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Part 1: 'Independent' commission
If the 9-11 Commission is really looking for a smoking gun, it should look no further than at Lieutenant-General Mahmoud Ahmad, the director of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) (but our government knows that) at the time.
In early October 2001, Indian intelligence learned that Mahmoud had ordered flamboyant Saeed Sheikh - the convicted mastermind of the kidnapping and killing of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl - to wire US$100,000 from Dubai to one of hijacker Mohamed Atta's two bank accounts in Florida.
A juicy direct connection was also established between Mahmoud and Republican Congressman Porter Gross and Democratic Senator Bob Graham. They were all in Washington together discussing Osama bin Laden over breakfast when the attacks of September 11, 2001, happened. Mahmoud's involvement in September 11 might be dismissed as only Indian propaganda.
But Indian intelligence swears by it, and the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has confirmed the whole story: Indian intelligence even supplied Saeed's cellular-phone numbers. Nobody has bothered to check what really happened.
The 9-11 Commission should pose very specific questions about it to FBI director Robert Mueller when he testifies this month. In December 2002, Graham said he was "surprised at the evidence that there were foreign governments involved in facilitating the activities of at least some of the [September 11] terrorists in the United States ...
It will become public at some point when it's turned over to the archives, but that's 20 or 30 years from now." (sooner than that)
He could not but be referring to Pakistan and Mahmoud. If Mahmoud was really involved in September 11, this means the Pakistani ISI -"the state within the state" - knew all about it. And if the intelligence elite in Pakistan knew it, an intelligence elite in Saudi Arabia knew it, as well as an intelligence elite in the US.
Get Osama bin LadenOn August 22, 2001, Asia Times Online reported Get Osama! Now! Or else ...On September 10, the Pakistani daily The News reported that the Mahmoud visit to the United States "triggered speculation about the agenda of his mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council".
If he'd been to the National Security Council, he had certainly met Rice. Mahmoud did meet with his counterpart, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director George Tenet. Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage had been in Islamabad in May, when Tenet had "unusually long" meetings with Musharraf. Armitage for his part has countless friends in the Pakistani military and the ISI.
Mahmoud also met a number of high officials at the White House and the Pentagon and had a crucial meeting with Marc Grossman, the under secretary of state for political affairs. Rice maintains she did not meet Mahmoud then. On the morning of September 11, Mahmoud was having a breakfast meeting at the Capitol with Graham and Goss. Goss spent as many as 10 years working on numerous CIA clandestine operations. He is very close to Vice President Dick Cheney.
It's interesting to note that two weeks ago Goss suggested to the Justice Department to bring perjury charges against the new Cheney nemesis, Clarke. As it is widely known, Graham and Goss were co-heads of the joint House-Senate investigation that proclaimed there was "no smoking gun" as far as President George W Bush having any advance knowledge of September 11.
According to the Washington Post, and also to sources in Islamabad, the Mahmoud-Graham-Goss meeting lasted until the second plane hit Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. Graham later said they were talking about terrorism coming from Afghanistan, which means they were talking about bin Laden.
Pakistani intelligence sources told Asia Times Online that on the afternoon of September 11 itself, as well as on September 12 and 13, Armitage met with Mahmoud with a stark choice: either Pakistan would help the US against al-Qaeda, or it would be bombed back to the Stone Age.
Secretary of State Colin Powell presented an ultimatum in the form of seven US demands. Pakistan accepted all of them. One of the demands was for Musharraf to send Mahmoud to Kandahar again and force the Taliban to extradite bin Laden. Mahmoud knew in advance Mullah Omar would refuse. But when he went to Kandahar the Taliban leader said he would accept, as long as the Americans proved bin Laden was responsible for September 11.
There was no proof, and Afghanistan was bombed anyway, a policy already decided well in advance.
It's important to remember than on September 13 Islamabad airport was shut down - allegedly because of threats against Pakistan's strategic assets. On September 14, Islamabad declared total support for the US: the airport was immediately reopened.
Mahmoud remained in Washington until September 16 - when the war on Afghanistan was more than programmed, and Pakistan was firmly in the "with us" and not the "against us" column. Million-dollar questions remain. Did Mahmoud know when and how the attacks of September 11 would happen? Did Musharraf know? Could the Bush administration have prevented September 11?
It's hard to believe high echelons of the CIA and FBI were not aware of the direct link between the ISI and alleged chief hijacker Mohammed Atta. On October 7, Mahmoud was demoted from the ISI. By that time, Washington obviously knew of the connection between Mahmoud, Saeed Sheikh and Mohamed Atta: the FBI knew it.
The official version is that Mahmoud was sacrificed because he was too close to the Taliban - which, it is never enough to remind, are a cherished creature of the ISI. Two other ISI big shots, Lieutenant-General Mohammed Aziz Khan and Chief of General Staff Mohammed Yousouf, are also demoted along with Mahmoud. Saeed Sheikh was under orders to Khan.
The fact remains that even with this Musharraf-conducted purge of the ISI elite, the bulk of ISI officers remained, and still are, pro-Taliban. Other former ISI directors living in Pakistan, such as the colorful, outspoken Lieutenant-General Hamid Gul, did not "disappear" and always renew their support for the Taliban.
But as Asia Times Online has reported, Mahmoud did disappear. He lives in near seclusion in Rawalpindi. And he is definitely not talking. Graham and Goss may not be interested in talking to him either. Because he may be the ultimate September 11 smoking gun.