2021/10/14

Afghanistan and the second rise of the Taliban: an interview with former NCIS agent Craig Covert

by Leonardo Salvaggio. An Italian translation is available here.

Since last August the Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan after the US withdrew their troops. To understand what happened and why, we invited former NCIS agent Craig Covert for an interview; Covert is also a Pentagon responder and we made a first interview with him about 9/11 a few years ago.

We would like to thanks Craig Covert for his kindness and help.





Undicisettembre: Would you like to tell us something about your mission to Afghanistan? What role did you have and what were the most striking aspects of Afghanistan back then?

Craig Covert:
In 2011, I was deployed with the Second Marine Expeditionary Force, or II MEF (Fwd), to Kabul, Afghanistan, where I was assigned as the United States Marine Corps Liaison Officer to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Not many people were aware that the DEA had a field office in north Kabul aboard a small Afghan compound just several miles from the Kabul International and military Airport. DEA’s mission was to train and mentor Afghan counter-narcotics police, known as the NIU or National Interdiction Unit, as well as Afghan investigators from the Special Investigations Unit, or SIU. Though mentored and trained by the DEA, NIU and SIU were Afghan led and run, reporting to their own Afghan chain of command.The DEA agents in Kabul were similarly supervised by their own executives, and despite working in close proximity with the NIU and SIU daily, lived in a separate compound housed within the larger NIU/SIU base. This location was ideally situated to give the DEA and NIU/SIU teams independence of movement, by virtue of their separation from the larger, bureaucratic coalition forces situated at the airport, the Embassy and the various US military FOB’s (forward operating base) in Kabul.

As you well know, the Taliban funded many of their operations through the export and sale of illicit opium products that were produced in the poppy-fields of Afghanistan, mostly growing in the provinces of Kandahar and Helmand to the south.As such, the NIU and SIU were learning not only how to identify and dismantle large, well-run drug labs, but also how to conduct complex drug investigations and how to cultivate informants and utilize technology in the exercise of those operations.Drug investigations can be highly complex, especially when targeting the dangerous drug networks that were spread throughout the provinces.

DEA utilized and deployed small strike force teams in the various Provinces, and were almost always embedded with a larger U.S. or coalition military unit. The strike force teams were manned by a small team of DEA agents who trained and mentored squad-sized units of NIU paramilitary troops. Often, the existing military units in a particular area were already aware of drug labs in the vicinities of their patrols or operations and were eager to embed the DEA/NIU teams into their patrols to handle not only drug lab encounters, but also to sweep up and arrest high profile drug targets who were identified during operational planning. DEA was far more directly involved in the on-ground military operations than most U.S. civilian organizations, as they embedded directly with Marine Corps and Army units.

As the liaison to the DEA, it was my job to coordinate and de-conflict DEA operations in Helmand Province, where the Marines of II MEF (Fwd) were living and operating. As the Province with the most active drug operations and investigations in the 2011/2012 timeframe, DEA recognized a need for having an on-ground Liaison Officer who could introduce a law enforcement perspective during military operational planning events. The military understood the rule of law, as dictated by their chain of command, but few career military planners had any understanding of drug investigations; the legalities of search and seizure; or the utilization of pen registers, trap and trace operations or informants.

Weekly, I would fly to Helmand to meet with the C-3 Operations cell and coordinate in the planning of operations against the Haqqani drug network, a major source of Taliban funding. As such, the Marine Corps was very interested in suppressing the drug trade in Helmand, knowing every dollar obtained by the Taliban through the export and sale of opium would be used to purchase another bullet that would potentially be aimed at US Marines.


Undicisettembre: The next inevitable question is, was what happened in the last weeks and months the only way to end this war? Was this the only inescapable conclusion?


Craig Covert:I believe the situation that occurred this summer was preventable, but only had the U.S. and her coalition partners maintained an indefinite presence in Afghanistan.History has proven that no matter how well-armed and financed an occupying force is, the will of the Afghan people will always outlive the perseverance of the military force attempting to tame them. The British attempted to colonize Afghanistan in the 1800’s and suffered miserably during the Anglo Afghan wars.In 1979, the Soviet Union conducted an invasion of Afghanistan that eventually led to a withdrawal and absolute failure, eerily similar to ours. It is often referred to in Russia as “the Soviet Union’s Vietnam.”

While we could have stayed and continued to fund and maintain the Afghan National Army (ANA) indefinitely, there was no political will to do so within the Biden Administration. The high financial cost has always been a lightning rod within the US Congress, and after 20 years, many Americans and politicians alike felt it was time to bring our troops home. Unfortunately, the President appears to have conducted a premature withdrawal that was clearly not in line with the recommendations of his most senior military advisors. The failure was exemplified with the unexpected withdrawal of US forces from Baghram Airbase under the cover of darkness, with troops leaving behind millions of items. They included everything from insignificant bottles of water, MRE’s and office furniture to hundreds of armored vehicles and thousands of civilian vehicles.

One could easily argue the beginning of the end actually goes back to 2014 when US forces turned over the massive forward operating base in Helmand Province, or “Camp Leatherneck”, to the ANA. Although the ANA technically took possession of the base, Leatherneck remained mostly deserted, as well as looted, thus leaving large swaths of land in the Province open to the return of the Taliban. To the east, the forward operating base in Khandahar slowly downsized and eventually closed her doors in 2021, leaving the entire southern region occupied by poorly led ANA forces with a minimal footprint.It came of little surprise that the Taliban quickly filled the vacuum created by the disappearance of coalition troops, and much like US politicians, the ANA had no will to continue the fight against them. As the Taliban presence grew, the provinces slowly returned to their old ways of life, plowing under the western-recommended wheat and cultivating new poppy fields. With the poppy, the Taliban once again had a steady source of income with which to finance their militias.

The hasty withdrawal of forces from Kabul absolutely emboldened the Taliban, who conquered Province after Province with lightning speed. All of the warning signs were there, but apparently those in charge of the Pentagon and the White House were asleep at the helm.Despite gathering at the outskirts of the city, I do not believe the Taliban would have entered Kabul had American personnel remained. Unfortunately, American politicians have no stomach for war. They only see diminishing polling percentages and short-lived careers in their current jobs. Today, American exceptionalism is measured in votes, nothing more. Hence, an immediate, unexpected and hastily conducted withdrawal was executed.Without an administration that was willing to sacrifice for the good of the Afghan government and her people, it was an inevitable conclusion.


Undicisettembre: Let's set the point straight on who made the worst mistakes on this: was it the previous administration by signing the peace deal with the Taliban or the incumbent one by withdrawing from Afghanistan so fast?

Craig Covert: Blame lies partially with both administrations, although it was indeed President Biden who made the ultimate decision to pull all troops out of Afghanistan.While it is true that President Trump started the downfall by signing the Doha Agreement with the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan(Taliban), it can be argued that the agreement with a group that is not officially recognized by the United States cannot be considered valid and can, as a matter of record, be invalidated for good cause.

Many believe that had President Trump still been in power, he would have maintained a nominal presence of troops at KIA, if only to protect our military interests, assets and civilians still living in Kabul. What could have or would have happened had Trump been reelected will never be known, but what cannot be denied is which President ordered the actual that occurred in 2021.

President Biden had an opportunity to escape from the Doha agreement based on the failed Afghan peace talks, but for whatever reason, he chose not to do so.Unfortunately, President Biden was the Commander in Chief when the decision to withdraw was made. Therefore, the blame must rest with him and those General’s who failed to argue against his decision.It should be noted, however, that even General’s cannot make the decisions for POTUS – they can only advise. Ultimately, it is the civilian Commander in Chief – namely the President of the United States, who makes the call.

Recently, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Generals Mark Milley and Kenneth McKenzie, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commander of Central Command respectively, all reported President Biden had been given recommendations to leave between 2,500 and 4,000 American troops on-ground. While America certainly had the military might and technology to keep the Taliban at bay and from taking over Kabul, at least for the short term, the President’s politically charged short-sightedness clearly led to the Taliban quickly taking Kabul. The President failed to grasp what nearly every military man and woman who’d served in Afghanistan already knew –if we left Afghanistan in the hands of the ANA without our support, they were doomed to fail.


Undicisettembre: How come the Afghan army collapsed so fast?

Craig Covert: There were many issues leading to the collapse of Afghanistan, with far too many to list. However, I will touch on a few.First, Afghanistan was never a country to be conquered by a foreign invader, for it isn’t a “country” in the sense that we as westerners think of a country. There is little to no sense of national unity. Afghanistan is truly a conglomeration of tribes and warlords, peasants and politicians, most of whom will fight for their tribe or clan before fighting for their government. Their true loyalty lies with the tribe, clan and group, not the capitol or political leadership. One may speak Pashto or Dari, or one of a dozen different dialects.In fact, Pashtun nationalism is believed to be as great as, if not greater than, political nationalism. This very real lack of national identity creates walls when soldiers and politicians from your country’s ruling government cannot even speak the same language as you or your neighbors. How can one expect national programs to work when dictated by one tribe or clan to another? It doesn’t. As with a lack of national identity, the value of western styled democracy falls on deaf ears throughout the provinces. One cannot introduce a constitutional republic, complete with its western business opportunities and expectations to be accepted by an Afghan national overnight, considering the history of Afghanistan. Westernization is a foreign concept to most Afghans, just as the 1700’s Samurai leadership of Japan would be unfathomable to Americans today.

Corruption within the civilian and military leadership was certainly a factor in the collapse of Afghanistan. We empowered warlords to garner provincial cooperation; we overlooked bribery among politicians; we allowed the Afghan government to by-pass safeguards against the smuggling of cash from Afghanistan to neighboring countries.For every pair of boots we gave to an Afghan Commander for his troops, a certain percentage ended up at the local bazaar, often sold by the Commander himself, with troops showing up to formation in slippers and sandals.Corruption was and remains wide-spread and a lack of will, combined with the lack of resources, to stop the corruption simply led to a deteriorating system of government that would never stand on its own for very long.

The collapse of the ANA itself was always on the mind of every soldier or Marine who had served with them. While there are certainly exceptions, most troops had little confidence in the abilities and the capabilities of the ANA, many of whom were illiterate, poorly educated, or who simply failed to show up for duty at specified places and times. The biggest worry among US forces was the tepid will of the average soldier, which seemed to come and go with no apparent reason beyond how hard the soldier was pushed or how difficult his mission was presumed to be.

There is an old adage that goes something like this:“Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.”There couldn’t be a better explanation for the ANA’s failure. The US and our partners spoon-fed the ANA, day in and day out, for twenty years. We provided them with resources; we effectively paid their salaries. We allowed the ANA to place incapable and ineffective leaders within their ranks without saying anything for fear of offending them. We provided all logistical resources and combat equipment used by their units, from uniforms to small arms and vehicles. The ANA never took true “ownership” of their end-item equipment when it came to maintenance and caring for that equipment. American service members are expected to master their military occupational specialties and become experts in their field after the first three years of their enlistment, which results in advancement in rank and responsibility. Yet somehow, despite giving the ANA twenty years worth of training and equipment, they mastered little. It all boiled down to dependency. As long as US and coalition forces provided the beans, bullets and band-aids, maintained the vehicles and weapons and babysat the ANA on every patrol and route reconnaissance, the ANA would stay nothing more than a uniformed group of individuals who collected a semi-reliable paycheck, but were ineffective on their own as a fighting force. This became apparent when the ANA quickly laid down its arms at the first hint of an oncoming Taliban offensive. We created a monster that all of the money in the world couldn’t fix.


Undicisettembre: As far as you know are the Taliban in possession of American vehicles and weapons? If so, how come that happened?

Craig Covert: Absolutely!It only takes a quick search on YouTube, social media or any reputable online news agency to find dozens of videos proving US assets fell into the hands of the Taliban. Uniforms, armor, radios, vehicles, trucks, armored personnel carriers, munitions…. the list is endless.Naysayers will state that US troops ensured that the armored vehicles and aircraft at KIA were disabled before the pullout, and that may be true, but those actions have no bearing on the thousands of vehicles, the tens of thousands of weapons, nor the millions of rounds of small ammunition that were captured by the Taliban from surrendering ANA forces who simply dropped or handed over the equipment without a fight.The withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan has effectively outfitted the Taliban with enough gear and weaponry to become a formidable military force that we will one day have to face on the battlefield.


Undicisettembre: The Taliban are somehow presenting themselves as more modern and maybe more moderate than before. In my opinion they are just faking it and they will prove themselves as violent as they were in the 90s. What do you think, are they somehow reliable in this case?

Craig Covert: The Taliban have proven themselves dishonest and disingenuous and were not in power for more than several weeks before showing their true colors. Barbershops can no longer cut men’s beards or play music.Convicted “prisoners” (for what crimes we may never know) have been strung up beneath cranes and displayed throughout Kabul. Women have been denied schooling and are being segregated from men throughout the city. Interpreters and others who worked for or alongside the US and former Afghan government have been hunted down and executed. The short answer to the question is apparent - the Taliban have never been reliable or truthful and will certainly mimic the fundamentalist savagery they displayed 2 decades ago.


Undicisettembre: One important difference that I see with respect to the past is that while the Taliban used to be allies with al-Qaeda, now ISIS Khorasan is their enemy therefore they probably won't allow the terrorists to build and run their bases. What do you think of this? Can this be an important difference?

Craig Covert: Certainly there will be factions of terrorist organizations in Afghanistan who consider other radical Islamist organizations their enemy, even if both consider the US their common enemy. It would be naïve to think that ISIS-K would submit to the Taliban and vice versa, as both wish to assume power within the country. Much like the divide between the Shia and Sunni in Iraq, or for that matter, the divide between ISIS Iraq and the Iraqi Government, Islam alone will not be enough to bring ISIS-K and the Taliban into partnership. I believe the US and her allies will continue to covertly target elements of ISIS-K in the near future should they exhibit any threat toward western civilians in Afghanistan, with the inevitable targeting of Taliban forces should they continue to tamp down on the freedoms of the Afghan people. I do not believe it will be long before we see the Taliban’s first offensive movement against groups of westerners still remaining within her borders.


Undicisettembre: Isn't it unfair to say the war was lost by the US? I mean, the reason why the US went to Afghanistan was to destroy terrorists' bases, which they did and another 9/11-like attack is now unlikely. What do you think?

Craig Covert: The last war won by the US was World War II. America withdrew her forces from Korea following the signing of the Korean Armistice in 1953. America left Vietnam following the signing of the Case-Church Amendment in 1973, officially ending US involvement. This resulted in the failure of the Paris Peace Accord and the eventual capture of Saigon. Since that time, America has done a great job winning battles, but winning wars has become a lost art. Some will argue that America and her allies “won” Desert Storm (the Gulf War), but Saddam Hussein remained in power and the war was reignited only a decade later.

It was not unexpected that once again, American politicians would bow to the will of the people (aka: the power of the vote) and withdraw her forces from Afghanistan.What was unexpected by most was the manner in which it was done and the speed of the withdrawal. In my opinion, it was done without forethought and thorough planning; in haste and with reckless disregard for the interpreters and Afghan civilians who’d previously assisted US forces.

We left before credible governance was accepted by her own people. We left an Afghanistan that was either unable, or perhaps unwilling to save itself from the Taliban.

Afghanistan e il ritorno al potere dei Talebani: intervista all'ex agente dell'NCIS Craig Covert

di Leonardo Salvaggio. L'originale inglese è disponibile qui.

Dallo scorso agosto i Talebani sono tornati al potere in Afghanistan, dopo il ritiro delle truppe americane. Per capire cosa è successo e perché abbiamo invitato per un'intervista l'ex agente dell'NCIS Craig Covert: Covert è stato anche un soccorritore dell'attacco al Pentagono e alcuni anni fa abbiamo già fatto un'intervista con lui sull'11/9.

Ringraziamo Craig Covert per la sua cortesia e disponibilità.





Undicisettembre: Ci racconti qualcosa della tua missione in Afghanistan? Che ruolo avevi e quali erano gli aspetti più importanti dell'Afghanistan di allora?

Craig Covert:
Nel 2011 sono stato inviato con la Second Marine Expeditionary Force [forza aeroterrestre dei Marines composta principalmente dalla seconda divisione, NdT], altresì detta II MEF (Fwd), a Kabul, in Afghanistan, dove avevo il ruolo di Ufficiale di Collegamento del Corpo dei Marines con la Drug Enforcement Administration. Non molti sapevano che la DEA aveva un ufficio sul campo a nord di Kabul, in un piccolo compound a pochi chilometri dall'aeroporto internazionale e militare. La missione della DEA era quella di addestrare e fare consulenza per la polizia antidroga afgana, nota come NIU o National Interdiction Unit, e agli investigatori afgani dell'Unità Investigativa Speciale, o SIU. Sebbene si avvalessero della formazione e della consulenza dalla DEA, NIU e SIU erano guidati e gestiti da afgani, che riportavano alla loro catena di comando afghana. Gli agenti della DEA a Kabul erano analogamente supervisionati dai propri dirigenti e, nonostante lavorassero quotidianamente in stretta vicinanza con la NIU e la SIU, vivevano in un complesso separato all'interno della base principale della NIU e della SIU. Questa posizione era idealmente situata per dare alle squadre DEA e NIU/SIU indipendenza di movimento, per via della loro separazione dalle più numerose forze burocratiche della coalizione situate all'aeroporto, all'ambasciata e nelle varie basi operative avanzate dei militari statunitensi a Kabul.

Come ben sai, i talebani finanziavano molte delle loro operazioni con l'esportazione e la vendita di prodotti illeciti dell'oppio che venivano prodotti nei campi di papaveri dell'Afghanistan, per lo più ​​nelle province di Kandahar e Helmand a sud. Pertanto, la NIU e la SIU stavano imparando non solo come identificare e smantellare grandi laboratori di droga ben gestiti, ma anche come condurre complesse indagini antidroga e come ottenere informatori e utilizzare la tecnologia in tali operazioni. Le indagini antidroga possono essere molto complesse, soprattutto se si prendono di mira le pericolose reti della droga diffuse in tutte le province.

La DEA utilizzava e dispiegava piccole squadre di forze d'attacco nelle varie province, quasi sempre in collaborazione con una più grande unità militare statunitense o della coalizione. Le squadre delle forze d'attacco erano gestite da una piccola squadra di agenti della DEA che addestravano e guidavano unità di truppe paramilitari della NIU. Spesso, le unità militari di in una particolare area erano già a conoscenza di laboratori di droga nelle vicinanze delle loro pattuglie o di dove operavano ed erano ansiose di collaborare con le squadre DEA/NIU non solo per gestire gli incontri con i laboratori di droga, ma anche per spazzare via e arrestare narcotrafficanti di alto profilo che erano stati identificati durante la pianificazione operativa. La DEA era molto più direttamente coinvolta nelle operazioni militari a terra rispetto alla maggior parte delle organizzazioni civili statunitensi, poiché lavoravano direttamente all’interno delle unità del Corpo dei Marines e dell'Esercito.

Come collegamento con la DEA, era compito mio coordinare e risolvere i conflitti delle operazioni della DEA nella provincia di Helmand, dove stavano e operavano i Marines del II MEF (Fwd). Siccome era la provincia con le operazioni e indagini antidroga più attive nel periodo 2011/2012, la DEA riconobbe la necessità di disporre di un Ufficiale di Collegamento a terra che potesse introdurre una visione da forze dell’ordine durante la pianificazione di operazioni militari. I militari capivano il ruolo delle forze dell’ordine, come dettato dalla loro catena di comando, ma pochi militari di carriera avevano una qualche comprensione di come funzionano le indagini antidroga; la legittimità di perquisizioni e sequestri, o l'uso di registri cartacei, operazioni di intercettazioni e tracciamento o informatori.

Ogni settimana volavo a Helmand per incontrare la cellula operativa C-3 e coordinarmi nella pianificazione delle operazioni contro la rete di droga Haqqani, una delle principali fonti di finanziamento dei talebani. Per questo motivo, il Corpo dei Marines era molto interessato a sopprimere il traffico di droga a Helmand, sapendo che ogni dollaro ottenuto dai talebani attraverso l'esportazione e la vendita di oppio sarebbe stato utilizzato per acquistare altre armi che avrebbero potuto essere usate contro i Marines statunitensi.


Undicisettembre: La prossima inevitabile domanda è: quello che è successo nelle ultime settimane e negli ultimi mesi era l'unico modo in cui si poteva concludere questa guerra? Era questa l'unica conclusione inevitabile?

Craig Covert: Credo che la situazione che si è verificata quest'estate fosse evitabile, ma solo nel caso in cui gli Stati Uniti e i loro alleati fossero rimasti in Afghanistan per un tempo indefinito. La storia ha dimostrato che non importa quanto ben armata e finanziata sia una forza di occupazione, la volontà del popolo afghano sopravvivrà sempre alla perseveranza della forza militare che tenta di domarli. Gli inglesi tentarono di colonizzare l'Afghanistan nel 1800 e soffrirono miseramente durante le guerre anglo-afghane. Nel 1979, l'Unione Sovietica invase l'Afghanistan e finì con un ritiro e un fallimento assoluto, stranamente simile al nostro. In Russia viene spesso definito "il Vietnam dell'Unione Sovietica".

Avremmo potuto restare e andare avanti a finanziare e mantenere l'esercito afghano a tempo indeterminato, ma non c'era alcuna volontà politica di farlo all'interno dell'amministrazione Biden. L'alto costo finanziario è sempre stato un parafulmine all'interno del Congresso degli Stati Uniti e, dopo 20 anni, molti americani e politici ritenevano allo stesso modo che fosse giunto il momento di riportare a casa le nostre truppe. Sfortunatamente, il presidente sembra aver condotto un ritiro prematuro che chiaramente non era in linea con le raccomandazioni dei suoi consiglieri militari di più alta esperienza. Il fallimento è stato esemplificato con il ritiro inaspettato delle forze statunitensi dalla base aerea di Baghram con il favore dell'oscurità, con le truppe che hanno lasciato dietro di sé milioni di oggetti. C’era di tutto, da insignificanti bottiglie d'acqua, cibo militare e mobili da ufficio a centinaia di veicoli blindati e migliaia di veicoli civili.

Si potrebbe facilmente sostenere che l'inizio della fine risale in realtà al 2014, quando le forze statunitensi consegnarono la grande base operativa avanzata nella provincia di Helmand, o "Camp Leatherneck", all'esercito afghano. Sebbene l'esercito afghano abbia tecnicamente preso possesso della base, Leatherneck è rimasta per lo più deserta, oltre che saccheggiata, lasciando così ampie aree di terra nella provincia aperte al ritorno dei talebani. A est, la base operativa avanzata a Khandahar si è lentamente ridimensionata e alla fine ha chiuso i battenti nel 2021, lasciando l'intera regione meridionale occupata da forze dell'esercito mal governate e con una minima presenza. Non è stata una sorpresa che i talebani abbiano rapidamente riempito il vuoto creato dalla scomparsa delle truppe della coalizione e, proprio come i politici statunitensi, l’esercito afghano non aveva alcuna volontà di continuare la lotta contro di loro. Man mano che la presenza dei talebani cresceva, le province tornarono lentamente ai loro vecchi stili di vita, abbandonando le coltivazioni di grano, raccomandate dall'Occidente, e coltivando nuovi campi di papavero. Con il papavero, i talebani avevano di nuovo una fonte di reddito costante con cui finanziare le loro milizie.

Il ritiro precipitoso delle forze da Kabul ha sicuramente dato forza ai talebani, che hanno conquistato una provincia dopo l'altra alla velocità della luce. Tutti i segnali di pericolo c'erano, ma a quanto pare i responsabili del Pentagono e della Casa Bianca dormivano mentre erano alla guida. Nonostante si siano radunati alla periferia della città, non credo che i talebani sarebbero entrati a Kabul se il personale americano fosse rimasto. Sfortunatamente, i politici americani non hanno stomaco per la guerra. Vedono solo percentuali di sondaggi in diminuzione e carriere di breve durata nei loro lavori attuali. Oggi l'eccezionalità americana si misura in voti, niente di più. Quindi, è stato eseguito un ritiro immediato, inaspettato e condotto troppo in fretta. Senza un'amministrazione disposta a sacrificarsi per il bene del governo afghano e del suo popolo, era una conclusione inevitabile.


Undicisettembre: Chiariamo subito chi ha commesso gli errori peggiori al riguardo: è stata la precedente amministrazione, firmando l'accordo di pace con i talebani, o quella in carica che si è ritirata così velocemente dall'Afghanistan?

Craig Covert: La colpa è in parte di entrambe le amministrazioni, sebbene sia stato proprio il presidente Biden a prendere la decisione finale di ritirare tutte le truppe dall'Afghanistan. Se è vero che il presidente Trump ha dato il via al precipitarsi degli eventi firmando l'accordo di Doha con l'Emirato islamico dell'Afghanistan (i Talebani), si può sostenere che l'accordo con un gruppo non ufficialmente riconosciuto dagli Stati Uniti non può essere considerato valido e può, di fatto, essere invalidato per giusta causa.

Molti credono che se il presidente Trump fosse ancora al potere, avrebbe mantenuto una presenza nominale di truppe all'aeroporto di Kabul, se non altro per proteggere i nostri interessi militari, i beni e i civili che ancora vivono a Kabul. Cosa sarebbe potuto o sarebbe successo se Trump fosse stato rieletto non si saprà mai, ma ciò che non si può negare è quale presidente ha ordinato l'effettivo avvenuto nel 2021.

Il presidente Biden ha avuto l'opportunità di sfuggire all'accordo di Doha sulla base dei falliti colloqui di pace afghani, ma per qualche motivo ha scelto di non farlo. Sfortunatamente, il presidente Biden era il comandante in capo quando è stata presa la decisione di ritirarsi. Pertanto, la colpa deve spettare a lui e ai generali che non hanno dibattuto contro la sua decisione. Va notato, tuttavia, che nemmeno i generali possono prendere le decisioni per conto del Presidente: possono solo consigliare. In definitiva, è il comandante in capo civile, cioè il presidente degli Stati Uniti, che dà l’ordine.

Recentemente, il segretario alla Difesa degli Stati Uniti Lloyd Austin e i generali Mark Milley e Kenneth McKenzie, rispettivamente presidente degli Stati Maggiori Riuniti e comandante del Comando Centrale, hanno riferito che al presidente Biden era stato consigliato di lasciare a terra tra 2.500 e 4.000 soldati americani. Mentre l'America aveva certamente la potenza militare e la tecnologia per tenere a bada i talebani affinché non conquistassero Kabul, almeno a breve termine, la miopia politicamente carica del presidente ha chiaramente portato i talebani a conquistare rapidamente Kabul. Il presidente non aveva capito ciò che quasi tutti i militari che avevano prestato servizio in Afghanistan sapevano già: se avessimo lasciato l'Afghanistan nelle mani dell'esercito afghano senza il nostro sostegno, sarebbero stati destinati a fallire.


Undicisettembre: Perché l'esercito afghano è crollato così velocemente?

Craig Covert: Ci sono stati molti problemi che hanno portato al crollo dell'Afghanistan, troppi da elencare. Ne descriverò alcuni. Primo, l'Afghanistan non è mai stato una nazione facile da conquistare da parte di un invasore straniero, perché non è una "nazione" nel senso in cui noi occidentali intendiamo una nazione. C'è poco o nessun senso di unità nazionale. L'Afghanistan è un agglomerato di tribù e signori della guerra, contadini e politici, la maggior parte dei quali combatte per la propria tribù o clan prima di combattere per il governo. Sono fedeli alla tribù, al clan e al gruppo, non alla capitale o alla leadership politica. Si parlano Pashto, Dari e un’altra dozzina di dialetti diversi. Si ritiene che il nazionalismo pashtun sia importante tanto quanto, se non di più, il nazionalismo politico. Questa reale mancanza di identità nazionale crea muri quando soldati e politici del governo al potere non parlano nemmeno la stessa lingua del popolo. Come ci si può aspettare che i programmi nazionali funzionino quando sono imposti da una tribù o da un clan a un altro? Non è possibile. Come per la mancanza di identità nazionale, il valore della democrazia di stampo occidentale cade nel vuoto in tutte le province. Non si può introdurre una repubblica costituzionale, con le sue opportunità commerciali in stile occidentale e con l’aspettativa di essere accettata da un cittadino afghano dall'oggi al domani, considerando la storia dell'Afghanistan. L'occidentalizzazione è un concetto estraneo alla maggior parte degli afgani, proprio come la leadership dei samurai giapponesi del 1700 sarebbe incomprensibile per gli americani di oggi.

La corruzione all'interno della leadership civile e militare è stata certamente un fattore nel crollo dell'Afghanistan. Abbiamo dato ai signori della guerra gli strumenti per ottenere la cooperazione delle province; abbiamo trascurato la corruzione dei politici; abbiamo permesso al governo afghano di aggirare i controlli contro il contrabbando di denaro contante dall'Afghanistan ai paesi vicini. Per ogni paio di stivali che davamo a un comandante afghano per le sue truppe, una certa percentuale finiva al bazar locale, spesso venduto dal comandante stesso, con truppe che si presentavano in formazione in ciabatte e sandali. La corruzione era e rimane molto diffusa e la mancanza di volontà, combinata alla mancanza di risorse, di fermare la corruzione ha semplicemente portato al deterioramento del sistema di governo che non sarebbe mai rimasto in piedi a lungo da solo.

Il crollo dello stesso esercito afghano era atteso da ogni soldato o Marine che aveva prestato servizio con loro. Sebbene ci siano certamente delle eccezioni, la maggior parte delle truppe aveva poca fiducia nell’abilità e nella capacità dell'esercito, perché molti erano analfabeti, scarsamente istruiti o semplicemente non si presentavano in servizio nei luoghi e orari negli orari stabiliti. La più grande preoccupazione tra le forze statunitensi era la tiepida volontà del soldato medio, che sembrava andare e venire senza una motivazione oltre all’insistenza con cui gli veniva chiesto e quanto difficile si presumeva fosse la sua missione.

C'è un vecchio modo di dire che dice qualcosa del genere: “Dai un pesce a un uomo, mangerà per un giorno. Insegna a un uomo a pescare, mangerà per tutta la vita”. Non potrebbe esserci spiegazione migliore per il fallimento dell’esercito afghano. Gli Stati Uniti e i nostri alleati hanno dato da mangiare all’esercito afghano ogni giorno per vent’anni. Abbiamo fornito loro risorse; abbiamo pagato i loro stipendi. Abbiamo permesso loro di inserire nei propri ranghi leader incapaci e inefficaci senza dire nulla per paura di offenderli. Abbiamo fornito tutte le risorse logistiche e l'equipaggiamento da combattimento utilizzato dalle loro unità, dalle uniformi alle armi leggere e ai veicoli. L'esercito afghano non ha mai preso la vera "proprietà" della propria attrezzatura in termini di cura e manutenzione. I membri del servizio americano imparano a padroneggiare le loro specialità professionali militari e diventano esperti nel loro campo dopo i primi tre anni dall’arruolamento, il che si traduce in un avanzamento di grado e responsabilità. Eppure, nonostante abbiano dato all'esercito afghano vent’anni di formazione e di attrezzature, questi hanno imparato poco. Tutto si riduceva alla dipendenza. Fintanto che le forze statunitensi e della coalizione fornivano cibo, munizioni e cerotti, facevano manutenzione ai veicoli e alle armi e facevano da babysitter all'esercito in ogni giro di pattuglia o di ricognizione, l'esercito afghano è rimasto solo che un gruppo di individui in uniforme che prendeva uno stipendio più o meno sicuro, ma erano inefficaci da soli come forza combattente. Ciò è diventato evidente quando l'esercito ha rapidamente deposto le armi al primo accenno di un'offensiva talebana in arrivo. Abbiamo creato un mostro che neanche tutti i soldi del mondo non avrebbero potuto aggiustare.


Undicisettembre: Che tu sappia i talebani sono in possesso di veicoli e armi americani? Se sì, come è successo?

Craig Covert: Assolutamente! Basta una rapida ricerca su YouTube, sui social media o su qualsiasi agenzia di stampa online credibile per trovare dozzine di video che mostrano che i materiali statunitensi sono caduti nelle mani dei talebani. Uniformi, armature, radio, veicoli, camion, mezzi corazzati, munizioni… la lista è infinita. Gli oppositori affermeranno che le truppe statunitensi si sono assicurate che i veicoli corazzati e gli aerei siano stati disabilitati prima del ritiro, e ciò potrebbe essere vero, ma tali azioni non hanno alcuna influenza sulle migliaia di veicoli, sulle decine di migliaia di armi, né sui milioni di proiettili che sono stati presi dai talebani dalla resa delle forze afghane che hanno semplicemente lasciato cadere o consegnato l'equipaggiamento senza combattere. Il ritiro delle forze statunitensi dall'Afghanistan ha effettivamente dotato i talebani di equipaggiamento e armi sufficienti per diventare una formidabile forza militare che un giorno dovremo affrontare sul campo di battaglia.


Undicisettembre: I talebani si presentano oggi come più moderni e forse più moderati di prima. Secondo me stanno solo fingendo e si dimostreranno violenti come lo erano negli anni '90. Cosa ne pensi, sono in qualche modo affidabili in questo secondo regime?

Craig Covert: I talebani si sono dimostrati disonesti e falsi e già dopo poche settimane hanno mostrato il loro vero volto. I barbieri non possono più tagliare la barba agli uomini o accendere la radio nei negozi. I “prigionieri” condannati (per quali crimini forse non sapremo mai) sono stati impiccati a delle gru ed esposti in tutta Kabul. Alle donne è stata negata l’istruzione e vengono segregate dagli uomini in tutta la città. Interpreti e altri che hanno lavorato per o al fianco degli Stati Uniti e dell'ex governo afghano sono stati braccati e giustiziati. La risposta breve alla domanda è evidente: i talebani non sono mai stati affidabili o sinceri e certamente replicheranno la ferocia fondamentalista che hanno mostrato vent'anni fa.


Undicisettembre: Una differenza importante che vedo rispetto al passato è che mentre i talebani erano alleati di al-Qaeda, ora l'ISIS Khorasan è loro nemico quindi probabilmente non permetteranno ai terroristi di costruire e gestire le loro basi. Cosa ne pensi? Può essere una differenza importante?

Craig Covert: Certamente ci saranno fazioni di organizzazioni terroristiche in Afghanistan che considerano le altre organizzazioni islamiche radicali come loro nemico, anche se entrambi considerano gli Stati Uniti il ​​loro nemico comune. Sarebbe ingenuo pensare che l’ISIS-K si sottometta ai talebani e viceversa, poiché entrambi desiderano assumere il potere all'interno del paese. Proprio come ci sono divisioni tra sciiti e sunniti in Iraq, o tra l’ISIS in Iraq e il governo iracheno, l'Islam da solo non basta a per portare l’ISIS-K e i talebani a un accordo. Credo che gli Stati Uniti e i suoi alleati continueranno a prendere di mira segretamente elementi dell'ISIS-K nel prossimo futuro se dovessero costituire una minaccia ai civili occidentali in Afghanistan, inevitabilmente prenderanno di mira anche le forze talebane se dovessero continuare a calpestare le libertà dei popolo afghano. Non credo che passerà molto tempo prima di vedere il primo movimento offensivo dei talebani contro gruppi di occidentali che restano all'interno dei suoi confini.


Undicisettembre: Non è ingiusto dire che la guerra è stata persa dagli USA? Voglio dire, il motivo per cui gli Stati Uniti hanno invaso l’Afghanistan era distruggere le basi dei terroristi, cosa che hanno fatto al punto che un altro attacco simile all'11 settembre è ora improbabile. Cosa ne pensi?

Craig Covert: L'ultima guerra vinta dagli Stati Uniti è stata la seconda guerra mondiale. L'America ha ritirato le sue forze dalla Corea in seguito alla firma dell'armistizio coreano nel 1953. L'America ha lasciato il Vietnam dopo la firma dell'emendamento Case-Church nel 1973, ponendo ufficialmente fine al coinvolgimento degli Stati Uniti. Ciò ha provocato il fallimento dell'accordo di pace di Parigi e infine la caduta di Saigon. Da quel momento, l'America ha fatto un ottimo lavoro vincendo battaglie, ma vincere le guerre è diventata un'arte perduta. Alcuni sosterranno che l'America e i suoi alleati "vinsero" Desert Storm (la Guerra del Golfo), ma Saddam Hussein rimase al potere e la guerra ripartì solo un decennio dopo.

Non era inaspettato che ancora una volta i politici americani si piegassero alla volontà del popolo (in altre parole: il potere del voto) e ritirassero le truppe dall'Afghanistan. Ciò che è stato inaspettato per molti è stato il modo in cui è stato fatto e la velocità del ritiro. A mio parere, è stato fatto senza lungimiranza e pianificazione approfondita; in fretta e con sconsiderato disprezzo per gli interpreti e i civili afgani che in precedenza avevano aiutato le forze statunitensi.

Ce ne siamo andati prima che un governo credibile fosse accettato dal suo stesso popolo. Abbiamo lasciato un Afghanistan che non poteva, o forse non voleva, salvarsi dai talebani.

2021/09/28

Ventesimo anniversario dell'11/9, intervista all'ex agente speciale dell'FBI Mark Rossini

di Leonardo Salvaggio

È disponibile sul mio canale YouTube una nuova intervista all'ex agente speciale dell'FBI Mark Rossini (da noi già intervistato in passato e che svolge consulenza per Undicisettembre del 2016). Nell'intervista, disponibile solo im inglese, parliamo del coinvolgimento saudita negli attentati dell'11/9, anche alla luce dell'ordine esecutivo del Presidente Biden di desecretare i documenti relativi alle indagini, e della situazione attuale dell'Afghanistan.


2021/09/17

Ritorno dei Talebani al potere in Afghanistan: intervista all'ex agente della DIA Julie Sirrs

di Leonardo Salvaggio

È disponibile sul mio canale YouTube personale un'intervista all'ex agente della DIA Julie Sirrs sul ritorno dei Talebani al potere e sull'attuale situazione dell'Afghanistan. Julie Sirrs è già stata intervistata da Undicisettembre in passato.

L'intervista è disponibile solo in inglese.


2021/09/15

An interview with former FBI special agent Ken Williams, author of the Phoenix Memo

by Leonardo Salvaggio. An Italian translation is available here.

Two months before the attacks of 9/11, FBI special agent Ken Williams sent the bureau's headquarters a memo, today known as the Phoenix Memo, to inform them of the potential presence in Arizona of terrorists attending civil aviation schools. To discuss his memo and other intelligence failures that led to 9/11, Ken Williams accepted our proposal for an interview which we are today offering our readers.

We would like to thanks Ken Williams for his time and kindness.





Undicisettembre: You are the author of the very famous Phoenix Memo; would you like to tell us something about it?

Ken Williams:
Back in 1999 I was working a source of information, a human informant who now is deceased, he was a former terrorist with an organization of prominence, I can’t tell you what organization he was in but he was a former terrorist. I recruited him to work for US intelligence and he reported to me that there were two individuals residing in Prescott, Arizona, organizing a chapter of an organization called al-Muhajiroun, which in English translates into “The Immigrant”. Al-Muhajiroun was formed in 1983 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia and it was a pretty radical Sunni Islamic group, they were recruiting mujahideen to go fight the Soviets in Afghanistan.

Al-Mujahiroun caused problems for the Saudi government in the mid-80s and were ultimately outlawed and banned in 1986. They left Saudi Arabia and set up their headquarters in London. Once the Soviets were expelled from Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden emerged as a prominent figure, Al-Mujahiroun called themselves “the eyes, the ears and the mouthpiece of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda”.

These guys in Prescott were attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which is a very prestigious civil aviation university, their main campuses are located in Daytona Beach, Florida, and they have a satellite campus in Prescott. Prescott is a small town a hundred and fifty miles north of Phoenix, it was the first territorial capital of Arizona, a cowboy town, a place where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday lived back in the 1800s; and if this type of stuff can appear in Prescott, Arizona, they can appear anywhere, in any small town, anywhere in the world.

These guys would travel several times a week to Phoenix to recruit young men into al-Qaeda, they would also travel to Tempe, Arizona, which is home to Arizona State University, one of the largest universities in the United States, which is attended by many Middle Eastern students from the Gulf area. So, these guys were doing their homework, they were recruiting people at the university and mosques in Phoenix and Tempe. One of these guys was a Lebanese national in the United States on a student VISA by the name of Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, he was studying aviation security at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; the second man was named Ghassan al-Sharbi who was a Saudi student, also on a student VISA, who was studying electrical engineering.

These individuals were the real deal according to the informant and when we started looking at these guys, we saw they were propagating materials in the mosques that were supportive of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. This was my first case with these type of people with this radical ideology in the USA. Based on that and other activities we observed here in Arizona I came to the conclusion “I think al-Qaeda is trying to do something with airplanes or civil aviation here in the United States.”

In November 1999 we had a separate incident on an American West Airlines flight, there were two Saudis, PhD students one by the name of Mohammed al-Qudhaeein and the other by the name of Hamdan al-Shalawi, who started asking flight attendants and crew strange questions about the capability of the aircraft, questions like “How much fuel does the plane carry? How many people are on the flight?” In one occasion one of the individuals got up and started walking towards the cockpit of the airplane and tried the handle of the door, when challenged by flight attendants he said he made a mistake and thought that was the entryway into the bathroom. It made the crew so anxious and concerned that they phoned into the cockpit and told the pilot what was going on, the pilot landed in Columbus, Ohio. The plane was originally going from Phoenix, Arizona, to Washington DC; while in Columbus they contacted the FBI and the local police department and they removed these individuals from the aircraft and questioned them. They immediately went on the offensive claiming it was racial profiling. They didn’t show up in any intelligence databases, they had no criminal history and therefore they couldn’t be detained any further; they were put back on the airplane and continued to Washington where they were met by members of the Saudi embassy and the Council of American Islamic Affairs and held a press conference on the steps of the US Capitol alleging racial profiling and discriminatory actions on behalf of the airline and law enforcement.

I saw that incident; I saw those guys that were attending Embry-Riddle University and there were other investigations that I’m not in liberty to speak about because they are still classified and have not been talked about in the 9/11 Commission Report. I also saw other individuals who had the same radical ideology that were studying civil aviation related materials. I decided on July 10th 2001 to author a communication and point out my observation, my concerns and my suspicions and asked my headquarters to address it with the broader intelligence community, not only in the United States; when I asked them to discuss it with the CIA, I was assuming it would have been discussed with our friendly allies too. I just wanted to see if any intelligence information was being collected that supported my theory that al-Qaeda might be sending people to the United States to study aviation related materials.

This is a kind of a “Reader’s digest” version of the whole thing.

There’s some reasons why I took so long since 1999 when I opened up the case on these two guys in Prescott and the individuals on the American West flight and the time frame when I sent the communication in. For a period of time, I was taken off the case and placed on an arson investigation. At the time we had an individual by the name of Mark Warren Sands who was lighting fires on houses under construction in the Mountains Preserve property in the Phoenix metropolitan area; the Phoenix Police Department came to the FBI to ask for investigative resources to assist them in trying to find the perpetrators of this arsons, which we ultimately did: he was successfully arrested, prosecuted and he spent over twenty years in prison. But that took my eyes off the al-Qaeda guys for a year’s period of time; I got back on the investigation on Mr. Soubra and Mr. al-Sharbi in May or June of 2001 and when I went back to refresh my files, I came up with the idea of this communication that is now known as the Phoenix Memo.

Mark Sands really took the eyes of the FBI off these al-Qaeda operatives in our area of responsibility.

The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University campus in Prescott


Undicisettembre: Did investigators after 9/11 interview you about your memo? The Commission, the FBI, anyone else?

Ken Williams: I did not hear anything from FBI headquarters. I sent it on July 10 2001, the attacks took place on September 11th 2001 and in the bureaucratic world of government that is not really a long period of time. The FBI has three classification of communications: “routine” which is communication for consideration and you take action when you can do so, “priority” which is a bit higher than routine and means “hey, I have something here, possibly some threat information”, and then “immediate” that means “there’s a ticking time bomb, something is ready to go, we have to drop everything that we are doing and get on this right away”. I sent the Phoenix Memo as “routine” communication because by the time I sent it, it was an investigative theory that I had, I did not have any specific information from an informant or a technical source saying “these guys are ready to commit a terrorist attack”. It wasn’t a “priority” communication because I just wanted the information I developed sent out to the intelligence community for discussion and to see if anybody else had any other informant reporting about other subjects that were learning how to fly airplanes or who were studying aviation related subject material.

The rest is history. I wish I sent it as “priority” or “immediate” but I was following the procedures at the time and I didn’t have any specific information of any specific criminal activity they were planning. It was just a theory based on an accumulation of information that I had amassed in Arizona.


Undicisettembre: How come the Saudis, even the Saudi government, tried to help the terrorists in doing what they did?

Ken Williams: That’s a very interesting question. A lot of us here in the west don’t take the time to understand how the Saudi government and the Saudi society function. It’s a religious state, but it’s also a secular state because there’s a monarchy: the two have to learn how to try to live together. From what I’ve learned from academics and from my training with the US government, the monarchy has to sometimes cooperate with the religious extremists trough the Ministry of the Islamic Affairs to placate them so that the monarchy survives; if they don’t placate the religious extremists in their society the kingdom can be overthrown. You didn’t this before 9/11, but after 9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq you saw al-Qaeda starting to attack the Saudi kingdom, they said enough “We want to overthrow the king of Saudi Arabia.”

Before 9/11 you did not see that because, based on what I read by academics, the Saudi government placated them by allowing them to do certain things and supporting them in recruiting mujahideen to go fight the Soviets in Afghanistan, that was also the West’s attempt to put a hit on the USSR and a lot of western countries supported the mujahideen. The US actively supported providing funds and weaponry to these guys who were fighting the Soviets.

It should be nothing new to Western governments that this is how the Saudi government functioned back in those days and I believe that now with pressure on them they have agreed to cooperate in trying to stop that terrorist activity. And that’s why I believe that the 9/11 family victims are being pushed back on by the United States government in obtaining cooperation to put heat on the Saudi government to face up to their culpability with several of their employees being involved with providing support to the hijackers in the United States before 9/11.


Undicisettembre: You are also in the Operation Encore and your name appears in the very famous New York Times article about it. Based on what you know as a part of this investigation, do you think the US government is doing everything they can to clarify what the role of the Saudis was, or are they trying to shield them somehow?

Ken Williams: I was not involved with Operation Encore before my retirement, I retired from the FBI in 2017 after thirty years of service. I became aware of Operation Encore post retirement after going to work for the plaintiff attorneys as an investigator and a consultant for the law firm of Kreindler and Kreindler. I can’t get into any specifics because the information is under an FBI protective order, but what I can assure you and your readers is this: there is something out there that needs to be followed up on by the US government. I do believe they are shielding the Saudi government for whatever reason. I do believe that more criminal investigation, despite what is going on with the civil investigation right now that I’m part of, should be done on this case: this is the largest murder that has taken place in the history of the United States. What you have here is a murder investigation that is unsolved, there are people that have to be held responsible for their actions that led up to that horrible day.

I’m outraged that these people, the victims of 9/11 and their families, are not getting more cooperation from the United States government in their litigation against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It is really an American story, these people, with assistance of attorneys, got the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, also known as JASTA, enacted. JASTA allows American citizens to sue foreign governments that are responsible, or culpable in one form or another, for civil damages. To get push back from their own government that invokes state secrets and so forth as reasons why they can’t help American citizens is a real travesty. What I tell colleagues and friends and people in the media like yourself is that when policies and procedures that are in place to protect secrets, that are originally designed to protect Americans, turn around and start hurting Americans they need to be changed. Our Congress and our legislators have to look at the system and to what the FBI, the Department of Justice and the CIA are doing and say “Hold on, we have to re-evaluate what is going on here because these policies and procedures that we have in place to protect secrets are now hurting the same citizens that they are supposed to protect.”

That’s why I am very animated about this and I got involved with assisting the law firm. I retired in May 2017 and in October I was contacted by the attorneys representing the victims of 9/11 and they asked me if I would be willing to assist as an investigator and a consultant on their case, I said “Absolutely, but let me check with my former employer.” I called the FBI and I was notified by the office of General Council of the FBI, which is the attorneys that run the FBI and tell us what we can or can’t do from a legal point of view, that they did not want me to assist the victims of 9/11 in their law suit against the government of Saudi Arabia. The first reason I was given was [Ken Williams reads this quote from the original document – editor’s note] “There’s other litigation involved in the US government going on and any cooperation that you provide might negatively impact that case. The Trump administration is also trying to have good relations with Saudi Arabia and they do not want you to give a deposition or cooperate with the council for the families.”

After being told that, after having been a loyal employee of the FBI for thirty years I called the law firm back and told them “Hey listen, they don’t want me to help you out” I didn’t know at that time that it was going to become the big deal that it is now. When I told that to the attorneys, they thanked me for my time and attention, but I felt horrible, I felt like I did something wrong. I hadn’t been able to help them for another nine months and then out the blue the law firm called me back and at that point I said “Yes, I’m going to help you” because for me it was inconceivable that someone in the US government would tell me not to help my fellow countrymen out. I decided to get on-board with the law firm and I’ve been working with them ever since to try to bring these people justice and to get a judgment against the government of Saudi Arabia for their complicity in the terrorist attack of 9/11.


Undicisettembre: If we link together all that we discussed so far and even what happened at the Alec Station with Doug Miller’s memo being blocked, do you think 9/11 could have been avoided if things were handled properly?

Ken Williams: I think there’s a very good likelihood. I don’t have a crystal ball, but I think things would have been handled differently, it might have been prevented or stalled for a period.

You have to remember in the mid-90s the US intelligence community found out terrorists were planning a planes operation called “Operation Bojinka” where they were going to detonate a number of planes, there was also a plot to fly a plane into the CIA headquarters. So, there was information out there.

So, yes, had things been handled differently we might have been able to at least delay the operation or prevent it entirely. The Ghassan al-Sharbi I mention in the Phoenix Memo was arrested in March 2002 in Faisalabad, Pakistan, with Abu Zubayda who at the time was considered one of the highest-ranking individuals for al-Qaeda and was one of the most hunted men in the world like bin Laden or al-Zawahiri, he was ranked number three in al-Qaeda during that time period. If you are Abu Zubayda and you are on the lam and hiding out from the West’s intelligence services you are not letting any random individual hide out in your hideaway with you. To me we were on the right track, this informant of mine pointed me in the right direction. Another thing I want to highlight is that Ghassan al-Sharbi and Zakaria Soubra were driving a car registered to Mohammed al-Qudhaeein who was one of the individuals on the America West Airlines flight.

We found that out when the war started and we went into Afghanistan and we retrieved caches of information from CD’s, hard drives, documents and so on; we identified Hamdan al-Shalawi as having attended an Al Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in order to conduct an operation similar to the Kobar Towers bombing.

This all happened when I was taken off the case in Prescott, Arizona, and put on the arson case. This was when Hani Hanjour and Nawaf al-Hazmi, two of the 9/11 hijackers, entered the Phoenix metropolitan area to go to flight school and lived here for a period of time.

So, again, yes. I think if things were handled differently, if information was shared, if I didn’t get taken off the case, at the very least we would have delayed something or disrupted it so much that we could have prevented it. At the very same time of these events, I’m telling you about, FBI agent Harry Samit in Minneapolis identified Zacarias Moussaoui who was going to a flight school, very interested in flying but not very interested in learning how to land. Everything was coming together.

I think the information developed by myself, and the Phoenix FBI office, and our being on top of the guys I have mentioned to you today (Soubra, Al-Sharbi, Al-Shalawi and Al-Qudaheen) was possibly reported back to Khalid Sheik Mohammed. This, coupled together with the fact that the FBI was after Moussaoui in Minneapolis, has caused myself and some of my retired colleagues to wonder and ask ourselves: “Did we speed something up? How many more of these pilots did bin Laden train? Were there more than just four?” Maybe they felt, but this is pure speculation, that the wheels were starting to fall off the car and they had better get things going now otherwise they were not going to be able to do anything.

It’s a question that will haunt me for the rest of my life.

One thing I want to highlight is that every country’s intelligence services are doing their very best to protect its citizens from terrorists and terrorist attacks, but we have to be right all of the time, the terrorists have all the time in the world to sit and plan and only need to be right once to murder and cause great destruction. We’ve seen that happen time and time again. When we watch the horrors of ISIS in Syria and Iraq and we see them cutting people’s head off, we have to be cognizant of the fact that there are people out there who are having visions of one day becoming martyrs like the nineteen hijackers who murdered thousands of people on September 11, 2001. We have to always be vigilant to identify it, to attack it and to neutralize it, otherwise we are going to have another day like 9/11.

Intervista all'ex agente speciale dell'FBI Ken Williams, autore del Phoenix Memo

di Leonardo Salvaggio. L'originale inglese è disponibile qui.

Due mesi prima degli attentati dell'11 settembre, l'agente speciale dell'FBI Ken Williams mandò al quartier generale dell'agenzia un memo, oggi noto come Phoenix Memo, per informare della potenziale presenza di terroristi che stavano studiando aviazione civile. Per discutere del suo memo e di altri fallimenti dell'intelligence che hanno portato all'11/9, Ken Williams ha accettato la nostra proposta di un'intervista che offriamo oggi ai nostri lettori.

Ringraziamo Ken Williams per la sua cortesia e disponibilità.

We would like to thanks Ken Williams for his time and kindness.





Undicisettembre: Tu sei l'autore del celebre Phoenix Memo; puoi dirci di cosa si tratta?

Ken Williams:
Nel 1999 avevo un informatore, che ora è deceduto, che era un ex terrorista di un'organizzazione di rilievo, non posso dirti quale organizzazione fosse ma era un ex terrorista. Lo reclutai per lavorare per l'intelligence statunitense e mi riferì che c'erano due individui residenti a Prescott, in Arizona, che stavano organizzando una sezione di un'organizzazione chiamata al-Muhajiroun, che significa "l’immigrato". Al-Muhajiroun è nata nel 1983 alla Mecca, in Arabia Saudita, ed era un gruppo islamico sunnita piuttosto radicale che reclutava mujaheddin per andare a combattere i sovietici in Afghanistan. Al-Mujahiroun ha dato molti problemi al governo saudita intorno alla metà degli anni '80 e vennero poi dichiarati fuorilegge e banditi nel 1986. Lasciarono quindi l'Arabia Saudita e stabilirono il loro quartier generale a Londra. Una volta che i sovietici furono espulsi dall'Afghanistan e Osama bin Laden emerse come una figura di spicco, Al-Mujahiroun si autodefinì "gli occhi, le orecchie e il portavoce di Osama bin Laden e di al-Qaeda".

Questi uomini a Prescott frequentavano la Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, che è un'università per l'aviazione civile molto prestigiosa, i loro campus principali si trovano a Daytona Beach, in Florida, ma hanno un campus anche a Prescott. Prescott è una cittadina a duecentocinquanta chilometri a nord di Phoenix, è stata la prima capitale territoriale dell'Arizona, una cittadina da cowboy, uno dei luoghi in cui Wyatt Earp e Doc Holiday vissero nel 1800; e se questo tipo di cose possono succedere a Prescott, possono succedere ovunque, in qualsiasi piccola città, in qualsiasi parte del mondo.

Queste due persone andavano più volte alla settimana a Phoenix per reclutare uomini per al-Qaeda, andavano anche a Tempe, in Arizona, dove si trova l'Arizona State University, una delle più grandi università degli Stati Uniti, che è frequentata da molti studenti mediorientali dell'area del Golfo. Quindi, questi due stavano facendo il lavoro che gli era stato assegnato, reclutavano persone all'università e nelle moschee di Phoenix e Tempe. Uno dei due era un cittadino libanese che si trovava negli Stati Uniti con un visto per studenti di nome Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, studiava sicurezza aerea alla Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University; il secondo si chiamava Ghassan al-Sharbi, era uno studente saudita, anche lui con un visto per studenti, che studiava ingegneria elettrica.

Questi individui erano un grossa minaccia secondo l'informatore e quando iniziammo a indagare su di loro, abbiamo visto che stavano diffondendo nelle moschee materiale che sosteneva Osama bin Laden e al-Qaeda. Questo fu il mio primo caso su questo tipo di persone con questa ideologia radicale negli Stati Uniti. Sulla base di questa e di altre attività che stavamo seguendo qui in Arizona sono giunto a concludere "Penso che al-Qaeda stia cercando di organizzare qualcosa con aerei o con l'aviazione civile qui negli Stati Uniti".

Nel novembre 1999 ci fu un altro incidente su un volo dell'American West Airlines, c'erano due sauditi, studenti di dottorato uno di nome Mohammed al-Qudhaeein e l'altro di nome Hamdan al-Shalawi, che fecero agli assistenti di volo e all'equipaggio strane domande sulle caratteristiche dell'aereo, come ”Quanto carburante trasporta l'aereo? Quante persone ci sono a bordo?" A un certo punto uno dei due si alzò e camminò verso la cabina di pilotaggio dell'aereo e provò ad aprire la porta, quando è stato fermato dagli assistenti di volo disse di aver sbagliato perché pensava che fosse la porta del bagno. L’equipaggio si spaventò e chiamò la cabina di pilotaggio per riferire al pilota cosa stava succedendo, il pilota atterrò a Columbus, nell'Ohio. L'aereo originariamente era diretto da Phoenix, in Arizona, a Washington DC; dopo essere atterrati a Columbus contattarono l'FBI e il dipartimento di polizia locale che fecero scendere i due uomini dall'aereo per interrogarli. I due tennero da subito un atteggiamento aggressivo sostenendo che si trattasse di profilazione razziale. Non erano presenti in nessun database dell’intelligence, non avevano precedenti penali e quindi non potevano essere ulteriormente trattenuti; furono fatti risalire sull'aereo e proseguirono fino Washington dove vennero accolti da membri dell'ambasciata saudita e del Consiglio degli Affari Islamici e tennero una conferenza stampa sui gradini del Campidoglio in cui parlarono di profilazione razziale e azioni discriminatorie da parte della compagnia aerea e delle forze dell'ordine.

Presi in considerazione quell'incidente e i due uomini che frequentavano la Embry-Riddle University, e c'erano altre indagini di cui non sono autorizzato a parlare perché sono ancora secretate e di cui non si parla nel Rapporto della Commissione sull'11 settembre. C’erano anche altre persone che avevano la stessa ideologia radicale che studiavano argomenti relativi all'aviazione civile. Decisi quindi il 10 luglio 2001 di scrivere un memo in cui comunicavo le mie osservazioni, le mie preoccupazioni e i miei sospetti e chiesi ai miei responsabili di discuterne con le varie agenzie di intelligence, non solo negli Stati Uniti; quando chiesi loro di discuterne con la CIA, pensavo che ne avrebbero discusso anche con i nostri alleati. Volevo solo verificare se fossero state raccolte informazioni di intelligence che supportassero la mia teoria secondo cui al-Qaeda stava inviando persone negli Stati Uniti per studiare materiali relativi all'aviazione.

Questa è una sorta di "reader’s digest" dell’intera questione.

Ci sono varie ragioni per cui ho impiegato così tanto tempo dal 1999 quando ho aperto il caso su questi due uomini a Prescott e sul volo dell'American West a quando ho inviato la comunicazione. Per un periodo di tempo, sono stato estromesso dal caso e messo su un'indagine di incendi dolosi. Al tempo c’era un uomo di nome Mark Warren Sands che appiccava incendi in case in costruzione nella proprietà della Mountains Preserve nell'area metropolitana di Phoenix; il dipartimento di polizia di Phoenix chiese all'FBI risorse investigative per aiutarli a cercare gli autori di questi incendi dolosi, cosa che alla fine riuscimmo a fare: venne arrestato e processato e passò più di vent'anni in prigione. Questo però mi distolse da al-Qaeda per un anno; tornai sull'indagine su Soubra e al-Sharbi a maggio o giugno del 2001 e quando mi misi ad aggiornare i miei file, mi venne l'idea di questa comunicazione che ora è conosciuta come Phoenix Memo.

Mark Sands distolse l’attenzione dell’FBI da questi operatori di al-Qaeda che erano nella nostra area di responsabilità.

La sede dell'Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University a Prescott


Undicisettembre: Sei stato interrogato dagli inquirenti dopo l'11 settembre riguardo alla tua comunicazione? La Commissione, l'FBI, qualcun altro?

Ken Williams: Non sentii nulla dal quartier generale dell'FBI. Mandai la comunicazione il 10 luglio del 2001, gli attacchi avvennero l’11 settembre 2001 e nel mondo burocratico dei governi non è assolutamente un lungo lasso di tempo. L'FBI ha tre classificazioni per le comunicazioni: "routine" che è una comunicazione da prendere in considerazione per un’azione quando è possibile, "priorità" che è un po' più alta di “routine” e significa "hey, c’è qualcosa, forse una minaccia concreta”, e poi “immediato” che significa “c'è una bomba ad orologeria, sta partendo qualcosa, dobbiamo mollare tutto quello che stiamo facendo e agire subito”. Inviai il Phoenix Memo come comunicazione di "routine" perché nel momento in cui lo inviai, era una mia teoria investigativa, non avevo alcuna informazione specifica da un informatore o da una fonte tecnica che dicesse "questi uomini sono pronti a commettere un attentato terroristico”. Non è stata una comunicazione di “priorità”, perché volevo solo che ciò che avevo scoperto venisse inviato alla comunità di intelligence per una discussione e per vedere se qualcun altro aveva un altro informatore che avesse segnalato persone che stavano imparando a guidare aeroplani o che stavano studiando materiale relativo all'aviazione.

Il resto è storia. Vorrei averlo inviato come "priorità" o "immediato", ma in quel momento stavo seguendo le procedure e non avevo informazioni specifiche su una precisa attività criminale che stessero pianificando. Era solo una teoria basata su informazioni che avevo raccolto in Arizona.


Undicisettembre: Com’è possibile che i sauditi, e anche il governo saudita, abbiano cercato di aiutare i terroristi nel fare quello che hanno fatto?

Ken Williams: Questa è una domanda molto interessante. Molti di noi qui in occidente non capiscono come funzionano il governo e la società saudita. È uno stato religioso, ma è anche uno stato laico perché c'è una monarchia: i due devono imparare a coesistere. Da quello che ho imparato dagli accademici e dalla mia formazione presso il governo degli Stati Uniti, la monarchia deve talvolta cooperare con gli estremisti religiosi attraverso il Ministero degli Affari Islamici per placarli in modo che la monarchia sopravviva; se non placano gli estremisti religiosi nella loro società il regno può essere rovesciato. Non si è visto prima dell’11/9, ma dopo l’11/9 e le conseguenti guerre in Afghanistan e in Iraq si è visto che al-Qaeda ha iniziato ad attaccare il regno saudita, hanno detto chiaramente “Vogliamo rovesciare il re dell'Arabia Saudita.”

Prima dell'11 settembre non era così evidente perché, in base a quello che ho appreso dagli accademici, il governo saudita li ha accontentati permettendo loro di fare alcune cose e aiutandoli a reclutare mujaheddin per andare a combattere i sovietici in Afghanistan, che era anche il tentativo dell'Occidente di colpire l'URSS e infatti molti paesi occidentali hanno sostenuto i mujaheddin. Gli Stati Uniti hanno sostenuto attivamente fornendo fondi e armi a questi gruppi che combattevano i sovietici.

Non dovrebbe essere una novità per i governi occidentali che questo è il modo in cui funzionava il governo saudita a quei tempi e credo che ora, con la pressione che subiscono, abbiano accettato di cooperare nel cercare di fermare quest'attività terroristica. Ed è per questo che credo che le famiglie delle vittime dell'11 settembre abbiano ottenuto un rifiuto dal governo degli Stati Uniti nell'ottenere la loro cooperazione per fare pressione al governo saudita affinché affrontino le loro colpe con molti dei loro dipendenti coinvolti nel fornire supporto al dirottatori negli Stati Uniti prima dell'11 settembre.


Undicisettembre: Tu sei anche coinvolto nell'Operazione Encore e il tuo nome compare nel famosissimo articolo del New York Times a riguardo. Sulla base di ciò che sai come parte di questa indagine, pensi che il governo degli Stati Uniti stia facendo tutto il possibile per chiarire quale sia stato il ruolo dei sauditi o stia cercando di proteggerli in qualche modo?

Ken Williams: Non ero coinvolto nell'Operazione Encore prima di uscire dall’FBI, mi sono ritirato nel 2017 dopo trent'anni di servizio. Sono venuto a conoscenza dell'Operazione Encore dopo aver cambiato lavoro ed essere andato a lavorare per gli avvocati dei querelanti come investigatore e consulente per lo studio legale Kreindler e Kreindler. Non posso entrare nello specifico, perché è sotto ordine restrittivo dell'FBI, ma quello che posso assicurare a te a i tuoi lettori è questo: c'è qualcosa che il governo degli Stati Uniti dovrebbe indagare. Io credo che stiano difendendo il governo saudita per qualche motivo. Credo che servano altre indagini penali, oltre a quello che sta già succedendo con le indagini civili di cui faccio parte, su questo caso: questo è il più grande omicidio che abbia avuto luogo nella storia degli Stati Uniti. Questa è un'indagine per omicidio irrisolta, ci sono persone che devono essere ritenute responsabili delle loro azioni che hanno portato a quel giorno orribile.

Sono indignato del fatto che le vittime dell'11 settembre e le loro famiglie non ottengano maggiore collaborazione dal governo degli Stati Uniti nella loro causa contro il Regno dell'Arabia Saudita. È davvero una storia americana, queste persone, con l'assistenza di avvocati, hanno ottenuto l’emanazione del Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, noto come JASTA. Il JASTA consente ai cittadini americani di citare in giudizio governi stranieri responsabili, o colpevoli in una forma o in un'altra, per danni civili. Essere respinti dal proprio governo che invoca segreti di stato e motivazioni analoghe come ragioni per cui non possono aiutare i cittadini americani è una vera farsa. Quello che dico a colleghi, amici e persone nei media come te è che quando le politiche e le procedure emanate per proteggere i segreti, originariamente progettate per proteggere gli americani, si rivoltano e iniziano a danneggiare gli americani, devono essere cambiate. Il nostro Congresso e i nostri legislatori devono guardare al sistema e a cosa stanno facendo l'FBI, il Dipartimento di Giustizia e la CIA e dire “Aspetta, dobbiamo rivalutare cosa sta succedendo perché queste politiche e procedure che avevamo messo in atto per proteggere i segreti stanno ora danneggiando gli stessi cittadini che dovrebbero proteggere”.

È per questo che sono così infervorato e mi sono impegnato nell'assistere lo studio legale. Mi sono ritirato dall’FBI a maggio del 2017 e ad ottobre sono stato contattato dagli avvocati che rappresentano le vittime dell'11 settembre che mi hanno chiesto se fossi disposto a dare assistenza come investigatore e consulente sul loro caso, ho detto “Assolutamente, ma fatemi fare una verifica con il mio ex datore di lavoro". Ho chiamato l'FBI e sono stato informato dall'ufficio del Consiglio Generale dell'FBI, che è composto dagli avvocati che conducono l'FBI e ci dicono cosa possiamo o non possiamo fare da un punto di vista legale, che non volevano che assistessi le famiglie delle vittime dell'11 settembre nella loro causa contro il governo dell'Arabia Saudita. La prima ragione che mi è stata data è stata [Ken Williams legge questa citazione dal documento originale – NdR] “C’è un’altra causa in corso in cui è coinvolto il governo degli Stati Uniti e qualsiasi collaborazione tu possa fornire potrebbe avere un impatto negativo su quel caso. L'amministrazione Trump sta anche cercando di tenere buoni rapporti con l'Arabia Saudita e non vogliono che tu rilasci deposizioni o collabori con il comitato per le famiglie”.

Quando mi è stato detto ciò, dopo essere stato un fedele dipendente dell'FBI per trent'anni, ho richiamato lo studio legale e ho detto loro "Hey, non vogliono che vi aiuti" Non sapevo in quel momento che sarebbe diventato una questione grossa come lo è ora. Quando ho dato questa risposta agli avvocati, mi hanno ringraziato per il mio tempo e l’attenzione che avevo dedicato, ma mi sono sentito malissimo, mi sono sentito come se avessi fatto qualcosa di sbagliato. Non ho potuto aiutarli per altri nove mesi e poi all'improvviso lo studio legale mi ha richiamato e a quel punto ho detto “Sì, vi aiuterò” perché per me era inconcepibile che qualcuno nel governo degli Stati Uniti mi dicesse di non aiutare i miei connazionali. Ho deciso di collaborare con lo studio legale e da allora lavoro con loro per cercare di portare giustizia a queste persone e ottenere una sentenza contro il governo dell'Arabia Saudita per la loro complicità nell'attacco terroristico dell’11/9.


Undicisettembre: Se colleghiamo tutto ciò di cui abbiamo discusso finora e anche quello che è successo alla Alec Station con il memo di Doug Miller che venne bloccato, pensi che l'11 settembre avrebbe potuto essere evitato se le cose fossero state gestite correttamente?

Ken Williams: Penso che ci sia un'ottima probabilità. Non ho la sfera di cristallo, ma penso che se le cose fossero state gestite diversamente, si sarebbe potuto prevenire o fermare per un lasso di tempo.

Dobbiamo tenere a mente che a metà degli anni '90 la comunità di intelligence statunitense scoprì che i terroristi stavano pianificando un'operazione chiamata "Operazione Bojinka" in cui avrebbero fatto esplodere degli aerei, c'era anche un piano per far schiantare un aereo contro il quartier generale della CIA. Quindi, c'erano informazioni disponibili.

Quindi, sì, se le cose fossero state gestite diversamente avremmo potuto almeno ritardare l'operazione o impedirla del tutto. Il Ghassan al-Sharbi che menziono nel Phoenix Memo fu arrestato nel marzo 2002 a Faisalabad, in Pakistan, con Abu Zubayda che all'epoca era considerato uno dei vertici di al-Qaeda ed era uno degli uomini più braccati al mondo come bin Laden o al-Zawahiri, era al terzo posto nei ranghi di al-Qaeda in quel periodo. Se sei Abu Zubayda e sei in fuga e ti nascondi dai servizi di intelligence dell'Occidente, non lasci che un individuo a caso si nasconda nel tuo nascondiglio con te. Per me eravamo sulla strada giusta, questo mio informatore mi ha indicato la direzione giusta. Un'altra cosa che voglio sottolineare è che Ghassan al-Sharbi e Zakaria Soubra usavano un'auto intestata a Mohammed al-Qudhaeein, che era una delle persone sul volo dell'America West Airlines.

Scoprimmo tutto ciò quando iniziò la guerra e andammo in Afghanistan e recuperammo molte informazioni da CD, dischi rigidi, documenti e altri supporti; scoprimmo che Hamdan Al-Shalawi aveva frequentato un campo di addestramento di al-Qaeda in Afghanistan al fine di condurre un'operazione simile all’attentato contro le Kobar Towers.

Tutto questo accadde quando fui tolto dal caso a Prescott, in Arizona, e posto sul caso degli incendi dolosi. Quando Hani Hanjour e Nawaf al-Hazmi, due dei dirottatori dell'11 settembre, entrarono nell'area metropolitana di Phoenix per frequentare la scuola di volo e vissero qui per un periodo di tempo.

Quindi, di nuovo, sì. Penso che se le cose fossero state gestite diversamente, se le informazioni fossero state condivise, se non fossi stato tolto dal caso, almeno avremmo ritardato qualcosa o l'avremmo compromesso al punto da prevenirlo del tutto. Contemporaneamente a questi eventi, di cui ti sto parlando, l'agente dell'FBI Harry Samit a Minneapolis identificò Zacarias Moussaoui che frequentava una scuola di volo, era molto interessato al volo ma poco a imparare come atterrare. Tutti i pezzi si stavano componendo.

Penso che le informazioni che avevo raccolto io con l'ufficio di Phoenix FBI e il fatto che stessimo seguendo le persone di cui ti ho parlato oggi (Soubra, Al-Sharbi, Al-Shalawi e Al-Qudaheen) siano stati riportati anche a Khalid Sheik Mohammed. Tutto questo, unito al fatto che l'FBI stava indagando su Moussaoui a Minneapolis, ha portato me e alcuni dei miei colleghi che hanno lasciato l’FBI a chiederci: “Abbiamo accelerato noi le cose? Quanti altri di questi piloti aveva addestrato bin Laden? Ce n’erano più di quattro?" Forse si accorsero, ma questa è pura congettura, che stavano per deragliare e che avrebbero fatto meglio ad accelerare la pianificazione, altrimenti non sarebbero fato nulla.

È una domanda che mi perseguiterà per il resto della mia vita.

Una cosa che voglio sottolineare è che i servizi di intelligence di ogni paese fanno del loro meglio per proteggere i propri cittadini dai terroristi e dagli attacchi terroristici, ma noi siamo costretti ad avere successo sempre, mentre i terroristi hanno tutto il tempo del mondo per sedersi e pianificare e a loro basta avere successo una volta sola per uccidere e causare grandi distruzioni. Lo abbiamo visto accadere più e più volte. Quando guardiamo gli orrori dell’ISIS in Siria e Iraq e li vediamo tagliare le teste alle persone, dobbiamo essere consapevoli del fatto che ci sono persone che sognano di diventare un giorno martiri come i diciannove dirottatori che hanno ucciso migliaia di persone l'11 settembre 2001. Dobbiamo essere sempre vigili per identificare le loro azioni, affrontarli e neutralizzarli, altrimenti avremo un altro giorno come l'11 settembre.

2021/09/14

L'FBI rilascia un primo documento desecretato sulle indagini sull'11/9

di Leonardo Salvaggio

A seguito dell'ordine esecutivo firmato dal presidente Joe Biden, l'FBI ha rilasciato un primo documento, precedentemente secretato, relativo alle indagini sull'11 settembre. Il documento, di sedici pagine, è la sintesi dell'interrogatorio di un cittadino saudita che lavorava al consolato a Los Angeles e che era a stretto contatto con Omar al-Bayoumi, il nome dell'uomo non viene rivelato. L'interrogatorio risale a novembre del 2015, mentre il documento è datato 4 aprile 2016.


La nota rilasciata è ancora in gran parte censurata, ciò nonostante ne emergono informazioni importanti. Conferma anzitutto alcuni dettagli che erano noti già in passato, come che al-Bayoumi lavorasse per un'azienda saudita chiamata AVCO i cui dipendenti lo definivano un "dipendente fantasma" ("ghost employee") perché non si presentava mai sul posto di lavoro. Al-Bayoumi aveva inoltre frequenti contatti con il consolato saudita, dove secondo l'intervistato veniva tenuto in grande considerazione e aveva un grado superiore a quello dei responsabili del consolato stesso.

Il dettaglio più importante che emerge dal documento è che secondo la ricostruzione dell'intervistato e di altri testimoni oculari, il primo incontro tra al-Bayoumi e al-Mihdhar e al-Hazmi (due dei dirottatori del volo American Airlines 77 che si schiantò contro il Pentagono) non fu casuale, come sostenuto dallo stesso al-Bayoumi quando fu interrogato, ma pianificato. Al-Bayoumi riportò infatti agli investigatori di aver avvicinato di due al ristorante Mediterranean Gourmet di Venice Boulevard dopo averli sentiti parlare arabo con un accento mediorientale. I testimoni sostengono invece che al-Bayoumi era seduto al ristorante in una posizione da cui poteva vedere la porta d'ingresso e che si avvicinò a loro prima di poterli sentire parlare. Inoltre i due dirottatori furono portati al Mediterranean Gourmet proprio dall'anonimo saudita. L'incontro con i dirottatori avvenne poche ore dopo una riunione al consolato in cui al-Bayoumi e l'uomo il cui nome non è rivelato si incontrarono per la prima volta.

Il Washington Post riporta che le famiglie delle vittime hanno accolto con molto favore la desecretazione di queste informazioni. Al contempo l'ambasciata saudita di Washington ha pubblicato una nota in cui dice che essere favorevole al rilascio di tutti i documenti secretati affinché questi possano chiarire l'estraneità del regime di Riyadh agli attentati dell'11/9. In realtà il primo documento, si spera di una lunga serie, punta esattamente nella direzione opposta.

2021/09/11

An interview with Malcolm Nance, counterterrorism expert and Pentagon rescuer

by Leonardo Salvaggio. An Italian translation is available here.

Twenty years have passed since the 9/11 attacks, in this special anniversary Undicisettembre is offering its readers the personal account of Malcolm Nance, a former Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer and counterterrorism expert and, on 9/11 witnessed the crash of American Airline 77 into the Pentagon and went to the site to become of the first responders.

We would like to thank Malcolm Nance for his kindness and willingness to help.





Undicisettembre: Can you give me some background about yourself and how much you knew about al-Qaeda before 9/11?

Malcolm Nance:
On 9/11 I had just retired from the military a few months before. I spent twenty years in naval intelligence, specialized in counter terrorism, especially Middle East counter terrorism and we were working the al-Qaeda mission before people started calling it al-Qaeda, we used to call it GJM, Global Jihad Movement. Then in 1995 the FBI started using a term that was 50% of the actual name of the real group; it was al-Qaeda al Jihad, which is Arabic for “The Headquarters of the Holy War”, but the FBI was referring to them as “al-Qaeda”. The first time I saw that I thought “The base? The headquarters? There’s something missing in here.” I knew all about how this organization was developing: their operations in Sudan, there was suspicion that in 1981 they bombed a hotel that had US soldiers in it in Yemen, and then there there was the attack to the Khobar Towers in 1995 in Durhan, Saudi Arabia. Everyone was blaming the Iranians, Hezbollah or Hamas and this misdirected US intelligence to go look for these groups but that was an al-Qaeda operation. In 1996 Osama bin Laden made his first declaration of war against the west, at that time I was running a very specialized school in Coronado, California, called Advanced Terrorism Abduction and Hostage Survival and I was teaching the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program, which is for Tier 1 soldiers who go behind the enemy line and are high-risk-capture and would be at elbow distance from al-Qaeda. Back then a lot of people didn’t believe that there was this global jihad movement, they thought it was just a bunch of amateur Arabs and even Cofer Black from the CIA used to call bin Laden an opportunist and a grifter. I had been in operations for seventeen years back then so I knew where their power and passion came from so I didn’t believe people like Cofer Black.

The morning after we started the course the Kenya and Tanzania bombing happened in the middle of the night, I started the course and said “Good morning gentlemen, welcome to al-Qaeda 1.01; some of you will be leaving here very soon.” Sure enough we cut the course short, we did it in 72 hours and they all started going around the world hunting for al-Qaeda.


Undicisettembre: Can you give me an account of what you saw and experienced on 9/11?

Malcolm Nance: 9/11 started out as a normal day, it was a very nice day. I lived in Washington DC and that morning I had the only counter terrorism consultancy in the city. After retiring from the military I was doing consulting for special operations command and specifically the Naval Special Warfare Command. We were planning a counter terrorism exercise for the Commander Pacific Fleet which was going to take place three weeks later, we were trying to sink three ships from the sea as a terrorism training exercise and they were supposed to find us.

That morning was the first day of working of my new chief of staff Beverly, who was a sort of combination between a secretary and a manager, and I was taking her around Washington DC. Around 8 o’clock we went around Capitol Hill to show her where the House and Senate offices and committees we would be working with were and we stopped for a coffee at a Costa Coffee and they had a television above the coffee station.

I looked up at the TV screen and I saw Tower 1 had a fire and I though “Oh, that’s strange! The weather is really clear, maybe it’s a tourist aircraft.” Another component of my school was teaching hijacking survival, so if you are skyjacked there are certain behaviors you must and must not do, because there’s also a time to fight back, so we started hearing these reports that airplanes were hijacked and I thought “They can’t be hijacked, the pilots would put it on the ground immediately”, but I was not thinking right, cabin doors were not locked back then and the pilot or co-pilot would come up immediately if there was disturbance with the passengers. We didn’t know these guys stormed the cockpits and took command of the aircrafts.

I was really focused on the TV when suddenly the second plane came in. I grabbed my phone, hit the speed dial button for Brad, my deputy who was still in Coronado, because one thing from my years in counter terrorism came to my mind “If you are involved in an emergency, call someone who’s nowhere near you.”. But he had his phone on answering machine. At that time I knew what was happening: it was al-Qaeda and somehow they had taken command of the airplanes.

I knew Brad was probably a little awake so I start screaming into the phone “Brad, get up! This is Malcolm! Brad get up!” He understood my voice was in panic and he answered the phone and all I could say was “CNN! CNN! CNN!” because I could not describe it; he went to the TV and yelled “What the fuck is happening?”, I said “New York is under attack, go to work” which would have been the office I had there where we have access to all the terrorism database “and call me back in fifteen minutes.”

My chief of staff and I took our coffees, I think I even forgot to pay for them, and went into my car and turned on the radio. She said “Where are we going?”, I said “We are going back to the office, then I’m going to New York”. She said “You are going to New York?! Why are you going to New York?”, I said “This is the greatest fucking terrorist attack in American history! I’m going to New York to help”.

To go to Georgetown, where my office was, I could have gone down Independence Avenue which would have been near the White House which I was sure at that point would have looked like an armed fort; so we went down Constitution Avenue instead. I stopped at a street light right across the water from the Arlington Cemetery and I saw an airplane off in the distance and I casually said “Look, they have redirected the aircrafts to come from the west so that they don’t come near Washington”. To the right I saw the Arlington Cemetery, the Marine Corps Headquarters, the Navy Annex and the plane started flying down and I though “Now it’s going to bank right and go to Reagan Airport”. Instead it goes, it goes, it goes… I'll briefly stop here, about one second before the crash to tell you something else.

In 1988 I was in a missile battle with the Iranians and I had to watch on my radar a cruise missile coming at us at 400 mph and it was terrifying; the way we say it when a missile is coming at you is “VAMPIRE”, it’s a crazy word so you know there’s a real threat. So I was sitting there on this ship, we are fighting this Iranian ship, they launch a missile at us and we hear “VAMPIRE, VAMPIRE, VAMPIRE” meaning “Cruise missile inbound”. It missed us by 150 meters.

So when I saw the plane was not banking this phrase went to my head: “VAMPIRE, VAMPIRE, VAMPIRE”. The light changed to green but I could not come, I was frozen and the only thing I could say to my friend was “Stand by!” which is what we say in the military for “That thing is about to happen”. She goes “What?” and then BOOOM! There was a huge fireball. She starts screaming “What's happening??” and I say “It's hit, the Pentagon is hit! We are under attack! We are under nation wide attack!” Before she can say another word I hit the gas and went right through the lights and I thought “Do we have more human guided weapons?” which is what we call hijacked aircrafts.


I instinctively knew where to go, right to the Pentagon. It turned out that state troopers had cut out the road about an hour before for security purposes because they didn't think an airplane was coming. The building was burning, engulfed, huge columns of black smoke. I could not go any further so I told Beverly “Take my car, go back to my office and start calling me every fifteen minutes.”

I got out of the car and I had a fucking disaster in front of me. People were coming out of the north side of the Pentagon, the side that was hit was the west side next to the helicopter pad. I started running through the crowd and since I had been a paramedic once in the military I started checking and assessing all the wounded. I saw a woman covered in dirt and dust, she had a baby in her arms and she was bleeding from the head. We have a rule in the paramedics “Silent baby bad, crying baby good” The baby was crying and people had bottles of water to wash the baby off, so I thought “The baby is okay, they don't need me here”.

I saw a three-star woman Navy Admiral and I said “Admiral I need your help to mobilize these people and to start a rescue effort.” she said “We have it under control” and I thought “She has no idea what's happening here, she thinks it's just a fire.” We have a saying in the military when you are in a panic situation “Look for a point of sanity.” I looked to the right and I saw this woman who was pointing decisively giving orders, she knew what she was doing, and I saw people bringing wounded people to her. Then an ambulance arrived and it had backboards, and that was very smart to do, it was a paramedic company who was just a few kilometers away, they heard about the attacks and knew what to do because they had knowledge of mass casualties.

Next thing I saw was Donald Rumsfield and his staff pushing a stretcher, next to him was an army flight paramedic who was assigned to the secretary of defense's office, but the helicopter never stays at the Pentagon, it goes across the river for refuels and that was good because the airplane hit the helicopter pad directly and I know because I saw it when it impacted: it hit the pad and slid into the Pentagon. So I run to the point of sanity and there was this woman who I thought was a doctor and who is my personal hero of the day, her name is Patty Horoho and she was running this mini triage. She was a colonel and she was an expert, she had a very very high fear threshold. I told her “I'm a Senior Chief petty officer”, which was not true, I was retired “What do you need me to do?”. She said “I need you to get all these people organized.” There were hundreds of people. “I need you to start stretcher teams on the north door and bring the wounded out to this triage.”

I was in civilian clothes. I had khaki pants on and a black shirt with the name of my company on that said “Real World Rescue”, but that was a cover name because the company was actually called “Special Readiness Service International”. I went to a colonel and said “Colonel, bring me a bunch of people here and put them in line”. He came back with eight colonels and I said “Are you shitting me?? Really?? The only people you know at the Pentagon are colonels?? There are four hundred enlisted people here.” I saw marine officers and I yelled “Marine! Get your asses here!” and the colonel, who was a marine colonel said “I have orders to report to the Commandant of the marine corps.” I said “You can take one person and report to the marine corp, I want all the others to stay over here.” That's when I saw my salvation, I saw a marine sergeant and with my command voice I yelled “Sergeant!” he run over “Get everyone here, I want all these people lined up in formation, we are going to start the rescue on this building”. Suddenly he gets all these two hundred people into formation; it was beautiful, it broke my heart.

I said “Hats off, ties off, backpacks off, take anything that can burn off, sleeves down. Form six man teams, each team go to a stretcher, six more men go behind them as support”, because a stretcher can get heavy with a person on it. I added “Go stand by the north door”. This was the first mobilization at the rescue effort at the west side of the Pentagon. I go over to colonel Horoho and said “I got them moving back and forward over there”, and she said “Who are those people next to the crash site?”. I looked over and there was a group of people near the door “They look screwed up, get them over here and get them start moving people.” I run over there and asked who was in charge, there was a guy in civilian clothes with suspenders who was an army colonel and the liaison to Congress; I told him “Listen up, we need to start moving all your victims out of here” and he said “We are going back in through this door” which was the door closest to the crash site. Now everybody in the military takes firefighting, so I knew firefighting; I told him “You go through that door and you die. The smoke is down to your knees, black rolling smoke. You can not get through that door.” He said “We've already been in there.” and I said “Get everybody out of that door. Everyone in your team go to the north door and help the stretcher teams. Don't go through that door anymore, we can't lose anyone else.” Just as I said that flames started coming out of that door.

We were still waiting for firetrucks, they were not there yet, but in ten minutes a hundred firetrucks arrived, every truck in northern Virginia and Washington DC was coming to the Pentagon. I turned around and there was colonel Horoho. There was a fire truck close to the helicopter hanger which was on fire, the right door was open, next to it were some cars, next to it it's where they kept liquid oxygen and propane. I feared everything was going to explode soon.

Colonel Horoho told me “I want you to have these teams bring condition yellow” which is wounded “to the left of that tree. Condition red” which is critical wounded “to the right of that tree. Condition green to the cemetery, and condition black behind this wall.” It suddenly struck me that I started to panic a little bit, my fear threshold was about to be crossed:, she instructed me to put all the dead bodies behind the helicopter hangar, where they put it for long storage, where nobody could see them.

I looked down at her and next to her leg was a two meter silver disc and it had the red, white and blue letter “C”. I thought “What am I looking at?” and then I understood it was the letter “C” from American Airlines. Then I saw there were tiny little pieces of the airplane all around. Later on I would see a turbine blade in the side of a tree.

There was no condition black where I was because that was the point of impact. There was no body left for those who were dead; the injured where coming out of other doors. We left and went back to the triage. There were nine patients and the paramedics were arriving and she was decidedly giving instructions to them as well; all the wounded were taken away with ambulances.

I then got a call on the phone, it was my friend in Coronado. He said “Malcolm, I'm sitting here with Commander Second Fleet and he doesn't know what is going on, he can't get in touch with the Secretary of Defense” He was a man who commanded like a hundred and fifty ships and all he knew about the Pentagon was what I was telling him, I told him the Secretary of Defense was fine and that he was in the Command Post trying to coordinate New York City, therefore they could not get through to him. I said “I need something from you: how many planes are still missing?” He said there were two: one out of Saint Louis and one near Ohio, which turned out being United 93, the other one turned out to be a false alarm. I told him I needed to know any change of status of these two planes, I was going to keep the line open.

I went to the colonel and told her about the two missing planes and told her we needed to be ready in case of additional attacks. Brad was still on the line, but the line got cut off; because they were cutting lines all over the United States. A few seconds later we heard another loud sound and someone said there was a car bomb at the State Department, I said no one would have used a car bomb if they had hijacked planes; minutes later we found out it was a part of the building had collapsed.

As we were standing there two F-16's came flying very low over the Pentagon and the Capitol and were happy and cheering to see we had top cover. They had no weapons, nothing, they would just use the airplanes themselves as a barrier. Seconds later a Fire Chief came and said we were going to be under attack again because there was another plane inbound. Colonel Horoho said “I want you to move all this triage to the Arlington Cemetery.” We ran on the other side and fifteen minutes after we heard a rumor that a F-16 crashed into United 93. when we heard that, colonel Horoho ordered to bring the triage back to the crash site which we did and at this point a lot more of resources arrived, one of the closest hospitals brought in the whole emergency room staff and all the doctors started receiving orders from colonel Horoho.

They made us move the triage again to an underpass on the south west side of the Pentagon and at this point we all had silver duct tape on our arms to identify ourselves because we had to go into the building to remove the dead but I wasn't there for that and I'm glad because what I saw was enough.

At six in the evening they started sending people home because rescue was over, it was now recovery. There was no transportation in Washington so I walked and then I hitchhiked and they drove me to my office.


Undicisettembre: You are one one of the few eyewitnesses who saw the plane crash, can we rule out once and for all that it was something different from a commercial airliner?

Malcolm Nance: First off, hundreds of people saw the plane. I spoke to the guy in the crash truck at the helipad which was on fire and he told me “I was in the truck and the plane went right by me” He told me they keep a person in the crash truck at all times, the Secretary of Defense was in the building and the helicopter was scheduled to come fifteen or twenty minutes later. So he was there and he had his bunker suit bottom on, not his top, and he was sitting there listening to the news about New York City when he saw this plane coming over the Sheraton, over the Navy Annex, which was the big Navy office building which has been destroyed since, then it came down, hit a light post which fell onto the car of a state trooper who was sitting inside it, hit the ground and slid into the building. This firefighter was sitting in his truck and saw the airplane coming at him. He said the plane exploded all around and his truck just blew up, but he had like eight tons of firefighting foam behind him, it also exploded, turned into gas and protected him. He then opened the right door and got out, when later Colonel Horoho and I were there the right door was still open.

Later I met the Virginia state trooper who was in the car and he said the same thing: he was sitting there, he saw the light post fall on his car and then the plane hitting the building. Everyone on the highway also saw this airplane, everyone in Crystal City saw this airplane fly in. Hundreds of people.

Some time later someone sent me a link of a blog by a French guy who said the Americans used a car bomb to fake an attack and blame it on the Arabs. I was furious, furious! Two years later I was giving an interview to a very famous French journalist in Time Square. She says “Next time you are in Paris you should come to the studio and we do this again.” The year after I went to Paris and she said “Do you mind if we have another guest on?” My late wife, who was a native French speaker, understood the guest would have been the guy who made that blog post and they were going to put me in the same room as him and I didn't know this was happening. My wife told them “If you bring Malcolm to that room and he realizes who the other guest is at some point he will get up and beat that man on television.” I heard her screaming in French and I understood what was going on. They canceled that segment at the end.


Undicisettembre: You are also an expert in fake news propaganda and 9/11 started the conspiracy movement on a bigger scale. What are you thoughts on this?

Malcolm Nance: Conspiracy theories have been around forever, even in that 60s movie “Doctor Strangelove” the general orders the attack to Russia because they are putting fluoride in the water and he thinks it's making sperm impure: that was a very, very popular conspiracy theory in the USA in the 50s and in the 60s.

While I can understand that, what I can't understand and gets me instantly ready to fight is people saying 9/11 was a conspiracy. Because “Who are you going to believe? Me or your lying eyes? Are you going to believe your lying eyes?” We have these Americans who say “Oh you can't melt steel” and so on, but if you get an airliner and fly it into a building at 400 knots there's nothing that's going to stand.


Undicisettembre: What is the role in today's world of disinformation farms such as the Internet Research Agency in Saint Petersburg?

Malcolm Nance: I wrote the book “The plot to destroy democracy” that was from the perspective of Russian intelligence. Russia has become an oligarchy country where they have money now and it filters down to the average person, it is still a very soviet-like country; the Soviet Union used disinformation and misinformation all the time to further their state goals. Vladimir Putin was a career KGB officer until the Soviet Union collapsed, he is a devout communist and he believed in the strategy of the Soviet Union to dismantle liberal democracy and damage the west. When the Soviet Union collapsed that became the interest of money. You want to make money in the west or have access to market places? You have to destroy their governments. Putin said two years ago “Liberal democracy in the west is dying, it's a failed ideology”. He understood that you can use disinformation to dismantle western democracy. And he didn't start in the United States with Trump, he started in Europe with parties founded by Russia: Lega in Italy, Orban in Hungary, Golden Dawn in Greece, Marine Le Pen in France, SDF in Germany. All these groups don't call themselves fascists but they are fascists and they are funded by Russia.

In the 70s and in the 80s the Soviet Union funded left wing terrorism. Today Russia funds right wing conservative groups. Putin knows how the west works, he uses misinformation and lies and then he uses democracy to eliminate democracy, he uses a vote to eliminate a vote. If you control all the strings to the people who are making the vote you make democracy look weak and illiberalism and fascism look strong. With social media you can do that and that's what the Russians did.

We call what they did against the United States Web War 2; they attacked the United States using their information warfare doctrine that says that you want to provide so much disinformation that a sizable part of your enemy population will greet you like victors and allies so that you can invade the country without putting one soldier in that country. It has been successful, 40% of the United States would believe Russia instead of believing their eyes.


Undicisettembre:: What do you think of what is going on right now in Afghanistan? Do you think this was the only unavoidable ending or could the situation have been handled differently?

Malcolm Nance: I went to Afghanistan in January 2002 to do an intelligence assessment of the post Tora Bora operation, when Osama bin Laden and his men escaped into Pakistan. Afghanistan is not a nation-state, it's a collection of tribes, and these tribal leaders play for themselves, they don't play for a central government. Every tribal chief flipped instantly and cut a deal with the Taliban because it's their culture and because the Taliban are Afghans while we were foreigners.

The peace deal that was cut with the Taliban was done by the previous administration but without Afghan President Ghani, cutting the Afghan government we've been propping out for nineteen years out of the negotiation. The previous administration wanted this giant deal to show they could bring peace to Afghanistan.

Afghanistan is now reset back to 2001, or even 1843, minus Osama bin Laden. The real threat today is ISIS Khorasan and the question is if the Taliban will allow them to plan and to project terror from their land. But it's unlikely.