Bush oil and the taliban secret meetings before 911Document Transcript
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FRIDAY, FEB 8, 2002 18:44 ET
Bush, oil and the Taliban
Two French authors allege that before Sept. 11, the White House put oil interests ahead of national
BY NINA BURLEIGH
PARIS -- In a new book, "Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth," two French intelligence analysts allege the Clinton and Bush
administrations put diplomacy before law enforcement in dealing with the al-Qaida threat before Sept. 11, in order to
maintain smooth relations with Saudi Arabia and to avoid disrupting the oil market. The book, which has become a
bestseller in France but has received little press attention here, also alleges that the Bush administration was bargaining
with the Taliban, over a Central Asian oil pipeline and Osama bin Laden, just five weeks before the September attacks.
The authors, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, see a link between the negotiations and Vice President Dick
Cheney's energy policy task force, with its conclusions that Central Asian oil was going to become critical to the U.S.
economy. Brisard and Dasquie also claim former FBI deputy director John O'Neill (who died in the attack on the World
Trade Center, where he was the chief of security) resigned in July to protest the policy of giving U.S. oil interests a higher
priority than bringing al-Qaida leaders to justice. Brisard claims O'Neill told him that "the main obstacles to investigating
Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia."
The authors also allege that the Sept. 11 attacks were a calculated response to Western pressure on the Taliban to hand
over bin Laden and permit the return of the long-exiled Afghan leader, King Shah. They say the terror attacks were aimed
at sparking a widespread war in Central Asia and thereby reinforcing the Islamic extremists' grip on power.
Brisard, a private intelligence analyst who once worked for the French conglomerate Vivendi, compiled a report in 1997
on the financing behind the al-Qaida network. Dasquie is a journalist and editor of Intelligence Online. The authors are
negotiating with American publishers now to get the book translated and published in England. They recently discussed
their book with Salon.
How did you meet John O'Neill, and how often and where? Did you ever tape your discussions with him?
Brisard: I met him twice. The first time was in Paris in June 2001 and then in July in New York. I met him because I
wrote some years ago a report about the bin Laden family and its financial connections with Osama bin Laden. Our
meeting was in the process of the French sharing information with the FBI. He wanted to meet me again a month after
our first meeting to discuss the points of my report, and so we met at the end of July 2001. I never taped him and that's
why I only quote him directly three or four times. That's all I have and the rest is paraphrase. The discussion of O'Neill is
only 10 pages in the book. It is the first 10 pages of the book. What he said is a synthesis of what we say in the book, and
that's why we decided to put it on the first pages. That is, the role of Saudi Arabia, the role of oil and the way the
investigation worked in the United States before Sept. 11.
Did O'Neill indicate that the FBI expected more attacks on the United States?
Brisard: No. Not even implicitly. We didn't talk about the threat itself. We focused on the sources and roots of the
problems and the way to deter further action.
How much did Mr. O'Neill know about al-Qaida that the public didn't know until after Sept. 11, such as the
extent of the training, the network and the hatred?
Brisard: John O'Neill clearly knew extensively about the threat of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. He told me the FBI
had identified for years the financial supports of bin Laden. For instance, in the Yemen investigation [of the terrorist
bombing of the USS Cole], he said everything pointed at Osama bin Laden but there was an unwillingness among U.S.
diplomats to act and to put any kind of pressure against the governments. His investigation was made difficult because of
this unwillingness, and in his mind it was especially because of the economic interests of the United States. I quote him
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saying that everything about bin Laden and al-Qaida can be explainable through Saudi Arabia. And when I asked why the
U.S. was unwilling to go after the states that host bin Laden, he said because of oil.
In what sense was Saudia Arabia supporting bin Laden? He had been exiled.
Brisard: Yes, the official stance is he was banned in 1994 and his assets were frozen. This is the official position of the
Saudi government. But we prove in our book that until 1998 he was able to use economic and financial structures in
Saudi Arabia. He could have linked working bank accounts in Sudan with companies registered in Saudi. He had various
contacts with Saudi officials. And remember, the Saudis were supporting the Taliban regime, which was hosting him. In
Saudi Arabia, the left hand ignores the right hand. And the FBI was fully aware of the situation.
Other than the U.S. ambassador in Yemen sending O'Neill home because of his alleged insensitivity to the
culture, exactly how did the State Department hinder the FBI investigation?
Brisard: O'Neill said the State Department has had an overwhelming role on these investigations. He was explicitly
blocked in Yemen from further investigation. We now know from different files that the FBI was starting investigations
on different aspects of Saudi Arabian support [of bin Laden], and those investigations were all stopped, even under
Clinton. What John O'Neill said is that for him, there was a clear [conflict] between the FBI's goal, which was to go fast
and to implicate members of the networks and eventually to implicate states that gave them support, and the State
Department's goal, which was to move in a more diplomatic way to negotiate with those states and to some extent
accommodate them. And what he said was that the diplomatic way was chosen over the security or law enforcement
policy, and of course he was very angry about what happened to him in Yemen.
In your book, you allege that the Bush administration was negotiating with the Taliban last year over a
proposed Central Asian oil pipeline through Afghanistan. Which Bush official conducted those talks?
Brisard: [Assistant Secretary of State] Christina Rocca, in August 2001 in Pakistan, explicitly discussed the oil interest,
not the pipeline.
Did you ever speak with Rocca?
Dasquie: I tried to, but when you are a foreign journalist you must ask the U.S. embassy in France before an interview.
My correspondent in Washington also made requests. Since March or April 2001 we had tracked this story, because just
after the United Nations' decision against the Taliban, it was crazy to see Taliban leaders coming into Washington and
having meetings. Christina Rocca arrived at the State Department in June, and we knew her background at the CIA; she
had managed all the relations between the agency and Islamic groups in Central Asia. Since around June I have been
focused on Rocca. We made requests. The embassy said it was impossible. With no explanation.
Do you allege that she mentioned oil explicitly?
Dasquie: Madeleine Albright was the first to refuse to negotiate with the Taliban in 1997. Before that, from 1994 to '97,
Clinton did negotiate with the Taliban. We describe the meeting of Rocca and some Taliban leaders in Islamabad in
August 2001. There are documents to support it. And at the same time in Washington there are lots of meetings of the
energy policy task force and lots of oil company representatives around Dick Cheney. The task force's conclusion is that
Central Asia oil is a very important goal. And at the same time people are negotiating with the Taliban for the first time
Brisard: We believe that when [Rocca] went to Pakistan in 2001 she was there to speak about oil, and unfortunately the
Osama bin Laden case was just a technical part of the negotiations. I'm not sure about the pipeline specifically, but we
make it clear she was there to speak about oil. There are witnesses, including the Pakistani foreign minister.
Are you saying that the Central Asian oil and pipelines were not an issue under Clinton, or just more of an
issue for the Bush administration? And what are you basing that on?
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Brisard: Oil was also an issue for the Clinton administration, but the difference between Clinton and Bush is, under
Bush the economic argument became predominant and the U.S. thought they could pursue the Taliban to accept a deal
Dasquie: The area was of enormous strategic concern to many nations. The U.N. "six plus two" group [made up of the
six countries that border Afghanistan, plus the United States and Russia] had tried to persuade the Taliban to take back
the Afghan king in exchange for recognition. The biggest mistake of the U.N. and the U.S. was to consider the Taliban as
independent and able to negotiate. Nobody saw the reality of the relationship between Osama bin Laden and Mullah
Omar. So when the U.N.'s six-plus-two group and the U.S. said accept the king and give us Osama, it was incredible; it was
like asking them to kill themselves. It was the very wrong way to negotiate. People say the only reason 9-11 happened is
that Osama is a bad boy and the Muslims hate the U.S., but that is not enough. It is a pity to see that all our policies are
built on that. It is very, very much more complex. They knew that if they did nothing they would lose. Everyone wanted to
give power to the former king. When you think you are going to lose, the easy reaction is to be the first to attack. So 9-11
was not just a mad act, it was a political act meant to create a good ground for a big war in all Central Asia. Mullah Omar
and bin Laden wanted to rally Muslims in Central Asia. In the last 10 years, the focal point of Islamists has taken off from
the Middle East and gone into Central Asia.
The first President Bush has lots of connections with the Saudis and has made visits there as a private
businessman with the merchant banking firm the Carlyle Group. Did you find any trace of the Carlyle
Group on the financial trail?
Brisard: No. Carlyle has connections to the bin Laden family. Also, [Saudi banker and alleged terrorist financer] Khaleed
bin Mahfooz financed the Bush oil companies in Texas in the late '70s and we discovered that he is also the primary
financial support of Osama bin Laden. For years he was the personal banker of King Fahd, but now Mahfooz is under
house arrest in Saudi Arabia for allegedly financing terrorist groups. He was arrested in 1999, but he is still a shareholder
of the Saudi Bank National Commercial. He had charities around the world and one of them, International Development
Foundation in London, has just been banned by the charity commission in London because of our book. We also make
lots of connections with BCCI [Bank of Credit and Commerce International, the foreign bank closed 10 years ago after a
huge scandal connected it to fraud, secret weapons deals, money laundering and the financing of terrorist groups]. We
say the system financing bin Laden was more or less the revival of the BCCI. Even the associates of the BCCI are now
involved in those networks. And bin Mahfooz was the operational director of BCCI.
Exactly how have the Saudis promoted Islamic terrorism?
Brisard: It's a political question for them. They have to support those religious fundamentalists because they are a large
part of the regime of the kingdom and they need them to survive politically. Wahhabism, the Saudi form of Islam, is one
of the harshest forms, and bin Laden is a product of his country.
Is there anything in the American press about your book you would like to correct?
Brisard: The main error is to say that the U.S. preferred oil to fighting against al-Qaida. That oversimplifies it. And it is
also wrong to say John O'Neill told me that George Bush blocked inquiries into al-Qaida because of oil. It was not
personally Bush [that O'Neill complained about]; it was a policy of putting diplomacy ahead of law enforcement going
back to Clinton.
Why is the book so popular in France?
Brisard: Because there have been a lot of books about Sept. 11 and what happened and bios of bin Laden, but it's the first
time that two investigators put facts on the table, documents, interviews and nothing else. We don't say it could have
been stopped. If any government had known what was going to happen it wouldn't have happened. But we point out the
role of the Western countries that led to Sept.11 -- back to 50 years ago, when we agreed to make an alliance with Saudi
Arabia, and then by closing our eyes to the support they were giving fundamentalists around the world for the last 20