“America’s open borders make tracking terrorists a daunting exercise. NEWSWEEK has learned that the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals–most of them foreign nationals–with suspected terrorist ties are currently living in the United States. “The American people would be surprised to learn how many of these people there are,” says a top U.S. official.”
“All across the world last week, intelligence services were scrambling to catch the terrorists before they struck again. The scale of the roundup was breathtaking: in Yemen, a viper’s nest of terror, authorities hauled in “dozens” of suspected bin Laden followers. In Germany, police were searching for a pair of men believed to be directly involved in the hijacking plot. In France, more than half a dozen were being held for questioning, while in Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands–and Peru and Paraguay–police raided suspected terror hideouts. In the United States, where the FBI has launched the greatest manhunt in history, authorities detained about 90 people. Most of them were being held for minor immigration charges, but investigators were looking for mass murderers. “
“The vast dragnet was heartening, unless one considers that after two American embassies were bombed in 1998, a similar crackdown swept up a hundred potential suspects from Europe to the Middle East to Latin America–and bin Laden’s men were still able to regroup to launch far more devastating attacks.”
“In part, that may be because the government of the United States helped create [them]. In the 1980s, the CIA secretly backed the mujahedin, the Islamic freedom fighters rebelling against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Arming and training the “Mooj” was one of the most successful covert actions ever mounted by the CIA. It turned the tide against the Soviet invaders. But there is a word used by old CIA hands to describe covert actions that backfire: “blowback.” […] The tale begins more than 10 years ago, when the veterans of the Mooj’s holy war against the Soviets began arriving in the United States–many with passports arranged by the CIA.”
“Bonded by combat, full of religious zeal, the diaspora of young Arab men willing to die for Allah congregated at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., a dreary inner-city building that doubled as a recruiting post for the CIA seeking to steer fresh troops to the mujahedin. […] Half a world away, people who understood the ferocity of Islamic extremism could see the coming storm. In the late ’80s, Pakistan’s then head of state, Benazir Bhutto, told the first President George Bush, “You are creating a Frankenstein.” But the warnings never quite filtered down to the cops and G-men on the streets of New York.”
“The international jihad arrived in America on the rainy night of Nov. 5, 1990, when [one of the new immigrants,] Nosair walked into a crowded ballroom at the New York Marriott on 49th Street and shot and killed Rabbi Meir Kahane, a mindless hater who wanted to rid Israel of “Arab dogs””.
“With a room full of witnesses and a smoking gun, the case against Nosair should have been a lay-down. But the New York police bungled the evidence, and Nosair got off with a gun rap. […] A search of Nosair’s apartment turned up instructions for building bombs and photos of targets–including the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center. The police never bothered to inventory most of the evidence, nor were the documents translated–that is, until a van with a 1,500-pound bomb blew up in the underground garage of the World Trade Center on Feb. 26, 1993. The (first) World Trade Center bombing, which killed six people and injured more than 1,000, might have been a powerful warning”.
“The plotters were quickly exposed as disciples of Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, the “Blind Sheik” who ranted against the infidels from a run-down mosque in Jersey City. The Blind Sheik’s shady past should have been of great interest to the Feds–he had been linked to the plot to assassinate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. But the sheik had slipped into the United States with the protection of the CIA, which saw the revered cleric as a valuable recruiting agent for the Mooj. Investigators trying to track down the Blind Sheik “had zero cooperation from the intelligence community, zero,” recalled a federal investigator in New York.”
“By the mid-’90s, counterterror experts at the FBI and CIA had begun to focus on Osama bin Laden, the son of a Saudi billionaire who had joined the Mooj in Afghanistan and become a hero as a battlefield commander. Bin Laden was said to be bitter because the Saudi royal family had rebuffed his offer to rally freedom fighters to protect the kingdom against the threat of Saddam Hussein after the Iraqi strongman invaded Kuwait in 1990. Instead, the Saudi rulers chose to be defended by the armed forces of the United States. To bin Laden, corrupt princes were welcoming infidels to desecrate holy ground.”
“With the cold war over, the Mafia in retreat and the drug war unwinnable, the CIA and FBI were eager to have a new foe to fight. The two agencies established a Counter Terrorism Center in a bland, windowless warren of offices on the ground floor of CIA headquarters at Langley, Va. Historical rivals, the spies and G-men were finally learning to work together.”
“If high-tech espionage won’t do the job, say the experts, then the CIA needs more human spies. It has become rote to say that in order to crack secretive terrorist cells the CIA needs to hire more Arabic-speaking case officers who can in turn recruit deep-penetration agents–HUMINT (human intelligence) in spy jargon.”
“A number of lawmakers are calling to, in effect, unleash the CIA. They want to do away with rules that restrict the agency from hiring agents and informers with a record of crimes or abusing human rights. Actually, case officers in the field can still hire sleazy or dangerous characters by asking permission from their bosses in Langley. “We almost never turn them down,” said one high-ranking official.”
“Al Qaeda is reputed to be expert at money laundering. Last week the pressure was on banks all over the world to open up their books (and on the banking lobby in the United States to drop its opposition to new laws that would make it easier for investigators to follow the money). The trail is likely to lead in some diplomatically awkward directions.”