|Israel Resource Review
||10th June, 2003
Agent Turned Author Defies
[Robert Baer has rankled the CIA by disclosing
'secret intelligence information' in his new book. And he's not
changing a word.]
The CIA is demanding that a celebrated former agent remove passages from an upcoming book that claims that high-ranking members of the Saudi royal family have been involved in political assassination plots and the training of Chechen rebels with apparent ties to Al Qaeda.
The CIA has contended in a letter to the
ex-agent-turned-author, Robert Baer, that one passage about the
alleged assassination plots contains "secret intelligence
information" that can't be disclosed without violating the terms
of a secrecy agreement he signed when he joined the agency in 1976.
But Baer told Newsweek he has no intention of complying with the CIA's demands. "Basically, I'm just defying them," Baer said in an interview. "I don't see where they have a leg to stand on-unless the First Amendment is totally gone."
In fact, unbeknownst to the spooks at Langley, their objections may already be irrelevant-at least if their main purpose is to keep the sensitive information about the Saudis out of the public domain.
In a letter faxed to Baer on May 30, C. Bruce Wells, acting chairman of the CIA's Publications Review Board, strongly admonished the author that until the dispute about one of the passages was resolved, "you should not show this material to anyone not authorized to see it," according to a copy of the letter obtained by
But just as that warning was being sent, Baer's publisher, Crown, a division of Random House, was mailing out review copies of his book. Although the review copy includes some blacked out portions requested by the CIA, it also includes the very passages about the alleged Saudi assassination plots and terrorist training that the agency appears to regard as most objectionable.
The controversy over Baer's book, entitled Sleeping with The
Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude, could well
result in a CIA lawsuit against Baer or conceivably even
criminal prosecution for disclosure of classified information,
according to legal experts. It also threatens to open up yet
another front in the ongoing debate over whether the CIA and its
political masters in the Bush administration are being overly
protective of Saudi Arabia in the war on terror.
The CIA is currently fighting a similar battle with the Congress, refusing to declassify major portions of an 800-page report by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees that contains evidence uncovered by investigators of possible Saudi government connections to some of the 9-11 hijackers.
Baer, 51, who served for years as a CIA undercover operative in the Mideast, makes even more sensational allegations, laced with harsh language that seems designed to roil Saudi sensitivities. He depicts Saudi Arabia as a "power keg waiting to explode" and describes the country's royal family as a corrupt monarchy that is "hanging on by a thread" and is "as violent and vengeful as any Mafia family."
One of his chief targets is Interior Minister Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz-Saudi Arabia's "grim sheriff"-who as the longtime overseer of the security forces, is the Saudi official most responsible for working with the FBI and CIA in prosecuting the war on terrorism.
Baer depicts Nayef as largely indifferent to the terrorist threat. He recounts one incident after the 1996 bombing of a U.S. military barracks at Khobar Towers in which the interior minister stiffed visiting FBI director Louis Freeh, repairing to his yacht anchored off the coast of the Red Sea while the FBI chief was forced to consult with lower-level aides who knew nothing about the bombing case.
But the specific allegation that seems to have drawn the agency's most ire is Baer's claim that Nayef had twice sought to murder a leading Saudi dissident. "In the mid-1990s, [Nayef] was behind at least two attempts on the life of Muhammed al-Massari, the leader of the London-based Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights," Baer writes. Baer suggests that Nayef's aborted assassination plot helped drive Massari, who had fled Saudi Arabia in 1994, more closely toward the extremist thinking of Osama bin Laden.
The May 30 CIA letter signed by Wells contends that the agency's Publications Review Board-which vets all book manuscripts by former employees-has "confirmed unequivocally" that the passage about the alleged assassination plots is "secret intelligence information" and is "properly classified." The letter also seems to imply that Baer could have only learned about the alleged plots through his work at the CIA and that the material is therefore "subject to protection" under the terms of his secrecy agreement with the agency.
But Baer said he learned about the plots after he retired from the CIA in 1997 and later confirmed the information with a former Jordanian intelligence official who had knowledge of the incidents. In addition, another former U.S. intelligence official had independently told
Newsweek about the alleged plots nearly a year ago-and reconfirmed the story in an interview this week, providing more details than are contained in Baer's book.
According to the former U.S. intelligence official, the CIA was tipped off by Jordanian intelligence in 1995 that one of its undercover assets, a Palestinian extremist, had been contracted by the Saudis to assassinate Massari. At the time, Massari was living in London and, through his Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights, was bombarding his exiled homeland with faxes, accusing Saudi royal-family members of corruption and human-rights abuses.
"There's no question that the Jordanians told us about the contract," said the former U.S. intelligence official. What especially upset U.S. officials is that this was the second time Prince Nayef was believed to have attempted the assassination of Massari, the former official said. He had been previously warned not to do so a year or so earlier-and was now doing so again, said the source. "The important thing was that it happened once-and then it reappeared," said the former intelligence official. U.S. officials quietly passed the word to Prince Nayef that "we thought it would be a very bad thing" if anything happened to Massari. "We never accused him [Prince Nayef]," said the former official. "We never confronted him directly. This was embarrassing to the Saudis, and we're not in the business of embarrassing the Saudis."
A spokesman for the Saudi Embassy did not return phone calls seeking comment on the allegation. (The Saudi Embassy recently wrote a letter to The Atlantic Monthly, which has published an excerpt from Baer's book without the Massari allegation, accusing the author of "fantasy" and "flat-out misrepresentations" about the kingdom.) In early 1996, the British government-under strong pressures from Saudi officials-sought to deport Massari to the Caribbean island of Dominica. But the government of former prime minister John Major later abandoned the effort in the wake of protests from human-rights groups.
Another sensitive if perhaps more problematic allegation that the CIA is objecting to involves another leading member of the Saudi royal family, Prince Salman, the governor of Riyadh. Baer cites secret "Russian intelligence reports" claiming that in June 1998, a group of 40 Chechen rebels "were quietly brought to a secret military camp located 75 miles southeast of Riyadh" and "trained in explosives, hand-to-hand combat and small weapons." Prince Salman, a brother of King Fahd, "was the camp's sponsor," he writes.
Baer provided Newsweek with an English translation of what he said was
one Russian intelligence document he relied on for the claim. (He says he got access to the documents as a result of consulting work he did, after he left the CIA, for an Argentine oil company that was competing for Caspian oil concessions.) The document cites, as the basis for the information, an undercover informant for the Russian military who reported that there were "a little over 200 trainees in the camp" and that the students, in addition to their paramilitary training, received intensive religious indoctrination.
"The students are taught that they are at the spearhead of a holy struggle for the purity of Islam, against the traitors to the faith," the document reads. "Among those named as enemies of Islam were the leaders of the Central Asian republics, Turkey, Qatar and the United States. The trainees are taught to be merciless toward the enemies of Islam and to be ready to sacrifice themselves in the name of Allah."
The Russian intelligence document also claims that graduates of the camp had been sent in the past to Afghanistan-which was then Al Qaeda's headquarters-as well as other countries. Citing the information provided by the undercover informant, the report states that Prince Salman, "visits the camp every 4 to 6 weeks under the name of Mr. Hassim."
The intelligence report provides no other information to corroborate the informant 's claim. A senior U.S. diplomat in Riyadh contacted by
Newsweek said the claims about the training camp should be "taken with a grain of the salt." The official said he was unaware of any intelligence to support the idea that such a camp existed outside of Riyadh and that high-ranking Saudis would be "extremely reluctant" to import terrorists onto their soil.
Asked today if he believes the claims in the Russian intelligence document are true, Baer said: "I have no way to tell … I believe somebody in Russia believed they were true. It's sort of like the intelligence on Iraqi WMD. It's not rock solid."
Baer received widespread publicty last year for an earlier book, "See No Evil," recounting his career as a "ground soldier in the CIA's war on terrorism." He got into a wrangle with the agency over the contents of that book, as well, and at one point the CIA even threatened to go to court to block publication. The agency later backed off. A CIA spokesman refused to discuss any aspect of Baer's new book or what legal steps the agency make take. But the spokesman added the idea that the agency was trying to protect the Saudis is "nonsense." The purpose of the agency's prepublication review of book manuscripts is "to identify information for deletion only to the extent necessary to prevent harm to national security," the spokesman said.
A Bashful Attorney General?
Is Attorney General John Ashcroft ducking the press? At first blush, the question seems odd given that Ashcroft is known as an inveterate news hound who never misses a chance to appear before the TV cameras or call a press conference to announce the latest Justice Department indictment in the war on terrorism. But this week he has been strangely silent about the Justice Department inspector general's report finding "significant problems" in the way the department detained over 700 illegal immigrants after the 9-11 terror attacks and held them in harsh conditions for months before realizing they had no connection to terrorism.
His silence drew vocal protests from reporters today when Ashcroft appeared at a press briefing with U.S. attorneys to boast about the department's record in the war on terrorism. After reading a brief opening statement, in which he clicked off figures citing how the Justice Department has issued more than 18,000 subpoenas and search warrants since 9-11 and identified "hundreds and hundreds" of terrorist suspects inside the United States, Ashcroft rose from the table and walked out, leaving his deputies to conduct the rest of the briefing and answer questions from the press.
Some irate reporters then interrupted the briefing and demanded to know why Ashcroft wouldn't stay and address the issues raised in the I.G.'s report. "The attorney general has other matters to attend to," said Barbara Comstock, the department's chief spokeswoman. But not everybody was pleased. A handful of reporters-including a
Newsweek correspondent facing a Terror Watch deadline-walked out as well.
Behind the tiff are increasing tensions between top department officials and the news media. Another Justice official later griped that major news organizations had distorted the I.G.'s report, leaving out exculpatory information-such as the I.G.'s findings that no department official had violated any laws in the handling of the detentions. "Why put him [Ashcroft] out there so they can write another round of bad stories?" griped the official.
That may come anyway. Ashcroft is due to testify Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, and the I.G. report is expected to be front and center in the questioning. More fodder, no doubt, for "bad stories."
This piece ran on June 4, 2003 on MSNBC
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Letter of Complaint Filed
Against the Americans for Peace Now
June 5, 2003
Commissioner Mark W. Everson
Internal Revenue Service
Washington, DC 20224
RE: Request for injunction and investigation against Americans for Peace Now
for illegally utilizing U.S. charitable contributions for matters of Israeli
politics, violation of Internal Revenue Service Code 501(c) and other
Dear Mr. Everson:
I am writing to you to request an immediate injunction and investigation of
the activities of Americans for Peace Now [hereafter referred to as APN], a
front organization for the Israeli based Peace Now [hereafter referred to as
PN] political organization.
APN is a non-profit Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charity
organization located at 1815 H Street, NW Suite 920 Washington, DC 20006.
Entities organized under this section of the IRC receive preferential tax
status so that their income is either totally or partially exempt from
federal taxation. In order to qualify for this preferential tax status, this
organizations must abide by specified limitations on their political
activity. According to fillings with your agency, their mission is one of
"education." However, both the APN and their Israeli based sister group PN,
have a long history of pro-Arab political activism, and they work
hand-in-hand to bring about their political message. PN is a political
activism group whose propaganda is directly focused on influencing Israeli
political candidates, as well as swaying voters of the State of Israel
through United States tax deductible funds raised and provided by APN.
The United States Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), as well as the
regulations and rulings of the Federal Election Commission, set limits for
certain kinds of activities. FECA prohibits both for-profit and nonprofit
organizations from engaging in campaigns for political candidates. Both
federal tax law and FECA law and regulations prohibit nonprofit
organizations from engaging in political activity that supports a candidate
for public office, even nonpartisan office. What APN is doing is funding an
organization outside of the United States which is advancing its political
agenda through lobbying, and public persuasion. If it is prohibited in the
United States, how much more so should it be when an American nonprofit
group facilitates it in a foreign country?
According to APN, its purpose is to "Educates Americans about the Middle
East peace process to create an informed and empowered pro-peace American
public." Conversely, what APN is actually doing is acting as a front for PN
activities, and funneling United States charitable dollars for political
activism to a foreign country. The APN clearly states in their official
charter that their cause is to "support the activities of Shalom Achshav
The United States government is directly assisting the funding of PN in
Israel, through their Federal Employee Campaign-Overseas (CFC-O). This is a
program which allows U.S. government employees to donate funds to APN which
is listed on their official documents "Americans for Peace Now (0438)." This
is a program of the Department of Defense approved and endorsed by both
Richard B. Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and Donald H. Rumsfeld,
Secretary of Defense.
It has recently been widely reported in the Israeli media that APN was a
major illegal source of funding for the campaign of former Israeli Prime
Minister Ehud Barak. Yossi Sarid, a member of the Israeli Knesset
himself--and Peace Now joined forces with "Ehud Barak, and became an
integral part of his election campaign in 1999." Only after he was elected
did the close connection between Peace Now and Barak's election headquarters
become known, in the context of the nonprofit organizations affair. They
had a dilemma of how to prepare their books to demonstrate funding was
legal, so Musi Raz, then the head of Peace Now and now a Knesset member for
Meretz, suggested that Haim Mandel Shaked solve the funding problem by
raising funds from "American Friends of Peace Now". "Everything remained
confidential because Peace Now was prohibited from any involvement in party
politics. Immediately afterwards, Haim Mandel Shaked told the poster
campaign operations people, "We have the funding. Ask Musi Raz." "The amount
was about $100,000," Musi Raz confirmed to me. A source in Barak's 1999
election headquarters says, "The campaign funded by Peace Now was Ehud
These PN activists have had multiple conflicts with the Israeli police, and
violence has been known to break out on more than one occasion at events
where PN was expressing its political opinion. Using money funneled from
the United States, they are able to seek permission to cross into the United
Nations "Green Line" of Israel, in the disputed territory, and launch
strong political rallies which may have an impact on peace in the
Middle-East. These rallies which are being illegally funded by American
dollars have the potential to damage President Bush's Road Map to peace.
In Israel, PN facilitates their propaganda at large meetings and massive
political rallies, many times led by elected Israeli politicians and party
leaders. These are not educational activities. What APN is doing is
financially backing political activism in Israel bent on swaying the
Israelis voters to vote for specific political parties and agendas. Many of
these rallies, some which have had upwards of 150,000 people in attendance,
are endorsed and attended by partisan members of the Israeli government.
The actions of APN are thus a clear and illegal violation of the IRC
501(c)(3) which states:
"no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda,
or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation.and which does not
participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of
statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any
candidate for public office."
Over the last five years APN has collected tax deductible donations from
United States citizens and provided the Israeli PN organization at least
$3,830,295 USD to be used for political means. The money is accepted in
Israel by Shalom Achshav [Peace Now in Hebrew] and used for its "Education"
fund. Donations sent to Israel are as follows:
2001 $452,833 USD. (IRS Form 990 Part II, Line 22).
2000 $763,750 USD. (IRS Form 990 Part II, Line 22).
1999 $1,041,374 USD. (IRS Form 990 Part II, Line 22).
1998 $695,500 USD. (IRS Form 990 Part II, Line 22).
1997 $876,838 USD. (IRS Form 990 Part II, Line 22).
High ranking officials of the Israeli Knesset (government) have been
apprehensive of PN for many years. Knesset member Ophir Pines-Paz, wrote an
op-ed piece in Ha'aretz newspaper calling PN, "a small extremist movement."
It was reported in the Israel press that Knesset member Kleiner accused the
PN organization of advancing the Arab agenda by offering incentives for Jews
to accept monetary compensation to leave their homes. Kleiner added the PN
activists were in essence assisting terrorism by bringing about the transfer
of Jews from their homes. One Israeli report recently made reference that
the American based AFP was not a "support group" for the Israeli PN
movement-but was its "home office." In reference to another American based
front group who was funneling American charitable dollars out of the
country, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer wrote to the IRS in October
of 1999 stating: "The misuse of charitable status to funnel money to a
non-charitable organization is illegal and abhorrent."
Under U.S. law, any person or group may establish an organization with
charitable purposes, and the creators of the organization are free to choose
any charitable endeavor they wish to pursue. If the organization applies to
the IRS for recognition of tax-exempt status, and shows that it meets the
requirements of Section 501(c)(3) of the IRC, it will be recognized exempt
until it ceases to exist or until the IRS determines it no longer meets the
requirements and revokes exempt status. A charity may have its Section
501(c)(3) application denied or its existing tax-exempt status revoked by
the IRS if it does not comply with these standards. A "revocation" means
that the organization becomes taxable and that donors will receive no tax
benefits from contributions to the organization. As a citizen of the United
States I am writing this formal complaint to inform you of APN's violation
of the IRC 501(c)(3). It is quite apparent that U.S. charitable dollars are
being misused to finance PN's internal political agenda in Israel, using APN
as a front group to raise money. I am requesting an immediate suspension of
APN's assets, and a full investigation. I ask that your office follow up
with me on this matter which is in the public interest.
Sent via email and registered U.S. mail
Internal Revenue Service
Criminal Investigation Division
Philadelphia, PA 19255
The Honorable Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton
2136 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515
Assistant Director in Charge
Van A. Harp
Federal Bureau of Investigation
601 4th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20535-0002
The Honorable Thomas F. Hogan
Chief Judge, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse
333 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
The Honorable Congressman Tom Feeney
323 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515-0924
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