Six weeks before the US mid-term vote, the controversy between Democrats and Republicans on the Iraq War’s impact on the war on terror has shifted ground; former President Bill Clinton, who headed the Democratic administration before George W. Bush, is fighting back Republican charges that he did not do enough to fight terrorism. The implication is that his negligence somehow made it possible for al Qaeda’s 9/11 to take place in the first year of the Bush term.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s al Qaeda experts describe how the debate strikes America’s friends and enemies:
1. The jihadists, the Iranians, the Europeans and the Middle East alike view the sparring between US Democrats and Republicans as marking deep divisions in Americans society not only over Iraq but also on the war on terror.
As regards America’s enemies, these divisions are taken as the personal achievement of Osama bin Laden, who stood up to fellow al Qaeda leaders, including his second in command Ayman Zawahiri, and insisted on their mujaheddin jumping into the Iraq war. The internal debate in the United States is seen as proving him right and has boosted his prestige in jihadi circles.
2. Al Qaeda concludes from the debate, from the National Intelligence Estimate’s judgments and from Clinton’s words in his interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Sept. 24, that American policy-makers have still not plumbed its nature, motivations and modes of operation. The heads of the Bush administration do not appear to grasp that al Qaeda’s decisions are part and parcel of a global, long-term strategy, not off-the-cuff regional outbursts.
Two points in the Clinton interview drew al Qaeda’s particular attention:
One was Clinton’s statement that he had authorized the CIA to kill bin Laden and even “contracted with people to kill him” and his assertion of a plan to attack Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and hunt for bin Laden after the attack on the USS Cole.
The former president explained he held back because: “The CIA and FBI refused to certify that bin Laden was responsible.
Clinton did not explain their refusal. But it spoke volumes to al Qaeda listeners because it touched on an abiding US taboo on mention of the channel through which international counter-espionage agents helped al Qaeda plant penetration agents in the United States between 1991 and 2001 until the 9/11 attacks). This taboo implies that the channel has not been completely uncovered by American intelligence agency.
The enigmas of double agents
The second was stated with great emphasis by the former president: “There is not a living soul in the world who thought Osama bin Laden had anything to do with Black Hawk Down or was paying attention to it, or even knew al Qaeda was a going concern in October ’93.”
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources, there was indeed more than “one living soul” who knew better (including a Qaeda’s undercover agents in America). Occupants of the New York office of the former UN secretary general Butrous Butrous Ghali were fully aware that the Somali Muslim militia warlord Mohamed Aideed who controlled the Mogadishu souk was armed by al Qaeda and acted on its directives.
There was also foreknowledge in the UN Secretariat of an al Qaeda conspiracy to ambush American peacemakers if they attacked the Aideed militia.
Clinton and US intelligence found out about the plot when US special operations forces arrived in Somalia in the first week of November 1993, raided the UN’s Mogadishu offices and took copies and photos of the documents and evidence in their files.
They were not the only “living souls’ with that knowledge.
By 1993, the Egyptian double agent Ali A. Mohamed, who spent 1985-1989 at the US Special Forces facility in Fort Bragg, had been tagged by the CIA and FBI as an agent of Osama bin Laden.
While wearing US military uniform, he was tied closely to the Muslim refugee center in Brooklyn, New York and was friends with El Sayyid A. Nosair, the Muslim terrorist who assassinated the Jewish right-wing leader Rabbi Meir Cahane in 1990. The al Qaeda cell planted in the Brooklyn center planned and executed the first attack on New York’s Twin Towers in February 1993.
From that date to the end of the 1993, Mohammed protected his guise as double agent by passing to the FBI a profusion of data on the military machine bin Laden was fashioning in the Arabian Peninsula and East Africa for overthrowing the Saudi monarchy.
It is plain now that Mohammed was senior enough in al Qaeda ranks and close enough to bin Laden to be in on their plans to humiliate the US force in Somalia. But he did not betray the jihadist group.
By 2000, when Clinton chose to attack Afghanistan, overthrow the Taliban and hunt for bin Laden after the attack on the USS Cole, the FBI and CIA were reluctant to certify al Qaeda’s responsibility because they had still not sorted out to what degree their double agent operation using Muslim assets like Mohammed was working for America and against al Qaeda.
This uncertainty was still unresolved when the Bush administration took office and was confronted with the Sept 11 calamity.