Tuesday, May 25, 2004

More Bout - or could this be the reason?

The Centre for Public Integrity, some time ago now, ran this story: Link to saved copy
"From 1979 to 1986, Chichakli lived most of the time in Saudi Arabia, first studying at Riyadh University, and later working for a variety of businesses. During his university days, he told the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that he used to "sit around and eat sandwiches and sing songs" with Osama bin Laden and his siblings, back when "Osama was OK." He added that he probably knew about 40 bin Laden family members and that most of them were nice people. In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Chichakli claims he was contacted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to assist bin Laden family members living in the United States. "FBI acted absolutely wonderfully," he said, then remarked of the bin Laden family that that's how it goes when one has friends in high places.

Chichakli moved to Texas in 1986 and married; at some point obtaining U.S. citizenship. According his military service record and résumé, both of which were obtained by ICIJ, Chichakli served in the U.S. Army from 1990 to 1993, specializing in fields such as aviation, first aid, interrogation and intelligence. He also earned FAA certification as an air traffic controller with military control-tower rating. He took courses at the Defense Language Institute and the Army's academy for non-commissioned officers, in addition to receiving training in conventional and unconventional warfare. He left the military as a decorated veteran. Chichakli claimed in an interview with ICIJ that his service to the United States was not limited to his three-year tour in the military. He said he spent some 18 years working in intelligence.

After his honorable discharge from the Army, Chichakli returned to the Gulf States, specifically the United Arab Emirates, and became the commercial manager of the free zone in Sharjah. From 1993 to 1996, he was responsible for much of the liaison and commercial activity at the airport where, according to the United Nations, most of Victor Bout's companies had their operations base.

Chichakli has held several senior positions in companies owned by Bout, U.N. documents say, including chief financial manager with responsibilities such as accounting, financial and reporting activities, and overall responsibility for the financial systems. Chichakli downplayed his role. "I did provide some accounting advice here and there," he said. "Making companies public, prepare business plan etc. … I helped him advance his cargo business." He also denied any involvement in the arms trade. But he did say that Bout had taken part in at least one operation with a military purpose. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, Chichakli told ICIJ, Bout organized three flights ferrying U.S. personnel to Afghanistan, but he refused to elaborate."

This raises interesting questions. A Machiavellian view might suggest that, if Bout really had done the state some service in Afghanistan, his past is of no interest to us. But the period when Chichakli was running the SAFZ - 1993 to 1996 - precedes his swing from supporting the warlords who became the Northern Alliance to supplying the Taliban and eventually al-Qa'ida. In fact he seems to have swung with the wind once the Taliban took power. The UAE, of course, was one of only three countries to recognise them. If he had been serving US interests, he would surely have been brought to heel after 1999, by which time the Western line on Afghanistan had become explicitly hostile to the Taliban. But his Afghan business continued to grow. The questions are as follows: what did the Coalition hire BGIA to do, and what did they know of its background? Further to that, why was such a seedy outfit chosen? The date may be of importance - the 5th of April was during one of the worst weeks of the Shia uprising, the day before Moqtada al-Sadr's militia took over Najaf. Within a week there were reports of a logistics crisis due to the insurgency on the roads. Could that be a connection? That is, of course, speculation.

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