American Neo-cons, Chechen Rebels, 911 and The Boston Marathon Bombing

June 18, 2013

chechenfighters

Over the past couple of months we’ve looked at the strange circumstances surrounding the Boston Marathon bombing and the Tsarnaev brothers. My working theory is that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was being, or had been recruited by one or more intelligence agencies and then double-crossed his handlers instead of returning to Russia for mayhem. We know he was under surveillance and interrogated by the FBI, as was his friend Todashev who was killed by the FBI about two weeks later. Todashev may have known about Tamerlan’s plans and connections – he may have been executed for that reason. Tamerlan also attended covert training sponsored by the spooky Jamestown Foundation in (Russian) Georgia, a program that encouraged disruption of Russia and the opening of Caspian oilfields to western interests.

With that in mind, I read this series by Mark Ames that ties together the American neo-conservatives, Chechen Rebels, 911 and The Boston Marathon bombing.
It blew my mind…
Ames should be nominated for a Pulitzer for this excellent long-form journalism. Folks that don’t read information like this have no idea what is really going on out there.
I submit the articles in their entirety with fair-use law in mind, as the series directly buttresses my previous articles, especially the work on Germany, America and The New Ottoman Empire.
The series is quite long, but boy is it an education:

Prisoners of the Caspian, Part One
By Mark Ames
“FUCK AMERICA!” – Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, April 19, 2013

We’ve had two deadly jihadi attacks in this country since the start of the new century: 9/11 and the Boston Marathon. In both cases, Washington’s highly-politicized position on Chechen separatists played a key role in making it harder for FBI agents to prevent those attacks from happening.

The entrenched idea that Chechen separatists have not and do not engage in jihadi terrorism; that they pose no threat to the West; and that anyone who thinks or says otherwise should be distrusted — these false premises have framed a dangerously misguided policy in which Chechen radicals have been protected and nurtured — at the expense of American lives. The neocons, the same crowd that suckered Americans into invading Iraq, played a front-and-center role in whitewashing Chechen jihadi terrorism, and defining our disastrous policies in the Caucasus. The Boston Marathon bombings are, in no small part, blowback from the neocon love affair with Chechen terrorism.

This isn’t just my position — it’s also the position taken by FBI whistleblower and Time magazine’s 2002 Person of the Year, Coleen Rowley. In her recent article headlined “Chechen Terrorists and the Neocons” Rowley drew a direct link between neocon-fronted US geopolitical strategy in Chechnya, and the FBI’s failures to stop two deadly acts of terrorism, beginning with 9/11:

“The post 9/11 investigations launched as a result of my 2002 “whistleblower memo” did conclude that a major mistake, which could have prevented or reduced 9/11, was the lack of recognition of [Saudi-born Chechen separatist leader] al Khattab’s Chechen fighters as a “terrorist group” for purposes of FISA.”
Neocons insisted that Chechen Islamic terrorists were good for America, and the consequence of that policy meant FBI agents were obstructed in their investigation into one of the 9/11 plotters just weeks before the attacks on the World Trade towers and the Pentagon.

As soon as the Boston Marathon bombers were revealed to be two Chechen brothers — Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev — granted political asylum in 2002-3, Rowley came to the same conclusion: the FBI’s failures to take the Russian intelligence warnings about Tamerlan’s radicalization seriously and properly monitor him are rooted in the neocons’ lobbying efforts a decade earlier. The Chechens could do no wrong; they could never pose a threat to Americans, only to Russians, or so their neocon and Cold War lobbyists assured us.

The rank cynicism of US policy in Chechnya has been lost on the American public; as Rowley accurately writes, summing up US policy:

“…the Chechen “terrorists” proved useful to the U.S. in keeping pressure on the Russians, much as the Afghan mujahedeen were used in the anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1980 to 1989.”
This neocon-Chechen separatism alliance seems bizarre and counter-intuitive. Why would so many sleazy neocons — Islam-bashers, terror-mongers and Cold War Reaganites — support armed Chechen separatists? And why would the same hard-hearted hawks who have pushed for wars that have caused countless deaths and human rights violations melt on cue over human rights violations in Chechnya?

The moment that Bush took office, Bill Kristol, James Woolsey, Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and over 100 others put together the K Street lobby powerhouse initially named “The American Committee for Chechnya.” The lobby group changed its name to the crunchier “American Committee for Peace in Chechnya” (ACPC) and boasted in an early press release of its “distinguished membership of Americans including academics, journalists, politicians, and foreign policy experts calling for a stronger response to the crisis in Chechnya.” Among the “distinguished” names were notorious Islamophobes Frank Gaffney and Michael Ledeen; Jon Podhoretz’s parents, Norman Podhoretz and Midge Decter, along Jon’s brother-in-law Eliot Abrams, a convicted felon over his role in Iran-Contra; and Abrams’ fellow Iran-Contra convicts Caspar Weinberger and Robert McFarlane. Most of these people helped design and promote Reagan’s dirty wars in Central America, which left tens of thousands dead and tortured. Their track record made their alleged concern over human rights abuses in Chechnya not just risible, but downright alarming. Many of the same figures lobbying for Chechen separatism fronted for Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

You could draw a very busy-in-the-center Venn Diagram showing the overlap between the membership of ACPC and that of the “Committee for the Liberation of Iraq” (CLI), the main neocon group that lobbied for the invasion of Iraq. Bruce Jackson, who founded the CLI at President Bush’s personal request in 2002, was also a member of the Chechnya lobby group, the ACPC. Other neocons serving in both the Iraq War lobby group and the Chechen terrorist lobby group: Bill Kristol, James Woolsey, Robert Kagan, Richard Perle, and Jeanne Kirkpatrick. The neocon overlap between the mother of all neocon lobby groups — the Project for a New American Century — and the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya is even thicker with shared names.

One of the ACPC’s first press releases reads like a list of demands to Russia that sound eerily like the pre-war demands issued against Saddam Hussein and Slobodon Milosevic, including one that essentially calls for Russia to surrender sovereignty over Chechnya: “allow international monitors total and unimpeded access into and around Chechnya in order to investigate alleged atrocities and war crimes and to hold violators of human rights accountable.” Another demand called on Russia to negotiate with “the leadership of the Chechen government” — i.e. the ACPC’s clients.

The Chechnya lobby group set up its Washington DC office inside the main headquarters of a notorious neocon outfit, Freedom House, with whom the ACPC shared staff. During the Bush years, Freedom House was linked to a string of pro-US “color revolutions” in eastern Europe and elsewhere —the “Rose Revolution” in Georgia, the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, the failed “Tulip Revolution” in Kyrgyzstan, and the failed 2002 coup in Venezuela to overthrow Hugo Chavez. Freedom House was chaired by former CIA chief James Woolsey during the early Bush years. Woolsey began pushing for invading Iraq the day after the 9/11 attacks. In December 2001, after the Taliban were routed, the Washington Post quoted Woolsey saying,

“only fear will reestablish [Arab] respect for the U.S. … We need to read a little bit of Machiavelli.”
The ACPC’s other main partner was the Jamestown Foundation, a right-wing Cold War propaganda outfit founded by Reagan’s CIA director William Casey in the early 1980s. Jamestown started out as a propaganda base for Soviet defectors. After the Cold War ended, Jamestown evolved into a more sophisticated outfit that at times has produced quality in-depth research on the further reaches of the American Empire; and at other times it has served as a crude propaganda vehicle. Jamestown has never been shy about its Russophobia; its politics are right-wing, pro-military, and pro-Big Oil. Prominent Jamestown board members have included Dick Cheney, Zbigniew Brzezinski, James Woolsey, and another ex-CIA director, Michael Hayden.

Jamestown’s military-intelligence crowd is not quite the same as the neocon crowd — in fact the two often loathe each other — so it’s even more significant that these two wings of the US empire’s “thought-leaders” came together to form the Chechnya lobby front. The president of the Jamestown Foundation, Glen Howard, served as the executive director of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya. Before joining Jamestown, Howard had worked as an analyst at SAIC, one of the largest private contractors serving the CIA and Pentagon. Howard also bills himself as a consultant to oil majors operating in the Caspian Sea region.

These were the people and groups arrayed together to fight for human rights for Chechen separatists, whose ranks were filled with Al Qaeda-linked terrorists, starting in late 2000.

Around the same time that the ACPC set up shop to promote recognition of the Chechen separatists, Taliban-ruled Afghanistanestablished official diplomatic relations with the Chechen separatist government, in early 2000. The Taliban regime was the only state in the world to officially recognize the “Chechen Republic of Ichkeria” — though support for the Chechen separatist leaders was strong in both Saudi Arabia and the US and Britain. Saudi influence over the Chechen separatists ideology was strong: in February 1999, Chechnya’s “moderate” separatist president Aslan Maskhadov imposed a radical version of Sharia rule: he disbanded his parliament and abolished the vice presidency, along with Chechnya’s secular constitution.

That year, a top Bin Laden lieutenant told the AP in an interview that Al Qaeda was training and sending jihadis into Chechnya, in groups of 400. The lead Saudi fighter inside of Chechnya, Ibn al-Khattab, was known to Western intelligence agencies for his links to Bin Laden and to Gulf state financiers who had poured millions into Chechnya to empower the Wahhabi fighters and the Chechens allied with Khattab.

So the question becomes: Why would the neocons make an exception for Chechens? Were they just being evil for evil’s sake? Had their Cold War hatred of Russians poisoned their minds like an infectious fungus?

As always, the answer is more simple, and sleazier. They were going where the money told them to go. Empire and oil are the two constants in the “human rights” campaign for Chechnya.

Glen Howard, the Jamestown Foundation chief and the man tapped by the neocons to lead Chechen human rights lobby group, embodies this amalgam. According to Howard’s bio:

“[he] has served as a consultant to private sector and governmental agencies, including the U.S. Department of Defense, the National Intelligence Council and major oil companies operating in Central Asia and the Middle East.”
Big Oil is what made the neocons’ hearts bleed. Money turned fanatical GOP Sinophobes into China apologists. Similarly, money interests can turn Islamophobes into bleeding-heart apologists for Chechen terrorism. Chechen persecution and tragedy, which is historically real, was exploited by the neocon lobbyists for geopolitical advantage. And in the Caspian Sea region, Big Oil and geopolitical policy and strategy were one and the same.

Two decades ago, the Caspian Sea and Caucasus region was, by every account, home to the last great untapped oil bonanza on planet earth. We’ve since forgotten, but back in the 1990s, right up through 9/11, America’s fight to take over Caspian Sea oil reserves from Russia was big news, and big policy in Washington. The newspaper archives are full of stories about the pipeline wars and the battle for the Caspian and Caucasus region.

It began with the breakup of the Soviet Union, and the excitement in the oil and gas industry over the vast unexploited oil and gas reserves in weak, newly-independent Muslim states, all bordering the Caspian Sea: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and to a lesser extent, Turkmenistan.

Over a century ago, Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea, was the center of the global oil industry, its oil fields the richest yet discovered, and Royal Dutch Shell was one of the Caspian oil fields’ biggest profiteers. The Bolsheviks nationalized the oil fields after they took power in 1917, closing off the Caspian energy resources from Western control until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

So as the Soviet Union was collapsing, Western oil reps were crawling around the ruins of Gorbachev’s empire, slavering over the Caspian region as the world’s largest cache of hidden treasure. It was an opportunity unlike anything they’d seen in decades.

In 1994, Azerbaijan signed the “Contract of the Century” — a $7.4 billion deal with a consortium of Western oil majors including BP, Unocal and Pennzoil — to develop and market their Caspian Sea oil fields. On the eastern shore of the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan signed a series of oil deals with Chevron totaling $20 billion.

Clinton had declared the Caspian region an area of US strategic interest. Meanwhile, oil majors, their high-profile board members and their lobbyists — names like Zbigniew Brzezinski, Condi Rice, James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Dick Cheney — trolled the hallways of the local corrupt dictatorships, cutting deals to get a piece of their energy resources, and to push Russian influence out.

Bob Dole, in a 1995 foreign policy speech for his run for the presidency, spelled out his interest in Russia’s soft underbelly:

“The security of the world’s oil and gas supplies remain a vital interest of the United States and its major allies. But its borders now move north, to include the Caucasus, Siberia and Kazakhstan. Our forward military presence and diplomacy need adjusting.”
The Caucasus includes Azerbaijan, Georgia, Dagestan and war-torn Chechnya, which had once been the second largest oil producer in the Soviet Union, and which was still home to major oil refineries and oil pipeline routes from the Caspian Sea.

Henry Kissinger, who attended Dole’s big foreign policy speech, told reporters afterwards that Dole’s line about about expanding US military and strategic power into the Caspian and the Caucasus “made me sit up in my chair.”

In March 1997, Clinton’s National Security Advisor, Sandy Berger, described the Caspian Sea area as,

“extraordinarily important to our future . . . I think we have a very strong geostrategic, as well as economic, interest in developing our relationships in that area of the world.” -“Black Gold, Blue Sea,” Carroll Bogert, Newsweek, May 12, 1997
In 1998, the Koch brothers’ Cato Institute hosted a conference of VIP oil executives and their lobbyists, including Dick Cheney of Halliburton, and Sir John Browne of BP. Cheney declared in his speech,

“I cannot think of a time when we have had a region emerge as suddenly to become as strategically significant as the Caspian….It’s almost as if the opportunities have arisen overnight.”
In that same conference, British Petroleum CEO Browne — whose company headed a proposed oil pipeline consortium that would re-route the Caspian Sea oil out of Russia’s pipeline network and into the hands of Western oil majors, via the territory of pro-Western regimes — agreed with Cheney:

“The Caspian Sea is the greatest unexplored and undeveloped oil province in the world. We’re just at the beginning of something there.”
During the 1990s, Cheney lobbied Congress to end US sanctions against Azerbaijan imposed in 1992 over its blockade of landlocked Armenia. Cheney argued that lifting sanctions and backing the sale of Halliburton pipeline equipment to Azerbaijan would undermine Russia and advance US geostrategic interests. Armenians pointed to their war with Azerbaijan, and the Azeri pogroms against ethnic Armenians, pogroms that recalled the Turkish genocide of Armenians during World War One — as reasons to impose sanctions until Azerbaijan’s blockade was lifted.

Cheney’s only interest was oil. In a speech to the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce in 1997, Cheney said,

“I believe that our current policy prohibiting US assistance to Azerbaijan is seriously misguided….The Caspian sea may be the first world-class oil province in the front lines of this global competition as nations and commercial interests now jockey for influence over the Caspian’s vast oil and gas reserves. We in the petroleum industry have an obvious interest in seeing that the word goes out that Azerbaijan and the Caspian region are indeed of vital interest to the United States.” – “Halliburton’s Army” by Pratap Chatterjee, Nation Books, pp. 42-43
For his lobbying efforts, Cheney was named an honorary advisor to the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce, and given a “Freedom Support Award.” Cheney had sat on Kazakhstan’s Oil Advisory Board while he was at Halliburton.

Newsweek wrote that the US lobbying effort was “more intensive in Azerbaijan than almost anywhere in the world.”

It was the cynicism and duplicity of this Caspian-Caucasus “great game” being played out for Big Oil interests that disgusted CIA officer Robert Baer and drove him to quit the Agency. In his Guardian piece “One Angry Spy” published in 2002, Baer wrote,

“I would see how committee hearings and press leaks can be almost as effective as suicide bombers in promoting narrow, parochial causes. I would find that the tentacles of big oil stretch from the Caspian Sea to the White House. I’d also see how money, not lives or national security, skews so much of what takes place in the very places most charged with protecting us all.”
Ultimately, what led Baer to resign from the CIA was the way oil interests overrode national security interests in the region, to the point of coddling and protecting jihadi terrorists who killed Americans:

“The deeper I got, the more Caspian oil money I found sloshing all around Washington. If it had been just a matter of money or even political corruption, I might have been able to walk away from all I had learned about big oil, the White House and the NSC. Elective politics always breed a certain amount of nastiness. What I couldn’t get around, though, was this: every time I turned over a new rock, there was something even nastier underneath.”
The Clinton White House was drenched in Big Oil corruption and money; and yet somehow, the Bush people managed to make Clinton’s appalling Caspian oil corruption look almost quaint by comparison. Condoleezza Rice served on the board of Chevron since 1991, during the period when Chevron landed its lucrative multi-billion dollar deals with Kazakhstan. As the Los Angeles Times reported during the 2000 campaign,

“I really love learning about oil,” [Rice] said. Her time at Chevron, Rice said, has taught her that energy security is a top foreign policy priority — “geopolitics with a capital G…”
Chevron, which also had stakes in Azerbaijan’s oil fields and the BP oil pipeline, honored Rice by naming a 150,000-ton oil supertanker”The Condoleezza Rice.”

Cheney and Rice weren’t alone among Bush officials, and pro-Chechnya separatism lobbyists, who had direct business interests in the Caspian Sea oil and gas industry.

Here again, the Venn Diagram overlap between top Washington foreign policy leaders, Big Oil, and the pro-Chechnya lobby:

· Zbigniew Brzezinski served on the US Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce advisory board. The chamber body is considered the chief lobbying conduit for doing business in Azerbaijan; it was backed and funded by several top oil firms, including Chevron, Exxon, Conoco and Amoco. In the 1990s, Brzezinski served as Clinton’s envoy-lobbyist to Azerbaijan’s dictator to convince him to agree to a US-backed oil pipeline. Brzezinski was also hired as Amoco’s lobbyist to Azerbiajan, where it held major stakes. Brzezinski co-chaired the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya;

· Richard Perle, another member of the Chechnya lobby, also served on the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce’s board of trustees;

· Other members of the US-Azeri Chamber board: Richard Armitage, Bush’s deputy secretary of state; Brent Scowcroft, Condi Rice’s mentor; and longtime Bush family adviser James Baker, who co-founded the US-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce in 1996.

Baker, who served as Dubya’s envoy in the Caspian and Caucasus region, (and led Bush’s efforts to stop the Florida recount in 2000),spelled out Team Bush’s thinking on the region:

“The Caspian is not an economic problem or a geological or an engineering problem. It is a geopolitical problem of the first magnitude.”
A few months after Bush took office in 2001, Cheney issued a secretive national energy strategy paper naming the Caspian Sea area as a “high-priority.”

Looked at coldly, US strategic priorities in that region under Bush were to end the ethnic separatist wars that Russia exploited; and to fan the ethnic war fires that hobbled Russian power.

To understand how this great game played out, and how Chechnya got sucked up into it, you have to know the recent history of the oil politics in the Caucasus and Caspian Sea regions.

Picture the Caspian Sea: the largest landlocked body of water in the world, shaped like an impression of Great Britain filled with salt water. The Caspian Sea used to be the border between the Soviet Union and Iran; after 1991, it became five countries. Iran runs along the Caspian’s southern shoreline; the eastern coast borders Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan; the western shore is Russia’s to where the Caucasus begin; and oil-rich Azerbaijan borders the Caspian’s southwestern coast, where oil literally bubbles over, Jed Clampett-like. Above Azerbaijan on the northwestern coast of the Caspian Sea is the Russian republic of Dagestan — where Tamerlan visited last year, where it’s thought he might have been further radicalized. Dagestan itself is sandwiched between the Caspian Sea on one side, and Chechnya on the other.

Into that mix are more ethnic groups and sub-ethnic groups than anyone can figure out. Among these groups, some who’ve lived there for millennia, there are more grievances, local feuds and memories of tragedies and persecutions than a thousand Spielbergs could ever hope to film. Russia, the big brutal imperial power in the region for the last two centuries, is the focus of many of those grievances.

The struggle for influence in this region has always been more about controlling the pipelines — the distribution channels — than about control over the raw energy resources themselves. In the early 1990s, Russia still had total control over all the pipeline networks that could bring to market the landlocked Caspian Sea oil and gas.

Before the construction of the BP pipeline, the only way for Azeri or Kazakh oil and gas to reach market was through the Russian state-owned pipeline network that traveled from Baku, through Dagestan and Chechnya, and ended in Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossisk.

By the end of the 1990s, the US under Clinton reached its climax of nearly a decade of Great Game maneuvering — now it was ready to announce a new US-dominated oil pipeline, with Georgia’s and Azerbaijan’s approval. Both country’s leaders were wary; Russia backed victorious separatists in both Azerbaijan and Georgia, and assassination and coup attempts were largely blamed on Yeltsin’s men.

In November 1999, as Russia was busy launching its Second Chechnya War, Clinton flew to Turkey to make the Big Announcement: a US-backed, British Petroleum-led consortium of oil companies agreed with the leaders of Georgia and Azerbaijan to construct a new pipeline putting Caspian oil completely under Western control. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline would make a few pretzel twists in order to completely circumvent Russia and the pro-Russian state of Armenia; instead the BP pipeline would run through Georgia (which was only ensured after the 2003 Rose Revolution installed a Columbia University-trained Georgian as president), hang a sharp left into Turkey, and end in the Turkish port Ceyhan, on the Mediterranean Sea, to Western supertankers like Chevron’s 150,000 ton “Condoleezza Rice.”

Construction on the BP-led pipeline was set to begin in the early 2000s, and completed in the middle of the decade.

Clinton coupled his announcement of the new Caspian oil pipeline with his sincerest concern for human rights abuses going on in Chechnya as Yeltsin’s war offensive gained momentum. (In 1996, when Clinton had other priorities and Yeltsin was slaughtering tens of thousands of Chechens, Clinton compared Yeltsin to Abraham Lincoln.)

The second Chechnya war was too dear to Boris Yeltsin’s dying heart; getting slapped in the face by a fraud like Clinton was more than the Russian leader could handle, and he all but threatened President Clinton with nuclear war in response,slurring to a room full of journalists:

“Yesterday, Clinton permitted himself to put pressure on Russia. It seems he has for a minute, for a second, for half a minute, forgotten what Russia is, that Russia has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons. He has forgotten about that. Therefore he decided to flex his muscles, as they say.”
Yeltsin’s newly-designated prime minister, Vladimir Putin, stepped in between the two buffoons and played the role of peacemaker:

“I want to draw your attention to the fact that we have very good relations with the United States. We have very good relations with the leadership of the United States.”
Even for a senile old boozer like Yeltsin, the double-whammy of watching helplessly as Slick Willie stole the oil that Russia had been stealing for decades — and then having to suffer one of Slick’s self-righteous lectures while his hand was deep in the Caspian basin kitty —was more than Yeltsin could handle, nearly launching the world’s first and last nuclear suicide bombing.

An article in the Chicago Tribune from 1999, headlined “Caspian Sea Oil: A Prize the US Wants to Control” by reporter Tom Hundley, sums up the pipeline’s significance as it was understood in 1999:

Last week, as President Clinton looked on, the leaders of Turkey, Georgia and Azerbaijan signed an agreement to build a new 1,080-mile pipeline that could carry a million barrels of oil a day from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean.

The Clinton administration, which in recent months exerted considerable pressure on all parties to get the deal done in time for the Istanbul summit, is hailing the pipeline as a major foreign policy triumph.

“This is not just another oil and gas deal, and this is not just another pipeline,” said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson. “It is a strategic framework that advances America’s national security interests. It is a strategic vision for the future of the Caspian region.”

Translation: Caspian oil will not have to flow through Russia or Iran to get to the oil-hungry markets of the West.

…The administration’s aim is to secure U.S. access to the Caspian basin and to extend American commercial and political interests into the Caucasus and Central Asia.

It is a tricky game, fraught with peril.
In many ways, that Caspian-Caucasus game was fought out in the dark world of “great game” geopolitics and state subversion. Before getting into how the US played this game through Chechen and jihadi proxies, let’s recall that Russia had been doing the same thing in many of the same states.

During the 1990s, Russia was often accused, with plenty of justification, of playing the same sort of dirty, savage games in the region — arming and backing local ethnic separatists, destabilizing newly-independent states in the former Soviet Union. In Georgia, Russia backed armed ethnic separatist groups who went to war with Georgia to create two breakaway ethnic regions: Abkhazia, and South Ossetia, both de facto independent since the wars in the early 1990s. In Azerbaijan, Russia was accused of backing and arming Armenian separatists in the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian separatists won that six-year war, at a cost of some 30,000 dead, and they still control some 14 percent of Azerbaijan’s territory.

The mainstream media usually ignores or dismisses any suggestion that the US or its Gulf allies have played in stirring up the Chechen pot in order to destabilize Russia for US geostrategic and oil purposes. But US officialdom never shies away from going Alex Jones on Russia at every opportunity. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, some have gone public with conspiracy theories hinting strongly that Vladimir Putin may have somehow “run” Tamerlan Tsarnaev like a Manchurian Candidate, with the goal of turning the US against the Chechen separatist cause. Promoters of that theory have included everyone from Frank Gaffney, to former Jamestown fellow David Satter and BuzzFeed editor Ben Smith.

Or take the example of Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, whose entire political career has been funded by Big Oil interests. In early 1998, Sen. Brownback blamed a real assassination attempt on the life of Georgia’s president Eduard Shevardnadze, along with an imaginary attempt on the life of Azerbaijan’s dictator Aliyev, on a Russian conspiracy:

“We should be mindful that these two cowardly acts may be part of a plan to destabilize the Caucasus with the intention of scaring off American and other investors who seek to bring the Caspian’s great energy wealth west to international markets.

“Who benefits from promoting instability in the Southern Caucasus at this time? Russia is everyone’s leading candidate as the outside power with the most to gain. Russia has long raged and conspired to thwart Caspian energy from flowing any direction but north through Russia.”
And that brings me to the darker side of the Chechen struggle for independence backed so vigorously by the oil interests, neocons, Islamophobes and privatized spooks. The second part of this dispatch presents a version of the story of Chechen independence that is rarely, if ever, aired.

Prisoners of the Caspian, Part Two
By Mark Ames
In part one, I explained why neocons and right-wing US interest groups chose to champion the cause of Chechen separatists, ostensibly for human rights, but more likely to gain control over the world’s last big untapped oil bonanza in the Caspian. Next I’ll outline how the politics of the region were manipulated to that effect.

First of all, let me make this clear: Chechens have suffered violence and persecution on a level that is almost unparalleled in the world. Before the genocide by Stalin in 1944, they faced mass ethnic cleansing by Tsarist forces in the mid-late 19th century. More recently, tens of thousands have been killed in two wars with Russia. The human rights group Memorial estimated that 50,000 civilians were killed in the First Chechen War (1994-6), and 25,000 civilians died in the Second Chechen War through 2005.

The Chechens’ reaction to suffering has not followed the Spielberg script by turning them into humanitarian angels — and why should it? In a rough neighborhood, their culture has made resistance and martial spirit and fearlessness as natural to them as smiling and yoga is to American suburbanites; Chechen fighters have earned their reputation as almost supernaturally tougher than regular human soldiers. Seeing Boston go into complete lockdown over just two amateur Chechen terrorists struck outsiders who weren’t there as sinister or cowardly; but from what I’ve seen in my years living in Russia, Boston going into lockdown over two Chechens was exactly what I’d expect.

As we’re belatedly learning, the Chechen warrior spirit may be impressive as Hell, but it can be brutal in ways that can give you nightmares. Playing with Chechen separatism and radicalism always risked a sort of blowback we’d never thought possible.

During the First Chechen War, many Western journalists and activists behaved like shameless groupies fawning over the Chechen rebels’ bravado. Their favorite was Shamil Basayev, the Chechen commander who led the bloody raid on the Russian city of Budyonnovsk in 1995. Basayev made himself accessible to ga-ga Western journalists; he knew how to play them in ways that the cruder Russian commanders didn’t, and couldn’t. Basayev was a charmer and a guaranteed source of memorable quotes. He was a mass-murderer — but at the time, he was only murdering Russians, who were largely despised and loathed by the Western press corps and financial aide community. Basayev hadn’t started sawing off foreigners’ heads or slaughtering children in their schools yet — and Western journalists being the suckers that they were, they could never imagine someone as charming as he, who merely slaughtered bovine Russian hostages, could ever turn out to be the monster he was.

In 1995, Basayev’s guerrillas took control over Budyonnovsk, a city of 60,000 about 50 miles north of Chechnya’s border. The Chechen guerrillas stormed into the town’s city center in KamAZ trucks, fired their weapons and ran through the city center, herding up to 1,800 Russian hostages into a city hospital, which they rigged up with mines. Some hostages were executed in cold blood to keep the others in line; others were forced to stand in front of the windows as human shields. At times, the TV news cameras would film a limp, lifeless Russian body dumped out of a hospital window, onto the ground below, as terrified hostages waved torn white sheets from inside.

One Russian hostage, a pregnant 18-year-old woman named Natalya Ageykina, told reporters how her captors forced her at gunpoint to stand in front of a window while the Chechen rebels fired from behind her. As Russian special forces outside fired back, her Chechens captors taunted her: “We are going to watch your own soldiers killing you.” She was shot twice, and survived.

In all, over 130 hostages were killed. The commander of that raid, Shamil Basayev, awed the Western journalists who watched him fight off Russian commandoes and somehow make it back safely into Chechnya, to a hero’s welcome. In the aftermath, most of the Western anger and outrage was aimed at Russians, whom they accused of brutality and of placing little value on human life.

The Western media’s uncritical PR on behalf of Chechen killers like Basayev started to get complicated as soon as the Chechens won the war in 1996, and Russia withdrew its forces. Now we’d get a chance to see what independent Chechnya rule would look like. It was Hell on earth.

Between 1996 and 1999, armed Chechen and Wahhabi-influenced jihadis turned Chechnya into a nightmare. Kidnapping and slavery became one of the most lucrative local businesses. Chechnya’s kidnapping industry brought in as much as $200 million in revenues in a short period of time, according to former Gorbachev adviser Valeriy Tishkov, more money than was stolen by tapping the Russian oil pipelines, or from counterfeiting and narcotics trafficking. Kidnapping victims were generally sold between Chechen gangs and their underworld proxies, then hidden in makeshift pits or basement-cellar prisons. As a rule, captives were videotaped as they were tortured, usually by having their fingers shot or sliced off, and the tape was sent to relatives along with the kidnappers’ demands. When captives couldn’t be ransomed, sometimes they were executed, other times they were bought and sold into slavery in the handful of slave markets that operated during Chechnya’s brief independence.

As many as 3,000 Russians were kidnapped in the three years of independence, along with dozens of foreigners. Residents in nearby Dagestan were targeted, and the millions of dollars flowing into Chechnya from the Gulf States and from bin Laden’s network helped fuel a rise in Wahhabi radicalism in both Chechnya and in the border towns inside Dagestan — taking advantage of Russia’s staggering levels of poverty and corruption during the Yeltsin years. Outsiders were butchered — and Chechens living inside Chechnya were terrorized, divided, and forced to take sides against one another. Foreign jihadis poured into Chechnya via a network linking bin Laden’s groups and Khattab, who set up training camps with his ally, Shamil Basayev, who also served as the first prime minister in postwar Chechnya. Foreign aid workers were massacred or kidnapped; foreign specialists were also kidnapped, brutalized, raped, and murdered.

The most gruesome kidnapping of foreigners took place in 1998, when three Britons and a New Zealander hired on contract by Chechen Telecom were kidnapped, brutalized, starved, and forced to live in basements “infested with scorpions, rats and snakes” and “forced to watch videos of the beheadings of other hostages.” They were nearly freed in 1998 after a $10 million ransom was ready to be paid; but at the last minute, other interests, reportedly linked to Khattab or even bin Laden, offered double the reward for beheading them. The severed heads of the three Britons and New Zealander were found on the side of a road near the border with Ingushetia.

By 1998, not a single Western journalist or aide worker dared go into Chechnya. There was no place like it on earth — only post-war Iraq, during the peak of the insurgency, compared to how dangerous Chechnya was for Westerners and Russians during its brief independence.

Dzhokhar Dudayev, the erratic air force general who first led Chechnya into war with Russia, had been killed by a Russian missile strike in 1996, just a few months before Russia’s defeat. The next president of Chechnya, elected in the early months before the region descended into complete chaos, was the top field commander, Aslan Maskhadov. He accused Islamic Jamaat — a violent, Wahhabi-influenced movement — of carrying out the kidnapping of the four foreigners,
and of undermining his power.

It was Maskhadov — more soft-spoken, grim, and serious than Dudayev — who had negotiated the terms of Russia’s peace deal in 1996. Supporters of the Chechen separatist cause like to say that Maskhadov was “secular,” and yet Sharia was first introduced into Chechnya in 1996, complete with public executions and lashings. The Sharia code adopted in 1996 as the basis for Chechnya’s criminal code was reportedly copied directly from Sudan.

But even that wasn’t Sharia enough, because Chechnya was still structured as a constitutionally secular republic. So in early 1999, Maskhadov announced he was abolishing the secular constitution and imposing radical Sharia rule in Chechnya. He disbanded the elected parliament, and abolished the office of vice president, and instructed the now-powerless parliament to draw up the terms of a new Islamic regime under Sharia rule. Chechnya received millions from the Gulf states and Pakistan, and a year later, in early 2000, the Taliban became the first and only regime to recognize an independent Chechnya, opening a Chechen embassy in Kabul and a larger consulate in Kandahar.

Despite all of this, Frank Gaffney, Richard Perle, Bill Kristol, and the rest of the Islam-bashing neocon crowd glorified and whitewashed Maskhadov as a “moderate,” making him out to be the George Washington of the Caucasus.

Members of Maskhadov’s own government during Chechnya’s de facto independence were deeply involved in the lucrative kidnapping trade. Maskhadov’s vice president and main financial backer in his 1997 run for Chechnya’s presidency, Vakha Arsanov, has been fingered by numerous sources as one of Chechnya’s biggest kidnapping dons.

Chechnya was not Orwell’s Catalonia; the Chechen rebel leaders were not Oliver Stone’s Che.

A Los Angeles Times article on Chechnya’s kidnapping and slave trade offers a peek into the nightmare world of independent Chechnya:

Thousands of people have been gobbled up by the Chechen kidnapping machine, which has ravaged Russia since 1994.

The stories of survivors are like the relics of some wild, half-forgotten era of warlords and lawless barbarism. Victims have been kept in earthen pits or small cells that are often scrawled with the initials of hundreds of earlier captives. They have been used as slaves to dig trenches or build large houses for relatives of the kidnappers.

The kidnappers have been known to mutilate their captives, even children, severing their ears or fingers. Gangs have sent videotaped recordings of mutilations and beheadings to relatives to terrify them into finding the ransom. Russian authorities have used the gruesome videos to feed anti-Chechen sentiment and boost public support for Moscow’s latest war in the separatist republic.

When the kidnapping industry reached its peak a few years ago, there was even a relatively open “slave market” in Grozny, near Minutka Square, where the names and details of human livestock circulated on lists for interested buyers. Gangs often traded hostages or stole them from one another.
Many kidnappings were conducted in border regions. But some kidnappings were spectacular events. In 1998, Yeltsin’s envoy to Chechnya, Valentin Vlasov, was kidnapped in broad daylight by armed Chechen gunmen, on a road inside of Russia near the Chechen border. Vlasov was released six months later, but no sooner was he released than another top Yeltsin envoy, Maj. General Gennadi Shpigun, was kidnapped while in Grozny (renamed “Dzhokhar” at the time), the Chechnya capital, on a negotiating mission with Maskhadov. Gen. Shpigun had boarded a flight back to Moscow, but as the plane was taxiing down the runway, Chechen gunmen who’d lay hidden in the luggage compartment stormed into the passenger cabin of the plane, seized Gen. Shpigun, ordered the plane to stop, and vanished with their hostage. His captors, rumored to be tied to Basayev and the Wahhabis, demanded $15 million for his release. Shpigun’s remains were found by Russian soldiers in Chechnya a year later.

Kidnappings took place as far away as Moscow, a thousand miles from Chechnya. One victim was 22-year-old Kirill Perchenko, an art dealer’s son who was nabbed off the streets of Moscow, stuffed into a truck with a double-walled compartment, and hauled down to Grozny, where he was sold off to other Chechen gangsters:

[D]uring his captivity he watched seven men being executed by his captors. One of his friends was bashed to death.

Once, a hostage, a Russian officer, attacked and wounded one of the guards with a knife. Punishment was immediate.

“They put him on the ground, and four hostages had to hold his arms and legs,” Perchenko remembers. “They took a two-handed saw and killed him. He was lying on his stomach screaming. They cut from the back. From the back you hit the spine first, and it’s very painful.”

“The next day they took us all out of our cell and cut off the head of an 82-year-old man they had taken in Grozny. They just took it off with a knife and said, ‘For Allah,’ before killing him. They put both [men’s] heads on poles. And they took out the heart of the old man and nailed it to a tree.”

Perchenko managed to escape after six months in captivity.
One of the few detailed studies I’ve read about the Chechen kidnapping trade is found in Valery Tishkov’s book “Chechnya: Life in a War Torn Society,” published by the University of California Press. Tishkov, a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, writes:

The largest hostage markets functioned in Urus-Martan [where Tamerlan visited in 2012 and where close relatives live — M.A.] and in Grozny, where it was always possible to buy or even place an order for a captive, pay an advance, and name the category you wanted—businessman, officer, civil servant. Lists of categories on offer were then passed from hand to hand until someone or some group decided to take one up.
One Russian with extensive experience in Chechnya in those years was Alexander Mukomolov, who served as an adviser to the Russian peace delegation in 1996 when Yeltsin agreed to withdraw his troops, and who also negotiated the freedom of several Russian hostages taken between 1996-1999.

Mukomolov says that the idea of running large-scale kidnapping rackets initially came from their experience during the first war with Russia, when scores of Chechen males detained and subjected to torture were freed either by Chechen family members offering bribes, or by kidnapping their own Russians and exchanging them for Chechens. Mukomolov described how it evolved:

“Let’s say some federal soldiers had been captured in action—if they were not all killed out of hand. Then the field commander keeps maybe five soldiers who can be exchanged or sold. That becomes his exchange fund, and it can be used for freeing some of the Chechens serving terms in Russian prisons. Their relatives can buy a captive from the bandits for themselves and exchange him later for their own jailbird. We once had to deal with a case like that where a Chechen woman bought a federal soldier from the bandits and kept him working at her house for some time while she conducted talks on a possible exchange. When we learned that her man was serving a prison term for murder, we refused outright to take part in the deal, but after spending nine months trying to get her to agree to some other option, we finally liberated that lad anyway.”
One aspect of the kidnapping trade that never got any airtime in the West was the targeting of Jews, because Jews were thought to be rich, and because Jews like Boris Berezovsky made up six of the seven oligarchs widely reported to be in control of Kremlin politics during the later Yeltsin years. Quoting Mukomolov:

Next to businessmen and well-known officials or journalists, Jews were the preferred victims of kidnappers. Many bandits were anti-Semitic, and treated Jews with particular cruelty. Barayev [“The Terminator”] even declared he would kill all captured Jews.

…In another case, Savi Azariyev, a Jew from Volgograd, told me, “Arbi Barayev’s men said their task was to shake Jews down for money and then annihilate them all. Our family had scraped together $300,000, but it wasn’t enough for them and they refused to release me.”

Another person, named Alla Geifman, recalled, “On July 1, they cut off one of my fingers and sent it to my parents. On August 1, another finger. One of my fellow prisoners had the tip of his tongue cut off, then an ear, then a finger. To intimidate us, they brought out a man and beheaded him before us.”‘
In another example, two Israelis were kidnapped in Moscow — Joseph Sharon, and his eight-year-old son, Adi. The father was released so that he could collect a ransom; the boy was sold off to Chechen kidnappers, who stored him in a pit, cut off the boy’s finger, and mailed it to the father. The boy Adi wrote a letter to his father in pencil:

“Father, I feel very bad, please give them money now. I feel very sick here. There is a very bad man. Please, please, give money now, and I shall go home.”
His father managed to raise $50,000 as an initial payment, but his intermediary in Ingshetia reportedly died, and the money vanished.

The boy was rescued six months later by Russian police.

Southern Illinois Professor Robert Bruce War, author of the book “Dagestan,” described on a popular Russia-watch list for journalists and academics his own recollection of that period when he lived in Dagestan:

“Body parts were regularly sawed off of people, including little girls and boys, on videotape. Then the videotapes were sent to their families along with the severed body parts. Such things were common and frequent occurrences throughout those three years. There were places in Chechnya where dozens of victims were kept in small cages, like animals. Many people were chained, sometimes by their necks in tiny dark holes. I know someone who was kept in Chechen cellar with a couple inches of water entirely covering the floor. These things happened to some of my friends…. Also, it happened to a lot of people that I don’t know. When I was in Dagestan in 1998 it seemed that nearly every apartment building, sometimes nearly every stairwell, had someone who had been kidnapped, beaten and tortured in Chechnya. That was certainly true of my apartment building.”
Tishkov’s book consists largely of interviews with primary sources. One of his sources described a Chechen “slave market” where hostage deals were arranged:

At the “slave market” it was possible, not only to negotiate the sale, purchase, and exchange operations, but also to secure a so-called “trademark.” Well- known group leaders and field commanders accepted responsibility for abductions that might be committed a thousand kilometers from Chechnya. All the subsequent talks were conducted in that commander’s name, and should the operation be successful, he would take a percentage of the ransom “for lending his trademark.” By using the name of a field commander notorious for his cruelty, a kidnapper of lesser renown could cover his tracks and also demand a larger ransom.

The best-known “trademarks” were often used by groups within Chechnya. The most notorious case culminated in the murder of four engineers, three Britons and one New Zealander, in 1998 as a result of clashes between Chechen groups over a “trademark.” The kidnappers had used Arbi Barayev’s name in a prior operation, obtained the ransom, and returned the hostage to his family. Barayev, who had consented to the use of his name in the talks, demanded his share of the ransom for the use of his “trademark” but never got it. Barayev’s group then abducted the four foreigners and claimed a ransom of $10 million for them. Chechen Telecom, the organization that had invited the foreign engineers to Chechnya, agreed to pay, but Barayev unexpectedly refused to release them and beheaded them instead. There’s a popular version that some third party [i.e., Bin Laden — M.A.] had interfered and paid Barayev more for the heads of the engineers.
All of this went on under the watch of Chechen president Aslan Maskhadov — the man whom the neocons and the Jamestown crowd lionized as a “secular” freedom fighter and a democrat. Maskhadov reportedly did try to crack down, but the pushback threatened his hold on power. His government was up to its eyeballs in kidnapping kingpins, starting with his own vice president.

Maskhadov’s biggest problem in his failure to establish control over Chechnya was the powerful alliance between Chechen rebel hero Shamil Basayev and the Saudi financier and jihadi leader Ibn al-Khattab, or “Emir Khattab,” commander of the Islamic Foreign Brigade, an old associate of Osama bin Laden whose name popped up all over the 9/11 hijacking reports.

Despite what Khattab apologists like Professor Brian Glyn Williamshave tried arguing, there is no doubt that Khattab and Basayev were both “terrorists” with “Al Qaeda links” by any reasonable standard.

And as late as summer 2002, Maskhadov, leading the separatist movement from underground inside of Chechnya, appointed Shamil Basayev as head of the separatist military council — in effect, head of Maskhadov’s military. Two months later, in October 2002, Basayev oversaw a deadly Chechen terror attack on a Moscow theater during a musical, “Nord-Ost,” that left some 129 hostages and 41 Chechen terrorists dead. A few months later, the State Department officially designated Basayev an Al Qaeda-linked terrorist. Those connections were obvious and well-known to people in the intelligence and law enforcement communities.

* * *

“Chechnya accuses US and Saudi Arabia of supporting Islamists

The president of the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, Aslan Maskhadov, has accused Saudi Arabia and the United States of trying to undermine Russian influence in the region, and says that America and the West are now more dangerous than Russia….He’s reported to have accused the Americans of using Saudi Arabia as a proxy to provide generous funds for Muslim fundamentalists.”

BBC News, October 2, 1998
Yeltsin’s people and Maskhadov’s tried several times to agree on re-opening the pipeline. As it was, in 1996-99, the pipeline was in disrepair, and Chechen warlords and “biznesmen” were stealing oil as it passed through, and selling it out the back. Grozny’s oil refineries, once among the most important in the region, were in ruins. Maskhadov wanted the agreement to get the economy going again. But every time Yeltsin’s people and Maskhadov’s would come close to an agreement, the Wahhabi radicals would kidnap or slaughter a bunch of Russians and scuttle the deal.

In September, 1997, an agreement was signed between Boris Nemtsov (now a leader of the anti-Putin opposition) and Maskhadov on sharing pipeline transit fees, and allowing in Russian specialists to repair the pipelines and get the Caspian oil flowing again. Nemtsov, who was Yeltsin’s deputy prime minister, stressed the urgency of the pipeline matter:

“Everything should be done fast, otherwise the consortium developing oilfields in Azerbaijan, including Russia’s Lukoil, will find fault with us.”
The next day, a truck carrying Russian workers in Chechnya was blown up by a roadside IED. Chechens executed two convicts on live Chechen television, sparking criticism from Moscow. That sparked threats from Maskhadov’s vice president to “execute” everyone in the Kremlin cabinet:

“I spit on Russia. Russia means nothing to us. We are an independent state.”
It seemed that Maskhadov’s every attempt to begin the process of normalizing relations and the economy was followed by an even more spectacular kidnapping, massacre or beheading. At first, Maskhadov blamed the Russians for destabilizing Chechnya; but by 1998-9, Maskhadov understood that his problem was internal — its vortex was the funding and violence that the Saudi warlord Khattab brought into Chechnya, and the alliances Khattab made with Maskhadov’s domestic rivals. The pipeline politics and US ambitions in the region were hardly a secret to Maskhadov; nor were the sources of al-Khattab’s funds and jihadis. The normally discreet, reserved Chechen president finally lashed out, blaming “foreign agents,” Saudis, and behind them pulling the strings, the US.

It was at the same time that Maskhadov was being overwhelmed by Wahhabi radicals in Chechnya that U.S. interest in the Caspian-Caucasus region was boiling over. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Dick Cheney, James Baker, Richard Armitage and others were furiously lobbying throughout the Caspian Sea region to get an agreement signed for a US-backed pipeline that circumvented Russia entirely.

As soon as Russia’s Second War in Chechnya started, Clinton announced the pipeline deal was on.

Prisoners of the Caspian, Part Three
By Mark Ames
(Previously: Part One / Part Two)

One of the biggest questions from the start of the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings is whether or not the Tsarnaev brothers committed a crime, or an act of terrorism; whether they were terrorists networked into the global jihadi network, or local “self-radicalized” jihadis. Such semantic debates are an embarrassment and reveal the crude politicized nature of how America frames terrorism.

In fact, the links between the Chechen separatists and Al Qaeda are deep and have been well-known for some time, links that have been underplayed or quashed for reasons never explained, with dire consequences for thousands of Americans.

The links between Chechen separatist rebels and the 9/11 hijackers are spelled out in the 9/11 Commission Report — it’s there, but you have to look for it. Several of the 9/11 hijackers, including their leader Mohammed Atta, were initially drawn to bin Laden’s camps in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan with a view to getting trained up to fight in Chechnya. Four of them were the main figures in the hijacking plot: Mohammed Atta, the hijackers’ ringleader and pilot of American Airlines Flight 11; Atta’s former roommate Ramzi Binalshibh, the “go-between” between Atta and Khalil Sheikh Mohammed; Marwan al Shehhi, the pilot of the second plane that crashed into the WTC’s South Tower; and Ziad Jarrah, who piloted United Flight 93 and crashed it into the ground in Pennsylvania during a hostage rebellion. According to the 9/11 Commission report:

“The new recruits had come to Afghanistan aspiring to wage jihad in Chechnya. But al Qaeda quickly recognized their potential and enlisted them in its anti-U.S. jihad. Although Bin Ladin, Atef, and KSM initially contemplated using established al Qaeda members to execute the planes operation, the late 1999 arrival in Kandahar of four aspiring jihadists from Germany suddenly presented a more attractive alternative. The Hamburg group shared the anti-U.S. fervor of the other candidates for the operation, but added the enormous advantages of fluency in English and familiarity with life in the West, based on years that each member of the group had spent living in Germany. Not surprisingly, Mohamed Atta, Ramzi Binalshibh, Marwan al Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah would all become key players in the 9/11 conspiracy.”
Evidence showed that at least two other members of the 9/11 hijacking crew, Ahmed al Ghamdi and Saeed al Ghamdi, had previously fought in Chechnya.

The “architect” of the plot, Khalil Sheikh Mohammed, only wound up in Afghanistan with bin Laden because he’d failed to sneak into Chechnya and join Khattab’s forces in 1997.

But plenty of foreign jihadis had more “luck” as it were shuttling the underground terrorist railroad between Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and Chechnya. This much was admitted to an AP reporter in August 2000, during an interview with a senior Al Qaeda military trainer who went by the nom de guerre Abu Daoud:

“Suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden sent 400 Arab fighters to the Russian breakaway republic of Chechnya with explosives and weapons to help the war against Russian forces, a military instructor in his organization says.

Western intelligence sources confirm fighters went to Chechnya from Afghanistan, but cannot say whether they were Arab or Afghan.

Abu Daoud, a Yemeni national whose real name is not known, spoke in an interview this month in a remote village in Nangarhar province, northeastern Afghanistan. The meeting was arranged by a Taliban commander.

Abu Daoud said hundreds of Arab and Afghan fighters went to Chechnya about 18 months ago, and many returned. The latest 400 went there some three months ago, according to Abu Daoud’s account.”
And then there is the incredible story about how Al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, had also tried setting up base in Chechnya, also with Khattab. It is this story that explains why so much media attention has been focused on the mosque frequented by Tamerlan Tsarnaev while he was living in Dagestan in 2012.

The story, reported by longtime Wall Street Journal Russia correspondent Alan Cullison, begins in 1996, the year that Russian forces withdrew in defeat from Chechnya. That same year, the Taliban, backed by Pakistani intelligence and Saudi funds, took control over most of Afghanistan. Those two opportunities opened up just as Sudan decided it didn’t want anything more to do with the Al Qaeda jihad, expelling its two biggest nuisances, Osama bin Laden and al-Zawahiri.

Bin Laden moved his Al Qaeda operations to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, while Zawahiri gathered funds and support to set up his own base of operations in the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, as it was officially named.

“Conditions there were excellent,” al-Zawahiri wrote.

Like KSM, Zawahiri planned to reach Chechnya through Azerbaijan, where he had local Egyptian jihadi contacts who operated a trading company in the capital Baku. In the fall of 1996, Zawahiri flew to Baku, and met the pair.

Using a fake passport under a fake name — “Mr. Amin” — Zawahiri and his two Egyptian jihadi cohorts met up with a group of Chechens near the border with the Russian republic of Dagestan. The Chechens promised to guide Zawahiri through Dagestan, and into Chechnya. But as soon as they crossed over the Azeri-Russian border, Zawahiri was arrested by local Dagestani police, and handed over to the FSB.

The FSB locked Zawahiri and his two Egyptian jihadis in a jail in Dagestan while they investigated who “Mr. Amin” really was, and why they had come there. At the same time in Dagestan, radical Salafi Islam was spreading throughout the republic, particularly on the border with Chechnya. Its popularity was a result of rampant domestic corruption and unemployment, the violence in Chechnya, and funding from outside the region (primarily the Gulf states) and from foreign jihadi radicals like the Saudi-born Ibn al-Khattab.

The FSB suspected that Zawahiri was hiding his real reason for coming, and that the reason was jihad. But thanks to the intervention of rich, powerful forces, the FSB was blocked from conducting a full investigation into Zawahiri’s true identity and intentions (sound familiar?). As the Wall Street Journal reported, Zawahiri had some powerful guardian angels looking after him:

The Russian investigators and a lawyer who defended the trio were puzzled by a groundswell of support for them from local Islamic organizations. These included groups that had embraced the fundamentalist form of Islam known as Wahhabism and received funding from Saudi Arabia, where the sect emerged two centuries ago. Twenty-six clerics signed an appeal for release of the three “merchants.” One local Muslim accused a Russian investigator of doing “the devil’s work” by detaining the three.

A member of Russia’s parliament, Nadyr Khachiliev, who had founded a group called the Muslim Union of Russia, wrote to Dagestan’s highest court that the three “businessmen” had come to “study the market for food trade” and should be freed. Mr. Khachiliev, a wiry former boxer linked by the police to a string of violent attacks, denies any tie to extremism. Interviewed in his gothic brick mansion in Makhachkala, its outer wall and metal door pock-marked from gunfire, Mr. Khachiliev today says he can’t recall any imprisoned Arabs.
The name “Nadyr Khachiliev” —also spelled “Khachilaev” as other media have spelled it — is back in the news, this time involving Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The radical Salafist mosque in Makhachkala on Kotrova Street that Tamerlan regularly attended last year is also known as the “Khachilaev Mosque” — named after the same Khachilaev who sprang Al Qaeda’s current leader from his Dagestan jail.

In 1998, a year after he freed Zawahiri from jail, Khachilaev — founder of the Union of Muslims in Russia — became a wanted man after he and his brother raised an army of 200 gunmen and stormed Dagestan’s main government building in the capital Makhachkala. The Russian Duma stripped Khachilaev of his parliamentary immunity, and he fled into Chechnya. Khachilaev had long pushed for unifying Chechnya and Dagestan into a single Islamic Emirate on the Caspian Sea coast — the same goal pursued by other jihadi radicals including Khattab, Shamil Basayev and Doku Umarov.

In 2000, just as his mosque was being built on Kotrova Street, Khachilaev was arrested and put on trial in Makhachkala, in what locals called “The Trial of the Century.” He was convicted, and then swiftly pardoned on the promise that he would give up radical Islamic activism. That same year, Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev moved to Makhachkala, Dagestan with their family from Kyrgyzstan.

Two years later, in 2002, Khachilaev was arrested over the IED bombing of a Russian convoy in Makhachkala that left seven Russian soldiers dead. In 2003, Khachilaev was gunned down in a hail of bullets. That same year, Tamerlan joined his brother and family in Boston, where they were granted political asylum.

When the media learned that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had spent the first six months of 2012 in Makhachkala, the big question everyone wanted answered was: Did Tamerlan frequent the infamous “Khachilaev Mosque” on Kotrova Street? The mosque that Khachilaev founded and built before his murder had become a magnet for Dagestani and Chechen terrorists over the past decade. For example, the jihadis who had set off the deadly bombing at a 2002 May Day parade in southern Dagestan, killing over 40 and scattering limbs around the parade grounds, were discovered hiding in the “Khachilaev Mosque.”

Finally it was confirmed: Yes, Tamerlan had frequented the “Khachilaev Mosque” — the radical Salafi mosque founded by the Al Qaeda leader’s local savior.

* *
Khattab is the most obvious link tying Chechen separatists to Al Qaeda. Zawahiri had tried and failed to meet him in Chechnya; so had Khalil Sheikh Mohammed, the architect of the 9/11 hijackings. Others had more luck.

A professional jihadist with a murky past, Khattab reportedly came from a wealthy Saudi Bedouin family on the border area with Jordan. In the 80s, Khattab abandoned plans to study at an American university to instead join the mujahedeen in Afghanistan fight against the Soviets. It was there in Afghanistan and Pakistan that Khattab first connected with Osama bin Laden.

After the Soviets withdrew, Khattab fought with Islamic radicals in Tajikistan, in Bosnia against Serbs, and in Azerbaijan against Armenians. In 1995, Khattab entered Chechnya posing as a journalist, and established himself as the head of the “Islamic International Brigade,” made up of foreign jihadis from the Arab world, Central and South Asia. Khattab grew out a trademark shaggy beard and long hair, and hired videographers to follow him around and pump out recruitment videos to be sent throughout the Muslim world. After leading an ambush on a Russian column in 1996 that left over Russian conscripts dead, Khattab had himself filmed walking triumphantly among the charred Russian corpses. One scene shows Khattab executing a wounded captured Russian, spraying him with machine gun fire as he lay on the ground. Some have implicated Khattab in the 1996 massacre of six foreign medical aid workers in an International Red Cross hospital in Chechnya; after the massacre, the Red Cross officials pulled out of Chechnya.

Numerous sources, including the US State Department, CIA, and others, have tied Khattab to Bin Laden to some degree or other. For example, a 1998 State Department report on Patterns of Global Terrorism reported:

“Mujahidin with extensive links to Middle Eastern and Southwest Asian terrorists aided Chechen insurgents with equipment and training. The insurgents were led by Habib Abdul Rahman, alias Ibn al-Khattab, an Arab mujahidin commander with links to Usama Bin Ladin.”
Khattab’s power in Chechnya was cemented by his access to millions of dollars from the Gulf region, which Khattab disbursed as he saw fit. Some of that money reportedly came from bin Laden. Between the Gulf funds and the successful recruitment videos, Khattab had no problem raising fresh legions of foreign jihadis to fight the Russians.

Khattab’s most famous recruiter for the jihad in Chechnya was Zacarias Moussaoui, the convicted 9/11 plotter once called the “20th hijacker.” Moussaoui had served as a recruiter for Khattab, helping send Muslims in France and Western Europe to fight the Russians in Chechnya, via training camps in Afghanistan.

In 2001, the BBC reported that Bin Laden was directly involved in overseeing the 1998 beheadings of the four engineers — three Britons and a New Zealander — working for Granger Telecom in Chechnya. At one point, the hostages were set to be released for a $10 million ransom when, according to a BBC report, bin Laden called in and offered $30 million to the Chechen captors if they would call off the deal, and cut off their heads. Which the Chechens did, but only after subjecting the hostages to brutal starvation, torture and exposure.

“The kidnappers took the view why bother wasting food on them when they are about to die.”
Khattab was killed in 2002, poisoned by a tainted letter, which the FSB took credit for arranging. His job as Chechnya point-man for Gulf funders of “Wahhabis” and jihad was taken over by his Saudi-born deputy, Abu Walid. He too was killed.

I have already written extensively about some of the neocons and the old Cold Warrior/CIA crowd who coddled and whitewashed Khattab’s obvious terrorism ties. One of those “experts” who has gone around whitewashing Khattab’s ties to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda is Brian Glyn Williams — the CIA employee and University of Boston at Dartmouth professor who helped young Dzhokhar Tsarnaev with his high school project on the history of Chechnya’s wars with Russia. As I wrote, after Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was arrested in April, a worried-sounding Professor Williams told a local reporter, “I hope I didn’t contribute to it.”

Professor Williams has since changed his story, in two rambling letters to NSFWCORP which failed to address why he worried he might have “contributed to” Dzhokhar’s radicalization.

* *
In March 2002, the San Jose Mercury News sent me to Tbilisi, Georgia, to cover the arrival of US Special Forces into Georgia’s border region with Chechnya. The ostensible reason: Al Qaeda terrorists were mixing with Chechen rebels who took refuge in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, a remote mountain region where Georgia’s ethnic Chechen population lives. Putin had been threatening to send in Russian forces across the border into Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge to chase down Chechen separatists, on the pretext that Al Qaeda terrorists were hiding out in the region. At first both Georgia and the US denied Putin’s claims; but then they saw how it could be used to their advantage, agreed with Putin that Al Qaeda was hiding out in the Pankisi Region, and used that as a pretext to introduce US Special Forces into the region, check-mating Putin at his own game.

Openly introducing US Special Forces into a Chechen stronghold on the border with Russia naturally created a shit-storm from the Russian military and intelligence communities. There were open grumblings that Putin had sold Russia out to the West again, just as Yeltsin had done. Putin laid low; it was one of the rare moments in his first eight years in power when Putin looked weak.

In the first weeks after 9/11, Putin and Bush briefly became best buddies. Putin granted the US military something never thought possible: Unopposed (by Putin) access to bases in former Russian client states including Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and elsewhere. In response, the Bush Administration briefly began to acknowledge the threat of Chechen terrorism, and Chechen fighters in Afghanistan.

By early 2002, the Bush Administration no longer felt it needed Putin’s help. US forces were already ensconced in Russia’s backyard. As a top Pentagon official told me, from Team Bush’s point of view, we’d already done them a huge favor by getting rid of the Taliban, the one open base of support for Chechen jihadis. The Russians simply weren’t part of our self-interested calculations anymore.

But introducing US Special Forces and US-advised Georgian forces into the Pankisi Gorge on Russia’s border raised other disturbing questions: Such as, what role, if any, did the US or its Georgia proxies play in the numerous cross-border attacks against Russian forces carried out by Chechen separatists hiding out in the Pankisi Gorge?

In September 2002, six months after US special forces took control of Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, the BBC announced, “Caspian pipeline dream becomes reality”. Construction on the pipeline had officially begun. That same month, a top Chechen rebel commander based in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge, Rustam Gelayev, launched a deadly attackinto Russia. Dozens of Gelayev’s Chechen fighters were killed in a battle with Russian forces, who lost 10 soldiers in the fight. A British documentary filmmaker who joined Gelayev’s forces to film the battle was also killed. Gelayev — an old ally of Chechen separatist leader Zakayev in London — retreated back into the safety of the Green Berets-secured Pankisi Gorge. (Two years later, Gelayev was killed on another raid into Russia from Pankisi. His son, Rustam Gelayev, was killed fighting in Syria last year; according to Guardian reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Chechen fighters form a fearsome unit within the Al Qaeda-linked rebel group Jabhat al-Nusra, which the US has designated a terrorist group.)

When American Special Forces moved into Georgia in the spring of 2002, it looked like Georgia had essentially been absorbed into the US military fold. But in 2003, with the US distracted in Iraq, Russia moved back into Georgia via the economic backdoor, and the West’s control over the Caspian Sea oil was once again up for grabs. That summer, Gazprom signed a 25-year exclusive gas supply deal with Georgia’s then-president Edward Shevardnadze — Gorbachev’s foreign minister during the perestroika years — and Russia’s national electricity monopoly, RAO-UES, announced it had taken control of Georgia’s state energy grid, cutting out US energy giant AES.

Diplomacy was furious: Bush sent his top energy adviser, Stephen Mann, to the Georgian capital Tbilisi to warn Shevardnadze,

“Georgia should do nothing that undercuts the powerful promise of an East-West energy corridor.”
That same summer, James Baker — a top player in the Azerbaijan oil rush and the British Petroleum-led pipeline consortium to bring the Caspian oil through Georgia to Turkey — flew to Georgia to warn Shevardnadze to make sure he held free and fair elections. To Shevardnadze, getting a warning like that from the Bush family consigliore, a warning about democracy from same guy who led Team Bush’s effort to steal the Florida vote — was like getting a newspaper-wrapped fish in the mail.

The message from Washington was clear: Shevardnadze could not be relied on to secure the US-backed pipeline. A few months after Baker’s visit, the US-engineered “Rose Revolution” forced Shevardnadze out of power. He was replaced by a Columbia university-trained neocon, Mikheil Saakashvili, and his Georgetown University-trained Defense Minister — a story I first broke in The eXile .

By 2006, the BP pipeline was completed, and the oil began flowing. Georgia’s US-backed president brought in two of the Bush Adminstration’s favorite private military contractors — Cubic and Blackwater — to secure Georgia’s portion of the BTC oil pipeline.

By the time the oil pipeline started flowing into Western tankers, the neocons were moving on to other scams. The Chechnya lobby front changed its name to the “American Committee for Peace in the Caucasus” — the mass-slaughter of Russian children in Beslan in 2004 by Chechen terrorists meant a bit of discretion was necessary now.

* *
Most of the original heroes and leaders of the Chechen separatist movement have been killed by now, and their seconds and thirds in command are mostly gone too. Aslan Maskhadov, the “secular” Chechen president who imposed Sharia law on Chechnya in 1999, was killed in 2005, and his vice president was killed shortly afterwards.

They’ve been replaced by Islamic radicals fighting to create a Caucasus Emirate that would stretch from Dagestan’s coast on the Caspian to Chechnya, Ingushetia, and other lands.

The most prominent example is Doka Umarov, who investigators believe may have influenced Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s turn to radical jihad and anti-Americanism. Tamerlan’s YouTube page included videos by one of Doka Umarov’s underlings.

Doka Umarov had been promoted by the pro-Chechen separatist crowd, and the government-run propaganda outlet Radio Free Europe, as a “moderate” as recently as 2006-7. The exiled leader of the Chechen separatists in London, Akhmed Zakayev, vouched for Doka Umarov on numerous occasions. It was Zakayev who first brought Umarov into his fighting unit in 1996, and who helped Umarov land a job in Maskhadov’s government in 1997. In 2000, Zakayev and Umarov were wounded together in battle, and evacuated to the same hospital in the same “foreign country” which he would never name.

In 2006, when Umarov took over as president of the Chechen separatists, Zakayev told Radio Free Europe that he had retained “very warm, friendly relations” all this time. Zakayev — esteemed by the neocons and the Brian Glyn Williamses — told RFE/RL:

“Doku Umarov without doubt belongs to the ranks of thinking people, thinking politicians, thinking statesmen.”
With all those bona fides, the New York Times published an editorial in the summer of 2006 calling on the Kremlin to negotiate with Doka Umarov:

“But there are people to talk to, including…Doku Umarov, who is not linked to any terror attacks.”
A few years later, after Umarov’s suicide bombers killed scores of Russian civilians riding the Moscow subway and others in a Moscow airport, the New York Times reported that the United States had designated Umarov a terrorist with links to Al Qaeda. Umarov, responding to the internal demands and needs of the Chechen separatists, has broadened the jihad goal from Chechen separatism to today’s “Caucasus Emirate.” Umarov also denounces the United States and argues that any country or people that kill Muslims should be avenged — the logic behind Umarov’s call to kill Americans, and the logic behind Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s boat scrawlings explaining why he and his brother set off the Boston Marathon bombs.

And the Chechen separatist figure in New Hampshire whom the FBI has been investigating over his close relationship to Tamerlan Tsarnaev — he too had posted YouTube videos by Doku Umarov on his account. The separatist under investigation, Musa Khadzhimuradov, served as Akhmed Zayakev’s chief bodyguard until he was wounded in battle, and eventually settled in the US. It’s likely that the New Hampshire resident Khadzhimuradov would have known Doku Umarov from his days as a fighter.

Tamerlan drove to New Hampshire to visit Musa Khadzhimuradov on numerous occasions according to reports — including as recently as a few weeks before the Boston Marathon bombings. Tamerlan also frequented a shooting range in Manchester, just a few blocks from Khadzhimuradov’s home.

It’s one of the most damning revelations to come out so far, but it’s gone largely unnoticed. One person who did take note — and who reacted hysterically — was Glen Howard, former executive director of the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya and current president of the Jamestown Foundation. He denounced the FBI’s investigation of Khadzhimuradov as an FSB plot to discredit the Chechen separatist movement, and claimed that Putin and the FSB were controlling the FBI without their own knowledge.

It’s a similar claim made by Islamophobe Frank Gaffney, who has been arguing that Tamerlan Tsarnaev was some sort of “false flag” Manchurian candidate who was being “run” by the FSB to make the Chechen separatists look bad.

Thus far, the Gaffneys and the Glen Howards have been in control of framing official American policy and attitudes towards Chechen separatism — officially always good, officially only killing Russians; and policy towards Chechen terrorism — officially non-existent, officially only a figment of the Russian secret services’ evil minds.

When Zacharias Moussaoui — the link between the 9/11 hijackers, Chechnya and Al Qaeda — was detained by local FBI agents in Minneapolis a few weeks before the 9/11 attacks, the agents learned that Moussaoui was a “recruiter” for Khattab. That meant he helped send Muslim recruits to Khattab in Chechnya to fight Russians. Those recruits were usually trained first in Afghanistan camps. That set off alarm bells in the local FBI office in Minneapolis —they wanted a FISA warrant approval to look in Moussaoui’s laptop. But the Washington headquarters wouldn’t grant the FISA warrant — officially, Chechen separatists were not terrorists; officially, Khattab was not a terrorist either. So the warrant was not approved, and the information on that laptop that would have blown the whole 9/11 hijacking plot open was instead protected by policies hatched in DC, by the neocons and Cold Warriors in control of policy.

To quote FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley:

“The post 9/11 investigations launched as a result of my 2002 “whistleblower memo” did conclude that a major mistake, which could have prevented or reduced 9/11, was the lack of recognition of al Khattab’s Chechen fighters as a “terrorist group” for purposes of FISA.

There are other theories, of course, as to why U.S. officials could not understand or grasp this “terrorist link.” These involve the U.S.’s constant operating of “friendly terrorists,” perhaps even al Khattab himself (and/or those around him), on and off, opportunistically, for periods of time to go against “enemy” nations, i.e., the Soviet Union, and regimes we don’t’ like.”
The same thing happened again in 2011, when the FSB made several attempts to warn the FBI that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had become radicalized. At the same time the FSB was warning the FBI, professor Brian Glyn Williams was helping Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on his high school project about Chechnya’s warrior past and its glorious fight against Russia, leading Williams to later worry aloud to a journalist, “I hope I didn’t contribute to it.”

The Brzezinskis, the Bill Kristols, the Frank Gaffneys and Richard Perles had spent a decade controlling the framing of Chechnya and Russia policy: The Russians were evil and could not be trusted; the Chechens were heroes and our friends for life. The FSB warnings about Chechen terrorism were once again ignored.

But hey, the BP pipeline was built. Big Oil got what it wanted. What else can possibly be as important as that?

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