XXXXX DRUDGE REPORT XXXXX FRI NOV 30 2001 10:30:08 ET XXXXX
MAG: SUDAN TRIED TO GIVE CLINTON ADMIN FILES ON BIN LADEN
NEW YORK --VANITY FAIR HAS OBTAINED LETTERS and memorandums that document approaches made by Sudanese intelligence officials and other emissaries to members of the Clinton administration to share information about many of the 22 terrorists on the government's most-wanted list, including: Osama bin Laden.
VANITY FAIR is set to unleash the story in January 2002 editions, publishing sources tell the DRUDGE REPORT.
THE MUKHABARAT, A SUDANESE INTELLIGENCE AGENCY, spent the early to mid-1990s amassing copious amounts of information on bin Laden and his cohorts at a time when they were relatively unknown and their activities limited, author David Rose reports. From the fall of 1996 until weeks before the September 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, the Mukhabarat made repeated efforts to share its files on terrorists with the U.S. On more than one occasion senior F.B.I. officials wanted to accept the offers, but were apparently overruled by the State Department.
FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE MADELEINE ALBRIGHT and her assistant secretary for Africa, Susan Rice, declined to comment for this story.
ACCORDING TO TIM CARNEY, THE LAST U.S. AMBASSADOR to Sudan, whose posting ended in 1997, “The fact is, they were opening the doors, and we weren’t taking them up on it. The U.S. failed to reciprocate Sudan’s willingness to engage us on some serious questions of terrorism. We can speculate that this failure had serious implications—at least for what happened at the U.S. Embassies in 1998. In any case, the U.S. lost access to a mine of material on bin Laden and his organization.” He tells Rose, “It was worse than a crime. It was a fuckup.”
HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED? CARNEY CONTENDS that U.S. intelligence failed because it became “politicized”: the message from Sudan did not fit conventional wisdom at the State Department and the C.I.A., and so it was disregarded, again and again. Rose writes that the simple answer is that the Clinton administration had accused Sudan of sponsoring terrorism, and refused to believe that anything it did to prove its bona fides could be genuine. At the same time, perceptions in Washington were influenced by C.I.A. reports that were wildly inaccurate, some the result of deliberate disinformation.
ROSE REPORTS THAT, HAD U.S. AGENCIES EXAMINED the Mukhabarat files in 1996 when they first had the chance the prospects of preventing subsequent al-Qaeda attacks would have been much greater. Gutbi al-Mahdi, the Mukhabarat’s director general between 1997 and 2000, claims that if the F.B.I. had taken his offer in February 1998, the embassy bombings could have been prevented: “They had very little information at that time: they were shooting in the dark. Had they engaged with Sudan, they could have stopped a lot of things.” Rose writes that as late as the end of 1995, bin Laden was not judged important enough by the C.I.A. or the F.B.I. for anyone to mention him to U.S. Ambassador Don Petterson when Petterson talked to the Sudanese about terrorism, an indication that the U.S. knew very little about bin Laden’s organization or lethal capacity. “My recollection is that when I made representations about terrorist organizations Osama bin Laden did not figure,” Petterson says. “We in Khartoum were not really concerned about him.”
SOME OF THE MUKHABARAT’S FILES IDENTIFY INDIVIDUALS who played central roles in the bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in August 1998; others chart the backgrounds and movements of al-Qaeda operatives who are said to be linked directly to the atrocities of September 11. Among those profiled:
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, another of those named on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list, who set the plot for the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings rolling during two trips he made to Nairobi in the spring of 1998 from Khartoum, where he was apparently working for al-Qaeda. Rose writes that had the F.B.I. accepted al-Mahdi’s February offer, it might have foiled Mohammed’s plans by stepping in when he rented a villa in Kenya, gathered the bombers at the Hilltop Hotel in Nairobi, or helped stuff a pickup truck with TNT.
Two men carrying Pakistani passports and using the names Sayyid Iskandar Suliman and Sayyid Nazir Abbass, who arrived in Khartoum from Kenya a few days after the 1998 embassy bombings and rented an apartment overlooking the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum. They appeared to be reconnoitering for a possible future attack and are believed to be members of al-Qaeda. They also stayed at the Hilltop Hotel in Nairobi—the base used by other members of the embassy-bombing conspiracy. Sudan arrested the two men and offered to extradite them for trial, but the U.S. did not respond, instead opting to bomb the al-Shifa pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, which was found to have no connection to bin Laden but made vaccines and medicine and had contracts with the U.N.
Wadih al-Hage, bin Laden’s former private secretary, now serving life without parole after his conviction in New York for his role in the 1998 embassy bombings, who was logged and photographed in Sudan. He is said to have moved among bin Laden’s cells and across four continents—information that surely would have been helpful in cramping al-Qaeda’s style had it been grasped in 1996.
Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, a Sudanese born to Iraqi parents and an Afghan-war veteran who worked for two bin Laden companies until 1995. Salim provides a link to the New York suicide hijackers. From 1995 to 1998, he made frequent visits to Germany, where a Syrian trader, Mamoun Darkazanli, had signing powers over his bank account. Darkazanli has allegedly procured electronic equipment for al-Qaeda. Both men attended the same Hamburg mosque as Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, who flew the two planes into the World Trade Center.
ACCORDING TO AL-MAHDI, THE INTELLIGENCE SERVICE kept tabs on the entire bin Laden “clique”: “We had a lot of information: who they are, who are their families, what is their education. We knew what they were doing in the country, what is their relationship with Osama bin Laden. And [had] photographs of them all.” A senior official from Egyptian intelligence, who has worked closely with the Mukhabarat, substantiates the account: “They knew all about them: who they were, where they came from. They had copies of their passports, their tickets; they knew where they went. Of course that information could have helped enormously. It is the history of those people.”
THE MUKHABARAT ALSO UNCOVERED A WEALTH OF information about bin Laden’s connection to Egyptian Islamic Jihad, including the fact that he hosted its founder, al-Zawahiri, in 1992. The group has since effectively merged with al-Qaeda. Yahia Hussien Baviker, the Mukhabarat’s deputy chief since 1998, says, “These files on the Egyptians could have been of great value to U.S. intelligence. If we’d had communication with the U.S., we could have been on the same wavelength. We could have exchanged notes.” A C.I.A. source tells Rose, “If anyone in the world understands the Egyptian side of this network, it’s Sudan.”
IT WAS NOT UNTIL MAY 2000 THAT THE U.S. SENT A JOINT F.B.I.-C.I.A. team to Sudan to investigate whether it was harboring terrorists; the country was given a clean bill of health in the summer of 2001. Just a few weeks prior to the September 11 attacks, the Bush administration requested Sudan’s information on al-Qaeda.
THE JANUARY ISSUE OF VANITY FAIR HITS NEWSSTANDS in New York on December 5 and nationally on December 11.