Book Review of Steve Coll’s “Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001” (Penguin Books) (Paperback)
By Elias Davidsson, 18 October 2014
Unreliable author or disinformation agent?
While hailed by the New York Times as the “finest historical narrative so far on the origins of al-Qaeda” and by Washington Post as “authoritative”, I beg to differ. Here is a random sample from the book, manifesting the vagueness of the author’s claims and their unverifiable nature:
“Within the morass of intelligence lay ominous patterns. One was an interest by bin Laden’s operatives in the use of aircraft. A classified September 1998 threat report warned that in bin Laden’s next strike his operatives might fly an explosive-laden airplane into an American airport and blow it up. Another report that fall, unavailable to the public, highlighted a plot involving aircraft in New York and Washington.”(p. 420)
“A second pattern in the threats that fall did galvanize attention: It seemed increasingly obvious that bin Laden planned to attack inside the United States…[T]he CIA picked up reports that bin Laden had authorized $9 million bounties for the assassination of each of four top CIA officers. Many of the intelligence reports were vague. Still, the pattern was unmistakable. (p. 420-1)
Note (1) the author’s use of classified sources that readers cannot verify; (2) the vagueness of the claims; (3) the anonymity of the actors allegedly involved.
While the above manifests only lousy journalism, the following falls already into the category of plain deception:
“By late 1999, [Mohamed] Atta and others in the Al Quds group had committed themselves to martyrdom through jihad….Bin Laden and his senior planners had already seized on the idea of using airplanes to attack the United States.” (p. 476)
“After Atta was selected as the mission’s leader he met with bin Laden personally to discuss targets. The Hamburg group already knew how to operate comfortably in Western societies, but before returning to Europe some of them spent time with Mohammed in Karachi, studying airline schedules and discussing life in the United States” (p. 477-8)
“Among the [9/11] plotters there were tensions, accusations, and apparent changes of heart as the launch date approached. Jarrah and Atta clashed as the former operated on his own and spent time with his girlfriend…Atta selected early September after determining Congress would be in session. Although bin Laden continued to lobby for the White House as a target, Atta still favored the Capitol.” (p. 570-1)
Now, for the facts:
(a) There is no evidence that Atta (and others) “had committed themselves to martyrdom.”
(b) There is no evidence that Bin Laden and his senior planners had ever “seized on the idea of using airplanes to attack the United States”
(c) There is no evidence that Atta “was selected as the [9/11] mission’s leader” by anyone, let alone by bin Laden
(d) There is no evidence that members of the Hamburg group “spent time with Mohammed in Karachi studying airline schedules”
(e) There is no evidence that “Jarrah and Atta clashed,” let alone about the attacks.
(f) There is no evidence that Atta “selected early September after determining Congress would be in session.”
(g) There is no evidence that bin Laden “continued to lobby for the White House as a target” nor that Atta “favored the Capitol.”
(h) The author implies throughout that Mohamed Atta and his friends participated in the 9/11 attacks. This insinuation is unsubstantiated and represents a gross defamation of innocent people. Those who find my statement puzzling are invited to see it substantiated in my book “Hijacking America’s Mind on 9/11.”
The author’s claim that Osama bin Laden selected Atta and his friends as suicide pilots is not endorsed by the FBI. The FBI admitted in June 2006 to journalist Ed Haas that the agency possesses no evidence linking bin Laden to 9/11. Steve Coll could have spared himself ridicule, had he first consulted with the FBI before making his claims.
An author who offers readers unsubstantiated legends must either be incompetent or act as a purveyor of disinformation. As a Pulizer-prize winner, the author can hardly be regarded as incompetent. This leaves us with the alternative.