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Context of 'April 1, 2007: VOA Introduces Anti-Iranian Sunni Militant as ‘Leader of the Iranian People’s Resistance Movement’'

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Although the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989), the CIA continues to support the mujaheddin because the Soviet-allied Communist government stays in power in Kabul. Apparently, the CIA and the Saudi government continue to fund the mujaheddin at least until December 1990, although it could be longer because the Communist government remains in power in Kabul until 1992. The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, reportedly has been working with the CIA in the 1980s to help unite the mujaheddin factions fighting each other (see Late 1980s). The Village Voice will later report that according to a “very high-ranking Egyptian official,” Abdul-Rahman continues to work with the CIA after moving to Brooklyn in July 1990 (see July 1990). He “work[s] closely with the CIA, helping to channel a steady flow of money, men, and guns to mujaheddin bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But despite working with the CIA, Abdul-Rahman still considers the US the “Great Satan” and does not try to hide this. In one radio broadcast, he says that “Americans are descendants of apes and pigs who have been feeding from the dining tables of the Zionists, Communism, and colonialism.” Matti Steinberg, an expert on Islamic fundamentalism, says that Abdul-Rahman’s “long-term goal is to weaken US society and to show Arab rulers that the US is not an invulnerable superpower.” The Egyptian official will later complain, “We begged America not to coddle the sheikh.” (Friedman 3/30/1993)

Aukai Collins, who has one leg, fighting with Muslim militants overseas.Aukai Collins, who has one leg, fighting with Muslim militants overseas. [Source: Publicity photo]In 1996, an American Caucasian Muslim named Aukai Collins, who has been fighting with the mujaheddin in Chechnya, successfully volunteered to become a CIA informant. (Collins 2003, pp. 147-159) At this time, Collins goes to London and meets with Abdul Malik, a politically well connected Islamist. Malik offers to set up a meeting between Collins and bin Laden in Afghanistan. Collins reports the offer to his CIA and FBI handlers. He is willing and even eager to accept the invitation, but his offer to go undercover into bin Laden’s camp, even on his own responsibility and at his own expense, is flatly refused by his handlers. (Collins 2003, pp. 175-176) Collins also claims that he reports to the FBI on hijacker Hani Hanjour for six months this year as part of an assignment monitoring the Islamic and Arab communities in Phoenix between 1996 and 1999 (see 1998) .

Voice of America logo.Voice of America logo. [Source: Voice of America]The publicly funded Voice of America (VOA), which broadcasts its radio signal throughout much of Europe and the Middle East, pulls a 12-minute interview with Taliban leader Mullah Omar after Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and senior National Security Council officials object to the broadcast. (Guardian 9/26/2001) The VOA has been attempting to exert some editorial independence ever since it was removed from State Department oversight in 1999 and placed under the oversight of a board of governors. (Guardian 9/25/2001)
'Voice of America is Not ... the Voice of the Taliban' - The VOA’s plan was to run excerpts from the interview as part of a four-minute segment on Afghan reactions to a speech by President Bush. Instead, many in the White House and elsewhere object, arguing that running such a broadcast merely gives a voice to terrorists. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher tells reporters, “We told members of the board of broadcast governors that we didn’t think it was appropriate for the Voice of America to be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban into Afghanistan and we didn’t think it was consistent with their charter.” (Guardian 9/25/2001; National Public Radio 7/23/2004) “… Its charter says that they should explain US government policy and present responsible discussion about it. We don’t consider Mullah Omar to be responsible discussion.” Unless Omar is prepared to announce the turnover of Osama bin Laden, currently under the protection of the Taliban, such an interview would provide “no news or anything newsworthy,” Boucher says. “Carrying the interview would be confusing to the millions of listeners to what is essentially a US government broadcast, paid for by the US government.” (CNN 9/25/2001) Another State Department official says, “Voice of America is not the Voice of Mullah Omar and not the Voice of the Taliban.” One VOA staffer retorts, “If this is an indication of the gag order they’re going to impose on us, we can’t do our jobs.” (Guardian 9/25/2001; National Public Radio 7/23/2004)
'We Tell the Whole Story' - VOA’s deputy director for external affairs, Joe O’Connell, says in response, “We were never going to give him an open mike.” A member of VOA’s Board of Governors, Norman Pattiz, chairman of radio conglomerate Westwood One, tells CNN that the decision not to air the broadcast was made by VOA staffers and not by the governors. (CNN 9/25/2001; York 4/21/2003) (The New York Times reports that Pattiz indicated staffers had discussed the interview but had not decided whether to suppress it.) Pattiz goes on to say: “I happen to believe that any legitimate news organization in the world would do that interview. And if the United States is going to be a proponent of a free press, it has to walk the walk.” (Barringer 9/26/2001) “A lot of people in the United States are angry and think the Voice of America is not serving their country the way we should,” says VOA spokeswoman Tara King. “They are getting the wrong impression, but we feel we are providing reliable news. The people in Afghanistan are tuning into us because they trust us, and we tell the whole story.” (Reporters' Committee for a Free Press 9/28/2001)
Mass Resignations Threatened - In a letter to the board, over 100 VOA journalists describe themselves as “deeply distressed to learn of the suppression” of Mullah Omar’s interview. “These comments were legitimate news,” the letter states. “We believe the integrity of the VOA is at stake. This censorship sets a most unfortunate precedent and damages our credibility with our worldwide audience.” (CNN 9/25/2001; Committee to Protect Journalists 9/27/2001) Andre DeNesnera, the VOA news director, writes in an e-mail to staff: “The State Department’s decision is a totally unacceptable assault on our editorial independence, a frontal attack on our credibility. This certainly was a dark, dark day for those of us who have—for years—fought to uphold journalist ethics, balance, accuracy and fairness.” (Committee to Protect Journalists 9/27/2001) The VOA staff threatens a public mass resignation and eventually runs a drastically edited version of the interview—“like 22 seconds” of tape, then-director Myrna Whitworth will later recall. After VOA runs the edited interview, a government spokesperson warns that the station’s “defiance” would be looked into. Whitworth will be relieved of her duties shortly thereafter and replaced, she will recall, “by a gentleman who had strong ties to the National Security Council.” When she leaves, she leaves a memo telling reporters “not to fall under the spell of self-censorship.” She exhorts journalists to “[c]ontinue to interview, anyone, anywhere.” (Guardian 9/25/2001; Hurst 9/8/2002; National Public Radio 7/23/2004)

The Voice of America radio station (VOA) prints a transcript of the recently censored interview it did with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. It also airs a short excerpt from the interview. VOA did not air it on its slated broadcast date of September 21 due to objections from the US’s Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, and senior officials on the National Security Council (see September 21-26, 2001). Omar tells the interviewer that his organization is sheltering Osama bin Laden because the issue is not bin Laden, but “Islam’s prestige [and] Afghanistan’s tradition.… If we did, it means we are not Muslims… that Islam is finished.” He says that he sees the US’s war on terrorism as two conflicting promises: “One is the promise of God, the other is that of Bush. The promise of God is that my land is vast. If you start a journey on God’s path, you can reside anywhere on this earth and will be protected.… The promise of Bush is that there is no place on earth where you can hide that I cannot find you. We will see which one of these two promises is fulfilled.… We are confident that no one can harm us if God is with us.” When asked what he means in his repeated statements that “America has taken the Islamic world hostage,” Omar replies: “America controls the governments of the Islamic countries. The people ask to follow Islam, but the governments do not listen because they are in the grip of the United States. If someone follows the path of Islam, the government arrests him, tortures him or kills him. This is the doing of America. If it stops supporting those governments and lets the people deal with them, then such things won’t happen. America has created the evil that is attacking it. The evil will not disappear even if I die and Osama dies and others die. The US should step back and review its policy. It should stop trying to impose its empire on the rest of the world, especially on Islamic countries.” (Guardian 9/26/2001; Committee to Protect Journalists 9/27/2001)

Abdul Malik Rigi.Abdul Malik Rigi. [Source: ABC News]According to US and Pakistani intelligence sources interviewed by ABC News, US officials begin encouraging and advising Jundullah, a Pakistani militant group that has been staging attacks against Iran. The group is made up of members of the Baluchi tribe and operates out of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan, just across the border from Iran. (Ross and Isham 4/3/2007) Iran says the group is linked to al-Qaeda. (Reuters 5/13/2007) Jundullah’s leader, Abdul Malik Rigi, formerly fought with the Taliban. Alexis Debat, a senior fellow on counterterrorism at the Nixon Center, tells ABC that Rigi “used to fight with the Taliban. He’s part drug smuggler, part Taliban, part Sunni activist.” Rigi commands “a force of several hundred guerrilla fighters that stage attacks across the border into Iran on Iranian military officers, Iranian intelligence officers, kidnapping them, executing them on camera,” Debat explains. According to ABC sources, the US government is not funding the group. (Ross and Isham 4/3/2007) Rather the group is receiving money and weapons through the Afghan and Pakistani military and Pakistan’s intelligence service, the ISI. (Ross and Esposito 5/23/2007)

Karl Eikenberry.Karl Eikenberry. [Source: NATO]In autumn 2006, President Bush declares in a White House news conference that al-Qaeda is “on the run,” but in fact intelligence reports are indicating that al-Qaeda is gaining strength in its safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region. The New York Times will later comment, “with senior Bush administration officials consumed for much of that year with the spiraling violence in Iraq, the al-Qaeda threat in Pakistan was not at the top of the White House agenda.” Frustrated, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top US commander in Afghanistan, orders military officers, CIA, and US special forces to assemble a dossier documenting the Pakistani government’s role in allowing militants to establish their safe haven in the tribal region. According to the Times, “Behind the general’s order was a broader feeling of outrage within the military—at a terrorist war that had been outsourced to an unreliable ally, and at the grim fact that America’s most deadly enemy had become stronger.” When Eikenberry finally presents his dossier to several members of Bush’s cabinet, some inside the State Department and the CIA dismiss his warning as exaggerated and simplistic. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008) On February 13, 2007, Eikenberry states publicly before a Congressional committee that NATO cannot win in Afghanistan without addressing the safe haven across the border in Pakistan. He does not publicly discuss Pakistan’s support for the militants, but he does say, “A steady, direct attack against the command and control in Pakistan in sanctuary areas is essential for us to achieve success.” He also warns that the US is facing a “reconstituted enemy” and “growing narcotics trafficking” in Afghanistan, which could lead to “the loss of legitimacy” of the government there. Eikenberry is already due to be replaced as commander of US forces in Afghanistan by the time he makes these blunt comments. (Tyson 2/14/2007; Rashid 2008, pp. 383) The White House responds by sending Vice President Dick Cheney and CIA Deputy Director Stephen Kappes to Islamabad, Pakistan, later in February (see February 26, 2007). But there is little apparent change in Pakistan’s behavior. (Mazetti and Rohde 6/30/2008)

Vice President Dick Cheney flies to Pakistan to meet with President Pervez Musharraf. The White House is tight-lipped about the trip and refuses to provide details about what the two leaders discuss. But media accounts, citing administration officials, suggest that Cheney warns Musharraf that US aid to Pakistan could be in jeopardy if his government does not improve in its efforts to combat al-Qaeda and the Taliban. (Sanger 2/26/2007) Cheney’s trip comes after the head of US military operations in Afghanistan compiled a dossier of evidence indicating the Pakistani government is secretly supporting the militants attacking US troops in Afghanistan (see Autumn 2006- February 2007). But Cheney is known to be a strong supporter of Musharraf and generally has blocked pressure against him (see June 27, 2007). Pakistani intelligence sources will later tell ABC news that the two leaders discussed a secret operation (see 2005 and After) to support attacks against Iran by the Sunni militant group Jundullah. (Ross and Isham 4/3/2007)

The US-government operated Voice of America (VoA) radio broadcasting service conducts a phone interview with Abdul Malek Rigi, the leader of the Sunni militant group, Jondollah. Rigi, designated by Iran as a terrorist, is introduced by VoA as the “leader of the Iranian people’s resistance movement.” (Press TV (Tehran) 4/2/2007; Haider 4/5/2007) According to US and Pakistani intelligence sources, Rigi’s group has been advised by the US and supported by Pakistan since 2005 (see 2005 and After).

Iran television reports that the country’s border patrol detained 10 people who illegally entered the country from Pakistan carrying $500,000 in cash, maps of “sensitive areas,” and “modern spying cameras.” (Reuters 5/13/2007) A senior Pakistani official will tell ABC News the 10 men were members of Jundullah. (Ross and Esposito 5/23/2007) (Jundallah is reportedly being supported by the Pakistanis and advised by US government officials (see 2005 and After).)

Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid writes an editorial in the Washington Post entitled, “America’s Bad Deal With Musharraf, Going Down in Flames.”
Cheney in Control - Rashid reveals, “Current and past US officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from [Dick] Cheney’s office. The vice president, they say, is close to [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and refuses to brook any US criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I’m told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney’s aides, rather than taken to the State Department.” The State Department seems acquiescent to this policy, and is refusing to even consider alternative policies if Musharraf were threatened with being ousted. But the CIA and Defense Department are more resistant, and worry about the lack of an alternative to fully supporting Musharraf. Officials in these agencies, “many of whom have served in Islamabad or Kabul, understand the double game that Musharraf has played—helping the United States go after al-Qaeda while letting his intelligence services help the Taliban claw their way back in Afghanistan.”
Lack of Expertise - Due to recent turnover, there has been a “dramatic drop-off in US expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in US history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State’s policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney’s office.” One former senior US diplomat says, “They know nothing of Pakistan.”
US Policy Making Matters Worse - Rashid concludes that instead of confronting the Islamist militant threat, the Pakistani army “has focused on keeping Musharraf in power—negotiating with extremists, letting radical Islamic students set up a base in Islamabad, and so forth. Meanwhile, to spook the West into continuing to support him, Musharraf continues to grossly exaggerate the strength of the Islamic parties that he warns might take over his nuclear-armed country. In fact, the United States would be far safer if it pushed for a truly representative Pakistani government that could marginalize the jihadists, rather than placing all its eggs in Musharraf’s basket.” He speculates that the US’s blind support of Musharraf allows Musharraf to continue to resist democratization and sharing power, exacerbating the crisis. “The message to the Pakistani public is clear: To the Bush White House, the war on terrorism tops everything, and that includes democracy.” (Rashid 6/27/2007)


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