Gerald Posner is a journalist.
He has written about, among other things; Lee Harvey Oswald, Martin Luther King and international terrorism.
In the final chapter of his book, Why America Slept, he had something important to say about Abu Zubaydah.
Confessions of a Terrorist: Aug. 31, 2003
By March 2002, the terrorist called Abu Zubaydah was one of the most wanted men on earth. A leading member of Osama bin Laden's brain trust, he is thought to have been in operational control of al-Qaeda's millennium bomb plots as well as the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000. After the spectacular success of the airliner assaults on the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, he continued to devise terrorist plans. Seventeen months ago, the U.S. finally grabbed Zubaydah in Pakistan and has kept him locked up in a secret location ever since. His name has probably faded from most memories. It's about to get back in the news. A new book by Gerald Posner says Zubaydah has made startling revelations about secret connections linking Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and bin Laden.
Details of that terrorism triangle form the explosive final chapter in Posner's examination of who did what wrong before Sept. 11. Most of his new book, Why America Slept (Random House), is a lean, lucid retelling of how the CIA, FBI and U.S. leaders missed a decade's worth of clues and opportunities that if heeded, Posner argues, might have forestalled the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Posner is an old hand at revisiting conspiracy theories. He wrote controversial assessments dismissing those surrounding the J.F.K. and Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations. And the Berkeley-educated lawyer is adept at marshaling an unwieldy mass of information—most of his sources are other books and news stories—into a pattern made tidy and linear by hindsight. His indictment of U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies covers well-trodden ground, though sometimes the might-have-beens and could-have-seens are stretched thin. The stuff that is going to spark hot debate is Chapter 19, an account—based on Zubaydah's claims as told to Posner by "two government sources" who are unnamed but "in a position to know"—of what two countries allied to the U.S. did to build up al-Qaeda and what they knew before that September day.
Zubaydah's capture and interrogation, told in a gripping narrative that reads like a techno-thriller, did not just take down one of al-Qaeda's most wanted operatives but also unexpectedly provided what one U.S. investigator told Posner was "the Rosetta stone of 9/11 ... the details of what (Zubaydah) claimed was his 'work' for senior Saudi and Pakistani officials." The tale begins at 2 a.m. on March 28, 2002, when U.S. surveillance pinpointed Zubaydah in a two-story safe house in Pakistan. Commandos rousted out 62 suspects, one of whom was seriously wounded while trying to flee. A Pakistani intelligence officer and hastily made voiceprints quickly identified the injured man as Zubaydah.
Posner elaborates in startling detail how U.S. interrogators used drugs—an unnamed "quick-on, quick-off" painkiller and Sodium Pentothal, the old movie truth serum—in a chemical version of reward and punishment to make Zubaydah talk. When questioning stalled, according to Posner, cia men flew Zubaydah to an Afghan complex fitted out as a fake Saudi jail chamber, where "two Arab-Americans, now with Special Forces," pretending to be Saudi inquisitors, used drugs and threats to scare him into more confessions.
Yet when Zubaydah was confronted by the false Saudis, writes Posner, "his reaction was not fear, but utter relief." Happy to see them, he reeled off telephone numbers for a senior member of the royal family who would, said Zubaydah, "tell you what to do." The man at the other end would be Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdul Aziz, a Westernized nephew of King Fahd's and a publisher better known as a racehorse� owner. His horse War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby in 2002. To the amazement of the U.S., the numbers proved valid. When the fake inquisitors accused Zubaydah of lying, he responded with a 10-minute monologue laying out the Saudi-Pakistani-bin Laden triangle.
Zubaydah, writes Posner, said the Saudi connection ran through Prince Turki al-Faisal bin Abdul Aziz, the kingdom's longtime intelligence chief. Zubaydah said bin Laden "personally" told him of a 1991 meeting at which Turki agreed to let bin Laden leave Saudi Arabia and to provide him with secret funds as long as al-Qaeda refrained from promoting jihad in the kingdom. The Pakistani contact, high-ranking air force officer Mushaf Ali Mir, entered the equation, Zubaydah said, at a 1996 meeting in Pakistan also attended by Zubaydah. Bin Laden struck a deal with Mir, then in the military but tied closely to Islamists in Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (isi), to get protection, arms and supplies for al-Qaeda. Zubaydah told interrogators bin Laden said the arrangement was "blessed by the Saudis."
Zubaydah said he attended a third meeting in Kandahar in 1998 with Turki, senior isi agents and Taliban officials. There Turki promised, writes Posner, that "more Saudi aid would flow to the Taliban, and the Saudis would never ask for bin Laden's extradition, so long as al-Qaeda kept its long-standing promise to direct fundamentalism away from the kingdom." In Posner's stark judgment, the Saudis "effectively had (bin Laden) on their payroll since the start of the decade." Zubaydah told the interrogators that the Saudis regularly sent the funds through three royal-prince intermediaries he named.
The last eight paragraphs of the book set up a final startling development. Those three Saudi princes all perished within days of one another. On July 22, 2002, Prince Ahmed was felled by a heart attack at age 43. One day later Prince Sultan bin Faisal bin Turki al-Saud, 41, was killed in what was called a high-speed car accident. The last member of the trio, Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir, officially "died of thirst" while traveling east of Riyadh one week later. And seven months after that, Mushaf Ali Mir, by then Pakistan's Air Marshal, perished in a plane crash in clear weather over the unruly North-West Frontier province, along with his wife and closest confidants.
Without charging any skulduggery (Posner told TIME they "may in fact be coincidences"), the author notes that these deaths occurred after cia officials passed along Zubaydah's accusations to Riyadh and Islamabad. Washington, reports Posner, was shocked when Zubaydah claimed that "9/11 changed nothing" about the clandestine marriage of terrorism and Saudi and Pakistani interests, "because both Prince Ahmed and Mir knew that an attack was scheduled for American soil on that day." They couldn't stop it or warn the U.S. in advance, Zubaydah said, because they didn't know what or where the attack would be. And they couldn't turn on bin Laden afterward because he could expose their prior knowledge. Both capitals swiftly assured Washington that "they had thoroughly investigated the claims and they were false and malicious." The Bush Administration, writes Posner, decided that "creating an international incident and straining relations with those regional allies when they were critical to the war in Afghanistan and the buildup for possible war with Iraq, was out of the question."
The book seems certain to kick up a political and diplomatic firestorm. The first question everyone will ask is, Is it true? And many will wonder if these matters were addressed in the 28 pages censored from Washington's official report on 9/11. It has long been suggested that Saudi Arabia probably had some kind of secret arrangement to stave off fundamentalists within the kingdom. But this appears to be the first description of a repeated, explicit quid pro quo between bin Laden and a Saudi official. Posner told TIME he got the details of Zubaydah's interrogation and revelations from a U.S. official outside the cia at a "very senior Executive Branch level" whose name we would probably know if he told it to us. He did not. The second source, Posner said, was from the cia, and he gave what Posner viewed as general confirmation of the story but did not repeat the details. There are top Bush Administration officials who have long taken a hostile view of Saudi behavior regarding terrorism and might want to leak Zubaydah's claims. Prince Turki, now Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain, did not respond to Posner's letters and faxes.
There's another unanswered question. If Turki and Mir were cutting deals with bin Laden, were they acting at the behest of their governments or on their own? Posner avoids any direct statement, but the book implies that they were doing official, if covert, business. In the past, Turki has admitted—to TIME in November 2001, among others—attending meetings in '96 and '98 but insisted they were efforts to persuade Sudan and Afghanistan to hand over bin Laden. The case against Pakistan is cloudier. It is well known that Islamist elements in the isi were assisting the Taliban under the government of Nawaz Sharif. But even if Mir dealt with bin Laden, he could have been operating outside official channels.
Pakistan’s Air Chief Mushaf Ali Mir, who was among 17 killed in a mysterious aircrash about a fortnight ago, may well have been the victim of a political conspiracy, according to classified information received here through diplomatic channels.
Change of pilot just about 20 minutes before the take-off and eyewitnesses’ account of a big blast before and after the crash as well as sighting of bullets and a Kalashnikov rifle from near the crash site are said to be some of the circumstantial pin-pointers, while the political reasons are far too many.
Pakistan’s Air Chief Mushaf Ali Mir, his wife and 15 others, including two Air Vice Marshals, Abdul Razzaq and Salem A Nawaz, were killed in the aircrash.
The Inquiry Committee headed by Air Vice Marshal Khalid Chowdhury, which was constituted to determine the cause of the crash, has reportedly grilled number of Air Force officers, including the pilot who was changed 20-25 minutes before the ill-fated plane took off. Unusually, the plane had taken off from Chaklala airbase to Kohat which is not the practice even for ordinary flights, leave alone a special flight carrying the Air Chief.
Sources said reports gathered by the Board of Inquiry had also recorded the statements of villagers of Tulang Jadeed who saw a few bullets and one Kalashnikov rifle on the spot. Some villagers said they heard shots before and after the big blast. Surprisingly, a large piece of the crashed aircraft tail lay intact at the crash site.
The story goes that Prince Sultan took off at 2:00 AM en route from Jeddah to Riyadh after he paid sums of money to the usual beggars who surrounded his castle. Al-Jazeera reported that “several cars” trailed the prince while Asharq Al-Awsat cited the prince’s business manager Hamdan Khalil Hamdan as saying that “two cars” trailed behind. Okaz reported there was only “one car” trailing the prince and then fnally produced merely one lone man, an Ethiopian named Muhammad Hassan, who was trailing the prince.
The story continues that when prince Sultan stopped in Ta’if to lead the group in morning prayers. After the prayers were fnished, which would still be pitch dark (4-5 AM), they continued on the journey while the entourage followed the prince, who was speeding recklessly. Then all hell broke loose 70 miles before reaching Riyadh, in an area called Alhawmiyat.
Hassan allegedly witnessed the tire explode while he was trailing directly behind prince Sultan. The vehicle (an Audi) then rolled several times in the air, crashing to the side of a mountain. As to the debris and how car pieces were strewn all over the place, Hassan assumed it was the result of the high rate of speed at which the prince was traveling.
Hassan even relayed a miraculous ending to the prince's demise, saying that after his high-speed crash, Sultan died with his body hanging halfway out of the car while facing Mecca, and miraculously pointing his right index fnger (a typical gesture Muslims make) to proclaim that Allah is the indivisible One God.
If foul play was involved, Alhawmiyat (where the death allegedly occurred) is an excellent place to claim an accident. A search of Alhawmiyat in Arabic shows the notoriety of this place for car accidents.
Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Saud al-Kabir
Prince al-Kabir's story about being lost in the desert is another unsolved mystery. What little detail of the story we found came from only a couple of purged media sources, which we got elsewhere. They relayed the testimony of “Brigadier Abdul Qadir Altalha” who can be verifed and does exist as someone working for the kingdom’s authority.
The prince’s death was issued in the form of a statement from Altalha:
“An accident forced the death of three Saudis, including a Prince who died of thirst in the desert. Saudi authorities had issued a warning urging citizens not to hike in the desert during the hot summer days in order to preserve their lives. The Royal Court issued a statement in Riyadh yesterday which mourned Prince Fahd bin Turki bin Saud Al-Kabeer, aged twenty-fve years, who died Monday afternoon as a result of thirst during a trip that was carried out in the desert of the southern province of Rumah near the Omani Centre, 90 kilometers east of the capital. The details of the incident as relayed by Brigadier Abdul Qadir Altalha were that three victims were on a picnic with two other colleagues in the Rumah area. While they were returning, the car fell into a ditch, which rendered it unusable, prompting three of them to move in an attempt to get rescued from the desert. The three lost the road and decided to return to the car and died beside it as a result of thirst. The other two were lucky and were able to guide a colleague to their place by using their mobile phone.”
Prince Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz
Prince Abdulaziz, the well-known horse racing enthusiast and owner of Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem. His cause of death was ruled a heart attack during abdominal surgery on July 22, 2002. ￼