The September 11 commission found troubling new evidence Iran was closer to al Qaeda than was Iraq. More importantly, and through no fault of its own, the commission missed the biggest prize of all: Former Pakistani intelligence officers knew beforehand all about the September 11 attacks.
They even advised Osama bin Laden and his cohorts how to attack key targets in the United States with hijacked civilian aircraft. And bin Laden has been undergoing periodic dialysis treatment in a military hospital in Peshawar, capital of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province adjacent to the Afghan border.
The information came to the commission’s attention in a confidential report from Pakistan as its own report was coming off the presses. The information was supplied with the understanding the unimpeachable source would remain anonymous.
Pakistan still denies President Pervez Musharraf knew anything about the activities of A.Q. Khan, the country’s top nuclear engineer who had spent the last 10 years building and running a one-stop global Wall-Mart for “rogue” nations. North Korea, Iran and Libya shopped for nuclear weapons at Mr. Khan’s underground black market. Pakistan has also denied the allegations by a leading Pakistani in the confidential addendum to the September 11 commission report.
After U.S. and British intelligence painstakingly pieced together Mr. Khan’s global nuclear proliferation endeavors, Deputy Secretary of State Rich Armitage was assigned last fall to convey the devastating news to Mr. Musharraf. Mr. Khan, a national icon for giving Pakistan its nuclear arsenal, was not arrested. Instead, Mr. Musharraf pardoned him in exchange for an abject apology on national television in English. No one in Pakistan believed Mr. Musharraf’s claim he was totally in the dark about Mr. Khan’s operation. Prior to seizing power in 1999, Mr. Musharraf was — and still is — Army chief of staff. For the past five years, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence chief has reported directly to Mr. Musharraf.
Osama bin Laden’s principal Pakistani adviser before September 11, 2001, was retired Gen. Hamid Gul, a former ISI chief who, since the 2001 attacks, is “strategic adviser” to the coalition of six politico-religious parties that governs two of Pakistan’s four provinces. Known as MMA, the coalition also occupies 20 percent of the seats in the federal assembly in Islamabad.
Hours after September 11, Gen. Gul publicly accused Israel’s Mossad of fomenting the plot. Later, he said the U.S. Air Force must have been in on it since no warplanes were scrambled to shoot down the hijacked airliners.
Gen. Gul spent two weeks in Afghanistan immediately before September 11. He denied meeting bin Laden on that trip, but has always said he was an “admirer” of the al Qaeda leader. However, he did meet several times with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader.
Since September 11, hardly a week goes by without Gen. Gul denouncing the United States in both the Urdu and English-language media.
In a conversation with this reporter in October 2001, Gen. Gul forecast a future Islamist nuclear power that would form a greater Islamic state with a fundamentalist Saudi Arabia after the monarchy falls.
Gen. Gul worked closely with the CIA during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan when he was ISI chief. He was “mildly” fundamentalist in those days, he explained after September 11, and indifferent to the United States. But he became passionately anti-American after the United States turned its back on Afghanistan following the 1989 Soviet withdrawal, and began punishing Pakistan with economic and military sanctions for its secret nuclear buildup.
A ranking CIA official, speaking anonymously, said the agency considered Gen. Gul “the most dangerous man” in Pakistan. A senior Pakistani political leader, also on condition of anonymity, said, “I have reason to believe Hamid Gul was Osama bin Laden’s master planner.”
The report received by the September 11 commission from the anonymous, well-connected Pakistani source, said: “The core issue of instability and violence in South Asia is the character, activities and persistence of the militarized Islamist fundamentalist state in Pakistan. No cure for this canker can be arrived at through any strategy of negotiations, support and financial aid to the military regime, or by a ‘regulated’ transition to ‘democracy.’”
The confidential report continued: “The imprints of every major act of international Islamist terrorism invariably passes through Pakistan, right from September 11 — where virtually all the participants had trained, resided or met in, coordinated with, or received funding from or through Pakistan — to major acts of terrorism across South Asia and Southeast Asia, as well as major networks of terror that have been discovered in Europe.
“Pakistan has harvested an enormous price for its apparent ‘cooperation’ with the U.S., and in this it has combined deception and blackmail — including nuclear blackmail — to secure a continuous stream of concessions. Its conduct is little different from that of North Korea, which has in the past chosen the nuclear path to secure incremental aid from Western donors. A pattern of sustained nuclear blackmail has consistently been at the heart of Pakistan’s case for concessions, aid and a heightened threshold of international tolerance for its sponsorship and support of Islamist terrorism.
“To understand how this works, it is useful to conceive of Pakistan’s ISI as a state acting as terrorist traffickers, complaining that, if it does not receive the extraordinary dispensations and indulgences that it seeks, it will, in effect, ‘implode,’ and in the process do extraordinary harm.
“Part of the threat of this ‘explosion’ is also the specter of the transfer of its nuclear arsenal and capabilities to more intransigent and irrational elements of the Islamist far right in Pakistan, who would not be amenable to the logic that its present rulers — whose interests in terrorism are strategic, and consequently, subject to considerations of strategic advantage — are willing to listen to. …
“It is crucial to note that if the Islamist terrorist groups gain access to nuclear devices, ISI will almost certainly be the source. … At least six Pakistani scientists connected with the country’s nuclear program were in contact with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden with the thorough instructions of ISI.
“Pakistan has projected the electoral victory of the fundamentalist and pro-Taliban, pro-al Qaeda Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) in the November elections as ‘proof’ the military is the only ‘barrier’ against the country passing into the hands of the extremists. The fact, however, is that the elections were widely rigged, and this was a fact acknowledged by the European Union observers, as well as by some of the MMA’s constituents themselves. The MMA victory was, in fact, substantially engineered by the Musharraf regime, as are the various anti-U.S. ‘mass demonstrations’ around the country.
“Pakistan has made a big case out of the fact that some of the top-line leadership of al Qaeda has been arrested in the country with the ‘cooperation’ of the Pakistani security forces and intelligence. However, the fact is that each such arrest only took place after the FBI and U.S. investigators had effectively gathered evidence to force Pakistani collaboration, but little of this evidence had come from Pakistani intelligence agencies. Indeed, ISI has consistently sought to deny the presence of al Qaeda elements in Pakistan, and to mislead U.S. investigators. … This deception has been at the very highest level, and Musharraf himself, for instance, initially insisted he was ‘certain’ bin Laden was dead. …
“ISI has been actively facilitating the relocation of the al Qaeda from Afghanistan to Pakistan, and the conspiracy of substantial segments of serving Army and intelligence officers is visible. …”
“The Pakistan army consistently denies giving the militants anything more than moral, diplomatic and political support. The reality is quite different. ISI issues money and directions to militant groups, specially the Arab hijackers of September 11 from al Qaeda. ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire affair. And that is why people like Hamid Gul and others very quickly stated the propaganda that CIA and Mossad did it. … ”
“The dilemma for Musharraf is that many of his army officers are still deeply sympathetic to al Qaeda, Taliban militants and the Kashmir cause…. Many retired and present ISI officers retain close links to al Qaeda militants hiding in various state-sponsored places in Pakistan and Kashmir as well as leaders from the defeated Taliban regime. They regard the fight against Americans and Jews and Indians in different parts of the world as legitimate jihad.”
The report also says, “According to a senior tribal leader in Peshawar, bin Laden, who suffers from renal deficiency, has been periodically undergoing dialysis in a Peshawar military hospital with the knowledge and approval of ISI if not of Gen. Pervez Musharraf himself.”
The same source, though not in the report, speculated Mr. Musharraf may plan to turn over bin Laden to President Bush in time to clinch Mr. Bush’s re-election in November.
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times and for United Press International.