Abridged version based on full investigative report at Ceasefire Magazine
A whistleblower has revealed extraordinary information on links between the US government, international terrorist networks, and organised crime.
Sibel Edmonds, a 42 year old former translator for the FBI described as "the most gagged person in American history" by the American Civil Liberties Union, has described how the Pentagon, CIA and the US State Department had intimate links with al-Qaeda militants as late as 2001, in the context of illegal arms and drugs trafficking operations in Central Asia.
She claims that Ayman al-Zawahiri, current head of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden's deputy at the time, had meetings at the US embassy in Baku, Azerbaijan, with US military and intelligence officials between 1997 and 2001, as part of an operation known as 'Gladio B'.
According to journalists linked to the Sunday Times, this and related revelations had been confirmed by senior Pentagon and MI6 officials as part of a four part investigative series that was supposed to run in 2008. The Times journalists described how the story was inexplicably dropped half way under the pressure of undisclosed "interest groups" possibly associated with the US State Department.
In 2002, and again in 2004, the US government silenced Edmonds by invoking an archaic legal precedent known as "state secrets privilege" - a near limitless power to quash a lawsuit based solely on the government's claim it could disclose sensitive information that might undermine "national security." Under this law, the government also sought to retroactively classify what Edmonds had already revealed in the public record through Congressmen and official inquiries.
Since the Edmonds case, "state secrets privilege" has been used repeatedly in the post-9/11 era to shield the US government from court scrutiny of rendition, torture, warrantless wiretapping, as well as President Obama's claimed war powers.
Edmonds' fluency in Turkish, Farsi and Azerbaijani earned her an FBI contract at the Washington DC field office, two weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She was tasked with translating highly sensitive intelligence from operations against terrorism suspects in and outside the US.
Five years ago, based on Edmonds' story, the Sunday Times revealed that a senior US State Department official was on the payroll of Turkish agents in Washington, passing on highly classified nuclear and military secrets. "He was aiding foreign operatives against US interests by passing them highly classified information, not only from the State Department but also from the Pentagon, in exchange for money, position and political objectives", Edmonds told the paper.
In the Sunday Times exposé, Edmonds described a parallel organisation in Israel cooperating with the Turks on illegal weapons sales and technology transfers. Between them, Israel and Turkey operated a range of US front companies with active moles inside the US intelligence community, selling secrets to the highest bidder. One of those buyers was Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) - which often used its Turkish allies "as a conduit... as they were less likely to attract suspicion." The operations were reportedly overseen by then ISI chief General Mahmoud Ahmad - who, as the Times noted, "was accused of sanctioning a $100,000 wire payment to Mohammed Atta, one of the 9/11 hijackers, immediately before the attacks."
As noted by the Pakistani daily, The News, on 10th September 2001, the al-Qaeda linked ISI chief held several "mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council" that week, including meetings with CIA director George Tenet.
Edmonds argues that high level corruption was linked to the inability of the US intelligence community to pursue ongoing investigations of militants planning the 9/11 attacks. "It was precisely those militants that were incubated by some of America's key allies", she told this author in an interview in early March.
Corruption was also a key mechanism to guarantee Congressional silence when that incubation strategy backfired in the form of 9/11. "Both Republican and Democratic representatives in the House and Senate came up in FBI counterintelligence investigations for taking bribes from foreign agents", she said.
This and further revelations were to be disclosed by the Sunday Times after its initial exposé, but according to Edmonds the story was pulled under US State Department pressure.
A senior source at the Times told this author that the series was supposed to have four parts, but was inexplicably dropped. "There were rumours in the office," the journalist said, "about pressure from the US State Department because the story might cause a diplomatic incident." The journalist cryptically described an "editorial mechanism, linked to the paper but not formally part of it, which could however exert control on stories when necessary, linked to certain interests." When asked which interests, the journalist said, "I can't say. I can't talk about that."
Edmonds claims that the Times' investigation would have corroborated her most startling accusations.
Among these, Edmonds described how the CIA and the Pentagon had been running a series of covert operations supporting Islamist militant networks linked to Osama bin Laden right up to 9/11, in Central Asia, the Balkans and the Caucasus.
While it is widely recognised that the CIA sponsored bin Laden's networks in Afghanistan during the Cold War, the US government claims these ties were severed after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989.
But according to Edmonds, this narrative is false. "Not just bin Laden, but several senior 'bin Ladens' were transported by US intelligence back and forth to the region in the late 1990s through to 2001", she confirmed to this author, including "senior mujahideen figures such as Ayman al-Zawahiri" - Osama bin Laden's right-hand-man, who since the latter's demise has taken over as al-Qaeda's new leader.
"In the late 1990s, all the way up to 9/11, al-Zawahiri and other mujahideen operatives were meeting regularly with senior US officials in the US embassy in Baku to plan their Balkan operations," said Edmonds. "These operations were being run from a secret section of the Pentagon with its own office" - the name, Edmonds did not disclose. She clarified, "the FBI counterintelligence investigation which was tracking these targets, along with their links to US officials, was known as 'Gladio B', and was kickstarted in 1997.
Edmonds said that the Pentagon operations with Islamists were an extension of an original "Gladio" programme uncovered in Italy, part of an Europe-wide NATO covert operation. An official Italian parliamentary inquiry in the 1990s confirmed that MI6 and the CIA had established a network of secret "stay-behind" paramilitary armies which carried out terrorist attacks throughout Western Europe, officially blamed on Communists.
While the reality of Gladio is a matter of historical record, Edmonds contends the programme never really stopped, but instead changed their theatre of operations from Europe to Asia.
The last known Pentagon European "Gladio" meeting occurred in NATO's Allied Clandestine Committee (ACC) in Brussels in 1990. While Italy was a focal point for the European operations, Edmonds said that Turkey and Azerbaijan functioned as the main conduit for the new 'Gladio B' operations in Asia through Islamist terrorists.
"In 1997, NATO asked Hosni Mubarak to release from prison Islamist militants affiliated to Ayman al-Zawahiri. They were flown to Turkey for operations by the Pentagon", Edmonds said. "This is why, even though the FBI routinely monitored the communications of the diplomatic arms of all countries, only four countries were, strangely, exempt from this protocol - the UK, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Belgium - the seat of NATO."
Edmonds does not claim to know the objectives of the Pentagon's 'Gladio B' operations, but suggests the following possibilities - pushing back Russian and Chinese power, and expanding the scope of lucrative criminal activities, particularly illegal arms and drugs trafficking. Terrorism finance expert Loretta Napoleoni values this criminal economy at about $1.5 trillion, the bulk of which "flows into Western economies, where it gets recycled in the U.S. and in Europe" as a "vital element of [their] cash flow."
The rapid growth of the opium trade under NATO tutelage in Afghanistan is therefore no coincidence, Edmonds told this author: "I know for a fact that NATO planes routinely shipped heroin to Belgium, where they then made their way into Europe and to the UK. They also shipped heroin to distribution centres in Chicago and New Jersey. The whole funnel of drugs, money and terror in Central Asia was overseen by corrupt officials in the State Department, Pentagon and the CIA."
The Sunday Times investigation was to break much of the details into the open. "We'd spoken to several current and active Pentagon officials confirming the existence of US operations sponsoring mujahideen networks in Central Asia from the 1990s to 2001," said the Times source. "I'd interviewed an MI6 officer who also corroborated this."
Another journalist with the Sunday Times' investigative unit had interviewed former Special Agent in Charge, Dennis Saccher, now at the FBI's Colorado office. Saccher reportedly told him that Edmonds' story "should have been front page news" because it was "a scandal bigger than Watergate."
Edmonds' memoirs, published around this time last year, show that when she sought to bring her complaints to the attention of her superiors at the FBI, her family was threatened, and her employment was summarily terminated. Her complaints were eventually investigated and vindicated by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General.
Other intelligence experts who advised Edmonds on her case agree that this amounted to a criminal conspiracy at the heart of the American judicial system. FBI Special Agent Gilbert Graham, who also worked in the Washington field office on counterintelligence operations, reportedly told Edmonds over a coffee how he "ran background checks on federal judges" in the "early nineties for the bureau... If we came up with sh*t - skeletons in their closets - the Justice Department kept it in their pantry to be used against them in the future or to get them to do what they want in certain cases - cases like yours."
Dr. Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar who writes for The Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises. Sibel Edmonds memoirs, Classified Woman: The Sibel Edmonds Story, is available from all good online booksellers.