

The ruling struck down an earlier decision that found Saudi Arabia immune from lawsuits. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it's in the "interests of justice" to allow them to proceed.

Families who lost loved ones in the Sept. 11 attacks and insurers who lost billions of dollars covering damaged businesses have alleged Saudi Arabia bankrolled al-Qaeda, knowing the money would be used for terrorism.

The lawsuit, filed a decade ago by the Philadelphia firm Cozen O'Connor, accuses the Saudi government and members of the royal family of serving on charities that financed al-Qaeda operations.

WaPo : Judge orders sanity hearing for accused Sept. 11 plotter

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Judge orders sanity hearing for accused Sept. 11 plotter

By Adam Goldman | December 19, 2013

A military judge on Thursday halted proceedings against Ramzi Binalshibh, a self-described key operative in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, ordering that he undergo a mental examination and throwing into doubt whether the government will ever be able to prosecute the “high-value” detainee.

More than a decade after the attacks, none of the five accused al-Qaeda plotters in U.S. custody — including the confessed mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed — has been brought to trial, their cases repeatedly stymied by legal problems and political wrangling. The latest delay raises questions about whether the CIA’s handling of Binalshibh while he was in the agency’s secret overseas prisons contributed to his ongoing mental problems.

The judge’s order Thursday followed a series of outbursts by Binalshibh at a pretrial military commission hearing this week at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and is another blow to a proceeding that has stopped and started across two administrations. It now may be many months, if not years, before the defendants are tried.

Prosecutors asked the judge, Army Col. James Pohl, to have Binalshibh, a 41-year-old Yemeni, evaluated after he was repeatedly ejected from court for refusing to quiet down and calling the judge and the commander of the detention facility war criminals.

“Until this is completed, there will be no further open hearings in this case,” Pohl said.

The interruption comes as the Obama administration is reviving its effort to close the Guantanamo Bay prison. Officials have recently moved several detainees abroad, including two this week to Sudan, reducing the population at the controversial facility to 158.

The judge scheduled the next hearing at Guantanamo Bay for February, but defense attorneys said it may take a panel of three doctors much longer to complete the review of Binalshibh. The trial for all five defendants cannot move forward until Binalshibh’s status is resolved. His mental competence has been questioned before, and a review that was ordered in 2008, before President Obama took office and suspended commissions, was never finished.

In 2009, prosecutors told the court that Binalshibh was taking “a variety of psychotropic medications used to treat schizophrenia and/or bipolar disorder, including Haldol, Abilify, risperidone and Ativan.”

A military medical board in 2008 said that Binalshibh might have a “severe mental disease.”

He is held at Camp 7, a high- security and classified section at Guantanamo Bay. According to court records, he has smeared his cell with feces and broken observation cameras at the complex, which is separate from other parts of the prison.

Binalshibh was arrested in Pakistan in 2002 and whisked to a secret CIA prison, where he was subjected to “enhanced interrogation techniques” that human rights advocates have described as torture. He and 13 other high-value detainees were transferred to Guantanamo Bay in September 2006.

Binalshibh wanted to die in the Sept. 11 attacks but did not have the chance, according to the 9/11 Commission report. He repeatedly applied for and was rejected for a U.S. visa and instead became a key liaison between hijacker Mohammed Atta and al-Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan.

Defense lawyers assert that Binalshibh’s health problems began after the CIA captured him in Pakistan in 2002.

“He wasn’t on psychotropic medications or having mental problems prior to his being detained by the CIA,” said Thomas Durkin, Binalshibh’s former attorney. “There was no evidence of any mental issues.”

Between 2002 and 2006, Binalshibh spent time at CIA-controlled facilities in Afghanistan, Poland, Morocco and Romania, according to former agency officials. In Romania, Binalshibh believed that the CIA was tormenting him by intentionally shaking his prefabricated cell, in the basement of a government building near a railway line, officials said.

A former senior CIA official said that Binalshibh was prone to tantrums and threw food but that there was no evidence that he was mentally unstable at the time the agency held him. He complained so often, one official said, that he earned the nickname Beaker, a Muppets character prone to misfortune.

CIA officials say the detainees received excellent medical care while in the custody of the agency after enduring harsh interrogation. However, an attorney for another detainee and alleged co-conspirator, Walid bin Attash, said his client was missing several teeth and had ringworm when he emerged from a secret CIA prison in 2006.

It’s unclear what prompted prosecutors to make the motion for a competency test. Typically, it is the defense lawyers who ask a judge to determine whether their client is fit to stand trial.

Legals experts said prosecutors might be laying the groundwork to sever Binalshibh from the oft-delayed case so it can move forward. But a prosecutor told the judge Thursday that he had no interest in separating Binalshibh from the other defendants.

The renewed attention involving Binalshibh’s treatment by the CIA comes as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence is pushing to make public parts of a report that examines the effectiveness of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

Julie Tate contributed to this report.

NY Daily News : 9/11 families get another shot at suing Saudi Arabia over terror attacks

Thursday, December 19, 2013

9/11 families get another shot at suing Saudi Arabia over terror attacks

Relatives of people killed when hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field can now resume lawsuit against the Arabian kingdom.

By Daniel Beekman / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS | December 19, 2013

Twelve years after Sept. 11, and eight years after a federal judge ruled Saudi Arabia has immunity from prosecution, families of 9/11 victims will get their day in court after all.

The relatives can revive their claims against the kingdom and a charity affiliated with the Saudi government, a federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled Thursday.

“I’m ecstatic, because we have a lot of information and evidence,” William Doyle, whose 25-year-old son, Joseph, was killed in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, told the Daily News.

The ruling overturned a 2005 Manhattan Federal Court judge’s decision that Saudi Arabia was immune from prosecution in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The lawsuit was brought by 9/11 families and insurers that covered losses suffered by building and business owners. The appellate panel pointed to a 2011 decision allowing similar claims against Afghanistan to move forward.

Fifteen of the 19 terrorists were Saudi nationals who flew hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and, when passengers revolted, a Pennsylvania field. Nearly 3,000 innocent people died in the attacks.

The families said Saudi Arabia and the government-affiliated charity knowingly provided Al Qaeda with funds and other support that helped the terrorist group carry out the attacks.

“These people are getting off scot-free. They didn’t even get a slap on the wrist, and to this day we still have terrorism running rampant. We have to hold accountable the people who finance terrorism,” the 66-year-old Doyle, a retired Staten Island stock trader now living in Sumter County, Fla., told The News.

In the appellate ruling, Judge Chester Straub wrote “the interests of justice” meant the claims should be allowed to move ahead.

Manhattan Federal Court Judge George Daniels will handle the case.

Doyle compared the role of Saudi Arabia to that of a mob boss hiring a hit man.

“Not only does the person who pulls the trigger go to jail, so does the person who financed him,” Doyle said. “What’s different about this situation?”

Michael Kellogg, a lawyer for Saudi Arabia, said the kingdom will seek further review of “this erroneous decision.”

The 2005 decision said Saudi Arabia was immune under the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act from the claims, which were first filed in 2002.

“I think we’re finally seeing that light at the end of the tunnel,” Doyle said Thursday. “It's been 12 years that I’ve been fighting this battle. I will not give up this fight.”

Stephen Cozen, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said they are seeking damages that could reach tens of billions of dollars.

“This opinion is eminently correct and will give 9/11 victims their day in court,” Cozen said. “The parties will start over, and we are very, very satisfied that we will meet any defenses, both legal and factual, that are raised.”

With News Wire Services | dbeekman@nydailynews.com

Philly Inquirer : Appeals-court panel reverses itself on Saudi 9/11 lawsuit

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Appeals-court panel reverses itself on Saudi 9/11 lawsuit

Chris Mondics, Inquirer Staff Writer | December 19, 2013

In a significant reversal, a federal appeals panel Thursday restored Saudi Arabia as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging that the desert kingdom financed and provided logistical support to members of al-Qaeda in the years before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, facilitating the terrorist group's emergence as a global threat.

The lawsuit, filed by Center City's Cozen O'Connor, has been wending its way through courts since it was filed in 2003. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan ruled in 2008 that Saudi Arabia could not be sued under U.S. law. But in a highly unusual move, the court effectively acknowledged Thursday that its earlier decision was mistaken.

It restored not only Saudi Arabia, but also a government charity called the Saudi High Commission for Relief of Bosnia and Herzegovina, which plaintiffs attorneys charge provided cash and logistical support to al-Qaeda units in the Balkans during the armed conflicts there in the 1990s.

"I think it is an eminently correct decision," Stephen Cozen of Cozen O'Connor said of the Second Circuit's opinion restoring Saudi Arabia as a defendant. "The kingdom and the Saudi High Commission deserved to be back in the case as defendants, and we are prepared to meet any of their legal and factual arguments with substantial legal and factual arguments of our own."

The decision marked the second advance in the last week for lawyers representing 9/11 victims, their families, and insurers that lost billions covering businesses and properties damaged or destroyed when two hijacked commercial airliners slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City. Scores of people from the Philadelphia region lost their lives in the attacks.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court asked the Obama administration to weigh in on an appeal by Cozen, asking for the reinstatement of another group of defendants - dozens of individuals and financial institutions accused of funneling money to al-Qaeda before the attacks. The request suggests that the court views the matter as having some importance and increases the odds that it may agree to hear the appeal.

Cozen O'Connor and several other law firms sued the government of Saudi Arabia, various Islamist charities, and alleged terrorism financiers in 2003, charging that they provided financial support to al-Qaeda over 10 years before the 9/11 attacks. The firms alleged that Saudi Arabia provided tens of millions of dollars to charities that in turn bankrolled al-Qaeda units in the Balkans, the Philippines, and elsewhere. Senior U.S. government officials warned Saudis before the 9/11 attacks that government-funded charities were bankrolling terrorist units, but, they said, the Saudis failed to react.

A federal district judge in Manhattan dismissed the Saudi government and members of the royal family as defendants in 2005, saying the government was within its right to finance the charities and was not responsible for what the charities might have done with the money.

That was upheld in 2008 by the Second Circuit. But the court said Thursday that it had decided to reverse its decisions because it had allowed a related lawsuit to go forward on the same grounds cited in the suit against the Saudis.

"It means that the Second Circuit realized that it had made a mistake and did what courts are expected to do, which is fix it," said Jerry S. Goldman, a Philadelphia lawyer with the firm Anderson Kill, who represents the estate of John O'Neill, a former head of counterintelligence at the FBI.

O'Neill, who was raised in Atlantic City, sounded some of the earliest warnings about Osama bin Laden. He was killed in the attacks on the World Trade Center, where he had gone to work as head of security after leaving the FBI only a few weeks earlier.

The case has had significant political impact, and has affected U.S.-Saudi relations.

Victims of the 9/11 attacks and their relatives have complained bitterly about the U.S. government's failure to turn over more information about its investigations of Saudi support for al-Qaeda and other jihadist organizations.

They are pushing for legislation that would reduce protections afforded by U.S. law to foreign governments against such lawsuits. The Saudis, meanwhile, have complained that lawsuits have disrupted relations between the two governments.

Nebraska Watchdog : Kerrey won’t ‘confirm or deny’ possible top secret 9-11 report

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Kerrey won’t ‘confirm or deny’ possible top secret 9-11 report

By Joe Jordan | December 17, 2013

Don’t bother asking Bob Kerrey about the existence of a top secret portion of the 9-11 Commission’s 2004 report.

“I can’t confirm or deny it,” Kerrey tells Nebraska Watchdog.

Kerrey, a former Nebraska governor and U.S. Senator, was a member of the 10 member commission which, according to its charter, prepared a “full and complete account” of the 2001 terrorist attack.

Congressman Stephen Lynch says a 28 page sealed document not only exists, he’s read it and wants President Obama to declassify it.

“In this case, transparency is the way to go,” Lynch tells CNN.

The Massachusetts Democrat is a key member of the House committee which tracks the flow of funds to terrorist groups.

“I think (releasing) it could help to inform our decisions going forward,” said Lynch.

“Remember, there was a very extensive report, the 9-11 report, hundreds and hundreds of pages. These 28 pages were actually excised from that report. These are not just redactions.”

The New York Post reports the secret information questions the long held claim that al Qaeda acted alone.

“Some information already has leaked from the classified section, which is based on both CIA and FBI documents, and it points back to Saudi Arabia, a presumed ally,” says the Post.

According to Kerrey, Nebraska Watchdog is one of two news operations asking him to comment.

He says he got an “email from Al Jazeera” but has not responded to them.

Contact Joe Jordan at joe@nebraskawatchdog.org

Raw Story : 9/11 suspect ejected by Gitmo judge after mentioning secret CIA prisons

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

9/11 suspect ejected by Gitmo judge after mentioning secret CIA prisons

By Agence France-Presse | December 17, 2013

One of the men suspected of planning the September 11, 2001 attacks was twice ejected from a US military court Tuesday after making outbursts about secret CIA prisons and torture.

Yemeni defendant Ramzi Binalshibh, who is accused of helping the hijackers enter the United States and of financing the airliner attacks that killed nearly 3,000 people, also claimed that the judge hearing the case was biased.

Binalshibh was initially removed from the latest pre-trial hearing at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba after twice being warned by the judge that he was disrupting the proceedings.

The suspect’s departure came shortly after his lawyer suggested that guards were using sleep deprivation tactics at the US military prison’s notoriously tightly-guarded Camp Seven.

“He could not sleep at all last night because of the noise he is exposed to,” said Navy Lieutenant Commander Kevin Bogucki. “He is too tired to pay attention.”

The latest hearing for the alleged 9/11 plotters, who are eventually expected to go on trial in 2015, was screened for reporters at the Fort Meade military base in Maryland, via a closed-circuit feed.

Commander Bogucki said Binalshibh’s cell was continually subjected to banging and knocking sounds — an allegation the US government denies, but which the judge said had not been proven either way.

Having been granted a 15-minute recess to discuss whether Binalshibh understood his right to be present at Tuesday’s hearing, the suspect refused to cooperate with Judge James Pohl.

“I refuse to answer this question as long as the judge is taking a position against me and against my allegations,” said Binalshibh, who purportedly had intended to be one of the hijackers but was refused a US visa on four occasions.

After being warned that it was not his time to speak, the Yemeni suspect, whose alleged crimes include helping the hijackers find flight schools in the United States, cited the words “secret CIA prison” during a muffled speech.

Judge Pohl then told Binalshibh — who the defense insists is not delusional — that he would be removed if he did not stop talking. But the suspect continued and US military guards were instructed to take him to the court’s holding cell.

The courtroom camera cut away while Binalshibh was removed.

The other four suspects, including the self-proclaimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, were also present at Tuesday’s hearing, dressed in traditional white Arab robes and desert-colored combat jackets. Unlike Binalshibh, they acknowledged their right to attend.

Ejected a second time

Following the lunch recess, Binalshibh returned to the courtroom but he again refused the judge’s request and was ejected a second time, amid shouts of “I am not a war criminal”.

“As I told you this morning, I am not going to answer your questions,” Binalshibh had told Judge Pohl seconds earlier, when pressed for a “Yes or No” answer on whether he understood his rights.

“I want to leave. It is not about yes or no. It is torture. Don’t stop me like that,” Binalshibh added, just before he was removed.

The 9/11 tribunal is taking place against a background of a political push to shut down Guantanamo.

President Barack Obama pledged to close the prison when he took office in January 2009 but has so far failed to do so, amid resistance in Congress.

Two Saudi Arabian suspects arrived back in Riyadh on Tuesday, following a US transfer that leaves Guantanamo’s population at 160.

Binalshibh and his co-conspirators are deemed “high-value” detainees by the American military.

Following their detentions, in 2002 and 2003, the five 9/11 suspects spent three years in secret Central Intelligence Agency prisons abroad where they were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, including the simulated drowning technique known as waterboarding, a practice widely considered torture.

Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times, according to US Justice Department memos.

The pre-trial hearing on Tuesday included requests by defense lawyers to introduce evidence that their clients were tortured by their American captors.

Miami Herald : 9/11 case hearing opens with closed session at Guantánamo

Monday, December 16, 2013

9/11 case hearing opens with closed session at Guantánamo

By Carol Rosenberg | crosenberg@MiamiHerald.com | December 16, 2013

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVY BASE, Cuba -- Lawyers in the Sept. 11 conspiracy trial met Monday with the judge in closed session for four hours and postponed until next year consideration of some of the hot-button issues before the Guantánamo war court in favor of a weeklong hearing tackling dry legal issues surrounding the death-penalty case.

Both the public and the five alleged 9/11 plotters will be allowed in court on Tuesday as lawyers argue a particularly military concept arguing the prosecution was the result of a “defective referral.” Defense lawyers say the Pentagon rushed the case to arraignment on May 5, 2012 before the defense teams were adequately resourced, and an attorney-client relationship was secure.

Meantime, lawyers for the men accused of plotting the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were studying a judge’s sealed ruling that appeared to let the five defendants talk about what the CIA did to them in years of secret custody before they got to Guantánamo.

According to the ruling, said attorney James Connell, defense attorneys like himself are forbidden from divulging classified CIA information, but the judge, Army Col. James L. Pohl, said the Sept. 11 defendants’ “thoughts and memories” are their own.

“This ruling is an important step forward in accountability for torture,” said Connell. “The real question is whether the prison will allow the prisoners to communicate with foreign government officials, medical care providers, human rights authorities and media.”

A Pentagon spokesman had no immediate comment on whether the ruling meant, for example, that the alleged mastermind, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, would be able to describe in open court his 183 rounds of waterboarding, who he believed interrogated him or in what country — information that so far had been considered subject to censorship as state secrets.

“The government is contemplating its scope and impact,” said Army Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, who noted that the judge's ruling has yet to be made public.

He cautioned: “There have been cases where counsel have prematurely raced to the press with early interpretations of an order only to find out later that a given point had not been fully contemplated.”

Similarly, the military would not say if Pohl’s ruling had implications for the clandestine world of the prison where former CIA captives are kept here, Camp 7, a site so secret its location is classified. All Camp 7 prisoners’ communications are censored by the military.

Connell, the Pentagon-paid lawyer for Ammar al Baluchi, who accused of helping some of the Sept. 11 hijackers with their travel and finances, spoke after the four-hour closed hearing that excluded the public and the alleged terrorists so lawyers and Pohl could work out what part of this week’s proceedings could be held in public.

One legal motion up for consideration had been a defense request that the judge impose a protective order on any remnants of the CIA’s secret overseas prison network that President Obama ordered shut down. It was in one of those so-called “black sites” that U.S. agents waterboarded Mohammed 183 times in 2003.

Pohl also has listed for discussion a sealed prosecution motion that’s so secret it has no name on the Pentagon’s docket, which boasts “fairness, transparency, justice.” Lawyers already began arguing that secret motion in a short closed hearing this summer.

Civilian and military lawyers for the accused terrorists have been focusing on surfacing information about what the CIA did to the men after their capture in Pakistan in 2002 and 2003. They argue that because the CIA disappeared their clients, questioned them with now forbidden “enhanced interrogation techniques” and denied them access to lawyers the case should go forward as a non-capital trial.

No date has been set for the trial itself, although the chief prosecutor has proposed it start in January 2015.

Prosecutors, who don’t concede that the CIA tortured the accused before they got to Guantánamo in 2006, argue what the CIA did to them would be part of the sentencing phase that decides on whether to execute them if they are convicted.

Defense lawyers say the captives’ detour through the Bush-era Rendition, Detention and Interrogation program implicates even this pretrial phase.

Pohl, who presided at the courts martial of U.S. soldiers who abused captives at Abu Ghraib, stopped the Bush administration from razing the prison in Iraq. Defense lawyers want a similar order on what’s left of the secret CIA prison network, which reportedly included lockups in Thailand, Poland and Afghanistan.

But the White House has never declassified the Bush-era CIA program. That means, for example, that war court rules prohibit the lawyers or accused from disclosing the locations of the secret CIA interrogation sites in open court.

So, under a structure that borrows from both civilian and military practice, the lawyers and judge were to discuss how to make legal arguments that don’t divulge classified information — so that the accused as well as the public can listen in.

Connell said Monday it was unclear whether any more hearings would be closed this week, but if the judge heard arguments or a witness without the public or accused present that would happen on Friday. He did not elaborate.

At this stage, the hearings are tackling what charges, procedures and law will govern the death-penalty tribunal.

Issues include how the lawyers can communicate with the alleged terrorists who are confined to a secret prison at the U.S. Navy base in southeast Cuba and still preserve the attorney-client privilege; whether the judge will order the U.S. government to let defense lawyers question certain witnesses; what kind of resources the defense will get and what substitutions for actual evidence the prosecutors may present at trial.

NY Post : Inside the Saudi 9/11 coverup

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Inside the Saudi 9/11 coverup

By Paul Sperry | December 15, 2013

After the 9/11 attacks, the public was told al Qaeda acted alone, with no state sponsors.

But the White House never let it see an entire section of Congress’ investigative report on 9/11 dealing with “specific sources of foreign support” for the 19 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi nationals.

It was kept secret and remains so today.

President Bush inexplicably censored 28 full pages of the 800-page report. Text isn’t just blacked-out here and there in this critical-yet-missing middle section. The pages are completely blank, except for dotted lines where an estimated 7,200 words once stood (this story by comparison is about 1,000 words).

A pair of lawmakers who recently read the redacted portion say they are “absolutely shocked” at the level of foreign state involvement in the attacks.

Reps. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) can’t reveal the nation identified by it without violating federal law. So they’ve proposed Congress pass a resolution asking President Obama to declassify the entire 2002 report, “Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001.”

Some information already has leaked from the classified section, which is based on both CIA and FBI documents, and it points back to Saudi Arabia, a presumed ally.

The Saudis deny any role in 9/11, but the CIA in one memo reportedly found “incontrovertible evidence” that Saudi government officials — not just wealthy Saudi hardliners, but high-level diplomats and intelligence officers employed by the kingdom — helped the hijackers both financially and logistically. The intelligence files cited in the report directly implicate the Saudi embassy in Washington and consulate in Los Angeles in the attacks, making 9/11 not just an act of terrorism, but an act of war.

The findings, if confirmed, would back up open-source reporting showing the hijackers had, at a minimum, ties to several Saudi officials and agents while they were preparing for their attacks inside the United States. In fact, they got help from Saudi VIPs from coast to coast:

LOS ANGELES: Saudi consulate official Fahad al-Thumairy allegedly arranged for an advance team to receive two of the Saudi hijackers — Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi — as they arrived at LAX in 2000. One of the advance men, Omar al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi intelligence agent, left the LA consulate and met the hijackers at a local restaurant. (Bayoumi left the United States two months before the attacks, while Thumairy was deported back to Saudi Arabia after 9/11.)

SAN DIEGO: Bayoumi and another suspected Saudi agent, Osama Bassnan, set up essentially a forward operating base in San Diego for the hijackers after leaving LA. They were provided rooms, rent and phones, as well as private meetings with an American al Qaeda cleric who would later become notorious, Anwar al-Awlaki, at a Saudi-funded mosque he ran in a nearby suburb. They were also feted at a welcoming party. (Bassnan also fled the United States just before the attacks.)

WASHINGTON: Then-Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar and his wife sent checks totaling some $130,000 to Bassnan while he was handling the hijackers. Though the Bandars claim the checks were “welfare” for Bassnan’s supposedly ill wife, the money nonetheless made its way into the hijackers’ hands.

Other al Qaeda funding was traced back to Bandar and his embassy — so much so that by 2004 Riggs Bank of Washington had dropped the Saudis as a client.

The next year, as a number of embassy employees popped up in terror probes, Riyadh recalled Bandar.

“Our investigations contributed to the ambassador’s departure,” an investigator who worked with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Washington told me, though Bandar says he left for “personal reasons.”

: In 2001, Awlaki and the San Diego hijackers turned up together again — this time at the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center, a Pentagon-area mosque built with funds from the Saudi Embassy. Awlaki was recruited 3,000 miles away to head the mosque. As its imam, Awlaki helped the hijackers, who showed up at his doorstep as if on cue. He tasked a handler to help them acquire apartments and IDs before they attacked the Pentagon.

Awlaki worked closely with the Saudi Embassy. He lectured at a Saudi Islamic think tank in Merrifield, Va., chaired by Bandar. Saudi travel itinerary documents I’ve obtained show he also served as the ­official imam on Saudi Embassy-sponsored trips to Mecca and tours of Saudi holy sites.

Most suspiciously, though, Awlaki fled the United States on a Saudi jet about a year after 9/11.

As I first reported in my book, “Infiltration,” quoting from classified US documents, the Saudi-sponsored cleric was briefly detained at JFK before being released into the custody of a “Saudi representative.” A federal warrant for Awlaki’s arrest had mysteriously been withdrawn the previous day. A US drone killed Awlaki in Yemen in 2011.

HERNDON, VA.: On the eve of the attacks, top Saudi government official Saleh Hussayen checked into the same Marriott Residence Inn near Dulles Airport as three of the Saudi hijackers who targeted the Pentagon. Hussayen had left a nearby hotel to move into the hijackers’ hotel. Did he meet with them? The FBI never found out. They let him go after he “feigned a seizure,” one agent recalled. (Hussayen’s name doesn’t appear in the separate 9/11 Commission Report, which clears the Saudis.)

SARASOTA, FLA.: 9/11 ringleader Mohamed Atta and other hijackers visited a home owned by Esam Ghazzawi, a Saudi adviser to the nephew of King Fahd. FBI agents investigating the connection in 2002 found that visitor logs for the gated community and photos of license tags matched vehicles driven by the hijackers. Just two weeks before the 9/11 attacks, the Saudi luxury home was abandoned. Three cars, including a new Chrysler PT Cruiser, were left in the driveway. Inside, opulent furniture was untouched.

Democrat Bob Graham, the former Florida senator who chaired the Joint Inquiry, has asked the FBI for the Sarasota case files, but can’t get a single, even heavily redacted, page released. He says it’s a “coverup.”

Is the federal government protecting the Saudis? Case agents tell me they were repeatedly called off pursuing 9/11 leads back to the Saudi Embassy, which had curious sway over White House and FBI responses to the attacks.

Just days after Bush met with the Saudi ambassador in the White House, the FBI evacuated from the United States dozens of Saudi officials, as well as Osama bin Laden family members. Bandar made the request for escorts directly to FBI headquarters on Sept. 13, 2001 — just hours after he met with the president. The two old family friends shared cigars on the Truman Balcony while discussing the attacks.

Bill Doyle, who lost his son in the World Trade Center attacks and heads the Coalition of 9/11 Families, calls the suppression of Saudi evidence a “coverup beyond belief.” Last week, he sent out an e-mail to relatives urging them to phone their representatives in Congress to support the resolution and read for themselves the censored 28 pages.

Astonishing as that sounds, few lawmakers in fact have bothered to read the classified section of arguably the most important investigation in US history.

Granted, it’s not easy to do. It took a monthlong letter-writing campaign by Jones and Lynch to convince the House intelligence panel to give them access to the material.

But it’s critical they take the time to read it and pressure the White House to let all Americans read it. This isn’t water under the bridge. The information is still relevant ­today. Pursuing leads further, getting to the bottom of the foreign support, could help head off another 9/11.

As the frustrated Joint Inquiry authors warned, in an overlooked addendum to their heavily redacted 2002 report, “State-sponsored terrorism substantially increases the likelihood of successful and more ­lethal attacks within the United States.”

Their findings must be released, even if they forever change US-Saudi relations. If an oil-rich foreign power was capable of orchestrating simultaneous bulls-eye hits on our centers of commerce and defense a dozen years ago, it may be able to pull off similarly devastating attacks today.

Members of Congress reluctant to read the full report ought to remember that the 9/11 assault missed its fourth target: them.

Paul Sperry is a Hoover Institution media fellow and author of “Infiltration” and “Muslim Mafia.”

Investors Business Daily : Time To Declassify 9/11 Probe's Secret Saudi Section

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Time To Declassify 9/11 Probe's Secret Saudi Section

December 11, 2013

Foreign Affairs: Congress might soon vote on a proposed bipartisan resolution calling for release of a secret Saudi section of the congressional 9/11 Joint Inquiry report. It's about time.

In 2002, President Bush censored 28 pages of the report dealing with foreign sponsorship of the grisly attacks on our nation. Some of the information has leaked out over the years, and it points back to Riyadh.

Now a couple of lawmakers who recently read the redacted portion and walked away "absolutely shocked" are demanding the White House make it public. Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., suggest the conspiracy was much wider than al-Qaida. They say every American deserves to know the truth.

Their resolution, H.R. 428, urges President Obama to declassify the 28-page section that deals with "foreign" sources of support for the 9/11 hijackers.

"The contents of the redacted pages are necessary for a full public understanding of the events and circumstances surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks upon the United States," it states.

"The executive branch's decision to maintain the classified status of these pages prevents the people of the United States from having access to information about the involvement of certain foreign governments in the terrorist attacks," the two-page resolution adds. It stresses that victims' families "deserve answers."

Indeed they do. Relatives have demanded the release of those redacted pages for years. We can't imagine the torture of living under that veil of secrecy. Or the anxiety of not knowing what really happened that day and who was really behind the murder of their loved ones.

The resolution sponsors insist that releasing the information won't violate national security, as the Bush administration claimed when it stepped in and erased it from a congressional report intended for public viewing.

Of course, that doesn't mean it won't hurt foreign relations. The fallout could be both diplomatically and economically damaging. There's also fear that openly punishing a Mideast ally could hurt efforts to box in a nuclear Iran. So the White House and State Department have to weigh these sensitive issues in making a decision.

But we believe it is worth the risks. The American public has a right to know if a foreign government aided the hijackers, whether that support was direct or indirect.

If a presumed ally knew of the plot to attack the very headquarters of the U.S. military, it certainly is no ally. And if there are no penalties for such a monumental betrayal, what message does that send to other nations that seek to do us harm?

Press TV : Hersh revelations and false-flag talk in media

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Hersh revelations and false-flag talk in media

By Kevin Barrett | December 11, 2013

Whenever a big, media-hyped attack or atrocity happens, the mainstream media always says the same thing: “The bad guys did it.”

And who are these “bad guys”? The enemy-du-jour of the powers-that-be.

The authorities blamed 9/11 on “radical Muslims.” They blamed the Boston Marathon, Sandy Hook and Aurora, Colorado massacres on “gun nuts” and “extremists.”

The mainstream media have not yet admitted that these atrocities were false-flag operations. They are too recent. People would be too angry.

But mainstream journalists and historians do admit the truth about past false-flags.

During the Cold War, Western governments and media blamed the Operation Gladio massacres in Brabant, Belgium and Bologna, Italy on “anti-American leftists”. . . just as they blamed the fake Gulf of Tonkin attack on the North Vietnamese. Today, everyone admits that these were all false-flag operations commanded by the US military.

During Operation Ajax - the CIA's overthrow of Iran's prime minister Mossadeq in 1953 - CIA operatives repeatedly committed mass murder and falsely blamed Mossadeq supporters. They blew up mosques, targeted religious leaders for assassination, machine-gunned crowds, then scattered thousands of leaflets claiming Mossadeq was responsible.

Former CIA operative Kermit Roosevelt has admitted to committing these murders and spreading these lies. CIA documents released this year confirm the Agency's role in the atrocities.

The Israelis, world champion false-flag terrorists, have admitted that their agents dressed up as Egyptian Arabs and bombed American targets in Egypt during the Lavon Affair in 1954. It took the Zionists fifty years to admit the truth. When the Israeli government finally confessed in 2005 to its attack on America, it lavished honors on the false-flag terrorists.

When will Israel finally admit that its slaughter of the American sailors of the USS Liberty in 1967 was a botched false-flag designed to be blamed on Egypt and trigger a US attack on Cairo?

Today, thanks to the power of the internet, more and more people are learning about false-flags. The media are finding it more and more difficult to ignore this critically-important, massively-censored topic.

A few days ago, award-winning mainstream journalist Seymour Hersh forced the mainstream media to talk about false-flags. In his article “Whose sarin?” Hersh confirmed what alternative media outlets like Press TV and Veterans Today reported back in August: The chemical weapons attack in al-Ghouta was almost certainly perpetrated by Saudi-supported militants, not the Syrian government.

That was the only conceivable purpose of such an attack. Obama had drawn a “red line” around the chemical weapons issue. Hence, the only way the rebels could hope to convince the US to bomb Syria was by staging a chemical weapons attack and falsely blaming Assad on such an attack.

In August, no mainstream publication even raised this as a possibility. They all mindlessly echoed Israeli and US government sources assuring the world that Assad must have been responsible for the al-Ghouta atrocity. Yet they offered no convincing evidence of Assad's responsibility.

If you were paying attention to Press TV, Veterans Today, Global Research, or other independent media outlets, you knew how unlikely it was that Assad would unleash chemical weapons in a militarily useless attack just a few miles from where chemical weapons inspectors were touching down in Damascus.

The mainstream story was ridiculous on its face...almost as ridiculous as the official story of 9/11, which blames nineteen debauched “radical Muslims” with box-cutters led by a terminal kidney patient in a cave in Afghanistan for the three most logistically-complex, technologically-advanced skyscraper demolitions in history.

The mainstream media would rather report ridiculous, self-evidently false assertions than even raise the possibility of a false-flag. That is because the corporate media are, as Noam Chomsky puts it, “manufacturers of consent.”

Their job is not to report the truth, but to help powerful forces shape public opinion. And false-flags are the most powerful tool available to those who wish to shape public opinion.

The media will never even mention that false-flags exist unless they are forced to do so by someone like Seymour Hersh.

Hersh's article cites all kinds of documentary evidence proving that US intelligence sources knew that the Syrian rebels, not Assad's government, were behind the al-Ghouta gas attack.

For example: “One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a “ruse.” The attack “was not the result of the current regime,” he wrote.

Another high-level US intelligence source compared the al-Ghouta attack to the Gulf of Tonkin incident, which is now officially admitted to have been a false-flag designed to trigger massive US escalation of the war against Vietnam.

This is not the first time that Hersh has forced false-flag talk upon a reluctant media. During the Bush Administration’s attempt to win public support for its increasingly unpopular occupation of Iraq, Hersh reported that the one-legged al-Qaeda superman Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was a “composite figure” whose exploits were being wildly exaggerated, if not invented out of whole cloth, by US government propagandists.

More recently, Hersh reported that the official story of the alleged killing of Osama Bin Laden by US Navy Seals is “one big lie, not one word of it is true.” He added, “The republic's in trouble, we lie about everything, lying has become the staple.”

Hersh's revelations about al-Zarqawi, Bin Laden, and the al-Ghouta false-flag raise a larger question: Is “al-Qaeda” itself one big Western false-flag operation designed to demonize Islam and destabilize the Islamic world?


Epoch Times : Yale Study Finds 9/11 Kin More Political

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Yale Study Finds 9/11 Kin More Political

Associated Press | December 10, 2013

NEW YORK—Relatives of 9/11 victims have stepped up their political activity since the attack more than other New Yorkers have and have become a bit more Republican, a Yale university researcher has found.

His study, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that when compared to a control group, families of victims—and even victims’ neighbors, to a lesser degree—have voted more often in general elections and primaries.

Families also have donated more heavily to federal political campaigns, the study found. And victims’ relatives and neighbors who changed party affiliation were more likely to switch to the GOP, it found.

“The result is a clear indication that 9/11 catalyzed long-lasting political changes among those most affected, making them more active in politics, more partisan, and more supportive of the political right,” Yale political scientist Eitan Hersh wrote in the paper.

The difference between the families and the control group was between 1 and 5 percentage points in most cases, and Hersh acknowledged in an interview that the findings in some years since the attack were not significant.

However, he said, “a few percentage points can make a difference in elections, especially primaries, where so few people are voting.”

Leonie Huddy, a political science professor and director of the Center for Survey Research at Stony Brook University, said the increase in political activity was “small, but in a certain direction.”

For 9/11 families, she said, “There was this massive event, and some of them have decided they need to become somewhat more active because their lives have been touched by what was essentially not just a personal tragedy but a political event.”

As for party registration, Huddy suggested that all New Yorkers, including the control group, may have shifted toward the Republican Party after 9/11, especially for the 2004 presidential election.

“There’s some evidence that New York and New Jersey voted more Republican than would have been expected, and some feel terrorism is the reason,” she said.

Hersh studied New York registered voter records from 2001 and found 1,181 victims of the 9/11 attacks among them. He then identified household members and neighbors and used other public records to determine when they voted and made political contributions. He formed a control group of New Yorkers who were similar in many ways including prior political activity, but without a relative or neighbor killed.

The study was limited to New York residents and did not include family members of victims from elsewhere.

Hersh said such a study wouldn’t have been possible until recently “because of improvements in public records and computational power.”

Huddy called the approach “novel and creative.” However, she pointed out that party registration records don’t reveal how people actually voted.

“We can’t know unless we talk to them,” she said.

IBT : 9/11 Link To Saudi Arabia Is Topic Of 28 Redacted Pages In Government Report; Congressmen Push For Release

Monday, December 09, 2013

9/11 Link To Saudi Arabia Is Topic Of 28 Redacted Pages In Government Report; Congressmen Push For Release

By Jamie Reno | December 9, 2013

Since terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, victims’ loved ones, injured survivors, and members of the media have all tried without much success to discover the true nature of the relationship between the 19 hijackers – 15 of them Saudi nationals – and the Saudi Arabian government. Many news organizations reported that some of the terrorists were linked to the Saudi royals and that they even may have received financial support from them as well as from several mysterious, moneyed Saudi men living in San Diego.

Saudi Arabia has repeatedly denied any connection, and neither President George W. Bush nor President Obama has been forthcoming on this issue.

But earlier this year, Reps. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., and Stephen Lynch, D-Mass., were given access to the 28 redacted pages of the Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry (JICI) of 9/11 issued in late 2002, which have been thought to hold some answers about the Saudi connection to the attack.

"I was absolutely shocked by what I read," Jones told International Business Times. "What was so surprising was that those whom we thought we could trust really disappointed me. I cannot go into it any more than that. I had to sign an oath that what I read had to remain confidential. But the information I read disappointed me greatly."

The public may soon also get to see these secret documents. Last week, Jones and Lynch introduced a resolution that urges President Obama to declassify the 28 pages, which were originally classified by President George W. Bush. It has never been fully explained why the pages were blacked out, but President Bush stated in 2003 that releasing the pages would violate national security.

While neither Jones nor Lynch would say just what is in the document, some of the information has leaked out over the years. A multitude of sources tell IBTimes, and numerous press reports over the years in Newsweek, the New York Times, CBS News and other media confirm, that the 28 pages in fact clearly portray that the Saudi government had at the very least an indirect role in supporting the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attack. In addition, these classified pages clarify somewhat the links between the hijackers and at least one Saudi government worker living in San Diego.

Former Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., who chaired the Joint Inquiry in 2002 and has been beating the drum for more disclosure about 9/11 since then, has never understood why the 28 pages were redacted. Graham told IBTimes that based on his involvement in the investigation and on the now-classified information in the document that his committee produced, he is convinced that “the Saudi government without question was supporting the hijackers who lived in San Diego…. You can't have 19 people living in the United States for, in some cases, almost two years, taking flight lessons and other preparations, without someone paying for it. But I think it goes much broader than that. The agencies from CIA and FBI have suppressed that information so American people don't have the facts."

Jones insists that releasing the 28 secret pages would not violate national security.

“It does not deal with national security per se; it is more about relationships,” he said. “The information is critical to our foreign policy moving forward and should thus be available to the American people. If the 9/11 hijackers had outside help – particularly from one or more foreign governments – the press and the public have a right to know what our government has or has not done to bring justice to the perpetrators."

It took Jones six weeks and several letters to the House Intelligence Committee before the classified pages from the 9/11 report were made available to him. Jones was so stunned by what he saw that he approached Rep. Lynch, asking him to look at the 28 pages as well. He knew that Lynch would be astonished by the contents of the documents and perhaps would join in a bipartisan effort to declassify the papers.

"He came back to me about a week ago and told me that he, too, was very shocked by what he read,” Jones said. “I told him we need to join together and put in a resolution and get more members on both sides of the aisle involved and demand that the White House release this information to the public. The American people have a right to know this information."

A decade ago, 46 senators, led by Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., demanded in a letter to President Bush that he declassify the 28 pages.

The letter read, in part, "It has been widely reported in the press that the foreign sources referred to in this portion of the Joint Inquiry analysis reside primarily in Saudi Arabia. As a result, the decision to classify this information sends the wrong message to the American people about our nation's antiterror effort and makes it seem as if there will be no penalty for foreign abettors of the hijackers. Protecting the Saudi regime by eliminating any public penalty for the support given to terrorists from within its borders would be a mistake.... We respectfully urge you to declassify the 28-page section that deals with foreign sources of support for the 9/11 hijackers."

All of the senators who signed that letter but one, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas), were Democrats.

Lynch, who won the Democratic primary for his congressional seat on that fateful day of Sept. 11, 2001, told IBTimes that he and Jones are in the process of writing a “Dear Colleague” letter calling on all House members to read the 28 pages and join their effort.

"Once a member reads the 28 pages, I think whether they are Democrat or Republican they will reach the same conclusion that Walter and I reached, which is that Americans have the right to know this information," Lynch said. “These documents speak for themselves. We have a situation where an extensive investigation was conducted, but then the Bush [administration] decided for whatever purposes to excise 28 pages from the report. I'm not passing judgment. That was a different time. Maybe there were legitimate reasons to keep this classified. But that time has long passed.”

Most of the allegations of links between the Saudi government and the 9/11 hijackers revolve around two enigmatic Saudi men who lived in San Diego: Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan, both of whom have long since left the United States.

In early 2000, al-Bayoumi, who had previously worked for the Saudi government in civil aviation (a part of the Saudi defense department), invited two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, to San Diego from Los Angeles. He told authorities he met the two men by chance when he sat next to them at a restaurant.

Newsweek reported in 2002 that al-Bayoumi’s invitation was extended on the same day that he visited the Saudi Consulate in Los Angeles for a private meeting.

Al-Bayoumi arranged for the two future hijackers to live in an apartment and paid $1,500 to cover their first two months of rent. Al-Bayoumi was briefly interviewed in Britain but was never brought back to the United States for questioning.

As for Basnan, Newsweek reported that he received monthly checks for several years totaling as much as $73,000 from the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar, and his wife, Princess Haifa Faisal. Although the checks were sent to pay for thyroid surgery for Basnan’s wife, Majeda Dweikat, Dweikat signed many of the checks over to al-Bayoumi’s wife, Manal Bajadr. This money allegedly made its way into the hands of hijackers, according to the 9/11 report.

Despite all this, Basnan was ultimately allowed to return to Saudi Arabia, and Dweikat was deported to Jordan.

Sources and numerous press reports also suggest that the 28 pages include more information about Abdussattar Shaikh, an FBI asset in San Diego who Newsweek reported was friends with al-Bayoumi and invited two of the San Diego-based hijackers to live in his house.

Shaikh was not allowed by the FBI or the Bush administration to testify before the 9/11 Commission or the JICI.

Graham notes that there was a significant 9/11 investigation in Sarasota, Fla., which also suggests a connection between the hijackers and the Saudi government that most Americans don’t know about.

The investigation, which occurred in 2002, focused on Saudi millionaire Abdulaziz al-Hijji and his wife, Anoud, whose upscale home was owned by Anoud al-Hijji’s father, Esam Ghazzawi, an adviser to Prince Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, the nephew of Saudi King Fahd.

The al-Hijji family reportedly moved out of their Sarasota house and left the country abruptly in the weeks before 9/11, leaving behind three luxury cars and personal belongings including clothing, furniture and fresh food. They also left the swimming-pool water circulating.

Numerous news reports in Florida have said that the gated community’s visitor logs and photos of license tags showed that vehicles driven by several of the future 9/11 hijackers had visited the al-Hijji home.

Graham said that like the 28 pages in the 9/11 inquiry, the Sarasota case is being “covered up” by U.S. intelligence. Graham has been fighting to get the FBI to release the details of this investigation with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and litigation. But so far the bureau has stalled and stonewalled, he said.

Lynch said he didn’t know how the Obama administration would respond to the congressional resolution urging declassification, if it passes the House and Senate.

“But if we raise the issue, and get enough members to read it, we think we can get the current administration to revisit this issue. I am very optimistic,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of my Democratic members already, and there has been receptivity there. They have agreed to look at it.”

Obama administration officials declined to comment on the congressional resolution or on the classification of these documents.

The 9/11 Families United for Justice Against Terrorism (JASTA), an activist group comprised of the attack victims, has been calling for the declassification of the 28 pages for more than a decade. The group plans to contact Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, this week to urge her to introduce a similar resolution in the Senate.

Sharon Premoli, a 9/11 survivor who was on the North Tower's 80th floor when the plane hit and is a JASTA member, says Jones and Lynch “share our objectives of seeking the truth behind 9/11 and bringing to justice those who bankrolled the attacks.”

Premoli said it was a “miracle” that she survived 9/11. “I found myself buried under dust and on top of a dead body,” she said. “It makes me angry that I still don’t know what happened or who was supporting these hijackers. The veil of secrecy must be lifted for the families, the survivors and for the American people.

LRB : Whose sarin?

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Whose sarin?

Seymour M. Hersh | December 8, 2013

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.

In his nationally televised speech about Syria on 10 September, Obama laid the blame for the nerve gas attack on the rebel-held suburb of Eastern Ghouta firmly on Assad’s government, and made it clear he was prepared to back up his earlier public warnings that any use of chemical weapons would cross a ‘red line’: ‘Assad’s government gassed to death over a thousand people,’ he said. ‘We know the Assad regime was responsible … And that is why, after careful deliberation, I determined that it is in the national security interests of the United States to respond to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons through a targeted military strike.’ Obama was going to war to back up a public threat, but he was doing so without knowing for sure who did what in the early morning of 21 August.

He cited a list of what appeared to be hard-won evidence of Assad’s culpability: ‘In the days leading up to August 21st, we know that Assad’s chemical weapons personnel prepared for an attack near an area where they mix sarin gas. They distributed gas masks to their troops. Then they fired rockets from a regime-controlled area into 11 neighbourhoods that the regime has been trying to wipe clear of opposition forces.’ Obama’s certainty was echoed at the time by Denis McDonough, his chief of staff, who told the New York Times: ‘No one with whom I’ve spoken doubts the intelligence’ directly linking Assad and his regime to the sarin attacks.

But in recent interviews with intelligence and military officers and consultants past and present, I found intense concern, and on occasion anger, over what was repeatedly seen as the deliberate manipulation of intelligence. One high-level intelligence officer, in an email to a colleague, called the administration’s assurances of Assad’s responsibility a ‘ruse’. The attack ‘was not the result of the current regime’, he wrote. A former senior intelligence official told me that the Obama administration had altered the available information – in terms of its timing and sequence – to enable the president and his advisers to make intelligence retrieved days after the attack look as if it had been picked up and analysed in real time, as the attack was happening. The distortion, he said, reminded him of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident, when the Johnson administration reversed the sequence of National Security Agency intercepts to justify one of the early bombings of North Vietnam. The same official said there was immense frustration inside the military and intelligence bureaucracy: ‘The guys are throwing their hands in the air and saying, “How can we help this guy” – Obama – “when he and his cronies in the White House make up the intelligence as they go along?”’

The complaints focus on what Washington did not have: any advance warning from the assumed source of the attack. The military intelligence community has for years produced a highly classified early morning intelligence summary, known as the Morning Report, for the secretary of defence and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; a copy also goes to the national security adviser and the director of national intelligence. The Morning Report includes no political or economic information, but provides a summary of important military events around the world, with all available intelligence about them. A senior intelligence consultant told me that some time after the attack he reviewed the reports for 20 August through 23 August. For two days – 20 and 21 August – there was no mention of Syria. On 22 August the lead item in the Morning Report dealt with Egypt; a subsequent item discussed an internal change in the command structure of one of the rebel groups in Syria. Nothing was noted about the use of nerve gas in Damascus that day. It was not until 23 August that the use of sarin became a dominant issue, although hundreds of photographs and videos of the massacre had gone viral within hours on YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites. At this point, the administration knew no more than the public.

Obama left Washington early on 21 August for a hectic two-day speaking tour in New York and Pennsylvania; according to the White House press office, he was briefed later that day on the attack, and the growing public and media furore. The lack of any immediate inside intelligence was made clear on 22 August, when Jen Psaki, a spokesperson for the State Department, told reporters: ‘We are unable to conclusively determine [chemical weapons] use. But we are focused every minute of every day since these events happened … on doing everything possible within our power to nail down the facts.’ The administration’s tone had hardened by 27 August, when Jay Carney, Obama’s press secretary, told reporters – without providing any specific information – that any suggestions that the Syrian government was not responsible ‘are as preposterous as suggestions that the attack itself didn’t occur’.

The absence of immediate alarm inside the American intelligence community demonstrates that there was no intelligence about Syrian intentions in the days before the attack. And there are at least two ways the US could have known about it in advance: both were touched on in one of the top secret American intelligence documents that have been made public in recent months by Edward Snowden, the former NSA contractor.

On 29 August, the Washington Post published excerpts from the annual budget for all national intelligence programmes, agency by agency, provided by Snowden. In consultation with the Obama administration, the newspaper chose to publish only a slim portion of the 178-page document, which has a classification higher than top secret, but it summarised and published a section dealing with problem areas. One problem area was the gap in coverage targeting Assad’s office. The document said that the NSA’s worldwide electronic eavesdropping facilities had been ‘able to monitor unencrypted communications among senior military officials at the outset of the civil war there’. But it was ‘a vulnerability that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces apparently later recognised’. In other words, the NSA no longer had access to the conversations of the top military leadership in Syria, which would have included crucial communications from Assad, such as orders for a nerve gas attack. (In its public statements since 21 August, the Obama administration has never claimed to have specific information connecting Assad himself to the attack.)

The Post report also provided the first indication of a secret sensor system inside Syria, designed to provide early warning of any change in status of the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal. The sensors are monitored by the National Reconnaissance Office, the agency that controls all US intelligence satellites in orbit. According to the Post summary, the NRO is also assigned ‘to extract data from sensors placed on the ground’ inside Syria. The former senior intelligence official, who had direct knowledge of the programme, told me that NRO sensors have been implanted near all known chemical warfare sites in Syria. They are designed to provide constant monitoring of the movement of chemical warheads stored by the military. But far more important, in terms of early warning, is the sensors’ ability to alert US and Israeli intelligence when warheads are being loaded with sarin. (As a neighbouring country, Israel has always been on the alert for changes in the Syrian chemical arsenal, and works closely with American intelligence on early warnings.) A chemical warhead, once loaded with sarin, has a shelf life of a few days or less – the nerve agent begins eroding the rocket almost immediately: it’s a use-it-or-lose-it mass killer. ‘The Syrian army doesn’t have three days to prepare for a chemical attack,’ the former senior intelligence official told me. ‘We created the sensor system for immediate reaction, like an air raid warning or a fire alarm. You can’t have a warning over three days because everyone involved would be dead. It is either right now or you’re history. You do not spend three days getting ready to fire nerve gas.’ The sensors detected no movement in the months and days before 21 August, the former official said. It is of course possible that sarin had been supplied to the Syrian army by other means, but the lack of warning meant that Washington was unable to monitor the events in Eastern Ghouta as they unfolded.

The sensors had worked in the past, as the Syrian leadership knew all too well. Last December the sensor system picked up signs of what seemed to be sarin production at a chemical weapons depot. It was not immediately clear whether the Syrian army was simulating sarin production as part of an exercise (all militaries constantly carry out such exercises) or actually preparing an attack. At the time, Obama publicly warned Syria that using sarin was ‘totally unacceptable’; a similar message was also passed by diplomatic means. The event was later determined to be part of a series of exercises, according to the former senior intelligence official: ‘If what the sensors saw last December was so important that the president had to call and say, “Knock it off,” why didn’t the president issue the same warning three days before the gas attack in August?’

The NSA would of course monitor Assad’s office around the clock if it could, the former official said. Other communications – from various army units in combat throughout Syria – would be far less important, and not analysed in real time. ‘There are literally thousands of tactical radio frequencies used by field units in Syria for mundane routine communications,’ he said, ‘and it would take a huge number of NSA cryptological technicians to listen in – and the useful return would be zilch.’ But the ‘chatter’ is routinely stored on computers. Once the scale of events on 21 August was understood, the NSA mounted a comprehensive effort to search for any links to the attack, sorting through the full archive of stored communications. A keyword or two would be selected and a filter would be employed to find relevant conversations. ‘What happened here is that the NSA intelligence weenies started with an event – the use of sarin – and reached to find chatter that might relate,’ the former official said. ‘This does not lead to a high confidence assessment, unless you start with high confidence that Bashar Assad ordered it, and began looking for anything that supports that belief.’ The cherry-picking was similar to the process used to justify the Iraq war.


The White House needed nine days to assemble its case against the Syrian government. On 30 August it invited a select group of Washington journalists (at least one often critical reporter, Jonathan Landay, the national security correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers, was not invited), and handed them a document carefully labelled as a ‘government assessment’, rather than as an assessment by the intelligence community. The document laid out what was essentially a political argument to bolster the administration’s case against the Assad government. It was, however, more specific than Obama would be later, in his speech on 10 September: American intelligence, it stated, knew that Syria had begun ‘preparing chemical munitions’ three days before the attack. In an aggressive speech later that day, John Kerry provided more details. He said that Syria’s ‘chemical weapons personnel were on the ground, in the area, making preparations’ by 18 August. ‘We know that the Syrian regime elements were told to prepare for the attack by putting on gas masks and taking precautions associated with chemical weapons.’ The government assessment and Kerry’s comments made it seem as if the administration had been tracking the sarin attack as it happened. It is this version of events, untrue but unchallenged, that was widely reported at the time.
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An unforseen reaction came in the form of complaints from the Free Syrian Army’s leadership and others about the lack of warning. ‘It’s unbelievable they did nothing to warn people or try to stop the regime before the crime,’ Razan Zaitouneh, an opposition member who lived in one of the towns struck by sarin, told Foreign Policy. The Daily Mail was more blunt: ‘Intelligence report says US officials knew about nerve-gas attack in Syria three days before it killed over 1400 people – including more than 400 children.’ (The number of deaths attributable to the attack varied widely, from at least 1429, as initially claimed by the Obama administration, to many fewer. A Syrian human rights group reported 502 deaths; Médicins sans Frontières put it at 355; and a French report listed 281 known fatalities. The strikingly precise US total was later reported by the Wall Street Journal to have been based not on an actual body count, but on an extrapolation by CIA analysts, who scanned more than a hundred YouTube videos from Eastern Ghouta into a computer system and looked for images of the dead. In other words, it was little more than a guess.)

Five days later, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence responded to the complaints. A statement to the Associated Press said that the intelligence behind the earlier administration assertions was not known at the time of the attack, but recovered only subsequently: ‘Let’s be clear, the United States did not watch, in real time, as this horrible attack took place. The intelligence community was able to gather and analyse information after the fact and determine that elements of the Assad regime had in fact taken steps to prepare prior to using chemical weapons.’ But since the American press corps had their story, the retraction received scant attention. On 31 August the Washington Post, relying on the government assessment, had vividly reported on its front page that American intelligence was able to record ‘each step’ of the Syrian army attack in real time, ‘from the extensive preparations to the launching of rockets to the after-action assessments by Syrian officials’. It did not publish the AP corrective, and the White House maintained control of the narrative.

So when Obama said on 10 September that his administration knew Assad’s chemical weapons personnel had prepared the attack in advance, he was basing the statement not on an intercept caught as it happened, but on communications analysed days after 21 August. The former senior intelligence official explained that the hunt for relevant chatter went back to the exercise detected the previous December, in which, as Obama later said to the public, the Syrian army mobilised chemical weapons personnel and distributed gas masks to its troops. The White House’s government assessment and Obama’s speech were not descriptions of the specific events leading up to the 21 August attack, but an account of the sequence the Syrian military would have followed for any chemical attack. ‘They put together a back story,’ the former official said, ‘and there are lots of different pieces and parts. The template they used was the template that goes back to December.’ It is possible, of course, that Obama was unaware that this account was obtained from an analysis of Syrian army protocol for conducting a gas attack, rather than from direct evidence. Either way he had come to a hasty judgment.

The press would follow suit. The UN report on 16 September confirming the use of sarin was careful to note that its investigators’ access to the attack sites, which came five days after the gassing, had been controlled by rebel forces. ‘As with other sites,’ the report warned, ‘the locations have been well travelled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the mission … During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.’ Still, the New York Times seized on the report, as did American and British officials, and claimed that it provided crucial evidence backing up the administration’s assertions. An annex to the UN report reproduced YouTube photographs of some recovered munitions, including a rocket that ‘indicatively matches’ the specifics of a 330mm calibre artillery rocket. The New York Times wrote that the existence of the rockets essentially proved that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack ‘because the weapons in question had not been previously documented or reported to be in possession of the insurgency’.

Theodore Postol, a professor of technology and national security at MIT, reviewed the UN photos with a group of his colleagues and concluded that the large calibre rocket was an improvised munition that was very likely manufactured locally. He told me that it was ‘something you could produce in a modestly capable machine shop’. The rocket in the photos, he added, fails to match the specifications of a similar but smaller rocket known to be in the Syrian arsenal. The New York Times, again relying on data in the UN report, also analysed the flight path of two of the spent rockets that were believed to have carried sarin, and concluded that the angle of descent ‘pointed directly’ to their being fired from a Syrian army base more than nine kilometres from the landing zone. Postol, who has served as the scientific adviser to the chief of naval operations in the Pentagon, said that the assertions in the Times and elsewhere ‘were not based on actual observations’. He concluded that the flight path analyses in particular were, as he put it in an email, ‘totally nuts’ because a thorough study demonstrated that the range of the improvised rockets was ‘unlikely’ to be more than two kilometres. Postol and a colleague, Richard M. Lloyd, published an analysis two weeks after 21 August in which they correctly assessed that the rockets involved carried a far greater payload of sarin than previously estimated. The Times reported on that analysis at length, describing Postol and Lloyd as ‘leading weapons experts’. The pair’s later study about the rockets’ flight paths and range, which contradicted previous Times reporting, was emailed to the newspaper last week; it has so far gone unreported.


The White House’s misrepresentation of what it knew about the attack, and when, was matched by its readiness to ignore intelligence that could undermine the narrative. That information concerned al-Nusra, the Islamist rebel group designated by the US and the UN as a terrorist organisation. Al-Nusra is known to have carried out scores of suicide bombings against Christians and other non-Sunni Muslim sects inside Syria, and to have attacked its nominal ally in the civil war, the secular Free Syrian Army (FSA). Its stated goal is to overthrow the Assad regime and establish sharia law. (On 25 September al-Nusra joined several other Islamist rebel groups in repudiating the FSA and another secular faction, the Syrian National Coalition.)
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The flurry of American interest in al-Nusra and sarin stemmed from a series of small-scale chemical weapons attacks in March and April; at the time, the Syrian government and the rebels each insisted the other was responsible. The UN eventually concluded that four chemical attacks had been carried out, but did not assign responsibility. A White House official told the press in late April that the intelligence community had assessed ‘with varying degrees of confidence’ that the Syrian government was responsible for the attacks. Assad had crossed Obama’s ‘red line’. The April assessment made headlines, but some significant caveats were lost in translation. The unnamed official conducting the briefing acknowledged that intelligence community assessments ‘are not alone sufficient’. ‘We want,’ he said, ‘to investigate above and beyond those intelligence assessments to gather facts so that we can establish a credible and corroborated set of information that can then inform our decision-making.’ In other words, the White House had no direct evidence of Syrian army or government involvement, a fact that was only occasionally noted in the press coverage. Obama’s tough talk played well with the public and Congress, who view Assad as a ruthless murderer.

Two months later, a White House statement announced a change in the assessment of Syrian culpability and declared that the intelligence community now had ‘high confidence’ that the Assad government was responsible for as many as 150 deaths from attacks with sarin. More headlines were generated and the press was told that Obama, in response to the new intelligence, had ordered an increase in non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. But once again there were significant caveats. The new intelligence included a report that Syrian officials had planned and executed the attacks. No specifics were provided, nor were those who provided the reports identified. The White House statement said that laboratory analysis had confirmed the use of sarin, but also that a positive finding of the nerve agent ‘does not tell us how or where the individuals were exposed or who was responsible for the dissemination’. The White House further declared: ‘We have no reliable corroborated reporting to indicate that the opposition in Syria has acquired or used chemical weapons.’ The statement contradicted evidence that at the time was streaming into US intelligence agencies.

Already by late May, the senior intelligence consultant told me, the CIA had briefed the Obama administration on al-Nusra and its work with sarin, and had sent alarming reports that another Sunni fundamentalist group active in Syria, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), also understood the science of producing sarin. At the time, al-Nusra was operating in areas close to Damascus, including Eastern Ghouta. An intelligence document issued in mid-summer dealt extensively with Ziyaad Tariq Ahmed, a chemical weapons expert formerly of the Iraqi military, who was said to have moved into Syria and to be operating in Eastern Ghouta. The consultant told me that Tariq had been identified ‘as an al-Nusra guy with a track record of making mustard gas in Iraq and someone who is implicated in making and using sarin’. He is regarded as a high-profile target by the American military.

On 20 June a four-page top secret cable summarising what had been learned about al-Nusra’s nerve gas capabilities was forwarded to David R. Shedd, deputy director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. ‘What Shedd was briefed on was extensive and comprehensive,’ the consultant said. ‘It was not a bunch of “we believes”.’ He told me that the cable made no assessment as to whether the rebels or the Syrian army had initiated the attacks in March and April, but it did confirm previous reports that al-Nusra had the ability to acquire and use sarin. A sample of the sarin that had been used was also recovered – with the help of an Israeli agent – but, according to the consultant, no further reporting about the sample showed up in cable traffic.

Independently of these assessments, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, assuming that US troops might be ordered into Syria to seize the government’s stockpile of chemical agents, called for an all-source analysis of the potential threat. ‘The Op Order provides the basis of execution of a military mission, if so ordered,’ the former senior intelligence official explained. ‘This includes the possible need to send American soldiers to a Syrian chemical site to defend it against rebel seizure. If the jihadist rebels were going to overrun the site, the assumption is that Assad would not fight us because we were protecting the chemical from the rebels. All Op Orders contain an intelligence threat component. We had technical analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, weapons people, and I & W [indications and warnings] people working on the problem … They concluded that the rebel forces were capable of attacking an American force with sarin because they were able to produce the lethal gas. The examination relied on signals and human intelligence, as well as the expressed intention and technical capability of the rebels.’

There is evidence that during the summer some members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff were troubled by the prospect of a ground invasion of Syria as well as by Obama’s professed desire to give rebel factions non-lethal support. In July, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, provided a gloomy assessment, telling the Senate Armed Services Committee in public testimony that ‘thousands of special operations forces and other ground forces’ would be needed to seize Syria’s widely dispersed chemical warfare arsenal, along with ‘hundreds of aircraft, ships, submarines and other enablers’. Pentagon estimates put the number of troops at seventy thousand, in part because US forces would also have to guard the Syrian rocket fleet: accessing large volumes of the chemicals that create sarin without the means to deliver it would be of little value to a rebel force. In a letter to Senator Carl Levin, Dempsey cautioned that a decision to grab the Syrian arsenal could have unintended consequences: ‘We have learned from the past ten years, however, that it is not enough to simply alter the balance of military power without careful consideration of what is necessary in order to preserve a functioning state … Should the regime’s institutions collapse in the absence of a viable opposition, we could inadvertently empower extremists or unleash the very chemical weapons we seek to control.’

The CIA declined to comment for this article. Spokesmen for the DIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence said they were not aware of the report to Shedd and, when provided with specific cable markings for the document, said they were unable to find it. Shawn Turner, head of public affairs for the ODNI, said that no American intelligence agency, including the DIA, ‘assesses that the al-Nusra Front has succeeded in developing a capacity to manufacture sarin’.

The administration’s public affairs officials are not as concerned about al-Nusra’s military potential as Shedd has been in his public statements. In late July, he gave an alarming account of al-Nusra’s strength at the annual Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. ‘I count no less than 1200 disparate groups in the opposition,’ Shedd said, according to a recording of his presentation. ‘And within the opposition, the al-Nusra Front is … most effective and is gaining in strength.’ This, he said, ‘is of serious concern to us. If left unchecked, I am very concerned that the most radical elements’ – he also cited al-Qaida in Iraq – ‘will take over.’ The civil war, he went on, ‘will only grow worse over time … Unfathomable violence is yet to come.’ Shedd made no mention of chemical weapons in his talk, but he was not allowed to: the reports his office received were highly classified.


A series of secret dispatches from Syria over the summer reported that members of the FSA were complaining to American intelligence operatives about repeated attacks on their forces by al-Nusra and al-Qaida fighters. The reports, according to the senior intelligence consultant who read them, provided evidence that the FSA is ‘more worried about the crazies than it is about Assad’. The FSA is largely composed of defectors from the Syrian army. The Obama administration, committed to the end of the Assad regime and continued support for the rebels, has sought in its public statements since the attack to downplay the influence of Salafist and Wahhabist factions. In early September, John Kerry dumbfounded a Congressional hearing with a sudden claim that al-Nusra and other Islamist groups were minority players in the Syrian opposition. He later withdrew the claim.

In both its public and private briefings after 21 August, the administration disregarded the available intelligence about al-Nusra’s potential access to sarin and continued to claim that the Assad government was in sole possession of chemical weapons. This was the message conveyed in the various secret briefings that members of Congress received in the days after the attack, when Obama was seeking support for his planned missile offensive against Syrian military installations. One legislator with more than two decades of experience in military affairs told me that he came away from one such briefing persuaded that ‘only the Assad government had sarin and the rebels did not.’ Similarly, following the release of the UN report on 16 September confirming that sarin was used on 21 August, Samantha Power, the US ambassador to the UN, told a press conference: ‘It’s very important to note that only the [Assad] regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses sarin.’

It is not known whether the highly classified reporting on al-Nusra was made available to Power’s office, but her comment was a reflection of the attitude that swept through the administration. ‘The immediate assumption was that Assad had done it,’ the former senior intelligence official told me. ‘The new director of the CIA, [John] Brennan, jumped to that conclusion … drives to the White House and says: “Look at what I’ve got!” It was all verbal; they just waved the bloody shirt. There was a lot of political pressure to bring Obama to the table to help the rebels, and there was wishful thinking that this [tying Assad to the sarin attack] would force Obama’s hand: “This is the Zimmermann telegram of the Syrian rebellion and now Obama can react.” Wishful thinking by the Samantha Power wing within the administration. Unfortunately, some members of the Joint Chiefs who were alerted that he was going to attack weren’t so sure it was a good thing.’

The proposed American missile attack on Syria never won public support and Obama turned quickly to the UN and the Russian proposal for dismantling the Syrian chemical warfare complex. Any possibility of military action was definitively averted on 26 September when the administration joined Russia in approving a draft UN resolution calling on the Assad government to get rid of its chemical arsenal. Obama’s retreat brought relief to many senior military officers. (One high-level special operations adviser told me that the ill-conceived American missile attack on Syrian military airfields and missile emplacements, as initially envisaged by the White House, would have been ‘like providing close air support for al-Nusra’.)

The administration’s distortion of the facts surrounding the sarin attack raises an unavoidable question: do we have the whole story of Obama’s willingness to walk away from his ‘red line’ threat to bomb Syria? He had claimed to have an iron-clad case but suddenly agreed to take the issue to Congress, and later to accept Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical weapons. It appears possible that at some point he was directly confronted with contradictory information: evidence strong enough to persuade him to cancel his attack plan, and take the criticism sure to come from Republicans.

The UN resolution, which was adopted on 27 September by the Security Council, dealt indirectly with the notion that rebel forces such as al-Nusra would also be obliged to disarm: ‘no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain or transfer [chemical] weapons.’ The resolution also calls for the immediate notification of the Security Council in the event that any ‘non-state actors’ acquire chemical weapons. No group was cited by name. While the Syrian regime continues the process of eliminating its chemical arsenal, the irony is that, after Assad’s stockpile of precursor agents is destroyed, al-Nusra and its Islamist allies could end up as the only faction inside Syria with access to the ingredients that can create sarin, a strategic weapon that would be unlike any other in the war zone. There may be more to negotiate.