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On September 21, 2001, ten days after 9/11 a sting operation against Osama Bin Laden was launched. It was to be a two-part affair.
Part 1 was the taping of Bin Laden describing the 9/11 attack.
Part 2 was to be his capture or elimination.
On September 26, 2001, ten days prior to military operations in Afghanistan, Part 1 was successfully conducted and we have seen the result; the Bin Laden confessional tape. Part 2 failed due to bad weather on November 2, 2001.
For Part 1, intelligence had about 4 days advance notice of the meeting where the taping took place; about 24 hours advanced notice of its location, and knew that Bin Laden was going to be there for more than 3 hours.
The capture was deferred to Part 2. A person from the sting team was left behind – the sting team was a minimum of 3 – to alert Special Forces of Bin Laden’s return to the village where his family and favorite son Hamza were living.
The operation failed because of a simple case of freezing rain.
The release of the tape on December 13, 2001, was the result of world pressure for proof, especially from Muslim countries; the release was 3 days before the end of Ramadan.
The first mention of a sting operation in the press was in a UPI report, August 17, 2001 from Pakistan:
“The U.S. government has requested Pakistan to provide active support for an operation inside Afghanistan to catch terrorism-suspect Osama Bin Laden, a report said Friday. The United States has also discussed with Pakistani officials the possibility of "using U.S. special forces" for a sting operation inside Afghanistan, The News newspaper reported.”
The same UPI report stated that Pakistani authorities dissuaded the U.S. from proceeding for political reasons that were internal to Afghanistan.
Since this report predated 9/11, the primary objective of any sting at the time had to be the capture or elimination of Bin Laden and not the taping of a confession to a crime that had not taken place. A more direct mention in the press that the taping of Bin Laden was the result of a sting operation came three days after the tape aired. In the London Observer, on December 16, Ed Vulliamy and Jason Burke reported:
"This weekend, as the debate the tape has provoked continued across the Islamic world, several intelligence sources have suggested to The Observer that the tape, although absolutely genuine, is the result of a sophisticated sting operation run by the CIA through a second intelligence service, possibly Saudi or Pakistani.”
The Pentagon tells us that the taping took place on November 9 but the facts dispute it. To determine the exact date, statements by Saudi authorities and the sheikh in the tape, all available to the Pentagon, were used:
. Saudi authorities said that the visiting sheikh, Khaled Al-Harbi, to whom Bin Laden confessed, left Saudi Arabia on September 21, 2001.
. On the tape, Al-Harbi gives us five instances that corroborate the official Saudi date of September 21, and two of those instances indicate that he left in a hurry as soon as travel arrangements to Afghanistan were complete.
. On the tape, Al-Harbi also tells us how he reached Afghanistan: “naturally, we were smuggled through Iran.”
To what seems a genuine departure date given by Saudi authorities of September 21, an additional 2 to 3 days of travel time are needed to cross Iran and reach the Afghan border and one more day for the sting team, determined from the tape to be at least 3, to reach the guesthouse. The arrival of the visiting sheikh and his team to the guesthouse was around September 25, 2001. The sheikh tells us that he arrived the day prior to the meeting, which makes the taping date most likely September 26, 2001.
The scenario of a successful sting takes a good period of time to research, develop, and rehearse. The departure date of the sheikh, September 21, 2001, barely ten days after 9/11, does not provide sufficient time to conjure a sting from scratch but is sufficient to alter the primary goal to taping Bin Laden and devise the two-part sting. The determination of the exact date gives the UPI report higher credibility. Surely the sting scenario had to have been developed prior to the attacks on the World Trade Center and its original goal had to be the capture or elimination of Bin Laden.
The Pentagon’s chosen date of November 9 can only be described as a convenient fabrication and an attempt to mislead. Properly examined and analyzed, th tape in fact reveals more contradictions that further corroborate The Observer and UPI sting reports. The large body of evidence unveiled by analysis indicates that it should. Helping with this analysis is a videographer with 25 years experience in cinematography, video, and multi-media production, and, Ali Al-Ahmed, the human rights activist who supplied the more revealing and accurate translation of this Bin Laden tape to ABC News.
Other than supplying the Arabic transcript of the tape, Mr. Al-Ahmed’s contribution has allowed for a better understanding of Bin Laden’s inner circle and to formulate an accurate timeline. Most importantly though, his contribution helped identify a key person featured prominently in the tape. His name is Mukhtar, a trusted associate of Bin Laden who ran his sensitive errands and who was trusted enough to double as a surrogate father, the mentor, of his children.
From various official US government statements we are supposed to believe the tape was found in a private home in Jalalabad, and that, due to its poor quality, composition, and mishmash of topics (confession, village, indoor and outdoor helicopter wreckage, and chanting), it was the work of an unknown amateur videographer who started taping Bin Laden three quarters of the way into a tape, ran out of tape, rewound it within the camera, and, finished taping Bin Laden over earlier footage of a downed American helicopter.
Since we have already made the case for the taping having taken place on September 26, 2001, we can now address the location. The Pentagon would like us to believe it was Kandahar. Again, the facts dispute the official version. There is no indication on the tape that the taping took place in Kandahar, not even a hint but ample evidence that it is not.
Again, Al-Harbi, the visiting sheikh, tells us that he was smuggled through Iran and that he passed through Kabul on his way to the meeting. If we examine the road map of Afghanistan, we realize that wherever the Iranian border is crossed, from the extreme north to the extreme south, there is a more direct, shorter, and safer way to Kandahar that does not go through Kabul. Kandahar is not likely to be the final destination, however, is there more information on the tape that tells us where the taping took place? Helping in determining the location of the taping were the cameo appearances of Bin Laden’s kids throughout the tape, including the portion that featured the visiting sheikh, i.e. the confession. Like any other kids, Bin Laden’s kids were always in the way, and their constant motion and curiosity seems to inevitably place them in front of a camera as it is taping.
Their cameo appearances on almost every segment of the tape, including that of the visiting sheikh, combined with a statement in the helicopter segment by their mentor, Mukhtar, identifying his residence, would lead us to deduce that the taping location is in the vicinity of where the kids lived.
Also, both the Bin Laden tape and an Al-Jazeerah tape show the kids handling the wreckage of the Special Forces helicopter that went down in bad weather on November 2, 2001, less than half a mile from a small village in Ghazni province; a fact not disputed by the Pentagon. In brief, the taping of Bin Laden took place in a small village in Ghazni province, where the Bin Laden kids and their mentor lived, and where a Special Forces helicopter crashed, in contradiction with the official location of Kandahar.
The technical analysis of the tape exposes many anomalies.
The video expert who examined the tape tells us the following:
. At least two cameras were used to produce the tape footage.
. One camera was exclusively used to tape the Bin Laden segment and that footage bears only the effects of transfer from the European video standard to the American video standard.
. At least one other camera was used to produce the other segments that included footage of the helicopter crash site, village, and wreckage. Only this footage bares anomalies that are textbook descriptions of artifacts caused by poor electronic transmission through either a phone line or satellite and are not the result of a camera malfunction.
Any video authenticator, including the Pentagon’s, should have made these observations and reached the two camera conclusion. The biggest question the analysis raises is, why would only certain parts of the tape and not all bear electronic transmission artifacts and why would such transmitted footage make its way back into the camera?
Government officials never addressed the issue of technical analysis. Their explanation dealing with the poor quality of the tape was purely anecdotal. They attributed the poor quality to an amateur videographer who ran out of tape while taping Bin Laden, rewound the tape, and recorded the rest of the Bin Laden visit over earlier footage of a US Special Forces helicopter that crashed in bad weather on November 2. The identity of the amateur videographer, was easy to determine.
His name is Mukhtar, a young associate of Bin Laden who was trusted to run his sensitive errands, and as described previously, trusted enough to also double as the mentor of his young boys and lives in that same village in Ghazni.
Mukhtar has a very distinctive taping style; as if documenting the daily life of his charges, the Bin Laden kids, he always narrates while he is taping and the kids appear prominently in those segments he taped. He is only responsible for some of the helicopter footage. Another person, whose style can be describe as that of a voyeur, is responsible for the rest of the helicopter footage since Mukhtar was a subject in that footage, and, most importantly, the Bin Laden footage, where Mukhtar was again a subject in that footage.
Exposure of the existence of another person responsible for the Bin Laden footage unravels the official explanation. A single amateur videographer can no longer take the blame, as the Pentagon would like us to do, and poses some serious questions relating to the issue of rewinding the tape and the electronic transmission of a portion of it. Since Mukhtar lived the village where the taping took place, it is ludicrous to accept that he transmitted his own footage to himself electronically and re-introduced it into his camera.
Based on the context of the visit where Bin Laden was comfortable enough to address the issue of 9/11, have dinner, and recite poetry, such a visit should have lasted between 3 and 4 hours. The rewinding of the tape would have consumed 5 minutes at the most. The question is, how come we only have 35 minutes of that visit on tape, and, whatever happened to the other 2 to 3 hours? Also, if Bin Laden was actually taped on September 26, we can easily say that neither the amateur videographer, Mukhtar, nor any other person for that matter, could have traveled back in time and placed the Bin Laden footage over the helicopter footage that was taped after November 2.
The electronic transmission and the chronology of the tape can only be explained as the result of an editing process that took place outside the camera and after November 2. Also, the only plausible explanation that can consolidate all the findings above is that the Bin Laden footage left Afghanistan shortly after it was taped. The rest of the footage was collected by U.S. Forces from Mukhtar’s residence and the voyeur cameraman after the fall of the village, around Nov. 14-15, and was transmitted electronically to the same final destination, where the editing took place.
Now that we understand Mukhtar’s limited contribution to the tape, let us examine that of the other individual described as the voyeur cameraman. Our technical examination of the tape was fairly extensive. It included viewing a large portion of it frame by frame which revealed eight consecutive frames, barely a quarter of a second of play time, that would go unnoticed under normal viewing. The voyeur cameraman, caught off guard by the unexpected arrival of Bin Laden, rushed to put his turban on. He inadvertently filmed himself and gave us eight frames that are close up shots of him in the act of putting on his turban.
Wrapping a turban around the head requires the use of two hands, how did this voyeur cameraman sprout the third hand that held the camera? These eight frames can only reinforce The Observer report that the camera was covert and part of a sting operation. Other facts supporting a concealed camera are: the total lack of eye contact with the camera, not a single instance; also many instances where the camera was blocked; the absence of any bloopers in the Bin Laden footage running 35 minutes.
A covert camera might also explain why we only have 35 minutes out of what is a 3 to 4 hour visit. If the camera were worn, the person wearing it would have had to eat while the others ate, pass a plate, and would have had to occasionally engage in conversation or possibly go to the bathroom.
We only got the footage that incriminated Bin Laden. All other footage that would have easily exposed the taping as a covert operation, as compared to the hard to find eight frames, was edited out. The identity of this voyeur cameraman is unknown, but his taping style, which included the Bin Laden footage, and footage of the village and the downed U.S. Special Forces helicopter, places him at the village from September 26 to November 3-4.
Did the visiting sheikh, as a contribution to the jihad effort, leave the voyeur cameraman behind, or did he simply volunteer to stay? Was he a Saudi intelligence operative with a role similar to the operative whose task was to pinpoint Al-Zawahiri for the recent Predator strike in Pakistan? Was he to stay behind and signal when Bin Laden would return to visit his kids and family? Was he responsible for the return of the Special Forces helicopter to that village?
The connection between this voyeur cameraman and the two events of taping Bin Laden and the return of the Special Forces to a small village of barely 100 houses in a country as large as Texas seemed to be too much of a coincidence.
Just to be thorough, I contacted a mathematics professor to find out if a value can be assigned to such a coincidence. The professor put the probability of the two events occurring simultaneously at 5 in 1000 and much lower on a day with freezing rain, the weather condition on November 2, 2001, the day the Special Forces helicopter crashed.
The return of Bin Laden on Nov. 2, five weeks after the taping, would make such a visit a rare occasion, and, due to the deteriorating security conditions, an event that might not repeat itself. Could it be that, faced with such a prospect, the controllers of the operation recklessly dismissed the dangers of the freezing rain and ordered the Special Forces back to the village on November 2, 2001, where they crashed and suffered casualties?
The optimum setting to capture Bin Laden on September 26, the date of the taping, when the controllers of the operation had 3 to 4 days advance notice of the meeting, 12 to 24 hours advance notice of its location and where Bin Laden was to spend at least 4 hours, was squandered and Bin Laden’s capture was deferred to a future visit to his family in that village.
The primary objective of a two-part sting was to tape Bin Laden confessing to his involvement in the 9/11 attacks, the second part of the sting was to capture him.
Once this two-part scheme started unraveling, these misplaced priorities left the commander in chief with the fruits of the better-scripted first part: Bin Laden boasting tape at a dinner meeting to a paraplegic visitor named Khaled al-Harbi.
The second part whose objective was his capture failed due to a simple case of bad weather.
Some might see the half full part of the glass and say that the administration, even though it squandered the better scripted part of the sting in preference for taping, tried its best and failed; after all, no one can control the weather.
Such an argument has merit if it were not for the release of the tape on December 13, 2001.
As a highly sensitive byproduct of a failed intelligence operation, once released, it revealed to Bin Laden how close intelligence services were to him (capturing him) and exposed the possibility that the entire taping location was under their control.
By releasing the tape, the Bush administration did not just grant Bin Laden a reprieve but a presidential pardon one would ever get that close to him again.
MAHER OSSEIRAN is an Arab-American, peace activist, and a member of Al-Awda, an organization advocating the right of return of the Palestinians to their ancestral land. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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copyright 2006 MAHER OSSEIRAN