End Game: Arresting The Paymaster(s)
Part 9 of Truth, Lies, and The Legend of 9/11: TruthLiesLegend
With the well-timed arrest of Ramzi Binalshibh in September 2002, journalist Yosri Fouda was in a bind. Only days before, he had gone on record - repeatedly - as dating his interview with Khalid and Binalshibh to June 2002. Up to the time of Binalshibh's arrest, the official legend had it that Khalid's pivotal role as 9/11 mastermind was revealed to U.S. authorities through their interrogation of Abu Zubaydah, who was captured in March 2002. Now, in the aftermath of Binalshibh's capture, word was circulating that perhaps authorities had learned of Khalid's true role by way of Fouda. That contention, of course, would remain most plausible if Fouda's interview could definitively be back-dated to a time before early June 2002 - that is, to a time before Khalid was first publicly announced as 9/11 paymaster. The alternative scenario quite simply pointed to a conclusion that would have to be denied at all costs - that the decision to out Khalid publicly as the 9/11 mastermind was coordinated with the decision to send Fouda on his interview errand with Khalid. Had Fouda erred, then, by initially claiming that his historic interview had taken place in June 2002? Had he possibly exposed a seam pointing the way to a coordinated set-up?
Soon after the Binalshibh arrest, Fouda took the opportunity to revise the date of his interview for the record, revealing to Abdallah Schleifer of the Kamal Adham Center For Journalism:
Fouda: "Actually, this question of dates is very important for another reason. All of these Islamist websites that were denouncing me alluded to my interview as taking place in June. That's what I mentioned both in my article in The Sunday Times Magazine and in my documentary - that I met them in June."
Fouda: "I lied."
Schleifer: "But you're going to come clean with [us], right?"
Fouda (laughter): "Yes, of course. I lied because I needed to lie. I'll tell you why. Because I thought, maybe even expected, that if something when wrong and I needed to get in touch with them through a website or a statement or a fax ... they would be the only ones who would know that I had met them one month earlier than I let on, and so I'd know I was talking to the right people. So after the first wave of denunciations a pro-Qa'ida website "jehad.net" put up a statement online in the name of Al-Qa'ida clearing me of any blame or connection with Ramzi's arrest and I knew this was an authentic communique because it alluded to the interview taking place in May."
Apparently, Fouda had lied again, for on March 4, 2003 (i.e. a few days after Khalid's eventual arrest), Fouda offered up this newest version of his 48-hour encounter to The Guardian:
"It was late afternoon, Sunday 21 April 2002, when I packed my bags before joining Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-shibh for a last prayer before saying goodbye."
That, as they say in legal parlance, is a very definite recollection. In short, Fouda had impeached his own testimony through these two explicitly detailed, contradictory dates. Fouda, through this compounded lie, was now calling into question the very credibility of his entire interview with Khalid and Binalshibh. Perhaps the authorities had requested that Fouda should back-date his interview further, overlooking the fact that Fouda had already back-dated his 48-hour encounter to the month of May. Or, quite simply, Fouda had - by the time of his final revision - forgotten the first draft account he had stated for the record in Schleifer's presence only months before.
In any case, perhaps this earlier date made it easier to countenance a plausible scenario whereby Fouda's interview with Khalid would seem to lead to the conclusion by authorities that Khalid was the 9/11 mastermind. In other words, they would have had a lead time of several weeks before making the inaugural public announcement about Khalid in June 2002. That would plausibly explain why Fouda had subsequently chosen to go on record as back-dating the previously reported timeframe for his interview, thereby further refuting any possible suspicions that Khalid's sudden desire for an historic interview could in any way have been coordinated with the decision by authorities to market Khalid as the new 9/11 mastermind. Recall that, back in June 2002, the "official" legend at the time had it that it was Abu Zubaydah, back in March 2002, who had spilled the goods on Khalid. Yet with Khalid's March 2003 apprehension, this one aspect of the legend was duly revised. As revealed by Keith Olbermann in a March 3, 2003 MSNBC.com item: "Ironically, it would be [Fouda's] interview that would point out, to U.S. intelligence, that [Khalid Shaikh] Mohammed and Binalshibh were the brains behind the 9/11 attacks."
But taking Fouda at his latest - albeit revised - word, if April 21, 2002 was indeed the date on which he had taken leave of Khalid and Binalshibh, it is instructive to note that April 21, 2002 was also the date on which Fouda's colleague and co-author, Nick Fielding, took the opportunity to re-acquaint Sunday Times readers with Omar Saeed, the original 9/11 paymaster. Thus do we come full circle - for it was Nick Fielding who had, in fact, written the September 23, 2001 Sunday Times article that served as Omar Saeed's post-9/11 public debut. In the aftermath of the simultaneous arrest of Khalid and Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi (the now-official 9/11 paymaster), Fielding would go on to co-author a book with Fouda entitled Masterminds of Terror, regaling readers with a definitive blow-by-blow account of Fouda's historic interview, as well as providing up-to-date information on Khalid's link to - what else? - the Pearl killing.
In Fielding's April 21, 2002 piece, he chronicles his "discovery" of Omar Saeed:
"Like most people in Britain I had never heard of [Omar Saeed Sheikh] until last September, just after the attack on the World Trade Center, when I received a call from a journalist in India. Did I know, the caller asked, that the British were asking India for legal assistance to try to find a man called Omar Sheikh for questioning?"
Fielding goes on to note:
"Gradually, after that first tip-off, the story of the making of this top terrorist emerged, much of it in his own words."
Indeed, there was something about Omar, and Fielding had come by a definitive first-person account "in October last year [i.e. in the same month when Omar Saeed was first outed as the 9/11 paymaster] when I found that Sheikh.s diary had been discovered among forgotten legal papers in a courthouse near Delhi." A conveniently timed discovery. The 35-page diary, "written in neat longhand after he was shot in an attempted kidnapping in India in 1994," chronicled Omar Saeed's entree into the terrorist milieu, providing a new official legend for Saeed from out of the dusty archives of an Indian courthouse.
According to Fielding's April 21 article, upon first learning of Daniel Pearl's disappearance, Fielding had an immediate hunch as to who the real culprit was, based on his recent readings of a diary fortuitously discovered only a few months before:
"The incident looked similar to the  kidnappings in India. I felt sure [Omar Saeed] was involved. Within days I was in Pakistan, staying in the same guesthouse used by Pearl and, like every other journalist in the region, trying to report this terrible story while looking over my shoulder to avoid a similar fate. Confirmation came within a few days ..."
Fielding further alluded to "unsubstantiated Indian reports" linking Omar Saeed to ISI General Ahmad by way of the $100,000 money trail - practically the only journalist at the time who touched upon Saeed's links to the ISI, General Ahmad, al-Qaida, and the incriminating money trail. Clearly, he knew his subject. As of April 21, 2002, Fielding was playing the Pakistani ISI thread to 9/11. Little more than a year later, he would be playing, alongside Fouda, the final version of the official 9/11/Paymaster/Pearl thread.
Approaching the end of 2002, with Binalshibh secretly stashed away in U.S. custody - and with most people focused on the emerging War In Iraq - the time was now ripe to bring this part of the Official 9/11 Legend to its neat and tidy conclusion. For the record, the aforementioned John J. Lumpkin of the Associated Press (who had written the definitive June 2002 article introducing Khalid as the new 9/11 mastermind) took the opportunity - on December 27, 2002 - to clarify the true identity of the official 9/11 paymaster, this time providing the very first explicit acknowledgment of those troublesome contradictions previously conveyed through the pages of the Associated Press:
"[9/11 paymaster Mustafa Ahmed] Al-Hisawi previously had been reported to be an al-Qaida figure known as Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif, whom counterterrorism officials now say is probably three different people: Al-Hisawi; Shaikh Saiid al-Masri, al-Qaida's finance chief, and Saad al-Sharif, bin Laden's brother-in-law and a midlevel al-Qaida financier."
Not that many people noticed - or cared. Still, all that prior nasty confusion concerning the 9/11 paymaster alias had to be qualified and clarified in time for al-Hisawi's approaching "official" arrest. Where previously the 9/11 paymaster was reported to be bin Laden's "financial chief" or "bin Laden's brother-in-law/financial chief", now these two characterizations were taken to be two separate individuals, with the added clarification that this little-known brother-in-law wasn't in fact anything close to a "financial chief" - just a "midlevel al-Qaida financier," in the words of Lumpkin. As for al-Hisawi: "He isn't thought to be a senior al-Qaida leader." In Lumpkin's latest take on the subject, this "key financier of the attacks" had been demoted in the al-Qaida ranks. Moreover, he was now sharing his 9/11 "paymaster" billing with Binalshibh and some guy named Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (introduced by Lumpkin through Mueller just a few months before). Game, set, match.
And what of that nasty rumor concerning Khalid's death back in September 2002? That, too, needed to be definitively dispelled in time for Khalid's March 2003 "apprehension." For that leg of the legend, TIME did the honors, courtesy of Tim Mc Girk, in an article posted on January 20, 2003: "After a four-hour gunfight, one al-Qaeda member, Ramzi Binalshibh, was in handcuffs and two other terrorists lay dead on the floor. A female FBI agent crouched down to examine the blood-smeared bodies. Suddenly, she smiled and, to the surprise of the Pakistani cop, bounded over and gave him a kiss. 'Do you know who you've got?' she asked. 'You've killed Khalid Shaikh Mohammed'... ... But a fingerprint check later revealed that the dead man on the floor of the Karachi apartment wasn't Mohammed."
Well, if the dead man on the floor wasn't Khalid, then what of the widow and child who reportedly said otherwise - at least according to the aforementioned October 30, 2002 Asia Times article by Syed Saleem Shahzad? In Shahzad's account, an "Arab woman and a child were taken to an ISI safe house, where they identified the Shaikh Mohammed's body as their husband and father." Thereafter, "the widow subsequently underwent exhaustive interrogation in the custody of FBI officials..." while "news of the death of [Khalid] was intentionally suppressed..."
The above account might have easily been shrugged off as an outlandish rumor ... but for the revelation of one curious fact, reported little more than a week after Khalid's later, "official," arrest. As revealed by Olga Craig on March 10, 2003 in the Sunday Telegraph:
"Two young sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the suspected mastermind of the September 11 attacks, are being used by the CIA to force their father to talk. Yousef al-Khalid, 9, and his brother, Abed al-Khalid, 7, were taken into custody in Pakistan in September [i.e. at the time of the Binalshibh arrest] when intelligence officers raided a flat in Karachi where their father had been hiding."
According to the Telegraph article, the boys were flown over the weekend of March 10 to a "secret address" in the United States, "where they were being encouraged to talk about their father's activities." What a 9-year old and a 7-year old could possibly reveal in the way of the al-Qaida operational itinerary is beyond the ken of this writer. Nevertheless, the Telegraph was able to secure the cheery assurances of a duly anonymous "official":
" 'We are handling them with kid gloves,' said one official. 'After all, they are only little children, but we need to know as much about their father's recent activities as possible.' "
That was the absurdly innocuous, official explanation. Might there have been a more sinister motive for keeping Khalid's sons in custody? Had they, perhaps, witnessed the accidental killing of their father back in September 2002, and were they thereby kept in indefinite isolation so as to conceal that fact? And what of the mother of the boys? As of this writing, these questions have yet to be answered.
In any case, the main story points of the Official 9/11 Legend were fully elaborated and resolved with the simultaneous capture of Khalid and the official paymaster, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi, in March 2003. Only weeks later, however, with the War In Iraq in full sway, these presumably senior operatives in the 9/11 plot drew negligible scrutiny from the media and the public at large. Both men were reportedly stashed away in secret locations, presumably sharing the fruits of their interrogations with anonymous officials, who would duly pass off the requisite "scoops" to writers with a curious penchant for special intelligence access (Gerald Posner, for example).
Meanwhile, the - perhaps choreographed? - farce of the Moussaoui trial would drag on, with Moussaoui reportedly insistent on calling Khalid and Binalshibh as witnesses for the defense. At this point, one would be cautioned as to drawing any firm conclusions about the ongoing events of the Moussaoui trial. The important fact to keep in mind is that Moussaoui all along was likely set up as the convenient vessel through which the Justice Department and Mueller's FBI - cunningly obscured by Mueller's hedges - would gradually elaborate the main contours of the Official 9/11 Legend in that crucial first year following 9/11. In other words, by way of the lone Moussaoui indictment, the authorities were able to provide the illusion of a massive legal investigation covering literally thousands of pages, spanning continents in order to ferret out the full depth of Moussaoui's nefarious associations. In this respect, one might surmise that once Moussaoui has fully served his purpose as an investigative/propaganda vessel (as he likely already has), the authorities will then proceed to demonstrate that the Moussaoui case was never particularly relevant after all - thereby successfully concealing the all-important function that his case did serve in the finely calibrated public dissemination of the Official 9/11 Legend.
Given the foregoing, it remains to be seen how the authorities will conclusively deal with the festering anomalies surrounding their three prize catches - the elusive Binalshibh, the perhaps dead Khalid, and the perhaps fictitious Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi. Nevertheless, it is a safe bet that in the meantime, the authorities will continue to weave ever more complex and murky tapestries around the personalities of these operatives, employing the mercenary talents of writers like Gerald Posner to add to the crumbling sediment of "facts."
As for Omar Saeed, he is perhaps the biggest anomaly of them all. In his earliest post-9/11 incarnation, he was tagged as a suspected "trainer" of the 9/11 hijackers, and then subsequently was cast in the role of the 9/11 paymaster. By the time he resurfaced a few months later as the alleged mastermind behind the Pearl kidnapping, the media was mainly casting him as a terrorist leader involved in the Kashmir conflict, aided by "rogue" elements within the ISI. Among all the major al-Qaida players - bin Laden, Atta, Binalshibh, Khalid - it was mostly through Omar Saeed that one could gain a full perspective of all the interconnected anomalies, that one could most easily detect the mainstream media as active - and, in some sense, passive - agents of a wide-ranging disinformation apparatus.
Most ironically of all, Omar Saeed personally had very little to do with any of it. Rather, his importance lay in what others would allege about him: a brief October 9 article about Saeed that would, by implication, incriminate the future senior joint authors of the "official" 9/11 Report; that would set in motion a massive cover-up which would reverberate through the piecemeal elaboration of the 9/11 money trail; and which would continue through the Pearl kidnapping; and which would finally sputter to an anti-climactic resolution with the publicized apprehension of the alleged 9/11 mastermind (and his phantom paymaster). Another brief January 22 item about Omar Saeed would serve to personally incriminate FBI Director Mueller only one day before the Pearl kidnapping, and would serve to expose that episode as a sinister timed set-up. It is as if fate had cast Omar Saeed as the human Rosetta Stone by which the riddle of 9/11 could be dissected and explained.
There was, indeed, something about Omar - a troublesome seam woven into the otherwise fine fabric of the Official 9/11 Legend.
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