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Context of 'September 18, 1987: Lebanese Hijacker Is First Known Islamist Terrorist to Be Rendered by US'

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Paula Hawkins.Paula Hawkins. [Source: Public domain]In 1984, Senator Paula Hawkins (R-FL) meets with Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq in Pakistan. During the meeting, she mentions that she is concerned about a Pakistani bank that is laundering money out of the Cayman Islands. Her staff later clarifies to Zia that she was referring to BCCI (which technically is not a Pakistani bank, but almost all of its top officials are Pakistani). As a result, Abdur Sakhia, the top BCCI official in the US, meets with Hawkins in the US a short time later and assures her that BCCI is not laundering money out of the Cayman Islands. Then officials from the Justice Department, State Department, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) meet with Hawkins’s staffers and assure them that BCCI is not the subject of any investigation. Weeks later, the State Department formally notifies the Pakistani government that BCCI is not under investigation. As a result, Hawkins drops her brief interest in BCCI. However, by this time the State Department, Justice Department, and DEA have all been briefed by the CIA about BCCI’s many criminal activities. Apparently, this information is deliberately kept from the senator. [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 324-325]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, Paula Hawkins, Abdur Sakhia, US Department of State, Bank of Credit and Commerce International

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Time magazine cover from June 24, 1985 featuring report on the hijacking of Flight 847.Time magazine cover from June 24, 1985 featuring report on the hijacking of Flight 847. [Source: Time]Islamic militants with the Shi’ite Amal group, an affiliate of Hezbollah, hijack TWA Flight 847 from Athens to Rome. 135 of the 153 passengers are Americans.
Demanding Release of Militant Prisoners - The hijackers demand the immediate release of 17 members of a Shi’ite militant group, Al Dawa, who were arrested in Kuwait for the December 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Kuwait City. (This group, the “Kuwait 17,” features prominently in other hijackers’ demands as well. They will accidentally be released during Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.) The hijackers also demand the release of some 700 fellow Shi’ite Muslim prisoners held in Israeli prisons and in prisons in southern Lebanon run by the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army.
Navy Diver Murdered - The TWA pilot is forced to fly to Beirut, Lebanon, where, after their demands are not met, the hijackers shoot and trample Navy diver Robert Dean Stethem to death and dump his body on the tarmac. The plane is flown to Algiers and then back to Beirut again. Most of the passengers are released, but 39 are held captive in Lebanon. President Reagan holds a press conference largely focusing on the hostage crisis, and says that the US will never give in to terrorist demands.
Hostages Freed - After intervention by Syrian President Hafiz al-Assad, the remaining 39 hostages are freed on June 30 in Damascus; the hijackers are allowed to escape. Some of the hostages later compliment their captors for treating them well during their captivity. Nothing is ever confirmed, but speculation is widespread that some sort of quiet deal between Israel and the hijackers has been struck, as Israel begins releasing Shi’ite prisoners immediately after the hostages’ release. The US will deny that any such deal was ever made. In 1985, four of the hijackers will be indicted for their participation in the TWA takeover, but only one will ever be convicted. [PBS, 2000; PBS Frontline, 10/4/2001; BBC, 2008]

Entity Tags: Robert Dean Stethem, Hafiz al-Assad, Amal, ’Kuwait 17’, Ronald Reagan, Hezbollah

Timeline Tags: Iran-Contra Affair

The La Belle discotheque after the bombing.The La Belle discotheque after the bombing. [Source: Associated Press]The La Belle disco in West Berlin suffers a terrorist bombing when a two-kilogram bomb packed with plastic explosive and shrapnel detonates near the dance floor. A Turkish woman and two US soldiers are killed. Two hundred and thirty others are injured, including more than 50 US soldiers. The attack is widely blamed on the Libyan government; 10 days later, the US orders air strikes on Libyan targets. The strikes are widely perceived as an attempt to kill Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, who is not injured in the strikes, but whose adopted baby daughter is killed along with 15 civilians. Three employees at the Libyan embassy in Berlin are later found guilty of attempted murder, and the wife of one of them is found guilty of murder after she is proven to have planted the bomb. [BBC, 11/13/2001] In 1998, ZDF, the German television network, will air a documentary that claims that Libya was not behind the bombing. The program will claim that the main suspects worked for US and Israeli intelligence. [World Socialist Web Site, 8/27/1998] However, files maintained by East Germany’s intelligence agency, STASI, seem to prove that former embassy employee Musbah Eter and his three colleagues are responsible for the attack. The prosecution will not prove that al-Qadhafi or the Libyan government is responsible for the bombing. [BBC, 11/13/2001] In 2004, Libya will agree to pay $35 million in reparations to the families of some of the victims, an implicit admission of its involvement in the attack. [Associated Press, 8/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Musbah Eter, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, Ministry for State Security (STASI), Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks

After Islamic militants bomb a Berlin discotheque, killing two American soldiers (see April 5, 1986 and After), the White House blames Libyan dictator Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi and prepares to attack Libya in retaliation. Some members of Congress, including Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sam Nunn (D-GA), question the appropriateness of the Reagan administration committing what may well be an act of war without consulting Congress. Others say the White House should make public its case against Libya before launching what in essence is the opening salvo in a war, instead of insisting that the evidence against Libya must remain classified. However, Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY) staunchly defends the White House’s unilateral action. He tells a PBS reporter that “if the president of the United States reviews it and feels it’s adequate,” then the nation should trust what he says about classified intelligence. “It seems to me that this is a clear-cut case where the president as commander in chief… is justified in taking whatever action he deems appropriate and discussing the details with us after the fact.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 52]

Entity Tags: Senate Armed Services Committee, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Reagan administration, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Sam Nunn

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The La Belle disco in Berlin after it was bombed.The La Belle disco in Berlin after it was bombed. [Source: AFP]European public opinion begins to turn after the US launches a deadly strike against Libya, in retaliation for the bombing of a Berlin disco in which two American servicemen died (see April 5, 1986 and After). The CIA therefore works to spread the idea that the Libyans intend to plant another bomb in Berlin, a propaganda operation designed to reshape European public opinion. According to a CIA officer involved in the operation, the first step is “to convince German intelligence and police there was a terrorist cell.” To achieve this, a Lebanese CIA asset named Jamal Hamdan, who helps the US in various ways around this time, makes a series of phone calls from an apartment in Cyprus to suspected terrorists in Germany. Hamdan also tells a relative living in West Berlin that his brother Ali and a friend will enter the city carrying a package, which, it is implied, is a bomb. Ali Hamdan and the friend then enter West Berlin illegally from the east and are arrested by German police, who wrongly believe that they actually have a bomb and the plot is real. Word of the plot is leaked to the US press, enabling the Reagan administration to quell criticism of the attack on Libya. The CIA then steps in and has the two men held in Germany released. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 89-90]

Entity Tags: Libya, Central Intelligence Agency, Ali Hamdan, Reagan administration, Jamal Hamdan

Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks, Complete 911 Timeline

Fawaz Younis, a militant for the Lebanese Amal organization who has just been captured by the US (see June 14-30, 1985 and September 18, 1987), is kept in poor conditions, according to a later account he gives. Yousef will make the following allegations of mistreatment:
bullet Both his wrists are broken when he is captured and he is not given medical treatment or painkillers for five days. However, according to the US, the broken wrists are not discovered until Younis is transported to the US, a few days after his capture.
bullet While being held at sea, he is placed in a “highly heated cabin” and, “An exhaust pipe inside the cabin blew sand and hot air during that period, and my only resort for fresh air was to constantly ask my abductors to go to the toilet, where I could breathe fresh air.”
bullet Younis will also say he suffered from seasickness.
At his trial, he will say that a confession was coerced from him thanks to these factors, but will be convicted. However, FBI spokesman Frank Scafidi will dismiss the claims, saying: “This man was convicted. He is raising these allegations while sitting in prison, and I think that speaks for itself. The FBI as [a] matter of policy treats prisoners or arrestees in conformance with its policies and regulations.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 1/24/1999]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Frank Scafidi, Fawaz Younis

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A group of US agencies, comprising the CIA, FBI, DEA, and Defense Department, cooperates on the capture and rendition of Fawaz Younis, an Islamic militant linked to Lebanon’s Amal militia who was previously involved in two airplane hijackings.
Arrested, Transferred to US - Younis is captured after being lured to a boat in international waters off Cyprus. He is then arrested and transferred to an aircraft carrier, from where he is flown directly to the US. The operation, which costs US$20 million, is so complicated because of rules set by the Justice Department. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 78-94] Author Stephen Grey will call the rules “very tight.” CIA manager Duane Clarridge will say, “This meant that Yunis had to be apprehended by the FBI in international waters or airspace, remain in constant custody of the feds, and remain clear of the turf of any sovereign nation—for the entire duration of his 4,000-mile journey to the United States.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 133-134]
Details of Hijackings - In the first hijacking, Younis seized a plane in Beirut and attempted to fly it to Tunis, where the Arab League was meeting. The aim was to pressure the League into urging the Palestine Liberation Organization to leave Lebanon, as relations between it and local people had deteriorated. In the second hijacking, which took place five days later, the plane was seized by a team from Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, who beat the passengers and shot one of them, US Navy diver Robert Stethem. Posing as a crewman during a stopover in Beirut, Younis entered the plane and took control of the hijacking. The passengers were removed from the plane in groups, and dispersed through Beirut. They were later released in return for safe passage for the hijackers (see June 14-30, 1985).
Lured by Informant - The man who lured Younis to the boat is Jamal Hamdan, who had previously worked with the CIA on a false flag operation in Germany (see After Mid-April 1986). Authors Joe and Susan Trento will describe Hamdan as “a street hustler, murderer and drug dealer,” adding, “Hamdan’s Beirut police file is impressive.” Thanks to his connection to Amal, Hamdan was able to operate for a time despite his killings, but in 1985 he murdered a senior Druze official and then his sister-in-law, leading to his imprisonment. Amal leader and US intelligence asset Nabih Berri informed the US that Hamdan could help them with some drug cases, and he began providing the DEA and CIA with information about US-based drug dealers, which got him released from prison.
Deal for Asylum - In return for helping the operation to capture Younis, dubbed operation Goldenrod, Hamdan insisted on “huge cash payments” and asylum for himself and his family in the US. The Trentos will comment, “In other words, the FBI arranged to bring into our country a murderer and terrorist in return for the capture of an airplane hijacker who had never killed any Americans.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 78-94]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Jamal Hamdan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Duane Clarridge, Amal, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, Fawaz Younis, Stephen Grey

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The Justice Department issues a memo formally authorizing the use of rendition as a technique by the CIA and FBI to transport terrorist suspects from foreign countries. The terrorists are to be brought to the US, where they will face trial. This is the first known official use of the term rendition, although it is already in informal use. According to CIA Director William Webster, the technique is to be used in countries like Lebanon, due to the poor state of the judicial system there, and the other country’s government does not have to be informed or approve the operation. Webster will comment, “It seems to me that you have a different set of circumstances in a country like Lebanon which has no capacity to provide law enforcement or assistance than going to another neighbor such as Sweden or someplace and lifting somebody out of there.” Webster will point out that US courts will not consider seizing a terrorist in another country a bar to trying him in the US, as courts “do not much care how the defendant happened to come into America.” [Washington Post, 11/4/1989; Grey, 2007, pp. 133-134] At least one such rendition operation was carried out before the memo was issued (see September 18, 1987).

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

According to CIA Director William Webster, the US considers mounting a rendition operation against the bombers of Pan Am Flight 103. The plane was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, causing 270 fatalities in December 1988. Nearly a year later, Webster tells the Washington Post that the administration hopes to locate, seize, and bring to the US for trial the terrorists responsible for the bombing. However, it is not known who committed the bombing at this point. Discussion of the US response to the bombing leads the Justice Department to issue a memo formally authorizing the technique of rendition (see June 1988). [Washington Post, 11/4/1989] As of fall 2008, the full list of operatives involved in the bombing is not known and there are no public records of any of the known alleged bombers being rendered to the US.

Entity Tags: William H. Webster, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Former Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) agent Lester Coleman submits a sworn affidavit to a court hearing the dispute between Inslaw and the Justice Department about the alleged theft of PROMIS software.
PROMIS Allegedly Provided to Middle Eastern Countries - Coleman says that in spring 1988 he worked with a DEA proprietary company in Nicosia, Cyprus. He found that the DEA was using the company to sell computer software called “PROMISE” or “PROMIS” to drug abuse control agencies in Cyprus, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait, and Turkey. Coleman claims to have seen reels of computer tapes and computer hardware being unpacked at the Nicosia Police Force Narcotics Squad. The boxes allegedly bore the name and red logo of a Canadian corporation with the words “PROMISE” or “PROMIS” and “Ltd.” According to Coleman, the DEA’s objective in aiding the implementation of this system in these countries was to enhance the United States’ ability to access sensitive drug control law enforcement and intelligence files. Coleman adds that a DEA agent was responsible for both the propriety company, Eurame Trading Company, Ltd., and its initiative to sell “PROMIS(E)” computer systems to Middle Eastern countries.
Apparent Link to Case against Michael Riconosciuto - Coleman also says he believed the agent’s reassignment in 1990 to a DEA intelligence position in Washington State prior to the arrest of Michael Riconosciuto in March 1991 on drug charges was more than coincidental. Riconosciuto has also made a number of claims about PROMIS. According to Coleman, the agent was assigned to Riconosciuto’s home state to manufacture a case against him. Coleman says this was done to prevent Riconosciuto from becoming a credible witness concerning the US government’s covert sale of PROMIS to foreign governments.
Meeting with Danny Casolaro - Coleman also says he was contacted by the reporter Danny Casolaro on August 3, 1991. Casolaro apparently told him he had leads and hard information about (1) Justice Department groups operating overseas, (2) the sale of the “PROMIS(E)” software by the US government to foreign governments, (3) the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), and (4) the Iran-Contra scandal.
Mentioned by House Committee in Report - These charges will be mentioned in the House Judiciary Committee’s final report on the Inslaw affair, but the committee will not endorse them. [US Congress, 9/10/1992]
Later Conviction for Perjury - Coleman will later admit fabricating a claim that a secret drug sting enabled terrorists to evade airport security in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which was blown up over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. Pleading guilty to five counts of perjury, he will say he lied for a variety of reasons: to obtain money, to evade pending federal charges that he filed a false passport application, to enhance his status as a consultant on international security and terrorism, and to get back at the United States Drug Enforcement Administration for firing him. [New York Times, 9/12/1997]

Entity Tags: Lester Coleman, House Judiciary Committee, Daniel Casolaro, Eurame Trading Company, Ltd., Michael Riconosciuto

Timeline Tags: Inslaw and PROMIS

Michael Ashcroft.Michael Ashcroft. [Source: Conservative Home Blogs.com]Former Drug Enforcement Administration analyst Jonathan Randel is sentenced to a year in prison on felony theft charges surrounding his passing of DEA information to Toby Follett, a London Times investigative reporter. Randel’s prosecution is unusual because he passed unclassified information to the reporter, and none of his actions threatened national security. The prosecutor of Randel’s case says flatly that Randel was taken to court to discourage other government employees from cooperating with the press. Additionally, there is wide speculation that Randel’s prosecution may have something to do with the target of Follett’s investigation, Lord Michael Ashcroft. Ashcroft (no relation to Attorney General John Ashcroft) was under investigation by the DEA because of his ownership of a bank in Belize that was a known outlet for laundered drug money. Randel provided Follett with information that was not classified, but was categorized as “sensitive.” Times editor Robert Thomson says that Randel’s prosecution is distressing because “[c]onfidential information is passed to journalists every day.” However, Justice Department prosecutor William Duffey, a former deputy independent counsel under Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr, says that Randel’s prosecution was designed to warn other government workers of the dangers of cooperating with the media.
'Particularly Alarming' - Lucy Dalglish, head of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, says, “What is particularly alarming is that this is not classified information and is probably disclosable under the Freedom of Information Act. This is the kind of thing that journalists ask for every day.” She says that other, similar actions by other public employees have been addressed with reprimands and letters in their personnel files. “But jail?” she asks. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean writes in 2004, “Clearly this was a warning aimed at potential whistleblowers in the federal bureaucracy, advising them to keep quiet, or risk jail.” [New York Times, 1/16/2003; Dean, 2004, pp. 67-69]
No Precedent - Neither Duffey nor anyone in the DEA can cite any other cases where the government has prosecuted an employee for leaking confidential but unclassified information. Lawyer Kevin Goldberg, legal counsel for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, says that such a prosecution is rare in the extreme. If such a broad standard were applied to other whistleblowers, then charges could well be brought against FBI agent Coleen Rowley, whose revelations of FBI mismanagement and obduracy before the 9/11 attacks earned her a citation as one of Time Magazine’s “Persons of the Year.” Journalism professor Catherine Manegold calls Randel’s prosecution “not too different from McCarthyism.… If we are confined to official, pre-vetted statements, that’s a terribly dangerous place to be.” [Fulton County Daily Report, 1/15/2003]
Protecting Lord Ashcroft - Dean will say that the Justice Department’s prosecution of Randel was extraordinary, writing that the Department “threw the book at him.” It filed a twenty-count indictment against Randel, including 16 separate charges for each time Randel used a DEA computer to locate information on Ashcroft, and characterizing each computer usage as a separate scheme to “defraud” the US government. If convicted of all charges and given the maximum possible sentence, Randel would have faced up to 580 years in prison—a prime reason, Dean believes, that Randel accepted a plea bargain to a single charge of felony theft. According to Dean, Randel strongly believes that the Justice Department prosecuted him to protect Ashcroft, a wealthy Conservative lord living in the United States. [Dean, 2004, pp. 67-69] According to his attorney, Steven Sadow, Randel thinks “Ashcroft was getting a free ride for crooked activities. That’s why he did what he did.” Ashcroft has filed a lawsuit for defamation of character against the Times over its charges that he was involved in drug trafficking and money laundering; the Times’s owner, Rupert Murdoch, settled the case by printing a front-page apology to Ashcroft (see December 8, 1999). [Fulton County Daily Report, 1/15/2003] Ashcroft is also being probed over his potentially illegal dealings with the US toy manufacturer Tyco, and is suspected of participating in racketeering, securities fraud, tax fraud, and/or falsification of records. [Dean, 2004, pp. 67-69]

Entity Tags: Robert Thomson, William Duffey, US Department of Justice, Steven Sadow, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Lucy Dalglish, London Times, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Catherine Manegold, Michael Ashcroft, Drug Enforcement Administration, Jonathan Randel, Kevin Goldberg, John Dean, Toby Follett

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Fort HuachucaFort Huachuca [Source: Army]An FBI advisory is distributed in May 2007 to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, Customs and Border Protection, and the Justice Department, as well as numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the nation warning that up to 60 Afghan and Iraqi terrorists are to be smuggled into the US through underground tunnels with high-powered weapons to attack an Arizona Army base. The alleged target, Fort Huachuca, is the nation’s largest intelligence-training center. It lies about 20 miles from the Mexican border and has members of all four service branches training in intelligence and secret operations. Security measures are swiftly changed at the base in response to the threat, according to multiple confidential law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Times. The advisory warns that “a portion of the operatives were in the United States, with the remainder not yet in the United States [and]…the Afghanis and Iraqis shaved their beards so as not to appear to be Middle Easterners.” The FBI report on which the advisory is based points to the involvement of Mexican drug cartels, stating that each operative paid drug lords $20,000 “or the equivalent in weapons” for assistance in smuggling them and their weapons , including anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles, through tunnels along the border into the US. The advisory further warns that a number of the operatives are already in a safe house in Texas and some weapons have already been successfully smuggled into the US. The FBI report is based on Drug Enforcement Administration sources, including Mexican nationals with access to a “sub-source” in the drug cartels. This “sub-source” is allegedly “a member of the Zetas,” the military arm of one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug-trafficking organizations, the Gulf Cartel, who identified the Sinaloa cartel as the organization involved in the plot. However, the advisory states that “this information is of unknown reliability,” while the DEA warns that the Gulf Cartel may be attempting to manipulate the US into acting against their rivals. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson says that the report is based on “raw, uncorroborated information that has not been completely vetted.” A Department of Homeland Security document on the possible attack states “based upon the information provided by the DEA handling agent, the DEA has classified the source as credible [and]…the identity of the sub-source has been established; however, none of the information provided by the sub-source in the past has been corroborated.” [Washington Times, 11/26/2007] The threat later proves to be unfounded. The attack never occurs and FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson, based in Phoenix, admits in November that the warning was the result of bad information. He says “a thorough investigation was conducted and there is no evidence showing that the threat was credible.” [Arizona Daily Star, 11/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Manuel Johnson, US Department of Homeland Security, Defense Intelligence Agency, US Customs and Border Protection, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, Gulf Cartel, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Paul Bresson, Zetas, Sinaloa Cartel

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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