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Profile: Robert Baer
Positions that Robert Baer has held:
Robert Baer was a participant or observer in the following events:
CIA agent Robert Baer proposes a series of false flag attacks in Europe to drive a wedge between Syria and Iran, which he hopes will lead to the freeing of Western hostages held in Lebanon. Although his superiors ban the use of real explosives, the proposal is implemented in altered form. Baer is aware that the current secular Syrian government is nervous about the tendency of Iran, one of its allies, to support numerous Islamic movements, including ones generally opposed to Syria. He plans to make the Syrians think that Iran has turned against it by carrying out a series of car bombings against Syrian diplomats in Europe and then claiming them in a statement issued by the CIA pretending to be the Lebanon-based and Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah. Baer thinks that Syria would then break with Hezbollah and the hostages would be freed. Although the plan is for the bombs to misfire and the diplomats not to be killed, his superior says that the use of any bombs in Europe is beyond the pale for the CIA. Baer will later comment: “Eventually we did get an operation through the bureaucracy. The CIA has asked me not to describe it. I can say, though, that while it managed to irritate [Syrian president] Hafiz al-Asad—sort of like a twenty-four hour diaper rash—it wasn’t enough for him to shut down Hezbollah.” [Baer, 2002, pp. 140-2]
Iraqi National Congress logo. [Source: Iraqi National Congress]Over a period of four years, the CIA’s Iraq Operation Group provides the Iraqi National Congress (INC) with $100 million, which the organization uses to set up training camps and propaganda operations in Northern Iraq. [Christian Science Monitor, 6/15/2004; Ritter, 2005, pp. 128] During this time span, INC leader Ahmed Chalabi allegedly misuses a lot of the funds. “There was a lot of hanky-panky with the accounting: triple billing, things that weren’t mentioned, things inflated.… It was a nightmare,” a US intelligence official who works with Chalabi will say in 2004. [Newsweek, 4/5/2004] Chalabi refuses to share the organization’s books with other members of the INC, and even with the US government itself. According to a former CIA officer, “[T]hey argued that it would breach the secrecy of the operation.” One night, government investigators break into the INC’s offices to do an audit. They find that although the books are in order, many of the group’s expenditures are wasteful. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] Chalabi spends much of his time in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq. Robert Baer, a CIA officer who is also working in Iraq, later recalls: “He was like the American Ambassador to Iraq. He could get to the White House and the CIA. He would move around Iraq with five or six Land Cruisers.” Hundreds of thousands of dollars flow “to this shadowy operator—in cars, salaries—and it was just a Potemkin village. He was reporting no intel; it was total trash. The INC’s intelligence was so bad, we weren’t even sending it in.” Chalabi tries to portray Saddam Hussein’s regime as “a leaking warehouse of gas, and all we had to do was light a match,” Baer says. Chalabi, at certain points, claims to know about Iraqi troop movements and palace plans. But “there was no detail, no sourcing—you couldn’t see it on a satellite.” [New Yorker, 6/7/2004] In her 2007 book Fair Game, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, an expert on Iraq’s WMD programs, describes Chalabi as “Machiavellian,” and blames him for sending “dozens of tantalizing but ultimately false leads into the CIA net.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 106-107]
After founding the Iraqi National Congress (INC), Ahmed Chalabi approaches the CIA for help in overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The agency, hoping Chalabi can provide useful intelligence, gives the organization millions of dollars to set up a “forgery shop” inside an abandoned schoolhouse in the Kurdish town of Salahuddin. The INC promptly sets about creating phony mockups of Iraqi newspapers filled with stories of Hussein’s abuses. “It was something like a spy novel,” CIA agent Robert Baer will later recall. “It was a room where people were scanning Iraqi intelligence documents into computers, and doing disinformation. There was a whole wing of it that he did forgeries in.… He was forging back then, in order to bring down Saddam.” Carla Bonini, an Italian reporter, will later recall: “When I visited [Chalabi] in London, he told me, ‘You can have anything you want.’ It was like a shopping mall for intelligence.” Bonini quickly learns that Chalabi’s information, although often sensational, is virtually useless. None of it can be independently confirmed, and most of it turns out to be fabrications. One of the documents fabricated by the INC is a copy of a purported letter to Chalabi from President Clinton’s National Security Council. The letter requests Chalabi’s help in a plot to assassinate Saddam Hussein. Baer believes Chalabi’s intent is to trick the Iranians into believing that the Americans will kill Hussein, thus inspiring them into joining a plot against the dictator. According to Francis Brooke, a Rendon Group employee working with the INC, Chalabi did not create the forged letter. “That would be illegal,” he says. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 125]
Ahmed Chalabi creates a militia army of about 1,000 fighters in Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq and bribes tribal leaders in the city of Mosul to support a planned rebellion against Saddam Hussein (see November 1993). He is also hosting members of Iranian intelligence who promise that when the operation is launched, Iran will simultaneously hit Iraq from the south. But the CIA learns that Baathist officials have caught wind of the plot and the CIA instructs agent Robert Baer to tell Chalabi that “any decision to proceed will be on your own.” Chalabi, who has no military experience, decides to go through with the plot anyway. But the operation quickly flounders when over 100 INC fighters are killed by Iraqi forces, many more of Chalabi’s fighters desert, the bribed Iraqi tribal leaders stay home, and the Iranians do nothing. The CIA is furious that it funded the operation, which becomes known within the agency as the “Bay of Goats.” [CounterPunch, 5/20/2004; New Yorker, 6/7/2004; Unger, 2007, pp. 126] CENTCOM commander General Anthony Zinni has similar feelings. “It got me pretty angry,” he recalls. “They were saying if you put a thousand troops on the ground, Saddam’s regime will collapse, they won’t fight. I said, ‘I fly over them every day, and they shoot at us. We hit them, and they shoot at us again. No way a thousand forces would end it.’ The exile group was giving them inaccurate information. Their scheme was ridiculous.” Zinni had warned Congress that Chalabi’s invasion plan was “pie in the sky, a fairy tale,” but was ignored. [Unger, 2007, pp. 160-161]
Bin Laden reportedly visits Qatar at least twice between the years of 1996 and 2000. He visits Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, the country’s religious minister who later becomes the interior minister. [New York Times, 6/8/2002; ABC News, 2/7/2003] In 1999, the New York Times reports that bin Laden visited al-Thani “in Qatar twice in the mid-1990s.” [New York Times, 7/8/1999] Presumably one of these times is in May 1996, when bin Laden stops by Qatar while moving from Sudan to Afghanistan, and is reportedly warmly greeted by officials there (see May 18, 1996). Former CIA officer Robert Baer will later claim that one meeting between bin Laden and al-Thani takes place on August 10, 1996. [Baer, 2003, pp. 195] Al-Thani is known to shelter Muslim extremists. For instance, the CIA narrowly missed catching al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mohammed Atef at his farm in May 1996 (see January-May 1996). Al-Thani is a member of Qatar’s royal family, but ABC News will later report, “One former CIA official who preferred to remain anonymous said the connection went beyond al-Thani and there were others in the Qatari royal family who were sympathetic and provided safe havens for al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 6/8/2002; ABC News, 2/7/2003] Al-Thani will reportedly shelter al-Qaeda leaders like KSM even after 9/11 (see March 28, 2003), but the US has not taken any action against him, such as officially declaring him a terrorism financier.
The CIA apparently ignores a warning from a recently retired CIA agent that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is heading al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations. Robert Baer left the CIA in late 1997 and began private consulting in the Middle East. Baer soon meets Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad al Thani, who was Qatar’s minister of the economy and chief of police until he was deposed and exiled the year before. Al Thani tells Baer that KSM is now bin Laden’s chief of terrorist operations, and gives Baer other details about KSM, including how some Qatari royals helped KSM escape Qatar the year before after the CIA tracked him there (see January-May 1996 and Early 1998). In early 1998, Baer passes all this information on to a friend still in the CIA, who then passes it on to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. But the friend writes back a week later, saying the CIA showed no interest. [Baer, 2003, pp. 190-198] The 9/11 Commission, by contrast, will later claim that, in 1997 and 1998, KSM has some links with al-Qaeda, but mostly helps them collect newspaper articles and update computer equipment. Supposedly, not until after the August 1998 embassy bombings does he begin working directly with al-Qaeda on plotting attacks. This account appears entirely based on KSM’s testimony taken while in US custody. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 149-150] It will later be reported that up to 90 percent of KSM’s testimony could be inaccurate, mostly due to the use of torture (see Late August 1998). Further, the CIA gained evidence shortly after the embassy bombings that KSM was one of the masterminds of those bombings, which would strongly support Baer’s information over the 9/11 Commission version (see August 6, 2007).
Robert Baer. [Source: Publicity photo]In December 1997, former CIA agent Robert Baer, newly retired from the CIA and working as a terrorism consultant, meets Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad al Thani, who was Qatar’s minister of the economy and chief of police until he was deposed and exiled the year before, and whom he calls the “black prince.” Al Thani tells Baer that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) was being sheltered by then Qatari Interior Minister Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani in 1996 (see January-May 1996). However, the black prince knows other details, based on what Qatari police and intelligence learned when KSM was in the country. He says that KSM is chief of al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations (see Early 1998). KSM was leading an al-Qaeda cell in Qatar together with Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, the brother of the Egyptian who had killed Anwar Sadat. They also were linked to bomber Ramzi Yousef. But what worries the black prince is that KSM and Islambouli are experts in hijacking commercial planes. He tells Baer that KSM “is going to hijack some planes.” Further, he says that KSM has moved to the Czech Republic, and has also traveled to Germany to meet bin Laden associates there. In early 1998 Baer sends this information to a friend in the CIA Counterterrorist Center, who forwards the information to his superiors. Baer doesn’t hear back from the CIA. He says, “There was no interest.” [Baer, 2002, pp. 270-71; Vanity Fair, 2/2002; United Press International, 9/30/2002; Baer, 2003, pp. 190-198] Later in 1998, President Clinton will be briefed about a hijacking threat in the US involving Islambouli, but it is unclear if Islambouli was actually involved in the 9/11 plot or any other hijacking plots targeting the US (see December 4, 1998). He will not have been captured by March 2008. Baer tries to interest reporter Daniel Pearl in a story about KSM before 9/11, but Pearl will still be working on it when he is kidnapped and later murdered in early 2002. [United Press International, 4/9/2004] Baer also tries to interest New York Times reporter James Risen in the information about KSM. But just before Risen can come to the Middle East to meet the black prince, the black prince is kidnapped in Lebanon and sent to prison in Qatar. There will be speculation that the CIA turned on the source to protect its relationship with the Qatari government. Risen will publish an article in July 1999 about KSM, but it will not include most of the information from the black prince, since Risen will not be able to confirm it. [New York Times, 7/8/1999; BBC, 7/25/1999; Gertz, 2002, pp. 55-58; Baer, 2003, pp. 190-198] Al-Thani will continue to support al-Qaeda, even hosting visits by bin Laden between 1996 and 2000 (see 1996-2000). [ABC News, 2/7/2003] Yet the US will not have frozen al-Thani’s assets or taken other action by March 2008.
Entity Tags: James Risen, Robert Baer, Ramzi Yousef, Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad al Thani, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, Daniel Pearl, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorist Center, Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Former CIA agent Robert Baer is advising a prince in a Persian Gulf royal family, when a military associate of this prince passes information to him about a “spectacular terrorist operation” that will take place shortly. He is given a computer record of around 600 secret al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The list includes ten names that will be placed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list after 9/11. He is also given evidence that a Saudi merchant family had funded the USS Cole bombing on October 12, 2000, and that the Yemeni government is covering up information related to that bombing. At the military officer’s request, he offers all this information to the Saudi Arabian government. However, an aide to the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, refuses to look at the list or to pass the names on (Sultan is later sued for his complicity in the 9/11 plot in August 2002). Baer also passes the information on to a senior CIA official and the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, but there is no response or action. Portions of Baer’s book describing his experience wil be blacked out, having been censored by the CIA. [Baer, 2002, pp. 55-58; Financial Times, 1/12/2002]
The NSA intercepts “multiple phone calls from Abu Zubaida, bin Laden’s chief of operations, to the United States.” The timing and information contained in these intercepted phone calls has not been disclosed. [ABC News, 2/18/2002] In 2007, author and former CIA officer Robert Baer will comment that “apparently, when Abu Zubaida was captured, telephone records, including calls to the United States, were found in the house he was living in. The calls stopped on September 10, and resumed on September 16 (see September 16, 2001 and After). There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007] US intelligence had just been warned about a week earlier that Zubaida may be planning an attack on the US (see August 24, 2001). Zubaida’s exact position within al-Qaeda is disputed; he will be captured in 2002 (see March 28, 2002). It appears that a number of Western intelligence agencies were monitoring Zubaida’s calls since at least late 1998 (see October 1998 and After), and continue monitoring his calls in the weeks after 9/11 (see October 8, 2001).
A high-ranking official in the CIA calls the 9/11 attacks “a triumph for the intelligence community.” This is according to Robert Baer, a former case officer in the CIA’s directorate of operations. In his memoir, See No Evil, which will be published in January 2002, Baer will write that a reporter friend of his recently told him that “one of the highest-ranking CIA officials had said to him, off the record, that when the dust finally clears, Americans will see that September 11 was a triumph for the intelligence community, not a failure.” Baer will comment on this official’s claim, “If that’s going to be the official line of thinking at the agency charged with manning the front lines in the war against the Osama bin Ladens of this world, then I am more than angry: I’m scared to death of what lies ahead.” [Baer, 2002, pp. xix]
Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl writes stories about the ISI that will lead to his kidnapping and murder (see January 31, 2002).
On December 24, 2001, he reports about ties between the ISI and a Pakistani organization, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, that was working on giving bin Laden nuclear secrets before 9/11 (see 2000 and Mid-August 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001]
A few days later, he reports that the ISI-supported militant organization Jaish-e-Mohammed still has its office running and bank accounts working, even though President Pervez Musharraf claims to have banned the group. The Jaish-i-Mohammed is connected to the Al Rashid Trust, one of the first entities whose assets were frozen by the US after 9/11 and through which funding may have passed on its way to the hijackers in the US (see Early August 2001 and September 24, 2001). “If [Pearl] hadn’t been on the ISI’s radarscope before, he was now.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001; Guardian, 7/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]
He begins investigating links between shoe bomber Richard Reid and Pakistani militants, and comes across connections to the ISI and a mysterious religious group called Al-Fuqra. [Washington Post, 2/23/2002]
He also may be looking into the US training and backing of the ISI. [Gulf News, 3/25/2002]
He is writing another story on Dawood Ibrahim, a powerful Islamic militant and gangster protected by the ISI, and other Pakistani organized crime figures. [Newsweek, 2/4/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002]
Former CIA agent Robert Baer later claims to be working with Pearl on an investigation of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [United Press International, 4/9/2004] It is later suggested that Mohammed masterminds both Reid’s shoe bomb attempt and the Pearl kidnapping, and has connections to Pakistani gangsters and the ISI, so some of these explanations could fit together. [Asia Times, 10/30/2002; CNN, 1/30/2003; United Press International, 4/9/2004] Kidnapper Saeed will later say of Pearl, “Because of his hyperactivity he caught our interest.” [News (Islamabad), 2/15/2002] Pearl is kidnapped on January 23, 2002, and his murder is confirmed on February 22, 2002. [CNN, 2/22/2002]
According to former CIA officer Robert Baer, a high-ranking CIA official tells a reporter off-the-record that, “when the dust finally clears, Americans will see that September 11 was a triumph for the intelligence community, not a failure.” It is unclear why the CIA officer thinks this and the reporter who tells Baer this story is not named. However, Baer comments that if that is what the CIA thinks, “I’m scared to death of what lies ahead.” [Baer, 2002, pp. xxiii]
The CIA comes up with a list of 10 “Enhanced Interrogation Techniques” that it will allow to be used on captured high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees. In 2005, ABC News will reveal six of the techniques on the list and describe them as follows:
The Attention Grab: The interrogator forcefully grabs the shirt front of the prisoner and shakes him.
The Attention Slap: An open-handed slap aimed at causing pain and triggering fear.
The Belly Slap: A hard open-handed slap to the stomach. The aim is to cause pain, but not internal injury. Doctors consulted advised against using a punch, which could cause lasting internal damage.
Long Time Standing: This technique is described as among the most effective. Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confessions.
The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water.
Waterboarding: The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised, and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
The New York Times will later reveal that there are actually four more techniques on the list, but will not detail what they are. [New York Times, 11/9/2005]
Waterboarding Most Controversial Technique - Waterboarding will be the most controversial technique used. In centuries past, it was considered by some to be the most extreme form of torture, more so than thumbscrews or use of the rack. [Harper's, 12/15/2007] “The person believes they are being killed, and as such, it really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law,” says John Sifton of Human Rights Watch. CIA officials who allowed themselves to be waterboarded lasted, on average, 14 seconds before caving in. In addition, such confessions are dubious at best. “This is the problem with using the waterboard. They get so desperate that they begin telling you what they think you want to hear,” says one of the CIA sources. [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
List Compiled with Help from Egypt, Saudi Arabia - The list is secretly drawn up by a team including senior CIA officials, and officials from the Justice Department and the National Security Council. The CIA got help in making the list from governments like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that are notorious for their widespread use of torture (see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002). [New York Times, 11/9/2005] Apparently, “only a handful” of CIA interrogators are trained and authorized to use these techniques. Later this month, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida will be captured and the CIA will begin using all of these techniques on him (see March 28, 2002). However, the White House will not give the CIA clear legal authority to do so until months after the CIA starts using these techniques on Zubaida (see March 28-August 1, 2002).
Techniques 'Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading' under Treaty - In 2004, CIA Inspector General John Helgerson will determine in a classified report that these techniques appear to constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment under the Convention Against Torture, an international treaty signed by the US (see October 21, 1994 and May 7, 2004). Former CIA officer Robert Baer calls the use of such techniques “bad interrogation,” and notes, “[Y]ou can get anyone to confess to anything if the torture’s bad enough.” [ABC News, 11/18/2005]
Abu Zubaida pictured shortly after he was captured in Pakistan. He appears to be bloodied and on some type of stretcher. [Source: ABC News]When al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Pakistan (see March 28, 2002), he is found to be carrying two bank cards, similar to US ATM cards. One is from a Kuwaiti bank and the other is from a Saudi bank. A US source involved in Zubaida’s capture believes this is the only time an al-Qaeda leader was ever captured with direct evidence of using Western-styled bank accounts. Author James Risen later notes that the “cards had the potential to help investigators understand the financial structure behind al-Qaeda, and perhaps even the 9/11 plot itself. The cards… could unlock some of al-Qaeda’s darkest secrets.” One US source later tells Risen that the cards “could give us entrée right into who was funding al-Qaeda… You could track money right from the financiers to a top al-Qaeda figure.” But Risen claims that two US sources familiar with the case believe no aggressive investigation into the cards is ever done and Zubaida is never even questioned about the cards. Risen says, “It is not clear whether an investigation of the cards simply fell through the cracks, or whether they were ignored because no one wanted to know the answers about connections between al-Qaeda and important figures in the Middle East—particularly in Saudi Arabia.” Nevertheless, some US investigators eventually pursue the trail of the cards on their own time. Over a year later, they will learn that around the time of Zubaida’s capture, Saudi intelligence officials seized all the financial records connected to the Saudi card and the records then disappeared. [Risen, 2006, pp. 173-177] In 2007, former CIA officer Robert Baer will similarly comment, “When Abu Zubaida was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, two ATM cards were found on him. One was issued by a bank in Saudi Arabia (a bank close to the Saudi royal family) and the other to a bank in Kuwait. As I understand it, neither Kuwait nor Saudi Arabia has been able to tell us who fed the accounts.… There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007] Zubaida otherwise proves resistant to interrogation until he is transferred to a secret CIA prison in Jordan and tortured there in May 2002 (see Mid-May 2002 and After).
Appearing on NBC’s Dateline, former CIA agent Robert Baer says the US collects virtually no intelligence about Saudi Arabia nor are they given any intelligence collected by the Saudis. He says this is because there are implicit orders from the White House that say: “Do not collect information on Saudi Arabia because we’re going to risk annoying the royal family.” On the same television program, despite being on a US list of suspected terrorist financiers since October 2001, Saudi millionaire Yassin al-Qadi says, “I’m living my life here in Saudi Arabia without any problem” because he is being protected by the Saudi government. Al-Qadi admits to giving bin Laden money for his “humanitarian” work, but says this is different from bin Laden’s militant activities. Presented with this information, the US Treasury Department only says that the US “is pleased with and appreciates the actions taken by the Saudis” in the war on terror. The Saudi government still has not given US intelligence permission to talk to any family members of the hijackers, even though some US journalists have had limited contact with a few. [MSNBC, 8/25/2002]
Over 1,400 relatives of 9/11 attack victims sue Iraq for more than $1 trillion, claiming there is evidence Iraq conspired with al-Qaeda on the 9/11 attacks. [CBS News, 9/5/2002] One of the key pieces of evidence cited is an article in a small town Iraqi newspaper written by Naeem Abd Muhalhal on July 21, 2001. He describes bin Laden thinking “seriously, with the seriousness of the Bedouin of the desert, about the way he will try to bomb the Pentagon after he destroys the White House.” He adds that bin Laden is “insisting very convincingly that he will strike America on the arm that is already hurting,” which has been interpreted as a possible reference to the 1993 bombing of the WTC. Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein apparently praised this writer on September 1, 2001. The lawsuit is based largely on the idea that “Iraqi officials were aware of plans to attack American landmarks,” yet did not warn their archenemy, the US. [Associated Press, 9/4/2002] Former CIA agent and terrorism consultant Robert Baer is hired by the prosecuting legal team to find evidence of a meeting between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi agents on April 8, 2001, but despite the help of the CIA, he is unable find any evidence of such a meeting. [CBS News, 9/5/2002]
A CIA program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) is terminated, and then revived under a new code name and surreptitiously outsourced to the private military corporation Blackwater. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Outsourcing Kidnappings and Assassinations - The public will not learn of the program until 2009 (see August 19-20, 2009). The reason for the move is that key officials leave the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, which had run the program, and go to work for Blackwater. A retired intelligence officer intimately familiar with the assassination program will say of the reason for using Blackwater, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” According to the Washington Post, the contract goes to Blackwater “in part because of its close ties to the CIA and because of its record in carrying out covert assignments overseas.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Blackwater is given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders, including planning and surveillance, and is awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry. Blackwater executives help the CIA in planning, training, and surveillance exercises for team members. It remains unclear whether Blackwater’s role is merely for training and surveillance, or if Blackwater employees are slated to actually carry out kidnappings and assassinations. A former official will say that the Blackwater phase involves “lots of time spent training,” mostly in the US. The teams reportedly simulate missions that often involve kidnapping. “They were involved not only in trying to kill but also in getting close enough to snatch,” the official will say. Blackwater does not have an official contract with the CIA; instead, individual executives, such as its founder and CEO Erik Prince, have contracts with the agency. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Program Never Implemented - Although the CIA spends several million dollars on the program, no one is actually captured or killed, and most of the program’s elements are never implemented. According to a former official, there is “much frustration” among team members at this. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009]
Program Termination - The assassination program began in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, and will continue until 2009, when then-CIA Director Leon Panetta will terminate it. Blackwater’s role in the program will be terminated much sooner (see (2005-2006)). In 2009, government officials will tell the New York Times that the CIA’s efforts to use what the newspaper calls “paramilitary hit teams” to kill al-Qaeda operatives “ran into logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset.” [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Time, 8/21/2009] Despite an initial prohibition from Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), the program will later be briefed to Congress (see June 24, 2009). The fact that Blackwater became involved in it is one of the reasons Congress is notified. The New York Times will report that “government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.” In addition, a private contractor involved in an operation would not have the same diplomatic immunity as a US government employee. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Former CIA Agent: Director 'Horrified' at Use of Mercenaries - In 2009, former CIA agent Robert Baer will write: “Panetta must have been horrified that the CIA turned to mercenaries to play a part in its dirty work. It’s one thing, albeit often misguided, for the agency to outsource certain tasks to contractors. It’s quite another to involve a company like Blackwater in even the planning and training of targeted killings, akin to the CIA going to the mafia to draw up a plan to kill [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro.” Baer believes that the Blackwater contracts were more about “bilking the US taxpayer than… killing Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders.… [A]s soon as CIA money lands in Blackwater’s account, it is beyond accounting, as good as gone.” Baer will note that Blackwater is involved in a number of highly questionable actions, including the apparent murder of several Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and will ask “what the CIA saw in Blackwater that the public still has not.” Baer will conclude by speculating, “Even more troubling, I think we will find out that in the unraveling of the Bush years, Blackwater was not the worst of the contractors, some of which did reportedly end up carrying out their assigned hits.” [Time, 8/21/2009]
A cartoonist’s view of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s confession. [Source: Rob Rodgers / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s (KSM) confession at a Guantanamo Bay hearing (see March 10, 2007), becomes, as Time puts it, “a focus of cable TV and other media coverage, a reminder of America’s ongoing battle against international terrorism.” [Time, 3/15/2007] However, terrorism analysts are skeptical of some aspects of it. In an article entitled Why KSM’s Confession Rings False, former CIA agent Robert Baer says that KSM is “boasting” and “It’s also clear he is making things up.” Specifically, Baer doubts that KSM murdered Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl (see January 31, 2002). Baer notes that this “raises the question of just what else he has exaggerated, or outright fabricated.” Baer also points out he does not address the question of state support for al-Qaeda and that “al-Qaeda also received aid from supporters in Pakistan, quite possibly from sympathizers in the Pakistani intelligence service.” [Time, 3/15/2007] Pearl’s father also takes the confession of his son’s murder “with a spice of doubt.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Journalist Yosri Fouda, who interviewed KSM in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), comments, “he seems to be taking responsibility for some outrages he might not have perpetrated, while keeping quiet about ones that suggest his hand.” Specifically, he thinks KSM may have been involved in an attack in Tunisia that killed about 20 people (see April 11, 2002). [London Times, 3/18/2007] KSM is also believed to have been involved in the embassy and USS Cole bombings (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001), but these are also not mentioned. Terrorism analyst Bruce Riedel also does not take the confession at face value, saying, “He wants to promote his own importance. It’s been a problem since he was captured.” [Time, 3/15/2007] The Los Angeles Times notes that, according to intelligence officials, “the confession should be taken with a heavy dose of skepticism.” A former FBI manager says: “Clearly he is responsible for some of the attacks. But I believe he is taking credit for things he did not have direct involvement in.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/16/2007] The Seattle Post-Intelligencer points out that the Plaza Bank, one of the targets KSM says he planned to attack, was actually established in 2006, three years after he was captured. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 3/15/2007] Michael Scheuer, formerly head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, notes KSM only says he is “involved” in the plots and that 31 plots in 11 years “can hardly be called excessive.” [Hindustan Times, 3/23/2007] Some media are even more skeptical. For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer comments that KSM, “claimed credit for everything but being John Wilkes Booth’s handler.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 3/30/2007]
Following the revelation that the CIA has destroyed videotapes of detainee interrogations (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), most of the media assume that the reason for the destruction is that the tapes must show CIA officers torturing detainees and “the CIA did not want the tapes seen in public because they are too graphic and could lead to indictments.” However, author and former CIA officer Robert Baer will suggest there may be other reasons: “I would find it very difficult to believe the CIA would deliberately destroy evidence material to the 9/11 investigation, evidence that would cover up a core truth, such as who really was behind 9/11. On the other hand I have to wonder what space-time continuum the CIA exists in, if they weren’t able to grasp what a field day the 9/11 conspiracy theorists are going to have with this… Still, the people who think 9/11 was an inside job might easily be able to believe that Abu Zubaida [one of the detainees who was videotaped] named his American accomplices in the tape that has now been destroyed by the CIA. It isn’t going to help that the Abu Zubaida investigation has a lot of problems even without destroyed evidence. When Abu Zubaida was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, two ATM cards were found on him. One was issued by a bank in Saudi Arabia (a bank close to the Saudi royal family) and the other to a bank in Kuwait. As I understand it, neither Kuwait nor Saudi Arabia has been able to tell us who fed the accounts (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). Also, apparently, when Abu Zubaida was captured, telephone records, including calls to the United States, were found in the house he was living in. The calls stopped on September 10, and resumed on September 16 (see Early September 2001 and September 16, 2001 and After). There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007]
ABC News breaks the story that Andrew Warren, until recently chief of the CIA station in Algeria, is accused of a pair of date rapes (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008). The story recounts details of the rapes, as found in an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant for Warren’s computer. ABC also mentions that Warren is a convert to Islam. [ABC News, 1/28/2009] After the story is picked up by other media outlets, the Los Angeles Times notes a political aspect of the revelation: “The allegations have the potential to represent a serious setback for the US as the Obama administration is trying to repair relations with the Muslim world.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/29/2009] Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who specializes in women’s issues in the Middle East, says, “It has the potential to be quite explosive if it’s not handled well by the United States government.” Former CIA officer Robert Baer comments on the security implications: “My question is how the CIA would not have picked up on this in their own regular reviews of CIA officers overseas. From a national security standpoint [the alleged rapes would be] not only wrong but could open him up to potential blackmail and that’s something the CIA should have picked up on. This is indicative of personnel problems of all sorts that run through the agency.” [ABC News, 1/28/2009]
General Stanley McChrystal, commander of military forces in Afghanistan, pushes successfully for the installment of his personal choice to head the CIA station in Kabul after Richard Holbrooke, the US special envoy to Afghanistan, objects to the CIA’s original choice for the post. ABC News will report that after the CIA withdraws its preferred candidate due to Holbrooke’s objection, McChrystal successfully pressures it to appoint the official he has in mind, who is known only as “Spider.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010; Wall Street Journal, 8/24/2010] According to ABC, Spider is a friend and career paramilitary operative with prior experience in an elite Marine commando unit and as the CIA’s liaison to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) at a time when JSOC was headed by McChrystal. ABC notes that Spider previously served as CIA station chief in Kabul sometime in the middle of the decade (see (June 2004)). A spokesperson for Holbrooke will later deny his involvement in the decision. CIA spokesman George Little will also deny that Holbrooke or McChrystal had any involvement in the agency’s decision.
Intelligence Officers Fear CIA Subordinate to the Military - Current and former intelligence officials will later tell ABC that the CIA’s capitulation to McChrystal and Holbrooke indicates a waning of its influence in Afghanistan. “McChrystal can have anyone he wants running the CIA station,” says a former senior intelligence official and Pentagon consultant. The officials fear the episode is proof that the CIA has become subordinate to the military in shaping strategy and relegated to an historically unprecedented supporting role. “The CIA is supposed to be a check on the military and their intelligence, not their hand maiden,” adds former CIA agent Robert Baer. “This is a sign of things to come, where the military dominates intelligence.” [ABC News, 2/19/2010]
Militarization of the CIA and a Special Forces Surge - Soon after McChrystal is tapped to become the new commander, he leads an effort to increase the role of Special Forces in intelligence and operations which coincides with increased militarization of the CIA in Afghanistan. Within months, the CIA will expand its teams of spies, analysts, and paramilitary operatives in Afghanistan to support an expanding covert war led by Special Operations and military intelligence (see September 2009). According to one current intelligence official, the CIA has roughly 800 personnel in Afghanistan. [ABC News, 2/19/2010] In June, just ahead of McChrystal’s confirmation, the Pentagon sends 1,000 additional Special Operations personnel to Afghanistan, raising the publicly acknowledged number of Special Operations forces there to about 5,000 (see June 5, 2009).
Former CIA case officer Robert Baer, now an author and a columnist for Time.com, tells MSNBC host Alison Stewart that former Vice President Dick Cheney is wrong when he says just-released CIA documents prove that “enhanced interrogation techniques”—torture—works (see August 24, 2009). Baer says: “I’ve looked to the documents and there is no evidence that torture led to the disclosure of imminent attacks, ‘the ticking bomb,’ as they call it. There’s just no evidence there.… [W]hat Cheney said and what’s come out in these documents don’t prove anything at all.” Baer goes on to say that he has never seen torture work: “I’ve spent 21 years in the CIA. It isn’t—and watched other countries use torture and it never worked. In fact, there was a rule, a very fixed rule in the CIA—don’t accept tortured information because it’s unreliable. And that was across the board. It went from China to Zimbabwe to every country in the world. It’s unreliable.” The CIA was never equipped to perform torture, or what Baer “nicely” calls “hostile intelligence,” in the first place. The agency, Baer says, is “filled with liberal arts majors who go out and collect intelligence without coercion. So 9/11 comes along. The White House is desperate to do something. It turns to the CIA.… So, guys, like you and me, will go out and then all we know about torture is we watch “24”, and suddenly, these guys are put on the line and they improvise and they use mock executions. They threaten mothers and children and the rest of it. And it looks like the amateur hour because it is the amateur hour. This is not the role of the CIA to do abusive interrogations. I mean, if anybody should be doing them, it should be the military or the FBI.” Baer supports the release of the memos because, he says, “I’m afraid we’re going to be attacked again and everybody’s going to say, you know, under this administration, maybe and say, they do something, we have to start going back to torture. What we need to know is, was it really useful or wasn’t it? And no one’s answered that question in spite of what Vice President Cheney says.” [MSNBC, 8/26/2009]
A CIA officer who hunted Osama bin Laden after 9/11 says that the al-Qaeda leader must be dead, according to former CIA officer and journalist Robert Baer. The officer adds, “No wonder there’s no intelligence on him.” When Baer asks him about the numerous audio and videotapes that appear to have been released by bin Laden over the past few years, the officer says they easily could have been digitally mastered from old recordings. However, he admits that the CIA has no evidence bin Laden died and his comments are only based on a hunch. Baer will say this theory is not popular in Washington because “it veers off into the realm of conspiracies,” and people are scared that “the moment they air their view, bin Laden will reappear.” Nevertheless, according to Baer: “[I]t’s a real possibility that bin Laden was killed at Tora Bora in late 2001 and is now buried under tons of rock, never to be found. Or that he died of ill health in the intervening years.” [Time, 12/8/2009] Baer will later be proven incorrect (see May 2, 2011).
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