Bush, oil and the Taliban
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Editor, The Konformist
Bush, oil and the Taliban
Two French authors allege that before Sept. 11, the White House put
oil interests ahead of national security.
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By Nina Burleigh
Feb. 8, 2002 | 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
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
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 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
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
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
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 since
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
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?
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 on economics.
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
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 years.
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