Role of Alleged CIA Asset in Mumbai Attacks Being Downplayed


Jeremy R. Hammond
Foreign Policy Journal
Wednesday, Dec 10, 2008

Recent press reports on developments with regard to last month’s attacks in Mumbai, India indicate the role of Dawood Ibrahim, a wanted crime boss, terrorist, and drug trafficker, is being downplayed, possibly the result of a deal taking place behind the scenes between the governments of the US, Pakistan, and India, to have others involved in the Mumbai attacks turned over while quietly diverting attention from a man who some say could reveal embarrassing secrets about the CIA’s involvement in criminal enterprises.

The role in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last month of an underworld kingpin that heads an organization known as D-Company, has known ties to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), and who is alleged to have ties with the CIA is apparently being whitewashed, suggesting that his capture and handover to India might prove inconvenient for either the ISI or the CIA, or both.

It was Dawood Ibrahim who was initially characterized by press reports as being the mastermind behind the attacks. Now, that title of “mastermind” is being given to Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi by numerous media accounts reporting that Pakistan security forces have raided a training camp of the group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), which evidence has indicated was behind the attacks. Lakhvi was reportedly captured in the raid and is now in custody.

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At the same time Ibrahim’s role is being downplayed, Lakhvi’s known role is being exaggerated. Initial reports described him as the training specialist for LeT, but the major media outlets like the New York Times and the London Times, citing government sources, have since promoted his status to that of commander of operations for the group.

The only terrorist from the Mumbai attacks to be captured alive, Azam Amir Kasab, characterized Ibrahim, not Lakhvi, as the mastermind of those attacks, according to earlier press accounts.

Kasab reportedly told his interrogators that he and his fellow terrorists were trained under Lakhvi, also known as “Chacha”, at a camp in Pakistan. Indian officials also traced calls from a satellite phone used by the terrorists to Lakhvi.

But the phone had also been used to call Yusuf Muzammil, also known as Abu Yusuf, Abu Hurrera, and “Yahah”. And it has been Muzammil, not Lakhvi, who has previously been described as the military commander of LeT. It was an intercepted call to Muzammil on November 18 that put the Indian Navy and Coast Guard on high alert to be on the lookout for any foreign vessels from Pakistan entering Indian waters.

Kasab told his interrogators that his team had set out from Karachi, Pakistan, on a ship belonging to Dawood Ibrahim, the MV Alpha. They then hijacked an Indian fishing trawler, the Kuber, to pass through Indian territorial waters to elude the Navy and Coast Guard that were boarding and searching suspect ships.

Although the MV Alpha was subsequently found and seized by the Indian Navy, there have been few, if any, developments about this aspect of the investigation in press accounts, such as whether it has been confirmed or not that the ship was owned by Ibrahim.

Upon arriving off the coast near the city, they were received by inflatable rubber dinghies that had been arranged by an associate of Ibrahim’s in Mumbai.

The planning and execution of the attacks are indicative of the mastermind role not of either Lakhvi or Muzammil, but of Ibrahim, an Indian who is intimately familiar with the city. It was in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) that Ibrahim rose through the ranks of the underworld to become a major organized crime boss.

At least two other Indians were also connected to the attacks, Mukhtar Ahmed and Tausef Rahman. They were arrested for their role in obtaining SIM cards used in the cell phones of the terrorists. Ahmed, according to Indian officials, had in fact been recruited by a special counter-insurgency police task force as an undercover operative. His exact role is still being investigated.

One of the SIM cards used was possibly purchased from New Jersey. Investigators are looking into this potential link to the US, as well.

Dawood Ibrahim went from underworld kingpin to terrorist in 1993, when he was connected to a series of bombings in Bombay that resulted in 250 deaths. He is wanted by Interpol and was designated by the US as a global terrorist in 2003.

It’s believed Ibrahim has been residing in Karachi, and Indian officials have accused Pakistan’s ISI of protecting him.

Ibrahim is known to be a major drug trafficker responsible for shipping narcotics into the United Kingdom and Western Europe.

According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), most Afghan opium (or its derivative, heroin, which is increasingly being produced in the country before export) is smuggled through Iran and Turkey en route by land to Europe; but the percentage that goes to Pakistan seems to mostly find its way directly to the UK, either by plane or by ship.

Afghanistan is the world’s leading producer of opium, a trend that developed during the CIA-backed mujahedeen effort to oust the Soviet Union from the country, with the drug trade serving to help finance the war.

The principle recipient of CIA-ISI funding was Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, one of the major drug lords. Hekmatyar has since joined with the Taliban in the insurgency effort to expel foreign forces from the country – not the Soviet Union, this time, but the US.

A Taliban ban on the cultivation of opium poppies in 2000 resulted in the near total eradication of the crop. But since the US overthrow of the regime in 2001, Afghanistan has once again become the world’s leading producer of opium, surpassing all previous records.

While Hekmatyar chose to side with anti-government forces, a number of other warlords involved in the drug trade were members of the Northern Alliance to whom the CIA doled out cash in the US effort to overthrow the Taliban following the 9/11 attacks.

One such warlord is Abdul Rashid Dostum, who was appointed Chief of Staff of the army under the government of Hamid Karzai, and who has been described in US intelligence’s own files as a “Tier One Warlord”.

That list includes a number of other high ranking officials within the Afghanistan government, including former defense minister and parliament member Marshal Mohammad Fahim, Interior Minister for Counter-Narcotics General Mohammad Daoud, and former governor of Helmand province (now by far the largest producer of opium) Sher Mohammed Akhundzada.

Although government officials parroted by the mainstream media tend to characterize the Afghan opium trade as being controlled by the Taliban, in fact the estimated drug profits of all anti-government elements (AGEs) is a mere fraction of the trade’s total estimated export value. The UNODC estimated the export value this year at $3.4 billion. Of that, AGEs profited between $250-470 million, less than 14% of the total trade. Moreover, what fraction of that percentage has gone specifically to the Taliban as opposed to other AGEs is unknown.

Furthermore, while the Taliban profits from the production of opium through ushr, a 10% tax on all agricultural products, and possibly through a protection racket in which it receives compensation for providing security along smuggling routes, the UNODC has acknowledged that there is little indication that the Taliban itself is responsible for either the actual production or trafficking of the drug.

This is an inconvenient truth for the US, which has so far managed through its propaganda efforts to successfully obfuscate the truth about the Afghan drug trade and portray the Taliban as being almost wholly responsible.

A known drug trafficker, Dawood Ibrahim is naturally also involved in money laundering, which is perhaps where the role of gambling operations in Nepal comes into the picture.

Yoichi Shimatsu, former editor of the Japan Times, wrote last month after the Mumbai attacks that Ibrahim had worked with the US to help finance the mujahedeen during the 1980s and that because he knows too much about the US’s “darker secrets” in the region, he could never be allowed to be turned over to India.

The recent promotion of Lakhvi to “mastermind” of the attacks while Ibrahim’s name disappears from media reports would seem to lend credence to Shimatsu’s assertion.

Investigative journalist Wayne Madsen similarly reported that according to intelligence sources, Dawood Ibrahim is a CIA asset, both as a veteran of the mujahedeen war and in a continuing connection with his casino and drug trade operations in Kathmandu, Nepal. A deal had been made earlier this year to have Pakistan hand Ibrahim over to India, but the CIA was fearful that this would lead to too many of its dirty secrets coming to light, including the criminal activities of high level personnel within the agency.

One theory on the Mumbai attacks is that it was backlash for this double-cross that was among other things intended to serve as a warning that any such arrangement could have further serious consequences.

Although designated as a major international terrorist by the US, media reports in India have characterized the US’s past interest in seeing Ibrahim handed over as less than enthusiastic. Former Indian Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani wrote in his memoir, “My Country My Life”, that he made a great effort to get Pakistan to hand over Ibrahim, and met with then US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice (now Secretary of State) to pressure Pakistan to do so. But he was informed by Powell that Pakistan would hand over Ibrahim only “with some strings attached” and that then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf would need more time before doing so.

The handover, needless to say, never occurred. The Pakistan government has also publicly denied that Ibrahim is even in the country; a denial that was repeated following the recent Mumbai attacks.

Others suspected of involvement in the attacks and named among the 20 individuals India wants Pakistan to turn over also have possible connections to the CIA, including Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the founder of LeT, and Maulana Masood Azhar, both veterans of the CIA-backed mujahedeen effort.

Azhar had been captured in 1994 and imprisoned in India for his role as leader of the Pakistani-based terrorist group Karkut-ul-Mujahideen. He was released, however, in 1999 in exchange for hostages from the takeover of Indian Airlines Flight 814, which was hijacked during its flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Delhi, India and redirected to Afghanistan. After Azhar’s release, he formed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), which was responsible for an attack on the Indian parliament in 2001 that led Pakistan and India to the brink of war. LeT was also blamed for the attack alongside JeM.

Both LeT and JeM have links to the ISI, which has used the groups as proxies in the conflict with India over the territory of Kashmir.

Hafiz Saeed travelled to Peshawar to join the mujahedeen cause during the Soviet-Afghan war. Peshawar served as the base of operations for the CIA, which worked closely with the ISI to finance, arm, and train the mujahedeen. It was in Peshawar that Saeed became the protégé of Abdullah Azzam, who founded an organization called Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) along with a Saudi individual named Osama bin Laden.

MAK worked alongside the CIA-ISI operations to recruit Arabs to the ranks of the mujahedeen. The ISI, acting as proxy for the CIA, chose mainly to channel its support to Afghans, such as Gulbaddin Hekmatyar. The U.S. claims the CIA had no relationship with MAK, but bin Laden’s operation, which later evolved into “al-Qaeda”, must certainly have been known to, and approved by, the CIA.

But there are indications that the CIA’s relationship with MAK and al-Qaeda go well beyond having shared a common enemy and mutual interests in the Soviet-Afghan war. A number of al-Qaeda associates appear to have been protected individuals.

Branches of MAK existed elsewhere, including in the United States. The US Treasury Department lists one of MAK’s aliases as Al-Kifah. The Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York, served as a recruitment center during the 1980s, but its operations did not end after the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Kifah was also a recruitment center for efforts by extremist groups in the Balkans.

Just as in Afghanistan, the US also had mutual interests with Bosnian Muslims and extremist groups acting in the Balkans. MAK had since evolved into al-Qaeda under Osama bin Laden, which had links to groups operating in Bosnia. Despite an arms embargo against such groups, they managed to obtain weapons and supply shipments in which the US at best looked the other way and at worst played an active role.

The operations to arm al-Qaeda linked groups in Bosnia were carried under the watch of then director of the US European Command Intelligence Directorate Gen. Michael V. Hayden. Hayden subsequently served as the director of the National Security Agency from 1999 to 2005 and is currently the Director of Central Intelligence, or DCI, which is the head of the CIA.

A former official at the US consular office in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Michael Springman went public after 9/11 to explain how his office was used by the CIA to bring recruits to the US for training during the 1980s.

The Jeddah office is where most of the 9/11 hijackers obtained their visas to enter the US.

Two other of the hijackers, Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, were in fact known to the CIA and were being monitored. Despite being known al-Qaeda operatives, they were allowed to enter the US under their real names and neither the FBI nor the State Department were notified.

The US explains this as the result of the CIA losing the terrorists’ trail when they travelled to Thailand after an al-Qaeda meeting in Kuala Lumpur. But this explanation does not stand up to scrutiny since it was known that they had obtained visas to enter the US. Thus, even if the CIA did in fact lose track of the terrorists, standard procedure should have dictated that the FBI and State Department be alerted.

The 9/11 Joint Inquiry and subsequent 9/11 Commission were apparently satisfied with the CIA’s explanation that it lost al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, and nobody was ever held accountable for the “mistake” of knowingly allowing two known al-Qaeda operatives on the terrorist watchlist to enter the United States unhindered.

Upon arriving in the US, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar were assisted by an individual under FBI surveillance for his possible connections to terrorist groups and, furthermore, even lived in a house rented from an FBI informant. But the FBI claims that it didn’t know anything about the men, despite them using their real names and being listed in the phone book, because the CIA hadn’t informed them the two were in the country. The Joint Inquiry report described this as perhaps the single greatest missed opportunity to break up the 9/11 operation and prevent the attacks.

Additionally, it was in fact the CIA who not once, but at least on six separate occasions, approved a visa, including from the office in Jeddah, for or the entry of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, a.k.a. “the Blind Sheikh”, into the US, despite his known connection to terrorist acts in Egypt, including the assassination of Anwar Sadat, and despite having been on the State Department’s terrorist watchlist. This, too, was described as a series of “mistakes” after the government was forced to admit that it had occurred – an explanation that the New York Times, which reported this information in a series of articles, seemed to find perfectly satisfactory.

Many, however, find such incompetency and coincidence theories to be simply not credible, preferring instead alternative, oftentimes much more plausible, conspiracy theories.

The Blind Sheikh had also travelled to Peshawar during the mujahedeen effort, and was good friends with Gulbaddin Hekmatyar, the CIA’s top asset during the Soviet-Afghan war. He later became the spiritual head of the terrorist group that carried out the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, a plot which the FBI had known about in advance through two or more informants.

One of the informants served as a bodyguard for the Blind Sheikh and was made responsible for obtaining materials to make the bomb with. Tape recordings he secretly made of conversations with his FBI handlers reveal that the original sting operation involved a plan to replace a chemical used in making the bomb with an inert simulant that would render it inoperative. But this plan was withdrawn by a supervisor at the FBI and the terrorist cell was allowed to go ahead and make a real bomb – which was then used to blow up the World Trade Center.

Another notable character connected to Al-Kifah training and recruitment efforts for al-Qaeda is Ali Mohammed. He also happened to be an in FBI informant, a CIA asset, and a member of the special forces in the US Army. It is Ali Mohammed whom some suspect of actually being the mastermind of the 1993 WTC bombing. He was later charged in connection to the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, but has since seemingly disappeared off the map.

After the 9/11 attacks, the investigation into the financing of the attacks led to Omar Saeed Sheikh, a British national of Pakistani origin. According to Indian officials, a joint investigation with the FBI revealed evidence that it was at the direction of the head of the ISI, Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmed, that Omar Sheikh transferred $100,000 to lead hijacker Mohammed Atta in Florida.

Omar Sheikh, a known associate of Osama bin Laden, was captured and imprisoned in India for his role in the kidnapping of American and British nationals in 1994. He was released in 1999 along with Maulana Massod Azhar in exchange for the hostages from Flight 814. According to former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf, Omar Sheikh was also an agent of Britain’s spy agency, MI6, for whom he served in operations in the Balkans.

Omar Sheikh’s role in the 9/11 attacks has also been downplayed. Mention of him in the media instead focus on his role as the man responsible for the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl. He is currently being held in Pakistan on charges relating to Pearl’s murder.

After Mahmud Ahmed’s alleged role in the 9/11 attacks became known publicly, Musharraf quietly replaced him and the whole affair was hushed up in the US. When a reporter from a foreign news agency asked then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice whether she was aware of the reports that the ISI chief had financed the hijackers and was in Washington meeting with high level officials at the time of the attacks, she denied having seen “that report” and protested that, “he was certainly not meeting with me.”

Interestingly, the White House website transcript of the press briefing censored the words “ISI chief” from the reporter’s question, despite the words clearly being audible in the video of the briefing.

The 9/11 Commission also acted to whitewash Mahmud Ahmed’s alleged role in the attacks. Despite the question of the ISI chief’s involvement being included on a list of items for the Commission to investigate from families of the victims of the attacks, the Commission’s report made no mention of it, either to confirm or deny the information, which, despite having received zero coverage in the US major media (with the one exception of a citation of a report from the Times of India in a blog on the Wall Street Journal’s opinion website), was widely reported internationally (as well as in US alternative media).

Rather, the 9/11 Commission simply acted as though such reports didn’t exist. Despite Bob Graham, one of the chairs of the earlier Congressional Joint Inquiry, publicly stating that he was surprised by the evidence of foreign government involvement (he added that this information would not be made public for another twenty or thirty years when it would be due for release to the national archives), the 9/11 Commission report arrived at the opposite conclusion, saying there was no evidence of any such involvement and, moreover, that the question of who financed the attacks was “of little practical significance”.

Another former head of the ISI is now being privately accused by the US of involvement with the group responsible for the Mumbai attacks, according to reports citing a document listing former ISI chief Lt. Gen. Hamid Gul and four other former heads of Pakistan’s intelligence agency as being involved in supporting terrorist networks. The individuals named have been recommended to the UN Security Council to be named as international terrorists, according to Pakistan’s The News.

The document has been provided to the Pakistan government and also accuses Gul, who was head of the ISI from 1987-1989, of providing assistance to criminal groups in Kabul, as well as to groups responsible for recruiting and training militants to attack US-led forces in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.

Hamid Gul responded to the reports by calling the allegations hilarious. The US denied that it had made any such recommendations to the UN.

But the US has similarly accused the ISI of involvement in the bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul last July. This was unusual not because of the allegation of an ISI connection to terrorism but because it was in such stark contrast with US attempts to publicly portray Pakistan as a staunch ally in its “war on terrorism” when the country was under the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf.

The US attitude toward Pakistan shifted once an elected government came to power that has been more willing to side with the overwhelming belief among the public that it is the “war on terrorism” itself that has exacerbated the problem of extremist militant groups and led to further terrorist attacks within the country, such as the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto last year or the bombing of the Marriot Hotel in September. While the world’s attention has been focused on the attacks in Mumbai, a bomb blast in Peshawar last week killed 21 and injured 90.

While the purported US document names Gul and others as terrorist supporters, another report, from Indian intelligence, indicates that the terrorists who carried out the attacks in Mumbai were among 500 trained by instructors from the Pakistan military, according to the Sunday edition of The Times. This training of the 10 known Mumbai terrorists would have taken place prior to their recent preparation for these specific attacks by the LeT training specialist Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi.

But while Lakhvi, Muzammil, and Hafiz Saeed have continued to be named in connection with last month’s attacks in Mumbai, the name of Dawood Ibrahim seems to be either disappearing altogether or his originally designated role as the accused mastermind of the attacks being credited now instead to Lakhvi in media accounts.

Whether this is a deliberate effort to downplay Ibrahim’s role in the attacks so as not to have to force Pakistan to turn him over because of embarrassing revelations pertaining to the CIA’s involvement with known terrorists and drug traffickers that development could possibly produce isn’t certain. But what is certain is that the CIA has had a long history of involvement with such characters and that the US has a track record of attempting to keep information about the nature of such involvement in the dark or to cover it up once it reaches the light of public scrutiny.


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