Oh, No! Al-Qaeda Out of Cave on 9/12!

Afghan villagers stand over bodies of civilians during a protest

Afghan villagers stand over bodies of civilians during a protest in the city of Ghazni, west of Kabul, Afghanistan, Sept. 29, 2019. An airstrike by U.S.-led forces in eastern Afghanistan killed at least five civilians. (AP Photo/Rahmatullah Nikzad)

The current discussion on the planned withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan centers on a benighted belief that my former CIA analyst-colleague Paul Pillar exposed 12 years ago. Paul called it the “key tenet that Afghanistan must not be allowed to again become a haven for terrorist groups, especially al-Qaeda”.

With Sunday’s Washington Post “Sky Is Falling”-type warning, and the NY Times’s Maureen Dowd saying No it isn’t, where does one turn for some sensible informed expertise?

No problem: Just re-read Paul Pillar’s Washington Post op-ed of Sept. 16, 2009, which Paul might well have entitled: Terrorism For Dummies. The Post chose the headline: “Terrorists’ Real Haven Isn’t on the Ground, It’s Online.”

Following are excerpts:

How important to terrorist groups is any physical haven? … How much does a haven affect the danger of terrorist attacks against US interests, especially the US homeland? The answer to the second question is: not nearly as much as the unstated assumptions suppose. … The preparations most important to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks took place not in training camps in Afghanistan but, rather, in apartments in Germany, hotel rooms in Spain and flight schools in the United States. In the past couple of decades, international terrorist groups have thrived by exploiting globalization and information technology, which has lessened their dependence on physical havens.

The issue today is whether preventing such a haven would reduce the terrorist threat to the United States enough from what it otherwise would be to offset the required expenditure of blood and treasure and the barriers to success in Afghanistan, including an ineffective regime and sagging support from the population. Thwarting the creation of a physical haven also would have to offset any boost to anti-U.S. terrorism stemming from perceptions that the United States had become an occupier rather than a defender of Afghanistan.

Pillar vs. the Head-Hunters

Paul Pillar held very senior positions at CIA, including National Intelligence Officer for the Middle East – the most senior position in that area – and knows a good bit about terrorism, as well. He became chief of analysis at the Counterterrorist Center in 1993 and deputy director of the Center four years later. When black-arts-master Cofer Black took over the Center in 1997, however, Pillar left – because of a “clash of styles”, according to Steve Coll in Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden (Penguin, 2005).

It is not hard to explain why the thoughtful Pillar and hyperactive Black would be like oil and water. The consummate operator, Black was last noted on the Board of the infamous Ukrainian energy firm Burisma. But that is merely his most recent dubious claim to fame.

Vengeance is Mine, Says Black

Think back to the vengeful days in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and the macho approach being modeled by President Bush and aped down the line by CIA operatives and their agents of influence in the media – with Cofer Black sounding like a combination of Shakespeare’s Herodias, Lady Macbeth, and Lewis Carroll’s Queen of Hearts.

CIA operative Gary Schroen told National Public Radio that, just days after 9/11, Counterterrorist chief Cofer Black sent him to Afghanistan with orders to “Capture bin Laden, kill him, and bring his head back in a box on dry ice.” As for other al Qaeda leaders, Black reportedly said, “I want their heads up on pikes.”

This quaint tone – and language – reverberated among intelligence-friendly pundits, always eager to help.

Spy-Pundit Incestuous Ties

One consummate insider, Washington Post veteran Jim Hoagland went a bit overboard in publishing an open letter to President Bush on Oct. 31, 2001. It was no Halloween prank.  Rather, Hoagland strongly endorsed what he termed the “wish” for “Osama bin Laden’s head on a pike,” which he claimed was the objective of Bush’s “generals and diplomats.”

Wonder where Hoagland got that bloody morsel.

At the same time, there are dangers in sharing too much information with pet insider/outsiders. In his open letter to Bush, Hoagland lifted the curtain on the actual, more bloody game plan for the coming months by giving Bush the following ordering of priorities.

The need to deal with Iraq’s continuing accumulation of biological and chemical weapons and the technology to build a nuclear bomb can in no way be lessened by the demands of the Afghan campaign. You must conduct that campaign so that you can pivot quickly from it to end the threat Saddam Hussein’s regime poses.

Somehow, Hoagland had gotten the “pivot” idea three weeks before Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Gen. Tommy Franks to tell him the President wanted him to shift focus to Iraq. Franks and his senior aides had been working on plans for attacks on Tora Bora where bin Laden was believed hiding but attention, planning, and resources were abruptly diverted toward Iraq. So Osama bin Laden apparently walked out of Tora Bora through the mountain passes into Pakistan.

The point here is that intelligence favorites in the media are extremely well briefed by CIA propagandists – partly because they are careful not to bite the hands that feed them by criticizing the CIA. Those pundits have an address book top-heavy with the names of CIA operations officers – the ones who told those Washington Post stalwarts this weekend that the sky will fall if Biden brings the troops from Afghanistan. Look under “P” in those address books; I do not think you will find “Paul Pillar”.

Are there those who would gleefully look forward for more “forever war” in Afghanistan? Well, how about Jeff Bezos, who bought the Washington Post eight years ago, still controls it, and has huge contracts with the CIA. I hate to sound redundant, but underneath all this lies the MICIMATT (Military-Industrial-Congressional-Intelligence-Media-Academia-Think-Tank complex. [Emphasis added.]

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. His 27-year career as a CIA analyst includes serving as Chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is co-founder of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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