By Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie
Translated by Lucy Rounds
New York: Thunder's Mouth/Nation Books 2002; 249 pp.; $12.95
Reviewed By Kevin Sanders
Did the failure of a secret Enron oil deal with the Taliban precipitate 9/11? With the release of an English language edition of the explosive French bestseller, Forbidden Truth, the question assumes new validity and urgency. With separate investigations underway into 9/11, Enron, and the role of the Saudis in world terrorism, the book could not be more timely. It provides overwhelming evidence of collusion between the Bush administration, private oil interests, and the Saudi government in a secret pipeline deal with the Taliban. When the deal went awry, the authors claim, U. S. negotiators resorted to "bellicose and reckless" threats. The outcome of these tactics, the book suggests, was 9/11. In his introduction to the book, Joseph Trento, author of 'The Secret History of the CIA', describes the confluence of events as "the greatest foreign policy blunder of the past thirty years."
According to 'Forbidden Truth', the pivotal moment came during a meeting the authors say took place in Berlin in July 2001 between an American delegation and Pakistani officials representing the Taliban. For several years a consortium of big oil interests, headed by the California-based UNOCAL, had been attempting to secure rights to build a $3-billion oil pipeline through Afghanistan. The pipeline was part of a larger $18-billion project to tap the huge supplies of oil near the Caspian Basin - the largest untapped oil field on the planet - and pump it to the sea. As part of the effort to secure the pipeline, American oil companies had been courting the Taliban, whose increasingly atrocious human rights record and religious fanaticism the Bush administration was clearly prepared to ignore.
However, according to Brissard and Dasquie, when the Taliban gave sanctuary to Osama bin Laden, the United States gave the Taliban an ultimatum: Hand over bin Laden and agree to the pipeline. If they did so, the Taliban were told, they would be rewarded with "a carpet of gold." If not, they would suffer under "a carpet of bombs." The thesis of "Forbidden Truth" is that, in response, Osama bin laden ordered 9/11 as a preemptive strike.
The impressive credentials of the French authors make it difficult to ignore or dismiss their analysis. Both are respected journalists who draw on deep experience in intelligence, politics, and international finance. Guillaume Dasquie is editor-in-chief of the Paris-based Intelligence Online, and authoritative international news service for intelligence professionals. Jean-Charles Brisard is a financial journalist who was commissioned by the French intelligence in 1999 to prepare a report on the constellation of banks and businesses that covertly underwrite international terrorism. When French President Chirac came to the United States just after 9/11, he personally gave a copy of the report to President Bush. It precludes any possible denial that Saudi money financed the terrorist attacks.
Brisard's report, "The Economic Network of the bin Laden Family", to the French government became the basis for the book, which was originally entitled "Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth." The French intelligence report is now translated, is included in its entirety as an appendix to the English-language edition of the book. In excruciating - and often exhausting - detail, the report traces and charts (sometimes literally) the intricate web of Arab and Arab-linked banks, companies, and foundations around the world through which money flows to terrorist organizations. It also reveals the extent to which the influence of Arab oil has compromised and corrupted the political leadership of the Western world. Immediately after the release of "Forbidden Truth" in France, the bin Laden family moved successfully to ban publication of the book in Switzerland, where many of them keep their money in Swiss banks.
In the wake of 9/11, the allegations in the book gained new and overwhelming implications. Here were two distinguished researchers claiming that the Bush administration had been conducting a covert - and illegal - foreign policy, designed to serve the interests of powerful oil and arms dealers and carried out through compliant elements in the State and Defense departments, the CIA, and the FBI. Even more sinister was the accusation that key figures in the Bush administration had deliberately suppressed efforts to penetrate bin Laden's terrorist empire in order to avoid upsetting secret oil company negotiations underway at the time with the bin Ladens, Saudi Arabia, and the Taliban. The FBI has declined to comment on the book, and the U.S. State Department denies any knowledge of secret U.S. oil negotiations with the Taliban.
The publication now in the United States of an English translation of "Forbidden Truth" ensures that those in a position to get the facts will at least be armed with the right questions. For members of Congress involved in the twelve different committees now investigating 9/11, the book will be invaluable in pointing the way to fruitful avenues of inquiry. Referring to the "carpet of gold or carpet of bombs" threat at the secret Berlin meeting, the authors write: "It is also worth asking whether, had this threat of July 2001 been widely known, U.S. intelligence agencies might have analyzed the information they were receiving about bin Laden's plots against the U.S. differently."
The book notes, "From February 5th to August 2nd 2001, the United States engaged in private and risky discussions with the Taliban concerning geostrategic oil interests ??. These discussions involved the Taliban betraying Osama bin Laden, though at the time the Americans did not know the extent of the religious leader's power over the Afghan rulers. The suicide attacks of September 11 were possibly the outcome of this initiative. That needs further investigation."
The authors explain, "At the beginning of August 2001 the Taliban and its terrorist allies knew their days were numbered. Was the statement made in Berlin and relayed to the Taliban by the Pakistanis taken as a signal by them? Did they launch a preemptive strike? We have no clear answer to that, but the months from February to August 2001 must be independently investigated, in the same way that such an investigation also needs to focus on to what extent the Bush administration knew (or didn't know) and whether the right steps were taken to avoid this tragedy.
"However that may be, we now know from "Time Magazines'" recent special report (August 4, 2002) that U.S. plans began in the Clinton administration to launch an attack on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Those plans were shelved when Bush took office, but were revived and accelerated in August 2001, following the breakdown of the pipeline negotiations. By the beginning of September 2001, the war plans had been approved by the Pentagon. On September 9 a National Security Presidential Directive outlining plans for an attack the following month, was presented to President Bush for approval and action. Two days later the highjacked planes struck America.
Since the book was first published in France, Enron investigators have learned that the now scandal-ridden, Texas-based energy giant headed a $10-million feasibility study for the secret oil pipeline project. Writing in Scoop Magazine, former federal prosecutor John Loftus reports that Enron also bought vast tracts of desolate and apparently worthless land in the Caspian Basin in anticipation of huge profits that would follow when the pipeline was built. With such a prize in sight, it was not surprising that Enron should lavish huge campaign contributions to ensure cooperation from U.S. lawmakers, overwhelmingly Republicans. In the 2000 election, Enron invested $2.4 million in political contributions, and was one of Bush's most generous supporters. Throughout his campaign, Bush traveled in the private jet of Ken Lay, the now-disgraced Enron CEO. Between 1997 and 2000 - while the secret pipeline negotiations were underway - Enron paid out $10.7 million in contributions to U.S. federal and state politicians.
Enron had worked on the feasibility study for the Afghanistan pipeline from the early nineties. But by mid-2001 the negotiations were apparently breaking down. Although some reports suggested the Taliban might be willing to hand over bin Laden, the Afghans were nevertheless demanding and ever-larger share of the oil profits in return for an agreement to allow the building of the pipeline. Enron's top executives presumably became alarmed. They desperately needed the pipeline deal to save Enron from impending bankruptcy and from the inevitable exposure of Enron's crooked accounting practices.
With looming nightmares of lost fortunes and clanging prison gates, it might be assumed that Enron CEO Ken Lay and his associates were prepared to urge whatever aggressive measures seemed necessary to press for the success of the pipeline. Then, supposedly, came the "carpet of gold or carpet of bombs" threat. Who initiated and authorized the action is not known. However, it has been learned that Ken Lay and his senior Enron executives had at least six private meetings with Vice President Cheney during the Bush administration's secret energy policy hearings in the months leading up to the period in which Brisard and Dasquie say the threat was made.
Enron could be confident of a sympathetic hearing from Cheney. In 1998, when he was CEO of the U.S. global energy services corporation, Halliburton, Cheney said, "I can't think of a time when we've had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian. It's almost as if the opportunities have arisen overnight. The Good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected regimes friendly to the United States. Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all things considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is." For Cheney and Lay, business trumps democracy.
Brisard's and Dasquie's useful background information about Vice President Cheney's role in Halliburton, may help explain why Cheney refuses to discuss the subject and why he remains determined to prevent any disclosures on the participants and discussions in the Bush administration's energy policy task force set up in January 2001, only four days after Bush took office. The authors write, "No one knows what influence the task force had on the Afghan project. But industry professionals only had to congratulate themselves for the White House's prompt willingness to speak to the Taliban. For the oil industry, which had just earned and even more privileged place in Washington, it was unthinkable that Central Asia be relegated to the status of so many Third World countries useful for dumping military stockpiles."
Clearly neither Bush nor Cheney will welcome the attention "Forbidden Truth" will bring to many aspects of their activities before, during, and after 9/11. Both Bush and Cheney made separate personal appeals to Senate Majority Leader Tom Dashle to limit inquiries into 9/11. And Bush has now taken a step, unprecedented in American history, of ordering the documents from his father's years in the White House - together with documents from his own years as governor of Texas - permanently sealed and withheld. The book will encourage additional avenues of speculation on what the Bush family may wish to conceal.
In Washington, David Shippers, the well-connected lawyer and prosecutor who led the congressional investigation into the Clinton-Lewinski affair, claims he was ignored when, in the months prior to 9/11, he warned Attorney General Ashcroft of a possible terrorist attack using highjacked commercial airliners to ram government buildings. Shippers, is now representing several outraged FBI agents who say they were warned of such impending attacks, but were forbidden by superiors from doing anything about them. Some allege they were pulled off their beats when they uncovered highly suggestive evidence of planned acts of terrorism. According to Shippers the Bush administration had granted "terrorism free reign in the United States." Judicial Watch - the public interest group that has taken action to force Cheney to hand over documents on his secret energy meetings - has now filed charges on behalf of another FBI agent who says he has evidence that the Bush administration deliberately suppressed his investigations into terrorists threats pre - 9/11.
Now, in "Forbidden Truth," comes the most detailed report yet of the allegations made by the late John P. O'Neill, former deputy of the FBI's New York office in charge of national security and head of the agency's anti-terror efforts. O'Neill claimed the Bush administration had deliberately blocked his investigations into Osama bin Laden's terror networks. O'Neill said his efforts to track the role of Osama bin Laden in terrorist attacks on United States facilities in Africa, Yemen, and Saudi Arabia were deliberately obstructed by U.S. diplomats and top officials in Washington. O'Neill resigned in exasperation only weeks before 9/11. In an interview with Brisard and Dasquei, he accused the Bush administration of deliberately hindering his investigations to avoid disrupting the secret deals underway between the Taliban and the U.S. oil companies. Two days before 9/11, O'Neill took up a new job as security director at the World Trade Center, where he was among the three thousand who died in the attack. In what was to be his last interview on the subject, O'Neill told the authors that the U.S. State Department and the CIA were "more interested in placating Saudi and American oil interests than in bringing the Al Qaeda perpetrators to justice."
Such obstruction is not new. As far back as the Reagan administration, Oliver North reported in his autobiography that every time he tried to do something about terrorist links in the Middle East, he was told to stop because it might embarrass the Saudis. Oil and arms have long linked the United States and Saudi Arabia in a corrupt and corrupting relationship that - as we now see - has apparently left the United States powerless to challenge the Saudis' known support of terrorism. "Forbidden Truth" observes, "The U.S. is the largest buyer of Saudi oil - about 1.7 million barrels a day - more than twice the consumption of fifteen years ago. Saudi Arabia is also the largest purchaser of American weapons, having bought $39 billion worth of U.S. arms in the 1990's." America's economic development, the authors write, "Has depended on alliances with oil dictators."
In this regard the book explores the role of the Carlyle Group. In its regard the book explores the role of the Carlyle Group. In its promotional literature, Carlyle describes itself as "a vast interlocking, global network of businesses and investment professionals." Essentially it is a global sales organization with special emphasis on oil and arms. Carlyle has close links with Saudi oil, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin. No single corporate organization has enjoyed such financial rewards from the U.S. war on terror as Carlyle. Brisard and Dasquie write, "Carlyle Group's leading investors include many people from George H.W. Bush's entourage, as well as that of President George W. Bush. Its board of directors includes important figures from the Bush team: James A. Baker III, former secretary of state under George Bush; Frank C. Carlucci, former secretary of defense under Ronald Reagan ??and John Sununu, former White House chief of staff under George Bush." The book points out that at various times, both George Bush Sr. and President George W. Bush have been members of Carlyle. So have powerful members of the Saudi Royal family and the bin Laden family. Much of the book is given over to an analysis of the political implications of these business links, and their predictable impact on U.S. energy and military policies.
Frank Carlucci, chairman of Carlyle, also brought with him into the company many military and CIA officials from the Reagan and Bush administrations. In "Forbidden Truth," links to the CIA crop up repeatedly throughout the pre-9/11 dealings with the Taliban. Former CIA official Christine Rocca is reported to have played a key role in discussions with the Taliban. And Laili Helms, niece of former CIA director Richard Helms, was public relations officer for the Taliban.
When Brisard and Dasquie drew attention to these links in a CNN interview in January 2002, CNN guest commentator Richard Burler, a Former UN arms inspector, immediately seized on the implications. "This has got a cast of characters that is fascinating, " he said. "We've got a former CIA officer, Christina Rocca, who is now with the State Department, who went to Afghanistan only weeks before September 11th, and to Pakistan, and talked with the Taliban, a group we did not recognize ??You've got Laili Helms, the niece of the former head of the CIA who was a public relations agent, hired by the Taliban. And you've got oil - and this the fundamental thing - there is very substantial oil in Central Asia, and to get that out to the sea, the best possible way to do it would be to build a pipeline across Afghanistan." Butler concluded, "I don't think we're being told all the facts. There are denials - claims that meetings didn't take place when clearly they did." Butler, a former diplomat, added pointedly, "The most interesting thing those French authors told us today is that they have sen archives. That means records of diplomatic conversations that took place."
Among the documents the authors quote, one may prove of key importance in establishing Enron's influence in the Bush administration's suppression of the U.S. antiterror efforts prior to 9/11 - and explaining the administration's continuing efforts to cover up such activities. In an updated afterword to "Forbidden Truth," the authors report: "A 1998 memo written by Al Qaeda military chief, Mohammed Atef, reveals that Osama bin Laden's group had detailed knowledge of negotiations that were taking place between Afghanistan's ruling Taliban and American government and business leaders over plans for a U.S. oil and gas pipeline across that Central Asian country." The seven-page memo was found on a computer seized, by the late John O'Neill of the FBI, during his investigation of the 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Africa. Brisard and Dasquie quote Atef as writing in the memo that the United States wants "to take control of any region, which has a huge quantity of oil reserves."
What else the memo contains is not known. Brisard and Dasquie report that Mohammed Atef is thought to have been killed in November 2001 during U.S. operations in Afghanistan. However, former prosecutor John Loftus has taken up the case. He writes that he expects to acquire the original memo soon so he can make it available to Congress if he deems it useful. Loftus speculates that Brisard and Dasquie have never seen the entire Atef memo, only those parts that John O'Neill shared with them. Although the authors include a number of documents in the book's comprehensive appendix, the Atef memo is not among them. O'Neill said the FBI was specifically ordered not to distribute or discuss the Atef memo with other agencies. In the June 2002 issue of Scoop Magazine, Loftus writes that the memo may be "the smoking gun" to "break the Enron pipeline cover-up apart."
Loftus reports that Enron's representative to the Taliban was Prince Turki, then head of Saudi Intelligence and closely linked to the bin Laden family who, in turn, had been promised a contract for part of the pipeline in return for a payoff to the Saudi Royal family. This practice had been developed with success by Carlyle in earlier dealings with the Saudis. Loftus goes on to write, "Enron allegedly approached Cheney in late January, 2002 ??For the sake of the Caspian Basin pipeline, Cheney passed the word inside the beltway not to allow anyone in the government to connect the dots ??That could explain why he is resisting Congress on both the Enron and 9/11 intelligence documents. If Congress ever connects the two investigations, the whole house of cards would collapse."
Loftus concludes, "It is time to face the truth: In order to give Enron one last desperate chance to complete the Taliban pipeline and save itself from bankruptcy, senior levels of U.S. intelligence were ordered to keep their eyes shut and their subordinates ignorant ??Al Qaeda might have piggy-backed on the Enron secrecy blackout to launch their surprise attack, confident in their knowledge that U.S. intelligence had been deliberately blinded by Enron's cronies in Washington."
Accusations in "Forbidden Truth" will inevitably fan growing suspicions that an even larger conspiracy may be at work. In the conservative "The New American" magazine a recent article ["Did We Know What Was Coming," March 11, 2002] quotes an anonymous former FBI counter-terrorism expert saying, "There's got to be more to this than we can see - high level people whose careers are at stake, and don't want the truth coming out. What agenda is someone following? Obviously, people had to know ??People like [Al Qaeda terrorists] don't just move in and out of the country undetected. If someone in D.C. is taking this information and burying it - and it's very easy to control things from D.C. - then this problem goes much, much deeper. It's terrible to think this, but this must have been allowed to happen as part of some other agenda."
Such speculations are outside the scope of "Forbidden Truth", but the implications of what the authors report are disturbing. As general policy, it is prudent not to attribute to conspiracy that which can be explained by stupidity. Take for example Bush's bizarre behavior immediately after learning of the second plane striking the World Trade Center. While the largest aviation crisis in world history was underway in the first-ever attack on the U.S. mainland, the commander-in-chief spent the next twenty-four contiguous minutes talking with children in a Florida elementary classroom about a pet goat. Perhaps it was shock, or a paralysis of denial. But such a failure - for whatever reason - must raise concerns about his competence to lead the free world in the nuclear age.
What now? "Forbidden Truth" could accelerate a landslide of discovery and disclosure. If everything unravels, Cheney will probably go first. He is already looking increasingly like Agnew. The Bush administration may disintegrate in a slow-motion implosion. Bush would be the Nixon in a new Watergate, although without Nixon's charm and wit. Indeed, if Bush's behavior on the morning of 9/11 is any guide, he will just go into a retreat, and let his father's friends try to handle the crisis they have created for him. Or perhaps undertake a nationwide tour of American elementary classrooms with a presidential reading of the lost goat story.
Whatever - it is clear, as Richard Butler intuited, that we have not been told all the facts. But we are learning more, and the data are increasingly suggestive. As Drudge would say, developing hard. The publication of the first English language edition of "Forbidden Truth: U.S. - Taliban Secret Oil Diplomacy and the Failed Hunt for bin Laden" may expand and hasten the process.
Kevin Sanders is United Nations bureau chief for Radio for Peace International and a commentator on Fox News.
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