The Bin Laden Cover-Up: Pentagon Scrubs Documents to Hide Truth About Tracking bin Laden
By Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold, TruthOut.org, September 12, 2011
Senior Pentagon officials scrubbed key details about a top-secret military intelligence unit’s efforts in tracking Osama bin Laden and suspected al-Qaeda terrorists from official reports they prepared for a Congressional committee probing the 9/11 terrorist attacks, new documents obtained by Truthout reveal.
Moreover, in what appears to be an attempt to cover up the military unit’s intelligence work, a September 2008 Defense Department (DoD) Inspector General’s (IG) report that probed complaints lodged by the former deputy chief of the military unit in question, the Asymmetrical Threats Division of Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC), also known as DO5, about the crucial information withheld from Congress, claimed “the tracking of Usama Bin Ladin did not fall within JFIC’s mission.”
But the IG’s assertion is untrue, according to the documents obtained by Truthout, undercutting the official narrative about who knew what and when in the months leading up to 9/11.
Much of JFIC’s work on al-Qaeda and Bin Laden remains shrouded in secrecy and has not been cited in media reports revolving around pre-9/11 intelligence, which has focused heavily over the past decade on CIA and FBI “intelligence failures.” Only a few details about the military intelligence unit have surfaced since then, notably in two previous reports published recently by Truthout.
JFIC was the intelligence component of United States Joint Forces Command (JFCOM). In 2005, it was renamed the Joint Intelligence Command for Intelligence. Last month, JFCOM was shuttered, reportedly due to Pentagon budget cuts, and as a subcommand, JFIC was believed to have been disbanded along with it.
Truthout had previously reported that the deputy chief of JFIC’s Asymmetrical Threats Division, who is identified in government documents by the code name “Iron Man,” had produced “numerous original reports, with original imagery, measurements & signatures intelligence, or electronic intelligence, identifying probably [sic] and possible movements and locations of Usama bin Ladin and [Taliban leader] Mullah Omar.” The intelligence included “bin Ladin’s likely residence in Qandahar … evidently the house in which Khalid Shaykh Muhammed planned the 9/11 attacks.”
However, Iron Man, whose unit also developed original intelligence on al-Qaeda targets, which determined that the “most likely buildings to be attacked in the U.S.” were the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, claimed JFIC was told to stop tracking Bin Laden, suspected al-Qaeda terrorists, and members of the Taliban some months prior to 9/11.
Iron Man further alleged that the orders his unit received, as well as the work it conducted, was knowingly withheld from investigators working for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who were tasked with probing the circumstances behind the 9/11 attacks.
When the DoD’s watchdog prepared its report following an investigation into Iron Man’s complaints, the IG concluded Iron Man’s most explosive allegations related to the withholding of intelligence from Congress was unfounded. But a close look at the report reveals it is rife with numerous factual errors.
The appendices in the IG’s report shows significant changes were made to JFIC’s original responses to Congressional investigators about its pre-9/11 intelligence work on al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Bin Laden. The information regarding the military unit’s work turned over to Congress described a substantially attenuated picture of JFIC’s operations.
The report determined “operational information in response to the 9/11 Commission” about Asymmetrical Threats Division had not been withheld. Yet, Iron Man had charged the information was withheld from Congressional investigators probing the 9/11 attacks, not the independent 9/11 commission. The IG’s report repeatedly confused the two investigative bodies.
Additionally, while the IG did confirm that Asymmetrical Threats Division analysts were told to stop tracking Bin Laden, suspected al-Qaeda terrorists and members of the Taliban, the watchdog determined that the Asymmetrical Threat Division had “not completed original intelligence reporting” and that “JFIC did not” specifically have a “mission to track Usama bin Ladin or predict imminent US targets.” (Emphasis added.)
In attempting to refute Iron Man’s claims about JFIC’s work, the IG’s report stated, “the 9/11 Commission questions were very specific and asked for information which involved the ‘imminent attack’ or ‘hijackers involved.’ Evidence indicated that the JFIC did not have knowledge regarding imminent domestic targets prior to 9/11 or specific 9/11 hijacker operations.”
But Truthout has learned that the definition of “hijackers,” as perceived by the Joint Forces Command and Joint Forces Intelligence Command, was overly restrictive. The definition of “hijackers” only referred to the hijackers in the planes and not the alleged planners, such as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, or Bin Laden, which the intelligence unit considered to be part of the team of hijackers.
Messages left for Gary Comerford, a spokesman for the Inspector General, were not returned. Officials who helped prepare the report referred questions to Comerford’s office.
Revealing New Documents
Iron Man, who requested anonymity in order to protect his family’s privacy, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in 2006 seeking a copy of the complaint he filed with the IG, which was marked classified, and other secret documents pertaining to JFIC’s duties. He received a copy of his complaint in April, just a few weeks prior to the death of Bin Laden. That document, as well as the IG’s findings, formed the basis of Truthout’s two previous reports on JFIC’s activities.
Over the past month, Iron Man provided Truthout with other documents he received in response to his FOIA request, which shed additional light on JFIC’s work and calls into question the veracity of the IG’s investigation and conclusions into the charges Iron Man had leveled.
Iron Man provided Truthout with copies of a slide presentation that was used for a briefing held for the head of counterintelligence and counterterrorism at the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS). The date of the meeting could not be confirmed.
Jeffrey Kaye is a psychologist active in the anti-torture movement. He works clinically with torture victims at Survivors International in San Francisco, CA. His blog is Invictus; as “Valtin,” he also regularly blogs at Daily Kos, Docudharma, American Torture, Progressive Historians, and elsewhere.
Jason Leopold is Deputy Managing Editor at Truthout