The propaganda preparation for 9/11
This article was first published by Global Research on June 13, 2002. You can access the original archive here.
In the immediate aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center, the finger of guilt was directed toward the only plausible author for such a sophisticated and ruthless act of terror – Osama bin Laden.
Throughout the late ’90′s, we were informed that bin Laden had declared war on America by reason of the American military presence on Saudi soil in the wake of the Persian Gulf War. We were told how bin Laden, ensconced in Afghanistan, headed up a world-wide terror franchise whose sophistication and global reach dwarfed that of the Iranian-financed Hizballah or Islamic Jihad (previously, the most widely known of the terror organizations among the masses in the Middle East). Bin Laden’s organization, al-Qaida, was presented to us as something entirely new in the annals of terrorism – a far-flung, sophisticated empire of terror, possessing – possibly – weapons of mass destruction, while having no clear or viable state sponsor behind it (as the Afghani Taliban were merely its resident protectors). In short, by September 11, the United States now had a bona fide enemy – and, as they say in criminal justice parlance, a suspect with motive, means, and opportunity.
And while I was a bit taken at how quickly – and confidently – the fingers were pointing only hours after the 9/11 bombings, I was positively shaken by the first red flag that popped up. His name was John O’Neill – or more precisely, he is the seam that shows. Dated September 12, in a Washington Post article by Vernon Loeb, it was revealed that O’Neill, who died in his capacity as head of security for the World Trade Center, was also formerly the New York FBI Counterterror chief responsible for the investigation into Osama bin Laden. That could perhaps be written off as one of those freak synchronicities. There were the other items – reported quite blandly, in that “there’s nothing to see here, folks” tone – that gave me that sinking feeling. Apparently, O’Neill had a falling-out with the Ambassador to Yemen over his investigative style and was banned from returning there. But then there was that other nugget that I had trouble digesting – that O’Neill had resigned from a thirty-year career in the FBI “under a cloud” over an incident in Tampa – and then left to take up the security position at the WTC (only two weeks before!).
The seam that shows…
For the bulk of his career, like most of his FBI colleagues, John O’Neill was largely unknown to the public at large – respected in his circle, to be sure, yet scarcely meriting much mention in the media – beyond being referenced now and then as an expert on counterterrorism. Yet in the few months leading up to September 11, O’Neill was now suddenly the subject of a series of seemingly unrelated controversies – the first, in July, involving his dispute with the State Department over the conduct of the bin Laden investigation in Yemen; and the second, in August, in which he was reported to be under an FBI probe for misplacing a briefcase of classified documents during an FBI convention in Tampa.
In the light of the aftermath of this second controversy – the documents were found, “untouched”, a few hours later – one wonders why this seemingly minor news would merit such lengthy coverage in the Washington Post and New York Times. Keeping in mind the fact that these latter articles on O’Neill appeared a mere three weeks before he was to die in the rubble of the Twin Towers, one wonders if this wasn’t a well-orchestrated smear campaign against O’Neill, with a bit of unintended “blowback” – as this now-discredited counterterror chief in charge of all bin Laden bombings would finally make the news as a fatal casualty of bin Laden’s final bombing. Coincidence? Or was there something more here that would bear investigating?
My gut told me that, in the months preceding September 11, somebody was out to either discredit John O’Neill or, alternatively, to plant disinformation that could later be used to divert any investigator from a fruitful reconstruction of the forces behind 9/11. Or, quite possibly, was a mistake made – one pointing the way toward a plan whose scope goes well beyond the designs of Osama bin Laden? In other words, could we spot the telltale fingerprints of a propaganda campaign preceding 9/11?
Well, as they say, a hypothesis is only as good as its usefulness in ferreting out reality. My hypothesis: that the events of September 11 were planned by those who not only had the motive, means, and opportunity to carry out the plan, but also were best placed to manage the consequences stemming from it, as well as managing the flow of information. If this were an “inside job”, the first thing to do was to look at who conveyed specific information on bin Laden before – and I stress, before – 9/11, for they were most likely involved wittingly or not with those who masterminded it.
Virtually the first “smoking gun” was presented the day after 9/11, when Vernon Loeb and Dan Eggen reported in the Post that Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the Al-Quds al Arabi newspaper in London, “received information that he [bin Laden] planned very, very big attacks against American interests” only three weeks before 9/11. Moreover, the article reported that Atwan “was convinced that Islamic fundamentalists aligned with bin Laden were ‘almost certainly’ behind the attacks.” Incidentally, Atwan had personally interviewed bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1996 – among the very few to do so. As reported by Michael Evans in the August 24, 1998 issue of The Times, Atwan “is trusted by bin Laden.”
Curious, perhaps, that Atwan seemed to be one of the major “point men” used in elaborating the Osama bin Laden “legend”, as they say in intelligence parlance. In a U.S. News article dated August 31, 1998, Atwan informs us that bin Laden “is a humble man who lives simply, eating fried eggs, tasteless low-fat cheese, and bread gritty with sand. He hates America.” No flash in the pan, this interviewer. Apparently, bin Laden kept Atwan’s business card tucked away in his toga pocket. “Bin Laden phoned this newspaper, phoned me last Friday,” Atwan revealed in an ABC News LateLine Transcript dated August 25, 1998. We’ll come back to ABC News shortly.
While solidly implicating bin Laden the day after 9/11, Atwan was also the media’s “go-to” guy back in 1998 when he informed us, after President Clinton bombed tool sheds in Afghanistan, that bin Laden issued this threat against the United States: “The battle has not started yet. The response will be with action and not words.” In the same article (which I took from Nando Times), ABC News is the source for an additional threat called in by Ayman al-Zawahiri, a senior bin Laden aide: “The war has just started. The Americans should wait for the answer.” Only a few months before that, ABC had conducted its televised interview of bin Laden. By the summer of 1998, primed by Atwan, ABC NEWS, and a surprisingly small clique of well-worn sources, we had come to know bin Laden as America’s latest “Saddam”, “Qaddafi”, “Noriega” – take your pick and set your bomb sites.
By October 2000, when the U.S.S. Cole was bombed in Yemen, in case there was any doubt, Atwan offered Reuters his helpful analysis with regards to the source of blame: “I do not rule out that this was undertaken by Osama bin Laden. Yemeni groups don’t have the experience to carry out this kind of operation.” Atwan informed Reuters that bin Laden “was unlikely to claim direct responsibility for Thursday’s attack for fear of U.S. reprisals.” One can imagine, then, that Atwan gave his trusting phone mate cause for many a sleepless night. With friends like these…
Leading up to 9/11, by the Spring of 2001, an incriminating wedding videotape, apparently implicating bin Laden in the Yemen bombing, was circulating around the Middle East after being broadcast on the ubiquitous al-Jazeera television station (reconstituted from the BBC TV Arabic Service – more on them later). In the video, bin Laden, according to the Saudi-owned al-Hayat newspaper (more on them later, too), recited a poem celebrating the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole (shades of deja vu here?) This from the ABCNEWS.com site dated March 1: “Al-Hayat, which carried a photo of bin Laden and his son at the wedding, said its correspondent was the only journalist at the ceremony, also attended by bin Laden’s mother, two brothers and sister who flew to Kandahar from Saudi Arabia.”
And yes, here, too, Atwan offers his thoughtful review of the bin Laden video, courtesy of PTI, datelined London June 22, 2001: “[Atwan] said the video was proof that the fugitive Saudi millionaire [the Bruce Wayne of terrorists] was fit, well equipped and confident enough to send out a call to arms.” Why this sudden need for proof? According to Atwan in the same article: “There have been rumours that [bin Laden] is ill and that he is being contained by the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is quite clear from the film that he is in good health to the point where he can fire a rifle, and is free to operate as he chooses.” In other words, limber enough for his starring role in the months ahead.
So who is Abdel Bari Atwan and why is he anxious to tell us so much? According to the Winter 1999 issue of INEAS (Institute of Near Eastern and African Studies), Abdel Bari Atwan, a Palestinian, was born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in 1950. Educated at the American University of Cairo, Atwan moved to Saudi Arabia and worked as a writer for the al-Madina newspaper. In 1978, he moved to London, where he became a correspondent for the Saudi-owned Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. In 1988, after shuffling around between Saudi-owned papers, Atwan was offered a position as editor of al-Quds al-Arabi. By his account, he was offered a position as the executive editor of the Saudi-owned al-Hayat (of the bin Laden wedding video coup), yet turned it down to produce a more independent newspaper as a challenge to the “empires” of the Saudi-dominated dailies.
Al-Quds began production in April 1989. A little more than a year later, Saddam invaded Kuwait and al-Quds stood alone as the only Arab newspaper opposed to the Persian Gulf War – at least by Atwan’s account. According to Atwan: “Without the Gulf War, we wouldn’t have taken such political lines, which made us well recognized and well respected.” In November 1996, Bari-Atwan braved a twelve-hour car ride through muddy roads, attired in shabby Afghani rags in below-zero weather, and gave us the early scoop on bin Laden, conducting a one-on-one interview in bin Laden’s [bat]cave. From then on, the mainstream media – CNN, ABC, BBC, Sky News – looked to Bari-Atwan and al-Quds as the “independent” voice of the Arab street.
Incidentally, in a discussion concerning the matter of Saudi domination of the Arabic media, taken from the Carryon.oneworld.org site, Atwan, as editor of his struggling independent, was facing off against Jihad Khazen, the editor of the Saudi-owned al-Hayat. As Atwan proudly related in support of his independence: “One day I was called by the BBC-TV Arabic service [whose staff later reconstituted itself as al-Jazeera television]: ‘There’s a story on your front page today, saying such and such. Is it true?’ I asked why he should doubt it and he replied: ‘It’s not published in al-Hayat [his job offer] or al-Sharq al-Awsat [his alma mater].’ ” Atwan boasts: “At least I can say we are 95 to 96 per cent independent” – leaving out the 4 to 5 per cent spent on bin Laden, I presume. Whether or not al-Quds truly is independent, this is the cover story the mainstream media buys into when they come trolling for their “independent” evidence.