By JOHN GITHONGO
John Githongo is the chief executive of Inuka Kenya Trust and chairman of the Africa Institute for Governing With Integrity. He was Kenya’s permanent secretary for governance and ethics from 2003 to 2005.
ACROSS the Middle East and North Africa, superficial political calm has been shattered by convulsions of rage. Idealistic young protesters have toppled some of the most ruthless and well-resourced political strongmen on the planet. In sub-Saharan Africa, many are asking: will the Arab Spring spread south?
Thus far, the authoritarian leaders who dominate the continent have withstood protests, stubbornly maintaining that tribalism will save them. They and their loyal supporters insist that African societies are so fragmented along ethnic, sectarian and regional lines that it would be impossible today to whip up the perfect Tahrir Square storm; instead, they believe, an outcome like Libya’s civil war or the messy departure of Yemen’s president is more likely.
And yet many of the underlying realities are the same. As food and fuel prices rise, inflation is driving millions of Africans below the poverty line just when the world’s great aggregators of economic data have been preaching the opposite: that growth will benefit all. Radical and growing economic inequality animated much of what was at stake in the various Arab uprisings, and it will play a major role in shaping African politics for years to come.
The Tunisian street vendor who set himself alight was not so different from the disaffected young men of Nairobi’s and Kampala’s slums. They are Africa’s overwhelming majority: poor, marginalized and angry about corruption and soaring food and fuel prices. It is those young men and women who endure the daily humiliations of poverty, struggling to find jobs as elites crow about “growth” and an African renaissance.
But the much-vaunted middle class remains a tiny sliver of the population in most African countries — one that is largely dependent on state patronage for its survival. Africa’s middle class has grown in recent years, but its members are politically and economically vulnerable and their lives can be overturned by the whims of elites who rule instead of govern.
Meanwhile, the poor are assaulted daily by the potent symbols of rising inequality: glitzy malls filled with designer goods and status-enhancing baubles that cost 10 times the monthly minimum wage. Jealousy of ill-gotten gains is particularly acute among members of the giant youth bulge across Africa and the Middle East — in Kenya, for example, over 78 percent of the population is younger than 34, and that population is growing at one million a year.
Their resentment is only heightened by the tools of the information age, which remind them that they have been excluded from feeding at the trough enjoyed so blatantly by the nouveau riche — a lifestyle that is showcased by the newly minted wealthy on television, Twitter, Facebook and the Web in infuriating detail. Globalization has changed the aspirations of the poor, and their expectations will follow.
Indeed, it is resentment of the president’s son’s Ferrari, more than envy of Europe and America’s comparative wealth, that is driving young Africans into the streets to challenge their kleptocratic governments. If the Arab revolutions have taught us anything, it is that inequality and perceptions of inequality within poor countries have now replaced poverty as the No. 1 development challenge facing the world. And consequently, the struggle to mitigate inequality, rather than “making poverty history” through debt relief has become the most urgent task. Narrowing wealth disparities within nations rather than among them is now paramount.
The world has seen a dramatic decline in global poverty over the last decade. The total number of poor people around the world fell to under 900 million in 2010 from over 1.3 billion in 2005 — most of them in China. Although the Chinese Communist Party celebrates the nation’s economic progress, it also recognizes that growth has been far from evenly distributed. The latest Chinese development plan specifically confronts inequality and attempts to mitigate it. African leaders have yet to catch on, and consequently inequality has been left to fester.
Across the world, as growth has spread and accelerated, so has inequality. It is clear that growth is often not enough to guarantee stable, cohesive societies. Rather than create a rising tide that lifts all boats, it can actually increase inequality in a society. And inequality, unlike poverty, is far more easily politicized, ethnicized and militarized, especially in African countries with heterogeneous populations and weak judicial and regulatory institutions. It is also far more combustible because it creates an identifiable enemy — a class that benefits disproportionately because of its unfair access to those who wield power. Mismanaging it can be catastrophic.
Steady economic growth and urbanization, combined with high levels of youth unemployment and conspicuous consumption on the part of the corrupt ruling elite, create a situation in which growth exacerbates political volatility instead of quelling it. China, with its highly centralized system of economic management and ruthlessly efficient security machine, has been able to keep a lid on the contradictions thus far.
But as African countries grow, despite the unevenly shared benefits of that growth, the expectations of the poor and the aspiring middle class will continue to advance — aided by social media — and both groups will only become more angry and predisposed to protest as they perceive the stark inequalities surrounding them.
That is precisely what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. It is no coincidence that five Arab countries — including Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco — were among the top 10 listed in the United Nations Human Development Report’s assessment of progress last year. Their advances were largely due to decades of improvements in health and education. Indeed, in 1970, according to research by Mwangi Kimenyi of the Brookings Institution, life expectancy in Tunisia was lower than in Congo Republic — and there were fewer children in school in Morocco than in Malawi.
The Arab Spring occurred at a moment when economic development had outpaced political development in much of the region; ossified political systems no longer satisfied a population yearning for modern freedoms. The explosive democratization in the Arab world, therefore, is a result of development’s success, not its failure. An authoritarian country cannot grow itself out of its fundamental underlying political contradictions. Eventually, a democratic deficit sets in.
A country can experience economic growth and get all the hardware of governance right (education, health, infrastructure, sanitation) while getting all the software wrong (basic freedoms, leadership, mitigating inequalities, addressing the youths’ demands). Eventually the system crashes. We’ve seen it in North Africa and the Middle East. And Kenya’s postelection meltdown in 2007-8 came on the heels of a five-year economic boom. It was also a period of particularly parochial and backward politics, which laid the groundwork for violent polarization along ethnic lines.
IMPROVED macroeconomic management, higher commodity prices and a generally positive economic trajectory since the late 1990s could spare sub-Saharan Africa from the spasms erupting throughout the Arab world. But this growth is taking place in a region where the capacity to create jobs in the formal sector has been woefully inadequate; and antediluvian elites have mastered the manipulation of ethnic, linguistic, religious and regional differences to maintain their grip on power. Their rule has turned systemic inequalities and, more important, perceptions of inequality, into potent triggers for violence.
The supreme irony of the Arab Spring is that the leaders of Kenya, Uganda, Malawi and other countries have, in their alarmed reaction to events in North Africa, helped bring the revolution south, at least as an idea. In Kenya, youth groups agitating against soaring commodity prices include “revolution” in their names and slogans. In Uganda, opposition attempts to hold demonstrations against spiraling food prices as well as a mass “walk to work” protest have been met with irrationally disproportionate violence that reveals the deep fears of the country’s leaders. And last week, Malawi’s police killed at least 18 anti-regime protesters.
By 2025, sub-Saharan Africa will be home to a quarter of the world’s people under the age of 24, and their anger is growing. For Africa’s youth, many of them educated and unemployed, the future seemingly holds no hope under the current arrangement. Speak to them of G.D.P. growth and their reactions are visceral. “The economy is growing for whom?” they ask. “Not for us!”
For now, their demonstrations have been easily dispersed. But if their complaints merge with long-festering ethnic and regional grievances, that could lead to a far more volatile uprising.
The idea of revolution has arrived, among the minority of youth with access to social media but also among the masses via the poor man’s Facebook: FM radio. And their geriatric presidents and prime ministers are nervous.....
Informed sources have revealed to us that ex-Israeli Defense Force (IDF) officers who have retired at the rank of colonel and above are using their "security" companies to sell weapons and other military systems to Iran, North Korea, and Zimbabwe, among other countries. In the case of Iran, this Israeli trade in weapons violates embargoes that have been imposed by the United States and the European Union on countries like Iran.
Although the smuggling of arms by the Israelis is done by private companies, giving the Israeli government plausible deniability of involvement in the operation, every IDF officer at the rank of colonel and above is given, as a retirement perk, a general license to export weapons from Israel without questions being asked.
In June, Egyptian police seized a shipment of arms from "Palestinians" in Gaza to Sinai. The smuggling ring was said to be based in the Egyptian port of El-Arish. Among the contraband seized were Israeli Uzis, U.S. M-16s, ammunition, night-vision goggles, and body armor.
In 2002, the Israeli-owned and Panamanian-flagged vessel "Zim Antwerp" was intercepted by German customs authorities in Hamburg. The ship was to transfer its cargo to a Malaysian-flagged ship in Hamburg. The cargo, stated by the shipping company to be rubber gaskets for armored personnel carriers in Thailand, a declaration affirmed by the Israeli Ministry of Defense, was actually bound for Iran aboard the Malaysian-flagged ship, which was reportedly owned by Iran.
The Zim Antwerp had been contracted by the Israeli company PIAD headed by Avichai Weinstein. Weinstein and his former business partner Eli Cohen were questioned by Israeli police. German authorities impounded the military cargo in Hamburg. The Israeli government granted the export license for the military cargo with only a cursory glance.
In 1997, Jerusalem businessman Nahum Manbar was convicted for selling nerve and mustard gas precursor chemicals to Iran via his Mana Investments International company and Iranian intermediaries in Vienna. Manbar was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Manbar contended that the sale of nerve and mustard gas components, including chemicals for the production of deadly sarin nerve gas, was done with the full knowledge of the Mossad. It was alleged at the time of Manbar's trial that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu contacted the trial judge, Amnon Straschnov, to lobby for a harsh sentence for Manbar to ensure his silence. In addition, it was reported that one of Manbar's defense attorneys, Pninat Yanai, was placed on the team to keep tabs on what information the defense team had in order to pass it along to Mossad and Netanyahu. Yanai was also accused of conducting a sexual affair with Judge Straschnov at the time of the closed-door trial. Manbar's appeals and parole requests have been repeatedly denied. Manbar's last request for parole was rejected in 2008 after reported heavy pressure from Netanyahu.
In 2002, an Israeli company sold riot control vehicles to Zimbabwe. Israeli firms have also reportedly been involved in exporting AK-47s from Burma that are manufactured by a North Korean-owned factory in the north of Burma to insurgent groups in Asia and elsewhere.
We have also learned that one of the reasons the United States had Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout extradited from Thailand to New York is to help Israel cover up Bout's close links to Vadim Rabinovich, a Ukrainian-Israeli businessman, who was accused of smuggling weapons to the Taliban during the Ukrainian presidency of Leonid Kuchma. Rabinovich is a media and metallurgy industry tycoon in Ukraine.
In 1995, Rabinovich attended a top-dollar Bill Clinton presidential re-election campaign fundraiser in Miami at which Hillary Clinton and Al Gore were present. At the time, Rabinovich was reported to be using Bout's aircraft operations in the United Arab Emirates to ship weapons to the Taliban, weapons that also found their way to Osama Bin Laden's "Al Qaeda" forces in Afghanistan. Rabinovich, who was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship in 1999 and fled to Israel, had his citizeship in Ukraine restored. Rabinvoch is the president of the All-Ukraine Jewish Congress, funds the Ukrainian Green Party, and is a major funder of Jewish organizations in Israel.
We have learned from a source close to the Serious Fraud Office in the United Kingdom that almost every major and minor weapons smuggling operation in the world today involves Israelis....
Why the U.S. really wants Viktor Bout in prison for lifeOur sources in Asia, who have been in contact with senior Afghan Taliban officials, report that there is a major reason why the United States is seeking to incarcerate accused Russian arms smuggler Viktor Bout for the rest of his life in an American prison and it has nothing to do with attempting to sell weapons to Colombian leftist rebels -- who were actually U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents -- or being linked to Russian intelligence.
The Taliban sources report that it was Bout who secretly flew Osama Bin Laden and his family out of Afghanistan prior to the massive U.S. bombing of Tora Bora in late 2001. Bout, a Bukharan Jew who was born in Tajikistan when it was a Soviet Socialist Republic, had been involved with the Bin Laden family in logistics for their construction activities, as well as with the Bin Ladens' West African diamond business.
Bout regularly flew personnel, equipment, and "security tools," i.e., weapons into West Africa on behalf of Osama Bin Laden and his Saudi interlocutors as part of a joint Israeli-Saudi plan to break the Lebanese Shi'a-Hezbollah monopoly on the West African diamond trade. The plan involved the recruitment by Mossad agents of Bin Laden loyalists to displace Shi'a from the diamond trade in countries like Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. The Mossad used Bout to convince his old partner Osama Bin Laden to help in supplanting Shi'a influence over the West African diamond trade.
The Afghan warlords not allied to the Taliban had to be defeated for the cotton trucks to move from Turkmenistan to the Sind region and then for textiles to be shipped out of Karachi, Bhutto's political base, and from India's Gujarat state.
Afghanistan, the Taliban and the Bush Oil Team
by Wayne Madsen
23 January 2002
According to Afghan, Iranian, and Turkish government sources, Hamid Karzai, the interim Prime Minister of Afghanistan, was a top adviser to the El Segundo, California-based UNOCAL Corporation which was negotiating with the Taliban to construct a Central Asia Gas (CentGas) pipeline from Turkmenistan through western Afghanistan to Pakistan.
Karzai, the leader of the southern Afghan Pashtun Durrani tribe, was a member of the mujaheddin that fought the Soviets during the 1980s. He was a top contact for the CIA and maintained close relations with CIA Director William Casey, Vice President George Bush, and their Pakistani Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) Service interlocutors. Later, Karzai and a number of his brothers moved to the United States under the auspices of the CIA. Karzai continued to serve the agency's interests, as well as those of the Bush Family and their oil friends in negotiating the CentGas deal, according to Middle East and South Asian sources.
When one peers beyond all of the rhetoric of the White House and Pentagon concerning the Taliban, a clear pattern emerges showing that construction of the trans-Afghan pipeline was a top priority of the Bush administration from the outset. Although UNOCAL claims it abandoned the pipeline project in December 1998, the series of meetings held between U.S., Pakistani, and Taliban officials after 1998, indicates the project was never off the table.
Quite to the contrary, recent meetings between U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Wendy Chamberlain and that country's oil minister Usman Aminuddin indicate the pipeline project is international Project Number One for the Bush administration. Chamberlain, who maintains close ties to the Saudi ambassador to Pakistan (a one-time chief money conduit for the Taliban), has been pushing Pakistan to begin work on its Arabian Sea oil terminus for the pipeline.
Meanwhile, President Bush says that U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan for the long haul. Far from being engaged in Afghan peacekeeping -- the Europeans are doing much of that -- our troops will effectively be guarding pipeline construction personnel that will soon be flooding into the country.
Karzai's ties with UNOCAL and the Bush administration are the main reason why the CIA pushed him for Afghan leader over rival Abdul Haq, the assassinated former mujaheddin leader from Jalalabad, and the leadership of the Northern Alliance, seen by Langley as being too close to the Russians and Iranians. Haq had no apparent close ties to the U.S. oil industry and, as both a Pushtun and a northern Afghani, was popular with a wide cross-section of the Afghan people, including the Northern Alliance. Those credentials likely sealed his fate.
When Haq entered Afghanistan from Pakistan last October, his position was immediately known to Taliban forces, which subsequently pinned him and his small party down, captured, and executed them. Former Reagan National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, who worked with Haq, vainly attempted to get the CIA to help rescue Haq. The agency claimed it sent a remotely-piloted armed drone to attack the Taliban but its actions were too little and too late. Some observers in Pakistan claim the CIA tipped off the ISI about Haq's journey and the Pakistanis, in turn, informed the Taliban. McFarlane, who runs a K Street oil consulting firm, did not comment on further questions about the circumstances leading to the death of Haq.
While Haq was not part of the Bush administration's GOP (Grand Oil Plan) for South Asia, Karzai was a key player on the Bush Oil team. During the late 1990s, Karzai worked with an Afghani-American, Zalmay Khalilzad, on the CentGas project. Khalilzad is President Bush's Special National Security Assistant and recently named presidential Special Envoy for Afghanistan. Interestingly, in the White House press release naming Khalilzad special envoy, no mention was made of his past work for UNOCAL. Khalilzad has worked on Afghan issues under National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, a former member of the board of Chevron, itself no innocent bystander in the future CentGas deal. Rice made an impression on her old colleagues at Chevron. The company has named one of their supertankers the SS Condoleezza Rice.
Khalilzad, a fellow Pashtun and the son of a former government official under King Mohammed Zahir Shah, was, in addition to being a consultant to the RAND Corporation, a special liaison between UNOCAL and the Taliban government. Khalilzad also worked on various risk analyses for the project.
Khalilzad's efforts complemented those of the Enron Corporation, a major political contributor to the Bush campaign. Enron, which recently filed for bankruptcy in the single biggest corporate collapse in the nation's history, conducted the feasibility study for the CentGas deal. Vice President Cheney held several secret meetings with top Enron officials, including its Chairman Kenneth Lay, earlier in 2001. These meetings were presumably part of Cheney's non-public Energy Task Force sessions. A number of Enron stockholders, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, became officials in the Bush administration. In addition, Thomas White, a former Vice Chairman of Enron and a multimillionaire in Enron stock, currently serves as the Secretary of the Army.
A chief benefactor in the CentGas deal would have been Halliburton, the huge oil pipeline construction firm that also had its eye on the Central Asian oil reserves. At the time, Halliburton was headed by Dick Cheney. After Cheney's selection as Bush's Vice Presidential candidate, Halliburton also pumped a huge amount of cash into the Bush-Cheney campaign coffers. And like oil cash cow Enron, there were Wall Street rumors in late December that Halliburton, which suffered a forty per cent drop in share value, might follow Enron into bankruptcy court.
Assisting with the CentGas negotiations with the Taliban was Laili Helms, the niece-in-law of former CIA Director Richard Helms. Laili Helms, also a relative of King Zahir Shah, was the Taliban's unofficial envoy to the United States and arranged for various Taliban officials to visit the United States. Laili Helms' base of operations was in her home in Jersey City on the Hudson River. Ironically, most of her work on behalf of the Taliban was practically conducted in the shadows of the World Trade Center, just across the river.
Laili Helms' liaison work for the Taliban paid off for Big Oil. In December 1997, the Taliban visited UNOCAL's Houston refinery operations. Interestingly, the chief Taliban leader based in Kandahar, Mullah Mohammed Omar, now on America's international Most Wanted List, was firmly in the UNOCAL camp. His rival Taliban leader in Kabul, Mullah Mohammed Rabbani (not to be confused with the head of the Northern Alliance Burhanuddin Rabbani), favored Bridas, an Argentine oil company, for the pipeline project. But Mullah Omar knew UNOCAL had pumped large sums of money to the Taliban hierarchy in Kandahar and its expatriate Afghan supporters in the United States. Some of those supporters were also close to the Bush campaign and administration. And Kandahar was the city near which the CentGas pipeline was to pass, a lucrative deal for the otherwise desert outpost.
While Clinton's State Department omitted Afghanistan from the top foreign policy priority list, the Bush administration, beholden to the oil interests that pumped millions of dollars into the 2000 campaign, restored Afghanistan to the top of the list, but for all the wrong reasons. After Bush's accession to the presidency, various Taliban envoys were received at the State Department, CIA, and National Security Council. The CIA, which appears, more than ever, to be a virtual extended family of the Bush oil interests, facilitated a renewed approach to the Taliban. The CIA agent who helped set up the Afghan mujaheddin, Milt Bearden, continued to defend the interests of the Taliban. He bemoaned the fact that the United States never really bothered to understand the Taliban when he told the Washington Post last October, "We never heard what they were trying to say... We had no common language. Ours was, 'Give up bin Laden.' They were saying, 'Do something to help us give him up.' "
There were even reports that the CIA met with their old mujaheddin operative bin Laden in the months before September 11 attacks. The French newspaper Le Figaro quoted an Arab specialist named Antoine Sfeir who postulated that the CIA met with bin Laden in July in a failed attempt to bring him back under its fold. Sfeir said the CIA maintained links with bin Laden before the U.S. attacked his terrorist training camps in Afghanistan in 1998 and, more astonishingly, kept them going even after the attacks. Sfeir told the paper, "Until the last minute, CIA agents hoped bin Laden would return to U.S. command, as was the case before 1998." Bin Laden actually officially broke with the US in 1991 when US troops began arriving in Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. Bin Laden felt this was a violation of the Saudi regime’s responsibility to protect the Islamic Holy Shrines of Mecca and Medina from the infidels. Bin Laden’s anti-American and anti-House of Saud rhetoric soon reached a fever pitch.
The Clinton administration made numerous attempts to kill Bin Laden. In August 1998, Al Qaeda operatives blew up several U.S. embassies in Africa. In response, Bill Clinton ordered cruise missiles to be launched from US ships in the Persian Gulf into Afghanistan, which missed Bin Laden by a few hours. The Clinton administration also devised a plan with Pakistan's ISI to send a team of assassins into Afghanistan to kill Bin Laden. But Pakistan's government was overthrown by General Musharraf, who was viewed as particularly close to the Taliban. The CIA cancelled its plans, fearing Musharraf's ISI would tip off the Taliban and Bin Laden. . The CIA's connections to the ISI in the months before September 11 and the weeks after are also worthy of a full-blown investigation. The CIA continues to maintain an unhealthy alliance with the ISI, the organization that groomed bin Laden and the Taliban. Last September, the head of the ISI, General Mahmud Ahmed, was fired by Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf for his pro-Taliban leanings and reportedly after the U.S. government presented Musharraf with disturbing intelligence linking the general to the terrorist hijackers.
General Ahmed was in Washington, DC on the morning of September 11 meeting with CIA and State Department officials as the hijacked planes slammed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Later, both the Northern Alliance spokesman in Washington, Haron Amin, and Indian intelligence, in an apparent leak to The Times of India, confirmed that General Ahmed ordered a Pakistani-born British citizen and known terrorist named Ahmed Umar Sheik to wire $100,000 from Pakistan to the U.S. bank account of Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker.
When the FBI traced calls made between General Ahmed and Sheik's cellular phone - the number having been supplied by Indian intelligence to the FBI - a pattern linking the general with Sheik clearly emerged. According to The Times of India, the revelation that General Ahmed was involved in the Sheik-Atta money transfer was more than enough for a nervous and embarrassed Bush administration. It pressed Musharraf to dump General Ahmed. Musharraf mealy-mouthed the announcement of his general's dismissal by stating Ahmed "requested" early retirement.
Sheik was well known to the Indian police. He was arrested in New Delhi in 1994 for plotting to kidnap four foreigners, including an American citizen. Sheik was released by the Indians in 1999 in a swap for passengers on board New Delhi-bound Indian Airlines flight 814, hijacked by Islamic militants from Kathmandu, Nepal to Kandahar, Afghanistan. India continues to believe the ISI played a part in the hijacking since the hijackers were affiliated with the pro-bin Laden Kashmiri terrorist group, Harkat-ul-Mujaheddin, a group only recently and quite belatedly placed on the State Department's terrorist list. The ISI and bin Laden's Al Qaeda reportedly assists the group in its operations against Indian government targets in Kashmir.
The FBI, which assisted its Indian counterpart in the investigation of the Indian Airlines hijacking, says it wants information leading to the arrest of those involved in the terrorist attacks. Yet, no move has been made to question General Ahmed or those U.S. government officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who met with him in September. Clearly, General Ahmed was a major player in terrorist activities across South Asia, yet still had very close ties to the U.S. government. General Ahmed's terrorist-supporting activities - and the U.S. government officials who tolerated those activities - need to be investigated.
The Taliban visits to Washington continued up to a few months prior to the September 11 attacks. The State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research's South Asian Division maintained constant satellite telephone contact with the Taliban in Kandahar and Kabul. Washington permitted the Taliban to maintain a diplomatic office in Queens, New York headed by Taliban diplomat Abdul Hakim Mojahed. In addition, U.S. officials, including Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Christina Rocca, who is also a former CIA officer, visited Taliban diplomatic officials in Islamabad. In the meantime, the Bush administration took a hostile attitude towards the Islamic State of Afghanistan, otherwise known as the Northern Alliance. Even though the United Nations recognized the alliance as the legitimate government of Afghanistan, the Bush administration, with oil at the forefront of its goals, decided to follow the lead of Saudi Arabia and Pakistan and curry favor with the Taliban mullahs of Afghanistan. The visits of Islamist radicals did not end with the Taliban. In July 2001, the head of Pakistan's pro-bin Laden Jamiaat-i-Islami Party, Qazi Hussein Ahmed, also reportedly was received at the George Bush Center for Intelligence (aka, CIA headquarters) in Langley, Virginia.
According to the Washington Post, the Special Envoy of Mullah Omar, Rahmatullah Hashami, even came to Washington bearing a gift carpet for President Bush from the one-eyed Taliban leader. The Village Voice reported that Hashami, on behalf of the Taliban, offered the Bush administration to hold on to bin Laden long enough for the United States to capture or kill him but, inexplicably, the administration refused. Meanwhile, Spozhmai Maiwandi, the director of the Voice of America's Pashtun service, jokingly nicknamed "Kandahar Rose" by her colleagues, aired favorable reports on the Taliban, including a controversial interview with Mullah Omar.
The Bush administration's dalliances with the Taliban may have even continued after the start of the bombing campaign against their country. According to European intelligence sources, a number of European governments were concerned that the CIA and Big Oil were pressuring the Bush administration not to engage in an initial serious ground war on behalf of the Northern Alliance in order to placate Pakistan and its Taliban compatriots. The early-on decision to stick with an incessant air bombardment, they reasoned, was causing too many civilian deaths and increasing the shakiness of the international coalition.
The obvious, and woefully underreported, interfaces between the Bush administration, UNOCAL, the CIA, the Taliban, Enron, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, the groundwork for which was laid when the Bush Oil team was on the sidelines during the Clinton administration, is making the Republicans worried. Vanquished vice presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman is in the ironic position of being the senator who will chair the Senate Government Affairs Committee hearings on the collapse of Enron. The roads from Enron also lead to Afghanistan and murky Bush oil politics.
UNOCAL was also clearly concerned about its past ties to the Taliban. On September 14, just three days after terrorists of the Afghan-base al Qaeda movement crashed their planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, UNOCAL issued the following statement: "The company is not supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan in any way whatsoever. Nor do we have any project or involvement in Afghanistan. Beginning in late 1997, Unocal was a member of a multinational consortium that was evaluating construction of a Central Asia Gas pipeline between Turkmenistan and Pakistan [via western Afghanistan]. Our company has had no further role in developing or funding that project or any other project that might involve the Taliban."
The Bush Oil Team, which can now rely on the support of the interim Prime Minister of Afghanistan, may think that war and oil profits mix. But there is simply too much evidence that the War in Afghanistan was primarily about building UNOCAL's pipeline, not about fighting terrorism. The Democrats, who control the Senate and its investigation agenda, should investigate the secretive deals between Big Oil, Bush, and the Taliban.
Bin Laden's involvement with the West African diamond trade, activities connected to Bout, and Jewish diamond middlemen is well-documented and cited in this editor's book, "Jaded Tasks: Brass Plates, Black Ops & Big Oil":
"While links between Saudi Arabian businesses and charities and Al Qaeda have been highlighted by law enforcement and the media, very little attention has been paid to the long-term association of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda with the Russian-Israeli mafia. A 23-year veteran of the CIA's counterterrorism division told me in July 2004 that one of the most overlooked aspects of the 911 attacks was the role of Russian-Israeli organized crime in facilitating the attack. He added that Pakistan's role was also a major driving force behind 9/11.
Sixty-seven year old Yehuda H. Abraham, an Orthodox Jewish resident of Forest Hills in Queens, New York City, was a most unlikely individual to serve as a money launderer for shady arms dealers tied to Al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiya.
Born in Afghanistan, fluent in Urdu (a major language of Pakistan and India), a merchant with a store called New York Jewels in the lobby of the posh Sheraton Hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and a self-described provider of gems to the Saudi royal family, Abraham would normally be identified as a 'person of interest' in any number of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement databases. Considering the fact that Abraham's gem trading company, Ambuy International Corporation, sits right in the middle of Manhattan's 47th Street 'Diamond District' and had locations in Antwerp, Milan, Bangkok, and Jeddah, he was not included on any 'watch list' profiles created by the FBI or CIA. However, according to Israeli intelligence sources, Afghan-born Jews are highly prized by the Mossad, which had reportedly used them to infiltrate the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Abraham, along with a 68-year-old Indian-born and Hindu British arms smuggler named Hemant Lakhani (some spellings had his first name as Hekmat [possibly his Muslim alias] and Hemad) and an Indian resident of Malaysia named Moinuddeen Ahmed Hameed, were arrested by federal agents and local police in the New York metropolitan area on August 12 . The arrests capped a lengthy investigation into how terrorist groups like Al Qaeda obtain weapons and fund their purchases on the international black market. Lakhani was attempting to procure a number of IGLA man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) and C-4 explosives from Russian sources reportedly connected to the organized crime.
Sometime between Lakhani's trip to St. Petersburg around December 2001 and January 2002, the FBI was able to place an informant inside the arms smuggling network. This is where the official story gets somewhat murky. The FBI maintained that an informant, code named 'CW,' or 'confidential witness,' met Lakhani in New Jersey. CW's cover story was that he was representing the Ogaden Liberation Movement in Ethiopia and Somalia. It was later reported that CW was Mohammed Habib Rehman, also known as 'Haji' and said by detractors of the government's case against Lakhani and Abraham to be a 'small time swindler.' However, Rehman was recruited by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) [the same agency that 'stung' Bout in Bangkok] in Pakistan around 1993. Rehman was highly prized by the DEA and he helped crack a major Pakistani heroin smuggling ring, an act that caused the DEA to relocate him and his family to the United States for their personal safety. Later, Rehman acted as an informant for the FBI in terrorist investigations in Minneapolis, the city where Zacarias Moussaoui allegedly planned his part of the 9/11 attacks. Rehman was in high demand by the FBI after 9/11.
Lakhani and Rehman had their first meeting in Dubai in October 2001. The Dubai meeting provided yet another link between international arms traffickers, Israeli money launderers, and Al Qaeda. The Dubai meeting was arranged by Abdul Qayyum, an Indian terrorist leader with reported links to Al Qaeda who carried out a series of deadly terrorist bombings in Mumbai, India in 1993. Qayyum told Lakhani that 'Haji' (Rehman) had good ties to rich Saudis. Qayyum was also a well-known figure in Dubai, a major financial hub for Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
On October 8, 2002, Lakhani demanded in a fax a down payment for the first IGLA. He told Rehman that his agent must be paid $30,000 after confirming his identity with the serial number F836160631J on a U.S. one dollar bill that would be shown to Rehman. Lakhani said the total price for the missile was $85,000. Rehman discussed payment arrangements with a Lakhani associate in Britain who was referred to in court papers as 'the Individual.' The "Individual," later identified as Manthena or 'Vijay' Raja, informed Rehman that he would be dealing directly with a contact in New York City and he gave him the phone number of the agent. Yehuda Abraham turned out to be the agent in question and the two Urdu speakers met on October 16 at Abraham's New York City diamond trading office where $30,000 in $100 bills was paid by Rehman to Abraham after the dollar bill serial number code was confirmed by the FBI informant. After counting every bill, Abraham gave Rehman his business card, which stated he was Yehuda H. A. Abraham, President of Ambuy Gem Corp., 580 Fifth Avenue, New York. Abraham later charged Lakhani a $1500 fee for the transaction.
Federal prosecutors said Abraham wired the $30,000 to a bank account in Europe as a show of 'good faith' to the Russian arms dealers. In court papers filed by prosecutors, Abraham's financial transfer network was described as an Islamic hawalah cash transfer system.
On August 13, FBI special agent William Evanina, said, 'Lakhani saw it [the IGLA] in Moscow, and he saw it again in the hotel room yesterday.' At the Wyndham Hotel, which was already crawling with FBI, FSB, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Secret Service, and British MI-5 agents, agents with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force placed Lakhani under arrest. Other Federal agents and New York City police entered Abraham's office in suite 1206 at his office building at 1 47th Street and 580 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. There, Abraham and Hameed, who were awaiting the delivery of the $500,000 missile payment, were arrested and Abraham's computers and files were seized. The one-dollar bill with the serial number used in previous transactions was found in the possession of Hameed in Abraham's office. Hameed told Rehman the bill had been kept in Abraham's office.
U.S. law enforcement officials reported that Abraham brought Hameed to the United States from Malaysia to facilitate the laundering of the $500,000 for the additional 50 IGLAs. The government also had evidence that Lakhani and Abraham worked together in the past. Court papers indicate that Rehman conversed with Hameed, Lakhani, and Abraham in Urdu. Lakhani is reported to have told Rehman that Abraham was 'very trustworthy.'
Abraham reportedly spent enough time in Bangkok [where Bout was ultimately arrested and jailed on behalf of the United States] to help start a synagogue and open a kosher kitchen. Abraham's attorney argued for bail based on the fact that his client had high blood pressure and suffered from stomach cancer. He also said Abraham was a respected member of his Forest Hills community and the founder of his local Bukharian synagogue, where he donated a Torah five years earlier. Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Purpura was having nothing of that argument when he stated, 'Yes, this elderly gentleman in poor health significantly helped broker the sale of a surface to air missile.'
It is clear that the FBI had bigger fish to fry in the sting operation and that someone in a position of authority successfully interfered with the investigation of an arms ring that had ties to both Russian-Israeli mafia figures and Al Qaeda. Abraham's 'highly discerning clientele' in Saudi Arabia and his operations in Jeddah and Bangkok would have been of immense interest to law enforcement. The BBC reported that about the same time the sting was being launched against Abraham and Lakhani in the United States and Jemaah Islamiya leader Hambali was being arrested in Thailand, Saudi police seized a truckload of SAMs on a desert road near Jeddah. The truck was apparently en route from the Yemeni border to the Saudi port city.
Lakhani had shown up on the FBI and FSB radar screens before. Like Abraham, he also maintained close connections to Arabian Peninsula ruling elites, in his case, the ruling families of the United Arab Emirates. Shortly before 911, Lakhani, who lives in Hendon, in north London, a primarily Orthodox and Hasidic Jewish community, served as a weapons sales agent for the Ukrainian state-owned trading company, UKRSPETSEXPORT and reportedly for ROSOBORONEXPORT, Russia's state-owned weapons export agency. Both companies remained silent on any past relationships with Lakhani. Law enforcement considers Ukraine to be a primary base of operations for the Russian-Ukrainian-Israeli mafia.
Lakhani, a self-described "textile merchant" who hailed from Mumbai's prosperous cloth-trading Kutchi Lohana community and whose Multitrade, Ltd. "import" business had previously gone bankrupt in 1999, was busy filling orders for Sri Lanka's army, which, at the time, was waging a ferocious guerrilla war against Tamil separatists on the island nation. According to India Today, Lakhani supplied the Sri Lankans with MIG-27 warplanes, cannons, shells, and rocket launchers from Ukrainian military warehouses and factories.
It was Lakhani's numerous trips to Kenya that first raised the eyebrows of Kenyan law enforcement authorities. It was there he met a significant international arms dealer, Sanjivan Ruprah, an ethnic Indian and Kenyan citizen.Ruprah, in turn, was associated with the notorious Viktor Bout, a Tajikistan-born arms dealer who has been associated with the reputed Israeli-Georgian mafia boss Grigori Loutchansky, and Leonid Minin, a Ukrainian-Israeli citizen and leader of the "Odessa mafia" who was also supplying arms to Liberia's Charles Taylor via Burkina Faso. Italian police arrested Minin in a hotel room in Monza, outside of Milan, in August 2000. In his room, police found $500,000 of uncut diamonds, files on illegal weapons shipments to Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast, and a banking document showing a $10,263.02 payment to international financier and reputed Russian-Israeli-American mafia don Marc Rich, pardoned in January 2001 by President Clinton in the eleventh hour of his administration.
Abraham's home is a few blocks from the 11821 Queens Boulevard building that housed the office of the major joint money laundering operation involving the Bank of New York's East European Division, Marc Rich's Glencore, Loutchansky's Benex International, and three other firms involved in money laundering for the Israeli mafia, Becs, Torfinex, and Lowland, Inc. (the last based in Jersey City, New Jersey).
Ironically, Queens was also the location of the office of the Taliban prior to 9/11.
Another linkage between the Israeli-Russian mafia and Islamic terrorists emerged after an Al Qaeda-linked Kurdish group, Ansar al Islam, began regrouping in Europe after it had been quashed by U.S. forces in northern Iraq. The Los Angeles Times reported that Ansar 'sheiks' began meeting in Poland, Bulgaria and other Eastern European countries under the auspices of bribed and corrupt officials with organized crime connections.Macedonian intelligence has reported definite links between the Israeli-Russian mafia in Albanian-controlled areas of the Balkans and Al Qaeda groups as well as money laundering activities conducted by the Israeli-Russian mafia using bank accounts in Germany and Switzerland on behalf of Islamist terrorists. Insight magazine, a neo-conservative periodical in Washington, reported that CIA and NSC officials were unfazed when Macedonian intelligence gave them a classified report on these activities. In fact, Osama bin Laden has reportedly used false Bosnian and Albanian passports. Perhaps the Israeli mafia-Al Qaeda linkage was why Baghdad Meziane, an Al Qaeda finance operative and weapons smuggler arrested in Britain in April 2003, chose to travel on a false passport under the unlikely name of "Cyril Jacob."
On the evening of May 20, 2004, Eduard Nektalov, one of the jewelers linked to the money laundering operation, was shot execution style as he walked near the Diamond District. Like Abraham, Nektalov was a leader of the Bukharian Jewish community in Queens.
It was in Sierra Leone that Ruprah and Bout discovered the convenience and secrecy of swapping arms for diamonds. Not only could diamonds be sold easily on the international black market but the financial trails of the transactions would be virtually non-existent and out of undetectable by law enforcement.
India Today also reported that, in addition to Abraham's hawalah, Lakhani had close links to another noted hawalah in Karachi headed by a criminal syndicate boss named Dawood Ibrahim. Through Ibrahim's front activities in Dubai, Europe, and the United States, Lakhani was able to mask his business activities. Lakhani was reportedly using his financial network to supply arms to the rebel and murderous Revolutionary United Front (RUF) guerrillas in Sierra Leone. [Ibrahim is also linked to the Mumbai terrorist attack of November 26, 2008].
The world of international diamond trading operations is masked in secrecy. Jewish diamond dealers, known as 'yahalom manin,' strike deals based on a handshake and as with the Islamic hawalahs, payments for diamonds are wired around the world through a variety of pass-through companies and middlemen. A major center for diamond smuggling and money laundering is in Hatton Garden, a heavily Hasidic and Orthodox community reachable by the London "Tube" from Lakhani's neighborhood of Hendon. Perhaps the diamond smuggling network was what Osama bin Laden referred to when, in an interview with the Pakistani newspaper Ummat, he said Al Qaeda uses 'three alternate financial systems' that are 'separate and independent,' adding any attempt to remove them 'won't succeed.' Bin Laden obviously had a point when it is considered that one of his money launderers traveled under the name Cyril Jacob and was involved with Hasidic diamond dealers in London
A former chief of Mossad confirmed to me in a meeting in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah launder money through diamonds in places like West Africa in order to buy weapons without detection by international financial surveillance authorities.
According to a 2002 private British risk analysis report on Liberia, that nation has served as an important nexus between diamond smuggling and terrorist financing. The report stated, 'Some evidence has emerged that where organized crime and its adherents leads--Al Quaeda [sic] exists and operates. Verification from several sources partially indicate the purchase on a large scale of Sierra Leone diamonds through Liberia (and particular Liberian corporations) and using local addresses in Liberia... Some of the characters involved in this trade have been identified and notified to the press and the United Nations. Others, though not known, appear to have a ‘charmed' and ‘untouched' existence.'
Individuals involved in the diamond trade in West Africa have revealed that the actual reason U.S. Marines and Special Operations forces went ashore in Liberia in July 2003, was to secure Liberian government documents proving the links between Charles Taylor, the Russian-Israeli Mafia, and Al Qaeda. As part of Operation Shining Express, U.S. and Israeli intelligence agents reportedly took possession of or destroyed a number of incriminating documents, especially those maintained at Liberian government offices at 80 Broad Street in Monrovia. After the Liberian document seizure was completed, U.S. Marines were quickly pulled out of Monrovia on August 24, 2003. In their place came a private military company named Pacific Architects and Engineers to provide logistical support for Nigerian peacekeepers. Another U.S. private military company, Intercon Security, protected the U.S. Embassy in Monrovia. The onset of the Monrovia operation followed by only two days the arrest of Abraham and Lakhani. Lakhani's partner Ruprah, was a diamond smuggling agent of Charles Taylor who traveled on a Liberian diplomatic passport under the name of Samir M. Nasr. Ruprah also served as an agent of the LISCR.
The history of U.S. investigations of top arms smugglers connected to the Russian-Israeli mafia has often met with stonewalling by senior officials of the Bush administration. According to a number of Clinton administration officials, anytime a law enforcement or intelligence investigation leads to anything or anyone connected to the mafia, such as Viktor Bout and his network, the Bush administration shuts down the operation.
According to the [Peter] Landesman article in the New York Times Magazine, during the final months of the Clinton administration, U.S. intelligence began tracking Bout's activities and his network (which included Ruprah and Lakhani). From his base in Sharjah in the Gulf, Bout was servicing Ariana Afghan Airline flights to Kandahar, Afghanistan. These flights were believed to be ferrying weapons and Al Qaeda and Taliban volunteers to Afghanistan and the Clinton National Security Council believed Bout was aiding terrorism. Belgium had an international arrest warrant out for Bout for money laundering and diamond smuggling. Clinton White House counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke wanted an arrest warrant issued for Bout, but the U.S. had no legal jurisdiction abroad. Gayle Smith, Clinton's National Security Council Africa bureau chief, along with CIA and British MI-6 agents, kept a wary eye on Bout's activities in Africa's conflicts. But when the Bush administration took over, Landesman reports that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told U.S. intelligence to 'look but don't touch.'
Bout would get yet another free pass from the Bush administration and its allies at Number 10 Downing Street. In May 2004, the French government complained that Washington and London were not supporting a move by the UN to freeze Bout's assets for his role in supporting Liberia's dictator Charles Taylor. Paris also alleged that the U.S. and Britain were permitting Bout's firms to operate freely in occupied Iraq, including his air cargo companies being involved in supplying coalition forces. When Britain appeared ready to agree to put the squeeze on Bout's operations, the Bush administration pressured London to relent.
When Sharjah police sent a special police unit to capture Bout and give him to U.S. authorities, the White House declined. After 9/11, Rice inexplicably called off all operations aimed at Bout. Law enforcement and intelligence agents considered such a move amazing, considering Bout's direct links to smuggling arms to the Taliban and Al Qaeda, as well as to other areas rife with Islamist terrorist groups. E.J. Hogendoorn, a former UN weapons inspector, told Landesman that Bout was 'being protected by highly influential people.' Lee Wolosky, the director of transnational threats in the Clinton and Bush II National Security Council, told India Today, 'Lakhani is a very insignificant fish in the overall market. Also, it is a sting operation and hence entirely staged. Contrast this with Bout who lives openly in Moscow. There seems to be a clear disconnect.'
According to Der Spiegel, Bout also reportedly helped arrange the sale of up to 200 Russian T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban. The deal was reportedly supported by Vadim Rabinovich, an Israeli-Ukrainian, and a former director of the Ukrainian secret service. The Russian SVR intelligence agency discovered that Pakistan's Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) agency was in on the arms smuggling deal, a violation of UN sanctions against the Taliban. Bout was reported by the UN to be using Flying Dolphin Airlines, which operated scheduled flights between Dubai and Kandahar between October 2000 and January 2001, to ship arms to the Taliban. Flying Dolphin was owned by Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed bin Saqr al Nahayan, a former UAE ambassador to the U.S. and a relative of the President of the UAE, who is also the ruler of Abu Dhabi. Flying Dolphin was registered in Bout's favorite home base of Liberia although its main office was in Dubai.
On April 26, 2005, the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) froze the assets of Bout's companies, although some on and off the freeze list were continuing to provide logistical services to U.S. and allied military forces and private contractors in Iraq. Some services to and from Baghdad International Airport were provided by a Bout-controlled firm called British Gulf. Although British Gulf was not on the Treasury Department freeze list, Transavia was. However, between March 6 and 9, 2005, Transavia transported British armored vehicles and troops to Iraq from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Another airline connected to Bout, Jet Line International, based in Chisinau, Moldova, was reported to have made flights on behalf of the British Ministry of Defense to Kosovo from Brize Norton and RAF Lyneham. Jet Line's Moldova address is the same as another Bout firm, Aerocom, which was accused by the UN of smuggling arms to Liberian rebels. In fact, Jet Line and Aerocom used the same planes. Bout's Texas-based Air Bas had rights to refuel at U.S. bases in Iraq. One of Bout's airfreight companies, Airbus, was subcontracted through another firm called Falcon Express of Dubai, by Kellogg, Brown and Root, the subsidiary of Halliburton. Air Bas also had links to Falcon Express. Vega Airlines, a Bulgarian-based airline connected to Bout, had one of its Antonov AN-12 transports seized by Indian police at Ahmedabad airport in Gujarat. On board police found military equipment destined for Nepal's government, which was battling leftist guerrillas. The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi and the State Department admitted that the equipment was for the Nepal police "to develop anti-terrorist capability and the plane was carrying the equipment to support this training [and] simulated ammunition for the training exercises and arms intended for training and equipping the Nepalese anti-terrorist police unit." After the United States was caught red handed smuggling weapons into Nepal, U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu spokesperson Constance Codling Jones, proceeded to lie about the military shipment, "The U.S. has already provided $22 million in assistance to Nepal in the last three years to fight terrorism, but as far as today's delivery is concerned, it is not military assistance."
Neither Aerocom nor Airbus were included on Treasury's freeze list, an indication that Bout continued to have protectors in Bush administration.
There is a reason why Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, carrying out the wishes of the CIA and Israel as their most-prized "house Negroes," want to put Bout on ice.If Viktor Bout were free to speak and write from Moscow, he would be in a position to blow the lid off the crime of the century, 9/11, and those who planned and executed it, namely, the Saudis and their man Osama Bin Laden, Israel, and the highest echelons of the Bush administration (and, because of its aiding and abetting in the crime of 9/11, the Obama administration, as well). And that is reason enough to damage U.S.-Russian relations in staging a neo-con "wet dream" show trial in New York, not far from the "Diamond District," where the bearded Hasidic diamond dealers will be closely listening to what Bout says during his "kangaroo court" trial.