Canada Flag . . . . . Blue Ribbon . . . . . Any Browser :-)

"WW III? No thanks...!" On-Line Library

What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

Bin Laden comes home to roost

His CIA ties are only the beginning of a woeful story

By Michael Moran

MSNBC NEW YORK, Aug. 24, 1998

At the CIA, it happens often enough to have a code name: Blowback. Simply 
defined, this is the term that describes an agent, an operative or an operation
that has turned on its creators. Osama bin Laden, our new public enemy Number 1,
is the personification of blowback. And the fact that he is viewed as a hero by 
millions in the Islamic world proves again the old adage: Reap what you sow.

BEFORE YOU [...] call me naive, let me concede some points. Yes, the West 
needed Josef Stalin to defeat Hitler. Yes, there were times during the Cold War
when supporting one villain (Cambodia's Lon Nol, for instance) would have been 
better than the alternative (Pol Pot). So yes, there are times when any nation 
must hold its nose and shake hands with the devil for the long-term good of the
planet. But just as surely, there are times when the United States, faced with 
such moral dilemmas, should have resisted the temptation to act. Arming a 
multi-national coalition of Islamic extremists in Afghanistan during the 1980s 
- well after the destruction of the Marine barracks in Beirut or the hijacking 
of TWA Flight 847 - was one of those times.


As anyone who has bothered to read this far certainly knows by now, bin Laden 
is the heir to Saudi construction fortune who, at least since the early 1990s, 
has used that money to finance countless attacks on U.S. interests and those of
its Arab allies around the world.

Osama bin Laden's network

As his unclassified CIA biography states, bin Laden left Saudi Arabia to fight 
the Soviet army in Afghanistan after Moscow' s invasion in 1979. By 1984, he 
was running a front organization known as Maktab al-Khidamar - the MAK - which 
funneled money, arms and fighters from the outside world into the Afghan war. 
What the CIA bio conveniently fails to specify (in its unclassified form, at 
least) is that the MAK was nurtured by Pakistan's state security services, the 
Inter-Services Intelligence agency, or ISI, the CIA's primary conduit for 
conducting the covert war against Moscow's occupation.

By no means was Osama bin Laden the leader of Afghanistan's mujahedeen. His 
money gave him undue prominence in the Afghan struggle, but the vast majority 
of those who fought and died for Afghanistan's freedom - like the Taliban 
regime that now holds sway over most of that tortured nation - were Afghan 
nationals. Yet the CIA, concerned about the factionalism of Afghanistan made 
famous by Rudyard Kipling, found that Arab zealots who flocked to aid the 
Afghans were easier to "read" than the rivalry-ridden natives. While the Arab 
volunteers might well prove troublesome later, the agency reasoned, they at 
least were one-dimensionally anti-Soviet for now. So bin Laden, along with a 
small group of Islamic militants from Egypt, Pakistan, Lebanon, Syria and 
Palestinian refugee camps all over the Middle East, became the "reliable" 
partners of the CIA in its war against Moscow.

WHAT'S 'INTELLIGENT' ABOUT THIS? Though he has come to represent all that went 
wrong with the CIA's reckless strategy there, by the end of the Afghan war in 
1989, bin Laden was still viewed by the agency as something of a dilettante - a
rich Saudi boy gone to war and welcomed home by the Saudi monarchy he so hated 
as something of a hero.

America strikes back

In fact, while he returned to his family's construction business, bin Laden had
split from the relatively conventional MAK in 1988 and established a new group, 
al-Qaida, that included many of the more extreme MAK members he had met in 
Afghanistan. Most of these Afghan vets, or Afghanis, as the Arabs who fought 
there became known, turned up later behind violent Islamic movements around the
world. Among them: the GIA in Algeria, thought responsible for the massacres of 
tens of thousands of civilians; Egypt's Gamat Ismalia, which has massacred 
western tourists repeatedly in recent years; Saudi Arabia Shiite militants, 
responsible for the Khobar Towers and Riyadh bombings of 1996. Indeed, to this 
day, those involved in the decision to give the Afghan rebels access to a 
fortune in covert funding and top-level combat weaponry continue to defend that
move in the context of the Cold War. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican on 
the Senate Intelligence Committee making those decisions, told my colleague 
Robert Windrem that he would make the same call again today even knowing what 
bin Laden would do subsequently. "It was worth it," he said. "Those were very 
important, pivotal matters that played an important role in the downfall of the
Soviet Union," he said. HINDSIGHT OR TUNNEL VISION It should be pointed out that
the evidence of bin Laden's connection to these activities is mostly classified,
though its hard to imagine the CIA rushing to take credit for a Frankenstein's 
monster like this. It is also worth acknowledging that it is easier now to 
oppose the CIA's Afghan adventures than it was when Hatch and company made them
in the mid-1980s. After all, in 1998 we now know that far larger elements than 
Afghanistan were corroding the communist party's grip on power in Moscow. Even 
Hatch can't be blamed completely. The CIA, ever mindful of the need to justify 
its "mission," had conclusive evidence by the mid-1980s of the deepening crisis
of infrastructure within the Soviet Union. The CIA, as its deputy director 
William Gates acknowledged under congressional questioning in 1992, had decided
to keep that evidence from President Reagan and his top advisors and instead 
continued to grossly exaggerate Soviet military and technological capabilities 
in its annual "Soviet Military Power" report right up to 1990. Given that 
context, a decision was made to provide America's potential enemies with the 
arms, money - and most importantly - the knowledge of how to run a war of 
attrition violent and well-organized enough to humble a superpower. That 
decision is coming home to roost.

Michael Moran is MSNBC's International Editor