A former State Department security officer has given CounterPunch a detailed memoir and documents that point to very curious conduct by the CIA, Secret Service and FBI in the Philippines following warnings of an assassination bid on President Clinton during his November 12/13, 1994 visit to Manila.
The bid was organized by the 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef, at the direction of, and with financial support from, Osama bin Laden (who was indicted for the plot by a federal grand jury in August 1998).
A Pakistani linked to that Manila plot, and also to Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency may still be at large. The security officer charges a U.S. cover-up of possible involvement by the Pakistani ISI in the 9/11/01 attack on the Trade Towers. Although given these same leads, the Official 9/11 Commission failed to investigate them.
This past December, Sam Karmilowicz finished a 21-year career as an officer in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Back in 1994 he was working as an Assistant Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, when John D. Negroponte was the ambassador. These days, Negroponte is the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.
On the morning of September 18, 1994, Karmilowicz recalls, “the U.S. embassy received a telephone call from an anonymous person (who spoke with a distinct middle eastern accent) concerning his knowledge of an assassination plot against President William Clinton, who was scheduled to visit Manila that coming November.”
The embassy switchboard relayed that and a subsequent call to Karmilowicz, and the caller provided him the name of a Pakistani businessman, Tariq Javed Rana, as being one of the leaders of the plot. The source told Karmilowicz that Rana was facilitating the importation of explosives and operatives into the Philippines to complete the mission by paying bribes to Philippine government officials of the Immigration and Customs bureaus. He said the bribes were paid in counterfeit U.S. currency.
The first call was promptly reviewed in the embassy that same day by members of the embassy emergency action committee (EAC) chaired by Raymond Burghardt, the Deputy in Charge of Mission under Negroponte. The FBI, Secret Service, CIA, DEA, and DIA were all members of the committee. At the conclusion of the EAC meeting, embassy law enforcement and intelligence officials were instructed to inform the Philippine authorities and to initiate an investigation to determine the credibility of the threat. (Burghardt went on to become US ambassador to Vietnam and now heads the East-West Center, based in Honolulu.)
“A few weeks afterwards”, Karmilowicz says, ” high ranking officers of the CIA and Secret Service came into my office and informed me that they had conducted an investigation concerning the threat and concluded that the allegations against the Pakistani, Rana, were a hoax in order to have the police harass him. They offered no motive or information as to why such a ‘hoax’ would be perpetrated or who might be behind it.
“While all this was going on, I was supervising and managing the embassy’s surveillance detection unit responsible for the security of our housing compounds and annexes, including looking for suspicious persons or activity. I was also assigned the task of coordinating and providing protective security arrangements for visiting dignitaries and VIPs. As such, I had a professional responsibility to know whether the Pakistani suspect, and or any of his accomplices, was a credible threat against U.S. persons and/or interests in the Philippines. “The U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies may have dismissed this intelligence data as a hoax while secretly following up the leads … or they may just have been incompetent and let the future 9-11 terrorist masterminds slip through their fingers. Either way, they seem to have been incompetent because, if they were secretly monitoring these suspected (later confirmed) terrorists, then they obviously did a poor job of it.”
A few days before that first call, the Pakistani man named in the plot, Tariq Rana, had been featured in the Philippine press, which reported that he was a suspect in an illegal drug manufacturing ring. In response to these allegations, the public affairs section of the Pakistani embassy in Manila issued a number of statements vigorously denying the allegations against their national, claiming that he was a law-abiding citizen and a close relative of members of Pakistan’s parliament and military establishment. Shortly after he issued these statements the Pakistani public affairs officer was recalled to Pakistan.
President Clinton arrived in Manila on November 12, 1994, and his two-day visit passed without incident. Then, one week before Pope John Paul II’s visit to Manila in mid-January, 1995, police claimed a fire occurred in Room 603 of the Dona Josefa apartment building in Manila and that they discovered bomb-making chemicals and other evidence during a search of the apartment. Several people of Middle Eastern origin were staying in the apartment at the time of the fire and one of these persons was later identified as Ramzi Yousef, the 1993 World Trade Center bomber. Yousef is the nephew of Khaled Shaikh Muhammad, who was arrested in 2003. Muhammad subsequently disclosed under interrogation that he had planned the 9/11 attacks with Yousef in Manila at that time.
Ramzi Yousef fled the Philippines immediately after the apartment fire, and was arrested in Pakistan a month later. In 1998, Agence France Press (AFP) reported that Yousef confessed to federal authorities while in prison that he had in fact planned to assassinate Clinton when the president was visiting the Philippines but gave up because of tight security. Secret Service sources also report that large sums of counterfeit U.S. currency were entering the Philippines during the time of the plot. Clearly, the information passed to Karmilowicz was accurate and not a hoax as claimed by the CIA and Secret Service.
In conjunction with the fire at Yousef’s apartment, the Philippine press also reported that a similar fire occurred at the business establishment of Tariq Rana. An article in the Manila Chronicle indicated that the police found the same chemicals in both fires – chemicals that are used to make nitroglycerin. Yousef used nitroglycerin to bomb Philippines Airlines Flight 434 on December 11, 1994 as a test run for the so-called “Bojinka”plot. The explosion tore out a two square foot portion of the fuselage and ripped almost in half the body of 24-year old Haruki Ikegami, a Japanese businessman occupying the seat under which the bomb was placed. The bomb used on Flight 434 had one-tenth the power of the bombs he planned to use in the first phase of his Bojinka project, which was to simultaneously bomb 11 American aircraft over the Pacific Ocean.
Rana was arrested in April 1995 by Philippine authorities and charged with business fraud, although his current whereabouts are unknown.
Not all the Al Qaeda operatives successfully escaped arrest following the January 6, 1995 fire at the Dona Josefa apartment building.
According to Peter Lance’s book Cover Up, Ramzi Yousef instructed one of his accomplices, Abdul Hakim Murad, to return to Dona Josefa during the early morning hours on the day of the fire to retrieve his laptop computer, which contained all the details of the Bojinka plot, plus other incriminating information. The Philippine police, who had staked out the building, subsequently arrested Murad and transported him to Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police Intelligence Group (PNP). During the period of Murad’s captivity, Lance says Murad “was harshly treated, perhaps even tortured, forced to ingest massive quantities of water”.
Murad remained in Philippine custody until on or about May 11, 1995, when he was rendered to the U.S. to face criminal charges. However, before the rendition, the U.S. embassy sent Karmilowicz to Camp Crame to pick-up an envelope containing evidence that the PNP had collected from Murad. Upon his return to the embassy, Karmilowicz was instructed to transcribe the chain of evidence and to express mail the materials to a U.S. Justice Department Office in New York City. Mike Garcia and Dietrich Snell, the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted Murad, almost certainly had access to the materials that Agent Karmilowicz sent to the Justice Department, although it is unknown what, if anything, was done with the evidence.
Pakistan’s ISI and, indirectly, the CIA had much closer ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda than the American public was allowed to know. It is common knowledge that Osama bin Laden may be hiding in the rugged Pakistani mountains bordering Afghanistan. However, most Americans probably are not aware or do not remember that major al Qaeda players Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaik Mohammed were both hiding in Pakistan when they were captured in 1995 and 2003, respectively, as was Mir Aimal Kasi, the assassin who attacked CIA employees in their cars outside CIA headquarters in Langley, VA in 1993.
Pakistan had been playing a double game until the events of September 11 forced the situation. Pakistan had supported the rise of the Taliban in the power vacuum left by the departure of the Soviet occupation army at the end of the 1980s. Pakistan supported and even used al Qaeda terrorist training camps to train its own operatives for use in the Kashmir dispute. There are other examples of Pakistan’s possible links to terrorism and infiltration of the ISI by al Qaeda, such as the alleged funneling of money from ISI director General Ahmad Mehmoud to 9/11’s Mohammed Atta. The Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped and murdered in Karachi, Pakistan while he was investigating these al Qaeda-ISI links.
Karmilowicz went on from his tour of duty on Manila to Washington, then Beirut, and a later posting in Quito, Ecuador, where he was involved in a fracas which resulted in the death of an Ecuadorian national. Exonerated after a State Department investigation he served in Washington, finally leaving the service at the end of 2005.
During the spring of 2004, Karmilowicz says, “I contacted Maria Ressa, the CNN Jakarta Bureau Chief after I read a book that she published in December 2003 entitled Seeds of Terror. According to her research, the Pakistani suspected of plotting to kill President Clinton was a close associate of Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed during the time that these persons were hatching the plot to use airline carriers as missiles to attack the U.S.” Ressa also told Karmilowicz that her sources in the Philippine intelligence and police bureaus suspected that this Pakistani was an associate of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The story has often been told of how a smoky accident in Yousef’s apartment happened to draw police attention, and though Yousef escaped, his laptop provided disclosed that this attacks were nearly ready for execution.
The story is true as far as it goes, she told Karmilowicz, but the Philippine authorities were not quite so asleep at the wheel. The explosion aboard Philippine Airlines flight 434 had placed the police on heightened alert with the pope’s visit just a few weeks away. Yousef had called the Associated Press, claiming that Abu Sayyaf was responsible, which suggests Filipino suspects, but Avelino “Sonny” Razon of the Presidential Security Group (PSG) tasked with security for the pope’s visit was tipped to watch for Middle Easterners. “The PNP (Philippine National Police), particularly the PSG ,was on heightened alert because in December 1994, we received reports that a group of Middle Eastern personalities would be coming over to the Philippines to assassinate the Pope,” Razon said. “The PSG had one man in particular under surveillance — Tareq Javed Rana, a Pakistani suspected of supporting international terrorists with drug money. They were on the right track. He was a close associate of Ramzi Yousef. While under surveillance, Rana’s house in Paranque, a suburb of Manila, burned down. An official police report would later say the PSG believed the “conflagration was caused by combustible chemicals such as those used for making an improvised explosive device [IED].”
Ressa’s book suggested that the PNP did not begin its surveillance of Rana until December 1994, several months after the U.S. embassy had alerted the Philippine authorities that Rana was named as a suspect to assassinate President Clinton. This raises the question: why wasn’t Rana investigated earlier; or, if he was investigated, why do certain people now want to deny this?
In 2004, Karmilowicz and his attorney contacted Richard Ben-Veniste of the official 9/11 Commission, suggesting that the leads from 1994 about Rana pointed to possible ISI complicity and that these leads be followed up. But the Commission never called him to testify.
These days, Karmilowicz (living in Alexandria, VA, and seeking a security job in a Fortune 500 firm), is scathing about the conduct of the interagency taskforce in the U.S. embassy in Manila.
What I think this story reveals is that the 9-11 Commission and the U.S. government deliberately withheld information from the U.S. public (and everyone else for that matter) that linked Al Qaeda operatives to persons who had close ties to Pakistani government officials, including members of Pakistan’s ISI. One can only guess whether that was to save embarrassment or to hide illegal conduct.
One thing is for certain, i.e., the FBI, Secret Service, and CIA have deceived, and continue to deceive, the public concerning Rana’s connection to Al Qaeda and the facts regarding the 9-11 attack.
One of the standouts in this spin of lies is Neil Herman, a former FBI official who was involved in the Bojinka investigation and a former supervisor of the FBI’s Joint Terrorist Task Force in New York. Herman was quoted in an August 5, 2004 New York Times article entitled, Qaeda Strategy is Called Cause for New Alarm by Eric Lipton and Benjamin Weiser, which reported:
Even though the large-scale jetliner attack over the Pacific never happened, it is clear that the elaborate planning was an unappreciated warning of the sophistication and determination of the terrorists.
“It showed the government back in the mid-1990’s how detail-oriented these individuals were,” said Mr. Herman, the former FBI official, who was involved in the Bojinka investigation. “It also showed that there was an active network, although, of course, we were unable to determine the extent of the network back then.”
Another prominent figure suspected of quashing the truth is Dietrich L. Snell, the Senior Counsel and Team Leader of the Official 9-11 Commission. Peter Lance writes extensively in his books Cover Up and 1000 Years for Revenge about Snell’s shenanigans in cherry-picking evidence and excluding credible witness testimony, including information collected by the Defense Department’s Able Danger Unit concerning pre-9/11 sightings of Mohammed Atta, one of the nineteen suspected hijackers. These allegations are now resurfacing in the news. The Associated Press (AP) reported on February 15, 2005 that U.S. Representative Curt Weldon, the vice Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee advised the public that the Able Danger Unit had identified Atta more than a dozen times before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Weldon also reportedly said the secret team found “a problem” in Yemen two weeks before the deadly Al Qaeda attack on the USS Cole in 2000, of which the ship commander was not told. Former (unidentified) members of the 9/11 Commission reportedly dismissed Weldon’s findings.
My experience in the Philippines also appears to overlap Snell’s involvement in the Murad case that Snell prosecuted. The Cooperative Research 9-11 Timeline (www.cooperativeresearch.org) contains a very peculiar account entitled: Early 1998:Prosecutors Turn Down Deal That Could Reveal Bojinka Third Plot.
The entry said: “Abdul Hakim Murad, a conspirator in the 1995 Bojinka plot with Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaik Mohammed, and others, was convicted in 1996 of his role in the Bojinka plot. He is about to be sentenced for that crime. He offers to cooperate with federal prosecutors in return for a reduction in his sentence, but prosecutors turn down his offer. Dietrich Snell, the prosecutor who convicted Murad, says after 9-11 that he doesn’t remember any such offer. But court papers and others familiar with the case later confirmed that Murad does offer to cooperate at this time. Snell claimed he only remembers hearing that Murad had described an intention to hijack a plan and fly it into the CIA headquarters. However, in 1995 Murad had confessed to Philippine investigators that this would have been only one part of a larger plot to crash a number of airplanes into prominent U.S. buildings, including the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a plot that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed later adjusts and turns in the 9-11 plot. While Philippine investigators claim this information was passed on to U.S. intelligence, it’s not clear just which U.S. officials may have learned this information and what they did with it, if anything. [New York Daily News, 9/25/01] Murad is sentenced in May 1998 and given life in prison plus 60 years. [Albany Times Union, 9/22/02] After 9-11, Snell goes on to become Senior Counsel and a team leader for the 9-11 Commission. Author Peter Lance later calls Snell “one of the fixers, hired early on to sanitize the Commission’s final report.” Lance says Snell ignored evidence presented to the Commission that shows direct ties between the Bojinka plot and 9-11, and in so doing covers up Snell’s own role in the failure to make use of evidence learned from Murad and other Bojinka plotters. [FrontPage Magazine, 1/27/05].
I know who the intelligence officials were at the U.S. embassy at the time of Murad’s arrest and interrogation. These are the same officials who discounted the threat information I received about Rana. Do these people have something to hide? You bet they do!
Peter Lance was entirely correct when he told CNN anchor Lou Dobbs in a December 5, 2005 interview that the 9-11 Commission was essentially “a whitewash” and that it intentionally limited its investigation to 1996-forward. He said the Commission moved the plot’s origin “to 1996 from 1994″and in so doing omitted information that linked Mohammed Atta to the terrorists responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Lance said Congress should put Dietrich Snell under oath to find out why the 9-11 staffer prevented the Able Danger information from getting to the 9-11 Commission.
Clearly, the 9-11 Commission’s decision to use 1996 as the date that the 9-11 plot originated was also designed to omit the information that I obtained concerning Tariq Rana, and the connection he had with the Al Qaeda operatives who conceived the 9-11 plot.
Given these revelations, how can the American public trust a government that has rationalized its own failure to protect this nation by implementing draconian measures (e.g. the Patriot Act, illegal wiretapping, and abductions and torture) – measures that have stripped its citizens of the rights and protections for which this country was founded. And what have these measures bought us but a seemingly endless war of attrition with an adversary that grows stronger and more lethal everyday.
Karmilowicz says, “my experience in the Philippines shows the U.S. government has compartmentalized information, not so much to protect sources and methods of an investigation or intelligence operation, but in order to cover-up its gross incompetence or its complicity in illegal and questionable activities conducted by, or against, foreign powers.”
At some point, (most likely after President Clinton concluded his visit to the Philippines) the CIA and Secret Service realized that Rana and his associates were a threat after all, but they kept this information from Agent Karmilowicz.
Karmilowicz says, “Keeping that information to themselves is a breach of the no-double-standard policy [where one agency can’t respond to a perceived threat without notifying the other agencies and the American public].”
And even worse, Karmilowicz believes, “this breach of policy has now become the norm in the post 9-11 world, whereby the State Department has now been co-opted by CIA and the Defense Department to allow people to be abducted and killed rather than apprehended. In one case I suspect that because information was compartmentalized, an attack may have been allowed to proceed in Jeddah in December 2004, and five people were killed.” [See Counter Punch ‘The Origins of the Rendition Program: Does the CIA Have the Right to Break Any Law, January 2006]. Karmilowicz likes to remind us how John Negroponte, the former Chief of Mission in the Philippines, who directed and approved the efforts of the various agencies at post, “was rewarded for his complicity in this cover-up, appointed the Director of National Intelligence, the person who approves secret renditions, eavesdropping, and the abduction and assassination of terrorist suspects”.
Karmilowicz cites AP’s Mathew Barakat and Peter Yost as reporting that Rob Spencer, the U.S. prosecutor in the Moussaoui trial in federal court in Alexandria, gave an opening statement to the jury in which he claimed that if Moussaoui had come clean — i.e., informed the law enforcement establishment of his knowledge of the 9-11 plot — in 2001, the FBI would have been able to use his records to locate 11 of the 19 September 11 hijackers, including all four pilots. Spencer also said the government would have kept those conspirators off airplanes and would have altered airport screeners to confiscate small knives and boxcutters. “Who in their right mind”, Karmilowicz says, “would believe such a statement given what I observed and experienced in the Philippines?”
Sam Karmilowicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org