The claim that ISI chief Mehmood Ahmed ordered Omar Sheikh to transfer $100,000 to Mohammed Atta has been confirmed by the FBI, and many other sources.
A number of techniques and sources have been used in an attempt to say the Atta-ISI link has been officially confirmed, but not all of them are entirely as they seem. As ever, it pays to check up the sources provided in any article, to see if it really does back up any claim the author is making.
Nafeez Ahmed, for instance, gives us the following report in The War On Truth:
The Pakistani newspaper Dawn cited “informed sources” in Pakistan confirming that “Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmed has been replaced after the FBI investigators established credible links between him and Umar Sheikh.” When the FBI traced calls made between Gen. Mahmoud Ahmad and Ahmed Omar Sheikh Saeed’s cellular phone, a pattern linking the ISI chief with Sheikh clearly emerged. The US intelligence community believed that “it was at General Mahmud’s instruction that Sheikh had transferred 100,000 US dollars into the account of Mohammed Atta.” 18
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Sounds like a detailed confirmation of all the key details in the Times of India story, right? But now let’s look at the exact Dawn report:
Gen Mahmud’s exit due to links with Umar Sheikh
By Monitoring Desk
NEW DELHI, Oct 8: Director General of Pakistan’s Inter- Services Intelligence (ISI) Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmed has been replaced after the FBI investigators established credible links between him and Umar Sheikh, one of the three militants released in exchange for passengers of the hijacked Indian Airlines plane in 1999.
The FBI team, which had sought adequate inputs about various terrorists including Sheikh from the intelligence agencies, was working on the linkages between Sheikh and former ISI chief Gen Mahmud which are believed to have been substantiated, reports PTI website.
Informed sources said there were enough indications with the US intelligence agencies that it was at Gen Mahmud’s instruction that Sheikh had transferred 100,000 US dollars into the account of Mohammed Atta, one of the lead terrorists in strikes at the World Trade Centre on Sept 11, it adds.
Yes, that’s the full story. We’ve not edited it at all.
Note first that this is from the “Monitoring Desk”. This is normally about watching the media and printing articles of interest that appear elsewhere, not necessarily investigating it yourself. Which would suggest that Dawn were simply reproducing the original story (as they use a New Delhi byline), not independently verifying it at all.
And a look at the allegations in the story seems to confirm that interpretation. At the end of the second paragraph, Dawn make it clear they’re reporting an allegation on from the “PTI website”. And the “it adds” at the end of the third paragraph shows that, again, they’re just quoting that story (and so Nafeez Ahmed’s claim that “informed sources” in Pakistan confirmed the ISI-Atta story may be incorrect, as it could just be referring to the Indian sources we know already).
So what is the “PTI website”? Dawn don’t say, but our best guess would be the Press Trust of India (www.ptinews.com), a top Indian news agency. If so, that would suggest the PTI carried an early version of the story around the 7th of October, Dawn reproduced it on the 8th, then the India Times ran their fuller version, complete with talk of tracing Sheikh’s mobile phone calls, on the 9th. We can’t verify that, unfortunately (the PTI site doesn’t have a searchable archive), but even if we’re wrong it’s clear that Dawn are not offering the independent confirmation of the ISI-Atta link that Nafeez Ahmed claims.
Fortunately Ahmed has another highly-placed source for us to consider.
The Wall Street Journal also cited “senior government sources” in the United States who confirmed that Gen. Mahmoud was ordered to resign due to the evidence of his wiring $100,000 to chief hijacker Atta.
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The Wall Street Journal? Very impressive, but again, let’s look at what they actually said.
Our Friends the Pakistanis
Top sources confirmed here on Tuesday, that the general lost his job because of the "evidence" India produced to show his links to one of the suicide bombers that wrecked the World Trade Centre. The US authorities sought his removal after confirming the fact that $100,000 were wired to WTC hijacker Mohammed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the instance of Gen Mahumd.
Yesterday we noted a report from a Pakistani newspaper that Lt. Gen. Mahmud Ahmad had been fired as head of Islamabad's Inter-Services Security agency after U.S. linked him to a militant allied with terrorists who hijacked an Indian Airlines plane in 1999. Now the Times of India says Ahmad is connected to the Sept. 11 attacks:
Senior government sources have confirmed that India contributed significantly to establishing the link between the money transfer and the role played by the dismissed ISI chief. While they did not provide details, they said that Indian inputs, including Sheikh's mobile phone number, helped the FBI in tracing and establishing the link
Is this looking familiar?
First, this comes from a page entitled “OpinionJournal - Best of the Web Today”. It’s about reproducing news from elsewhere, not producing stories yourselves.
And second, it’s quite clearly commenting on the Times of India story. In fact, everything after “Now the Times of India says Ahmad is connected to the Sept. 11 attacks” is a quote from the Times. Check the original version yourself:
Top sources confirmed here on Tuesday, that the General lost his job because of the "evidence" India produced to show his links to one of the suicide bombers that wrecked the World Trade Centre. The US authorities sought his removal after confirming the fact that $100,000 were wired to WTC hijacker Mohammed Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the instance of Gen Mahumd.
Senior government sources have confirmed that India contributed significantly to establishing the link between the money transfer and the role played by the dismissed ISI chief. While they did not provide details, they said that Indian inputs, including Sheikh’s mobile phone number, helped the FBI in tracing and establishing the link.
There’s no independent investigation or verification here. And so when Nafeez Ahmed says”The Wall Street Journal also cited “senior government sources” in the United States”, you can forget the “also” -- they’re just repeating the same claims.
Ahmed presses on regardless, though.
German intelligence has also confirmed the transaction.
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This is cleverly written, because you may well take it to mean “they’ve confirmed that Sheikh was asked by the ISI chief to send $100,000 to Atta”, but that’s not the case at all. As we point out on this page, the German “confirmation” story doesn’t pin responsibility on the ISI at all, let alone its chief, and also features a “senior Indian intelligence official” saying how even this information is “very speculative”.
Nafeez Ahmed has still another account, however.
The revelations were also reported by Agence France Press, which received information from “a highly placed [Indian] government source” that “the evidence we have supplied to the US is of a much wider range and depth than just one piece of paper linking a rogue general to some misplaced act of terrorism”.
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As previously, we wanted to go back to the source. This proved difficult, as copies on official news sites seem to have disappeared now, so the best we could find was someone’s private archive. Here’s what it contained:
India Accuses Ex Pakistan Spy Chief Of Links to US Attacker: Report
October 10, 2001
NEW DELHI - Former Pakistani intelligence chief Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmad was sacked after arch rival India said it had provided evidence linking him to the US terror attacks, a report said Wednesday.
The Times of India newspaper reported the general lost his job after India said he had ordered money to be wired to Mohammad Atta who hijacked one of the planes that crashed into the World Tade Center in New York on September 11.
Earlier this week Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf announced Lieutenant General Ehsanul Haq was taking over as new head of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
"The US authorities sought General Mahmood Ahmad's removal after confirming the fact that 100,000 dollars were wired to hijacker Mohammad Atta from Pakistan by Ahmad Umar Sheikh at the instance of the general," said the newspaper, which attributed the report to unnamed Indian government sources.
"India contributed significantly to establishing the link between the money transfer and the role played by the dismissed Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) chief.
"Indian inputs, including Sheikh's mobile phone number, helped US federal agents to trace and establish the necessary links."
A highly-placed government source told AFP that the "damning link" between the general and the transfer of funds to Atta was part of evidence which India has officially sent to the US.
"The evidence we have supplied to the US is of a much wider range and depth than just one piece of paper linking a rogue general to some misplaced act of terrorism," the source said.
Pakistan has given it support for the US-led war on terrorism and offered Washington use of the country's airspace, as well as intelligence sharing and logistical help.
Once again, this is primarily repeating the original story from India. There is a new quote from “a highly placed government source”, but that’s hardly independent confirmation (and in fact it could well be the same source who delivered the story to the India Times).
Other supposed confirmations also prove a disappointment when you look into them. We’ve come across references to a Sander Hicks page, for instance:
Did they know that Ahmad had wired over $100,000 to Mohamed Atta, through U.K. national Saeed Sheikh in the summer of 2001? (Facts all confirmed, quietly, by the FBI investigation in Pakistan, and, partially, in the Wall Street Journal <_http://voxpopnet.net/attaWallStJournal.htm_>?
The Wall Street Journal have another “partial” confirmation? Not quite. Hurry along to that page and you’ll find Hicks doesn’t make such a big deal of it:
In the interests of the public, I am re-publishing a piece here that shows that there was at least a veiled confirmation, by the Wall Street Journal, that Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi received $110K through wire transfers. But boy, they sure don't explain WHERE that $110K came from, do they. Was this the Mahmud Ahmad/ISI transfer? What Asia Times called 9/11’s “Smoking Gun?” Sounds like it was. See below, especially the bold text. —Sander Hicks
Read that carefully and you’ll note he’s only saying this is “veiled confirmation” that $110K was received through wire transfers, something very uncontroversial that is accepted by anyone. The interesting part is whether this was sent from Sheikh, and despite Hicks’ “sounds like it was”, there’s zero supporting evidence in the article itself:
Informal Money-Movement System in UAE Is Likely Uncontrollable
By Paul Beckett, The Wall Street Journal, 933 words
Nov 12, 2001
Copyright Dow Jones & Company Inc Nov 12, 2001
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- When Hassam Khan Afridi, a Pakistani immigrant here, wants to send money to his family back home, he calls the owners of a textiles store in the nearby city of Sharjah. They send a fax to a contact among Mr. Afridi's Hassam Khel tribe near Peshawar, Pakistan. A few days later, Mr. Afridi's father walks to a local shop or to the guest room of a neighbor's home and picks up the cash.
This system, known as hawala, operates semilegitimately here out of the backrooms of restaurants and shops. Few, if any, records are kept and cash may not even change hands for individual transactions. That informality, U.S. officials say, makes it an important channel for the movement of terrorist funds and for the sponsorship of terrorist groups, including Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.
Yet, while tightening controls on mainstream financial institutions as part of the international crackdown on terrorist finances in recent weeks, the UAE is reluctant to take any concrete action against hawala. That is despite the fact that this small Gulf nation has emerged as an important transit point for much of the money traced in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington.
Why the reluctance? Hawala is the cheapest, most convenient and most-popular way for the UAE's two million foreign laborers to send money back to their families in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and a host of other nations in Southeast Asia and Africa. That creates such a huge demand that any clampdown on existing hawala dealers would simply cause others to spring up in their place, UAE government officials say.
"It would be very difficult to find them," concedes Sultan bin Nasser Al Suweidi, governor of the UAE central bank. "And if there is a great incentive in using it and people believe they are not doing any illegal activity, they will go ahead and use it. We will not be able to control it."
Indeed, often these blue-collar workers, who perform the workaday jobs that support the wealthy population of about one million UAE citizens, have no viable alternative for sending money home. "You could say the banks are not really keen to have in their halls these dirty laborers whose shoes are full of dust," Mr. Al Suweidi says. And the nation's 105 licensed wire-transfer houses typically offer a much worse exchange rate than the hawala dealers do. So, Mr. Al Suweidi says, "These people use hawala to maximize the benefits to their families and to improve themselves."
The government's inaction over hawala stands in marked contrast to its tightening of controls in other parts of its financial sector in the wake of the UAE's emergence as an unwitting financial hub for the terrorists involved in the attacks on Washington and New York.
Last year, a total of more than $110,000 was transferred from a UAE exchange house via Citibank in New York to a SunTrust Banks Inc. account in Florida jointly held by two of the suspected hijackers, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi. And in the days before the attacks, three of the suspected hijackers sent a total of about $15,000 back to the UAE, where a suspected lieutenant of Mr. bin Laden's collected it and then fled the country. Two of the transfers -- one for $5,000 and one for $5,400 -- were sent from Western Union outlets in Boston. They were collected at a branch of the Al Ansari Exchange in Sharjah, according to Mohammed Al Ansari, the company's managing director.
Since then, the UAE has criminalized money laundering. The central bank now requires exchange houses to get government-issued identification from customers for any transaction over about $550. It also has shut down one exchange house for poor record-keeping. It has imposed stricter record-keeping rules on banks, too.
Moreover, the government has complied with several U.S. requests to freeze bank accounts and has won plaudits for its cooperation with the U.S. The latest example: The central bank last week froze 12 accounts allegedly related to the Al Barakaat network, identified by U.S. authorities as a channel for funding terrorist groups including al Qaeda. Much of the money sent from the Al Barakaat network in the U.S. was sent to Dubai before being forwarded to other places, U.S. authorities say. Al Barakaat officials have denied the company has any links to Mr. bin Laden or al Qaeda.
But when it comes to hawala, Mr. Al Suweidi, the central-bank governor, says there is little the UAE can do on its own. He says the best way to clean it up is for other countries in the region to abolish controls that restrict the flow of currency and make such an underground transfer network necessary. Only then, he says, will legitimate wire-transfer and banking services become an attractive alternative. He adds that the central bank stands ready to participate in any regionwide discussion on the issue.
Yet, even if those currency controls were abolished, hawala won't be likely to disappear. Mr. Alfridi, a driver who moved to the UAE six years ago, says he uses hawala because it is much more convenient than standing in line at a wire-transfer house. Moreover, he says, there are no banks near where his family lives. He estimates that 95% of the people he knows in the UAE use hawala. "People who send money [this way] are middle class and poor people," Mr. Alfridi says. "People who are rich use the banking system."
Nothing here about Sheikh or Pakistan, let alone Ahmad. The closest connection you might make is that Sheikh is supposed to have sent Atta $100,000, and this $110,000 is a similar amount... But then some accounts say Sheikh sent this money in 2001, not 2000 (see here), suggesting this article may be talking about someone else.
In addition, an exhibit in the Moussaoui trial reveals that the $110,000 referred to here was made up of several smaller transfers, over a period of weeks ($9,985 on July 19th 2000; $9,485 on August 7th 2000; $19,985 on August 30th 2000; $69,985 on September 18th 2000), while most accounts we’ve seen suggest Sheikh sent his money in one block. And while Hicks lack of commentary on the article might make you think the origins of these transfers are a mystery, it’s worth noting that the US has said since 2002 that all these transfers were sent by Ammar Al Baluchi, aka “Abdul Aziz Ali using a variety of aliases”: he was arrested in 2003 and is currently in Guantanamo. Which doesn’t make the allegation true, obviously, but is a point to consider. Perhaps we’ll find out more if the suggested trials for Guantanamo inmates ever occur.
The message here is obvious: make sure you look very closely at apparent confirmations of this story. As we’ve seen, they frequently turn out to be less impressive than they at first appear. This doesn’t mean there’s no confirmation at all, though, and we’ll look at those stories next.