ISI funding of the attacks

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While the 9/11 truth movement has made many claims in its first six years, these are by no means all equal. The "4,000 Israelis didn't go to work on 9/11" story got some attention in the first year or so, for instance, but is no longer taken seriously by anyone who matters. And if high-resolution footage were to emerge that showed Flight 175 really did strike the towers, without a pod on the underside, then would this change anyone's mind about the overall case? We think not.

Fight your way past these minor footnotes in history, though, and you find a few rather more significant claims. These are the points most likely to be raised in books, discussed by serious researchers, and called "smoking guns" by just about everyone else. And the issue of whether Pakistani's ISI (Inter-Service Intelligence) helped fund the 9/11 attacks is a perfect example. Here David Ray Griffin passes comment:

The theory seems to be, then, that the CIA may have used ISI chief Ahmad to funnel cash to Atta, and so funded the attacks themselves. This would indeed be explosive if it could be shown to be true, so it's definitely worth taking a very close look at the evidence Griffin and others have provided.

The transfer

At the heart of this story is the claim that Mahmoud Ahmad had $100,000 wired to Mohamed Atta. But there are other versions of this story that aren't so well known, and don't mention the ISI at all. Who should you believe? Are Indian news reports a credible source of information on the ISI, anyway? And have the reports really been confirmed by US sources? Read more about that here


Stories about Omar Sheikh seem frustratingly inconclusive, then, but perhaps we can come at this story from another direction: the wire transfers themselves. What has been said about those? Nafeez Ahmed weighs in:

This is intended to support the “ISI funded Atta” story, by pointing out that the man implicated in that, Saeed Sheikh, was named as a prime suspect by the FBI from early in the investigation. While this is true, Nafeez Ahmed’s version of the Washington Post story has carefully removed some qualifications that you might find interesting.

Note that Ahmed quotes “US officials believe” rather than the original “Some US officials believe”, for instance, and he omits lines like “Al-Hawsawi's precise identity is unclear” and “authorities say they cannot be sure” altogether.

Of course the Washington Post story was long ago, and the story has moved on since then. al Hawsawi is said to have been captured in the 2003 raid that also netted Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, for instance (see this CNN report): if true, and it’s the same al Hawsawi responsible for funding 9/11, then obviously that rules out Saeed Sheikh who remains in a Pakistan prison.

Subsequently.the Moussaoui trial saw a photograph of al-Hawsawi introduced into evidence, as well as an image of his passport, so we can now take a look at this mysterious figure for ourselves.

Mustafa Ahmed Al-Hawsawi.jpg
Mustafa Ahmed Al-Hawsawi Passport Copy.jpg

The passport copy appears to have been taken when al Hawsawi opened an account that would be used to transfer 9/11-related funds, suggesting this really is the person who financed the attacks. And he doesn’t look a lot like Saeed Sheikh.

Of course there’s no way we can confirm that the Moussaoui trial photos really are of the al-Hawsawi suspected of supporting the 9/11 plot. But the key point here is that there’s minimal evidence linking Saeed Sheikh to the al-Hawsawi name, and its use in this case. If he did send any money to Atta, it seems likely that Sheikh took another route.

2000 or 2001?

It might be easier to discover the truth about the supposed Sheikh/ Atta transfer if we could agree on the core details. Like, in which year was the money sent? It’s a simple question, but there doesn’t seem to be a simple answer.

The original Times of India story, for instance, doesn’t tell us.

A second account says the transfer occurs in “the summer of 2000”. However, this is less definitive in its naming of Sheikh, and also doesn’t suggest the ISI are ultimately behind the transfer:

Michel Chossudovsky cites this Brian Ross report on ABC News as evidence of what the FBI discovered early on, though (our emphasis):

There’s a quote here about some money arrived “in the days just before the attack”, which perhaps is why Chossudovsky uses this entry in his timeline:

This seems curious, though. Why send money so late? Did the hijackers have some other purpose for it of which we’re unaware, or does this show that whoever was sending the money didn’t realise it was probably no longer necessary? (Which doesn’t suggest an in-depth knowledge of the attack schedule.)

Of course it could be argued that the Time quote about some of the money coming “in the days just before the attack” didn’t refer to the Sheikh transfer, and so Chossudovsky’s use of “Summer 2001” is simply a mistake. Except there is actually more evidence supporting the idea of a late 2001 transfer.

This story places the transfer after a summer 2001 kidnap, although a more detailed version of the story does even better:

Put these two reports together and they illustrate some interesting points.

You’ll notice that they don’t claim Sheikh was being run by the ISI or anyone else, for instance. They also show how he could obtain large sums of cash without needing state assistance.

They also place the $100,000 transfer very late, less than a month before the 9/11 attacks. If this was sent to Atta (and that’s not proven here, once more relying on Indian allegations) then it’s hard to see what it was for. And if this was the only transfer made by Sheikh, then he can hardly be the September 11 paymaster that is sometimes claimed.

Of course you could also claim that this wasn’t Sheikh’s only transfer, and there’s no confusion here, the truth being that he made two transfers (at least): one in the summer of 2000 and another in 2001. And perhaps that’s true, but as we’ve seen elsewhere, confirmation of the earlier transfer, and its sponsorship by the ISI, is in very short supply.

ISI/ CIA Links

The case for the Sheikh/ Atta transfer is by no means as strongly supported as is sometimes claimed, then. But let's suppose we're wrong, that Sheikh did transfer at least $100,000 to Atta, in the summer of 2000, and that he did so at the instigation of Mahmoud Ahmed, the head of Pakistan’s ISI. You might still want to ask, what does this prove? It’s no secret that Pakistan has supported Islamist groups for a very long time, so the idea that at least one General was connected to an al Qaeda plot shouldn’t be a great surprise.

According to researchers like Michel Chossudovsky, the key here is the close relationship between the ISI and the CIA, which implies that the ISI could well have been used as a conduit to send funds to the hijackers. Does that stand up to scrutiny? Read Chossudovsky on the CIA-ISI link.

bin Laden links to the CIA

Of course there’s always the claim that bin Ladin was created, funded or trained by the CIA. This is repeated so often, and in so many places, that you'd be forgiven for thinking that everyone accepted it. And the only difference was that some believe the original relationship ended long ago, while others say it continued up to 9/11, and beyond. This isn't true, though. Hard evidence (as opposed to unsourced assertions) for any such relationship between bin Ladin and the CIA is distinctly limited, while there are plenty of people around who say any such links were indirect, at best. Read "Bin Laden trained and funded by the CIA"?

Ahmad in Washington

Another aspect to this story is the fact that ISI chief Ahmed was actually in Washington on September 11th, holding talks with the State Department, CIA and others. This is in itself regarded as suspicious by many, although it's not immediately obvious why. Suppose he hadn't have been there: why should events have unfolded any differently? Still, it's worth considering the arguments put forward about the visit, which is what we try to do in "General Mahmoud Ahmad in Washington".

Ahmad dismissed

Whatever happened during the Washington visit, Mahmoud Ahmad wouldn’t be chief of the ISI for very much longer. By October the 8th, just before the bombing of Afghanistan began, he had been dismissed. As a common complaint about 9/11 is that it’s suspicious that no-one has been fired for what they did, you might think this was a sign that his actions weren’t supported by the US. But no, now it’s being fired that is a sign there’s something wrong, apparently: Nafeez Ahmed, and later David Ray Griffin, both see his dismissal as perhaps a coverup, designed to avoid investigations into possible US involvement with the $100,000 wire transfer to Atta. Where's the evidence? Read more in "General Mahmoud Ahmad dismissed".

Other claims


Before we finish, a minor health warning. This section does not cover every aspect of the Sheikh/ ISI/ Atta story, not in any sense. And the chances are it never will (that would require an entire site in itself). You might want to check the views of those who say this really is the “smoking gun” of 9/11, then, just to get both sides of the story. Try Paul Thompson’s “The Many Faces of Saeed Sheikh” for a lengthy consideration of the issues, and perhaps review some of the links to Sheik-related stories at the Media References for Omar Sheikh page (this no longer exists, but we've linked to the last version recorded at


We’re no more able to definitively say what really happened here than anyone else, however after spending time looking through the evidence a few points do become clear.

First, the core claim that Sheikh wired anything at all to Atta is not the proven fact that some would have you believe. Sources involved here may have their own agendas, and there is contradictory information about the evidence involved. We're maybe 51/49 in favour of a transfer occurring, but it's very uncertain.

Second, if there was a transfer, there’s far less confirmation of the idea that Mahmoud Ahmad was involved at all than is generally accepted. Many of the sources commonly cited are simply references to the original India Times story. There are other sources, but they often present new problems of their own.

Third, the stories that do say Ahmad was behind the transfer provide no clear explanation as to how they’ve done this. You can start with “Ahmad called Sheikh frequently around the time of the transfer”, but that’s not actually proof that “Ahmad ordered Sheikh to transfer $100,000 to Atta”, and definitely not the occasional interpretation that “Ahmad was the money man behind the 9/11 attacks”.

Fourth, even if we accept the “Ahmad ordered Sheikh...” claim, there’s no evidence to show that the decision to do this was made by anyone other than Mahmoud Ahmad himself. And if it’s claimed that Ahmad is more than a “rogue general” then such evidence will be necessary, especially as there are alternative accounts suggesting he was sympathetic to Islamist causes.

Fifth, attempts to suggest that “close links” between the ISI and CIA mean that the US must, or even are likely to have known what Ahmad was doing beforehand, are little more than conjecture and guesswork.

And sixth, while most discussions of Ahmad’s dismissal might leave you thinking he was the only one to leave, it seems many other hardline Islamist officers were removed at the same time. And so it’s not necessary to devise any special explanation for his departure, for example to prevent investigations into his supposed 9/11 links.

The impression we get from all this is of a story that gets considerably less reliable, as you move away from wire transfer itself.

Did Sheikh transfer money to Atta, for instance? That’s a definite possibility.

But was he ordered to do so by General Ahmad? We have Indian sources saying he did, although there’s no evidence to back that up. Confirmation elsewhere is slim.

And as there are accounts saying General Ahmad had Islamist sympathies, can we be sure that, if he did order Sheikh to send the money, that he wasn’t simply doing that for his own reasons? Well, no.

Even if this funding was the official policy of the ISI, that doesn’t automatically imply a link to the CIA. India blame the ISI for funding and organising terrorism in Kashmir, for instance, but they don’t somehow assume that the CIA must be linked to that: they recognise that the ISI is an independent organisation. The argument that “the ISI and CIA have worked together therefore the CIA will probably have known what Ahmad was doing” is a stretch, to say the least.

And even if Sheikh funded Atta, and Ahmad ordered this, and he did so as a matter of ISI policy, and the US pressured Pakistan to have Ahmad removed, that still doesn’t show they were covering up a “CIA link”. In fact it can be argued it’s just as, if not more likely to be the US quietly trying to ensure that Pakistan was more likely to cooperate in the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. (Quietly being a necessity, as Musharraf being publicly told what to do wouldn’t gain him much support in Pakistan).

In our view we’re a long way from any “damning link” here, then, although you should read at least the links in the above “Balance” section to make your own mind up. As you do, though, keep in mind the various links in the chain that need to be proved here, and assess for yourself how well an author covers each one.

And if you’re checking out other books and sites covering this story, then be careful. Ploughing through these articles has shown just how often source material can be used in misleading ways, with judicious editing and misinterpretations regularly giving a false impression. So when you see references to a footnote, or links to an article, follow and read them (and that goes for us just as much as anyone else). Don’t let snipped quotes deceive you, read the background material and make your own mind up: it’s the only way to go.