It has taken nearly ten years, but the real story of Iran’s direct, material involvement in the 9⁄11 conspiracy is finally coming to light. And it’s being revealed not by the U.S. government or by Congressional investigators but by private attorneys representing families of the 9⁄11 victims in U.S. District Court.
Just one week before the 9⁄11 Commission sent its final report to the printers in July 2004, diligent staffers discovered a six-page classified National Security Agency analysis summarizing what the U.S. intelligence community had learned about Iran’s assistance to the 9⁄11 hijackers.
They happened upon the document by chance. It had been tucked away at the bottom of the last box in the last stack of classified documents they were reviewing. But it was so explosive that several Commissioners pushed hard to make sure the information it contained was included in the final report, despite intense push back from the intelligence community.
The page and a half section that made the final cut (see pages 240-241) details repeated trips to Iran by 8-10 of the “muscle” hijackers between October 2000 and February 2001. Flying in from Saudi Arabia, Damascus, and Beirut, the future hijackers were accompanied by “senior Hezbollah operatives” who were in fact agents of the Iranian regime.
The information was so explosive that the CIA lobbied hard to get it expunged from the final report, in part because they had detected some of the movements as they were occurring but failed to appreciate their import. “They saw them as travel through Iran, not travel to Iran,” a senior 9⁄11 Commission staffer told me at the time.
By the time the staffers had read into the 75 source documents on a Sunday morning out at NSA headquarters at Fort Meade, MD, the Commission was pushing up against the end of its mandate and could not do any additional work. The information was so serious and had such clear geopolitical import that it “requires further investigation by the U.S. government,” they concluded. Many of the Commissions and senior staff who were aware of the document find assumed someone else would pick up the ball.
But as attorney Thomas Mellon, Jr. and his colleagues representing Fiona Havlish and other 9⁄11 widows and family members discovered, no such investigation was ever carried out. Not even the Congressional intelligence committees would go near the subject, despite direct appeals from the Havlish plaintiffs and a review of many of the original still-classified documents cited in the report.
I was engaged by the Havlish attorneys in 2004 to carry out the investigation the 9⁄11 Commission report called on the U.S. government to handle. We had no governmental authority, hardly any budget, and no access to classified intelligence or intelligence assets. But what we found and made public starting this May is enough to hang a fish. Put simply:
• The Islamic Republic of Iran helped design the 9⁄11 plot;
• provided intelligence support to identify and train the operatives who carried it out;
• allowed the future hijackers to evade U.S. and Pakistani surveillance on key trips to Afghanistan where they received the final order of mission from Osama bin Laden, by escorting them through Iranian borders without passport stamps;
• evacuated hundreds of top al Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan to Iran after the 9⁄11 just as U.S. forces launched their offensive;
• provided safe haven and continued financial support to al Qaeda cadres for years after 9⁄11;
• allowed al Qaeda to use Iran as an operational base for additional terror attacks, in particular the May 2003 bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Key elements of our proofs are in bullet points at the end of this article. For those wishing a more detailed account, here is a partially-redacted affidavit I provided to the Court that traces the Islamic Republic of Iran’s relationship al Qaeda back to the early 1990s.
Panic at CIA
As the Havlish case was getting closer to making its information public last year, certain old guard elements within the CIA went into a panic mode, apparently worried that their failure to act on indicators and warnings in 2000 and 2001 would come to light and ruin their post-Agency careers. I can now reveal that they made several attempts to suborn two of the Havlish witnesses who were located overseas.
In the first attempt, in August 2010, an individual presenting himself as a CIA official, told our witness that the Agency wanted to “break” the Havlish litigation against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and considered the witness’s testimony to be crucial to the lawsuit’s success.
He asked the witness to publicly recant his testimony, in exchange for which the CIA official promised to provide him with fresh passports for himself and his family under new identities, as well as a job and two year’s salary guarantee.
The second attempt, in December 2010, was even more audacious. This time, another individual claiming to be a CIA official showed a different witness confidential documents that clearly had been stolen from the legal consortium, then took him into a U.S. embassy and grilled him for five hours.
The stolen documents included internal Havlish memos, PowerPoint presentations, and an excerpt from the videotaped testimony of one of the witnesses. None of these documents had ever been made public nor were they in possession of the witnesses themselves. Havlish took great care to protect these documents out of concern for the security of our witnesses. The CIA officer then asked that the witness retract his testimony and offered him a substantial monetary payment in exchange.
After I reported those attempts at witness tampering to a Congressional oversight committee, they ceased.
In the past six months the intelligence community, under new leadership, has begun to take a hard look at what it actually knew about Iran and al Qaeda prior to the 9⁄11 attacks. From what I’ve been hearing, what they’re finding is coming as a big shock to a lot of people, especially those who bought into the conventional wisdom that the Shiite fundamentalist regime in Iran would never cooperate with Sunni extremists such as al Qaeda (or Hamas, for that matter).
Recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the U.S. military has publicly cited Iran for providing weapons, money, and military training to the Taliban and other insurgent groups to kill Americans, has helped to change the mindset. So have the announcements over the past two years by the Department of Treasury that Iran is arming and training al Qaeda and the Taliban. Most recently, Treasury designated a group of al Qaeda financiers they revealed were operating out of Iran.
But the big question remains: now that we can begin to appreciate the extent of Iran’s involvement in the 9⁄11 attacks – and in the ongoing attacks that are killing Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan – what are we going to do about it?
Kenneth R. Timmerman is president and CEO of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, and returns to FPM with this essay. His latest book, St. Peter’s Bones, explores the origins of Islam and the persecuted church in Iraq. He was awarded the Reed Irvine Accuracy in Media prize for Investigative Journalism in February 2011.