Ties Between the Bush Family and
Osama bin Laden
by Lucy Komisar
IPS News, April 5, 2007
How the Bush family's private
connection to a dirty offshore bank is the only link between Osama
bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.
The following chapter, "The
BCCI Game: Banking on America, Banking on Jihad," appears
in investigative journalist Lucy Komisar's new book "A
Game as Old as Empire," just published by Berrett-Koehler
Now that the U.S. Congress is investigating
the truth of President George W. Bush's statements about the Iraq
war, they might look into one of his most startling assertions:
that there was a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
Critics dismissed that as an invention.
They were wrong. There was a link, but not the one Bush was selling.
The link between Hussein and Bin Laden was their banker, BCCI.
But the link went beyond the dictator and the jihadist -- it passed
through Saudi Arabia and stretched all the way to George W. Bush
and his father.
BCCI was the Bank of Credit and Commerce
International, a dirty offshore bank that then-President Ronald
Reagan's Central Intelligence Agency used to run guns to Hussein,
finance Osama bin Laden, move money in the illegal Iran-Contra
operation and carry out other "agency" black ops. The
Bushes also benefited privately; one of the bank's largest Saudi
investors helped bail out George W. Bush's troubled oil investments.
BCCI was founded in 1972 by a Pakistani
banker, Agha Hasan Abedi, with the support of Sheik Zayed bin
Sultan al Nahyan, ruler of Abu Dhabi and head of the United Arab
Emirates. Its corporate strategy was money laundering. It became
the banker for drug and arms traffickers, corrupt officials, financial
fraudsters, dictators and terrorists.
The CIA used BCCI Islamabad and other
branches in Pakistan to funnel some of the $2 billion that Washington
sent to Osama bin Laden's Mujahadeen to help fight the Soviets
in Afghanistan. It moved the cash the Pakistani military and government
officials skimmed from U.S. aid to the Mujahadeen. It also moved
money as required by the Saudi intelligence services.
The BCCI operation gave Osama bin Laden
an education in offshore black finance, which he would put to
use when he organized the jihad against the United States. He
would move money through the Al-Taqwa Bank, operating in offshore
Nassau and Switzerland with two Osama siblings as shareholders.
At the same time, BCCI helped Saddam Hussein,
funneling millions of dollars to the Atlanta branch of the Italian
government-owned Banca Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL), Baghdad's U.S.
banker, so that from 1985 to 1989 it could make $4 billion in
secret loans to Iraq to help it buy arms.
U.S. congressman Henry Gonzalez held a
hearing on BNL in 1992 during which he quoted from a confidential
CIA document that said the agency had long been aware that the
bank's headquarters was involved in the U.S. branch's Iraqi loans.
Kickbacks from 15 percent commissions
on BNL-sponsored loans were channeled into bank accounts held
for Iraqi leaders via BCCI offices in the Caymans as well as in
offshore Luxembourg and Switzerland. BNL was a client of Kissinger
Associates, and Henry Kissinger was on the bank's international
advisory board, along with Brent Scowcroft, who would become George
Bush Sr.'s national security advisor. That connection makes the
Bush administration's surprise and indignation at "oil for
food" payoffs in Iraq seem disingenuous.
Important Saudis were influential in the
bank. Sheik Kamal Adham, brother-in-law of the late Saudi King
Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence from 1963 to 1979, and the
CIA's liaison in the area, became one of BCCI's largest shareholders.
George Bush Sr. knew Adham from his time running the CIA in 1975.
Another investor was Prince Turki bin
Faisal al-Saud, who succeeded Adham as Saudi intelligence chief.
The family of Khalid Salem bin Mahfouz, owner of the National
Commercial Bank, the largest bank in Saudi Arabia, banker to King
Fahd and other members of the ruling family, bought 20 percent
to 30 percent of the stock for nearly $1 billion. Bin Mahfouz
was put on the board of directors.
The Arabs' interest in the bank was more
than financial. A classified CIA memo on BCCI in the mid-1980s
said that "its principal shareholders are among the power
elite of the Middle East, including the rulers of Dubai and the
United Arab Emirates, and several influential Saudi Arabians.
They are less interested in profitability than in promoting the
The Bushes' private links to the bank
passed to Bin Mahfouz through Texas businessman James R. Bath,
who invested money in the United States on behalf of the Saudi
regime. In 1976, when Bush was the head of the CIA, the agency
sold some of the planes of Air America, a secret "proprietary"
airline it used during the Vietnam War, to Skyway, a company owned
by Bath and Bin Mahfouz. Bath then helped finance George W. Bush's
oil company, Arbusto Energy Inc., in 1979 and 1980.
When Harken Energy Corp., which had absorbed
Arbusto (by then merged with Spectrum 7 Energy), got into financial
trouble in 1987, Jackson Stephens of the powerful, politically
connected Arkansas investment firm helped it secure $25 million
in financing from the Union Bank of Switzerland. As part of that
deal, a place on the board was given to Harken shareholder Sheik
Abdullah Taha Bakhsh, whose chief banker was BCCI shareholder
Then, in 1988, George Bush Sr. was elected
president. Harken benefited by getting some new investors, including
Salem bin Laden, Osama bin Laden's father, and Khalid bin Mahfouz.
Osama bin Laden himself was busy elsewhere at the time -- organizing
The money BCCI stole before it was shut
down in 1991 -- somewhere between $9.5 billion and $15 billion
-- made its 20-year heist the biggest bank fraud in history. Most
of it was never recovered. International banks' complicity in
the offshore secrecy system effectively covered up the money trail.
But in the years after the collapse of
BCCI, Khalid bin Mahfouz was still flush with cash. In 1992, he
established the Muwafaq ("blessed relief") Foundation
in the offshore Channel Islands. The U.S. Treasury Department
called it "an al Qaeda front that receives funding from wealthy
When the BCCI scandal began to break in
the late 1980s, the Sr. Bush administration did what it could
to sit on it. The Justice Department went after the culprits --
was virtually forced to -- only after New York District Attorney
Robert Morgenthau did. But evidence about BCCI's broader links
exist in numerous U.S. and international investigations. Now could
be a good time to take another look at the BCCI-Osama-Saddam-Saudi-Bush
Lucy Komisar is a New York-based journalist
and author of "A Game as Old as Empire," published by
Berrett-Koehler (San Francisco).
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