One of those reports was that an ISI agent, Saeed Sheikh, had wired $100,000 to Mohammed Atta, considered the ringleader of the 9/11 hijackers. That report by itself, if it had become widely known, would have had explosive implications for the prospect of positive relations between Pakistan and the United States after 9/11. But even more potentially explosive was the report that Saeed Sheikh had wired this money at the instruction of none other than ISI chief Mahmoud Ahmad. This “damning link”, as Agence France Presse called it, had explosive implications not only for US-Pakistani relations but also--given the close relations between the CIA and the ISI--for the question of possible CIA involvement in the attacks.
Chapter 9, Pakistan and its ISI
The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions
David Ray Griffin
This is a lengthy, complicated claim, perhaps the most involved we’ve ever covered on this site. And so if you’re expecting simple answers, then it’s best to move on: you won’t find them here. But if you’re interested in hearing some of the information that’s often left out when the “Atta and the ISI” story is retold, then keep reading.
Let’s start by looking at the very earliest reports, before coverage appeared in the US. Perhaps the most commonly repeated story says that India played a major part in establishing the ISI-Atta link, and that there’s very little doubt about its accuracy. However a second report contains quite a different account, suggesting we need to be wary about accepting either version as 100% accurate. Read more on this here.
Of course Indian sources aren’t the most objective when it comes stories linking the ISI with terrorism. They’ve been producing similar reports for some time, with groups in Kashmir and elsewhere. It might not be wise to take everything they say as literal truth: here’s why.
Many web sites and authors ignore these concerns, however, asserting that the ISI-Atta funding claims have been independently confirmed by the FBI and other sources. But is this really true? Maybe not. Take a look.
This doesn’t mean there’s no confirmation at all, though, just that it tends to come from shadowy off-the-record briefings or unnamed sources rather than anything you can actually verify. That can be interesting in itself, though. Here are some good examples.
Recognising the problems involved in confirming the detail of this story, some authors fall back to a safer position. The FBI said that $100,000 did come from Pakistan, they point out, and from someone with an alias said to be used by Saeed Sheikh. Although this is sort-of true, the full story is rather more complicated.
There’s also a fundamental question over the supposed Sheikh transfer that doesn’t seem to be asked very often: when did it occur? This matters a great deal, because some accounts suggest it happened only just before the attacks, and it’s not at all clear what further need the plotters had for cash at that point. Check out the details on this here.
Let’s give these theories the benefit of the doubt, though. We’ll assume 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. He starts by suggesting that, for instance, “amply documented, the ISI owes its existence to the CIA”. On this page we take a look at the references he uses to support that.
Chossudovsky also says that the CIA has used the ISI as an intermediary to conceal it’s support for Islamist groups before: “Throughout the 1990s, the Pakistan Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) was used by the CIA as a go-between -- to channel weapons and Mujahideen mercenaries to the Bosnian Muslim Army in the civil war in Yugoslavia”. But once again, he doesn’t present a lot of supporting evidence.
Of course there’s always the claim that bin Ladin was created, funded or trained by the CIA, in partnership with the ISI. This gets a lot of coverage, but it’s worth nothing that there are people who say it simply isn’t true (and they’re not all obvious supporters of the US government, either). We have an early page on this here.
One of the most frequently raised elements 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. “It was rather a remarkable coincidence”, David Ray Griffin tells us in The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions. Well, maybe, although he had been around since the 4th. And this was a return trip following a 3-day visit (27th to 29th or 28th to 30th of August) to Pakistan from Porter Goss, Jon Kyl and Bob Graham. And Christina Rocca, U.S. assistant secretary of state for South Asian Affairs had been in Pakistan early in August. And General Ahmed had been in Washington less than three months previously. And Condoleeza Rice met with Pakistan's Foreign Minister in June. And CIA chief George Tenet had been in Islamabad in May. And Tommy Franks had met Musharraf in January. And there may well be many other trips we don’t know about, both of US officials going to Pakistan and their Pakistani opposite numbers heading for America. Presumably if the attacks had occurred during any of these visits, or perhaps immediately afterwards, then that would also be written about as a “remarkable coincidence”. But with the number of trips being made, it may not be so unlikely after all.
Anyway, you might hope there’s more substance here than simply implying “it can’t just be a coincidence”. As Michel Chossudovsky covered this first, and has been extensively quoted by David Ray Griffin, Nafeez Ahmed and others, it might be interesting to see what he had to say about it. Take a look here.
There’s no point pretending we were the first to take a critical look at the Chossudovsky article, though. Bill Herbert did it long ago, and you can still find his thoughts at whatdidntreallyhappen.com.
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. Let’s see if their interpretation stands up to scrutiny.
One issue that sometimes pops up in support of Pakistani funding of 9/11 (in emails to us, if not in many books), is an interview given by Senator Bob Graham, where he said: “I think there is very compelling evidence that at least some of the terrorists were assisted not just in financing -- although that was part of it -- by a sovereign foreign government”. Graham doesn’t name the country, but could he possibly be talking about Pakistan? Well, let’s take a look at that on this page.
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.
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 still tend to believe that a transfer did occur, but this is only a marginal, balance of probabilities assessment, in no way a certainty.
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.