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FTR #390 Political Plate Techtonics

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When Treasury Secretary O’Neill resigned on Friday, December 6, the popular press reported the resignation as having been precipitated by the failure of the economy to respond to Bush’s economic policy. Speculative in nature, this broadcast analyzes events in the several days leading up to the resignation and poses the question of whether O’Neill’s exit might have been due to his conduct of Operation Green Quest. Specifically, the 3/20/2002 raids by Treasury Department agents implicated people connected to the Republican Party, the milieu of George Bush and the Al Taqwa milieu in the funding operations of Al Qaeda and Hamas.

1. One of the most important dynamics in this line of inquiry concerns the profound Saudi political and economic clout in the United States and within the Bush administration. Was O’Neill’s resignation really due to Bush’s dissatisfaction with the results of O’Neill’s handling of the economy? Or was it because of the Bush/Saudi axis dissatisfaction with O’Neill’s performance vis a vis the 3/20 raids? Recall that Talat Othman, a director of Bush’s failed Harken Energy firm, interceded with O’Neill to express the dissatisfaction on the part of the “Wahhabi lobby” with the Green Quest raids. Othman was deeply involved with the milieu involved in Green Quest, having sat on the boards of directors of a number of the institutions involved in, or directly overlapping, the targets of that operation.

2. Although media coverage in the United States emphasized the extent to which the Saudis were cooperating in the financial effort to interdict the economic funding for Al Qaeda, the reality of the situation is very different. Even as the American media were trumpeting the Saudi stance on terror, the chief foreign policy advisor to Crown Prince Abdullah was stating that the country would not loosen its investigative stance on terrorist financing-in effect, telling the U.S. to go “shove it.” “Saudi Arabia said yesterday it would not lower its standard of evidence for designating financial supporters of terrorism, setting the stage for continued tension with the US over the adequacy of Saudi measures to crack down on the financing of terrorism.” (“Saudis Resist US Push on Terror Funds” by Edward Alden; Financial Times; 12/4/2002; p. 3.)

3. It is interesting (and possibly significant) to note, in this context, the great confidence on the part of the Saudis that the US “would not act unilaterally.” “But Adel al-Jubeir, foreign policy advisor to Crown Prince Abdullah, the Saudi leader, said he did not believe that the US would act unilaterally against Saudi individuals or groups suspected of supporting terrorism. “When it comes to designations of either individuals or organizations. . . we work together.’ he said.” (Idem.)

4. As noted in FTR#386, a Treasury Department official (Jimmy Gurule) had traveled abroad shortly before this announcement to attempt to bring others in line. The following paragraph is worth contemplating in light of O’Neill’s backing of the 3/20 raids, Othman’s intercession on behalf of the targets of those raids on 4/4 and O’Neill’s resignation two days after this article was published. “The administration of President George W. Bush is debating whether to step up pressure on the Saudis by threatening on its own to designate and freeze bank accounts of some Saudis suspected of financing terrorism. Since last March, the two governments have agreed that all such actions should be taken jointly. [Emphasis added.] Some officials want the US to act alone if the Saudis fail to co-operate after the US presents additional evidence regarding suspect individuals and groups. But others believe that maintaining voluntary co-operation from the Saudis is the only way to move forward.” (Idem.)

5. The day before O’Neill announced his resignation, the Germans publicized a Saudi diplomatic connection to a suspect on trial in Hamburg in connection with 9/11. “German prosecutors are investigating possible links between the alleged al-Qaeda terrorist on trial in Hamburg and diplomats and Islamic activists from Saudi Arabia. The business card of a member of staff at the Saudi embassy in Berlin was found among the possessions of Mounir al-Motassadeq, the Moroccan student charged with having helped plan the September 11 attacks, when he was arrested last year, a spokeswoman for the chief federal prosecutor said yesterday.” (“Germans Probe Possible al-Qaeda Diplomatic Link” by Hugh Williamson; Financial Times; 12/6/2002; p. 3.)

6. In addition, the suspect was in telephonic contact with Saudi elements. “Mr. Motassadeq is also thought to have made telephone calls to Saudi Arabia dating back to December 2000, according to German media reports. Notebooks and computer files seized from Mr. Motassadeq’s Hamburg flat contained many Saudi Arabian telephone numbers. Telephone records indicate he called the numbers many times. Mr. Motassadeq has admitted knowing the Hamburg hijackers involved in September 11, but denies involvement.” (Idem.)

7. Significantly, the plaintiffs in a trillion-dollar suit filed by survivors of the 9/11 attacks against a number of elements and individuals are co-plaintiffs in the Hamburg trial. “The possible Hamburg al-Qaeda cell connection with Saudi Arabia comes as investigations continue in the US into links between the September 11 hijackers and the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington. Separately, relatives of September 11 victims who are co-plaintiffs in the Hamburg trial intend to use evidence from the court case in a civil law suit in the US against the Saudi Arabian royal family, a lawyer for the co-plaintiffs said yesterday. The civil suit, filed in August, accuses three senior Saudi Arabian princes, Sudan’s government and several Middle Eastern banks of funding al-Qaeda.” (Idem.)

8. More details emerged about the Saudi connection to Motassadeq. “German authorities investigating a Moroccan man on trial on charges that he was involved in the September 11 attacks say there is evidence that he had contact with a Saudi diplomat as well as the leaders of an extremist group in Saudi Arabia. But German officials said that despite their requests for help following up on these leads, responses had not been forthcoming from either American or Saudi authorities.” (“German Officials Probing 9/11 Suspect Say U.S., Saudis Less than Cooperative” by Desmond Butler [New York Times]; The San Francisco Chronicle; 12/8/2002; p. A6.)

9. The U.S. reticence to confirm what had been voiced by the German authorities is noteworthy. It may well be that the US “reticence” extends to allowing O’Neill to remain in office. The possibility that the American intelligence authorities may not trust the Germans completely is another possibility to consider. “In Washington, a Justice Department spokesman who declined to be named called questions about the German authorities’ requests ‘too sensitive’ for comment. After the arrest of the Moroccan, Mounir el-Motassadeq, in Hamburg last year, the police found the business card of an official in the Saudi Embassy in Berlin in his apartment. Prosecutors say they also found records of numerous calls to Saudi Arabia, which have since been traced to members of an extremist group in Riyadh called Dar al-Assima al-Nahr. Cell phone numbers of the group’s leaders were found saved on Motassadeq’s computer.” (Idem.)

10. Noting the Bush administration’s connections to the “Wahhabi Lobby,” it is interesting that Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington for a second time, two days before O’Neill resigned. Was Bush acting to please his Saudi business associates/masters? Some of the people with whom Bush appeared the first time are not at all disconnected to the terrorist milieu. It is worth noting that the Council on American-Islamic Relations is a derivative of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamofascist organization at the core of the Al Qaeda/Al Taqwa milieu. “American Muslim groups have urged Bush to speak out more forcefully against conservatives who have maligned Islam as an enemy of the United States. Even these groups, however, have been surprised by the number of opportunities Bush has taken to deliver his ‘Islam is peace’ message, as Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations described it recently. ‘Even I get a little tired of that,’ Hooper said.” (“Bush Reaffirms Islam’s Place in U.S. Society, Despite Critics” Dana Millbank [Washington Post]; San Jose Mercury News; 12/6/2002; p. 12A.)

11. Noting the sequence of the events discussed in this program, it is intriguing that the resignation of key executives with a Republican-linked PR firm that had been running interference for the Saudis. The same day that Bush was kissing A__ at the Islamic Center (and the day before) O’Neill resigned, people at Qorvis Communications bailed out. The seismic pressures that were squeezing Bush and O’Neill may have precipitated their departure as well. “Three of the founding partners of the Washington firm, Qorvis Communications, have announced that they are leaving, and associates say their departure reflects a deep discomfort in representing the government of Saudi Arabia against accusations that Saudi leaders had turned a blind eye to terrorism. The firm, hired by the Saudi government in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, has been paid about $200,000 a month to help the Saudis bolster their battered image with the American public.” (“3 Partners Quit Firm Handling Saudis’ P.R.” by Philip Shenon; New York Times; 12/6/2002; p. A12.)

12. Some of the past endeavors of Ms. Judy Smith (one of the departing executives) are interesting. “The most prominent of the departing executives is Judy Smith, a former White House deputy press secretary who became the spokeswoman for Monica Lewinsky during President Clinton’s impeachment, later a spokeswoman for the family of Chandra Levy, the murdered Washington intern. She and the other departing partners-Bernie Merritt and Jim Weber, two longtime Republican party strategists-announced on Wednesday that they were leaving Qorvis to join a New York-based consulting and public relations firm, Clark, and Weinstock. Spokesmen for the Saudi Embassy and Qorvis did not return phone calls for comment.” (Idem.)

13. Despite disclaimers, it would appear that their position as flak-catchers for the Saudis was becoming increasingly untenable. “But friends and associates, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the departures had been prompted largely by growing evidence of ties between prominent Saudis and the financing of the terrorism network Al Qaeda, and by a concern that the firm and its reputation were being overwhelmed by its work for Riyadh.” (Idem.)

14. The position of the Qorvis executives was not helped by the recent statements of Prince Nayef, the Saudi Interior Minister. (Nayef was recently named as a defendant in the trillion-dollar lawsuit.) “The Saudi police minister has claimed Jews were behind the Sept. 11 attacks because they have benefited from subsequent criticism of Islam and Arabs, according to media reports. Interior Minister Prince Nayef made the remarks in the Arabic-language Kuwaiti daily Assyasah last month. The latest edition of Ain al-Yaqeen, a weekly Internet magazine devoted to Saudi issues, posted the Assyasah interview and its own English translation. . . ‘We still ask ourselves: Who has benefited from Sept. 11 attacks? I think they (the Jews) were the protagonists of such attacks,’ Nayef was quoted as saying. He was quoted as saying he believed terrorist networks had links to ‘foreign intelligence agencies that work against Arab and Muslim interests; chief among them is the Israeli Mossad.'” (“Saudi’s Top Cop says Jews Behind 9/11” by Alaa Shahine [AP]; San Francisco Chronicle; 12/6/2002; p. A16.)

15. Interestingly (and, perhaps, significantly), among the voices cheering O’Neill’s departure (on December ) was Grover Norquist, a key GOP operative and the point man for that party’s links to the milieu of the 3/20 Green Quest raids. (For more about Norquist, see FTR#’s 356, 357, 358.) Accelerating Bush’s taxation policies is ludicrous. As mentioned [4], Bush’s tax policies have been devastating to the United States-resulting in enormous “Born-Again” budget deficits and record current-accounts deficits. “Conservative activist Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, agrees. ‘If you want lower taxes,’ Norquist said, ‘the guy in this administration making sure we have lower taxes is President Bush.'” (“Bush Ousts Top 2 Aides on Economy” by Carolyn Lochhead; San Francisco Chronicle; 12/7/2002; p. A18.)

16. A software company in Massachusetts that was raided by federal authorities is symptomatic of the economic clout wielded in the United States by the Saudis as a result of the investment of their recycled oil wealth. The company-Ptech-appears to have been capitalized in part by Yasin al-Qadi, a defendant in the trillion-dollar lawsuit mentioned above and someone connected to the milieu of Al Qaeda and Al Taqwa. One of the motivating factors in the raid concerned the clients served by Ptech. If the company does have ties to Al Qaeda, the compromising of the information systems of these clients may be very significant indeed, both in terms of the 9/11 attacks and in terms of possible future incidents. “Federal agents raided a small software company in this Boston suburb early this morning in an investigation into whether it has ties to Al Qaeda. The company, Ptech Inc., counts among its clients the F.B.I., the Air Force, the Navy, the Department of Energy and NATO. Law enforcement officials in Washington said the authorities were trying to determine whether it might have been trying to use the software it produces to gain access to classified or confidential government data.” (“Federal Agents Raid a Software Company Outside Boston, Seeking Links to Al Qaeda” by Pam Belluck and Eric Lichtblau; The New York Times; 12/7/2002; p. A11.)

17. “The raid, just after midnight at the company’s headquarters in a bay-front office park, stemmed from information the government had received from former Ptech employees suggesting that one of its investors was Yasin al-Qadi, a Saudi millionaire who is on a Treasury Department list of ‘blocked persons’ because of suspicion of terrorist ties.” (Idem.)

18. The broadcast discusses al-Qadi’s connections to the Muwafaq [5] Foundation, accused of funding Al Qaeda. “He [al-Qadi] once headed a Saudi-based charity called the Muwafaq Foundation, which federal authorities consider a front for Osama bin Laden’s terror network. The government suspects that Mr. Qadi and other well-connected Saudis have transferred millions of dollars to Mr. bin Laden through trusts and charities like Muwafaq. Mr. Qadi denies having engaged in any such activity. Law enforcement officials said they were trying to determine whether Mr. Qadi was in fact a backer of Ptech and whether the company had funneled money to charities that might have contributed to Al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.” (Idem.)

19. One of al-Qadi’s associates in the Muwafaq foundation was Khalid bin Mahfouz, married to Osama bin Laden and a principal figure in the BCCI network. It is worth remembering in this context that the aforementioned Talat Othman was a protégé of Abdullah Bakshs, another of the BCCI intimates. When George W. Bush finally selected the man to head the “independent commission” to investigate 9/11, his choice was Henry Kissinger. Aside from the enormous baggage that Kissinger carries in other respects, he is no stranger to the BCCI. (Bush was reluctant [6] to authorize such a commission.) “The strangest player of all, predictably, is Henry Kissinger, whose first act as chairman of the ‘independent’ commission to investigate 9/11 was to initiate a cover-up, fully backed by the White House, of the identities of the clients of Kissinger Associates, his consulting firm. Mr. Kissinger consistently sees the confidentiality of this list as a higher priority than service to his country. When the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations a decade ago investigated the B.C.C.I. affair-a scandal that itself figures in the tangled history of Saudi/Al Qaeda money laundering-Kissinger Associates resisted the subpoena by threatening litigation ‘through an extensive appellate process to the Supreme Court.’ (The quote is from the committee’s December 1992 report on its investigation.) The Senate retreated.” (“Pearl Harbor Day, 2002” by Frank Rich; The New York Times; 12/7/2002; p. A35.)

20. One of the most important recent political developments is the establishment of the Homeland Security Department. It is significant to note in the context of O’Neill’s resignation that interagency squabbling over Operation Green Quest overlaps the issue of intelligence sharing in the Department. The director of the FBI (Robert Mueller) headed up the BCCI “investigation.” His agency has been at loggerheads with Treasury over Green Quest. “As an example of what the future may hold, some officials point to a current case of interagency disagreement. The FBI and the Customs Service have been squabbling for months over Operation Green Quest, the mammoth Treasury-run task force that is investigating the funding of terror groups. Some FBI officials have pushed hard to gain control of the investigation, arguing that officials at Customs and its parent agency, the Treasury Department, do not have the counterterrorism expertise that the probe requires. Representatives from each side disparaged the other in private briefings with Congress, according to sources familiar with the meetings.” (“Homeland Security Won’t Have Diet of Raw Intelligence” by Dan Eggen and John Mintz; The Washington Post; 12/6/2002; p. A43.)

21. “To end the dispute, administration officials have tentatively decided to leave responsibility for the Green Quest probe with Customs when that agency moves over to Homeland Security, while putting the FBI in charge of all other terrorism-related financial probes, sources said.” (Idem.)

22. What role, if any the Treasury/FBI dispute may have played in the departure of O’Neill is conjectural. Overall, the events leading up to O’Neill’s departure are more than a little interesting-particularly the political plate tectonics involving the Saudi oil forces to which Bush is bound.