THE REAL LIFE JAMES BOND WHO COULD HAVE STOPPED 9/11... TWICE
By David Rose

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2035949/9-11-anniversary-Haig-Melkessetian-real-life-James-Bond-stopped-terror-attacks.html
11:44 AM 11th September 2011

Like millions of people around the world, former US intelligence
operative Haig Melkessetian remembers exactly what he was doing on
the morning of September 11, 2001, when al-Qaeda terrorists attacked
New York and Washington.

But even as he learnt of the carnage, he felt sick with anger and
frustration.

Over the preceding two years, Melkessetian had taken part in two
separate investigations in the Middle East which might have thwarted
the attacks - only to find his work dismissed as irrelevant.

Haig Melkessetian: The former U.S. spy identified ways to tackle
al-Qaeda, but was ignored by his superiors

Haig Melkessetian: The former U.S. spy identified ways to tackle
al-Qaeda, but was ignored by his superiors

He had identified the secret 'hawala' method which the hijackers
would use to transfer money from al-Qaeda into their bank accounts,
and the very office in the Persian Gulf they would use.

He also passed on to his bosses the real means by which the Taliban
could be ousted and Bin Laden delivered up: by 'buying off' much of
their tribal, military support. This was the very plan later deployed
to defeat the Taliban - but only after the disaster of 9/11.



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Like many other ground-level operatives in Western intelligence and
security services, he had to stand back while the hidebound bureaucrats
at the top failed to take action.

'In 2001, you could feel the terrorist train coming down the tracks,'
says a former FBI counterterrorism analyst.

'But at the top, they just weren't listening to the people in the
trenches, and their perspective was ignored.' And while Melkessetsian's
story exemplifies that problem, it hasn't, he adds, been rectified.

Guerrilla: Melkessetian, left, fought in the Lebanese civil war in
the 1980s

Guerrilla: Melkessetian, left, fought in the Lebanese civil war in
the 1980s

Ten years later, his bitter disappointment is as intense as ever. 'I
watched it unfold on TV,' his says Melkessetian. 'I knew immediately
that this was a terrorist attack. And my next thought was that this
should never have happened.'

A Christian Lebanese of Armenian descent who has been a naturalised
US citizen since 1984, Melkessetian, 49, has revealed his story to the
Mail on Sunday for the first time. But inside the secretive community
of counterterrorism experts, he has long inspired awe.

'We see movie characters like James Bond and Jason Bourne, and we
assume they're simply fiction,' says a former US State Department
official who knows Melkessetian well.

'But then you meet Haig and realise he matches the fictional narrative
with fact.'

Melkessetian's attitudes were determined by his upbringing. 'Being a
Christian in the Middle East wasn't easy,' he says. 'The terrorists
started with us and just kept on going until they blew up New York.'

By the age of 17, he was fighting with the Christians' special forces
in Lebanon's brutal civil war, and in the 1980s he played a key role
in a secret intelligence unit that located the secret prisons run by
Shia extremists, where more than 20 western hostages, including the
British journalist John McCarthy, were being held hostage.

Security: Melkessetian is in the background of this picture, behind
General David Petraeus and fomer administrator of Iraq Paul Bremer

Security: Melkessetian is in the background of this picture, behind
General David Petraeus and fomer administrator of Iraq Paul Bremer

By the summer of 1986, he and his colleagues had planned a daring
military operation that would have both freed the hostages and
inflicted serious damage on the terrorists' network.

But after months of Washington in-fighting, it was vetoed. 'They
were just too risk-averse,' says Melkessetian. 'The same weakness
bedevilled us before 9/11.'

Having moved to America, Melkessetian spent much of the 1990s at
the US State Department, liaising with the world's counterterrorist
agencies. But he itched to get back to the field. In September, 1997,
he flew into the US base at Al Dhafra in Abu Dhabi, his home for the
next four years.

Officially, he was there as a linguist, attached to the Air Force
Office of Special Investigation (AFOSI) and employed as a private
contractor via a firm based in Maryland.

In practice, as attested by glowing testimonials from senior officers,
he rapidly became a prolific generator of high-grade intelligence.

Melkessetian's fluent Arabic and cultural knowledge meant he was able
to move freely around the Gulf states, mixing easily with all strata
of society, from Arab police and security chiefs to the denizens of
the souks.

Osama bin Laden: Super-spy Haig Melkessetian wanted to tackle his
criminal network, but was prevented by his bosses

Osama bin Laden: Super-spy Haig Melkessetian wanted to tackle his
criminal network, but was prevented by his bosses

'Pretty soon his unit, Detachment 246, was the single most productive
source of actionable intelligence in the whole CENTCOM area [which
covers most of the Middle East and Central Asia],' the former State
Department official says. 'That was down to Haig.'

Melkessetian's March 2000 official staff appraisal praised his
'extensive knowledge of terrorist groups, membership and leadership,'
and his 'unique ability' at recruiting local sources.

It added: 'His role was the reason for gaining vital intelligence
information, which was passed on to the highest levels of the US
government.'

Yet as a linguist, says Melkessetian, he was nominally 'one step
above the guy who cut the grass'. AFOSI translators were not meant
to be scoring intelligence coups, and when they did, it sometimes
caused resentment.

One morning in early 1999, Melkessetian attended a meeting with all
the local US agency bosses, including the ambassador and the CIA
station chief. On the agenda was an order which had come directly
from the National Security Council in President Clinton's White House.

It was suspected that Ariana, the state-owned airline of
Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, was assisting al-Qaeda, and shipping
drugs and weaponry. By 1999, Ariana's only scheduled international
flights were from Dubai and Saudi Arabia, although Osama bin Laden
was also commissioning charters elsewhere. The White House wanted
information about its operations - and quickly.

Armed: Melkessetian, centre, with colleagues in the private security
business

Armed: Melkessetian, centre, with colleagues in the private security
business

Sometimes, says Melkessetian, 'you just get lucky'. By an extraordinary
coincidence, on leaving the meeting he discovered that an old family
friend, an aviation agent who had full access to Ariana's operational
records, was staying at a hotel in Dubai.

Within a couple of hours, Melkessetian and an AFOSI officer were
having lunch with him.

Afterwards, the agent - who has confirmed Melkessetian's story on
condition of anonymity - invited Melkessetian to his room: 'He gave
us copies of contracts, passports, bank details and other documents
relating to people he had dealt with from Ariana. Back at base we
scanned them and sent them securely to JISE in Riyadh [the Joint
Intelligence Support Element - the unit responsible for evaluating
reports from the AFOSI and sending them on to the rest of the US
intelligence community].'

Some of the names contained in these documents were wanted terrorists,
and Ariana was flying them in and out of Afghanistan disguised as
airline staff. The following morning Melkessetian and his colleague
went to brief the CIA station chief.

But instead of congratulating them, 'he yelled at us: "Who the f***
gave you the authority to run a clandestine operation?" He threatened
to have me removed from the country unless we promised never to speak
to the agent again.'

For some in the CIA, it seemed, defending their turf was more important
than gathering intelligence.

Agent: Melkessetian (right, as a fighter in Lebanon) worked as a spy
despite his nominal role as a U.S. translator

Agent: Melkessetian (right, as a fighter in Lebanon) worked as a spy
despite his nominal role as a U.S. translator

But the Air Force ordered Melkessetian and his partner to fly to
Paris to see the aviation agent again. There they spent most of a
night photocopying all of Ariana's recent records in an office near
the Champs Elysee - in the process acquiring priceless information
on al-Qaeda's operations pre-9/11. However, Melkessetian had made
some dangerous enemies.

A few months later, the aviation agent came back to the Gulf and
introduced him to an Afghan friend - a pilot and close associate of
Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance, which was
still holding out in the Pansheer Valley north of Kabul against the
Taliban. Melkessetian and the pilot - who has also confirmed his
story on condition of anonymity - agreed to keep in touch.

Massoud, as the Taliban and al-Qaeda knew, was their only serious
opposition, and it was no coincidence that the terrorists had him
assassinated by two bogus cameramen two days before 9/11.

In March 2000, the CIA sent a team to the Pansheer on a mission to
capture bin Laden. But after they had been in Afghanistan for just
a fortnight, it was called off. 'They panicked and pulled us out,'
says Gary Berntsen, a friend of Melkessetian who was one of the CIA
team's leading members.

'It left us humiliated. The Northern Alliance believed we didn't have
the courage of our convictions, that we weren't prepared to share
their risk.'

Instead, Massoud came up with the idea of defeating the Taliban with
money, not guns, and compiled an annotated map of Afghanistan, with
the details of each local commander and what his loyalty would cost.

Even without a US invasion, they believed they could oust Taliban
for $50m - 100m.

9/11: Melkessetian claims he could have prevented the attacks by
undermining al-Qaeda's funding networks

9/11: Melkessetian claims he could have prevented the attacks by
undermining al-Qaeda's funding networks

They gave the map to the pilot - with instructions to convey it
to Melkessetian. A few months after the CIA's withdrawal from the
Pansheer, the two men met in Dubai. 'The pilot opened the map and
said that if we could get the warlords cash, the Northern Alliance
could turn them in 24 hours. He said bin Laden and the al-Qaeda guys
could be ours next day.'

Arguably, in the pre-9/11 context, the plan would always have sounded
far-fetched. On the other hand, bin Laden was already America's most
wanted man. Following protocol, Melkessetian and his AFOSI colleague
took the map to the official who had fought them over Ariana - the
CIA station chief.

'He chewed us out,' he says, 'yelling that I was forbidden from any
further contact with the pilot. He said it was against US interests.'

On September 12, 2001, the aviation agent called Melkessetian in
Washington. 'He told me the pilot had been in touch and wondered
whether now we would want to team up.' Melkessetian passed on his
details to people in AFOSI headquarters who in turn contacted the CIA.

He can't, he says, be certain that the successful operation to buy the
warlords that Berntsen and others then put into effect came directly
from him. But to all intents and purposes, 'it was the same list,
the same names. The plan we had been given more than a year before
9/11 was implemented.'

'We paid them to fight the Taliban,' Berntsen says. 'We gave them
millions of dollars, but frankly, it was cheap.'

At home: Melkessetian's career went downhill in the wake of 9/11,
amid widespread suspicion of Arab-Americans

At home: Melkessetian's career went downhill in the wake of 9/11,
amid widespread suspicion of Arab-Americans

It wasn't long after initially getting the map that one of
Melkessetian's contacts, a senior Gulf state police officer, gave
him a tip. Al-Qaeda, he said, was using the hawala system - which
leaves no paper trail - to send money to cells abroad. The hawala
agent (known as a hawaladar) in, say, Afghanistan, will contact
his counterpart somewhere else, and ask him to make a certain sum
available to a named beneficiary.

He will not wire any money immediately, but after a given period,
the two hawaladars will settle up, taking all transactions between
them in both directions into account. (Hawala is not used only for
terrorism, but payments for drugs.)

Melkessetian's contact told him he ought to pay particular attention
to a branch of a local moneychanging firm in Sharjah: 'So I went
and did some digging. I sat in the shwarma [kebab] shop opposite,
got talking to people, and visited the agency itself.

'It all checked out. In the back room they were using hawala to
transfer money to and from remote areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

In the front, they were doing ordinary money transfers to places like
the Philippines.'

Melkessetian wrote an urgent report, drawing attention both to the
moneychangers and the wider need to monitor hawala: 'If we were
interested in terrorist finance, this was a loophole that had to
be closed.'

Desk-bound: Despite his success, the former spy's days in the field
are now over

Desk-bound: Despite his success, the former spy's days in the field
are now over

After 9/11, both the CIA and the 9/11 Commission inquiry established
that not only was hawala used widely by al-Qaeda, but that two of
the 9/11 pilots, Ziad Jarrah and Mohammed Atta, had used the Sharjah
office which Melkessetian had identified.

So what happened to his report? 'It was flagged as low priority when
it was sent from Abu Dhabi,' he says. It was, he adds, assessed by
the JISE intelligence clearing house in Riyadh, but never passed on
to Washington.

Melkessetian was given a bitter reward for his prescience. Having
left Abu Dhabi a month before 9/11, he spent September 18 working at
AFOSI headquarters. Then, to his amazement, a senior officer informed
him that 'counter-intelligence issues' had arisen, and that he was
to leave and surrender his credentials immediately.

Next day he underwent the first of many interrogations. As the
investigation dragged on, being unable to contribute to the war on
terror was agony: 'I should have been in the field. Instead I was
being polygraphed. I was a Christian and ready to give my life for this
country, but my interrogator was asking me what mosque I attended. For
my enemies, 9/11 was a golden opportunity to settle old scores.'

Finally cleared the following year, he used the Freedom of Information
Act to learn he had been denounced by his own employer - the
contracting firm Allworld Language Consultants (ALC). It had filed
an official report claiming Melkessetian was a threat to national
security, on the flimsy basis that he was an Arab and had resigned
from his job in Abu Dhabi shortly before 9/11.

Cleared or no, the episode wrecked his career, so depriving America
of the services of a man who should have been an valuable asset.

Apart from a spell spent guarding the US viceroy L. Paul Bremer III
in Iraq, he has spent the years since as a private consultant.

Meanwhile, instead of suffering for its slander, ALC still prospers
from huge US government contracts - the most recent, awarded earlier
this year by the Department of Justice, for $300m.

Few men can have lived through so many 'what ifs,' or wonder so
painfully about the roads not taken.

'Throughout all these experiences, most of the guys in the trenches
have been awesome,' Melkessetian says. 'I am a patriot and I believe
in the greatness of this nation. But there are also imposters who
failed to stop 9/11, and others who took advantage of it and destroyed
innocent people's lives. To this day, no one is stopping them.

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setian-real-life-James-Bond-stopped-terror-attacks.html#ixzz1ZQrbN6fH