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16th September 2001

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  • US allies await news of plan, mull support for attack
  • Bin Laden: ditched by the family
  • A lesson for US: money can't buy safety from terrorism
  • US allies await news of plan, mull support for attack

    NEW YORK, Saturday, (AFP)- The unprecedented coalition of countries lining up behind the United States over the devastating terror attacks on its cities was cautious but still holding Saturday as the wounded giant prepared to hit back.

    US President George W. Bush repeated his vow to strike back against the terrorists, and named the Islamic militants led by Osama bin Laden as the prime suspects behind the outrage that left more than 5,000 dead.

    But as Bush drew up plans to respond to Tuesday's suicide attacks on New York and Washington, US diplomats led by Secretary of State Colin Powell were working hard to maintain support abroad for a risky military counterstrike.

    Such a strike would almost certainly target terrorist camps in Afghanistan, where bin Laden is sheltered by the Taliban regime, and would stoke tensions between Washington and the Islamic world, where many back his "holy warriors".

    But immense US pressure on the Taliban's few allies appeared to be bearing fruit, as the United Arab Emirates agreed to "review" its relationship with the militia, and Pakistan signalled it could support US strikes.

    Following a meeting between President Pervez Musharraf and his national security council, Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar said the military regime had "reached consensus on the policy of full support to the world community in combatting international terrorism."

    But he also insisted that the Islamabad government wanted to maintain good relations with the Taliban and insisted that support for US action would depend on Washington securing an endorsement from the UN Security Council.

    In Washington, Powell said: "I especially want to thank the president and the people of Pakistan for the support that they have offered and their willingness to assist us in whatever might be required."

    Pakistan, which has close links with the Taliban and where a strong current of public opinion approves of its war on the United States, faces a tough decision over whether to allow Washington to use its airspace and intelligence reports.

    Its choice has been made starker by a threat from the Taliban on Saturday that it would retaliate against any country backing US action.

    Meanwhile, Washington's allies outside the Islamic world were cautioning that their support for military action did not amount to carte blanche for Washington to lead their men on an ill-focused crusade.

    Support for Bush's stance was strongest in Europe, particularly in Britain which sees itself as America's closest ally and shared in her grief; hundreds of Britons are thought to have been among the thousands slain in New York.

    Prime Minister Tony Blair has offered Bush his full support, but insisted on Friday that any retaliation "must and will be based on hard evidence".

    Britain has its military on standby a large armada of troopships was already on its way to the Middle East for exercises when the attacks took place but Blair's spokesman has said that the support does not amount to a "blank cheque".

    France's Prime Minister Lionel Jospin has said his government's "solidarity does not deprive us of our freedom of judgement" and Germany's Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder admitted: "I will have to make one of the most difficult decisions of my life next week."

    A spokesman for the French defence ministry said Paris was "weighing up options" but had not earmarked forces for a strike, while German Defence Minister Rudolf Scharping said a decision would be made within a week.

    But pre-attack jitters among the United States' European allies will be largely a political rather than a military worry for Washington.

    Despite the unprecedented vote by the NATO council to put the Alliance at the disposal of their injured ally, the practical military support beyond intelligence input that Europe can offer is slim, analysts say.

    Instead, Bush's biggest headache will be balancing his country's mission to avenge the world's worst ever terror attack with the need to maintain friendships and stability in the Middle East and Asia, and to handle Russia.


    Bin Laden: ditched by the family

    By Richard Beeston and Andrew Norfolk

    Bin Laden's rich and powerful relatives have disowned their renegade brother

    Six of Osama bin Laden's brothers and sisters are living in Britain, it emerged yesterday.

    Bin Laden, the main suspect in this week's terrorist attacks on the United States, has been disowned by his own family in Saudi Arabia, which runs one of the country's largest and most respected companies.

    The British connections of several members of the bin Laden family were revealed when Henry Bellingham, the Conservative MP for Norfolk North West, raised the issue in the House of Commons.

    Bin Laden, who is believed to have 56 stepsisters and brothers, was the only child of his father's tenth wife.

    One of his sisters, who lives in a £2 million mansion in Central London, is understood to have left Britain for Paris on Thursday. Other family members have residences in West London, including a £1 million apartment.

    One of bin Laden's sisters was married to a Briton but has since divorced. Another is married to a wealthy Saudi businessman.

    Bin Laden also has a British sister-in-law, who married his eldest brother, Salim, in 1982. After Salim was killed in a car crash she later married another brother, Khaled, and lives in Saudi Arabia.

    While the name bin Laden may forever be associated in the West with fanaticism and bloodshed, in the Arab world the family is still best known for its engineering feats and its close ties to the Saudi Royal Family, stretching back more than half a century.

    "It is a terrible tragedy for the bin Laden family," said a British businessman, who has had numerous contacts with the terrorist mastermind's brothers at their headquarters in Jedda.

    "They are hardworking, serious and reliable people, very much part of the establishment. They have cut all links with Osama the black sheep of the family but obviously his actions have damaged their good name."

    The Binladin Group International (BGI), owned and run by his brothers, is one of the Middle East's largest construction companies, with offices and subsidiaries across the world, including Britain.

    The company's London headquarters are in Berkeley Square. Its website lists other holdings based in Chiswick, west London, ranging from clothes, to children's books to shipping. The London office refused to answer questions.

    Sheikh Bakr Mohammed bin Laden, the head of the family, has donated millions to Harvard University, to fund scholarships at the Law School and the Design School. His company built the Prince Sultan US Air Force base in Saudi Arabia.

    Yesterday Yeslam bin Laden, one of Osama's half-brothers broke his silence. A banker based in Geneva, who earlier this year was granted Swiss nationality, he condemned this week's suicide attacks as "terrorism".

    "All life is sacred and I condemn all killing and attacks against liberty and human values," said Mr bin Laden, adding that his thoughts and sympathy were with "the victims, their families and the American people".

    He did not mention his brother, who was stripped of his nationality after the Gulf War in 1991 when he opposed the permanent stationing of American troops on Saudi soil. After an argument with the Saudi Royal Family he was forced to flee into exile, living first in Sudan and then in Afghanistan. The authorities in Riyadh issued a warrant for his arrest in 1993.

    The incident brought shame on his family, where he is the 17th of 57 children by Mohammed bin Laden, an immigrant from Yemen who arrived in Saudi Arabia as a guest worker, but succeeded in building up a multibillion-pound business empire thanks to his engineering skills and his close ties to House of Saud, the country's ruling family.

    The company was given the most prestigious contract ever awarded in Saudi Arabia, for the extension of the Holy Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest shrine, and the Prophet's Holy Mosque in Medina, the second holiest site.

    It also built much of the infrastructure in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf during the oil boom years of the 1970s, when the region invested billions on motorways, airports and building projects.

    "He was brought up with the Saudi elite and enjoyed every privilege," said a former British diplomat who served in Riyadh. "The whole family was devout but Osama bin Laden became drawn deeper into religion."

    When the Soviet Union invaded in Afghanistan in 1979 he abandoned his sheltered life to join up and fight with the Afghan Mujahidin guerrillas. He returned home ten years later a hero and an accomplished guerrilla commander, with little interest in the family business.

    During the war he had acquired a hatred of Western culture and in particular America.

    He opposed the deployment of American and other foreign troops in Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War and openly challenged the Royal Family when they agreed to allow the American forces to remain permanently on Saudi soil. Since his departure the bin Laden family has cut all contacts with their notorious brother.

    Times, London.


    A lesson for US: money can't buy safety from terrorism

    How America's addiction to technology and big budgets failed to pick up the signs of an imminent catastrophe

    By Duncan Campbell, Richard Norton-Taylor, David Pallister and Jamie Wilson

    When security-cleared visitors were taken into the national security agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, their hosts, it is reported, used to play them an audio tape of Osama bin Laden talking to his mother. His satellite phone call had been intercepted by the largest and most powerful spy agency on earth.

    The smug message to outsiders was clear: if we can listen to America's most wanted man making small talk with his family then believe us, he can't use the bathroom without Washington knowing.

    But the NSA has probably stopped showing off like that. For this story demonstrates the US problem; they and their western allies possess a unique array of surveillance technology which became ultimately pointless. And the west's great intelligence failure will outclass Pearl Harbour in the history books.

    Stella Rimington, a former head of MI5, has observed this week in her memoirs that the purpose of counter-terrorism is not to take snapshots of their enemies' activities, or even to successfully trace the perpetrators, but to thwart attacks.

    British ministers seemed to be attracted yesterday to the ideas of identity cards and more surveillance of ordinary citizens. But to stop terrorist attacks, the holy grail is something else: intelligence of the enemy's actual intentions.

    US intelligence has a budget approaching $30bn (£21bn) - roughly the size of the GDP of Kuwait. It employs more than 100,000 people, and owns vast arrays of hardware.

    At the centre is George Tenet. He is the director of central intelligence and the man who coordinates the various US spy agencies. He has huge resources. The espionage agency, the CIA, employs more than 16,000 around the world.

    The FBI is one of the largest law enforcement agencies ever; with annual funding of about $3bn, it has 11,400 special agents and more than 16,400 other employees in 55 American cities and abroad. The FBI spends one-sixth of this budget on intelligence gathering alone.

    But it is on technology where budgets - quite literally - go through the stratosphere. The existence of the national reconnaissance office (NRO) was declassified only in 1992. With its $6.2bn annual budget, its mission is to run spy satellites - "spaceborne assets needed to enable US global information superiority".

    The national security agency collects foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) operates in conjunction with the NRO.

    The NSA's 21,000 employees - including the world's largest collection of linguists and mathematicians - are based at Fort Meade, with the rest scattered overseas.

    Nine other agencies, ranging from army intelligence (budget $1bn) through to the departments of treasury, energy, transportation (more than $1bn) and the national imagery and mapping agency ($1.2bn) are also involved in intelligence gathering. Add into the equation intelligence work by non-intelligence agencies and the budget exceeds $27bn.

    The majority of these formidable systems have remained targeted on traditional forms of possible attack by hostile nation states - especially those that might have weapons of mass destruction.

    Yet this array of technical hardware goes hand in hand with a lack of human intelligence - almost a prerequisite for the uncovering of terrorists' intentions.

    Shortly before this week's atrocities in the US, someone who described himself as a former CIA operative wrote a long, bitter account from Peshawar published in Atlantic Monthly. His lament echoed other intelligence men before him. Reuel Marc Gerecht said that the CIA and FBI claims were a myth that they were clandestinely "picking apart" Bin Laden's organisation "limb by limb".

    He said: "Westerners cannot visit the cinder-block, mud-brick side of the Muslim world - whence Bin Laden's foot soldiers mostly come - without announcing who they are. No case officer stationed in Pakistan can penetrate either the Afghan communities in Peshawar or the north-west frontier's numerous religious schools, which feed manpower and ideas to Bin Laden and the Taliban, and seriously expect to gather useful information about radical Islamic terrorism, let alone recruit foreign agents.

    By contrast, a priority for the British and, indeed, most other agencies in engaged in "humint", or human intelligence, is long-term penetration.

    The dangerous and subtle task of infiltrating, or recruiting informers, in terrorist groups has borne fruit in Northern Ireland where MI5, the RUC and the army's covert group, the force research unit, have penetrated both republican and loyalist paramilitary groups. British soldiers of Irish origin were persuaded to leave the army and spend several years ingratiating themselves with the IRA.

    The Israeli intelligence services have also succeeded in recruiting informers among Palestinian groups in the occupied territories and refugee camps, as well among the Palestinian population in Jordan and Syria.

    Treachery

    So it is not impossible to use "lo-tech" infiltration. One reason why the US became addicted to technology instead was the fear of double-agents and treachery - the Soviet-era molehunts left a long shadow of distrust over human beings. It was thought machines could not lie.

    Another reason was given by Mr Gerecht. "Long-term seeding operations simply didn't occur," he said. He quoted one Middle East CIA man describing Non-official covert placements: "NOCs haven't really changed at all since the Cold War... We're still a group of fake businessmen who live in big houses overseas. We don't go to mosques and pray." The reason? "Operations that include diarrhoea as a way of life don't happen."

    As if to compound the west's flawed commitment to technology at the expense of potentially crucial "lo-tech" infiltration, at the other end of the earth things are very different.

    When Jamal Ahmed al-Fadl was told to deliver two letters from Pakistan to Cairo he was given simple instructions, as well as a false passport. Shave off your beard, wear western clothes, carry cigarettes and make sure you smell of cologne. The perfume, he was told, would convince Egyptian airport officials that here was a man who liked women.

    Acting this way against US intelligence, Bin Laden and his followers look decidedly lo-tech. Yet an operation of some magnitude, involving more than 50 people and taking up to two years in the making, evaded the vast intelligence resources of the greatest power on earth. Al-Fadl, 38, from Sudan, was giving his testimony earlier this year in the southern district court of New York, a few blocks away from the World Trade Centre. As one of very few defectors from al-Qaida, the Islamic revolutionary group formed in Afghanistan 12 years ago by Bin Laden, Al-Fadl's evidence cast a fascinating insight into the complex, by turns primitive and sophisticated network, that Bin Laden and his fellow mojahedins spawned. He was a witness in the trial of four men since found guilty of taking part in the bombing of the American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.

    Al-Fadl, who left Sudan for the US in 1986, was recruited by the emir of the Farouq Mosque in New York, who reported to a headquarters in Pakistan.

    As one of the first volunteers to join al-Qaida, he saw how the charismatic Bin Laden - sometimes called "the director" - enjoyed the confidence of militants from across the Arab and Muslim world.

    On the ruling shura council there were members from Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Iraq, Oman and Libya. Members, who signed a contract, or bayat , swearing to obey orders and be ready at all times, were recruited, often at senior levels, in fundamentalist groups across the Middle East.

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