“Khartoum: Really Out of the Terrorism Business?” Sudan Tribune, 8 March 2014
Given the U.S. intelligence community’s eager relationship with Khartoum, it would be convenient if the National Islamic Front/National Congress Party regime were no longer in the business of supporting international terrorism and no longer on the State Department list of state sponsors of international terrorism.
Of course, the domestic terrorism wrought in Darfur, Blue Nile, South Kordofan, Abyei, and among those who would resist the regime’s brutal tyranny seems of little concern to the Central Intelligence Agency and other of the myriad intelligence-gathering agencies dealing with the very real and ongoing threat of international terrorism. Indeed, there seems to have been a general loss of moral balance in how the intelligence community thinks and operates, even as its influence in domestic and foreign policy continues to grow rapidly.
For example, so eager was the CIA to improve relations with the Khartoum regime that in 2005 the agency decided to fly to Langley, Virginia (CIA headquarters)—on executive jet—Major-General Saleh Gosh, then head of Khartoum’s intelligence services and, critically, minder of Osama bin Laden during his time in Khartoum: 1992 – 1996, formative years for al-Qaeda. It mattered little that Gosh’s hands were covered with the blood of political detainees and any perceived opponents of the regime. And it mattered little that Gosh was instrumental in carrying out the genocidal counter-insurgency campaign in Darfur, then at its height. He had information the CIA wanted, and the price to be paid was a trip to Washington. An extraordinary piece of investigative journalism by the Los Angeles Times revealed the attitude of the U.S. intelligence community during the Bush administration.
For despite President Bush’s 2005 reiteration of the genocide finding against Khartoum for its actions in Darfur, first announced in September 2004 by former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the CIA “proudly” flew Gosh to Washington. In an unusually detailed depiction of the controversy over this visit within the Bush administration, the Los Angeles Times reported on June 17, 2005:
The CIA and Mukhabarat [Khartoum’s intelligence and security services] officials have met regularly over the last few years, but Gosh had been seeking an invitation to Washington in recognition of his government’s efforts, sources told The Times. The CIA, hoping to seal the partnership, extended the invitation. “The agency’s view was that the Sudanese are helping us on terrorism and it was proud to bring him over,” said a government source with knowledge of Gosh’s visit. “They didn’t care about the political implications.”
The cynicism reflected in this attitude—the “pride” in bringing a known génocidaire to the United States—almost beggars belief. The “political implications,” of course, included Khartoum’s canny understanding of the significance of Washington’s willingness to invite a man not only complicit in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Darfuris but a regime official directly responsible for many tens of thousands of “disappearances,” extrajudicial executions, instances of brutal torture, political arrests, and other violations of human rights. These have been regularly chronicled for many years by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the African Center for Justice and Peace Studies (UK), among others. As the Los Angeles Times dispatch continued:
An internal debate erupted after word of the invitation [to Gosh] spread to other government agencies. Their concern stemmed in part from a 2004 letter that 11 members of Congress sent to Bush, which accused Gosh of being a chief architect of the violence in Darfur. The letter said Sudan had engaged in a “scorched-earth policy against innocent civilians in Darfur.” It identified 21 Sudanese government, military and militia leaders as responsible and called on the administration to freeze their assets and ban them from coming to the U.S. Gosh was No. 2 on the list.”
Several sources, including a State Department official, said the question of the propriety of the visit provoked sharp divisions at that agency. Similar opposition emerged at the Justice Department, where officials discussed arresting Gosh, according to two sources.
Ted Dagne, a Sudan specialist with the Congressional Research service, said State Department officials believed Gosh’s trip would “send a political signal to the [Sudanese] government that Darfur would not prevent Sudan from winning support in Washington.”
This painfully cynical attitude toward Khartoum as a valued partner in the “war on terrorism” is just as prevalent in the Obama administration as in the Bush administration. Indeed, in terms of deception and disingenuousness, the Obama administration may have an edge. The most glaring example was provided by former special envoy to Sudan Scott Gration, a man singularly without diplomatic skills, regional knowledge, relevant languages—or common sense. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee shortly after being appointed to this most challenging diplomatic undertaking, he was asked specifically about Sudan and support for international terrorism. His reply was an example of shocking mendacity, or ignorance:
“There’s no evidence in our intelligence community that supports [Sudan] being on the state sponsors of terrorism. It’s a political decision.” Gration said.” (Testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Washington, DC, July 31, 2009)
Let’s examine this claim more deeply than the Senate did, and see just what the historical record suggests about Khartoum’s support for international terrorism. Most recently, with considerable international attention, the Israeli Defence Forces reported that on March 5, 2014 they seized a Panamanian-flagged freighter, with a Turkish captain, as it was approaching Port Sudan on the Red Sea. The ship was Iranian, the Klos-C. In the cargo-hold, under bags of cement, were dozens of Syrian M-302 rockets—not, evidently, the most advanced version of this rocket system, but with a very large warhead and a range of approximately 100 kilometers (a number of photographs have been publicly released). The rockets—originally from Syria and delivered to Iran—were to be transported overland from Port Sudan through Egypt and on to Gaza and presumably Hamas (with which Iran is trying to repair relations) or Islamic Jihad (Iran’s proxy in Gaza).
Both are designated as terrorist groups by the U.S. The rockets would bring a tremendous number of Israeli citizens within range of these powerful rockets. Notably, Hamas continues to have an office in Khartoum—as it did when Gration made his claim that the designation of Khartoum as a sponsor of terrorism was merely “political.” Beyond this most recent episode, there is a good deal of evidence that Khartoum has been complicit in attempts to smuggle weapons to Gaza through Egypt for a number of years.
But if we look back further, to the years after bin Laden left Sudan for Afghanistan, there is also a good deal of revealing detail about Khartoum’s ongoing support for terrorism. A good deal of this information has come from “Wikileaked” U.S. diplomatic cable traffic, which is candid because it has been assumed to be completely secure. We should note first that the August 2010 State Department assessment of international terrorism found that “al-Qa’ida-inspired terrorist elements as well as elements of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and HAMAS, remained in Sudan in 2009″—the very year in which Gration testified. Khartoum was of course aware of and acquiesced in this presence. Moreover, U.S. intelligence knew that as recently as March 2009 Sudan had a role in supplying Iranian arms for Hamas in Gaza. The Guardian (UK) reported in December 2010 on “Wikileaked” State Department cables from both January and March 2009:
State department cables released by WikiLeaks show that Sudan was warned by the U.S. in January 2009 not to allow the delivery of unspecified Iranian arms that were expected to be passed to Hamas in the Gaza Strip around the time of Israel’s Cast Lead offensive, in which 1,400 Palestinians were killed.” (December 6, 2010)
U.S. diplomats were instructed to express “exceptional concern” to Khartoum officials, but those warnings evidently went unheeded. The Guardian goes on to report:
In March 2009, Jordan and Egypt were informed by the U.S. of new Iranian plans to ship a cargo of “lethal military equipment” to Syria with onward transfer to Sudan and then to Hamas.
The cables don’t specify what the disposition of this “lethal military equipment” was. But Hamas is considered a terrorist organization not only by the U.S. but Canada, the European Union, and Japan. So what to make of Gration’s claim of July 2009 that there is “no evidence in our intelligence community” that Khartoum supports terrorism”? Perhaps he came to regret the misrepresentation. For shortly after his Senate testimony, Gration would shamelessly lie to Darfuris in a Radio Dabanga interview, claiming he’d never suggested that Sudan be removed from the State Department list of international sponsors of terrorism, as if there were no obvious syllogism in his claim that Khartoum’s presence on the list was not because of support for terrorism, but merely for (domestic) “political” reasons.
Obama’s intelligence community seems to have made a convert of the President himself. In April 2008 candidate Obama expressed “deep concern” that the Bush administration was making an unseemly deal with the Khartoum regime as a means to bolster the fledgling but already failing UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID):
“This reckless and cynical initiative would reward a regime in Khartoum that has a record of failing to live up to its commitments. First, no country should be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism for any reason other than the existence of verifiable proof that the government in question does not support terrorist organizations.”
The disparity between this strenuous rhetoric and the reality of the past five years has been striking, something I have explored at length previously (see below). But what happens if we look further back? Do these more recent actions follow a previous pattern? In the days following September 11, 2001, a number of revealing reports quickly emerged, demonstrating that bin Laden’s departure for Afghanistan did not end his relationship with the Khartoum regime. For example, the Boston Globe, CNN, and Reuters all reported on the continuing role of al-Shamal Bank in financing Osama bin Laden’s campaign of terror against the United States. Unsurprisingly, al-Shamal Bank is in Khartoum. Moreover, the National Islamic Front (as it was known during bin Laden’s sojourn) also gave bin Laden many lucrative opportunities not only in banking, but in agriculture and construction. And as the al-Shamal Bank example suggested, bin Laden continued to derive extensive support from Khartoum well after his departure for Afghanistan. The Boston Globe offered a particularly telling example:
“Bin Laden could be using the [al-]Shamal bank to gain access to US banks,” [Senator Carl] Levin said, calling for new laws that would prevent such access. Levin cited an instance in which $250,000 was wired from [al-]Shamal Bank to a bin Laden associate in Texas, who used the money to buy a plane for bin Laden.”
According to CNN (September 26, 2001), bin Laden had provided $50 million in start-up capital for the al-Shamal Bank. It’s simply not credible that the Khartoum regime wasn’t fully aware of such a large financial presence in its banking system. And as the Boston Globe also notes in reporting on the years in which bin Laden was actually in Sudan: “U.S. officials said bin Laden controlled some of the largest commercial enterprises in Sudan, generating both profits and a cover for terrorist activities.” In yet another revealing moment in the Boston Globe report, we learn that:
[Bin Laden’s] businesses were not just focused on the bottom line, U.S. prosecutors [in the Tanzania and Kenya embassies bombing trial] say. In one transaction, a bin Laden company sent sugar from Sudan to Afghanistan. But on its return flight, the rented Sudan Airways cargo plane was loaded with Milan rockets and Stinger missiles.
Moreover, al-Qaeda never fully left Khartoum and Sudan, even after bin Laden’s departure. The April 2001 State Department report on state sponsors of terrorism declared emphatically: “[In 2000] Sudan continued to be used as a safe haven by members of various groups, including associates of Usama Bin Ladin’s al-Qaida organization.” The broadest and most authoritative picture was provided by Africa Confidential, and much of what was said over a decade ago remains true today:
The N[ational I[slamic] F[ront] political and security apparatus is intact, as are the NIF’s and the international Islamists’ control of the economy. Many of those running terrorist training are still in security and ministerial jobs. So, well informed Sudanese doubt that the NIF will hand much of value to U.S. investigators. The NIF is as Islamist as its friends Usama and the Taliban. This regime believes in what it does. Any concession is intended only to protect the greater cause. Secondly, any major betrayal would be suicidal, just as dangerous as holding free elections.” (Africa Confidential, Volume 42, No. 19, September 28, 2001)
British Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, disclosed in the wake of 9/11 that:
… “these bin Laden companies were key assets in the al-Qaeda terrorist campaign. Since 1989, Osama bin Laden has established a series of (Sudanese) businesses to provide income for al-Qaeda, and to provide cover for the procurement of explosives, weapons and chemicals, and for the travel of al-Qaeda operatives,” said a report tabled in the British parliament. (The Citizen [Ottawa], October 12, 2001)
In the same account The Citizen reported (along with many others):
“The FBI has confirmed that Mohamed Atta, who piloted one of the commercial jetliners into the World Trade Center, “wired money to Mr. bin Laden’s former paymaster in Sudan, Shaykh Sai’id el Masry, also known as Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad, on the eve of the terrorist attacks…. Shaykh Sai’id [Mustafa Muhammad Ahmad] controlled the bin Laden financial network in Sudan through a company called Taba Investments, and used profits from related Sudanese banks and businesses to finance and cloak terrorist training.”
The Associated Press reported that Ali Mohamed, who pled guilty to conspiracy in the 1998 east African embassy bombings, said
“he [Mohamed] arranged security for a meeting in the Sudan between Hezbollah’s chief and bin Laden. Hezbollah provided explosives training for al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad, Mohamed said, while Iran supplied Egyptian Jihad with weapons and used Hezbollah to supply explosives that were disguised to look like rocks,” (Associated Press, October 12, 2001)
The Washington Post, on October 11, 2001 reported that “Tens of millions of the $100 million provided by bin Laden to the Taliban since he arrived in Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996 has been directly traced to bin Laden entities through banking and other transfers.” These transfers would certainly have involved the Taba Investments Company and al-Shamal Bank in Khartoum, which received $50 million in start-up capital from bin Laden when he was in Sudan. The Post had earlier reported: “Aldy el-Attar, a 53-year-old surgeon who had a practice in the city of Neu-Ulm in the state of Bavaria, met separately both with alleged hijacker Mohamed Atta and Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, an alleged financier for Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda network, the sources said. El-Attar traveled frequently in Europe and between Germany and Sudan” (October 9, 2001).
The Los Angeles Times reported on October 7, 2001 that a unit of Islamic moujahedeen in Bosnia had been financed by bin Laden “by means of small convoys of recruits from the Arab world through his businesses in Sudan, according to Mideast sources.” And The Guardian of October 1, 2001 reported in detail on the financial background of bin Laden and al-Qaeda:
United States investigators believe they have found the “smoking gun” linking Osama bin Laden to the September 11 terrorist attacks, with the discovery of financial evidence showing money transfers between the hijackers and a bin Laden aide in the United Arab Emirates.
The man at the centre of the financial web is believed to be Sheikh Saeed, also known as Mustafa Mohamed Ahmad, who worked as a financial manager for bin Laden when the Saudi exile was based in Sudan, and is still a trusted paymaster in bin Laden’s al-Qaida organisation.
Perhaps the most chilling and explicit report was that of September 28, 2001, from the National Post (Canada). Citing documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the National Post reported on two disturbing developments:
 Sudanese leaders agreed in 1998 to use their embassy staff in New York, London and Rome to raise funds for Osama bin Laden, according to documents from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).
 The documents, filed in Federal Court, also claim the Sudanese agreed to arrange for diplomatic credentials for bin Laden followers, allowing them unfettered travel around the world. The alleged agreement was struck between bin Laden’s top aide, Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahri, and “Sudanese Islamic leaders,” the CSIS brief said.
This report found its counterpart in the Hindustan Times (New Delhi) of September 20, 2001:
According to a senior police official, fresh evidence gathered by them has revealed that Ismail, the first secretary in the Sudanese embassy, was not only operating as a conduit of Osama bin Laden in the Capital [New Delhi] but was also trying to recruit more operatives for subversive activities.
[See also my overview account of the banking, investment, and commercial intertwining of the Khartoum regime and bin Laden and al-Qaeda at: “Osama bin Laden’s Ongoing Commercial and Financial Connections to Khartoum, September 19, 2001 and “Khartoum and a ‘financial war on terrorism’: connecting the dots,” November 2, 2001, http://sudanreeves.org/2004/12/22/khartoum-and-a-financial-war-on-terrorism-connecting-the-dots-november-2-2001/ ] [See also transcripts of the 1998 embassy bombings trial, which had recently concluded. The trial for these acts of terrorism clearly indicated the responsibility of bin Laden and his terrorist network al-Qaeda. Companies such as Talisman Energy and the Government of Canada must certainly have had considerable knowledge of bin Laden’s, and thus Sudan’s, role in the embassy bombings when Talisman officially entered Sudan in October 1998.
For transcripts of the trial, revealing much about bin Laden’s financial and commercial connections to Sudan, see the analysis of those transcripts by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies of the Monterey Institute of International Studies: http://cns.miis.edu/pubs/reports/binladen.htm.] Has Khartoum really changed? And just who is the man and the organization that Khartoum chose to have as such a close ally and business partner? Bin Laden makes little distinction between American civilians and soldiers. “You say I am fighting against the American civilians,” he told one interviewer.
“My enemy is every American man who is fighting against me, even by paying taxes.” (Los Angeles Times, September 15, 2001)
The same attitude prevails in many powerful quarters in Khartoum, as suggested by the willingness to assist in the transfer of powerful rockets to Gaza, where their only targets can be Israeli civilians, taxpaying and otherwise. General Gration’s claim that only domestic “politics” keeps Sudan on the State Department list of state sponsors of international terrorism reflects either disabling ignorance or cynical mendacity; in his case it’s a tough call to make. But the U.S. intelligence community knows full well all that I report here—and still chooses to attempt to define U.S. Sudan policy through the lens of counter-terrorism “cooperation” with Khartoum. [For a more comprehensive analysis of how the intelligence community defines Obama administration Sudan policy, see “What Really Drives the Obama Administration’s Sudan Policy?” October 10, 2011, http://sudanreeves.org/2011/10/10/what-really-animates-the-obama-administrations-sudan-policy/]