Pearl Harbour Redux

20.09.2001

Did We Have Advance Warning of Attack?

More evidence is coming to light that United States intelligence and law enforcement agencies may have had advance warning of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Washington, DC. According to an official of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council, whose New York City office was located on the 82nd Floor of One World Trade Center, at least three to four months before two jet liners plowed into the buildings, police established a higher security profile in and around the complex. According to the source, there were security barricades around the buildings, checkpoints, armed policemen in the lobbies of the center's buildings, and frequent absenteeism by some government personnel. A week prior to the attack, an Iranian in Hamburg, Germany contacted police and warned them of an impending terrorist attack against the United States using hijacked planes. His warning specifically mentioned the World Trade Center.

On September 16, the Sunday Mirror of London reported an interesting link between Bin Laden and a firm that provides various security-related services to the U.S. military and intelligence services. That firm is Armor Holdings of Jacksonville, Florida. The British paper reported that the firm's ArmorGroup division has as one of its directors, Ambrose Carey, a brother-in-law (through marriage) of Khaled Bin Laden, an older brother of Osama. Previously, Mr. Carey's half-sister, Carolyn, was married to Salim Bin Laden, another older brother of Osama. Ironically, Salim died in a plane crash in 1983.

Mr. Carey heads up Asmara, a London-based subsidiary of Armor that investigates money laundering. In February, Carey told the Financial Times not to single out the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai for its role in money laundering. However, last August, the CIA identified Dubai as a major transit center for heroin - much of which originates in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan - and drug money laundering. Although Bin Laden's money flows are now under intense scrutiny, government officials point out at these flows should have been investigated earlier by the Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, also known as FINCEN.

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ArmorGroup actually has an office in Tampa, Florida, the home of two military groups that will be crucial in any attack on Bin Laden and Afghanistan. They are the US Special Operations Command and US Central Command. Last year, the Justice Department dropped an investigation of Armor's subsidiary, Point Blank Body Armor Inc., over the alleged hiring of illegal immigrants by its manufacturing facility in Oakland Park, Florida. Point Blank provides body armor to the New York City Police Department, the FBI, U.S. Army, and Secret Service. On the first day of trading after the attack, Armor Holdings' stock value was one of the few that skyrocketed -- almost 40 per cent -- while other major shares plummeted.

A high-ranking U.S. government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan probably provided legitimate visas for the fake passports used by Bin Laden associates to enter the United States. Apparently, the U.S. Embassy in the Pakistani capital is a virtual sieve in providing U.S. visas to Pakistanis and Afghanis. Other U.S. diplomatic missions in Lahore and Peshawar, Pakistan and the Gulf States also have loose visa policies, according to the source. "The intelligence failure started with those visa offices," the official lamented.

An all-but-forgotten incident that took place earlier this year may also indicate that terrorists were planning to use planes to commit terrorist attacks. While much attention has been focused on Bin Laden associates taking flight lessons in American flight schools, little attention has been paid to training they may have received abroad. On May 24, the Israelis shot down a Cessna 152 over the Mediterranean, 30 miles north of Tel Aviv. They feared the plane was headed for a suicide mission against an Israeli target. The aircraft, piloted by Stefan Nikolian, a Lebanese-Armenian, was a training plane stolen from an airfield in Lebanon. Although Nikolian was a Christian, press reports at the time linked him to the Lebanese Hezbollah. However, Lebanese authorities reported that the man was deranged. Well-placed Lebanese sources now report Nikolian may have had a relationship with a son of Osama Bin Laden.

On September 11, 2000 (note the date), a Piper Cadet piloted by a Saudi named Ameer Bukhari collided in a fatal mid-air collision with a Piper Aztec. Bukhari was on his first solo flight from Vero Beach Airport where had been taking flight lessons from Flight Safety Academy. Bukhari, a former flight engineer for Saudi Arabian Airlines, was one of a number of Saudis to have taken flight lessons from the school. After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the FBI held for questioning Adnan Bukhari, the brother of Ameer. Adnan Bukhari and Abdulrahman Alomari were also students at Flight Safety Academy and they both claimed to be with Saudi Arabian Airlines. Alomari was one of the hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center.

The fact that terrorists armed only with small knives and box cutters managed to board commercial aircraft and turn them into kamikazes destined to crash into some of America's most famous buildings has been blamed on a complete breakdown in U.S. aviation security. Airport security has been lax for some time. Considering this, previous mysterious airline crashes can possibly be seen in a different light. On December 19, 1997, a Silk Air Boeing 737 plummeted into a swamp near the Indonesian city of Palembang en route from Jakarta to Singapore. All 104 passengers and crew were killed. An investigation discovered the plane had been deliberately driven into a swamp due to deliberate action in the cockpit. Other court documents referred to "travel sabotage." Interestingly, the incident took place in the region of the world's tallest buildings, the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

EgyptAir 990, a Boeing 767, crashed into the Atlantic on October 31, 1999 after departing New York's JFK Airport for Cairo. The voice cockpit recorder indicated the pilot left the cockpit, then returned to some sort of struggle involving the co-pilot. Among the passengers on the flight were Sudanese and Syrians. In the opinion of some aviation experts, in light of the recent airplane hijackings, in which at least one plane may have been crashed in a remote Pennsylvania field on purpose, these other crashes should be re-examined. They may point to a previous breakdown in aviation security, years before the terror attack on America.

The administration and Congress are calling for an overhaul of the nation's eavesdropping and surveillance laws and increasing the intelligence budget. However, the terrorist attack on the United States largely resulted from the failure of the current intelligence infrastructure -- already the beneficiary of the highest intelligence budget in the nation's history. Washington's traditional approach of throwing money at the problem to make it go away will not prevent a similar occurence in the future. Fixing the problem, not funding it, is clearly the answer. There were clear indications that Bin Laden and his associates were up to something big long before the attacks on New York and Washington. Pearl Harbor showed the United States that it was its own mismanagement of intelligence that led to the failure to protect the U.S. Pacific Fleet from a surprise attack. Sixty years later, a similar breakdown permitted skillful enemies to launch an assualt on the political and financial capitals of America.

Wayne Madsen is a Senior Fellow of the Electronic Privacy Information Center

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