Are Crackpot Liars Being Used to Tie Iran to 9/11?
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The former Commission staffers also joined right-wing activists in highlighting the intelligence Commission report statements that "an associate of a senior Hizbullah operative" was on the same mid-November flight from Beirut to Tehran as a group of future hijackers, and that Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran had been "expecting the arrival of a group [from Saudi Arabia] during the same time period." The former staffers insist that these could not have been coincidences and that they had to mean that Iran was involved in the al Qaeda plot.
The argument that the presence of an "associate" of a top Hezbollah official on the same flight as future al Qaeda hijackers could not have been a coincidence is absurd. There were obviously many "associates" of top Hezbollah officials, most whom would have had occasion to travel to Iran frequently. The statistical likelihood that one of them would be on the same flight as the future hijackers would not be so small as to merit suspicion.
And the very same section of the Commission report provides a clear explanation of the anticipation of a group traveling from Saudi Arabia to Iran that reveals the conspiratorial interpretation as dishonest. It says that a senior Hezbollah operative - said to have been Imad Mugniyeh - visited Saudi Arabia in October 2000 to "coordinate activities" there, that he planned to assist a group traveling to Iran in November, and that intelligence reports showed the planned visit to Iran involved a "top Hezbollah commander" and "Saudi Hezbollah contacts."
But that didn’t stop the lawyers for the case from twisting the Commission report to fit the desired narrative: "The 'activities' that Mughniyah went to coordinate," clearly revolved around the hijackers' travel, their obtaining new Saudi passports and/or US visas for the 9/11 operation, as several of them did, as well as the hijackers' security, and the operation's security."
Paul Pillar, who was the CIA's senior intelligence officer on the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005 and had previously been the senior analyst at the agency's Counterterrorism Center, was categorical about the matter when I interviewed him in 2006. The facts detailed in the Commission Report about passports, travel of the hijackers through Iran, and the presence of a Hezbollah official on one of the flights "don't show Iranian collusion with al Qaeda," he told me.
The lawyers' brief refers to "the existence of a secret network of travel routes and safehouses" worked out from the mid-1990s onward as being "confirmed by al Qaeda military chief Saef al Adel in a May 2005 interview." That implies that secret arrangements on such "travel routes and safehouses” were made between al Qaeda and the Iranian government. But al-Adel said nothing of the sort. He made it clear in his interview with a Saudi journalist that the Iranians who helped them with housing and logistics were not connected with the Iranian regime.
The "expert witnesses" and the lawyers carefully skirt the fact that in the latter half of the 1990s - at a time when the United States was officially still "neutral" on the civil war in Afghanistan - Iran was providing funding, arms and other support to the Northern Alliance, the non-Pashtun forces seeking to overthrow the Taliban regime which bin Laden and al Qaeda were helping to keep in power.
That Iranian support for the Northern Alliance was still ongoing when the organization's chief, Ahmad Shah Massoud, was assassinated September 10, 2001 by two Arabs posing as journalists. The leader of the CIA's post-9/11 covert paramilitary team in Afghanistan, Gary Schroen, reported that there were two IRGC Colonels attached to the Commander of the Northern Alliance, Bismullah Khan, when the CIA team arrived. Nevertheless, Lopez and Tefft as well as Israeli journalist Ronan Bergman, a former intelligence officer in the Israeli Defense Forces who boasts of his "close personal contacts" with senior Israel intelligence and military officials, cite reports supposedly originating with German intelligence that Iran helped al Qaeda operatives carry out the Massoud assassination.