Creating Red Herrings
Deception and misdirection are keywords in the Bin Laden’s jihad against America. The red herrings were planted well in advance of the suicide assaults in New York and Washington. debkafile picks up the false trail from the time it was laid. On August 8, RIA Novosty news agency in Moscow reported a strange story: The Taleban government in Afghanistan had appointed Bin Laden commander-in-chief of its armed forces – not only in Afghanistan but also in the Peshawar region of Pakistan, where the Taleban maintain several thousand weapons-trained recruits.
The report did not go unnoticed by intelligence experts in Washington, Moscow and Jerusalem, who traded information but reached no consensus on what it all meant.
Bin Laden, they knew, has prided himself on maintaining a low profile. For the past decade, his mysterious ways have nourished the psychological threat he poses to the West. It has also kept him out of harm’s way.
The experts could not figure out what prompted his personal friend, Mullah Mohammed Omar, supreme leader of the Taleban government to offer him the post. Both men go back a long time, to the mid-1980s, when they used to pray together in the Karachi mosque.
It wasn’t Bin Laden’s only surprise. debkafile‘s terrorism experts believe that story was made of whole cloth and planted as a piece of misdirection.
By then, intelligence experts were scratching their heads over another odd piece of information appearing a week earlier.
Bin Laden had just named Jumma Mamangani, an Uzbeki, as right-hand man and operations chief of the Al Qaeda terrorist movement.
EBKAfile’s terrorism experts report that, until three years ago, Mamangani, commanded the Moslem Army for the Liberation of Kyrgyzstan and managed to take over parts of the Batkan valley in eastern Kyrgyzstan, whence he threatened the approaches to the capital city of Bishkek. At the beginning of the year, Mamangani moved to Afghanistan, where Bin Laden gave him the command of three Al Qaeda special forces training camps near Jalalabad, Farmada and Daronta.
The odd aspect of that tale was that Bin Laden had handed the Uzbeki militia chief a job traditionally reserved for his closest allies, the al-Zawahar family, leaders of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Their pact had been sealed in the terror world’s wedding of the century last year, when Bin Laden’s son married Ayaman Al Zawahar’s daughter. Al-Zawahar was then appointed Bin Laden’s first deputy and heir; the coveted operations officer post was left open – until Mamangani filled it this year.
None of the terror experts in the US, Russia or Israel imagined that Bin Laden’s reshuffle was a prelude to a major operation. However, after the airliner attacks in New York and Washington, they noted that Bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy had gone into hiding. It was as if the earth had swallowed them. The only senior man left in command of Al Qaeda and bases was the new operations officer, Mamangani.
It was then that the penny dropped.
Al Zawahari was “blown” to Western intelligence after personally commanding past operations, including the failed 1995 assassination attempt against Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Ethiopia, and the sabotage of the U.S.S. Cole last October in Aden harbor, the last known Bin Laden terrorist attack till this week. Appointing a new operations officer from Central Asia was a red herring to misdirect Western terrorist watchers attention from the assault to come.
Central Asia was indeed on everyone’s mind in the weeks leading up to the assaults in America. It came up in conversations between Russian president Putin and U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld just two weeks ago in Moscow, and between Putin and the visiting Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon last week in the Kremlin.
Putin even sent a special emissary to Washington to meet CIA director George Tenet and explain the dangers hanging over Moslem countries in Central Asia and northern China – home to a Moslem minority of no less than 60 million people — from Mamangani’s new appointment. No one gave a thought to New York and its twin towers.
Some of the experts estimate Bin Laden’s pre-planning period for an operation as two years or more. Up until October 1998, Bin Laden and his staff officers had used satellite communications and encoded e-mail, moving through protected channels operated by an Addis Ababa-registered communications company he owns.
After the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the terror chief stopped using electronic communications and turned to human couriers. They often posed as immigrant laborers or itinerant businessmen, usually connected with the fishing trade. It was a group of such “fishermen” who carried out the attack on the USS Cole last year.
But the FBI investigation has been stymied till now because no telephones, computers or any other devices were found in the house the raiders rented across from Aden harbor.
Since the end of 1998, not one transmission to or from Bin Laden has been picked up by US intelligence eavesdroppers, leaving American surveillance agencies completely deaf and blind to his activities.