The CIA's Secret Powers: Afghanistan, 9/11, and America's Most Dangerous Enemy

D.294 "The CIA's Secret Powers: Afghanistan, 9/11, and America's Most Dangerous Enemy." Critical Asian Studies, 35:2 (2003), 233-258.


Abstract: The secret powers conferred by the National Security Act of 1947 have been used over the years to train, arms, and develop the terrorist enemies, such as al-Qaida, that are now the chief justification for those powers in the public mind. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, CIA programs have shifted power from moderate to Islamist Muslim groups, contributed to vastly increased heroin production in the area, and helped consolidate the ISI as Pakistan's drug-financed intelligence agency, a "state within a state" that has promoted both al-Qaida and terrorism in other areas such as Kashmir. The secret powers, by preventing rational discussion, have spawned disastrous policy decisions that even the CIA itself has opposed, notably the decision to supply Stingers to the Afghan rebels. The most conspicuous deep political consequence of these policies in Pakistan and Afghanistan has been the indirect training and arming of cadres who eventually participated in the specific events of 9/11: the culmination of a series of terrorist attacks against the territorial United States for which the CIA itself had already, in 1998, secretly admitted partial responsibility. This responsibility is reflected in the present inability of the U.S. government and media to report honestly on what actually happened in the 9/11 attacks.

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Covert power is like nuclear power: it produces noisome and life-threatening by-products which cumulatively are more and more threatening to the environment supposedly served. The by-products of covert power include trained terrorists who in the end are likely to target their former employers, the incriminating relations to government which hinder these terrorists' prosecution, and the ensuing corruption of society at large. The result is deep politics: the immersion of public political life in an immobilizing substratum of unspeakable scandal and bad faith. The result in practice is 9/11.

Unmistakably the United States faces real and dangerous enemies in the world today. Very much in the minds of the public and the media are the survivors of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and the remnants of al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist cells around the world. Behind both of these lie the growing strength of wealthy Wahhabist "charities" and foundations, and ultimately the real power of Saudi and other foreign investors and banks to express their disapproval of U.S. policies, by withdrawing hundred of millions of dollars at will from the U.S. stock markets.

But at a still deeper level beneath these surface phenomena lies a growing threat to American democracy from within.

What follows is not a blanket indictment of the entire US Government. Still less does it pin the blame on any single constituent group, such as the CIA, the military, or the military-industrial complex. It is an indictment of secret extra-constitutional powers bestowed originally by the National Security Act of 1947, to deal with the perceived emergency of an expansionist Soviet Union. Increasingly these powers have escaped the checks and balances intended by our founding fathers, and (as we have seen more and more vividly since World War Two), they have tended more and more to corrupt all those who have access to them. The results of these lethal powers have inflicted misery on millions of people abroad, especially in the Third World. And now, with 9/11, they have been felt at home as well. Many of the worst enlargements and perversions of these intelligence powers have occurred with respect to Afghanistan. There, by disastrous miscalculation, the CIA's powers in the 1970s and 1980s were used to help propagate, almost to help invent, the Islamist extremism which produced both the Taliban and al-Qaeda. From its related dealings with the discredited drug bank BCCI (Bank of Credit and Commerce International), the CIA also became enmeshed in on-going criminal activities with the drug-trafficking ISI (Pakistani intelligence), with the drug-laundering Istakhbarat (Saudi intelligence), and with many of the Islamist financial institutions which President Bush has now attacked.

I hope in this article to show that America's out-of-control entanglements with jihadi Islamists, and particularly with ISI, underlie the still misunderstood events of 9/11, the inability of the United States media to report honestly on what happened that day, and what those events reveal about the deep structure of American global politics. A key example is the fate of a [long uncontested] early revelation from the FBI - that the 9/11 conspirators had recently received $100,000 from an important ISI asset, Mohammed Omar Saeed Sheikh. <1> After Gen. Musharraf of Pakistan sided with the United States and the bombing of Afghanistan began with Pakistan's support, the embarrassing role of Saeed Sheikh was effectively forgotten by the U.S. government. Even when Saeed Sheikh re-emerged in the media in 2002, as the alleged murderer of American journalist Daniel Pearl, his role as financier of 9/11 was now barely alluded to. But the truth must be faced: 9/11, as well as the morass that led the U.S. to war in Afghanistan, arose out of cabals of America's own making.

I will suggest also that one of the motives behind the 9/11 plot was to provoke the predictable and short-sighted U.S. reaction: a military answer to what is ultimately a political problem. Gen. Hamid Gul, an ex-ISI chief whom I suspect of participating in the 9/11 provocation, stated succinctly what he expected as a result of the Musharraf-United States response: a polarization of Pakistan into Islamist and secular factions, in which ultimately "the general [Musharraf] will be left dangling in the air." Although Musharraf remains in power at this writing, Gul's prediction has been borne out by the recent startling increase in voting support for formerly fringe Islamist parties....


<1> After the article was typeset, Pakistan announced the capture of Mustafa Ahmad Hawsawi, the alleged paymaster for 9/11. I dealt with this development in the attached endnote.

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