Chechen Terrorists and the Neocons

The revelation that the family of the two suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings was from Chechnya prompted new speculation about the attack as Islamic terrorism. Less discussed was the history of U.S. neocons supporting Chechen terrorists as a strategy to weaken Russia, as ex-FBI agent Coleen Rowley recalls.

By Coleen Rowley

I almost choked on my coffee listening to neoconservative Rudy Giuliani pompously claim on national TV that he was surprised about any Chechens being responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings because he’s never seen any indication that Chechen extremists harbored animosity toward the U.S.; Guiliani thought they were only focused on Russia.

Giuliani knows full well how the Chechen “terrorists” proved useful to the U.S. in keeping pressure on the Russians, much as the Afghan mujahedeen were used in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1980 to 1989. In fact, many neocons signed up as Chechnya’s “friends,” including former CIA Director James Woolsey.

For instance, see this 2004 article in the UK Guardian, entitled, “The Chechens’ American friends: The Washington neocons’ commitment to the war on terror evaporates in Chechnya, whose cause they have made their own.”

Author John Laughland wrote: “the leading group which pleads the Chechen cause is the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya (ACPC). The list of the self-styled ‘distinguished Americans’ who are its members is a roll call of the most prominent neoconservatives who so enthusiastically support the ‘war on terror.’

“They include Richard Perle, the notorious Pentagon adviser; Elliott Abrams of Iran-Contra fame; Kenneth Adelman, the former US ambassador to the UN who egged on the invasion of Iraq by predicting it would be ‘a cakewalk’; Midge Decter, biographer of Donald Rumsfeld and a director of the rightwing Heritage Foundation; Frank Gaffney of the militarist Centre for Security Policy; Bruce Jackson, former US military intelligence officer and one-time vice-president of Lockheed Martin, now president of the US Committee on Nato; Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, a former admirer of Italian fascism and now a leading proponent of regime change in Iran; and R. James Woolsey, the former CIA director who is one of the leading cheerleaders behind George Bush’s plans to re-model the Muslim world along pro-US lines.”

The ACPC later sanitized “Chechnya” to “Caucasus” so it’s rebranded itself as the “American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus.”

Of course, Giuliani also just happens to be one of several neocons and corrupt politicians who took hundreds of thousands of dollars from MEK sources when that Iranian group was listed by the U.S. State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO). The money paid for these American politicians to lobby (illegally under the Patriot Act) U.S. officials to get MEK off the FTO list.

Down the Rabbit Hole

Alice in Wonderland is an understatement if you understand the full reality of what’s going on. But if you can handle going down the rabbit hole even further, check out prominent former New York Times journalist (and author of The Commission book) Phil Shenon’s discovery of the incredible “Terrible Missed Chance” a couple of years ago.

Shenon’s discovery involved key information that the FBI and the entire “intelligence” community mishandled and covered up, not only before 9/11 but for a decade afterward. And it also related to the exact point of my 2002 “whistleblower memo” that led to the post 9/11 DOJ-Inspector General investigation about FBI failures and also partially helped launch the 9/11 Commission investigation.

But still the full truth did not come out, even after Shenon’s blockbuster discovery in 2011 of the April 2001 memo linking the main Chechen leader Ibn al Khattab to Osama bin Laden. The buried April 2001 memo had been addressed to FBI Director Louis Freeh (another illegal recipient of MEK money, by the way!) and also to eight of the FBI’s top counter-terrorism officials.

Similar memos must have been widely shared with all U.S. intelligence in April 2001. Within days of terrorist suspect Zaccarias Moussaoui’s arrest in Minnesota on Aug. 16, 2001, French intelligence confirmed that Moussaoui had been fighting under and recruiting for Ibn al-Khattab, raising concerns about Moussaoui’s flight training.

Yet FBI Headquarters officials balked at allowing a search of his laptop and other property, still refusing to recognize that: 1) the Chechen separatists were themselves a “terrorist group” for purposes of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act’s (FISA) legal requirement of acting “on behalf of a foreign power” and 2) that Moussaoui’s link to Ibn al Khattab inherently then linked him to bin Laden’s well-recognized Al Qaeda group for purposes of FISA (the point in my memo).

This all occurred during the same time that CIA Director George Tenet and other counter-terrorism officials, and don’t forget that Tenet was apprised of the information about Moussaoui’s arrest around Aug. 24, 2001, told us their “hair was on fire” over the prospect of a major terrorist attack and “the system was blinking red.”

The post 9/11 investigations launched as a result of my 2002 “whistleblower memo” did conclude that a major mistake, which could have prevented or reduced 9/11, was the lack of recognition of al Khattab’s Chechen fighters as a “terrorist group” for purposes of FISA.

As far as I know, the several top FBI officials, who were the named recipients of the April 2001 intelligence memo entitled “Bin Laden/Ibn Khattab Threat Reporting” establishing how the two leaders were “heavily entwined,” brushed it off by mostly denying they had read the April 2001 memo (which explains why the memo had to be covered up as they attempted to cover up other embarrassing info).

There are other theories, of course, as to why U.S. officials could not understand or grasp this “terrorist link.” These involve the U.S.’s constant operating of “friendly terrorists,” perhaps even al Khattab himself (and/or those around him), on and off, opportunistically, for periods of time to go against “enemy” nations, i.e., the Soviet Union, and regimes we don’t’ like.

Shifting Lines

But officials can get confused when their former covert “assets” turn into enemies themselves. That’s what has happened with al-Qaeda-linked jihadists in Libya and Syria, fighters who the U.S. government favored in their efforts to topple the Qaddafi and Assad regimes, respectively. These extremists are prone to turn against their American arms suppliers and handlers once the common enemy is defeated.

The same MO exists with the U.S. and Israel currently collaborating with the Iranian MEK terrorists who have committed assassinations inside Iran. The U.S. government has recently shifted the MEK terrorists from the ranks of “bad” to “good” terrorists as part of a broader campaign to undermine the Iranian government. For details, see “Our (New) Terrorists, the MEK: Have We Seen This Movie Before?”

Giuliani and his ilk engage, behind the scenes, in all these insidious operations but then blithely turn to the cameras to spew their hypocritical propaganda fueling the counterproductive “war on terror” for public consumption, when that serves their interests. Maybe this explains Giuliani’s amazement (or feigned ignorance) on Friday morning after the discovery that the family of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers was from Chechnya.

My observations are not meant to be a direct comment about the motivations of the two Boston bombing suspects whose thinking remains unclear. It’s still very premature and counterproductive to speculate on their motives.

But the lies and disinformation that go into the confusing and ever-morphing notion of “terrorism” result from the U.S. Military Industrial Complex (and its little brother, the “National Security Surveillance Complex”) and their need to control the mainstream media’s framing of the story.

So, a simplistic narrative/myth is put forth to sustain U.S. wars. From time to time, those details need to be reworked and some of the facts “forgotten” to maintain the storyline about bad terrorists “who hate the U.S.” when, in reality, the U.S. Government may have nurtured the same forces as “freedom fighters” against various “enemies.”

The bottom line is to never forget that “a poor man’s war is terrorism while a rich man’s terrorism is war” and sometimes those lines cross for the purposes of big-power politics. War and terrorism seem to work in sync that way.

Coleen Rowley is a retired FBI agent and former chief division counsel in Minneapolis. She’s now a dedicated peace and justice activist and board member of the Women Against Military Madness.




A ‘Green Light’ to War on Iran?

Congress seems poised again to ratchet up tensions with Iran by acting on a resolution that, in effect, gives a green light for Israel to attack Iran with promises of U.S. military support. This “back-door-to-war” resolution shows how the Israel lobby can dominate U.S. policymaking, notes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Members of Congress, as we all know, are fond of making political gestures to play to whatever audience they are trying to play to. In private conversation members can be quite candid about this and will exhibit a bifurcated approach to their jobs in which the world of gesture-making is divorced from the world of sound policy-making.

Seeing their political careers dependent on playing to audiences, members tend to be quick to brush aside any costs or hazards entailed in the gestures. This is particularly true of sense-of-the-Congress resolutions, which, as proponents of any such resolution can always point out, do not entail any changes carrying the force of law.

The trouble with this casual attitude toward gesture-making statements is that there often is someone else with an agenda who knows how to exploit the statements to advance the agenda. Even something as legally soft as a sense-of-the-Congress resolution will subsequently be cited as policy and precedent.

Anyone who supported or even acquiesced in the gesture will forever be counted as backing the policy it implies, thereby making it seem that the policy is not the project of a determined minority even if it really is. Any qualifications or caveats that are incorporated in the statement get forgotten or are left unmentioned in later agitation by the determined minority to implement their favored policy.

All of these hazards are inherent in a draft joint resolution that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved this week. The resolution, one of the endless series of Congressional love letters to Israel, “urges” in its final operative paragraph:

“that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in legitimate self-defense against Iran’s nuclear weapons program, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide, in accordance with United States law and the constitutional responsibility of Congress to authorize the use of military force, diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.”

Forces of reason worked hard to modify this paragraph to make it slightly less bad than it was in the original version, which was co-authored by Senators Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, and those forces deserve commendation for their efforts.

Changes included insertion of the word “legitimate,” limiting of the subject to a nuclear weapons program, and referring to Congress’s constitutional responsibilities. But proponents of a war will take “legitimate” to be a declarative statement rather than a condition, reference to an Iranian nuclear weapons program perpetuates a falsehood that this is the kind of program Iran has now, and mention of Congress’s responsibility will be taken as an invitation for Congress to pass a later war resolution.

The fact that the modifications hardly eviscerated the message of the paragraph is reflected in the fact that the resolution’s main outside proponent, AIPAC, crowed about the committee’s approval. The resolution is an open invitation to Israel to start a war with Iran and to drag the United States into that war. The resolution may accurately be referred to as either the “Backdoor-to-War Resolution” or the “Green Light Resolution.”

Once passed by both houses of Congress, which, if Congress stays true to form, it surely will be, the resolution will repeatedly be cited by proponents of a war as policy and as a commitment. It will be exploited the way such statements have been exploited in the past.

Neocon defenders of the Iraq War repeatedly cite the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which Bill Clinton had no use for but signed when he was mired in the Lewinsky scandal and on the eve of getting impeached, as indicating that overthrowing the Iraqi regime had broad bipartisan support and was not just a neocon project. The resolution will be described as a “commitment” alongside Barack Obama’s boxing-himself-in declarations that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be unacceptable.

In a somewhat heated debate I got involved in at a private dinner earlier this week, a prominent neoconservative commentator argued that the United States must never back down from Obama’s “commitment” because to do so would severely damage U.S. credibility. I pointed out, without getting a response, that exactly the same argument about protecting U.S. credibility was the main reason for the U.S. decision to go in big in Vietnam in the 1960s (when the argument wasn’t any more valid than it is now).

I will not take this space to review all the reasons a war with Iran, either initiated by the United States or getting dragged into it by Israel, would be folly from the standpoint of U.S. interests. Those reasons range from the counter-productivity of an action that would lead Iran to take the very decision (i.e., to make a nuclear weapon), that it has not taken thus far, to the poisoning of relations with generations of Iranians to come, regardless of what kind of regime is in power in Tehran in the future.

Since we are dealing with a Congressional gesture, let us stay in gesture-land for the moment and just make a few observations about issues of right and wrong and thus what the United States should or should not declare itself to be in favor of.

The postulated Israeli taking of military action would be an act of aggression. It would be aggression committed against a state that does not have any nuclear weapon, has not decided to build a nuclear weapon, and has foresworn any intention to build such a weapon. It is a state that is a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and subjects all of its nuclear activities to regular international inspection.

Even if Iran were to junk all of those commitments and build a weapon, it would be joining a club that already has nine other members. The would-be aggressor, Israel, is one of those nine. Unlike Iran, it has never subjected any of its nuclear activities to any international law, control regime, or inspection. It has a large arsenal of nuclear weapons but has never admitted to having any.

If Israel initiates a war, it would be acting on a long series of threats that it has been making to do just that. Iran, in contrast, has never threatened to attack Israel, notwithstanding the rhetorical bombast and anti-Israeli invective that many in Israel and the United States have tried to confuse with declarations of operational policy.

Actions are more important than words, of course. Israel has a long (and recent) history of repeatedly throwing its weight around by using military force and attacking neighboring states and populations. That history has included the war of conquest in 1967, the long-term military occupation of part of Lebanon, and highly destructive attacks against Palestinians in Gaza followed by a suffocating blockade.

The Islamic Republic of Iran, by contrast, has never launched a war against anyone (although the Iranians fought like tigers when Saddam Hussein committed aggression against them by initiating the Iran-Iraq War).

Israeli initiation of a war with Iran would be, even under the most charitable interpretation of Israeli motives, for the purpose of maintaining Israel’s regional nuclear weapons monopoly. It also would serve the Israeli government’s purpose of spoiling any chance for the foreseeable future of rapprochement between Washington and Tehran, thereby helping to sustain Israel’s claim that it warrants special treatment as the only reliable American partner in the Middle East.

And, of course, such a war would serve the further Israeli government purpose of killing for the time being any movement toward doing something about the continued Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory.

In short, the postulated Israeli attack would be thoroughly unjustified and even unconscionable. It would be nothing that the United States should condone, let alone invite or support.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)