By Michael Springmann, former diplomat in the U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service, with postings to Germany, India, Saudi Arabia, and the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in Washington, D.C. Springmann was the head of the U.S. consular official in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia . The published author of several articles on national security themes, Mr. Springmann is now an attorney in private practice in the Washington, D.C. area.
The following is an excerpt from Springmann’s book, Visas for Al Qaeda, sent to us by the author.
Having just joined the “real” Foreign Service (after stints in the State-Commerce Exchange Program and the Foreign Commercial Service), I was assigned to Jeddah, the “Grandmother of Cities.” (Eve, the grandmother of us all, is reputedly buried in it.) There, I learned that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was a mysterious and exotic place, but it was nowhere near as exotic and mysterious as the American consulate general on Palestine Road.
Upon arrival, I found, as a new visa officer, I was expected to winnow more than one hundred applications a day, separating them into “issuances,” “refusals,” and what turned out to be “free passes for CIA agents.” However, none of the clean-cut young fellows at the consulate (or even any of the pudgy, “been around too many blocks” types) bothered to clue me in on this special class of applicants.
One day, Eric Qualkenbush, the CIA Base Chief, stopped me while I was walking on the consulate’s huge compound (which included a nine-hole golf course). 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.”
Flabbergasted, I said, “Sure.” Up to that point, I had had almost a daily battle with Jay Freres, the Consul General, along with other CIA officials, who demanded visas for peculiar people, that is, people whom law and regulation required me to refuse. I also had running fights with visa applicants who told me to approve their paperwork or they would complain to Freres and have him overrule me.
Why, I wondered, did Qualkenbush clearly explain what was coming? And why didn’t he tip me the wink about the others, instead of leaving me to fight continued violations of rule and directive all by myself?
I was even more flummoxed when Eric’s agent appeared in line before me while I was on my stool behind the visa section’s armored window. Secure in my industrial-strength cinderblock office, I went through the interview: Memo on company letterhead explaining trip and customers to be visited? Check. Properly filled out visa application form DS-156? Check. Clean passport with no hidden notations of previous travel refusals? Check. Coherent, comprehensive, clear account of travel purpose? Check. Previous US visa stamps? Check. Appropriate responses to my questions about proposed journey? Check.
I issued the visa and wished I had more applicants like him. And yet…
I had heard in Washington about all sorts of abnormal problems tied to visas in Jeddah. None of it made sense at the time, but the office atmosphere after my arrival was increasingly poisonous as I invoked the Immigration and Nationality Act and the Foreign Affairs Manual in preventing scruffy types from apparently trying to emigrate to the United States. Despite my questioning people in the office, I began to suspect that something wasn’t quite right. I knew it wasn’t right when the State Department later fired me without explanation and then stonewalled my efforts to learn why.
The following story is what I learned about what was really happening in Jeddah, how I got there, and the dreadful consequences of what I learned to be American policy.
Here Are Two Key Points
First, the Consular Section’s job was to secure visas for CIA agents, i.e., foreigners recruited by American case officers. The Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency collaborated on sending ignorant pawns to Jeddah, a place that was handling about forty-five thousand visa applications annually. If they processed the paperwork like automatons and didn’t ask awkward questions about the applicants, they kept their jobs. If they followed law and regulation and resisted illegal pressure to overlook the people who had no real reason for traveling to the United States, they “weren’t with the program” and could easily be dismissed as incompetent.
Second, the Department of State already had a watchdog in place to prevent this type of problem: the Bureau of Diplomatic Security. According to its website:
D[iplomatic]S[ecurity] works with the Bureau of Consular Affairs on cases involving allegations of corrupt American Embassy employees, fraudulent document vendors, and the use of visas by terrorists, and those smuggling and trafficking drugs and human beings.
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.
So who was committing these violations, and what were they doing? And why wasn’t the watchdog watching? 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. They worked with the American intelligence services and the State Department to destabilize governments the United States opposed. While it’s no secret, most knowledgeable people still refuse to talk about this agenda.
The Magic Kingdom: Confusion to the Americans
Surprisingly, I got a call one day from a desk officer (essentially, those in Washington who follow political, economic, and social affairs in a country) for Saudi Arabia. Ambassador Cutler was in town for consultations about the kingdom with State Department officials, and he invited me to meet with him. I expected it to be a five-minute “hello and good-bye” session. Instead, Cutler kept me for about forty-five minutes, telling me the problems my predecessor as vice consul in Jeddah, Greta Holtz, had created for our embassy in Riyadh. Visas were being denied to servants of rich Saudi women who, after all, couldn’t travel to the United States without their entourage of hairdressers, seamstresses, and other factotums. I sat there and listened and wondered at this report. Clearly, Cutler was conveying some message, but for the life of me, I could not puzzle it out. Afterward, I spoke to the desk officer, who had been there with me during the talk, asking what that meeting was really all about. His response was that he didn’t know, saying that Cutler (who had previously been ambassador to Zaire and Tunisia) was “ just a queer duck.”
Years later, Cutler, then head of Meridian House, a nonprofit that promotes international understanding, flatly refused to talk to me about Jeddah. Despite his silence, he knew full well what had been going on. In a discussion about recruits for the Afghan war in Robert Dreyfuss’s Devil’s Game, Cutler is quoted as saying, “Where I was, nobody was looking ahead at what would happen to those unemployed freedom fighters.” (Contrary to what Cutler told me and, as I learned later, many of Jeddah’s visa applicants were mujahideen recruits, alleged “freedom fighters”, and not servants of rich Saudi women.)
Then, being “satiably curious,” like Rudyard Kipling’s Elephant Child, I began asking around about Cutler’s odd remarks on visas in Jeddah. Heeding the advice of a consular officer that anything out of the ordinary should be questioned as a source of potential trouble, I contacted Ellen Goff in the Executive Office for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs (NEA/EX), essentially a position handling administrative matters. She told me that, yes, she had heard stories about visa problems in Jeddah, but she had no details on the subject.
Still puzzled and confused, I went off to Jeddah in September 1987. I later learned that I had been assigned to a CIA post, another unpleasant surprise. [Most of the American officers and staff did not work for the State Department, but instead for the Agency (the CIA, or “Langley” for the location of the CIA in Virginia), or the National Security Agency (NSA).]
Arrival and Puzzlement
Welcomed with open arms by Jay Freres, the Consul General (identified by the German journalist Julius Mader as a CIA official), and Henry Ensher, the political officer, I was told I was an improvement over Greta Holtz, whom they alleged had had terrible problems at the consulate. [Years later, I began to realize that this was more a cover story than anything else, especially since my visa refusal rate was within five percentage points of hers. According to one biography, Holtz had had strong ties to the intelligence services, having previously worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), later receiving the Christopher Award from the CIA (according to another biography)] For someone who created such problems for our embassy in Riyadh, Greta Holtz has done extremely well for herself, moving steadily up the promotion ladder. Once Minister-Counselor for Provincial Affairs in Iraq, she became a Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. Then President Barack Obama named her Ambassador to Oman in September 2012. Her new official biography strangely omits her DIA service, saying just that she worked in the NATO policy office at the Defense Department. When in Washington, DC, she lives in a $2.4 million house in nearby Potomac, Maryland.)
My New Job as Consular Officer—Issuing Visas
Later on, during my service in Jeddah, I began getting referrals from Freres and Ensher (and others, such as Paul Arvid Tveit, a commercial officer listed in namebase.org as a CIA official). Initially, I was approached diffidently with the caveat that, while according to law and regulation, I had the final decision, they really wanted visas for their contacts. While no example springs to mind, the referrals, for the most part, were unremarkable. Later, after I had begun questioning the credentials of many applicants because they lacked ties to Saudi Arabia or their own country, the requests became demands. Then, they became threats.
While the Foreign Service is filled with people who do not work for the Department of State, Jeddah was my first experience with a majority-spook post. (Intelligence officers, in State Department slang, are spooks because they’re invisible beings from another world.) According to both a former CIA station chief (head of undercover operations in a country) who asked not to be named, and Jay Hawley, now a retired FSO, the average percentage of intelligence officers to real diplomats at a given Foreign Service post is about one in three. My experience in Jeddah, Stuttgart, and New Delhi might place it higher— at least 50 percent, if not more. According to the Anti-CIA Club of Diplomats: Spooks in U.S. Foreign Service [sic], a twelve-page, 1983 Canadian publication (see namebase.org), the percentage is 60 percent. 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. (NSA creates and breaks ciphers, listens to telephone calls, and reads e-mails. This allegedly makes US government communications more secure and those of American citizens and other nations less so. One of the languages it teaches its analysts is “Special Arabic”—that is, Hebrew, helping conceal Israel as being a target of NSA activity.)
Things rapidly went from bad to worse.
My name was on the visa plate that stamped applications to enter the United States, making me personally responsible for my actions. After opposing questionable demands for visas, I began to inquire about what was really going on. First, I asked Jean Bradford, the head of the Citizens’ Services branch of the consular section. She told me that “Jay Freres (the source for most of the illegal visa pressure) just likes giving candy to babies.” I then tried Justice (given name) Stevens, head of the consular section. He told me to keep quiet and do what Freres wanted. I later discussed the matter with Stephanie A. Smith (a former French citizen) who was Counselor for Consular Affairs in Riyadh, the capital. Another one of those listed as a CIA official in Anti-CIA Club of Diplomats. Spooks in US Foreign Service, she told me that Freres’ and others’ demands for illegal visas were “very bad.” She later advised me to raise the issue with the Bureau of Consular Affairs on my next trip to Washington.
Eric Qualkenbush, the CIA base chief at Jeddah, whose cover was head of the Political/Economic Section, came up with a new demand: he or his staff had to examine and approve all visas that my staff and I had issued before the stamped passports were returned to the applicants. I had to wonder if this practice originated from his experience as a Clandestine Service officer at the CIA station in New Delhi or as station chief in Sofia, Bulgaria, prior to Jeddah, where one European diplomat told me he served? (Eric’s assignment after Jeddah was Bonn.) According to retired consular officers, this requirement was highly unusual. Another, who asked that I withhold his name, informed me that the CIA often trolled visa application files or sought specific information about visa-seekers.)
In our spook–ridden Jeddah consulate, I sometimes found it was a daily battle to do my job. Here are just a few examples of what I discovered and how the laws of the United States were routinely ignored. Little did I know that I was dealing with recruits for the Arab–Afghan Legion.
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 (now retired and living in Virginia) called and demanded visas for these same Pakistanis. I explained the reasons for my refusal, citing § 214(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (a visa applicant is an intending immigrant unless and until he can prove otherwise) and the Foreign Affairs Manual (FAM, State’s holy book that carries instructions for everything, including the requirement to refuse visas if there is any doubt as to the applicant’s bona fides). Ignoring the law and regulation, Tveit went to Justice Stevens and the visas were issued.
Then, Karen Sasahara, the political officer and Henry Ensher’s successor, 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. Sasahara 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.
Besides staff going to Stevens (now retired and living in Switzerland), people from outside the consulate frequently went to Jay Freres to reverse my decisions. One individual, an expatriate company messenger with a stack of passports, appeared at the visa window one day, telling me I could issue the visas then and there, or I could do it after he went to Freres. Per regulation, the only way a refusal could be overridden was by a senior FSO with a consular commission, which Freres lacked. Additionally, the senior officer had to have more information unavailable to the denying officer. Therefore, Freres acted without authority, also failing to make a required written report. (Cf. 9 FAM 41.121).
A Questionable Question
One question that I never addressed was, if a junior consular officer, such as myself, questioned the credentials of all the peculiar visa applicants, what were the far more experienced Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) inspectors doing at the port of entry when these lowlifes entered the country? How is it that none of them were turned back? I well remember being told a story by Mike Carpenter, head of the consular section in Stuttgart in the 1970s. One of the applicants to whom he had given a visa had been sent home from New York. Although she had declared to the inspector that her US visit would be short, INS found a two–year supply of birth control pills in her handbag, thus indicating her fraudulent plans for a much longer stay.
Jay the Jailer
Jay Freres did more than help questionable people get visas. He helped the Saudi government put expatriates in jail. This seemed to be in keeping with his questionable past, such as his assignment to Kabul in 1979 when the American Ambassador, “Spike” Dubs, was kidnapped and killed. As the Afghan security forces blazed away at the people holding Dubs within Room 117 in the Kabul Hotel, somehow Freres, head of the Economic/Commercial Section, was situated outside the space. Dean Henderson, a writer, columnist, and blogger, asserts that Dubs was also CIA chief of station, unlikely in knowledgeable people’s opinions. However, a European diplomat opined that Dubs, and likely Freres, were State Department officials co-opted by the Agency. Freres later became Political Counselor in Ankara in 1982. (Other than his service as consul general in Jeddah, these were his only assignments that I could find in the State Department’s Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts booklet.)
Not long after I arrived and began making contacts around town, consular officers from two European consulates took me to lunch. Over good food and “Saudi champagne” (sparkling water, apple juice, and citrus slices), they asked my help in identifying and publicizing the actions of a fellow of indeterminate nationality having multiple passports. They said this man possessed an arrangement with the Saudi government to import and sell liquor and drugs. According to my interlocutors, he would hold parties in alcohol-free Jeddah, generously supplying intoxicants, liquid and otherwise. As I understood it, he would then provide the names of his guests to the Saudi authorities who, on occasion, would raid the events, arresting as many attendees as they could catch. In return, he got to keep his profits (and stay out of jail). Subsequently, at one of the consulate’s “pool parties,” I happened to meet a man, an American citizen, who had been to one of the raided functions. Appearing to be in his fifties and far out of shape, he told me he ran out the back door as the police came in the front. Despite his age and physical condition, he said, he was up and over the wall at the rear of the house faster than a teenage athlete.
Learning about this scam, I felt I should post details of this mysterious dealer to warn American citizens in our consular district, the Hejaz. A simple notice, mailed to those registered with the consulate, would be the easiest way to protect our citizens. When I suggested this to Freres, as head of the consulate, he refused. He said it would offend the Saudis, and he ordered me to keep silent.
While I didn’t work in Citizens Services at the consulate, which deals with the welfare of US nationals and handles any imprisonments, I still thought it only prudent (and my duty) to quietly pass the word to people I knew about this subject, Freres be damned.
Pool Parties, the Marine House, and the Brass Eagle
Alcohol was a big deal in Saudi Arabia where, if you drank and were caught, you were (1) arrested, (2) flogged, (3) deported. Yet, despite our efforts to “conceal” alcohol use at the consulate (by crushing bottles and beer cans, for example), the Saudis knew all about what the Americans were doing. Saudi citizens and government officials attended receptions at my house where I served forbidden drinks. They also attended pool parties and functions at the Marine House where alcohol was provided. Saudi citizens and government officials attended events at the Brass Eagle, several rooms that served as the consulate’s private bar. And, if they didn’t spill the beans about alcohol consumption, a movable Saudi “traffic” camera overlooked the compound with its parties, and provided a bird’s-eye view of what went on there, including drinking and mixed-sex dancing.
Shortly after Lonnie Washington, the only State Department Communicator (who sent and received official messages) and I arrived, we learned about the Brass Eagle. Begun by former consular officer Brad Braford’s wife, it was a remarkably dreary and sparsely attended place used mostly by CIA officials. We two, with our household effects still in transit, decided to invite official and unofficial contacts to this bar. Selling tickets for the local equivalent of ten dollars for five drinks, we filled the Brass Eagle to overflowing in no time and made a pretty good profit for the American Employees Family Support Association (AEFSA) (which may have been a CIA front). The Agency really didn’t like that we brought non–Americans to the consulate. So, in retaliation, they put roadblocks into the otherwise smooth operation of our parties.
Later, after the CIA grasped what a good idea it was to ply expatriates with alcohol, it began organizing parties around the consulate swimming pool. The parties, with two hundred or more guests, generated about one million dollars per annum for said AEFSA, an alleged nonprofit organization.
The Marine House was another watering hole. Invitations were highly prized, and guests tried to compensate for a booze-free week by drinking as much as they could in a few hours. Many departing guests staggered out onto Palestine Road, fronting the consulate, in various stages of drunkenness. (I had arrived in Jeddah too late to enjoy the Marine House’s “Tarts and Vicars” party, where the female guests displayed abundant intoxicated skin as they left the grounds—a blatant violation of Saudi mores.) Sometime later in my tour, a Marine Corps inspection team arrived to question such consumption of alcohol and earnings from its sale.
Keep the Saudis Happy, Part One
Consul General Jay Freres’s watchword at the consulate was, “Don’t offend the Saudis.” At the same time, he refused to hire a capable, American-educated Saudi female for a US Information Service position advising on academic study in the United States. (I learned the previous employee had been fired earlier because she had allegedly identified a CIA official at one of the pool parties.) Also, he allowed illuminated Christmas trees (regarded as religious symbols in Jeddah) to be displayed at the consulate and Christmas carols to be played over loudspeakers. (This might seem inoffensive, but the only religion permitted in the kingdom is Islam. Anyone caught openly practicing another faith suffers disproportionate consequences.)
Were Freres genuinely interested in not alienating the Saudis, he could have done more to keep liquor out of nondiplomatic hands on consular premises. Official receptions could have served fruit juice and soft drinks, and he could have stopped supplying liquor to the Mobil Oil Corporation’s boat.
Keep the Saudis Happy, Part Two
Jay Freres and his “Don’t Offend the Saudis” program had as many holes as a piece of Swiss cheese hit by a shotgun blast. Again, in Saudi Arabia, Islam is the only religion permitted. People of other faiths get their prayer books, hymnals, and other religious articles seized at the border, and if they act blatantly enough, can get themselves deported. Yet Freres, a Roman Catholic, had an undercover priest say Mass at his official residence on Sundays for coreligionists from inside and outside the consulate. Protestant expatriates were allowed to hold services in the auditorium in the consulate’s main building, something FSOs, such as myself, were ignorant of. After Freres retired, Tim Hunter, a devout Catholic, told me that he (Hunter) had been ordered to discourage attendance at the Holy Church of the Consulate. When he objected, he was savaged by US government officials.
They’re Like Termites…But Do More Damage
Besides direct confrontation and dubious “referrals,” the spooks, the “Invisible Ones” were also assigned to the consular section for “diplomatic cover.” Philip Agee, a former case officer, said to me that, in Mexico City, where he had been assigned, the CIA always had one of its Clandestine Service people occupying a consular position. From what I was told by people in Jeddah, Brad Braford, Andrew C. Weber’s predecessor, had been assigned to the visa section as a “part–time” consular officer. (He went on to Dhahran as political/military officer.) Supposedly, he and Andy Weber had complained about Jay Freres’s questionable visa issuances. (Without a consular commission, Freres had had a visa signature slug made, and presumably, used.) Weber would occasionally sit at the visa window and say to me, “Mike, let me take this next guy in line, he’s one of mine.”
CIA involvement in hanky-panky with visas, such as that in Jeddah, is common in almost every Foreign Service Post. If this behavior leaks out, it’s quickly hushed up. Remember, it was a CIA “consular officer” at Khartoum in the 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 the Sudan in 1990. [I later wondered if this was the same fellow who had once sent an emissary to me in Jeddah with his passport and application. Since we required personal appearances for every nationality except Saudi (and sometimes even for them), I told the representative I needed to see the applicant, but I was told the man was “handicapped.” Still, I thought, why could he not get on a bus in Mecca to travel to our consulate?]
Keep That Lid On (So the Whole Mess Doesn’t Boil Over and Dirty the Stove)
I began to see Jeddah as a very strange place filled with people I really knew nothing about who conducted themselves in a remarkably odd fashion. Questions got me nowhere. A plethora of contacts couldn’t explain to me what really went on inside the consulate. European diplomats regularly asked about the number of spooks on Uncle Sam’s payroll there, possibly because Agency staff didn’t seem to care about their “cover.” Unlike other American officers, they all drove identical, olive-drab Toyota Land Cruisers with orange-and-red lightning bolts painted on their sides—with buff Saudi, instead of green Consular Corps license plates that real diplomats had on their cars.
As previously mentioned, before I left Washington for Jeddah, I wrote to Greta Holtz several times, asking about my job and what she wished she had known before she took up her post there. I never received a response. When I met her in person, during one of her visits to Jeddah from Yemen where she was next assigned, she told me she’d been “too upset” to give me a clear picture. Holtz called me in Washington, DC after I’d left the service and questioned me about the progress of my complaints about Jeddah, even though I’d never mentioned a word to her about the subject.
Then, the Inspectors came.
Periodically, Foreign Service Posts are examined for compliance with law and regulation, and a report is prepared. Nestor Martin, one of my close, well-connected contacts, a Cuban American with intimate ties to intelligence officials, had warned me to say nothing to the inspectors about problem areas. These included suspect visas, extremely profitable and voluminous liquor sales to expatriates, Muslim and otherwise, as well as the harassment of the Arab American language teacher, Salma Webber. If you do, he cautioned, you will be fired.
While serving in Jeddah, I was quizzed by Joseph P. O’Neill, one of the State Department’s Inspection Team members. O’Neill interviewed me and pressed me to confirm what he’d heard about visa problems and alcohol deals. He shared details new to me and repeatedly said anything I told him was and would remain confidential. When I repeated what Nestor had stated to me, O’Neill reassured me that nothing would happen to my career. After about an hour, I relented and, trusting my government, confirmed O’Neill’s suspicions. Just a few days later, Jay Freres wrote a vicious efficiency report on me that would virtually guarantee my dismissal from the Foreign Service.
During my conversation with O’Neill, I told him about the file of shady visas I had been keeping. Neglecting to make a copy or take the file with me, I later learned it had been mysteriously shredded (by a person or persons unknown), and O’Neill, I suspect, was the instigator of that. (He was the only American officer who knew about this file.) Subsequently, I wrote O’Neill a letter when he was consul general in Bermuda (and before he traveled to Afghanistan, the Ukraine, and Uzbekistan on several Foreign Service assignments as a retiree), asking about what really went on at Jeddah. No response. Perhaps this was a result of O’Neill’s becoming an“off the-books” liaison with the Arab Afghans he seemed to be protecting. Or, possibly, it was his ties to the CIA, going back to 1979 when he was assigned to the American embassy in Tehran when irate students captured it. (O’Neill wasn’t listed in the 1979 Key Officers Booklet, and he wasn’t listed as a hostage by the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum).
Revelations on the Road to Unemployment
Like Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, I was blinded by the “light of truth.” In a chance meeting, Joe Trento, a journalist at the Public Education Center in Washington, DC, put all the hostility toward me into perspective. Joe revealed to me what had been really going on with the CIA in Jeddah and what had been concealed from me. It wasn’t garden variety visa fraud as I had once thought, but something much more serious: it was the 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. President Jimmy Carter (D-GA) 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. To help them do that, Trento said, the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency sent patsies as visa officers to the Jeddah consulate, then handling about forty-five thousand visa applications annually. If they weren’t bright enough to question what was going on, Trento noted, things would be fine. If they protested the spurious visa requests, as I would, and resisted illegal pressure to overlook them, they could easily be fired because, as he added, “they wouldn’t get with the program” and there was “obviously” something wrong with them.
Supplementing Trento’s remarks were similar statements made by a former US government employee at the Voice of America and another man connected with George Washington University in DC. I reached both by chance in the course of researching an article on the Middle East, and they told me that the CIA, ably assisted by asset Osama bin Laden and Saudi connections, had three recruiting offices in the kingdom: one was in Jeddah, one was in Riyadh, and one was somewhere in the eastern province of al-Sharqiah. However, the Saudis, once the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan, they said, were not pleased with the saddle tramps that they had helped recruit. In fact, the Saudis prevented those who’d been enlisted within the kingdom, particularly the Palestinians, from returning. They feared they would use their newly acquired skills to promote “regime change” at home. Other nations in the region rejected these recruits as well, my contacts told me.
Many recruiting offices were located in the United States, too. According to background on Abdullah Azzam, one of the cofounders of the Services Office (an organization inter alia placing Arab volunteers with Afghan factions fighting the Soviets),
The main aim of Sheikh Abdullah in creating the Jihad magazine (an Arabic publication providing information about the Afghan war, focusing on Arab efforts to help that struggle) was to inform the Arab world what is happening in Afghanistan; informing them, help funding, recruit people. [Eventually we printed] seventy thousand copies [an issue]. Most of them go to the United States because we had fifty-two centers in the United States. The main office was in Brooklyn, [also] Phoenix, Boston, Chicago, Tucson, Minnesota, Washington DC, and Washington State. [Emphasis added.] Every year [Abdullah Azzam] used to go to United States. The wealthy of the United States can help much more than Muslims who are living in poor countries or under dictatorship.
When I contacted him by email and telephone in 2013, Sheikh Abdullah Anas, Azzam’s son-in-law, somehow couldn’t remember any of this. All he said was that there were only a handful of non–Afghan fighters and that the CIA had no role in dealing with them. One cause of his faulty memory might be his gaining asylum in the United Kingdom. (The UK’s Secret Intelligence Service was a participant in the Afghan war.) Another might be his rumored interest in moving to the United States and not wanting to offend the people who can make that happen.
Perhaps secret travel to the United States by members of the Services Office was another source of friction in Jeddah. While I was at the consulate, I proposed meeting with various Muslim organizations who had been sending me unqualified visa applicants. These interviewees were clerics ostensibly going to the United States to preach to congregations but couldn’t explain why there were no qualified Muslim evangelists in America. I had wanted to describe to the groups what was needed for visa applications to reduce the time I spent with unfit candidates. Jay P. Freres forbade this.
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 and, I presume, a model for Saudi Arabia. South of the border, he said, 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.
The question, of course, is: Were these recruits selected in Washington, DC by CIA headquarters or locally by the base or station? (A “base” is a CIA office concealed in a consulate, while a “station” is a CIA office at an embassy and controlling all the intelligence activities in a country.) Former Agency official Marc Sageman, (one of only three people who managed the entire anti-Soviet war in Afghanistan), maintains that the stations and bases never dealt with Washington. They didn’t communicate with headquarters on enlisting fighters abroad, he asserted. The three people “managing” the Afghan war were Sageman, Milt Bearden, and Gus Avrakotos (“Dr. Dirty,” as he was called, the man in charge of arming the Afghans. He’s now dead). In 2008, Sageman played up the threat of Muslims as dangerous because they were “self- recruited, without leadership, and globally connected through the Internet” and who “lack[ed] structure and organizing principles…” These were characteristics usually put forward to denigrate a risk. Sageman ran “unilateral programs with the Afghan Mujahedin [sic] between 1987 and 1989 from Islamabad, and also was an advisor to the New York City Police for years. In 2008, he became its “scholar in residence.”
How Stupid Could They Be?
If I had been informed of what the CIA, the State Department, and Osama bin Laden were doing in Jeddah, I may have been dumb enough at the time to have gone along with this policy. After all, I trusted my government. The CIA and the State Department would have saved themselves negative publicity, law suits, and twenty years of painful truth-telling from me.
I managed to do my job despite wrangling daily with the intelligence officers who staffed and ran the consulate. These were the people who arranged for recruiting and training what were then the mujahideen, 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.