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Selected Writings by Sachi Sri Kantha
On Rohan Gunaratna: the ‘Temple Drum’ of Terrorism Industry
12 August 2003
Introductory Note by Sri Kantha
The phrase ‘Temple drum’ (the English translation of a spicy colloquial phrase Kovil Melam in Eelam Tamil lingo) loses much in translation, unless one bothers to fathom the derisive bite it carries in the Tamil language. Kovil Melam refers to an inferior quality item of local origin - regularly seen ad nauseam, in contrast to a superior quality performer, invited specially as a guest for the occasion. The phrase originated in the realm of men musicians and women dancers of a voluptious variety, who provided daily service to the local temples. On festive occasions, the audience thronged the festival grounds in anticipation to listen to specially invited ranking artistes from Southern India, and they would be irritated and least interested in listening and observing their own ‘Temple Drums’.
In the international world of Intelligence analysts, Sri Lanka-born slick performer Rohan Gunaratna has transformed into the ‘Temple Drum’ of Terrorism Industry. Until recently, he had been a staple contributor to the parochial press in Colombo (the Island newspaper) and Chennai (the Frontline magazine) spewing his intelligence on LTTE activities like a camel which spits when it is irritated. Thus it is heartening to see that in a few cities, investigative journalists have begun to size up the quality of ‘intelligence’ delivered by Gunaratna. The camouflage and cloak of this slick artist had been scrutinised, and Gary Hughes had produced an expose for the Melbourne Age newspaper on July 20th.
One should give the devil his due. The expose by Gary Hughes reveals that Gunaratna has some peculiar talent for (a) social climbing, (b) academic imposturing, (c) name dropping and (d) vita forgery, by puffing his vita with non-existing positions. To appreciate the expose of Gary Hughes, it would be helpful if one first reads how the Temple Drum of Terrorism Industry paraded himself as the Emperor of the Terrorism Analyst. A good example of such a performance was Gunaratna’s interview, which appeared in Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine of November 2002. Thus, in this assembled anthology on Rohan Gunaratna, I provide the following publicly available material in series, and follow it with an end note on Sri Lanka’s other con persons who made some waves in the past.
Item 1: A Playboy magazine interview by Rohan Gunaratna [A Conversation with Rohan Gunaratna by Leopold Froehlich; Playboy magazine, November 2002, pp.72-74 & 147-150]
Item 2: The expose of Rohan Gunaratna’s credentials by the Melbourne Age newspaper (July 20, 2003)
Item 3: Rohan Gunaratna’s response to Melbourne Age’s expose in Channel News Asia com of July 21, 2003.
Item 4: Excerpts from the commentary by Michael Isikoff & Mark Hosenball on Terror Watch, in Newsweek Web exclusive feature, datelined July 9, 2003.
Item 1: Rohan Gunaratna’s Interview in the Playboy magazine
[Note by Sri Kantha: For reasons of convenience, I have tagged the questions with a serial number, to a total of 54 questions.]
Al Queda at Home, Our Home
“Rohan Gunaratna’s interest in Al Qaeda began with a series of visits to Pakistan in 1993. Since then he’s become the world’s foremost expert on Islamist terrorism. The Sri Lankan native has interviewed more than 200 Al Qaeda members and has written six books on armed conflict. From 2000 to 2001 he served as principal investigator for the United Nations’ Terrorism Prevention Branch. A consultant on terrorism to governments and corporations, Gunaratna travels extensively, this summer shuttling between the U.S., Singapore and Scotland, where he is a senior research fellow at the University of St.Andrews’ Center for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence. His extraordinary new book, Inside Al Qaeda (Columbia University), demonstrates his profound understanding of terrorist mechanics. A surprise best-seller, it’s already regarded as the definitive work on Al Qaeda. Behind his gentle demeanor and even-handed scholarship, Gunaratna is unsparing in assessing the threat of Al Qaeda. This past summer he visited PLAYBOY’s Chicago offices and painted a disturbing picture of our domestic security in a conversation with Leopold Froehlich.
Playboy – Question 1: The September 11 hijackers lived undetected here for a year and a half. Are there more members in the U.S. now?
Gunaratna: Yes, there is an Al Qaeda presence. Al Qaeda has two types of cells in America. Support cells disseminate propaganda, recruit, raise funds and procure technologies. They’ll buy Osama bin Laden a satellite phone. They’ll find safe houses, rent vehicles and mount initial reconnaissance on future targets. The operational cells are the Mohamed Atta type of cells. When a target has already been identified, they will come. They do final reconnaissance or surveillance and execute the operation – assassination, bombing, suicide attack, whatever. Both types of cells are active. But now that there’s a state of alert in the U.S., most of the cells here are support cells. Operational cells are established before an attack, because operations are the most vulnerable to detection.
Playboy – Question 2: You’ve said you believe Bin Laden is alive in Pakistan. Do you expect him to go public again?
Gunaratna: Yes. It was in his interest to maintain ambiguity immediately after U.S. troops arrived in Afghanistan. But now that he’s stabilized himself he’ll make it known that he’s alive and Al Qaeda is alive.
Playboy – Question 3: What are the next Al Qaeda hot spots targeted here?
Gunaratna: Actually, the Midwest and New York-New Jersey are two active areas. But it’s likely that because Al Qaeda knows these locales are being watched they’ll establish a presence in other states also.
Playboy – Question 4: You say in your book that there’s a degree of sympathy with Al Qaeda’s objectives among American Muslims. How much sympathy, and with what specific pursuits?
Gunaratna: American Muslims don’t want to support terrorism, but there is a segment of the Muslim community that has been radicalized and politicized to a point that, although they live here, they would have no problem with witnessing another September 11. They’re angry with the U.S. and some of them are convinced the U.S. must be attacked. This fifth column of Al Qaeda in America is small, but they make it possible for Al Qaeda to operate here. The hijackers knew so much about how to behave in this country. How did they know that?
Playboy – Question 5: We’re told that Atta was well assimilated into American culture. How well does Al Qaeda actually understan this culture?
Gunaratna: They have a significant understanding of Western societies because they have penetrated them for at least 10 years. They have people in the West as their fifth column. Because of that, they know how to blend in.
Playboy – Question 6: Who is the typical Al Qaeda supporter in New Jersey, Michigan or Texas? Is he a doctor? A shopkeeper? Taxi driver?
Gunaratna: We can’t exactly say they are from a particular class. Al Qaeda is integrated vertically and horizontally in the Muslim communities. They have supporters, collaborators, sympathizers and members from all those levels. We know the core leadership usually comes from upper- and middle-class families. Bin Laden is from the richest nonroyal Saudi family. Ayman al Zawahiri, a pediatrician, is from an educated Egyptian family. But most of the membership comes from the lower ranks. The middle Al Qaedas, who are the experts, come from middle class families. They’ve attended universities.
Playboy – Question 7: What’s the appeal of Americans to Al Qaeda?
Gunaratna: U.S. passport holders arouse less suspicion when they cross borders. Retired and active military personnel work for or suppport Al Qaeda. For instance, Ali Mohamed trained Bin Laden’s bodyguards. He was part of an Al Qaeda team that included other retired U.S. military personnel who went to Bosnia to train and arm Muslims.
Playboy – Question 8: How does Al Qaeda work in the States?
Gunaratna: They rely on affiliates for support. Al Qaeda did not establish these organizations, many of which enjoy charitable status; they infiltrated them. Since September 11 the FBI has stepped up surveillance, freezing the funds of some U.S.-based Islamic organizations. The Benevolence International Foundation and the Global Relief Foundation, both based in Chicago, are currently being investigated by U.S. authorities for their alleged links with terrorists.
Playboy – Question 9: How did the BIF set up shop here?
Gunaratna: Adel Batterjee formed the Benevolence International Foundation in Florida in 1992. Shortly afterward he moved it to Chicago. Enaam Arnaout, a Syrian-born U.S.citizen, became the BIF’s American head, a post he continues to hold. Arnaout traveled widely, visiting the Balkans, the Caucasus and Asia, channeling U.S.-generated humanitarian support. Until it was raided by the feds last December, BIF Chicago supported an office in Peshawar, Pakistan. BIF Peshawar funded an orphanage near Kabul in Afghanistan. The patron of the orphanage is a former employee of the Taliban Foreign Ministry, with whom Bin Laden and his family stayed six months after they returned to Afghanistan.
Playboy – Question 10: Do former BIF members still operate in Chicago?
Gunaratna: When the FBI raided the BIF’s Chicago office, the search warrant named a well-known employee of MAK, the Afghan Service Bureau. From 1995 to 1998, another BIF Chicago employee gave radical speeches throughout the U.S. in support of jihads in Afghanistan and Chechnya. Before he left for Pakistan, where he now lives, this man founded another charity, Nasr Trust, also in Chicago. Although BIF’s funds were frozen, its office in Chicago continues to function. BIF raised $3.6 million in 2001.
Playboy – Question 11: That’s pretty amazing.
Gunaratna: The Global Relief Foundation is another Islamist organization that had its funds frozen. The GRF had an employee, also a U.S.citizen of Syrian descent, who was responsible for processing documents for Arab volunteers fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Playboy – Question 12: You’ve said Abdullah Azzam had 30 offices here to support the mujahidin in their war against the Soviets. Do these offices still exist?
Gunaratna: They do not exist as Al Qaeda offices or as Afghan relief offices. But there are certain mosques and Islamic institutions in this country that still pledge allegiance to Osama’s ideology. They advance those themes and objectives in a clandestine or deceptive way. They are clandestine even as far as the larger Muslim population is concerned.
Playboy – Question 13: As you’ve said, the executive director of the BIF in Chicago is a Syrian American. What about the Syrian community in Chicago?
Gnaratna: Many Muslims in Chicago support various Islamic charitable organizations without knowing they may be linked to Al Qaeda. I doubt that most people who support the BIF know its political mission. They just don’t know.
Playboy – Question 14: You’ve reported that 20 percent of Muslim charities have been corrupted. How has this been accomplished?
Gunaratna: When Al Qaeda identifies a nongovernmental organization, an Islamic registered charity, for instance, they send one or two of their people to join. Gradually, those people become prominent members of the organization. Eventually they control the funds. They largely work through deception in the U.S., but in the Philippines, for example, they use intimidation. If one man says, ‘We have to be more accountable’, they intimidate him. They will coerce him until he’s scared for his life, for his children. Most of the Al Qaeda-infiltrated charities – most of the front and sympathetic organizations of terrorist groups in the U.S.- are still operating. They work as human rights organizations, humanitarian or cultural organizations, social or educational groups.
Playboy – Question 15: Who contributes to these charities? In 2001, Illinois state tax filings for the BIF cite an $80,000 donation from someone who is listed as unknown and $225,000 from a person identified only as Muhammad. Shouldn’t that arouse suspicion?
Gunaratna: Well, that doesn’t conform to proper administrative and financial regulations, at least in spirit. The U.S. government has belatedly taken action against BIF. But there are several organizations like it. We know of several other terrorist groups operating here.
Playboy – Question 16: You’ve said donors in Saudi Arabia and Kuwat also don’t know where their charitable money is used.
Gunaratna: That’s because they don’t have a proper system. American and other Western institutions have procedures for accountability. Charities account for every cent. They maintain books here, but not in those countries.
Playboy – Question 17: Why have Americans become so vulnerable to attack?
Gunaratna: Americans were lulled into a false sense of security. Their isolationist mentality focused on guarding borders. Not on strategic threats. Sheikh Kabbani of the Islamic Supreme Council of America said in January 1999 that ‘extremist Islamists took over 80 percent of the mosques in the U.S.’ He said that the ideology of extremism has been spread to 80 percent of the Muslim population, mostly the youth. Because of the radicalization of some American Muslims by Islamist preachers, and because of the penetration of Muslim diasporas by foreign terrorists, the FBI infiltrated several American Muslim communities. But the prevailing view in law enforcement was that if American Muslims who support or participate in terrorism elsewhere didn’t harm American interests, nobody would act against them. Al Qaeda knew U.S. intelligence was monitoring Muslim communties here, so they moved the September 11 operational team away from Islamic strongholds in New Jersey and Illinois. They built a new network that had no connection with any of the U.S. networks that Bin Laden believed had been compromised by the FBI.
Playboy – Question 18: Should the U.S. government have had an inkling about what was going on?
Gunaratna: Certainly. Mohammad Jamal Khalifa, for example – Bin Laden’s brother-in-law – visited the States. When U.S. immigration detained him in San Franciso in December 1994, they found documents in his luggage that detailed the ‘outline of the institution of jihad’. These papers had titles like ‘The Wisdom of Assassination and Kidnapping’, ‘The Wisdom of Assassinating Priests and Christians’, ‘The Wisdom of Bombing Christian Churches and Places of Worship’. Khalifa was held without bail before he was subsequently extradited to Jordan for allegedly financing the 1994 bombing of a cinema there. He was later tried and acquitted on that charge. As Al Qaeda’s reported chief for Southeast Asia in the Nineties, Khalifa reportedly helped finance a plan to destroy 11 U.S. airliners over the Pacific, to crash an explosives-laden aircraft into the Pentagon and to assassinate President Clinton and the Pope in Manila. But until Khalifa was acquitted in Jordan, U.S. intelligence had no knowledge of his role in the plan. After the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, intelligence authorities arrested Khalifa in Saudi Arabia and later released him.
Playboy – Question 19: How has Al Qaeda altered their approach since the mid-Nineties?
Gunaratna: The quality of the September 11 operations was markedly different from earlier U.S.attacks. Without exception, the hijackers were handpicked for their willingness to kill and die for Allah. When you compare September 11 with the unsuccessful attempt to bomb Los Angeles International Airport in December 1999, Al Qaeda has improved in almost every aspect. Realizing the threat of terrorist infiltration from Canada, with its relaxed immigration policy, the Americans tightened security along the border and instigated measures to protect key public buildings from car bombs. So Al Qaeda got their operatives into the U.S. by commercial airline, carrying correct identity papers and with sound alibis for their presene. Al Qaeda had originally planned the attack for September 9, but because of unknown operational constraints, the attack was postponed.
Playboy – Question 20: Were any future Al Qaeda members trained at the John F.Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School in Fort Bragg, North Carolina?
Gunaratna: Ali Mohamed was. He was a captain in the Egyptian military who came to the U.S. for advanced training. He received training at the John F.Kennedy Center. He came back again and joined the U.S.Army and attained the rank of sergeant in the Special Forces. He was a member of Al Qaeda. As I pointed out, he trained Bin Laden’s bodyguards. He trained the teams that operated in Somalia, Bosnia and Afghanistan.
Playboy – Question 21: Did the hijackers follow their instructions?
Gunaratna: To the letter. Being advised to keep physically fit and mentally alert, they joined gyms. Mohamed Atta and Marwan al-Shehli went to a health club in Decatur, Georgia. Ziad Jarrah did likewise in Florida, where he took martial arts lessons, including kickboxing and knife fighting. Al Qaeda anticipated that passengers might attack.. So the hijackers were ordered to build body strength. Until a month before the operation, the hijackers had planned to threaten or, if necessary, use knives to gain control of the aircraft. An Al Qaeda group had used a knife to seize an Indian Airlines plane in 1999. Al Qaeda realized that the scheme could be compromised if team members were caught trying to smuggle knives aboard. So they carried box cutters that were less than four inches long, which were permitted by the Federal Aviation Administration. Other than pepper sprays, the box cutters were the only weapons carried by the hijackers.
Playboy – Question 22: How else did they prepare?
Gunaratna: All the cells independently acquired flight deck simulation videos. Atta bought videos and other items from Sporty’s, a pilot store in suburban Cincinnati. Nawaf al-Hazmi also obtained flight deck videos from the same store. Rehearsing was another central precept of Al Qaeda doctrine. Atta and al-Shehhi took a flight-check ride around Decatur in February 2001, and Jarrah did likewise at a flight school in Fort Lauderdale. They repeatedly took the same flight to familiarize themselves with airport security and cockpit access.
Playboy – Question 23: Did all the hijackers come from abroad specifically for the attack?
Gunaratna: No. Al Qaeda recruited and trained Hani Hanjour, a Saudi national who had come to the U.S. in 1996 to study English. In 2001, Hanjour attended pilot-training courses in Arizona and Maryland.
Playboy – Question 24: How did Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest affect the operation?
Gunaratna: It forced them to move up the schedule. Although Al Qaeda strives to train agents who disclose nothing to captors, they were aware of the danger to the operation. Moussaoui was one of the few suspected terrorists who knew about both the Hamburg and the Kuala Lumpur cells. But the FBI failed to examine his computer before September 11. With the imminent threat of being compromised, Al Qaeda’s cells stepped up final preparations within a week of Moussaoui’s arrest. On August 22, Fayez Ahmed used his Visa card in Florida to get the cash that had been deposited in his Standard Chartered Bank account in the United Arab Emirates the day before. That same day, Jarrah purchased global positioning equipment and schematics for cockpit instruments. From August 25 to August 29, the hijackers got their airline tickets with credit cards or online – except Khalid Almihdhar and Majed Moqed of American Airlines flight 77. Their Visa card didn’t match their mailing address, so they had to drive to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and pay cash for two one-way tickets.
Playboy – Question 25: Good to see the security worked. Did these men know they were going to die?
Gunaratna: Well, Atta sent a Fed Ex package from Florida to Dubai in early September. It’s likely that it contained his farewell message to the head of his Al Qaeda family.
Playboy – Question 26: It sounds like they covered all the bases.
Gunaratna: Al Qaeda also prepared a backup team to attack the World Trade Center, and had two other teams of trained pilots and hijackers poised to strike targets in India, Britain and Australia as well.
Playboy – Question 27: In helping the anti-Soviet jihad, did the CIA help Islamic radicals here? As you point out, Abdullah Azzam came to lecture in America. Did U.S. intelligence sponsor radical lectures in American mosques?
Gunaratna: The Afghan Service Bureau didn’t receive any money from the CIA. Its office got money from the Gulf countries and from Muslim immigrants.
Playboy – Question 28: What about through Pakistani intelligence, the ISI?
Gunaratna: The ISI did give assistance. The CIA gave weapons to the ISI, and the CIA gave millions of dollars to Pakistani intelligence. The ISI did the training. I know this because I’ve spoken to the ISI. I spent a lot of time with them. People say the CIA supported Al Qaeda. But the CIA never did. The CIA gave assistance to ISI. And the ISI gave money to all these groups.
Playboy – Question 29: Has Osama bin Laden’s family really disowned him?
Gunaratna: Absolutely – except for one member, his brother-in-law Khalifa. No one else in the family supports him.
Playboy – Question 30: You said it’s unlikely Al Qaeda could mount a biological or nuclear attack but that it could mount a chemical or a radiological attack. Is that still true?
Gunaratna: Yes. Al Qaeda has tried to acquire chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons. But as a terrorist group, it’s difficult to get nuclear and biological material. So it’s likely they will acquire and use chemical or radiological weapons.
Playboy – Question 31: How much did the Afghan war hurt Al Qaeda? How much did the bombings and the U.S. military intervention affect it?
Gunaratna: They completely destroyed Al Qaeda’s infrastructure. Training infrastructure is critical for the continuation of any terrorist conflict, because you have to constantly train members, both ideologically and physically. We know the bombs destroyed the infrastructure. When the quality of the Al Qaeda fighter becomes poor, he is vulnerable to detection. His operational security will be poor, so the efficiency of operations goes down. Also, the bombings have already demoralized Al Qaeda supporters, sympathizers and many of its members.
Playboy – Question 32: Are there currently any native-born Al Qaeda members?
Gunaratna: Yes. We know there are from several interrogation reports and arrests. Even before September 11 we knew from the East Africa bombings that there are Americans in Al Qaeda. We know some of them even trained Bosnian Muslims.
Playboy – Question 33: If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be possible for Americans to infiltrate? If it’s conceivable that John Walker Lindh can become a Taliban member, can’t the FBI recruit infiltrators?
Gunaratna: Yes. But the FBI and the CIA lack creativity. They don’t want to take a risk. When you are working with clandestine agents, sometimes you have to terminate them. They don’t want to dirty their hands. I was a foreign-policy fellow at the Center for International and Security Studies at the University of Maryland. My faculty adviser was Stanfield Turner. I love the man. I respect him because he’s an honest man. But the only disagreement I ever had with him was why he got rid of various clandestine programs when he was director of operations in the CIA. He later realized what he did was a mistake. America lost its eyes and ears.
Playboy – Question 34: Has the FBI or any other intelligence agency infiltrated Al Qaeda?
Gunaratna: They’re trying their best now, and they will.
Playboy – Question 35: You’ve said that you think the French have infiltrated Al Qaeda.
Gunaratna: They have. They have infiltrated Al Qaeda for a long time. The French are good. Of all the Western intelligence agencies, they’re the best on Al Qaeda. Among Arab countries, Jordan and Egypt have the best intelligence.
Playboy – Question 36: In Inside Al Qaeda you write about the lifespans of terrorist groups. How long will Al Qaeda survive?
Gunaratna: It depends on how the U.S. and the international community respond. If you rigorously pursue a group, you can destroy it. I’d say in five years we will be able to destroy Al Qaeda. Five years is average. CIA infiltrated Hezbollah in five years, although that was peripheral infiltration. But now, with so much energy going into counterterrorism, I believe that in the next one or two years there will be good infiltration of these groups. That will enable us to destroy them.
Playboy – Question 37: How long should it take the FBI and CIA to catch up in terms of human intelligence? How long will it take the FBI to get Arabic-speaking agents?
Gunaratna: Since September 11 they have started to recruit immigrants as well as Americans skilled in languages. They hadn’t done that before in sufficient volume.
Playboy – Question 38: How reliable is Abu Zubaydah, who’s now in custody?
Gunaratna: He’ll never tell the truth. I know him. I listened to his communications before he was captured. He will never compromise his organization. Even if he’s cut into small pieces, he won’t. But, also, it’s in the interest of federal agents to say Abu Zubaydah is cooperating. If you say one of the key guys in Al Qaeda is cooperating, it demoralizes others. It drives fear into others: Oh, our leader is exposing us.
Playboy – Question 39: Why has there been so little effective counterpropaganda?
Gunaratna: Americans are clean people. They think black propaganda is something bad. It’s big mistake. The American people themselves killed the Pentagon’s Office of Strategic Influence. They should never have done that. That office would have been central to fighting Al Qaeda. Americans must understand that when you deal with a secret organization, a terrorist group that has no principles, you have to undertake black operations – especially when you face a high threat.
Playboy – Question 40: How long would it take for an OSI-type office to be effective? Could it be done quickly?
Gunaratna: The people who know the threat want to do it. But there is some resistance. In five years you will produce world-class intelligence operatives, because young people have seen the suffering of Americans.
Playboy – Question 41: Considering the presence of Saudis in Al Qaeda, especially in the September 11 operation, is there any connection between terrorist supporters and U.S. financial interests? Quite a few major American corporations have longstanding relationships with Saudi Arabians.
Gunaratna: Well, the Saudi system tacitly aids terrorism in a big way. Naturally, the organizations that work with the Saudi system indirectly, without their knowledge, contribute to this. Think about it: American troops kill three to five Al Qaeda members a week in Afghanistan, but the Saudi system produces may be two dozen Al Qaeda members every week.
Playboy – Question 42: The Sudanese government supposedly offered to turn Osama bin Laden over to the U.S.
Playboy – Question 43: And the feds said no?
Gunaratna: They said no because they didn’t have sufficient evidence to prosecute him. It’s very unfortunate. And, of course, a year before, the Sudanese offered Carlos the Jackal to the French government. And Carlos the Jackal is now in France in custody. Bin Laden was afraid to stay in Sudan after that. He was worried the same thing would happen to him.
Playboy – Question 44: You say that American troops should leave the Arabian peninsula. But aren’t the troops there to protet the Saudi royal family as much as they are to defend American interests? Would the regime be at risk from theocratic forces if the soldiers left?
Gunaratna: The regime will definitely be threatened, but not now. Maybe in five years, if the Saudis don’t do a proper job cleaning up. More than catching the terrorists in Saudi Arabia, you must restructure a system that produces terrorists, that produces youths vulnerable to propaganda and indoctrination. Saudis are becoming sympathizers, supporters, collaborators and members of terrorist groups.
Playboy – Question 45: Has Al Qaeda been successful in bridging the Shia-Sunni divide?
Gunaratna: Yes. To target a common enemy. Al Qaeda has gone beyond the ideological divide, which is unprecedented. In fact, the world’s two most dangerous groups are Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, a Shia group and a Sunni group that now work together.
Playboy – Question 46: Is there any potential for disunity – ideological, factional or political – among al Qaeda?
Gunaratna: As long as Osama bin Laden is alive, there will be unity. When he’s removed, there will be so much infighting. Bin Laden is a good diplomat. He can bring people together and give them a dream to follow, a vision and a mission.
Playboy – Question 47: There are a lot of disenfranchised youths in the Islamic world. How much does demographics – a surfeit of people under the age of 20 – help Al Qaeda?
Gunaratna: The young are most vulnerable to radicalization. Even if they’re educated, they can’t find employment. Or they will be underemployed. These are the people who join Al Qaeda. They want to attack, attack, attack. We see that mentality; Kill the Americans; Death to America. Those kinds of slogans come mostly from young people. In the case of Al Qaeda, the demography will not change in the Middle East.
Playboy – Question 48: Do you see a possibility for a reform movement in the Muslim world?
Gunaratna: The fight against Al Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist organizations and Islamic radicalism should, essentially, be waged by moderate Muslims, because moderate Muslims are the most threatened. They are in danger of having their values taken away. But they don’t have the willpower or the ability to do it. That’s why the West must work with moderate regimes and people.
Playboy – Question 49: Is there a reform movement that would be able to counter the radical Islamist tendency, a counter-reformation away from the Wahhabi, away from fundamentalism?
Gunaratna: The Saudi royal family is under pressure to change that system now, because they know their system spawns and sustains terrorism. But will they be able to do it? That’s the biggest question. Can the West persuade them? We have not seen signs of their doing it.
Playboy – Question 50: Can the madrassas be changed?
Gunaratna: Egypt is reforming its madrassas in a big way. And Algeria has reformed. Algeria says every madrassa and mosque must be registered. Pakistan has also started to do this.
Playboy – Question 51: Tell us about the encryption systems. Al Qaeda’s e-mails were secure. How did they know the National Security Agency couldn’t break their encryption software?
Gunaratna: I don’t know how Al Qaeda knew. But less than five percent of their communications are decipherable, because they’re using the commercially available Pretty Good Privacy. Al Qaeda had a special school in Afghanistan to train people to use computers, to use encryption. Terrorists have produced many computer viruses, especially in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and they continually target European and North American countries. They are waging a war against the information infrastructure. Al Qaeda does this with simple means, buying programs off the shelf.
Playboy – Question 52: What’s your personal impression of Al Qaeda members who you’ve interviewed? Are they wild-eyed fanatics? Are they zealots?
Gunaratna: Actually, there is an A team and a B team. Members of the A team are the highly trained, highly motivated cool guys. They are icemen. The B-team guys are hotheads. Al Qaeda doesn’t care for them. They are expendable assets. The Al Qaeda manual for explosives says you must never give explosives training to a hothead, because he will blow himself up and blow up other Al Qaeda members and supporters. Always pick the right man for the right job. One category is expendable, the other is not.
Playboy – Question 53: But you wouldn’t want to mess with either of them.
Gunaratna: The ones you have to watch out for are the Takfirs, who came out of Egypt in the late Sixties. Takfir believers can deviate from Muslim practices to blend in with infidels. They will drink scotch with you, go to topless bars.
Playboy – Question 54: How safe are we now?
Gunaratna: The U.S. remains a vulnerable society. The threat of terrorism is still high. The only sure way to protect America – short of destroying Al Qaeda’s entire infrastructure abroad, an objective likely to remain unattainable – is for the FBI and other agencies to step up recruitment of agents from migrant Muslim communities. That’s how they can penetrate Al Qaeda’s core leadership.”
Thus ended Gunaratna’s secondary-rank interview in the Playboy magazine. Some of his stated positions were idiosyncratic and tasteless [for e.g; in response to Question 46, where Gunaratna gives a positive spin for Osama bin Laden, leaving one to guess for a moment whether Gunaratna was in fact a closet admirer of Al Qaeda. In addition, Gunaratna’s answer to Question 38 is also perplexing. The question was: ‘How reliable is Abu Zubaydah, who’s now in custody?’ According to Gunaratna: “He’ll never tell the truth. I know him. I listened to his communications before he was captured. He will never compromise his organization.”. Finding out, how did Gunaratna came to “know” him may be of some interest. Gunaratna has also stated that he “listened to” the communications of Abu Zubaydah. In what language, I wonder? If one presumes that Abu Zubaydah would have spoken in Arabic and not in English, I have no evidence that Gunaratna has mastered Arabic.
Gunaratna’s answer to Question 33 is a revelation of his personality. Is it a Freudian slip that he had blurted: “the FBI and the CIA lack creativity. They don’t want to take a risk. When you are working with clandestine agents, sometimes you have to terminate them….” He is a crumb who owes his current status to the ‘crumbs’ he gulped from the FBI and CIA transcripts. Then, he had the temerity to foul-mouth his benefactors. More importantly note the use of his euphemistic verb ‘terminate’ for killing. Who gave him the license to advocate killing? Is his sick mind any different from that of real terrorists?
Willie Nelson’s opposing view on terrorism
The individual who was featured in that particular Playboy issue’s signature item ‘The Interview’ is an authentic American original and has higher name recognition than Gunaratna to the Playboy readers, and the American audience at large. The responses of Willie Nelson, the famed singer-songwriter, to three questions addressed by Gunaratna appear more humanitarian than the moronic answers pouted by the Temple Drum of Terrorism Industry. In his interview with David Sheff [Playboy magazine, November 2002, pp.63-70 & 161], Willie Nelson provided a refreshingly opposing view on terrorism. The distinction between Gunaratna’s highfalutin gibberish, and Willie Nelson’s common-sense charm is apparent to all.
“Playboy: How did September 11 change your life?
Nelson: Like everyone. I watched it and at first thought it was a movie they were promoting. I hear that kids saw that over and over again and didn’t understand that it was a single attack – they thought that it kept happening every time they showed it on TV. I didn’t like the way the news media exploited it. No wonder we’re toughened to things like that. We see it and don’t know it’s real because we are bombarded with images. Every time you see it, it starts looking more and more unreal. How long are we going to exploit it? When are we going to let it become what it was? Are we going to learn lessons from it or keep making the same mistakes?
Playboy: What lessons?
Nelson: Are we going to look at poverty, disproportionate wealth and the horrors in the world or ignore them? The poorest places are the ones where terrorism breeds. If someone wants to kill me bad enough to kill himself at the same time, there has to be a reason. People jump all over you if you ask the question, but if someone in America murdered 10 people or 3000, the first thing we would ask is Why? Nothing can justify the attack, but there might have been something we could do to prevent an attack in the future. I’m not talking about giving in or negotiating with terrorists. I’m talking about looking at the complaints of people in the world who hate us. Is it because our troops are over there? Are we afraid to say that? Anything else? Our policies regarding Israel? I’m not saying we should stop doing anything they don’t like just because they don’t like it, but we should understand why and try to acknowledge that people in other parts of the world have rights, too. That they matter. What arrogance to say it doesn’t matter what they think. It’s not un-American to ask these questions. It’s un-American not to ask them. America really stands for human rights and freedom. Let’s apply it everywhere.
Playboy: What led to your performance at the benefit for September 11 victims at which you sang America the Beautiful?
Nelson: Just got a call and they asked. Of course I would do it. Everybody at the show felt helpless and wanted to do something. If any of us could have gotten ahold of Osama bin Laden, we would have cut him into a million pieces, but we couldn’t get ahold of him. We are still frustrated. We may have gotten a whole lot of people, but not the ones who actually did it. Where is Osama? How do you stop terrorism when your enemy is scattered in 80 countries? At least they stopped pretending that we have won any wars. For a while they were saying it: We won the war, blew Afghanistan sky-high. Big deal. Blew up a lot of dirt. I can’t see that we have won any wars. The information you get from the people in charge is frustrating; they lead you to believe that they don’t know any more than you know. All the alerts – trying to scare the hell out of us – don’t seem much good. I’m not sure what good there is to try to scare the death out of every man, woman and child in this country saying the bogeyman is coming. If they know for sure, that’s one thing. But the more times you hear them say ‘Be alert’, the less alert you get. You can only stay so alert. When you say something and it doesn’t happen, you’ve lost the crowd.”
Now, to the Melbourne Age newspaper’s expose on Rohan Gunaratna’s credential as globe-trotting intelligence analyst. The complete text is reproduced below.
Item 2: Expose on Rohan Gunaratna by Gary Hughes
Analyse this by Gary Hughes [Melbourne Age/ July 20 2003]
Whenever a comment has been needed about al-Qaeda or terrorism, Rohan Gunaratna has been there to supply it. Who is he? Rohan Gunaratna describes as a spiritually defining moment the day in March 2001 when he learned that the Taliban regime in Kabul had ordered the demolition of the ancient, giant statues of Buddha at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
But it was the destruction six months later of an icon of the modern world - New York’s World Trade Towers - that changed his life in a more practical way, launching a stellar new career as a global authority on international terrorism. Gunaratna was the right person in the right place at the right time. The world’s media outlets were looking for experts to interpret how and why the world had changed and the Sri Lanka-born academic was great "talent", providing dire warnings about the threat of Osama bin Laden’s shadowy al-Qaeda network. No one seemed to worry that, until the September 11 attacks, Gunaratna’s acknowledged expertise had been largely confined to the activities of Sri Lanka’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or the Tamil Tigers.
In May 2002, as Australian SAS troops were hunting bin Laden’s followers south-east of Kabul, Gunaratna’s book Inside Al Qaeda : Global Network of Terror became an instant bestseller and his reputation grew accordingly, being described as one of the world’s foremost experts on Islamic terrorism.
Gunaratna, 42, had ridden a wave of success driven by the basic laws of supply and demand - there were not enough experts to meet the demand from the media and publishers for intelligence analysts able to provide a catchy quote or headline. And Gunaratna appeared happy to break the mould of the public’s traditional idea of an academic analyst, making at times startling claims based on what he said were his own intelligence "sources" and criticising governments - including Canberra - for not doing enough and being too concerned about civil liberties.
Gunaratna was also seized upon by the Australian media, including newspapers published by Fairfax, and promoted virtually unquestioningly as the leading authority on Islamic terrorism, particularly after the Bali bombing in October last year. But Gunaratna and others who belong to this new breed of media-friendly commentators, who blur the distinction between academic analysis and politics and base research on information from anonymous intelligence sources, are causing concern in some circles.
Members of Australia's intelligence community, and in particular ASIO, are known to be dismissive of many of Gunaratna's more sensational statements. Also under scrutiny are the financial links between analysts who highlight the dangers posed by terrorists and private corporations that stand to make money from an increased atmosphere of fear.
Members of Australia’s intelligence community, and in particular ASIO, are known to be dismissive of many of Gunaratna’s more sensational statements, such as claims that alleged military chief of the Jemaah Islamiyah network and senior al-Qaeda member Hambali had regularly visited Australia. In Britain, The Observer newspaper’s home affairs editor and long-time writer on Islamic terrorist groups, Martin Bright, describes Gunaratna as "the least reliable of the experts on bin Laden". He says Gunaratna is often used by the British authorities as an expert witness in the prosecution of Islamist terror suspects because they can rely on him to be apocalyptic.
In Australia, journalist and commentator on intelligence issues Brian Toohey is one of the few to have openly questioned Gunaratna’s credentials, describing him as a "self-proclaimed expert" and dismissing some of his claims as "plain silly". He uses as an example a warning by Gunaratna published in November 2001 in the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council Review that terrorist groups might try to influence Australian politicians by rallying "10,000 or 20,000 votes" in their electorates.
David Wright-Neville is senior research fellow at the Centre for Global Terrorism at Monash University and until 2002 was a senior terrorism analyst in the Office of National Assessment. Although he won’t comment directly on Gunaratna, or any other individual analyst, he says that, like in any other profession, the abilities of so- called terrorism experts ranges from the very good down to questionable.
The lack of scrutiny of their abilities, says to Wright-Neville, is partly due to the shortage of analysts and experts available to meet the massive demand for public knowledge. He says problems arise when analysts don’t make it clear when they leave the secure ground of known facts and enter into their own extrapolation when commenting to the media. The results can been headlines based on conjecture rather than reality.
Another factor, says Wright-Neville, is the use of unidentified intelligence or security sources by some analysts. Not all intelligence organisations are equally reliable and, particularly in some south-east Asian countries, can be highly politicised and running agendas for their governments. Individuals in intelligence agencies can selectively leak information to analysts - or to the media - to influence public debate. "The context in which information is obtained is vital," he says. It is also important not to put too much weight on intelligence sources. "Intelligence is an imprecise science," says Wright-Neville.
Gunaratna’s credentials in biographical information published in books, magazines, newspapers and on the internet, are at first glance impressive. His book Inside Al Qaeda states: "Rohan Gunaratna, the author of six books on armed conflict, was called to address the United Nations, the US Congress and the Australian Parliament in the wake of September 11, 2001. He is a research fellow at the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, St Andrews University, Scotland. Previously, Gunaratna was principal investigator of the United Nations’ Terrorism Prevention Branch and he has served as a consultant on terrorism to several governments and corporations."
After The Sunday Age made detailed checks on Gunaratna’s biographical details, he confirmed last week that there was no such position as principal investigator at the UN’s Terrorism Prevention Branch and he worked there in 2001-02 as a research consultant. He also confirmed that, rather than directly addressing the UN, Congress and the Australian Parliament, he had actually spoken at a seminar organised by the parliamentary library, given evidence to a congressional hearing on terrorism and delivered a research paper to a conference on terrorism organised by the UN’s Department for Disarmament Affairs.
Gunaratna’s first six books on armed conflict were all relatively obscure works on the Tamil Tigers. One of the books, South Asia at Gunpoint, brought him to notice in Australia in October 2000 with claims that a Tamil Tiger support network had shipped a small helicopter and micro-light aircraft to Sri Lanka and that a Tamil Tiger arms smuggling ship had visited Australia in 1993. Although the local Tamil community was outraged, at least one of the allegations was shown to have a basis in fact. An SBS Dateline report telecast that same month tracked down the Newcastle shop owner who had been questioned by ASIO after being approached by an alleged Tamil Tiger sympathiser in 1994 wanting to buy hang gliders and have them shipped to Malaysia. The information appears to have come through Gunaratna’s very close links with Sri Lanka’s intelligence service. Gunaratna worked for the Sri Lanka Government between 1984 and 1994.
The trail of financial support and weapons supplies to the Tamil Tigers took Gunaratna into the wider world of international terrorism, including Afghanistan, where the Tamil Tigers obtained small arms. His research into the Tamil Tigers and their methods also made him an authority on suicide bombers - knowledge that would stand him in good stead following the September 11 suicide attacks in New York and Washington.
In July 2001, he co-authored (with three others) an article called Blowback in Jane’s Intelligence Review, which looked at Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda in light of evidence from the then recently completed trials of those behind the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. The article was one of the first detailed examinations of bin Laden and the origins of al-Qaeda. It quickly became a point of reference after September 11.
One former Australian intelligence officer says a problem with Gunaratna’s approach is that he tends to look at international terrorism from the perspective of how it relates to the Tamil Tigers, who declared a truce in December 2001 and opened peace negotiations. Gunaratna did much of his work on the Tamil Tigers’ international links while studying in the United States in 1995-96. It was then that he began establishing important friends in the small world of intelligence analysis.
He did a master of arts at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame University in 1996 and research at the University of Illinois and University of Maryland. While at Maryland, he worked with Admiral Stansfield Turner, one-time head of US intelligence. While at Notre Dame, he linked up with the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at Scotland’s St Andrews University and its massive database on terrorist incidents going back to 1968. He also got to know the centre’s then head, Dr Bruce Hoffman, with whom he has co-authored a yet to be published book on terrorism.
Gunaratna moved to Scotland to complete his doctorate at St Andrews and work as a research fellow at the terrorism and political violence centre. He also got open access to the centre’s large terrorism database, one of just a small handful of such databases scattered around the world. The database is a combination of material gathered by St Andrews and the Rand Corporation, the non-profit US thinktank established by the US Air Force. Now known as the RAND-St Andrews database on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict, it is largely maintained and updated by more than 30 students who comb the internet and newspapers and magazines from around the world for information on terrorist operations.
The database is not the only link between Rand and St Andrews and Rand and Gunaratna. Bruce Hoffman, the founder of the St Andrews centre for terrorism study, is now a vice-president of Rand and chief of its Washington office. And Rand, St Andrews, Gunaratna and Jane’s worked together last year as private advisers to Risk Management Solutions, helping the private American corporation develop a "US terrorism risk model" to sell to insurance companies worried about terrorist strikes. Rand, in turn, is linked to the $US3.5 billion Carlyle Group, which holds stakes in some of the world’s biggest arms and defence corporations, through the former US defence secretary and deputy CIA director Frank Carlucci, who is chairman of the group and a Rand board member.
The Carlyle Group employs former President George Bush as a senior adviser, uses former US Secretary of State James Baker as its senior counsellor and has former British Prime Minister John Major as chairman of its European arm. Earlier this year, it bought a third of QinetiQ, the company floated by Britain’s Ministry of Defence to commercially exploit non-secret security and defence technology. QinteQ has been negotiating with the British Government to buy the soon-to-be-privatised Security, Languages, Intelligence and Photography College, where British spies are trained.
In his biographical details on the site of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore, where he is an assistant professor, Gunaratna states one of his past positions was "principal investigator, QinetiQ Project on Terrorist Information Operations". Gunaratna moved to Singapore this year to help establish a regional centre for terrorism research at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at Nanyang Technological University, where he is titled assistant professor. Not surprisingly, the centrepiece of the new research centre is a database on terrorist activities in the Asia-Pacific region.
Gunaratna says his expertise on al-Qaeda comes from interviews with the group’s "penultimate leadership" and rank and file members, hundreds of documents seized after the invasion of Afghanistan and the debriefings of al-Qaeda suspects in more than a dozen countries. It was that kind of information that led him in March to state definitively that Australian David Hicks, who has been detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba after his capture in Afghanistan, was "not a member of al-Qaeda", "did not plan to attack civilian targets", "never intended to attack a civilian target" and was a "romantic" not taken seriously by other Taliban fighters.
Eyebrows were raised among fellow intelligence analysts when Gunaratna reversed his position on Hicks two weeks ago, after the US announced the Australian was one of six detainees it had enough evidence against to put before a military tribunal. This time Gunaratna, said Hicks had undergone "more advance and more specialised training" with al-Qaeda, which "had some special plans for him". Gunaratna attributed his change of heart to information gained from "more recent investigations" and given to him by sources he refused to identify. Another person with raised eyebrows was Hicks’ Adelaide lawyer, Frank Camatta, who maintains that Gunaratna could not possibly have had access to transcripts of his client’s interrogations in Guantanamo Bay. "We’d sure like to know who his sources are," says Camatta.
The claim: In his book Inside al-Qaeda and in several interviews, Rohan Gunaratna gives graphic details of how terrorists planned to hijack a British Airways jet at London’s Heathrow Airport on September 11, 2001, and fly it into the British Houses of Parliament. The plot was foiled when aircraft in Britain were grounded immediately after the attack on New York’s twin towers. The source for the information was Indian intelligence interrogations of Mohammed Afroz, a 25-year-old Muslim and suspected member of al-Qaeda, arrested in Mumbai on October 3, 2001. Afroz told interrogators he had been to flying schools in Victoria and Britain and also planned to fly a plane into Melbourne’s Rialto Towers.
The reality: Afroz was released by an Indian court on indefinite bail in April, 2001 after Indian police failed to bring charges. As part of the investigation, Indian intelligence agents flew to Australia in February 2001 to check out his claims. It was reported after his release that New Delhi police believed Mumbai police made up the sensational claims allegedly made by Afroz. ASIO said in its 2002 annual report that none of the allegations made by Afroz that related to Australia could be corroborated and they were assessed "to be lacking in credibility".
The claim: Hambali, the operation commander of the terrorist group behind the Bali bombings, Jemaah Islamiah, and other leaders had visited Australia a dozen times, according to the Australia edition of Rohan Gunaratna’s Inside al-Qaeda.
The reality: Attorney-General Daryl Williams said checks within Australia and overseas had failed to find any record of Hambali having travelled to Australia "under his own name or any known aliases".
Item 3: Rohan Gunaratna’s Response to the expose of Gary Hughes [in Channel News Asia com., July 21, 2003; accessed Aug.8, 2003]
“Post 9/11, it is difficult to imagine a man who has been quoted more often on the subject of terrorism than author and academic Rohan Gunaratna. But yesterday, in a scathing attack, a Melbourne-based newspaper crucified the sources, credibility and motives of the Singapore-based analyst.
Associate Professor Gunaratna was brought to Singapore early this year to establish a programme on political violence and terrorism at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies and to help the Singapore Government in its efforts to battle terrorism. But that very expertise was somewhat mocked in the report in The Age, which quoted a British terrorism writer as saying that the Sri Lanka-born academic was ‘the least reliable of the experts on (Osama) bin Laden’. The report also detailed how Dr.Gunaratna, who authored the best seller Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network for Terror, had been less than accurate on some of his biographical details.
But even more damning was the report’s suggestion that the 42-year-old academic was among a breed of ‘media-friendly commentators who blur the distinction between academic analysis and politics’ and who ‘base research from anonymous intelligence sources’. Contacted last night and e-mailed a copy of the report by Today, Dr.Gunaratna reacted calmly to the broadside that has been launched against him by the Australian newspaper. ‘My policy is not to be driven by praise, nor to be dissuaded by criticism’, said the academic, who admitted that the close ties that he shared with some governments could leave him open to attacks. ‘Although I have wanted to be totally independent, sometimes the type of interaction with governments I’ve had may create the perception otherwise, especially given that governments are trying to stamp out terrorism’, said Dr.Gunaratna, who worked for the Sri Lankan government between 1984 and 1994.
So, has he been used by governments to push their agenda, as suggested in the article? ‘Yes, that is entirely possible,’ came the surprisingly candid reply. ‘I am only human after all.’ However, he was unapologetic about his conviction that academics cannot sit in ‘ivory towers’ and proscribe theory alone. ‘Academicians have have to be more practically oriented’, he said. ‘It would even be good if governments do academic work and academics do government work.’ He was also quick to point out that the questioning of his biographical credentials – The Age said that there was no such position as ‘principal investigator’ in the UN’s Terrorism Prevention Branch as stated in Dr.Gunaratna’s biography – was a ‘distorted’ one. He said that he was the principal investigator of Project One at the UN Terrorism Branch and that The Age article was just ‘playing with semantics’.
On his use of anonymous sources, Dr.Gunaratna argued that such behaviour was necessary in his field of work. ‘There are some sources that are still active and are very sensitive’. But what about the fact that he had backtracked on David Hicks, an Australian terror detainee in Cuba? After having said in March that Hicks was ‘not a member of Al Qaeda’, Dr.Gunaratna was criticised for changing that view only after the US said that it had found enough information to prosecute the Australian. ‘Yes, my initial assessment of David Hicks was based on information available at the time of custody. But we are dealing with continuously new data and people should not be angry if we change our assessments’, he said.
And Dr.Gunaratna does not plan to respond to the report in any other form, as he holds the view that it has not damaged his reputation in the international arena. ‘I’ve worked for 20 years in this field and one article is not going to have any impact on my standing.’ he said. ‘Terrorists are the worst human rights violators and I will pay the price for any criticism of my work.’”
Item 4: Rohan Gunaratna’s claim contradicted by CIA’s spokesman Bill Harlow [in Newsweek web exclusive, by Michael Isikoff & Mark Hosenball, datelined July 9, 2003; accessed Aug.8, 2003]
The Kuala Lumpur Summit Redux
“Was master terrorist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed at an Al Qaeda ‘planning’ summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000 that was being secretly monitored by the Malaysian secret services – all under the watchful eyes of CIA?
That surprising claim was made today by Rohan Gunaratna, a widely resepcted academic expert on Al Qaeda who claims to have had access to top-secret U.S.intelligence ‘debriefs’ of captured Al Qaeda terrorists. Gunaratna was an initial witness at a public hearing conducted by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.
Gunaratna, who said he was specifically reviewed transcripts of the interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed since his capture in Pakistan last March, testified that Mohammed actually ‘chaired’ the meeting of 12 Al Qaeda principals in which the September 11 plot and other future Al Qaeda attacks were discussed. But agency spokesman Bill Harlow flatly refuted the academic’s testimony today, saying the agency can now say for certain that the alleged 9-11 mastermind wasn’t present. ‘He’s totally incorrect,’ said Harlow about Gunaratna. ‘He got it wrong.’
The issue is far from academic. The CIA has previously acknowledged that it had asked the Malaysian ‘Special Branch’ to monitor the Kuala Lumpur summit and that the agency even received secret photographs of the Al Qaeda terrorists meeting there. (Immediately after the meeting, two of those present, 9-11 hijackers Khalid Al-Mihdhar and Nawaf Al Hazmi, flew from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok and then onto Los Angeles. That information was soon known to the CIA but never passed along to other U.S.-law enforcement and border agencies that could have placed the two men on a terrorist ‘watch list’ and tracked their activities inside the United States.)
If true, Gunaratna’s claims about Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9-11 scheme was hatched – and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, doing the plotting.But Harlow said Gunaratna may have simply been confused because of those who was present, a high ranking Al Qaeda operative named Tawfiq bin Attash, had the nickname of ‘Khalled’. And the hijacker, Al-Mihdhar, had the first name Khalid. ‘Let’s hope the rest of the commission’s witnesses do better.’ said Harlow.”
End Note by Sri Kantha
According to this Newsweek web exclusive commentary by Isikoff and Hosenball, Dr.Gunaratna “claims to have had access to top-secret U.S. intelligence debriefs of captured Al Qaeda terrorists.” Then, how come the CIA spokesman contradicts the testimony of the Temple Drum of terrorism industry? Is it unreasonable to assume that either Gunaratna or the CIA spokesman is finagling with truth?
Or could it be that the U.S. intelligence operatives initially fed Dr.Gunaratna with not so-accurate ‘debriefs’ so that he ‘being a media-friendly analyst’ could disperse some misinformation for mutual benefit of both parties? In my thinking, Gunaratna’s cryptic response [‘Yes, that is entirely possible,’ came the surprisingly candid reply. ‘I am only human after all.’] to the question of correspondent of Channel News Asia Com. whether “has he been used by governments to push their agenda, as suggested in the article?”, hides much truth than what has been revealed.
Let me put things in perspective. Whatever Sri Lanka lacks, occasionally it produces charlatans and forgers who make some wave at the international scene. Rohan Gunaratna is not the first one in this game. In 1951, J.R.Jayewardene (then, a young Cabinet minister) made a wave as the ‘benefactor of Japan’ at the San Francisco Peace Treaty, and plodded this nugget laboriously to his Sinhalese audience and local journalists for decades. In reality, his role was a minor one – that of a bucket-carrier to the then U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles (1888-1959) - and spewing mud at Andrei Gromyko (1909-1989), the then chief Soviet delegate at the United Nations, in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War games. There were two reasons why Jayewardene was not exposed as a con man. One is that Dulles, the mastermind behind Jayewardene’s podium act had died in the 1950s, before Jayewardene gained power in Sri Lanka. Secondly, the majority of the Japanese (even the politicians, diplomats and journalists) hardly read the English press in which Jayewardene had bragged about his big role as the benefactor of Japan.
In the 1960s, there was one Dr.Emil Savundra, the infamous insurance swindler. He was caught and legally punished in Britain. In 1982, there was a con man Sepala Ekanayake, who hijacked an Alitalia plane in Bangkok, by fooling the airport security personnel and airline passengers with the message that he had bomb strapped to his body. Ekanayake was even successful in receiving 300,000 US dollars for his con act, and when he landed in Colombo received a ‘hero welcome’ from the gullibles for his stupendous feat.
In late 1990s, none other than the current Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga was ‘caught’ for her vita forgery of embellishing her ‘Paris period’ by the vigilant editor of the Sunday Leader. If Chandrika Kumaratunga, like one of her predecessors J.R.Jayewardene, did the vita forgery for impressing her dim-witted local fans, it was left to Rohan Gunaratna to trick the international press and emerge as an academic impostor at the global podia. Isn’t it somewhat ironic that because he was busy browsing with all the ‘intelligence materials’ and posturing as a world-class intelligence analyst, Gunaratna had hardly bothered to take to his heart - an unblemished gem of an intelligent advice offered by Abe Lincoln, which is available in any standard quotation book: ‘You can fool all the people for some time; some people for all the time; but you can’t fool all the people all the time.’