Al-Qaeda plotter claims Saudi royals helped fund 9/11 attacks

Turki Al FaisalBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An al-Qaeda member, who helped plot the 9/11 attacks on the United States in 2001, has said during court testimony that members of the Saudi royal family provided financial support for the terrorist operation. Zacarias Moussaoui is serving a life sentence in a maximum-security prison in the US state of Colorado, after admitting in federal court that he conspired to kill US citizens as part of the 9/11 attacks. Moussaoui, a citizen of France, was being paid by al-Qaeda to take flying lessons in Minnesota when he was arrested on immigration charges less than a month before 9/11. He said during his trial that he was supposed to be the fifth member of an al-Qaeda hijacker team that aimed to fly a Boeing 747 into the White House.

On Wednesday it emerged that Moussaoui gave testimony last October in a US court, as part of a lawsuit brought by family members of 9/11 victims and several insurance companies against the government of Saudi Arabia. They claim that members of the Saudi government helped fund al-Qaeda in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks through a variety of means. Speaking under oath, Moussaoui said a number of “extremely famous” Saudi government officials were systematically funding al-Qaeda’s operations in the years immediately preceding the 9/11 attacks. Among them, said Moussaoui, was Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, the youngest son of the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. Prince Turki directed the Kingdom’s intelligence agency, the Al Mukhabarat Al-A’amah, from 1979 until 2001, when he briefly became ambassador to Britain and then the United States, before retiring. Moussaoui told the court that he also met another senior Saudi official who worked in the US embassy in Afghanistan in the 1990s. The purpose of the meeting, said Moussaoui, was to arrange a trip to Washington, DC, where the two men would search for a suitable location from where a laser-guided Stinger missile could be launched against Air Force One, the personal aircraft of the President of the US.

Moussaoui’s testimony emerged on Wednesday as a result of a legal push by the government of Saudi Arabia to have the lawsuit thrown out of court. Spokesmen for the Saudi government have blasted the lawsuit, claiming it is based on testimony by “deranged criminals” like Moussaoui, who have “zero credibility”.

News you may have missed #750 (US edition)

NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraftBy TIMOTHY W. COLEMAN | intelNews.org |
►►US spy agency launches new satellite. The US National Reconnaissance Office, the agency tasked with overseeing America’s intelligence satellites, successfully placed a new spy satellite into orbit. The Christian Science Monitor reports that the NROL-38 reconnaissance spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The satellite launch, sitting atop an Atlas 5 rocket, was streamed live via Webcast for several minutes before being terminated due to national security restrictions and the classified nature of the mission. Particulars regarding the capabilities or specific purpose of the spy satellite were not provided. However, just a few days before, the US Air Force’s highly classified space plane known as the  AX-37B returned to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
►►FBI takes on larger domestic intelligence role. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation, under a newly devised action plan, will be afforded a greater role in domestic intelligence efforts in the US, according to a recent Washington Post article.  Senior level field agents at the bureau are expected to serve as representatives for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), the agency created after 9/11 to oversee activities of all US intelligence efforts. The Post quotes CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood, who —remarkably, considering CIA/ODNI relations in recent years— said that the agency has not opposed the ODNI’s move to elevate FBI agents in the US, and that “the program is working well”.
►►CIA declassifies 9/11 documents. The CIA released this past week hundreds of pages of declassified documents related to the September 11, 2001, attacks, which detail the agency’s budgetary woes leading up to the deadly strikes and its attempts to track al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The National Security Archive at George Washington University says it obtained the documents through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents are heavily redacted and offer little new information about what the US knew about the al-Qaeda plot before 2001.

Analysis: CIA retains special operations role in post-9/11 era

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Despite its ‘shoot ’em-up’ image in popular culture, the Central Intelligence Agency is predominantly responsible for collecting and analyzing intelligence for the benefit of US policymakers. The Agency’s paramilitary tasks —also known as ‘special operations’— form a somewhat smaller part of its overall mission. The CIA is America’s only government agency that can legally authorized by the President to perform special operations. The question is, should it? One of the 9/11 Commission Report’s chief recommendations was that the CIA should be stripped of its special operations function, and that the latter should be surrendered to the Department of Defense, in the form of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Clearly, JSOC has played an important role in post-9/11 counterterrorist operations. Yet it is equally clear that, not only has the CIA not been stripped of its paramilitary tasks, but the latter have actually been drastically augmented by the Obama administration —not least through the continuing unmanned drone program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A well-written analysis by Politico’s Josh Gerstein correctly notes that recommendations to eliminate the CIA’s paramilitary role and transfer it to the Pentagon “remain unpopular in the highest echelons”. The article quotes Philip Zelikow, a University of Virginia professor and former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, who is one of the few intelligence planners that favor transferring special operations from the CIA to the Department of Defense. He says that military functions “ought to be performed by trained military organizations […]. Do you want the CIA operating a combatant command responsible for fighting our twilight wars, especially in a world when twilight wars are the wars we mainly fight?”. The argument seems to be that, as special operations become increasingly central in America’s ‘war on terrorism’, they should be commanded by a military, rather than a civilian, agency. An unnamed former CIA official puts forward the Agency’s view in the article: what do you do “if you have a [host] country that wants to deny a program”? In other words, how do you exercise plausible deniability through the Department of Defense? “[T]he CIA is going to [have to] move to the front of the queue”, he answers. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #581

Jin Yinan

Jin Yinan

►►CIA wants to censor book by ex-FBI agent. The agent, Ali H. Soufan, argues in the book that the CIA missed a chance to derail the 9/11 plot by withholding from the FBI information about two future 9/11 hijackers living in San Diego. He also says that torture interrogation methods against terrorism detainees were unnecessary and, ultimately, counterproductive. Both these things are known and have been publicly discussed. As The Independent correctly notes, the CIA’s objections are “less for national security reasons than out of a desire to avoid re-airing incidents that show the Agency in an unflattering light”.
►►New scandal at India’s SIGINT agency. The Indian government founded the National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) in 2004, as a potential communications nerve center for all of India’s intelligence agencies. But the SIGINT agency has been involved in one financial scandal after the other, most recently relating to an elaborate procurement scam.
►►China silent about spy lecture leak. China has remained quiet as a recently leaked video of a Chinese general’s candid remarks on sensitive spying cases continued to draw international attention. The ministries of defense and foreign affairs have not responded to media inquiries, and numerous phone calls to National Defense University, where the general, Jin Yinan (pictured), teaches, went unanswered. State media made no mention of the story.

News you may have missed #567

Thuraya satellite telephone

Thuraya phone

►►Libya bans unauthorized cell phone use. The government of Libya warned Thursday that any of its citizens found using a Thuraya satellite phone without a permit will be treated as spies for NATO, and may face the death penalty. The reason, according to an official statement, is that “spies [of] NATO use the Thuraya telephones to give crusaders the coordinates of some locations to be bombed, which has caused the deaths of a large number of civilians”. Thuraya is a popular satellite phone provider based in the United Arab Emirates, with over a quarter of a million subscribers in the Middle East and Africa.
►►Uzbekistan jails senior mining scientist for spying. A court in Uzbekistan has convicted Said Ashurov, who worked as chief metallurgist for British mining company Oxus Gold, to 12 years in prison on charges of industrial espionage. Ashurov was arrested in March as he tried to cross the border into Tajikistan. A lawyer for the mining company described Ashurov’s case as a fabrication and said that the Uzbek government was using him as a pawn in their battle to take control of the Amantaytau Goldfields project, which is developing “some of the world’s most promising gold fields”.
►►Ex-White House official claims CIA tried to recruit 9/11 hijackers. Richard Clarke, who served in two US administrations as a White House counterterrorism adviser, says he now suspects the CIA hid its knowledge that two of the September 11 hijackers had entered the United States Read more of this post

Spy defectors claim Iran had foreknowledge of 9/11

9/11 attack

9/11 attack

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A new filing in a nine-year court case in Manhattan contains testimony by two defectors from Iran’s intelligence service, who claim that Tehran had “foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks”. According to The New York Times, the two unnamed defectors also claimed that the Iranian intelligence services helped al-Qaeda in planning the attacks, and that operatives of the Iranian government funded and helped train the 9/11 hijackers. The filing also claims that Hezbollah, the Iranian-linked militant group that controls large parts of Lebanon, helped shelter al-Qaeda members in the months and years following the American invasion of Afghanistan. The filing was submitted to a US federal court on last week, in support of a lawsuit seeking damages from the government of Iran for its alleged “direct support for, and sponsorship of, the most deadly act of terrorism in American history”. The lawsuit was initiated 2002 on behalf of families of people who died in the 9/11 attacks. But neither the names of the Iranian defectors nor the precise content of their testimony has been revealed to the public, as their assertions were submitted to the presiding judge under seal. Read more of this post

Comment: Washington Post’s ‘Top Secret America’

Dana Priest

Dana Priest

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
Like most intelligence observers, we at intelNews have monitored with interest The Washington Post’s recent investigation into the current state of the US intelligence complex. Authored by longtime investigative reporter Dana Priest and national security correspondent William Arkin, the three-part series offers a long-overdue examination of some of the most pressing issues in American intelligence. The articles are well written, detailed and informative, and intelNews recommends that they be read by all those interested in understanding broad trends in contemporary American intelligence. However, those readers interested in a sneak peak of some of the most important findings of the Post’s investigation, may wish to browse the helpful summary provided by Liz Goodwin, of Yahoo! News’ Upshot blog. In it, she delineates the main conclusions of the report, which –broadly speaking– focuses on three critical issues.

Read more of this post

News you may have missed #366 (Gaza flotilla edition III)

  • Israel insists Hezbollah members were on flotilla. Israeli officials are privately saying that they had intelligence that Hezbollah operatives were hidden among the crew and passengers of several Gaza Freedom Flotilla ships. The plan, they say, was to board all the ships, bring the flotilla to Ashdod, and then deal separately with the Gaza activists and alleged Hezbollah members.
  • Analysis: Flotillas and the wars of public opinion. In the aftermath of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla massacre, “[t]he Israeli threats against Iran will be seen in a different context, and Israeli portrayal of Iran will hold less sway over the world”, says StratFor.
  • Turkey compares flotilla massacre to 9-11. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu drew a parallel between the Israeli raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and September 11, 2001. “Psychologically this attack is like 9/11 for Turkey,” he said. Meanwhile, as two more aid ships are approaching Gaza, an anonymous senior Israeli Navy commander told The Jerusalem Post that Israel will “use more force next time”.

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News you may have missed #0201

  • New book claims historic IRA commander was British spy. John Turi has authored England’s Greatest Spy, a new book, which claims that Éamon de Valera, who founded Irish republican party Fianna Fáil and later became the first President of the Irish Republic, secretly became a British intelligence officer in 1916. Tim Pat Coogan, one of de Valera’s most prominent biographers, reviews the book.
  • Japan launches spy satellite targetting North Korea. Japan’s H-2A No. 16 rocket, which was launched on Saturday, carries an advanced space satellite that will spy on North Korean military and other sites. The satellite is said to carry the most advanced high-resolution imaging equipment of all of Japan’s intelligence-gathering satellites.
  • US Secret Service 9/11 text messages disclosed. Hundreds of thousands of lines of transcribed pager messages exchanged between US civilian and military users on 9/11 were anonymously published on the Internet on Wednesday. They include messages exchanged between US Secret Service agents.

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FBI still lacks translators, eight years after 9/11, says report

Report cover

Report cover

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
An internal audit by the US Justice Department’s inspector general has found that the FBI faces a critical shortage of foreign-language specialists, eight years after 9/11. The audit report (redacted version available in .pdf here) issued last Monday by inspector general Glenn Fine, reveals that the lack of translators prevented the FBI from accessing 31 per cent of the foreign-language material it collected in counter-terrorism operations from 2006 to 2008. This means the Bureau, which serves as America’s primary counterintelligence and counterterrorism force, has been unable to read tens of thousands of pages and listen to or review 1.2 million hours of audio intercepts in the last two years alone. Remarkably, despite the well-understood need for foreign-language specialists in the post-9/11 security environment, the audit found that the total number of FBI translators dropped from 1,338 in March 2005 to 1,298 in September last year. Read more of this post

MI5 chief defends use of intelligence extracted through torture

Jonathan Evans

Jonathan Evans

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
In an unprecedented public speech, the director of MI5, Britain’s national counterintelligence agency, said the intelligence extracted by torturing suspects after 9/11 had stopped “many attacks” on Western and other targets. Last January, Jonathan Evans, who was named director of MI5 in April 2007, gave the first-ever media interview by an MI5 director in history. Last Thursday, he made history once again by giving the first-ever public speech by an MI5 chief. Speaking at the University of Bristol, England, Evans said MI5 was right to cooperate after 9/11 with US and other intelligence agencies, even if those agencies were known to routinely extract information from detainees through torture. In doing so, he revealed that MI5’s own knowledge of al-Qaeda was “inadequate” at the time of 9/11, and that the agency “had to get overseas help at the time”. Read more of this post

Clinton’s mysterious comment raises eyebrows in New Zealand

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
A comment by US secretary of state Hillary Clinton following a meeting with a senior New Zealand government official has raised questions by intelligence observers in the pacific nation. Speaking last Friday after an official meeting in Washington with her New Zealand counterpart, minister of foreign affairs Murray McCully, Clinton said the US “very much” values its diplomatic partnership with New Zealand. She then proceeded to say “[w]e are resuming our intelligence-sharing cooperation, which we think is very significant”. This latter comment struck many intelligence observers in Wellington as odd, and for a good reason: nobody was under the impression that the US-NZ intelligence cooperation had been disrupted. The mystery deepened when New Zealand prime minister John Key refused to explain Hillary Clinton’s remark when asked, saying simply “I just don’t comment on issues of national security”. Read more of this post

Analysis: Is Afghanistan really important in the “war on terrorism”?

Paul P. Pillar

Paul P. Pillar

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center from 1997 to 1999, Paul Pillar, has authored an interesting editorial in which he asks “how important are physical havens to terrorist groups, such as al-Qaeda?”. The answer: not very. Writing in The Washington Post, Pillar points out that the main unstated assumption behind the US invasion of Afghanistan, namely that the country must not be allowed to again become a haven for terrorist groups, is incompatible with what we know about how such groups organize. If they are offered a haven, groups such as al-Qaeda will use it for basic training of recruits, says Pillar. But operations planning and training does not require such a base, nor is such a center crucial for successful execution of operations. Read more of this post

CIA loses turf war as new US interrogation unit is unveiled

CIA HQ

CIA HQ

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
The CIA appears to have been stripped of its senior role in America’s post-9/11 interrogation program, as the Obama Administration announced this week the creation of a new interrogation unit. The new High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) will be an elite interagency squad, which will report to the National Security Council and answer directly to the White House. But, according to several insiders, the unit will be housed at the FBI, and not the CIA. The two agencies have been fighting a bitter turf war after 9/11. Officials at Langley view this development as a severe blow to the Agency, which the Bush Administration had tasked with overseeing America’s post 9/11 interrogation program. Read more of this post