The US and Britain are engaged in aggressive and illegal technology-based spying, which enables them - among other things - to monitor telephone communications anywhere in the world. This is not news as such; details of their intelligence capacities have been published and unofficially acknowledged. But they remain relatively little known, even among the global Islamic movement and Muslim countries which are their main target.
At the top-end, the snooping is largely conducted through a highly sophisticated - and exorbitantly costly - network of satellites, computers and other interception equipment which can monitor the entire world at all times of the day, relaying their data back to American and British controlled intelligence-centres in the US, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. At the other end of the scale is intelligence donkey-work, such as the following of suspects, the illegal planting of spy cameras, and the ordinary tapping of telephones.
Yet all this intelligence work famously failed to predict Pakistan’s and India’s recent nuclear tests, and cannot on the face of it provide reliable information even on the whereabouts of the world’s ‘most-feared terrorist’, namely Shaikh Osama bin Laden - and on the source and hiding-places of his legendary wealth.
The Americans had accused Bin Laden of bombing the US-embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August, and used the charge as a pretext to bomb ‘terrorist’ camps in Afghanistan, as well as to destroy a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum (the capital of the Sudan), said to be linked with him and to be manufacturing chemical weapons. Both charges have turned out to be without foundation, and US government officials admit privately that there was no basis for the accusations, after an American court ruled that there was no justification whatsoever for the factory’s bombing.
Reports floated by Washington after the bombing of the Afghan camps to the effect that Bin Laden had fled Afghanistan, and had been traced later to Somalia, have turned out to be equally false. Five months after the appearance of these reports the Americans have inspired fresh newspaper-reports that Bin Laden is indeed in Afghanistan. A report in the Observer, one of Britain’s national Sunday newspapers, quoted western security-sources and an Afghan journalist on July 4 as saying that he has moved into a base on a former Soviet collective farm in hills near Jalalabad.
Washington moved immediately to ‘punish’ the Taleban government in Afghanistan for “aiding the most notorious terrorist”. On July 5 president Bill Clinton signed an executive order imposing financial sanctions on the Taleban, and prohibiting transactions and trade with Taleban-controlled territory. (US trade with Afghanistan totalled just $24 million in 1998, compared to the $5 million the Americans have earmarked for information leading to Bin Laden’s capture.)
The July 4 reports came after equally dubious allegations made in June that Bin Laden had completed fresh plans to strike at western targets in Africa. To give credence to the allegations, the US and Britain closed a string of embassies. But, with the exception of the US embassy in Madagascar, they have all inexplicably been reopened since.
Nor do the US’s allegations, and its failures to substantiate them, end there. The Americans have also been accusing Bin Laden for some time of financing a variety of ‘terrorist’ projects all over the world, using his multi-million-dollar fortune, but had not been able to trace the financial institutions and agents handling a fortune said to be worth a quarter of a billion US dollars. The CIA estimates that he has up to $250 million (ú160 million sterling) in what it calls ‘legitimate and terrorist enterprises’.
It was the CIA, incidentally, that famously provided the out-of-date map that was being used by NATO recently when it bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. The Americans typically claimed that the building was being used by spies even though they later apologised to Beijing.
It is only now that Washington publicly claims to have traced part of his wealth to banks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a US ally. Newspaper reports on July 9 and 11 quoted intelligence and state-department officials as saying that Bin Laden’s family had been funnelling money to him through the Dubai Islamic Bank in Dubai, which is effectively in the UAE government’s control. A team of CIA and Treasury officials sent to the UAE to plead for the closure of the account reportedly found the government there ‘responsive’.
James Foley, a state-department spokesman, said: “The government of the UAE has told us that the Dubai emirate’s government has taken steps to clean up the bank [the Dubai Islamic Bank] and to restore its reputation”. Apart from his obvious arrogance, Foley is trying to push the American position that anyone dealing with Bin Laden - or indeed with any committed Islamic activist or government - is tarnished and should be ostracised or even disposed of.
The Saudi government contributed a report of its own, designed to oblige its US masters, claiming that its own investigators uncovered ‘a second channel of terrorist funding’ leading from Riyadh to London. According to Saudi and US sources quoted in media-reports on July 11, more that $50 million had been transferred to Bin Laden’s various alleged accounts before the flow was stopped. The reports added that several influential Saudis, including a prince, were reprimanded for sending the money.
But the reports also indicated that Qatar, another ally of the US in the Gulf, is suspected by Washington of giving assistance to another ‘terrorist’, Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, who is said to be wanted in America for “a foiled plot to blow up” 12 American passenger-flights over the Pacific. He was reportedly able to evade arrest by the FBI because of a suspected tip-off from a Qatari government official. Interestingly, Qatar had closed the office of the Israeli trade-representative in Doha a few days before the reports surfaced.
On the other hand, could the reports also be linked to the fact that Washington is in the middle of arranging a final Arab cave-in to Israel? It is certainly true that the UAE and Qatar - admittedly minor players in the mid-eastern political scene - are not showing the same degree of enthusiasm for the project as Egypt, Syria and Jordan are exhibiting.
This also illustrates one of the difficulties in trying to analyse the west’s intelligence capacities: it can sometimes be difficult to separate their intelligence gaffes from their deliberate misinformation, published for propaganda purposes or in order to justify policy decisions and actions. Like the boy who cried wolf, the west has been caught lying so many times that it is difficult not to assume the worst in any situation. It does seem likely however, that in many instances, the west’s intelligence capability is highly over-rated.
Muslimedia: July 16-31, 1999