Ex-State Department Security Officer Charges Pre-9/11 Cover-Up



A former State Department security officer has given CounterPunch a detailed memoir and documents that point to very curious conduct by the CIA, Secret Service and FBI in the Philippines following warnings of an assassination bid on President Clinton during his November 12/13, 1994 visit to Manila.

The bid was organized by the 1993 WTC bomber Ramzi Yousef, at the direction of, and with financial support from, Osama bin Laden (who was indicted for the plot by a federal grand jury in August 1998).

A Pakistani linked to that Manila plot, and also to Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency may still be at large. The security officer charges a U.S. cover-up of possible involvement by the Pakistani ISI in the 9/11/01 attack on the Trade Towers. Although given these same leads, the Official 9/11 Commission failed to investigate them.

This past December, Sam Karmilowicz finished a 21-year career as an officer in the U.S. State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Back in 1994 he was working as an Assistant Regional Security Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, when John D. Negroponte was the ambassador. These days, Negroponte is the U.S. Director of National Intelligence.

On the morning of September 18, 1994, Karmilowicz recalls, "the U.S. embassy received a telephone call from an anonymous person (who spoke with a distinct middle eastern accent) concerning his knowledge of an assassination plot against President William Clinton, who was scheduled to visit Manila that coming November."

The embassy switchboard relayed that and a subsequent call to Karmilowicz, and the caller provided him the name of a Pakistani businessman, Tariq Javed Rana, as being one of the leaders of the plot. The source told Karmilowicz that Rana was facilitating the importation of explosives and operatives into the Philippines to complete the mission by paying bribes to Philippine government officials of the Immigration and Customs bureaus. He said the bribes were paid in counterfeit U.S. currency.

The first call was promptly reviewed in the embassy that same day by members of the embassy emergency action committee (EAC) chaired by Raymond Burghardt, the Deputy in Charge of Mission under Negroponte. The FBI, Secret Service, CIA, DEA, and DIA were all members of the committee. At the conclusion of the EAC meeting, embassy law enforcement and intelligence officials were instructed to inform the Philippine authorities and to initiate an investigation to determine the credibility of the threat. (Burghardt went on to become US ambassador to Vietnam and now heads the East-West Center, based in Honolulu.)

"A few weeks afterwards", Karmilowicz says, " high ranking officers of the CIA and Secret Service came into my office and informed me that they had conducted an investigation concerning the threat and concluded that the allegations against the Pakistani, Rana, were a hoax in order to have the police harass him. They offered no motive or information as to why such a 'hoax' would be perpetrated or who might be behind it.

"While all this was going on, I was supervising and managing the embassy's surveillance detection unit responsible for the security of our housing compounds and annexes, including looking for suspicious persons or activity. I was also assigned the task of coordinating and providing protective security arrangements for visiting dignitaries and VIPs. As such, I had a professional responsibility to know whether the Pakistani suspect, and or any of his accomplices, was a credible threat against U.S. persons and/or interests in the Philippines. "The U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies may have dismissed this intelligence data as a hoax while secretly following up the leads ... or they may just have been incompetent and let the future 9-11 terrorist masterminds slip through their fingers. Either way, they seem to have been incompetent because, if they were secretly monitoring these suspected (later confirmed) terrorists, then they obviously did a poor job of it."

A few days before that first call, the Pakistani man named in the plot, Tariq Rana, had been featured in the Philippine press, which reported that he was a suspect in an illegal drug manufacturing ring. In response to these allegations, the public affairs section of the Pakistani embassy in Manila issued a number of statements vigorously denying the allegations against their national, claiming that he was a law-abiding citizen and a close relative of members of Pakistan's parliament and military establishment. Shortly after he issued these statements the Pakistani public affairs officer was recalled to Pakistan.

President Clinton arrived in Manila on November 12, 1994, and his two-day visit passed without incident. Then, one week before Pope John Paul II's visit to Manila in mid-January, 1995, police claimed a fire occurred in Room 603 of the Dona Josefa apartment building in Manila and that they discovered bomb-making chemicals and other evidence during a search of the apartment. Several people of Middle Eastern origin were staying in the apartment at the time of the fire and one of these persons was later identified as Ramzi Yousef, the 1993 World Trade Center bomber. Yousef is the nephew of Khaled Shaikh Muhammad, who was arrested in 2003. Muhammad subsequently disclosed under interrogation that he had planned the 9/11 attacks with Yousef in Manila at that time.

Ramzi Yousef fled the Philippines immediately after the apartment fire, and was arrested in Pakistan a month later. In 1998, Agence France Press (AFP) reported that Yousef confessed to federal authorities while in prison that he had in fact planned to assassinate Clinton when the president was visiting the Philippines but gave up because of tight security. Secret Service sources also report that large sums of counterfeit U.S. currency were entering the Philippines during the time of the plot. Clearly, the information passed to Karmilowicz was accurate and not a hoax as claimed by the CIA and Secret Service.

In conjunction with the fire at Yousef's apartment, the Philippine press also reported that a similar fire occurred at the business establishment of Tariq Rana. An article in the Manila Chronicle indicated that the police found the same chemicals in both fires - chemicals that are used to make nitroglycerin. Yousef used nitroglycerin to bomb Philippines Airlines Flight 434 on December 11, 1994 as a test run for the so-called "Bojinka"plot. The explosion tore out a two square foot portion of the fuselage and ripped almost in half the body of 24-year old Haruki Ikegami, a Japanese businessman occupying the seat under which the bomb was placed. The bomb used on Flight 434 had one-tenth the power of the bombs he planned to use in the first phase of his Bojinka project, which was to simultaneously bomb 11 American aircraft over the Pacific Ocean.

Rana was arrested in April 1995 by Philippine authorities and charged with business fraud, although his current whereabouts are unknown.

Not all the Al Qaeda operatives successfully escaped arrest following the January 6, 1995 fire at the Dona Josefa apartment building.

According to Peter Lance's book Cover Up, Ramzi Yousef instructed one of his accomplices, Abdul Hakim Murad, to return to Dona Josefa during the early morning hours on the day of the fire to retrieve his laptop computer, which contained all the details of the Bojinka plot, plus other incriminating information. The Philippine police, who had staked out the building, subsequently arrested Murad and transported him to Camp Crame, the headquarters of the Philippine National Police Intelligence Group (PNP). During the period of Murad's captivity, Lance says Murad "was harshly treated, perhaps even tortured, forced to ingest massive quantities of water".

Murad remained in Philippine custody until on or about May 11, 1995, when he was rendered to the U.S. to face criminal charges. However, before the rendition, the U.S. embassy sent Karmilowicz to Camp Crame to pick-up an envelope containing evidence that the PNP had collected from Murad. Upon his return to the embassy, Karmilowicz was instructed to transcribe the chain of evidence and to express mail the materials to a U.S. Justice Department Office in New York City. Mike Garcia and Dietrich Snell, the Assistant U.S. Attorneys who prosecuted Murad, almost certainly had access to the materials that Agent Karmilowicz sent to the Justice Department, although it is unknown what, if anything, was done with the evidence.

Pakistan's ISI and, indirectly, the CIA had much closer ties to the Taliban and al Qaeda than the American public was allowed to know. It is common knowledge that Osama bin Laden may be hiding in the rugged Pakistani mountains bordering Afghanistan. However, most Americans probably are not aware or do not remember that major al Qaeda players Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaik Mohammed were both hiding in Pakistan when they were captured in 1995 and 2003, respectively, as was Mir Aimal Kasi, the assassin who attacked CIA employees in their cars outside CIA headquarters in Langley, VA in 1993.

Pakistan had been playing a double game until the events of September 11 forced the situation. Pakistan had supported the rise of the Taliban in the power vacuum left by the departure of the Soviet occupation army at the end of the 1980s. Pakistan supported and even used al Qaeda terrorist training camps to train its own operatives for use in the Kashmir dispute. There are other examples of Pakistan's possible links to terrorism and infiltration of the ISI by al Qaeda, such as the alleged funneling of money from ISI director General Ahmad Mehmoud to 9/11's Mohammed Atta. The Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl, was kidnapped and murdered in Karachi, Pakistan while he was investigating these al Qaeda-ISI links.

Karmilowicz went on from his tour of duty on Manila to Washington, then Beirut, and a later posting in Quito, Ecuador, where he was involved in a fracas which resulted in the death of an Ecuadorian national. Exonerated after a State Department investigation he served in Washington, finally leaving the service at the end of 2005.

End Part I