This article follows
 1. "The CIA, 9/11, Afghanistan, and Central Asia" and
 2. "Parallel secret services »

Did Richard Blee Have an Ulterior Motive for Withholding Information?

The French version Peter Dale Scott’s book, "La Machine de guerre américaine," can be ordered from the Voltaire Network online bookstore.

Fenton speculates that one of those seeking a pretext for an escalated war against al Qaeda may have been Richard Blee. We saw that Blee, with Cofer Black, negotiated an intelligence-sharing liaison agreement with Uzbekistan. By 2000 SOCOM had become involved, and “U.S. Special Forces began to work more overtly with the Uzbek military on training missions.” [1] In the course of time the Uzbek liaison agreement, as we saw, expanded into a subordinate liaison with the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Blee, meeting with Massoud in October 1999, agreed to lobby in Washington for more active support for the Northern Alliance. [2]

After the USS Cole bombing in Aden in 2000, Blee was pushing to expand the Uzbek military mission still further into a joint attack force in conjunction with the Northern Alliance forces of Massoud. There was considerable objection to this while Clinton was still president, partly on the grounds that Massoud was fighting Pakistani-backed Taliban forces with Russian and Iranian support, and partly because he was known to be supporting his forces by heroin trafficking. [3] But in the spring of 2001 a meeting of department deputies in the new Bush administration revived the plans of Blee and Black, (supported by Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke) for large-scale covert aid to Massoud. [4] On September 4, one week before 9/11, the Bush Cabinet authorized the drafting of a new presidential directive, NSPD-9, authorizing a covert action program along these lines in conjunction with Massoud. [5]

In the new Bush administration Blee was no longer a minority voice, and six weeks after 9/11 he would be named the new CIA station chief in Kabul. [6] Fenton reports that in this capacity Blee became involved in the rendition of al Qaeda detainees, and suggests that the motive may have been to obtain, by torture, a false confession (by Ibn Shaikh al-Libi) to Iraqi involvement with al Qaeda. This false confession then became part of the “fixing” of evidence, and “formed a key part of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s embarrassing presentation to the UN to support the invasion of Iraq.” [7]

Did SOCOM Have an Ulterior Motive for Closing Down Able Danger?

What ensued after 9/11 went far beyond Blee’s program for paramilitary CIA involvement with the Northern Alliance. The CIA component in Afghanistan was soon dwarfed by the forces of SOCOM: George Tenet reported that by late 2001 the US force in Afghanistan consisted of about 500 fighters, including “110 CIA officers, 316 Special Forces personnel, and scores of Joint Special Operations Command raiders creating havoc behind enemy lines.” [8]

In the Bush administration Stephen Cambone, who earlier had collaborated with Rumsfeld and Cheney in signing the PNAC’s statement, Rebuilding America’s Defenses, became one of the active promoters of using SOCOM special forces to operate covertly against al Qaeda, not just in Afghanistan, but “anywhere in the world.” [9]

It is possible that anything Blee may have done in Alec Station to prepare the way for 9/11 was only one part of a larger inter-agency operation, in which an equivalent role was played by SOCOM’s shutting down of the Able Danger project. This might help explain a handwritten notation around 10 PM on 9/11 by Stephen Cambone, then one of Cheney’s PNAC appointees under Rumsfeld in the Pentagon, after a phone call with George Tenet:

AA 77 - 3 indiv[iduals] have been followed since Millennium & Cole
1 guy is assoc[iate] of Cole bomber
2 entered US in early July
(2 of 3 pulled aside & interrogated?) [10]

The “guy” here is probably al-Mihdhar, and the “Cole bomber” probably Khallad [or Tawfiq] bin Attash, a major al Qaeda figure connected not just to the Cole bombing but also to the 1998 embassy attacks. One wants to know why Tenet was sharing with a hawk in the Pentagon information that has apparently never been shared by anyone outside the CIA since. And is it a coincidence that Cambone, like Blee, oversaw a program – in this case staffed by SOCOM special operations personnel – using torture to interrogate detainees in Afghanistan? [11]

Just as Blee was reportedly a special protégé of George Tenet at CIA, so Cambone was notorious for his fierce loyalty to first Dick Cheney and later Donald Rumsfeld in the Pentagon. It is not known whether he was associated with the Continuity of Government (COG) planning project where Rumsfeld and Cheney, among others, prepared for the warrantless surveillance and detention measures that were (as I have argued elsewhere) implemented beginning on the morning of 9/11 and continuing to today. [12] Nor is it known if he was associated in any way with Cheney’s Counterterrorism Task Force in the Spring of 2001, which has been alleged to have been a source for the war games, including rogue plane attacks, which added to the disarray of the US response, on 9/11. [13]

Deep Events as a Repeated Pattern of U.S. Engagement in War

I want to conclude with a little historical perspective on the dysfunction we have been looking at. In a sense 9/11 was unprecedented – the greatest mass murder ever committed in one day on U.S. soil. In another sense it represented an example of the kind of signature event with which we have become only too familiar since the Kennedy assassination. I have called these events deep events – events deeply rooted in illegal covert activity in various branches of US intelligence and with a predictable accompanying pattern of official cover-ups backed up by amazing media malfunction and dishonest best-selling books. Some of these deep events, like the Kennedy assassination, Tonkin Gulf, and 9/11, should be considered structural deep events, because of their permanent impact on history.

It is striking that these structural deep events – the JFK assassination, Tonkin Gulf, and 9/11 – should all have been swiftly followed by America’s engagement in ill-considered wars. The reverse is also true: all of America’s significant wars since Korea – Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan (twice, once covertly and now overtly), and Iraq – have all been preceded by structural deep events. As I wrote in American War Machine, a J-5 Staff Report of 1963 reported to the Joint Chiefs that “The engineering of a series of provocations to justify military intervention is feasible and could be accomplished with the resources available.” [14] Tonkin Gulf, 9/11, and even the Kennedy assassination itself can all be seen as events that were indeed “engineered,” along the guidelines set out in 1962 in the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposals for Project Northwoods. [15]

In two recent books I have been slowly persuaded, against my own initial incredulity, to list more than a dozen significant parallels between the Kennedy assassination and 9/11. Thanks to Kevin Fenton’s brilliant research, I can list a further analogy. The CIA files on Lee Harvey Oswald, more or less dormant for two years, suddenly became hyperactive in the six weeks before the Kennedy assassination. Fenton has demonstrated a similar burst of activity in FBI files on the two Saudis in the weeks before 9/11 – a burst initiated by Tom Wilshire, at a time suspiciously close to when the alleged hijackers settled on a final date for their attack. Then in both cases there were also strange delays, leaving the files open at the time of the deep events. [16]

The Impact of 9/11 on U.S. and International Law

Throughout this essay we have seen two different and indeed antithetical levels of U.S. foreign policy at work. On the surface level of public diplomacy we see a commitment to international law and the peaceful resolution of differences. On a deeper level, represented by a long-time Saudi connection and covert arrangements to control international oil, we see the toleration and indeed protection of terrorists in fulfillment of both Saudi and American secret goals. We should see the actions in 2000-2001 of the “Alec Station group,” with respect to the two alleged hijackers al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi, in the context of this long-time Saudi connection, as well as of the secret consensus in 2001 – just as earlier in 1964 – that America’s oil and security needs (along with those of Israel) required a new American mobilization for war.

Horrendous as it was, the murder of over 2000 civilians on 9/11 was not the only major crime of that day. 9/11 also initiated a series of on-going onslaughts on both international and domestic U.S. law. Law and freedom go together, and both had been significantly enhanced by the founding documents of the United States in the 18th Century. The world benefited; written constitutions soon appeared on every continent; and the Young Europe movements, inspired by America’s example, began the long difficult process towards today’s European Union.

Starting in 2001, both law and freedom have been progressively eroded. International comity, which depends on each state not doing to others what they would not want done to them, has been supplanted, at least for a while, by U.S. unilateral military engagement without constraint, acting without fear of retribution. Drone killings in far corners of the world have now become routine, causing more than an estimated 2000 Pakistani deaths, the vast majority of them untargeted civilians, and over 75 percent of them under President Obama. [17] The preemptive war against Iraq, despite being proven both unwarranted and counterproductive, has been followed by the preemptive bombing of Libya, and the prospect of still further campaigns against Syria and Iran.

Writing as a Canadian, let me say that I believe in American exceptionalism, and that at one time America was truly exceptional in its unprecedented replacement of authoritarian with limited constitutional government. Today America is still exceptional, but for its percentage of citizens who are incarcerated, for its disparity in wealth and income between rich and poor (a ratio exceeded among large nations only by China), and for its wanton use of lethal power abroad.

Only the last of these trends began with 9/11. But 9/11 itself should be seen as a dialectical outcome of America’s imperial expansion and simultaneous decay — a process inevitably afflicting those superstates that amass and retain more power than is necessary for the orderly management of their own affairs.

Article originally published on Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus on 19 March 2012 under the title "Launching the U.S. Terror War: the CIA, 9/11, Afghanistan, and Central Asia."

[1Thomas E. Ricks and Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post, October 14, 2001,. Significantly, the proposal for a joint attack force with Massoud’s Northern Alliance was also resisted by Massoud himself (Peter Tomsen, The Wars of Afghanistan, 597-98, 796n25). The problem of Massoud’s resistance to an American troop presence vanished when he was assassinated on September 9, 2001, two days before 9/11.

[2Coll, Ghost Wars, 467-69.

[3Coll, Ghost Wars, 513, 534-36, 553.

[4Coll, Ghost Wars, 558.

[5Coll, Ghost Wars, 573-74.

[6Fenton, Disconnecting the Dots, 108.

[7Fenton, Disconnecting the Dots, 110-14.

[8George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm: my years at the CIA (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 255.

[10Fenton, Disconnecting the Dots, 127-30; Summers, Eleventh Day, 387-88.

[13Scott, Road to 9/11, 216-18.

[15Scott, American War Machine, 195-205; Northwoods document, Joint Chiefs of Staff Central Files 1962-63, p. 178, NARA Record # 202-10002-10104.

[16Fenton, Disconnecting the Dots, 283-355; Scott, War Conspiracy, 341-96.