John Newman Former NSA Analyst
Unofficial transcript of John Newman’s statement at the July 22nd Congressional Briefing: The 9/11 Commission Report One Year Later: A Citizens’ Response – Did They Get It Right?
It’s a pleasure to be here, an honor to be here today, and to make my small contribution. It falls to me this morning to bring to your attention the story of Saeed Sheikh, whose full name is Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, and his astonishing rise to power in Al Qaeda, his crucial role in 9/11, which is completely, utterly, missing from the 9/11 Commission report…and also to deal with what US Intelligence knew about his links to the ISI, (Pakistani Intelligence), and what, if anything, was said or not said in the Commission report about these things.
This 28 year-old British national of Pakistani extraction left the prestigious London School of Economics in 1993 to hook up with Pakistani terrorists in Bosnia. After that he took up Jihad and trained in the terror camps in Afghanistan. In 1994 he tried to spring a terrorist leader from a jail in India, by luring an American and 3 Britons to locations where they were kidnapped, but the plot failed, and he ended up in jail instead, the hostages were rescued.
Pakistan’s Intelligence Service, (the ISI), paid for his lawyer, but he was never tried during his 5 years of incarceration. In 1995, five hostages, including an American, were killed in an attempt to spring Omar Saeed Sheikh from jail. An Indian citizen was murdered in 1999 when Al Qaeda and the ISI succeeded in freeing Saeed Sheikh by hijacking Indian Airlines flight 814.
Bin Laden immediately appointed Saeed Sheikh as a member of the Majis Al-Shura, the elite political council of Al Qaeda, and referred to Sheikh as his special son. No attempt was made to arrest him when he returned to Pakistan; the ISI gave him a home, and protection from the police. He lived openly and frequented swanky parties attended by senior government officials. US government sources told Newsweek he was a ‘protected asset’ of the ISI.
During his imprisonment there was no indictment and no trial in India, there were no indictments in Britain or the United States either. Despite his kidnapping of British citizens he was allowed to immediately travel to London… go figure.
On January 2nd, 2000 the British Foreign Office spokesman would only say that this was so because he was a British Citizen and had not been convicted of any offenses overseas. There was no conviction because there had been no trial, and Britain could have indicted and tried Said Sheikh if they’d wanted to, the fact is, they didn’t want to.
They waited until after a September 2002 conviction for the murder of Daniel Pearl, (most Americans know about this man), to ask questions of the Indian government about his connections with the first kidnapping.
The British press called this long delay a mystery, but the outraged families of Sheikh’s victims condemned it, and called their government’s decision a disgrace, and a signal to others to do the same.
The Americans did not act either. Even though he had kidnapped an American citizen in 1994, and another American had died in an attempt to break him out in ’95. These events led to no indictment in 1994, no indictment in ’95, and there was no indictment after the hijacking of flight 814 in 1999. The United States would wait until after the 9/11 attacks to take action, sealing an indictment of Saeed Sheikh for the 1994 kidnapping in November 2001.
The question is, why? Did the United States not indict Saeed Sheikh because he was a British informant?
While the CIA itself claims that it failed to penetrate Al Qaeda’s leadership, the agency has acknowledged on Capitol Hill and various forums that there were numerous sources being handled by foreign intelligence services.
Did the agency receive information provided by Saeed Sheikh from British or Pakistani intelligence? This would help explain why Saeed Sheikh was not indicted and escaped justice for his crimes and traveled freely around England.
If this is correct, then if Saeed Sheikh had been arrested, the best penetration of the Al Qaeda leadership would have been lost. Al Qaeda had learned in the early 1990’s from the Ali Mohammed case… that the benefits far outweighed the risks of becoming an informant for a Western intelligence agency…
If the foregoing analysis has any merit, Western intelligence agencies were receiving reports from a senior Al Qaeda source. Once again, however, Al Qaeda had used Western intelligence to accomplish its own mission.
Saeed Sheikh was probably a triple agent.
According to Pakistani police reports for two years after his release Saeed Sheikh traveled regularly to training camps in Afghanistan where he trained recruits for Al Qaeda. According to British police reports he trained the 9/11 terrorists in hijacking techniques. Said Sheikh turned Al Qaeda, (oh, by the way he reported directly to Abu Zubaydah, Al Qaeda’s chief of external operations), into the more secure and capable operation that it was on the morning of 9/11.
Saeed Sheikh, the man about whom the Commission report utters not one word, overhauled Al Qaeda’s logistics, communications and financial networks and was given responsibilities in international liaisons, such as relations with the Hezbollah, or the Sudanese National Islamic Front.
To facilitate financial and communications needs he designed a new, secure, encrypted, web-based communications system for Al Qaeda. There was talk he would someday succeed Bin Laden. Over and above all these responsibilities Saeed Sheikh had another extremely sensitive job for Al Qaeda, he was the group’s principal liason with the ISI. Working with various current and former officers of Pakistani Intelligence including Lt. General Mohammed Aziz Khan, who along with President Musharaf himself was the most powerful military commander in Pakistan.
Saeed Sheikh played a vital role in the 9/11 by financing the hijackers. For his trouble he received the same impersonal budget as the two other key coordinators, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and Ramzi bin Al-Shibh.
As the 9/11 attacks neared, the ISI chief, General Ahmed became more deeply mired in the plot, apparently to secure new sources of funds for the airline tickets needed for the reconnaissance flights, and the flights on the date of the attack.
In early August, Saeed’s former prison-mates kidnapped a wealthy shoe tycoon in India and held him for 15 days. The chief gangster, a Mr. Ansari, ran the operation right from Dubai in the Arab Emirates right were Saeed Sheikh was carrying out his 9/11 paymaster duties. The kidnappers freed their hostage for $830,000 and gave $100,000 to Saeed Sheikh. In an email discovered afterwards, Ansari said, I’ve paid $100,000 to Sheikh.
On the orders of the ISI chief, General Ahmed, Saeed Sheikh then wired the money to the hijack leader, Mohammed Atta. Flush with cash, Atta, Hamzi and Hanzour flew first class on the type of aircraft they would use on 9/11.
Now, I’ll turn to the Commission report and what US intelligence did with this in the hours and days right after the 9/11 attacks. In the appendix of names at the back of the 9/11 Commission Report, there is a ‘Sheikh Saeed al Masri’ listed as an Egyptian, and finance chief of Al Qaeda. Al Masri is simply a common codename used by many Al Qaeda operatives and, of course, Sheikh Saeed, is a transposition of the name Saeed Sheikh, about whom the report says nothing.
In Chapter 2 which describes the Al Qaeda leadership in detail from 1988 to 1998, there’s no mention of this ‘Sheikh Saeed al-Masri’, the alleged Egyptian finance chief of Al Qaeda. Chapters 5 and 6 pick up the history of Al Qaeda again, as plans were honed for a major attack on the US mainland but despite the many, many names mentioned and discussed, nowhere was this reputed finance chief, ‘Sheikh Saeed’ mentioned.
Besides the entry in the index of names this Sheikh Saeed is mentioned only one time, the 9/11 Final Report, he pops up out of nowhere just 6 weeks before the attack, is identified only as Al Qaeda’s finance chief and is said to have been in a handful of senior Al Qaeda leaders who opposed the attack.
He’s never mentioned again. Probably because he’s a ghost of our Saeed Sheikh.
The 9/11 Commission which studied US intelligence and law enforcement community performance in great detail, (maybe not so much great detail, but they did), neglected to cover the community’s performance during the weeks following the attacks to determine who was responsible for them, not a word about that in the Report.
The Report does discuss the immediate US responses but the immediate investigation is never addressed, and anyone who has closely studied the post-9/11 investigation knows that the first breakthrough came two weeks into the investigation when the money transfers from the United Arab Emirates to the hijackers were uncovered.
Furthermore, if you have studied that investigation, you know there is no disputing that while investigators may have struggled with the identity of the paymaster, they were clear about one thing, he was Al Qaeda’s finance chief. For this reason alone you have to ask why the 9/11 Commission Report never mentions the finance chief’s role as the 9/11 paymaster.
The 9/11 Commission staff is not brain-dead. They likely left this out because of the sensitivity of Saeed Sheikh’s story. The investigators learned that most of the late money transfers of the 9/11 operations were linked to an alias that Saeed Sheikh had used, ‘Mustafa Ahmed al-Hasawi’, but US investigators did not yet know this was his alias.
So the game to find out who al-Hasawi was, was afoot, and the first person they suspected was announced on Sept. 24th, we’ll call him Mustafa #1, Mustafa Ahmed, on Sept. 28th, a “senior government official” told the press that the US was seeking this Egyptian-born terrorist named ‘Mustafa Mahmoud Saeed Ahmed’, whose past had included money transfers to bin Laden.
3 days later they dropped him from the investigation. We found out why on Oct. 1st, when US investigators announced that they had the ‘smoking gun’ linking bin Laden to the 9/11 attacks. The FBI told many media outlets that the 9/11 paymaster was Sheikh Saeed, an Egyptian, also known as Mustafa Mohammed Ahmed, we’ll call him Mustafa #2. He was also known as Sheikh Seed.
The FBI said that it was he that had transferred the money to Mohammed Atta in the days leading up to the attack and that he was a senior financial manager for bin Laden and that he had been in that capacity since his days in the Sudan. This is exactly what the United States needed to make an iron-clad case proving bin Laden’s guilt. So they were very pleased with themselves when they announced that they had found the smoking gun linking bin Laden to the attacks.
They had indeed found the smoking gun but had no idea of the bombshell they would uncover one week later. Then, Mustafa Mohammed Ahmed, like Mustafa Mahmoud Saeed Ahmed before him were dropped as the Dubai paymaster, and the 9/11 Commission does not mention either of those names in the extensive list of those connected to the plot.
At the end of the first week of October an FBI team investigating the 9/11 attacks made a startling breakthrough, the first details emerged on CNN’s coverage, the investigation now identified Mustafa Ahmed al-Hasawi as our Saeed Sheikh. The man released from prison in India less than 2 years ago after hijackers of an Indian Airlines flight demanded his freedom, the sources for this CNN report were said to be ‘senior level US government sources’, and US investigators. Two days later on CNN, they followed up the story reporting Indian and US authorities now see a link between the 1999 Indian Airlines flight 814 hijacking and the September 11th attacks in the United States. Freed was Omar Saeed Sheikh whom authorities say used a pseudonym to wire $100,000 to Mohammed Atta who distributed the money in the United States.
But there was more. An FBI team, working with cell phone numbers provided by Indian intelligence uncovered a new smoking gun. They learned that the chief of the ISI, Mahmoud Ahmed, had ordered Saeed Sheikh to send $100,000 of the kidnapping ransom to Mohammed Atta, a month before the 9/11 attack. This ugly detail emerged when the FBI team ran traces on Saeed Sheikh’s cell phone number. Beginning in July, the ISI chief’s number was among the regular people that Saeed Sheikh communicated with.
On Oct. 7th, President Musharaf sacked Ahmed for this nefarious act, this story was widely covered in the press around the world, not covered here in the United States, one piece was added on Oct. 9th, that Musharaf had done this at the behest of the US authorities which asked for his removal after they confirmed the role of the money transfer to Atta.
This bombshell could not have come at a worse time, Washington and London were preparing to invade Afghanistan, while securing Pakistan as an ally, it’s hard to imagine a revelation more damaging than the fact that Pakistan’s intelligence service and most powerful army commanders were behind were behind the 9/11 attack, and the paymaster, a known terrorist who had been able to carry out his mission because the US and UK had set aside justice for his crimes.
More than the ISI chief had been involved in Pakistan, the investigation established that there were others, General Aziz Khan and others (I’ll skip over that because I’m out of time).
It’s now clear that these Islamist generals who installed Musharaf in the 1999 coup were behind Saeed Sheikh. Musharaf fired them all the same day, October 7th, the day after Saeed Sheikh’s links to them were discovered.
That a sovereign government and supposed ally was so directly involved in the 9/11 atrocity must have stunned and deeply embarrassed the American administration. It was as politically damaging for Prime Minister Tony Blair, as Pakistan’s role was for Pervez Musharaf. The stakes in Pakistan were very high as Anthony Zinni explained to CBS on 60 Minutes, “Musharaf may be America’s last hope in Pakistan, and if he fails the fundamentalists will get hold of the Islamic bomb.”
Musharaf was also vital to the war effort, and was the key to neutralizing Islamists and rounding up Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan. The story of Saeed Sheikh was only lightly covered in western media, and only one American newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, carried it Oct. 10th. One wonders if this put the Wall Street Journal on the ISI’s radar screen.
Not a single other American outlet carried the story and the role of Saeed Sheikh and the generals in the 9/11 attack disappeared in the American and British media. Prominent outlets, the New York Times, the LA Times, the BBC and Sunday Times still carried the story that the paymaster was an Egyptian.
Asian media, however, bored in on the story of Saeed Sheikh and the generals and prodded the west asking why there was so little pressure to hand him over. And there would be no pressure to do so until after Pearl was murdered 4 months later. Pearl had discovered that senior Pakistani scientists were helping bin Laden acquire nuclear know-how. For his part, Saeed Sheikh didn’t seem worried about it, he returned in October to Lahore and again partied with government leaders.
The American media, wholly dependent on US government sources seemed not to notice. In the middle of November the US government suddenly dropped his Egyptian identity and claimed he was a Saudi businessman.
Where did that come from? From a British source, two oblique references to another Ahmed, and a Dublin charity linked to Al Qaeda.
And with that, the story died.
This dubious fourth version underpinned the separation of Saeed Sheikh from the astonishing story of his rise to power in Al Qaeda and overshadowed his crucial role in the 9/11 plot. But an interesting facet of this fourth version is that the paymaster was still the CFO of Al Qaeda.
The 9/11 Commission Report which carries Mustafa al-Hasawi as the paymaster and Sheikh Saeed as the CFO has dodged the issue and does not say if the two are the same, or not. Thus, technically, even if the Commission knew the truth, they’ve not told a bald lie.
By not addressing the issue however the Commission leaves the impression that both men are real, which helps to perpetuate the suppression of the Saeed Sheikh story.
While they pulled Saeed Sheikh from 9/11 and Al Qaeda, US authorities had no intention of letting Saeed Sheikh get off Scot-free. In mid-November on the very moment he went from prominence to obscurity, the United States finally but secretly indicted Saeed Sheikh for the 1994 of an American citizen…
Speaking on condition of anonymity, US officials told Agence France-Press that the Justice Dept. had pressed the National Security Council to have Saeed Sheikh extradited. One might be justified in asking the question why would the NSC have to be pressed to extradite a murderer of US citizens?
By late February the issue was moot, Pearl was murdered and Musharaf swore he would personally hang him before turning him over to the Americans. Unlike Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin Al-Shibh, whom he did turn over, but of course, they had not been western penetrations of Al Qaeda.
We have learned through Congresswoman’s McKinney’s office that there was a classified briefing about Saeed Sheikh. While that’s comforting, the fact that the rest of the world knows about his role in 9/11 while the American public and most of Congress remains ignorant is disquieting.
We can no longer say we are protecting sources about his methods it’s a story known to the rest of this planet. We are now mocked about our ignorance of this story and even members of Britain’s Parliament poke fun at us.
It’s long past time to come clean, about Ahmed Saeed Sheikh.
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