The New York Times has exposed a long-standing CIA partnership with Saudi Arabia, whose latest endeavor is a program to arm Syrian rebels authorized by President Obama in early 2013. Under the “Timber Sycamore” program the Saudis provide funding and purchase weapons for Syrian rebels, while the CIA trains them in secret camps in Jordan.
The Saudi-CIA partnership dates back many years, and involves the British secret service. During the years when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States, the Saudis poured money into the Afghan mujahedeen as it fought Soviet forces, matching U.S. funding dollar for dollar. The mujahedeen funding was run through CIA-managed bank accounts in Switzerland. Those accounts were said to be part of the “Al Yamamah” program, dating to 1985, in which the British and the Saudis used an oil-for-arms barter deal to create massive offshore “black” accounts, including in the Cayman Islands, to bankroll and arm a wide array of global insurgencies. These accounts provided a major source of funds in the Afghan war against the Soviets.
This revelation by NYT adds additional weight to the allegations made in a book by Mike Springmann, former head of the US visa section in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from 1987-1989. In Visas for al-Qaeda: CIA Handouts that Rocked the World, Springmann details how, “during the 1980s, the CIA recruited and trained Muslim operatives to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Later, the CIA would move those operatives from Afghanistan to the Balkans, and then to Iraq, Libya, and Syria, traveling on illegal US visas. These US-backed and trained fighters would morph into an organization that is synonymous with jihadist terrorism: al-Qaeda.”
“I Know. I Was There. I Issued The Visas”
In an exclusive interview with Sputnik News, Springmann shared his first-hand experience of issuing US visas to would-be terrorists, a flagrant violation of US law.
“I know. I was there. I issued the visas,” Springmann told Sputnik News.
Upon his arrival at Jeddah, Springmann found that, as a visa officer, he was expected to winnow over a hundred applications a day, separating them into “issuances,” “refusals,” and what he later termed, “free passes for CIA agents.”
“One day,” Springmann recalls, “Eric Qualkenbush, the [then] CIA Base Chief, stopped me while I was walking on the consulate’s huge compound. He had a request. Could I issue a visa to one of his agents, an Iranian whose family owned an Oriental rug store? Eric said, ‘Mike, make it look good (wink, wink). We want him in Washington for consultations.'”
Springmann told Sputnik News he had almost daily battles with Jay Freres, the Consul General, along with several other CIA officials, who would consistently demand visas for people that law and regulation would ordinarily require him to refuse. He also had running fights with applicants who told him to approve their visas or they would complain to Freres, and have him overruled.
Most of these that Springmann now considers ‘unsavory types’ did, in fact, receive visas to go to the USA for training, debriefing, and other purposes. In enabling their passage, American government officials violated the Immigration and Nationality Act, as well as many regulations codified in the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual, says Springmann. As a purported guardian of US immigration principles, he objected to the blatant violations of law and regulation. His objections fell on deaf ears.
Springmann details that eventually he came to realize that his Consular Section job duty in Jeddah was primarily to secure visas for CIA agents, i.e., foreigners recruited by American case officers.
“As I later learned to my dismay, the visa applicants were recruits for the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union’s armed forces. Further, as time went by, the fighters, trained in the United States, went on to other battlefields: Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya, and Syria.“
But why would the CIA rely on a “genuine” state department visa employee when they could have easily planted one of their own into the Consular Section? According to Springmann, “at Jeddah, to the best of my knowledge, out of some twenty US citizens assigned to the consulate, only three people, including myself, worked for the Department of State. The rest were CIA or NSA officials or their spouses.”
The explanation to the above question was simple if cynical, Springmann told Sputnik News: it had to be an arms-length operation, to avoid exposure of the CIA program and to blame visa violations, if they became known, on “incompetent” office clerks, including himself.
The Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency collaborated in sending innocent workers like Springmann to Jeddah, a location that handled some forty-five-thousand visa applications annually. If a visa officer processed the paperwork and didn’t ask awkward questions about the applicants, that officer would keep his job. If the visa officer strictly followed the law, resisting illegal pressure to overlook those who did not have a legitimate reason for traveling to the United States, that employee “wasn’t with the program” and could be exposed to dismissal as an incompetent, an occurrence that eventually happened to the author.
“My name was on the visa plate that stamped applications to enter the United States, making me personally responsible for my actions,” he said. “In our spook-ridden Jeddah consulate, I sometimes found it was a daily battle to do my job,” he remarked, offering examples of two such battles.
“Two Pakistanis came to me for a visa. According to their story, they were traveling on a Commerce Department – organized trade mission to an automotive parts exhibition in the United States. However, they couldn’t name the trade show or identify the city in which it would be held. I denied their visa request. Within sixty minutes, Paul Arvid Tveit called and demanded visas for these same Pakistanis. I explained the reasons for my refusal, citing § 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Foreign Affairs Manual. Ignoring the law and regulation, Tveit went to Justice Stevens and the visas were issued.”
“Then, a political officer demanded a visa for a Sudanese who was a refugee from his own country and unemployed in Saudi Arabia. Following the letter and the spirit of the law, I refused. She immediately went to Justice, and a visa was issued. When I later asked Justice why he authorized a visa to someone with no ties to the Sudan or the kingdom, he replied simply ‘national security,’ a phrase without legal definition.”
The dubious games played by the CIA in the name of “national security” are common in many Foreign Service posts, Springmann contends. “In a subsequent conversation with Celerino Castillo, a former Drug Enforcement Agency official, I learned that the CIA’s involvement in the visa process was a successful program of long-standing in Latin America, he stated, adding that, it was also “I presume, a model for Saudi Arabia. South of the border the Agency would slip passports and applications from its contacts into packages sent to the local US consulate or embassy by travel agents. Sandwiched between legitimate applications, ‘Agency assets’ would not be carefully examined by consular officers and would thus get a free ride to the United States.”
A Visa for the Blind Sheikh
Likewise, Springmann says, it was a CIA “consular officer” at Khartoum in Sudan who issued a tourist visa to Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, later linked to the World Trade Center bombing in 1993. The “blind” Sheikh had been on a State Department terrorist watch list when he was issued the visa, entering the United States by way of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Sudan in 1990.
Springmann believes the sheikh attempted to obtain a US visa from him via a proxy. The author states that he turned the application down.
The former state department employee pointed out to his superiors that, according to US law, passport and visa crimes are federal offenses, punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000. The maximum prison sentence is increased to 15 years if the offense is connected to drug trafficking, and to 20 years if connected to terrorism.
In a chance meeting, Joe Trento, a journalist at the Public Education Center in Washington, DC, put into perspective for Sprigmann what had been really going on with the CIA in Jeddah.
“It wasn’t a garden variety visa fraud as I had once thought, but something much more serious: it was a ‘visas for terrorists program,’ set up to recruit and train (in the United States) murderers, war criminals, and human rights violators for combat in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. These men became the founding members of al-Qaeda, the Arab-Afghan Legion.”
“Former President Jimmy Carter and his National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Kazimierz Brzezinski, began the campaign to assemble these goons to engage in blowing things up and shooting things down, preferably with Soviet soldiers inside.”
But the Saudis and other regional players in the “jihad” did not want those “saddle-tramps” on their soil, fearing that they would eventually use their newly acquired skills to promote “regime change” at home. That explains the reason many of these recruits were sent to the US, Springmann says, where there were up to 52 induction and training centers, the primary one in Brooklyn, New York City.
During his two years in Jeddah, Springmann says, he wrangled daily with intelligence officers who staffed and ran the US consulate.
“These were the people who arranged for recruiting and training what were then the mujahedeen, who later became al-Qaeda, who then transformed themselves into ISIS. I saw, but didn’t recognize, their start at Jeddah. We’ve all seen their later development and what happens when the intelligence services control foreign policy and diplomacy: the people they assembled aided the breakup of Yugoslavia, the destruction of Iraq, the collapse of Libya, and the savaging of Syria.”
Springmann attempted to protest the illegal visa practices at the highest levels of government for over 20 years, but was repeatedly stonewalled. During that time, he says, the Arab-Afghan Legion, created by the CIA to undermine the Soviet Union, has been marching from strength to strength.