Astana, Kazakhstan – Following the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001, I received documents marked “SECRET” from the files of the FBI’s Washington field office. The information in those files will make you sick.
When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon, I grabbed those FBI files – and a plane for Kazakhstan, bullying cameraman Rocco D into joining me. [Rocco, no fool, won’t let me print his full name.]
Don’t miss a beat
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After we landed, word came that two Kazakh teens, friends of the bombers, had been arrested by Boston police and charged with hiding evidence of the bombers’ guilt.
Here in Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, televisions everywhere run endless loops of the bombs going off at the Boston Marathon, the screams, the blood, the victims… and the questions.
And first question: How do a couple of wholesome Call-of-Duty-playing American kids get the idea they should murder and mangle their neighbors to avenge the Muslims of Chechnya—whom the victims probably couldn’t find on a map?
The second question: How did America’s trillion-dollar intelligence apparatchiks wave off warnings from Russia about one of the bomber’s connections to the Chechen militants?
The answer regarding the intelligence failure is, to paraphrase the famous journalist Yogi Berra: it’s amazing what you don’t see when you don’t look.
And that’s related to the how young Muslim-Americans came to kill other young Americans over Chechnya.
According to the secret memo, long before the Boston bombing, even before the September 11 attack, the FBI shut down an investigation of a group that ran a summer camp in Florida for America’s Muslim teenagers.
No, we shouldn’t be spying on Islamic campers. However, besides the usual swimming and soccer, these youngsters were encouraged to join the Chechen jihad. The kiddies were treated to videos praising Chechen bombers (who seized a school and hospital then killed their hostages). The group also produced an educational film praising, “that compassionate young man, Osama bin Laden”.
Hey, it was a family affair. Camp Jihad was run by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), whose operation just outside Washington DC was directed in the US by a man the FBI called “ABL” – Abdullah Binladden, Osama’s brother.
When the Kazakh friends of the Boston bombers were arrested, I went back to that “SECRET” memo. It fell into my hands in November 2001, just two months after that “compassionate young man” Osama killed thousands in my office building (I once worked at the World Trade Center).
Why would my own government spike an investigation that might have saved lives in New York in 2001 [and in Boston in 2013]?
My producer at BBC Television called the FBI. They did not deny the authenticity of the secret documents. Well, then, if the US government has evidence someone may be illegally recruiting killers for Chechnya (as well as the Bosnia war), why in the world would you shut down the investigation and hide the findings?
The official answer was even more chilling than the secret memo itself. The FBI spokesman told us at BBC:
“There are lots of things only the intelligence community knows and that no one else ought to know.”
Well, what else are we not supposed to know?
We got the answer on November 9, 2001, when I received a call at BBC’s Newsnight desk in London from a US intelligence agent via a “clean” phone. The spook confirmed that, beginning as early as 1995, the CIA and other US spy agencies were told to stand down from investigating the bin Laden family in both the US and in France.
Several insiders repeated the same story: US agencies turned a blind eye to the bin Laden-terrorist-Chechen-jihad connection out of fear of exposing the US government’s half-assed—and half-illegal—support for these terrorists.
Our government gave ABL a pass (and safe passage back to Saudi Arabia) because Presidents Clinton and Bush were more than happy that our Saudi allies were sending jihadis to Afghanistan, then, via WAMY, helping Muslims to fight in Bosnia then, later, giving the Russians grief in Chechnya.
The problem is that terrorists are like pigeons – they come home to roost. As Joe Trento of the National Security News Service, who provided crucial help to our investigation, told me, “It would be unseemly if [someone] were arrested by the FBI and word got back that he’d once been on the payroll of the CIA… What we’re talking about is blow-back. What we’re talking about is embarrassing, career-destroying blow-back for intelligence officials.”
It’s utterly unlikely the young Boston bombers were on the CIA payroll, but it’s more than likely the elder brother’s connections here in Central Asia could be traced back to US-protected killers of years past.
The sleight-of-hand to keep public eyes off the US juicing Chechen terror is almost fun to watch. There’s surprisingly little official scrutiny of the media’s new heart-throb, Ruslan Tsarni, the bombers’ uncle. The Washington Post, praising Uncle Ruslan’s “I LOVE AMERICA” schtick, noted,
“[Ruslan’s] performance will be sewn into the rotation of TV news from here on out. Later, on MSNBC, Tom Ridge spoke highly of the message of ‘promise and hope’ sent by Tsarni.”
I would venture to guess that this was not the first time Mr. Ridge, first director of the US Department of Homeland Security, had heard Ruslan’s messages. Ruslan founded the Congress of Chechen International Organizations and has lucrative work here in Kazakhstan as a USAID contractor and oil industry lawyer.
There is zero—and I mean zero—evidence that Uncle Ruslan or the CIA hired these two sad-ass kids in Boston to blow up their neighbors. The point here is that the FBI is too concerned about making sure that “no one else ought to know” about our government playing footsie with terrorists—and too unconcerned about the blow-back that blows up in Boston.
This article originally appears at Vice.com UK.