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paulthompson Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-18-07 05:57 AM
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41. The complete translation is here
Edited on Wed Apr-18-07 06:06 AM by paulthompson
A volunteer at Cooperative Research just translated the whole article. In the spirit of DU cooperation, please offer suggestions for any spotty areas. I understand for instance that the title could be translated several different ways, and this is just one option. (I hope it's okay to post the whole thing here, since this is a translation work in progress - if not, please delete.)

September 11, 2001: How Much the French Knew

by Guillaume Dasqui
Le Monde
April 16, 2007
translated by John Goldsmith (some minor clarifications are in brackets)

It's an impressive mass of documents. From afar, you would say a dissertation. From up close, not at all. It's stamped "confidential" and "strictly national use" on each page. At the top left, a royal blue logo: that of the DGSE, Direction Gnrale des Services Extrieurs , the French secret services. All told, 328 classified pages. Notes, reports, syntheses, maps, graphs, organization charts, satellite photos. All of it devoted to al-Qaeda, its chiefs, sub-chiefs, hide-outs, and training camps. Also to its financial supports. Nothing less than the essence of the reports of the DGSE written between July 2000 and October 2001. A veritable encyclopedia.

After an inquiry of several months' duration on this very special document, we contact the headquarters of the DGSE. And April 3, the current chief of staff, Emmanuel Renoult, allows us to see him in the Tourelles barracks in Paris. After looking through the 328 pages that we put on his desk, he cannot hold back from deploring such a leak as this, all the while letting us understand that this packet represents essentially all of the DGSE's work on the subject during this crucial period. About the content, however, it is impossible to get him to say anything at all. It's too sensitive.

It is true that this chronicle from the secret services on al-Qaeda, with their various revelations, raise a number of questions. And first of all, a surprise: the high number of notes specifically devoted to the threats of al-Qaeda against the US, months before the suicide attacks. There are nine reports on this subject between September 2000 and August 2001. This includes a summary note of five pages, entitled "Hijacking of an airplane by radical Islamists", and dated January 5, 2001. Eight months before 9/11, the DGSE reports tactical discussions since the start of 2000 between Osama bin Laden and his Taliban allies about such an operation against US airlines.

Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, chief of staff to the head of the DGSE until August 2001 (today president of Serenus Conseil, a corporation specializing in crisis strategy and influence crisis), flips through the 328 pages, and also comes across that note. He hesitates, and then says, "I remember that one...You have to remember that until 2001, hijacking an airline did not have the same meaning as after 9/11. In those days, it meant forcing it to sit in an airport and hold negotiations. We were used to that." A way to put all this in perspective, to understand why this alert dated January 5th did not provoke any reaction from those to whom it was sent: the pillars of executive power.

From January 2001, the leadership of al-Qaeda was visible to the eyes and ears of French spies. The authors of this report even detail the disagreements between terrorists on precisely how to conduct the hijacking. They never doubt their intention. At first, the jihadists want to get an airplane going from Frankfurt to the US. They set up a list of 7 possible companies. Two will finally be chosen by the pirates of September 11: American Airlines and United Airlines. In the introduction, the author of the note announces: "According to Uzbek intelligence services, the hijacking of an airplane seem to have been discussed in early 2000 at a meeting in Kabul among the representatives of the bin Laden organization."

So the Uzbek spies told the French agents. At that point, the fundamentalist Muslims in pro-American Tashkent formed the IMU, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. A militant faction led by Taher Youdachev, had gone to Afghanistan and pledged loyalty to bin Laden, promising to export his jihad in Central Asia. Military records and IMU correspondence found in Afghan al-Qaeda camps later, attest to this.

Alain Chouet remembers this. Until October 2002, he directed the Service of Security Intelligence, the subdivision of the DGSE charged with following terrorist movements. According to him, the credibility of the Uzbek channel is based on the origin of the alliances set up by Gen. Rashid Dostum, one of the principal warlords in Afghanistan, who is Uzbek himself and fighting then against the Taliban. To please his protectors in the Uzbek security services next door, Dostum infiltrated some men into the IMU, as high as the command structures in the camps of al-Qaeda. That is how the intelligence came to Tashkent, knowing full well that his information would eventually go to Washington, London, or Paris.

The January 2001 note indicates clearly that other sources corroborate this information on al-Qaeda's plans. The DGSE is not just trading for information with their colleague intelligence organizations; it is manipulating and "turning" young candidates for the jihad from the suburbs of the big cities of Europe. In addition, the DGSE sends agents to (Ahmed Shah) Massoud (head of the Northern Alliance opposing the Taliban). Not to mention the satellite telephone intercepts.

A source close to Pierre Brochand, current head of the DGSE, assured us that the service had a "bin Laden cell" since at least 1995. The alert on 5 January is based, thus, on a tested system. Alain Chouret, after asking us to make clear that he was not speaking in the name of French institutions, is laconic but clear: "It is rare that one transmits a paper without cross-checking it." And this paper follows and precedes multiple reports from the DGSE establishing the credibility of bin Laden's war chants.

In its note, the DGSE estimates that al-Qaeda's desire to pass into action (hijacking an airplane of the USA) is certain: "In October 2000 bin Laden attended a meeting in Afghanistan at which the decision to mount this action was upheld." This is January 5, 2001, the die is cast, the French know it... and they are not the only ones.

As with all information dealing with risks to American interests, the note went to the CIA. It goes first to the CIA in Paris, Bill Murray, a French-speaker with the build of John Wayne, who has since returned to the US. We contacted him, but he did not want to talk with us. Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, who was responsible at that point for liaison with foreign services at the DGSE, cannot conceive of this information not going to him: "That, typically, is the kind of information that would certainly have been forwarded to the CIA. It would even have been an error not to have done it."

On the other side of the Atlantic, two former CIA specialists on the al-Qaeda who we contacted do not remember any special alerts sent by the DGSE. Neither Gary Berntsen, attached to the office of the DDO from 1982 to 2005, nor Michael Scheuer, former head of the bin Laden unit at the CIA, have any recollection of specific information coming from the DGSE.

In Washington, the 9/11 Commission, in its final report published in July 2004, underscored the inability of the FBI, the CIA, and the immigration services to piece together the sparse data pointing towards some of the 9/11 hijackers. At no point did the commission bring up the possibility that the CIA would have sent up to political powers as early as January 2001 intelligence coming from French intelligence regarding the tactical choice of bin Laden to hijack American airliners.

And beyond that, the most astounding thing about the 328 page DGSE report lies in the juxtaposition of the reports warning of the threat, like that of January 2001, and those that give quite early on highly detailed information on the function of the organization. Beginning on July 24, 2000, with a 13 page report entitled "The Networks of Osama bin Laden," it's all there in black and white. The context, the anecdotal details, and all the strategic aspects relative to al-Qaeda are already there. Quite often, later documents simply add additional details. For example, the rumor that bin Laden was dead--which went around in September 2006 --is reported with the intonations of an oft-heard refrain, but nonetheless not without foundation: "The ex-Saudi, who has lived for several years in grim circumstances, is constantly on the move, from camp to camp, suffering equally from kidney and back problems...Recurring rumors speak of his imminent demise, but he does not seem to have changed his daily habits up to now."

On an aerial photo from August 28, 2000: DGSE agents spot a key figure, Abu Khabab (Abu Khabab al-Masri, al-Qaeda's chief bomb maker and chemical weapons expert), close to bin Laden. He is an Egyptian bomb-maker, known for having taught how to make home-made bombs to generations of jihadists, and he is a high ranked target. In two biographical items on him, dated October 25, 2000 and January 9, 2001, the DGSE specifies information exchanged with Mossad, the CIA, and Egyptian security services regarding him. His activities and movements are well covered.

Likewise for Omar Chabani (a.k.a. Abu Jafar, said to be killed in Tora Bora in late 2001), the emir who is in charge of training all the militant Algerians who have come to Afghanistan, according to the DGSE. Al-Qaeda, thanks to him, have set up during 2001 some infrastructures made available to the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), the terrorist Algerian movement whose head, Hassan Hattab, ex-ally of bin Laden, which endorsed in 2006 a policy of reconciliation with the Algerian president Bouteflika, provoking the ire of the younger generation in the GSPC. These younger people kept up the combat which their elders had dropped; the younger created a new GSPC, renamed al-Qaeda for an Islamic Maghreb, which seems to have been responsible for the attacks of April 11th in Algiers.

Alongside operational aspects of the functioning of al-Qaeda, these DGSE documents propose another look at the political go-betweens used by its chief. An example: in a note of February 15, 2001 devoted in part to the risk of attacks against the French military base in Djibouti, the authors note the presence in the country of bin Laden's representative for the Horn of Africa, Nidal Abdel hay al Mahainy. They note that he arrived on May 26, 2000, and met with the president of the Djibouti Republic.

But it is Saudi Arabia that is constantly the most worrisome with regard to sympathies for Afghanistan which bin Laden is profiting from. The DGSE reports explore bin Laden's relations with business men and various organizations in that country. Certain Saudi personalities have proclaimed their hostility to al-Qaeda, but evidently they have not convinced everyone. Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi remembers well what the high-placed people at the DGSE were thinking: "The DGSE had a lot of difficulty believing that he didn't have any relations with the Saudi monarchy just because he was banished. It was hard to accept."

The report from July 24, 2000 mentions a payment of 4.5 million dollars going to bin Laden from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a group directly under the Muslim World League, itself considered the political instrument of the Saudi ulemas (Islamic scholars). It was not until August 3, 2006 that the IIRO offices appeared on the official list of organizations financing terrorism according to the US Department of the Treasury. Throughout July 2000, two years after the attacks in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the authors of this memo doubt the sincerity of the public positions taken by bin Laden's family: "It seems more and more likely that bin Laden has maintained contacts with certain members of his family, although the family, which directs one of the largest groups of public works in the world, has officially renounced him. One of his brothers apparently plays a role as intermediary in its professional contacts or the monitoring of its business." According to Lorenzi, it was his recurring doubts, and more specifically the ambivalence of the IIRO, which led the DGSE to work together with the Quai d'Orsay (the Foreign Ministry in Paris) when French diplomats would propose an international convention to the UN against the financing of terrorism.

Another note from DGSE dated September 13, 2001 entitled "Elements on the financial resources of bin Laden" repeats the suspicions regarding the Saudi Binladin Group, the family empire. It speaks of a powerful banker, once close to the royal family, as the chief architect of a plan "that seems to have been used for the transfer to the terrorist of funds that came from the Gulf countries." An annex to this memorandum of September 13, 2001 lists the assets supposedly under Osama bin Laden's direct control. Surprise: In the middle of the known structures that the "Sheikh" managed in Sudan, Yemen, Malaysia and Bosnia, a hotel situated in Mecca in Saudi Arabia still figures in 2001.

Alain Chouet is skeptical about the desire on the part of Saudi authorities to capture bin Laden before September 11. "His loss of Saudi nationality is nothing but a farce. As far as I know, no one did anything in fact to capture him between 1998 and 2001." And a document backs this up, a report from October 2, 2001: "The departure of Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence: a political eviction" which reveals the underside of this spectacular firing just before September 11. The authors underscore the limits of Saudi influence especially in Kandahar. "Prince Turki was not able, during his recent trips to Kandahar, to convince those he met with to extradite bin Laden."

And 6 years later? In a large report of the DGSE dated June 6, 2005 that we were able to peruse and entitled "Saudi Arabia, A Kingdom in Danger?" a picture is painted in which the Saudi regime is doing more to combat al-Qaeda. Nonetheless some paragraphs betray remaining doubts about the real desire of the Saudis. The French secret services are still anxious about the penchant for holy war among some Saudi "doctors of the faith" (ulema).

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