Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush Is Winning the War on Terrorby Richard Miniter
Miniter taps his exclusive sources and on-thespot global reporting to reveal America's unheralded successes in the War on Terror. Accounts ranging from failed assassination plots to the successful capture of al Qaeda officers make Shadow War a riveting and enlightening read about how America is beating radical Islamic terrorism. See more details below
Miniter taps his exclusive sources and on-thespot global reporting to reveal America's unheralded successes in the War on Terror. Accounts ranging from failed assassination plots to the successful capture of al Qaeda officers make Shadow War a riveting and enlightening read about how America is beating radical Islamic terrorism.
- Regnery Publishing
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Shadow WarThe Untold Story of How Bush Is Winning the War on Terror
By Richard Miniter
Regnery PublishingCopyright © 2004 Richard Miniter
All right reserved.
Chapter OneBIN LADEN'S SECRET REFUGE
"I would like to assure the Muslims that Sheikh Osama bin Laden is in good health and all the rumors about Sheikh Osama's illness and being wounded in Tora Bora are devoid of any truth." -Suleiman Abu Ghaith, spokesman for al Qaeda
TORA BORA, AFGHANISTAN-On December 10, 2001, a U.S. Special Forces team picked up the signal somewhere in the teeth of the rocky hills ringing Tora Bora. It was weak, but clear enough. Osama bin Laden's voice, harsh and urgent, giving battle orders.
It was a low-power signal. He was seemingly close. Somewhere in the crags above or the ravines below.
Bin Laden was last seen by a villager in the hamlet of Gardez south of Tora Bora, directing a row of pickups packed with armed men driving into the dry hills.
Now he was just a disembodied voice. Then he was gone. It would be the closest U.S. forces would get to bin Laden in 2001.
There is no evidence that American or allied troops (including the motley crew of the Northern Alliance) "let bin Laden get away." The mountainous environment-especially in the winter when blanketed in deep snow and buffeted by strong winds that can ground helicopters-made encircling al Qaeda's forces at Tora Bora impossible. Where bin Laden would hide in the next few years would be a matter of intense debate in intelligence circles. My exclusive intelligence sources offered a surprising account of bin Laden's secret refuge.
WASHINGTON, D.C.-How did he get away? A few weeks after bin Laden disappeared, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz showed me and several others a map of Afghanistan superimposed over a map of the continental United States. On this giant five-by-three-foot map, Afghanistan stretched from Washington, D.C., to New Orleans and from Cincinnati to Atlanta. The implications were clear: Afghanistan is far bigger than most Americans realize and there remain many places for terrorists to hide. The land is a smuggler's paradise of deep ravines, caves, crevices, dry plains prone to visibility-destroying dust storms, and snow-capped peaks soaring high above the limits of American helicopters. Rough terrain is only part of the story. The inhabitants, hardened by more than three decades of revolution, civil war, and dictatorship, do not easily trust outsiders, especially ones with automatic weapons. They know that terrorists and other wanted men tend to retaliate against talkative farmers. U.S. Special Forces and regular troops have been digging wells and inoculating children in the hopes of winning "hearts and minds." So far, it has worked, with small gains of tactical intelligence. But anything short of garrisoning every village-an impossible feat-is unlikely to give these Afghans a sense of security strong enough to allow them to speak freely about al Qaeda's movements.
Where bin Laden went after leaving Tora Bora depends on which set of sources one believes. Each has individually been found credible by some American and British intelligence and military officials. Collectively, all cannot be correct. One set of sources says that bin Laden has forged a rough alliance with Iran and may have hidden there at times during 2002 and 2003. Another set of sources says he moves between Pakistan's wild tribal regions and Afghanistan's lawless border towns.
Like those of Elvis, false sightings of bin Laden abound. In my travels and conversations with government officials in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, I have heard my share of bogus "scoops," supposed eyewitness accounts of spotting bin Laden in one place or another. A senior Sudanese intelligence official told me that both he and the CIA station chief in Khartoum have received a number of "eyewitness reports." One informant said that he saw bin Laden in western Sudan in the province of West Darfur, hard on the border with Chad. Another said bin Laden was in Juba, a war-torn city in the predominantly Christian south of Sudan. Both of these Sudanese tipsters wanted money. Each report was investigated and found to be false. "In my eight years working in Sudan," said David Hoile, a British subject who is a consultant to the government of Sudan and to Western companies with investments in the area, "I have learned not to get too excited by initial reports."
Sometimes foreign officials themselves are duped by their sources. In March 2004, I went to a walled compound at Number Five V. Luna Road in Quezon City, the Philippines, to see the new national security advisor, Norberto B. Gonzalez. At his black-topped conference table with a commanding view of the city, with my tape recorder running, Gonzalez revealed that just the night before he had received "a very credible report" that bin Laden was in Mindanao, a majority Muslim region in the southern Philippines.
"The report is pretty credible, that's why I am going to look into it," Gonzalez told me. "It's beyond my imagination, yeah, to think of bin Laden in the Philippines. Of course, there are ways, there are ways. But the implication for me is that, wow, if bin Laden thinks he can be safe in the Philippines, then it's really a reflection of how bad we are, with the net that we have here. It's a big insult."
Were there any specifics?
"Just that. It's a teaser," he said.
Gonzalez did not want to appear too intrigued. "I don't want to be interested because it will cost me money. I'll wait," he told me. "I'll call you if I have something." Of course, he never called-and the story never panned out.
A senior official in a Philippine intelligence service laughed when I told him about Gonzalez's report of bin Laden in the Philippines. He suspected that a political rival was trying to embarrass Gonzalez, who was new to the job and to the intelligence field. Like the police and the press, spy masters should learn that sources have many hidden motives.
Accounts that bin Laden may have fled by sea, say via the Pakistani port of Karachi, to his ancestral homeland of Yemen or to Somalia also seem baseless. An Afghan intelligence official who works closely with the American team hunting for bin Laden bluntly dismissed the idea, saying, "We have no evidence to support that." A senior Bush administration official agreed.
So false sightings abound and sources often have ulterior motives. The reader would be wise to be wary. Virtually all of the accounts of bin Laden are cases of mistaken identity or fraud motivated by attention seekers, money grubbers, or anti-government zealots.
Bin Laden is cautious and disciplined. He has learned not to use his Thuraya satellite phone, to avoid even "trusted reporters" at al Jazeera, and to conceal his movements from America's satellites and Predator aircraft-all mistakes that led to the death or capture of his top operatives. He is unlikely to be caught in a café in Rawalpindi sipping his chai tea.
Yet he may be ultimately captured in Pakistan. "I'd bet on Pakistan," a senior Bush administration official told me in June 2004. Citing Afghan premier Hamid Karzai, he added, "I wouldn't be surprised if we corner him in a villa in Quetta."
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz also believes bin Laden is in Pakistan. "He is almost surely not in Afghanistan. He's probably in Pakistan."
With a spirit of wary skepticism, let us now turn to a startling account about bin Laden's recent movements. While it cannot be completely confirmed-and indeed by its nature cannot be until bin Laden loses either his freedom or his life-I believe my sources are sincere and credible, as do those who have debriefed them. This is the best information available, yet, like so much intelligence matter, it might well prove to be wrong. The reader must be his own intelligence agent and sift and choose.
The Iran alliance
Here is an exclusive account based on the testimony of two Iranian intelligence officials. If true, this is the first recent eyewitness account of bin Laden ever reported. One official agreed to put his name on the record. The other has already been credited with saving American lives, according to Defense Department documents provided to the U.S. Senate.
If true, these accounts reveal a frightening new alliance between bin Laden and Iran, the largest state sponsor of terrorist organizations in the world.
BALUCHISTAN, PAKISTAN-Bin Laden fled Afghanistan following the battle of Tora Bora in December 2001. He briefly retreated into the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir in January 2002.
by June 2002, bin Laden had reportedly moved south into Baluchistan, a mountainous, autonomous tribal region in western Pakistan. It was a sensible place for him to hide. The Baluch are a nation without a country; their ancestral homeland straddles Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran. The men are tall, pale, often bearded, and known for their fearsome hostility to all central governments. Bin Laden could easily blend in. It is likely that his confederates have family and friends among the Baluch. A number of high-ranking al Qaeda operatives are ethnic Baluch, including Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and Yousef's uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the operational planner of the September 11 attacks.
The Baluch have a long history of harboring terrorists. Saddam Hussein financed Baluch terrorists against Pakistan as far back as 1969, Iraq expert Laurie Mylroie told me.
In July 2002, Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf announced that he was sending commandos into the tribal areas of Pakistan to flush out bin Laden. If Pakistani troops were quick and thorough, bin Laden would find himself surrounded-and perhaps even betrayed for the $25 million price on his head. Relying on the goodwill of Baluch cutthroats, he must have known, was not a viable long-term strategy.
Seemingly desperate, bin Laden recorded an extraordinary audiotape and sent it via courier to Ali Khomenei, the grand ayatollah of Iran's Supreme Council. On that tape, according to a former Iranian intelligence officer I interviewed in Europe, bin Laden asked for Iran's help. In exchange for safe harbor and funding, he pledged to put al Qaeda at the service of Iran to combat American forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq, where al Qaeda leaders believed American intervention was inevitable. Bin Laden reportedly pledged, "If I die, my followers will be told to follow you [Khomenei]."
Apparently the taped appeal worked. Murtaza Rezai, the director for Ayatollah Khomenei's personal intelligence directorate, began secret negotiations with bin Laden. Under the agreement between the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and al Qaeda, several convoys transported bin Laden's four wives, as well as his eldest son and heir apparent, Saad bin Laden, into Iran. Saad reportedly remains there today.
Then, on July 26, 2002, bin Laden himself crossed into Iran from the Afghanistan border near Zabol, traveling north to the Iranian city of Mashad.
Over the next year, bin Laden holed up in a series of safe houses controlled by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard between Qazvin and Karaj, two cities along a highway west of Teheran. He moved frequently to avoid detection or betrayal. He was not alone. Two intelligence sources told me bin Laden was "guarded by the Revolutionary Guard."
Bin Laden also traveled with al Qaeda's number two man, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was wounded and required medical treatment, my sources said. They did not know the extent of al-Zawahiri's injuries or the type of treatment he received.
For a time, bin Laden moved freely with and crossed into Afghanistan at will, usually through an Iranian border checkpoint near Zabol. It was on one of these trips inside Iran that my two sources say they saw bin Laden alive and well.
NAJMABAD, IRAN-Najmabad is a small city on the dry flatlands of central Iran, less than a one-hour drive from Teheran, the Islamic republic's capital. At a walled compound of three concrete buildings, in a briefing room lined with fraying couches and chairs, a clutch of Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers were in the midst of a meeting on October 23, 2003. It seemed like just another hot afternoon.
Then an officer stepped in and asked the group to clear the room for important "foreign visitors."
In their hasty departure, two Iranian intelligence officers saw bin Laden and his deputy, al-Zawahiri, stepping out of a four-wheel-drive vehicle, flanked by a small contingent of bodyguards. They appeared to be traveling in a three-car convoy. Bin Laden was seen walking toward a guarded entrance to the complex.
According to these two sources, bin Laden no longer resembles the picture that the FBI has put on its wanted posters. He has trimmed his beard to fit the more traditional look of a Shi'ite cleric and he seemed to have put on weight, according to the intelligence officials.
Al-Zawahiri had also changed his appearance, the sources say. He wore dark glasses and had dyed his beard. He also seemed thinner and wore a black turban tied in the style of an Iranian cleric. The world's two most wanted men were trying to pass themselves off as Iranians.
Bin Laden's new appearance may explain why neither he nor his deputy has appeared on videotapes. They do not want to broadcast their disguises. Instead, they have distributed almost a dozen audiotapes, some of which seem to have been recorded over phone lines.
A parade of senior al Qaeda figures continued to march into Iran throughout 2003, my two sources later learned. Bin Laden's chief financial officer, Mustafa Ahmed Mohammed, crossed into Iran at Zabol on November 3, 2003, along with his wife and ten children. They made the six-hour journey to Mashad in two Sovietera Zil limousines in the company of Iranian Revolutionary Guard officers.
Behind the limousines trailed a heavily loaded truck. The money man's cargo included ten metal-sided trunks said to contain some $20 million in cash and raw opiate products with a street value of $10 million. My sources did not see the truck or its contents -they are relying on what they heard from other Iranian intelligence officials.
Over the next few days, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard supplied Mohammed with a new passport, national identity card, and other documents. His new alias is "Abu Yazid." He arrived in Teheran on November 9, 2003. U.S. officials believe Mohammed himself funneled as much as $250,000 to the September 11 hijackers through a bank account in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates.
At bin Laden's request, Mohammed was bringing in the money to finance an Iran-al Qaeda spring offensive in Afghanistan aimed at destabilizing the government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai and seizing control of Afghanistan's western provinces. As the snow melts on Afghanistan's peaks, the guerrillas usually follow the water down into the plains. War in Afghanistan has a season, too.
Excerpted from Shadow War by Richard Miniter Copyright © 2004 by Richard Miniter. Excerpted by permission.
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