Debating September 11

David Corn’s May 30, 2002, “Capital Games” article, “The 9/11 X-Files,” debunking what he saw as the numerous conspiracy theories that have sprung up purporting to explain what happened on September 11, generated numerous letters. We’ve printed five of them below along with a response from Corn.

Paris

David Corn alleges that our book makes a “theory” of the events leading up to the September 11 attacks, distorts reality and shows little or no evidence to confirm our assertions.

For the author, the world seems divided between those gallant fellows pursuing the truth (David Corn, I guess) and those running conspiracy theories. This simplistic and Manichean view does not reflect the nature of our work and would usually deserve no comment from me, except when such an irrelevant article emanates from such a well-known organization.

I don’t know the author, nor his credentials to write on these issues. The fact is that most of the issues he raises are currently under scrutiny of the Special Investigation Committee of the US Congress and they’ve been investigated by the United Nations several weeks ago. I have too much respect for the work of these authorities to think they may investigate “conspiracy theories.”

Regarding the handling of investigations involving Saudi Arabian individuals and entities, I spent five years working on these networks and tracking Al Qaeda assets. I was the first to write an extensive report on Al Qaeda financial networks for the intelligence community. This study was given by the French President Jacques Chirac to President George W. Bush in September 2001 and has been responsible for the closing of several so-called Islamic charities that happened to financially support Osama bin Laden and his cohorts. My experience and the high level contacts I had with the FBI disqualifies the doubts and snide comments made by a nonprofessional on these issues.

For your information, I’ll try to establish the reality of what we wrote.

Since 1996, and despite the Taliban’s murderous regime and its obscene abuse of human rights, several US oil companies including Unocal have been pushing for a political stabilization in Afghanistan in order to implement an oil/gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea region to Pakistan and the Persian Gulf through Afghanistan. For that purpose, a memorandum of understanding between the governments of Turkmenistan and Pakistan was signed in March 1995 and a consortium of international companies was formed in October 1997.

Their officials had publicly stated that to achieve this goal was in both the interest of the United States and the Afghan people. In 1996, Chris Taggart, vice president of Unocal Corporation, described the Taliban takeover of Kabul as a “very positive step” and urged the United States to extend recognition to the new rulers in Kabul and thus “lead the way to international lending agencies coming in.”

Just ten days after the Taliban seized power in Kabul in 1996 Zalmay Khalilzad, former National Security Council official, Unocal consultant and current US special envoy to Afghanistan, argued in a Washington Post opinion article that the United States should try to work with the mullahs and form a broad-based government that included other factions, adding that “the Taliban does not practice the anti-U.S. style of fundamentalism practiced by Iran–it is closer to the Saudi model….” And his conclusion was that “we should use as a positive incentive the benefits that will accrue to Afghanistan from the construction of oil and gas pipelines across its territory.” He added, “These projects will only go forward if Afghanistan has a single authoritative government.”

Soon after, the State Department spokesman said the United States wanted “to send diplomats to Afghanistan to meet with the Taliban and held out the possibility of re-establishing full diplomatic ties with the country.”

During a House of Representatives meeting, John J. Maresca, vice president of international relations for Unocal Corporation, stated that “the pipeline would benefit Afghanistan, which would receive revenues from transport tariffs, and would promote stability and encourage trade and economic development.” Emphasizing that “the proposed Central Asia Oil Pipeline (CentGas) cannot begin construction until an internationally recognized Afghanistan government is in place,” he urged the Administration and the Congress “to give strong support to the United Nations-led peace process in Afghanistan.”

In November 1997 Unocal invited a Taliban delegation to the United States in Texas, and in early December the company opened a training center at the University of Omaha, Nebraska, to instruct 137 Afghans in pipeline construction technology. The company also donated $900,000 to the Center for Afghanistan Studies of the University of Omaha, Nebraska, for a humanitarian project controlled by the Taliban. As recalled John Imle, CEO of Unocal, the company spent between $15 million and $20 million to make the CentGas Project go through to promote the project and finance the regime.

After the African embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, the US Administration engaged in talks with Taliban representatives to obtain the extradition of Osama bin Laden in exchange for international recognition of the Taliban regime. At the international level, pressure was building up through a forum known as the “6 + 2″ initiative (six regional states plus the United States and Russia). A United Nations resolution called for international sanctions against the Taliban regime. In parallel, secret negotiations were held in Rome, Cyprus and Berlin under the authority of Kofi Annan’s personal representative and head of the Special Mission to Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell.

From February to August 2001, the US Administration accelerated the negotiations by reactivating the idea of an economic bargain with the Taliban regime. In March 2001, several Taliban officials, including Sayed Rahmattulah Hashimi, Mullah Omar’s personal adviser, were invited to Washington, DC, by their representative in the United States, former CIA Director Richard Helms’s niece, Leila Helms, to discuss extradition of bin Laden and access to oil reserves in Central Asia. The delegation met with representatives of the Directorate of Central Intelligence (DCI) and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research of the State Department (including Marvin Weinbaum).

This visit provoked “extreme puzzlement” over how Hashimi obtained a visa, a plane ticket, security and access to American institutions, and to the State Department and the National Security Council, despite the severe travel restrictions based on sanctions imposed by UN Resolution 1333; after all, the Taliban offices in New York were closed down by the US State Department. (The official version was that Hashimi was a low-level official.)

During informal talks that took place in Berlin between July 17 and July 20, 2001, with representatives from the United States, Pakistan (who were relaying messages back to the Taliban, who were not in attendance), Russia and Iran, the Taliban were invited to extradite Osama bin Laden and form a broad-based national government in exchange for economic subsidies from the construction of a pipeline.

The delegates included Robert Oakley, former US ambassador and Unocal lobbyist; Niaz Naik, former foreign minister of Pakistan; Tom Simons, former US ambassador to Pakistan; a former Russian special envoy to Afghanistan, Nikolai Kozyrev; and Saeed Rajai Khorassani, formerly the Iranian representative to the UN.

The US delegation at the Berlin meeting also included Karl “Rick” Inderfurth, former assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs, and Lee Coldren, head of the Office of Pakistan, Afghan and Bangladesh Affairs in the State Department until 1997.

According to Niaz Naik, the idea was that “we would try to convey to them that if they did certain things, then, gradually, they could win the jackpot, get something in return from the international community.” It might, he said, “be possible to persuade the Taliban that once a broader-based government was in place and the oil pipeline under way, there would be billions of dollars in commission, and the Taliban would have their own resources.” The fact is, the United States approached the former king in February 2001 in order to form a broad-based government.

According to Naik, at this point US ambassador Tom Simons referred to an open-ended military option against Afghanistan from bases in Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. “Ambassador Simons stated that if the Taliban wouldn’t agree with the plan, and if Pakistan was unable to persuade them, the United States might use an overt action against Afghanistan. The words used were ‘a military operation.'”

Asked by the French daily newspaper Le Monde to comment on the allegations contained in the French edition of our book, Ben Laden: La vérité interdite (“Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth”), Ambassador Simons answered, “It is true that it was requested from the Taliban to deliver bin Laden and to form a government of union.”

About the threat itself, he recognized that “we said in July to the [Pakistanis, who passed on messages to the Taliban] delegates that we were investigating the attack against the USS Cole on October 12, 2000, in Yemen, and that if there was solid evidence of bin Laden’s involvement, one had to expect a military answer. Now, one can always inflate such a declaration to see this as a global threat against the Taliban. But the American declaration related only to the USS Cole investigation. As for carpets of gold and carpet bombs, we actually discussed the need for a plan to rebuild Afghanistan, which would follow a political agreement.” Simons added: “It is possible that an American participant, acting mischievously, after some glasses, evoked the gold carpets and the carpet bombs. Even Americans don’t avoid the temptation to act mischievously.”

Whether we rely on Niaz Naik’s testimony or on the US ambassador’s comments, which don’t contradict or deny the former, one has to focus on the Pakistani and Taliban representatives’ knowledge regarding that statement. It is clear that at the beginning of July 2001, a US representative, speaking at an informal meeting, but mandated by his government to do so, did, in specific or general terms, whether mischievously or not, whether drunk or not, evoke the option of a military operation against Afghanistan. And I would rather rely on Simons’s version in Le Monde than on the paraphrased one Simons offers to David Corn.

Lee Coldren, a member of the US delegation, also confirmed the broad outline of the American position at the Berlin meeting. “I think there was some discussion of the fact that the United States was so disgusted with the Taliban that they might be considering some military action.”

I wouldn’t speculate on whether the Taliban regime and its Al Qaeda supporter may have tried to anticipate a military action against them by launching a devastating attack on US soil on September 11, 2001. Neither would I suggest a gross miscalculation from Ambassador Simons by making such hazardous statements. However, the US representative’s statement is acknowledged by several reliable sources and participants at the Berlin negotiations at the end of July 2001. For this reason, and because it may have been interpreted as a tug of war, this threat is an important aspect for our understanding of the months leading to September 11, which may have had a significant if not essential impact on the intelligence analysis process prior to that date.

One may ask the simple question, Would the US intelligence agencies have evaluated the fragmented raw intelligence and signals differently if the US government had informed them that the United States had threatened military action if the Taliban were to refuse US diplomatic and business concessions five weeks before the attacks?

As a drunk diplomat makes bad diplomacy, political editors make bad international affairs analysts when they simply ignore the facts and try to view the world through their Manichean eyes.

I hope, at least, to have repaired this.

JEAN-CHARLES BRISARD


Los Angeles

I am truly honored to join the ranks of Peter Dale Scott, PhD, Alfred McCoy, PhD and Pulitzer Prize-winner Gary Webb as someone who has been attacked by The Nation.

Your latest missive is surprising for its weakness. It deserves only the briefest of responses because, as an avalanche of information continues to demonstrate, the US government did have foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks and there was an orchestrated effort to allow the attacks to occur. FBI Special Agent Robert Wright’s recent press conference is but another brick in a wall that grows sturdier by the day. Time is on my side here.

I’ll quickly pass over many of the erroneous points in your story to get to just a couple that warrant two or three sentences. Allen Dulles’s old quip that “the American people don’t read” has changed with the Internet and it will afford you no cover.

It’s OK that you misrepresented my LAPD record by taking items completely out of context. My full LAPD record has been on my website for months at www.fromthewilderness.com for the world to look at and see what you have done. I expect that from you.

It’s OK that you misrepresent and state that I have hung the entirety of my credibility on the Delmart “Mike” Vreeland case. I have published fifty-six stories since September 11, 2001, and only six of them have been about Mike Vreeland. I expect that as well.

It’s OK that you state that I am not a reporter when you fail to mention stories like my investigative report of horrendous conflicts of interest regarding Attorney General John Ashcroft and two sitting federal grand juries where I conducted many interviews. It’s OK also that you ignore all of the other reportage I have done since September 11. I expect that too.

It’s really not OK, however, that you state that I have misrepresented stories like a February 13, 2001, story by UPI correspondent Richard Sale, wherein I reported that court records indicated that the National Security Agency had broken Osama bin Laden’s secure encrypted communications. You wrote, “But in several instances, he [Ruppert] misrepresents his source material…. [T]he actual story noted not that the US government had gained the capacity to eavesdrop on bin Laden at will but that it had ‘gone into foreign bank accounts…and deleted or transferred funds, and jammed or blocked the group’s cell or satellite phones.’ ”

Here is a direct quote from Sale’s story which proves that your accusation is false: “The US case unfolding against him [bin Laden] in United States District court in Manhattan is based mainly on National Security Agency intercepts of phone calls between bin Laden and his operatives around the world–Afghanistan to London, from Kenya to the United States…. Fawwaz also provided satellite phones for other members of the bin Laden group, ‘to facilitate communications,’ the indictment said…. On August 11, two days after the bombings were completed, bin Laden’s satellite number phone was used to contact network operatives in Yemen, at a number frequently called by perpetrators of the bombing from their safe house in Nairobi. Since 1995, bin Laden has tried to protect his communications with ‘a full suite of tools,’ according to Ben Venzke, director of intelligence, special projects for iDefense…. Since bin Laden started to encrypt certain calls in 1995, why would they now be part of a court record? ‘Codes were broken,’ US officials said….”

Is this the best that The Nation can do? With that in mind I’ll conclude by saying that it is becoming increasingly clear to news consumers around the world that The Nation is serving and defending the interests of a corrupt and illegitimate government while my publication, “From the Wilderness,” is truly concerned with the safety, well-being and empowerment of its growing readership. The marketplace is operating in a healthy capacity. It is also apparent that your actual knowledge of how covert operations work is as limited as your forensic abilities. For more than twenty years I have investigated many intelligence cases and I have dealt directly with principals in cases involving Edwin Wilson, Albert Carone, Dois “Chip” Tatum, William Tyree, “Bo” Gritz, Scott Weekly, Scott Barnes, Al Martin and, yes, even your beloved Ted Shackley.

In the fall of 1999 two investigators from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence traveled to Los Angeles and copied 6,000 pages of my records. In the fall of 2000 two members of the RCMP National Security Staff–Sean McDade and Randy Buffam–came to Los Angeles, visited me and copied several hundred pages of files in my possession regarding Promis software.

If, at any time, you would like instruction on how easy it would have been for the Bush Administration and the intelligence community to have allowed the attacks of September 11 to occur, without involving massive numbers of people being consciously aware of it, I will make the time. That is of course, if it really is your desire to arm the American people with the truth. As to integrity, let’s see if The Nation has enough to publish my response. “By their fruits ye shall know them.”

MICHAEL C. RUPPERT
Publisher/Editor, “From The Wilderness”
www.copvcia.com
www.fromthewilderness.com


Portland, Ore.

The Nation‘s David Corn spends too much time bashing Michael Ruppert in his article “The September 11 X-Files” instead of objectively investigating the content of Ruppert’s contentions on www.copvcia.com. We as a nation spent countless hours witnessing analysis and investigation after investigation regarding Clinton and Lewinsky. Now as people raise legitimate questions about pre-September 11 foreknowledge and the potential interests that may have encouraged collusion to do nothing, they are quickly labeled conspiracists, nut cases and the like.

At one time, those who questioned Hoover’s FBI’s tactics were labeled conspiracists. Post-September 11, we are quickly becoming a highly monitored society with highly controlled information about our own government and with limited civil rights. As a result, we need to be careful not to simply dismiss alternative views, but instead be sure and keep objective criticism

JASON THOME


Milwaukee

David Corn belittled conspiracy theorists and wondered how such an unwieldy, undisciplined government could get away with encouraging or staging attacks on this country.

Well, for part of the answer, get thee to the George Washington University website and download the file at this address: www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/news/20010430/doc1.pdf.

It’s a National Security Archive document from 1962 describing Operation Northwoods, a Joint Chiefs of Staff proposal to stage phony attacks on US soil and citizens in order to set up a rationale for invading Cuba. Can anyone say “conspiracy”? Can anyone say “at the highest levels of government”? Arguably, men of such ilk whose plans ultimately were shunned by a young, bemused President could also have engaged in other, later plots. Say it with me: Lee Harvey Oswald.

So how can Corn assume that, forty years later, our government is not at least as well equipped to twist facts, finger the wrong people or take advantage of wag-the-dog scenarios? That’s what intelligence entities are professionally qualified to do! Is it not understood that this government has in the not-very-distant past sent out agents provocateurs? We know from declassified documents that the FBI used to infiltrate domestic radical groups and encourage violence, not to mention smear the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. Why assume this modus operandi disappeared in the 1970s just because Congress ordered it? Say it with me: Bill Casey.

I’m not saying the US government staged the September 11 attacks. But it strikes me as being within the bounds of rationality to consider such theories with care. After all, our intelligence agencies–not to mention certain political parties–also appear adept at marginalizing presumed nutballs, fringe groups, liberals and, for that matter, anyone who could be called a doubter.

RONALD M. LEGRO


Paris

I’ve read Corn’s article twice. I still don’t understand why he’s just dismissing all these analyses that have been made as conspiracy theories. Especially knowing what has happened since all of the information about prior knowledge has been released. People like Mike Ruppert or Representative McKinney have been talking about this long before the mainstream media picked it up. I think that he’s acting in the same totalitarian way that he’s denouncing. He could have done a better job by exposing his own opinion and trying to give his own interpretation of the numerous and astonishing security failures. A few years ago, there were some terrorist attacks in Russia. It was just before Putin’s election. A lot of people, and not only crazy conspiracy theorists, said that it was probably managed by Putin’s circle. This idea appeared, for example, in your September 6/13, 1999 issue (selected editorial): “Among the measures widely discussed in Moscow are using the war in Dagestan as a pretext for imposing emergency rule.” I wonder if the guy who wrote this was a member of Putin’s inner circle or just a conspiracy theorist? By Corn’s criteria, he shouldn’t have said this. Did he say it because Russia is just a quasi Third World country? In the same way, I’m also wondering if the biggest shortcoming with the actual theories isn’t the fact that they’re giving a really bad image of the “best democracy in the word,” and in this way a negative image of those who have to live there. In other words, these kinds of “this cannot happen in Washington” assertions should only be understood as a patriotic reaction to the tragedy of September 11. God bless America.

JEAN SANTERRE


CORN REPLIES

Washington

I. The French Connection

Let’s start with Jean-Charles Brisard. I am going to resist the urge to match his ad hominen repartee. The only issue in play is the credibility of Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth, the book he co-wrote with Guillaume Dasquié. When I began work on a piece about September 11 conspiracy theories, an editor at The Nation requested I include in my survey the Brisard/Dasquié book, which was first published in France (in their native French) and which had prompted a rash of have-you-heard-about-this e-mails among Americans and others questioning the official accounts of September 11. From the e-mails and from English-language web accounts of the book–several of which were based on interviews with the authors–it was hard to determine the precise details of their claims regarding the horrific attacks of September 11. Then I discovered that a publishing house in the United States was bringing out an English version of the book, and I was able to obtain a copy of the translated manuscript. That meant I could evaluate the work and not rely on secondhand accounts.

Upon receiving the English translation of the short book, I eagerly began reading. Within a matter of pages, I was stunned. The book was almost entirely unsourced. It contained multiple factual mistakes. (It claimed George Bush was once “in charge” of Harken Energy; he was not. It maintained George Bush I was a “leading investor” in the Carlyle Group, an investment firm. No, he was a paid advisor. It described Tom Simons as US ambassador to Pakistan in 2000. He had left the post two years previously.) More important, it presented suggestive innuendo rather than clear and irrefutable evidence. It referred to “policy-makers” and “officials” without naming them; it depicted policy decisions in vague terms, without supplying specifics. The authors conveyed no sense that they had interviewed any single player in their tale. (There were not even anonymous sources. After a while, I prayed to encounter “a State Department official who asked not to be named” or a “Western diplomat who requested anonymity.”) This will sound like hyperbole, but I have rarely seen such shoddy and lazy journalism.

The book sidestepped toward its highly provocative assertion. But here is the essence of their argument about September 11:

“From February 5 to August 2, 2001, the United States engaged in private and risky discussions with the Taliban concerning geostrategic oil interests…. The suicide attacks of September 11 were the outcome of this initiative.”

Ponder that statement. The authors are saying that negotiations–which they portray as secret talks between Washington and Kabul–led to the strikes of September 11. That would mean US Administration officials– mainly from the Bush White House but also, it seems, from the Clinton White House–share blame for the attacks, that the United States, via these talks, needlessly provoked Osama bin Laden and his crew. This is hot stuff: The Bush Administration, driven by its fealty to Big Oil, causing the deaths of thousands of Americans.

Such an unsettling challenge to the traditional view requires a heavy amount of persuasion and proof. But the authors commit two fundamental errors. They make an utterly illogical case and in those few instances when they bother to cite sources, they misrepresent the material. Much of the book cannot be evaluated, because the authors assert, rather than document–and they supply little reason why a reader should trust them. Brisard and Dasquié never establish the foundations of their argument–in particular, that there were secret negotiations between the United States and the Taliban. They refer to various international and bilateral conversations–many of which were public matters–and cast all of that as under-the-table diplomacy. The “secret negotiations” held under the authority of Kofi Annan’s representative (that Brisard mentions in his letter above) could be read about in reports found on the United Nations website. And when Brisard darkly refers to conversations between Washington and the Taliban regarding the extradition of bin Laden–conversations that he and his co-author do not fully describe–the question for him is, So what? After the bombing of two US embassies in Africa, shouldn’t Washington have pressed the Taliban to turn over bin Laden? After all, in other sections of the book, the authors claim Washington was not sufficiently forceful in its pursuit of bin Laden.

A careful reader might discern that Brisard does not directly confront the case I made against his book. In the translation I read, he and Dasquié claim that the United States and its allies, as part of their secret machinations, plotted to return the exiled king of Afghanistan to power and that the “secret talks” culminated with the United States in July 2001 threatening the Taliban with a military strike. To prove the first of these two points, the authors cite a UN report. But that nonsecret report only says that Annan’s special representative on Afghanistan, Francesc Vendrell, met with the former king to discuss bringing together in-country and exiled Afghans for an effort to settle peacefully the political and military strife within Afghanistan. There is no indication that either the UN or the United States were arranging the king’s restoration. The authors, with little evidence in hand, defame a laudable UN initiative and grossly misrepresent one of its documents.

By the way, in the same part of the book, the authors report that on June 1, 2001, “a secret meeting took place on the subject of Afghanistan. It was attended by Condoleezza Rice, Christina Rocca [a US State Department official], and Francesc Vendrell, as well as British observers.” The source for this? The aforementioned UN report. But if you download this report from the web–as I did–you will find that the document (a routine report submitted by Annan) clearly notes that Vendrell met with Rocca “as well as other senior officials in the State Department and in the National Security Council” on this day. That is, there was nothing “secret” about the session. The authors, though, go out of their way to render a meeting acknowledged by the UN as something clandestine–and without revealing what horrible things were supposedly said during the gathering. This is their MO. Turn public meetings into secret plot-fests. Hint, nod and wink. Assert, rather than confirm. Characterize, instead of quote directly. They weave a web of deceit out of thin (at best) material.

Back to the business of the US threat against the Taliban. The authors claim this threat was issued during what Brisard calls “informal talks” in July 2001. These talks actually were a series of conferences organized by the UN in 2000 and 2001 to bolster its Special Mission to Afghanistan. The UN had asked former officials from the United States, Pakistan, Russia and other nations to gather every few months to discuss what could be done about the troubles in Afghanistan–a situation most of the world was ignoring at that time.

The authors (citing Niaz Naik, a participant from Pakistan) report that at the July meeting, which was held in Berlin, “the small American delegation mentioned using a ‘military option’ against the Taliban if they did not agree to change their position, especially concerning Osama bin Laden. Naik recounted that a US official had threatened, ‘Either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs.’ ” But this “American delegation” was made up of past US officials, not present ones. Brisard and Dasquie assume–without proving– that the ex-officials were speaking for the Bush Administration. But there is no reason to believe that.

Moreover, what was said–and why it was said–is a subject of debate. Tom Simons, a former US ambassador to Pakistan and thirty-five-year career diplomat, was one of three Americans at that meeting. He doesn’t recall any threat of the type Naik remembers. Instead, he says, the Americans noted that if the Bush Administration established that bin Laden had masterminded the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, then the Taliban and everyone else could expect a US strike against bin Laden in Afghanistan. In his reply to my article, Brisard kindly quotes Simons on this subject. But he and Dasquié were not so courteous in their book, and Simons says that neither sought to contact him. (That is in keeping with the rest of the book, for in their account of the “secret talks” there is precious little journalism of the we-interview-the-players type–perhaps none.)

Brisard tries to slip by, noting that it does not matter whether Naik or Simons is correct in their recollection. In either event, he says, what is important is that “a US representative…evoked the option of a military operation against Afghanistan.” This is ludicrous. The two authors have failed to show that the Americans at this meeting were in league with the Bush Administration. And had the American ex-officials said what Simons claims was stated, this could hardly have come as a shock to bin Laden or the Taliban. Surely, the Taliban and bin Laden realized that if bin Laden was firmly linked to the USS Cole operation, the United States was likely to bomb. This is, after all, how Clinton responded to bin Laden’s attacks on the US embassies in Africa.

Brisard disingenuously writes in his letter, “I wouldn’t speculate on whether the Taliban regime and its Al Qaeda supporter [bin Laden] may have tried to anticipate a military action against them by launching a devastating attack on US soil on September 11, 2001.” But that is indeed what he and his partner suggest in their book. Go back and read the sentence I quoted above in which the authors maintain September 11 was “the outcome of this initiative.” And in his letter, Brisard says “this threat is an important aspect for our understanding of the months leading to September 11.”

Brisard and Dasquié, though, did not bother to ascertain whether this so-called threat actually affected the actions of the Taliban and bin Laden. They merely maintain that it did. There are so many weak links in their argument. They do not prove there were “secret talks.” They do not prove Washington was behind this supposed threat. They do not prove the threat had any impact.

Beyond matters of evidence, their theory makes no sense. Suppose–and it’s a large stretch–that their “facts” are true. The “threat” came in July 2001. Would they argue that bin Laden, in response to the threat, quickly began developing the September 11 plan? That would be an absurd assertion. Obviously, bin Laden’s scheme was long in the works before July 2001. So what’s the other option? That bin Laden, who already was preparing the September 11 strikes, was somehow provoked into greenlighting the attacks by this July 2001 threat? This is equally absurd. Bin Laden had mounted assaults against the USS Cole and the US embassies in Africa; he was connected to the 1993 strike against the World Trade Center. He had declared a holy war against America. He did not require provocation–in the form of a threat from ex-officials–to proceed with his mass murder. Are Brisard and Dasquié claiming that bin Laden was not dedicated to moving ahead with the September 11 mission once planning had begun? This proposition seems indefensible on its face–especially when the authors do not present any evidence as to the thinking and motivations of bin Laden and the Taliban.

To further explore their illogic: In this scenario, what would be the purpose of the September 11 attacks, from the vantage of bin Laden and the Taliban? The operation could not be pre-emptive in the military sense of diminishing the US capacity to hit Afghanistan and Al Qaeda. And if the Taliban and bin Laden were indeed concerned at this point about the threat of US military action, hitting the United States on September 11 would only guarantee that Washington would bomb the hell out of them. It is unbelievable–and unproven in the manuscript–that bin Laden concluded in July 2001 that since the United States was about to attack, he had to strike first with an assault he otherwise would not have launched but that (conveniently) had been in development for a year or two.

As for all the oil business Brisard mentions in the first half of his letter, it is mostly inconsequential. It’s no secret that Unocal and other companies were interested in oil and gas in Central Asia and a pipeline in Afghanistan. But note that his examples are pre-1998. That year, Unocal–the company that was pushing the most on this front–gave up on a pipeline in Afghanistan. Were the Clinton and Bush administrations in their “secret talks” with the Taliban pimping for a company no longer looking for a deal? More to the point, at the end of May, the interim government in Kabul announced the revival of the trans-Afghanistan pipeline, but Unocal–the presumed beneficiary of the “secret talks” that supposedly led to September 11–stated it was no longer interested and would not be participating in the project.

There is no denying the Bush crowd wants to help its pals (and contributors) in Big Oil. But did the Bush Administration–and its predecessor–threaten the Taliban and bin Laden on behalf of them and place thousands of Americans at risk? Brisard and Dasquié neither establish their facts nor support their reasoning.

Their book is a crass exploitation of a tragic event. It violates the most modest of journalistic standards. The authors manipulate an awful event into a story to serve a political end–or, perhaps, only to make money for themselves. The book practically justifies the attacks. Which is foul. It says the September 11 assaults were prompted by these “secret negotiations,” not bin Laden’s jihad or the geopolitical conditions and conflicts that may have fed that jihad. No doubt, anti-Bush partisans and individuals who tend to disbelieve conventional accounts will be drawn to the book. And they will soon have the opportunity to read the English-language version, for it is being published this summer by Thunder’s Mouth Press and NationBooks.

II. The World According to Ruppert

What is most notable about Michael Ruppert’s response is what he does not address. As Ruppert has asserted that the CIA had “foreknowledge” of the September 11 attacks and that the US government was probably “complicit” in their execution, he has championed the case of Delmart “Mike” Vreeland, an American who was jailed in Canada and who is now fighting extradition to Michigan, where he is wanted on several criminal counts. Vreeland claims he is a US intelligence operative who learned of the attacks months in advance and who, while in prison, wrote a note in mid-August 2001 indicating September 11 was coming. (Actually, Vreeland’s tale is far more elaborate and bizarre than this. To get the full flavor, see my original piece.) By combing law enforcement, prison and court records in several states and through interviews with cops across the country and Vreeland’s family, I discovered that Vreeland had a long history of con-man activity and had been in and out of jail for years. He was no spy, he was a flim-flammer. Ruppert, tellingly, does not respond to this aspect of the article. I wonder if he still believes Vreeland is a key to solving the September 11 mystery.

Instead of dealing with the revelations about his chief witness, Ruppert refers to my article’s “weakness.” But he fails to point out specific flaws, except one: my reference to a UPI story written by correspondent Richard Sale. I confess I am slightly baffled by Ruppert’s reply. He has drafted a timeline that supposedly proves the CIA knew of September 11 in advance. The chronology is composed of citations to articles written by others. For one item, Ruppert lists a February 13, 2001, UPI article that he says reported “the National Security Agency has broken bin Laden’s encrypted communications.” My assistant and I searched Lexis-Nexis for this story and found nothing from that date. Instead, we found a February 8 article by Richard Sale reporting that “US hackers have gone into foreign banks accounts and deleted or transferred funds, and jammed or blocked [Al Qaeda’s] cell or satellite phones, intelligence officials said.” This piece did not seem to indicate that bin Laden’s communications had been broken in a manner indicating the United States had been able to gather information about the September 11 plot.

I’ve looked again–and still cannot find that February 13 article. But, more important, on June 2, 2002, the Washington Post published a piece by James Bamford, a damn-good investigative reporter and author of Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency. Bamford writes, “For about two years, until August 1998, NSA was able to eavesdrop on senior al Qaeda communications by monitoring bin Laden’s personal satellite phone.” Even so, the NSA and the intelligence community did not collect conversations in which bin Laden “discussed specific terrorist activities.” In any event, Bamford says the NSA’s ability to intercept bin Laden’s communications ceased, sadly, in 1998. If there is a Sale story dated February 13 that claims the NSA had broken bin Laden’s encrypted communications–and Ruppert seemingly offers quotes from such an article in his letter–it seems to be referring to the pre-1998 period. What, then, is the relevance of this factoid to understanding September 11? If the NSA had eavesdropped back then–and if, as Bamford reports, it picked up few, if any, details–what does that tell us about US intelligence foreknowledge of September 11? Nothing.

I am not defending the US intelligence community. As I have written several times, there is plenty of evidence to suggest the CIA, the FBI and others missed important indications that bin Laden and Al Qaeda were interested in a September 11-type attack. But this is quite different from claiming US intelligence picked up warnings and purposely ignored them. If Ruppert wants to argue that the CIA and the US government were aware in advance that this particular strike was coming, he needs much better evidence than what he offers in his timeline.

Since Ruppert raised the subject of “integrity,” allow me to take this opportunity to note that he has countered my criticism of his work by saying, “I have an opinion that David Corn is one of the establishment CIA/FBI operatives who has long been planted within so-called progressive circles.” His proof of this? “The primary argument I use for that,” Ruppert said in an interview, “is that he was chosen by one of the most venal characters in American history, Ted Shackley–who ran the CIA station in Laos, who overthrew Salvador Allende–to be his chosen biographer.” Such a remark ordinarily would deserve no more than a hearty guffaw. But since Ruppert has his followers on the web and within Pacifica radio circles, it is probably worth addressing it in a direct fashion: This is as nutty a charge as I have ever faced. Anyone who read my 1994 book, Blond Ghost, which was highly critical of Shackley and the CIA, would learn that Shackley did not select me to be his biographer and that, to the contrary, he considered me a hostile biographer and for years refused to cooperate. And since I know how Ruppert and some of his believers operate–hey, they would say, Corn never flat-out denied he was a CIA/FBI plant–I will go through this stupid exercise: I am not now nor have I ever been associated with any intelligence service in any capacity whatsoever. And Shackley is hardly my beloved. Only a fool could suggest otherwise.

Ruppert resorts to a scoundrel’s tactic–hurling an outlandish but easy-to-disprove allegation. And here’s another indication Ruppert’s credibility and judgment deserve to be questioned. On June 1, Ruppert posted an e-mail on a private discussion list in which he reported that Vreeland–the con man claiming to be a US intelligence officer–had been poisoned. Here’s what Ruppert wrote:

“Vreeland received two bottles of wine from Allan [sic] Greenspan. Vreeland stated that he had spoken to Greenspan on the phone and knew the wine was coming. I was on the phone with Vreeland yesterday right after he had about two glasses of the wine. Upon answering the phone Vreeland immediately stated that he had been vomiting blood…. I could hear sounds of the toilet flushing and water running. Vreeland was obviously ill…. In a frenzy he went to a stash of previously prepared syringes and took five successive injections of medications. I have a list of what he took but am not disclosing it now. I listened as the caps came off the syringes, hit the floor, and as he injected…. He didn’t sound like he was faking at all.”

So the Fed chairman sent a fugitive in Canada–who claims to be a supersecret agent with foreknowledge of September 11 but who has a criminal record stretching almost twenty years–two bottles of poisoned wine? Ruppert takes Vreeland’s I-was-poisoned-by-Greenspan claim seriously. That says much about Ruppert.

III. The Rest of It

Jason Thorne is right: “We need to be careful not to simply dismiss alternative views.” But those who claim they know the alternative truth have an obligation to present a rock-solid case–especially when they accuse people of permitting or planning the mass murder of their fellow citizens. Ruppert is the one who claims he has proven the CIA knew of September 11 in advance and allowed it to happen. He is the one who says it is likely the US government had a hand in executing the attacks. He is not raising questions. He is making explosive accusations. And anyone who casts such allegations should expect scrutiny. A close look at Ruppert’s work shows that he does not evaluate evidence but draws connection between selectively chosen pieces of information (which he does not bother to confirm). This is not investigation. This is data manipulation.

Ronald Legro, as a public service, directs my attention to Operation Northwoods, a plan with which I am already familiar. Many Ruppertoids have made a similar argument. Yes, forty years ago, the Joint Chiefs of Staff drew up an outrageous plan. But, of course, it was not implemented. Lots of crazy schemes in the cold war were drafted and– thankfully–not implemented, such as a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union. And, yes, in the past decades, the CIA and its clandestine cousins have engaged in horrendous actions–some of which I have chronicled in Blond Ghost and the pages of The Nation. Yet none of this proves anything about September 11. I return to a simple point: Let doubters pursue questions, nothing is wrong with that. In fact, it’s healthy. But allegations of this variety demand proof. Skeptics are not free of responsibility.

Totalitarian? Jean Santerre accuses me of that. This e-mailer is in desperate need of perspective. Stalin was a totalitarian. I, on the other hand, am concerned that conspiracy theorizing distracts people from the actual malfeasance, mistakes and misdeeds of the US government and the intelligence community. My criterion is rather basic, and I am sorry it has eluded Santerre: One should assert what one can prove as accurate and truthful.

September 11 was a day of unprecedented horror. It is not surprising that many people seek a deeper understanding of the attack and what led to it. Official answers ought not to be absorbed automatically without questions. But the purveyors of contrary explanations have a high bar to clear–particularly when they claim to possess an unseen truth–for, in the end, the only alternatives that should matter are those that are demonstrably true.

DAVID CORN