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December 2001 • Vol 1, No. 7 •

Book Review

America’s Dirty Afghan Secret: It’s a War Over Oil

by Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie

Review by V. K. Shashikumar

Intelligence analysts Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie have released an explosive book that claims the U.S.’s primary interest in the Afghan War might be oil, not terrorism; the U.S. president, they claim, had obstructed investigation into the Taliban’s terrorist activities.

A book written by two French intelligence analysts is certain to embarrass President George W. Bush and his administration. The book, Bin Laden, La Verite Interdite (Bin Laden, the Forbidden Truth), released recently, claims that Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Deputy Director John O’Neill resigned in July in protest over Bush’s obstruction of an investigation into Taliban’s terrorist activities. The authors, Jean-Charles Brisard and Guillaume Dasquie, claim that Bush resorted to this obstruction under the influence of the United States’ oil companies.

Bush stymied the intelligence agency’s investigations on terrorism, even as it bargained with the Taliban on handing over of Osama bin Laden in exchange for political recognition and economic aid. “The main obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were U.S. oil corporate interests, and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it,” O’Neill reportedly told the authors. According to the Brisard and Dasquie, the main objective of the U.S. government in Afghanistan prior to Black Tuesday was aimed at consolidating the Taliban regime, in order to obtain access to the oil and gas reserves in Central Asia.

Prior to September 11, the U.S. government had an extremely benevolent understanding of the Taliban regime. The Taliban was perceived “as a source of stability in Central Asia that would enable the construction of an oil pipeline across Central Asia” from the rich oilfields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, through Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the Indian Ocean. This would have secured for the U.S. another huge captive and alternate oil resource center. “The oil and gas reserves of Central Asia have been controlled by Russia. The Bush government wanted to change all that…this rationale of energy security changed into a military one,” the authors claim.

“At one moment during the negotiations, U.S. representatives told the Taliban, ‘either you accept our offer of a carpet of gold, or we bury you under a carpet of bombs’,” Brisard said in an interview in Paris. On Saturday, representatives of the Northern Alliance (NA), former King Zahir Shah’s confidantes, and possibly, non-Taliban Pashtun leaders, will meet in Berlin under the aegis of the U.S.-led coalition to discuss a broad-based government in Afghanistan. It might be a coincidence that the U.S. and Taliban diplomatic representatives met in Berlin early this year.

According to the book, the Bush administration began a series of negotiations with the Taliban early in 2001. Washington and Islamabad were also venues for some of the meetings. The authors claim that before the September 11 attacks, Christina Rocca, in charge of Asian Affairs in the U.S. State Department, met Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef in Islamabad on August 2, 2001. Interestingly, Rocca is a veteran of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. She was previously in charge of contacts with Islamic guerrilla groups at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), where she oversaw the delivery of Stinger missiles to Afghan mujahideen fighting the Soviet occupation forces in the 1980s.

Brisard and Dasquie also reveal that the Taliban were not really ultra-orthodox in their diplomatic approach, because they actually hired an American public relations’ expert for an image-making campaign in the U.S. It is, of course, not known whether the Pakistanis helped the Taliban secure the services of a professional image-maker. What is, however, revealed in the book is that Laila Helms, a public relations professional, who also doubles up as an authority on the way the U.S. intelligence agencies work, was employed by the Taliban. Her task was to get the U.S. to recognize the Taliban regime. Prior to September 11, only three countries—Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and UAE—recognized the Taliban regime. Helms’ familiarity with the ways of U.S. intelligence organizations comes through her association with Richard Helms, who is her uncle, a former director of the CIA and former U.S. ambassador to Tehran.

Helms is described as the Mata Hari of U.S.-Taliban negotiations. The authors claim that she brought Sayed Rahmatullah Hashimi, an advisor to Mullah Omar, to Washington for five days in March 2001—after the Taliban had destroyed the ancient Buddhas of Bamiyan. Hashimi met the Directorate of Central Intelligence at the CIA and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department.

The Frenchmen have indeed produced a controversial book, which is undoubtedly explosive, because of the interesting nuggets of information they have dug up. Besides, they have an impressive record in intelligence analysis, and this perhaps is the reason why the book is being talked about in hushed tones in Paris and other European capitals. Till the late 1990s, Brisard was the director of economic analysis and strategy for Vivendi, a French company. He also worked for French secret services (DST), and wrote for them in 1997 a report on the now famous Al Qaeda network, headed by bin Laden. Dasquie is an investigative journalist and publisher of Intelligence Online, a respected newsletter on diplomacy, economic analysis, and strategy.

On November 19, The Irish Times said in a report:

O’Neill investigated the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993, a U.S. base in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-Es-Salaam in 1998, and the USS Cole last year.

Jean-Charles Brisard, who wrote a report on bin Laden’s finances for the French intelligence agency DST, and is co-author of Forbidden Truth, met O’Neill several times last summer. O’Niell complained bitterly that the U.S. State Department—and behind it the oil lobby who make up President Bush’s entourage—blocked attempts to prove bin Laden’s guilt.

The U.S. ambassador to Yemen, Barbara Bodine, forbade O’Neill and his team of so-called Rambos (as the Yemeni authorities called them) from entering Yemen. In August 2001, O’Neill resigned in frustration, and took up a new job as head of security at the World Trade Center. He died in the September 11 attack.

O’Neill, an Irish-American, reportedly told Brisard that all the answers, and everything needed to dismantle bin Laden’s Al Qaeda, can be found in Saudi Arabia. Fearing that the Saudi royal family would be offended, U.S. diplomats quietly buried the leads developed by O’Neill. So much so that even when the FBI wanted to talk to the suspects accused of bombing a U.S. military installation in Dhahran in June 1996, in which 19 U.S. servicemen were killed, the U.S. State Department refused to make much noise about it. The Saudi officials, however, interrogated the suspects, declared them guilty and executed them. O’Neill actually went to Saudi with his team, but according to the report in The Irish Times quoting Brisard, “they were reduced to the role of forensic scientists, collecting material evidence on the bomb site”.

The U.S.’s hedging on investigating Taliban’s terrorist activities and its links with bin Laden were premised on the belief that a quid pro quo deal could be arranged with Taliban. The deal, apparently, was oil for diplomatic and international recognition. One important reason for Operation Enduring Freedom could well be securing American oil interests in the region. It would not be surprising if the pipeline project were put back on track soon. Even a cursory look at the oil potential of the Central Asian region is enough to understand the American interest in this region. The Caspian Sea basin encompassing countries like Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are believed to possess some 200 billion barrels of oil, which is about one-third the amount found in the Persian Gulf area.

The greater Gulf area, encompassing Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and other adjacent countries, has been a center of international oil politics. First, the British fought to gain control over the area’s petroleum wealth, followed by the French. But in the post-World War II scenario, the U.S. emerged as the dominant power in the region, because its energy security and economic prosperity depended on the uninterrupted oil supply from this region. In March 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and King Addel Aziz ibn Saud signed a secret agreement, which forged a long-lasting strategic partnership. Though the details of the agreement remains secret till date, the deal ensured privileged U.S. access to Saudi oil, in return for U.S. protection of the royal family from internal and external threats.

However, the U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil is not a secret. The U.S. national energy policy, released by the Bush administration earlier this year, stated, “The Gulf will be a primary focus of U.S. international energy policy.” According to Michael T. Klare, professor of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College in Amherst, and author of Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, by launching Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S. wants to achieve two sets of objectives: “First, to capture and punish those responsible for the September 11 attacks, and to prevent further acts of terrorism; and two, to consolidate U.S. power in the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea area, and to ensure continued flow of oil. And while the second set may get far less public attention than the first, this does not mean that is any less important.”

With many senior members of the Bush administration linked to major oil business interests, it is more than a matter of coincidence that the U.S. is involved in a war in Afghanistan. Vice-President Dick Cheney was, until the end of last year, president of Halliburton, a company that provides services for the oil industry. U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice was, between 1991 and 2000, manager for Chevron; the secretaries of commerce and energy, Donald Evans and Stanley Abraham, worked for Tom Brown, another oil giant.

There is, therefore, more to the war against terrorism than the Bush administration is willing to admit. So, Operation Enduring Freedom wants to do the following:

• Destroy the Taliban and Al Qaeda;

• Counter and destroy the threat to Central Asian countries from Islamic extremists supported by bin Laden and the Taliban. The Americans have conducted joint military exercises with forces of some Central Asian countries, and prior to start of the military operations in Afghanistan, signed agreements of cooperation with Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzhstan;

• Negate the Taliban and Al Qaeda objective of replacing the existing Central Asian governments with militant Islamic regimes.

By achieving all these objectives, Operation Enduring Freedom will also secure the U.S.’s oil interests in the Caspian Sea area.





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