Mahmoud Ahmad funds the attacks
One of the main supposed "smoking guns" of 9/11 is the claim that Lt General Mahmoud Ahmad, Pakistani intelligence chief, had $100,000 wired to Mohamed Atta. This primarily comes from a 9th October 2001 report in the India Times:
However, it’s worth noting that all the key points here come from unnamed “top sources” and “senior Government sources”, with nothing we can verify. Nafeez Ahmed, in “The War On Truth”, tells us “the transaction was also confirmed by German intelligence” (page 139), but if you check his source then it paints quote a different picture.
Even though there’s something for here for “inside job” theorists, in the final question of why the UK and US haven’t pursued Sheikh more vigorously, this account isn’t often retold online. And it’s not difficult to see why. This story appeared a few days after the India Times version, but it says the breakthrough came from an informer to German intelligence, that Masood Azhar may have sent the money, doesn’t directly mention the ISI as being behind the wire transfer, and says the whole story is “very speculative”.
And there was to be yet another variation in an India Abroad article, in November 2001:
Here Saeed Sheikh sent the money, but this time only to a German intermediary, and again there's no mention of ISI involvement.
Obviously these accounts don't completely invalidate the first. But the variations should be enough to make us at least question the initial India Times report.
It's also interesting to read more up-to-date stories. This one, again from the Times of India, still talks of Sheikh sending money to Atta - but there's no longer any mention of the ISI or General Ahmad:
What is the basis for researchers appearing to accept the first Times of India account, then frequently failing to even mention the later versions? Apart from the first version being the one that fits most closely with their theories?
We've been asked why the Times of India would make up their first story. The simple answer, we believe, is that they didn't, they reported what their source told them. However, relations between the countries were so poor that it's definitely unwise to take any such report at face value, especially as India has long linked the ISI to terrorism. Here’s a piece from 2003, for instance:
Note the widespread nature of the concern here, far more than simply about problems in Kashmir. Rather, the author believes that these groups want India to entirely disintegrate. And General Ahmad, linked by India to the 9/11 attacks, is specifically named as calling for attacks on Indian temples. If this were known after September 11 2001 then it does suggest that India might feel they would benefit from his being removed. And a report from the time Ahmad was removed from his ISI post does accuse him of links to terrorism:
Another report from India points out that it’s strongly in their interests to keep a wedge between Pakistan and the US, to limit any alliance, and the ISI-Atta link is a key part of that:
The Indian Prime Minister summed up the position just a few weeks after 9/11:
Vajpayee clearly feels aggrieved that Pakistan receives substantial US funding and support, not least because be believes they then sponsor terrorism against India. The incentive to persuade the US to see the Indian side of things is obvious. We’ve no idea whether India let this influence their intelligence on Atta and the ISI, but it's certainly not impossible that one individual could have leaked a story aimed at doing just that.
Of course, there's another oddity here. If India really believe that the ISI helped to fund the 9/11 attacks, then why are their politicians not pointing it out at every opportunity? Must they now be included in the ever-expanding conspiracy, as complicit in covering up the truth? Or could it be that India isn't making this accusation, because they don't have the evidence to back it up?
We're not alone in questioning the credibility of the Indian reports, however those supporting the central "ISI funded Atta" claim say the link has been officially confirmed elsewhere, too.
Nafeez Ahmed, for instance, gives us the following report in The War On Truth:
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:
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? Very impressive, but again, let’s look at what they actually said.
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:
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”, they're actually just citing the same unknown Indian sources behind the Times of India story.
Ahmed presses on regardless, though.
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:
The German story says Sheikh "may" have sent the money, however this is "very speculative", and there's no mention of the ISI here at all. As confirmations go, this seems remarkably weak.
Nafeez Ahmed has still another account, however.
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:
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 Times of India, especially as it appeared the very next day).
Other supposed confirmations also prove a disappointment when you look into them. We’ve come across references to a Sander Hicks page, for instance:
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:
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:
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.
When debating this issue online you'll often hear that "the FBI have confirmed the ISI link". British MP Michael Meacher made this specific accusation in a 2005 Guardian article:
Confirmation of an ISI link by a top FBI official would plainly offer extremely solid backing to the story. There's only one problem: Lormel said nothing of the kind. Here's what he told the House Committee on Financial Services, October 3rd, 2001:
(We've snipped this to zoom in on the core issue for this page, but there's much more. Please go read the whole thing if you're looking for the bigger picture.)
There's no confirmation of an ISI link here, then, and Lormel doesn't say that Sheikh was involved either. John J LaFalce said that "apparently Mohamed Atta received a wire transfer of $100,000 from a bank account in Pakistan under the control of one of bin Laden’s lieutenants", but Lormel doesn't even confirm that: all he tells us is that Atta received over $100,000 from multiple accounts in the UAE.
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.
The claim that ISI chief Mahmoud Ahmad ordered Saeed Sheikh to wire $100,000 to Mohammed Atta is usually supported by references to stories in Pakistan’s Dawn magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the AFP. But as we’ve seen elsewhere, these all place major reliance either on the original Times of India story, or unnamed Indian sources, not necessarily the people to offer an objective analysis of Pakistan or the ISI. That doesn’t mean they should be automatically dismissed, of course, just treated with caution, so with that in mind let’s take a look at other attempted confirmations that we’ve found.
This Daily Excelsior story, for instance, appears to offer more background to the story:
On the plus side, the inclusion of Sheikh’s phone number suggests the reporter has some inside knowledge. As is the naming of RAW, the section of Indian Intelligence supposedly involved in the investigation.
On the negative side, it’s hard to tell what the “hard disk of the cellphone company” will tell anyone. If we assume that’s shorthand for examining their records, it’s still unclear how these could prove that Ahmed “fully knew about the transfer of money to Atta”, nor does the story explain how this was determined.
The Excelsior piece does make it worth reproducing part of another article, though, that otherwise might have been too dubious to mention. Not least because it comes from an article in the Bharat Rakshak Monitor, that’s apparently been “developed from a discussion conducted at the Bharat-Rakshak Forum”, appears to be written with the aim of blaming Pakistan for everything, and the key claims it contains of interest to us are unsourced. The first paragraph does provide more detail than we’ve seen so far, though:
The first paragraph here tells us that the money was transferred to Atta in Germany, which is a new claim: previous information suggests the hijackers didn’t receive this level of financial support until after they arrived in the US. And this time it seems they’re hinting that the cell phone call was monitored as it happens: it could have been later, but talking of “shadowing Saeed in a bookstore” suggests a closer watch on events than we’ve seen previously.
As we’ve mentioned, this is too unreliable a source to take as anything but someone’s hypothesis about what happened (and if it is sourced from an Indian intelligence report somewhere then there are still the reliability issues we’ve discussed before), but there is some support for one of the details elsewhere:
It’s not explictly stated here, but placing the wire transfer and “calls to Atta’s house in Hamburg” in the same paragraph suggests the author is also saying the money was transferred to a German account. Do these calls, even if they occurred, necessarily show contact with Atta, though? Perhaps not. According to the official chronology at least, Atta was primarily in the US from June 2000, while his Hamburg apartment wasn’t “vacant” until February 2001, and was used by others:
What’s the issue? Check the CooperativeResearch 9/11 timeline and you’ll see the “$100,000 funding from United Arab Emirates” placed as occurring between June 29th and September 18th 2000, after Atta had moved to the US and the hijackers had opened bank accounts there. Why, then, does one version of the story talk about transfers to Germany? It could be an early transfer that isn’t documented elsewhere (although if it is, you can forget using the UAE details to prove it’s Sheikh); it could be that the Bharat Rakshak Monitor claim is simply wrong, and the rediff.com story didn’t mean to imply that the transfer occurred to Germany; but it could also be an example that at least parts of these Indian-sourced stories are false, with some of the detail proving less than reliable.
India wasn’t the only country reporting on this story, though. Amir Mir of Pakistan has also weighed in:
As a result of comments like this, Mir is occasionally listed as someone who provides independent confirmation of the story. But his claims here aren't sourced, and careful reading of his 2004 book, "The True Face of Jehadis", reveals no particular "inside knowledge" with regard to this claim:
It seems Mir is doing nothing more than repeating Nafeez Ahmed's flawed analysis, assuming the Wall Street Journal piece is US confirmation of the transfer, when in fact it's simply repeating the Times of India story. The statement that "Omar Sheikh had already been convicted in the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl" when this occurred doesn't improve his credibility, either, as Pearl wasn't killed until 2002, some months after these events.
Still, some other details in Mir's piece, for example about Sheikh's claimed foreknowledge of the attacks, also appear in another account of his interrogation:
This account also requires a source “health warning”: there's no telling how Sheikh might have been "persuaded" to speak, it documents problems between the Karachi police and Musharraf that lead to this story reaching the press in the first place, and it’s been retold by Jammu-Kashmir, who aren’t the most objective source on Pakistan. Still, let’s suppose it is entirely true: what can we learn from these confessions?
One interesting new point here is the suggestion that Sheikh met Atta personally, and so learned of the attacks in advance. This information was then communicated to the ISI, and others.
What’s noticeable absent, though, is any mention of General Mahmoud Ahmad, or Sheikh actually wiring funds to Atta. Why should that be? The confession is actually more incriminating than the original claims, both for himself and the ISI, so it’s hard to see why that part of the story should be left out.
We could speculate that Sheikh was saying just enough to get the attention of the Government, but leaving out key information: a form of threat, if you like, to ensure he at least gained better treatment in prison. But that really is just speculation. We might just as well argue that he was telling the whole truth, or the entire story was made up by an unknown Pakistani source, because there’s just as much evidence for both of those scenarios.
Information supporting the simpler, “Ahmed told Sheikh to wire $100,000 to Atta” story has continued to appear elsewhere, though. Here’s what Bernard-Henri Levy had to say in his book “Who Killed Danny Pearl?”:
One oddity here is that even in the same book, there’s no clear agreement over timings: on one page Levy talks about contact between Sheikh and Mahmoud Ahmed in the summer of 2000, on another he mentions calls between July and October 2001. This need not necessarily be a conflict, as Levy may have been shown details of both 2000 and 2001 calls in New Delhi, but it’s another illustration of just how unclear these stories can be.
Another problem may come in taking Levy’s word for anything at all. William Dalrymple’s review of “Who Killed Danny Pearl” in the New York Review of Books was laced with comments like this:
None of these related to the passages we’ve highlighted, but Dalrymple is a heavyweight commentator and his concerns can’t be entirely dismissed.
Still, if we can trust Levy on his conversations with “people in Washington” then at least we do have some confirmation of this story, outside of India. And these tell us that Sheikh was in touch with Mahmoud Ahmad. Whether that in itself proves that any particular action of Sheikh’s was “at the instance of Ahmad” is another matter, and as you might expect, that’s not a conclusion drawn by Levy’s Washington contacts. But if you accept that he spoke to knowledgeable people, and reliably reported what they said, then it does provide a little extra credibility to the background of the Ahmad-Sheikh-Atta story. Although proof, and even consistency between the accounts, still seems a very long way off.