The Los Angeles Times has revealed that the U.S. has quietly forged a close intelligence partnership with Sudan despite the government’s role in the mass killings in Darfur. We speak with Ken Silverstein, the reporter who broke the story, Salih Booker, the director of Africa Action as well as Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ). [includes rush transcript]
In the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush issued an ultimatum to the world: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Three and half years later, it has been revealed that the Bush administration has allied itself with a government listed as a state sponsor of terrorism and one that the administration has accused of committing genocide against its own people–Sudan.
A major expose in the Los Angeles Times on Friday revealed that the U.S. has quietly forged a close intelligence partnership with Sudan despite the government’s role in the mass killings in Darfur. The Sudanese government has since publicly confirmed it is working with the Bush administration and the CIA.
Eight months ago, former Secretary of State Colin Powell accused the Sudanese of carrying out a genocide in Darfur. Already 180,000 have died in the region from fighting or hunger. But relations appear to have since changed — for the better. One senior Sudanese official the LA Times that the country had achieved “complete normalization” of relations with the CIA.
The Times reported that the CIA sent an executive jet last week to Khartoum to ferry the chief of Sudan’s intelligence agency to Washington for secret meetings sealing Khartoum’s sensitive and previously veiled partnership with the administration.
The Sudanese intelligence chief–Major General Salah Abdallah Gosh–has been accused by members of Congress of directing military attacks against civilians in Darfur. He also had regular contacts with Osama bin Laden during the 1990s.
Last month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sent a letter to the Sudanese government calling for steps to end the conflict in Darfur. But the letter, reviewed by the Times, also said the administration hoped to establish a “fruitful relationship” with Sudan and looked forward to continued “close cooperation” on terrorism.
- Ken Silverstein, reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Read article: Official Pariah Sudan Valuable to America’s War on Terrorism.
- Salih Booker, Director of Africa Action.
- * Rep. Donald Payne*, Democratic Congressman from New Jersey.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined in our Washington studio by Ken Silverstein, reporter for the Los Angeles Times who broke the story. And we welcome you, Ken, to Democracy Now!
KEN SILVERSTEIN: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. Well, why don’t you lay out for us exactly what you’ve learned about the U.S.-Sudan relationship.
KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, the relationship really started even pre-9/11. In July of 2001, former Assistant Secretary of State Walter Kansteiner traveled to Nairobi, where he had a public meeting with the rebel leader John Garang and then privately met with the Sudanese Foreign Minister. Then approximately the following month there was a secret meeting in London with Yahia Hussein Babiker, who at the time was the Deputy Chief of Sudanese Intelligence, at which the topic of cooperation on counter-terrorism was broached. But the relationship really took off post-9/11, for both sides had pragmatic reasons. And I think that’s really at the heart of this. The U.S. after 9/11 wanted to obtain information on al Qaeda and Islamic extremists from whenever and wherever it could. And it decided that it would cooperate with any regime that was willing to provide that information, including Sudan. For the Sudanese there was fear that after Afghanistan they might be next on the list of U.S. targets for military action. And so both sides had grounds to cooperate. By November of 2001, the collaboration was very strong. I spoke to a former F.B.I. agent who traveled to Khartoum in November of 2001 at the time the C.I.A had an active station, which it had been shut down — their last station had been shut down in late 1995. By November of 2001 they had a very active station. They were tracking Islamic extremists with the cooperation of the Mukhabarat, which is the Sudanese equivalent of the C.I.A. The F.B.I. agent actually had gone to Khartoum to interview long-time members of al Qaeda who have very close ties to Osama bin Laden. The Mukhabarat made these suspects available to the F.B.I. They arranged safehouses for the interviews to be conducted. The F.B.I. agent went to the al Shamal Bank, where bin Laden had multiple business accounts when he lived in Sudan between 1991 and 1996. They turned over all the banking records. And, you know, that really kicked off the relationship which has deepened ever since.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, you talked to Gosh?
KEN SILVERSTEIN: I was able to interview him. And he simply confirmed that the Mukhabarat had an ongoing close partnership with the C.I.A. He was very open about that. I also spoke to a number of former top officials at the Mukhabarat, who are still — two of them in particular who were among the most powerful men in the country. They both had offices in the Presidential Palace in Khartoum. And they were very open about the relationship. They said — one of them said that we have completely normalized our relationships with the C.I.A. He said the C.I.A. was helping to try to smooth the broader political relationship between Sudan and the Bush administration. They were open about the relationship. I think, in fact, that they feel that they — I think to a certain extent they cooperated with me and allowed me access because they feel that they want recognition for some of their efforts that they feel have not been noted. And they want rewards. I mean, there’s no question about it. The United States, Sudan, all governments, no one does anything for free. The Sudanese are hoping that we will lift long-standing economic sanctions that were imposed during the Clinton Administration. And they want to get off the list of state sponsors of terrorism where they’ve been since 1993. So this is a pragmatic deal for both sides. And the Sudanese want to be rewarded for it.
AMY GOODMAN: Ken Silverstein. The Intelligence Chief, Major General Salah Abdallah Gosh, who talks about, boasts about the relationship he has with the C.I.A., what is his role in the killings in Darfur?
KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, you know, I think maybe your other guests might be able to better address that. I know that the Congressional Research Service has put out a report that lists him as somebody who’s directly involved in the counterinsurgency strategy that the Sudanese government has employed in Darfur. I spoke to Sudanese officials who deny that Gosh or any other senior Sudanese officials are involved in such atrocities. They blame those on militias that they say that they don’t exercise control over. So they would say he has no role in the atrocities. I know that there are other observers who have said he has been involved.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ken Silverstein, we are joined on the phone by Salih Booker, who is the Executive Director of Africa Action. We’ll also be joined by New Jersey Congress member Donald Payne of New Jersey. But, Salih Booker, can you talk about the significance of the information that Ken Silverstein has revealed in the Los Angeles Times of the relationship between the Intelligence Chief — not only the Intelligence Chief of Sudan but the Sudanese government and the United States?
SALIH BOOKER: Well, I think it’s very significant that it gets a public airing. This growing relationship of cooperation has been, you know, somewhat of a public secret, if you will, or fairly well known within the foreign policy community, within the Africa advocacy and analyst community. We have to bear in mind that this is very much like the Cold War, this so-called war on terrorism. The U.S. government has established a hierarchy of U.S. national interests, as defined by the administration, the U.S. establishment. And in that hierarchy essentially African lives are at the bottom while collecting intelligence, even dubious intelligence on possible terrorists attacks on American targets is clearly at the top of the hierarchy. So this administration has really wanted to normalize ties with the government in Khartoum since shortly, almost immediately after September 11. Because of bin Laden’s presence in Sudan, the Sudanese government felt it always had something to sell to the United States. And that its offers of intelligence cooperation which go back to the Clinton years could be a tool they would use to prevent the United States from applying pressure, whether on settling the conflict with southern Sudanese and now more recently, of course, as a way of sort of shunting pressure aside because of the genocide in Darfur. And the Sudanese government has manipulated this very well.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Salih Booker, Director of Africa Action. And in Washington in the studio, Ken Silverstein, investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times. We’ll go to break and then come back.
AMY GOODMAN: We are talking about the expose in the Los Angeles Times, “Official Pariah Sudan Valuable to America’s War on Terrorism.” Despite once harboring bin Laden, Khartoum regime has supplied key intelligence, officials say. And now we’re joined by Ken Silverstein in the studio in Washington. Congress member Donald Payne of New Jersey on the telephone. And Salih Booker, Director of Africa Action. It was a few months after September 11, three and a half years ago, the C.I.A. had an active station in Khartoum, according to multiple sources. Among other programs the agency was running surveillance on suspected foreign extremists with the knowledge and assistance of the Mukhabarat. Material obtained by Sudanese intelligence was turned over to U.S. investigators. And it goes on from there. Ken Silverstein, how did you find out this information?
KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, there have been some allusions to the cooperation previously. And oddly enough if one goes to the State Department’s Patterns of Global Terrorism reports the last few years, they have referred explicitly to Sudanese cooperation that they’ve made — they’ve provided access to individuals. It’s been very vague, but it’s been stated. And I had seen those references, and I started calling sources and learned that, in fact, the cooperation is pretty extensive and decided this is an obvious story. I mean, it’s not a surprise if the Jordanians are cooperating with the C.I.A., or if, you know, the British are cooperating with the C.I.A., but the fact that Sudan, where bin Laden lived for five years and which has a reputation for Islamic radicalism, and which is, as I mentioned, on the list of state sponsors of terror, I mean, that to me is a man bites dog story, as opposed to the other way around, so it seemed like an obvious story to pursue. And I just started looking into it, developing — working with sources here and traveled over to Khartoum and was able to interview some fairly senior people in the government there.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the role of U.S. officials, U.S. emissaries for the Bush administration? Who has met with these Sudanese officials?
KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, the former Sssistant Secretary of State for Africa Walter Kansteiner sort of led the opening, even as I mentioned earlier, pre-9/11. But post-9/11, as well. There was this secret meeting in late September at the American Embassy in London, where Kansteiner met with Yahia Hussein Babiker, then the deputy head of the Sudanese intelligence. And basically there was an agreement struck. The Bush administration agreed that there would soon be a vote. In fact, the vote took place three days later at the U.N. on whether to lift sanctions against Sudan that had been imposed in 1995 over its role in the assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that took place in Ethiopia in 1995. And the Bush administration abstained on that vote. And by abstaining, the sanctions were lifted. If they had voted no, of course, the sanctions would have remained. And not long afterwards the Sudanese turned over, you know, a significant amount of information, files on Islamic extremists who had been residing in Khartoum in the 1990s and even beyond. So that was really the basis for the — or the first step, I think. But, you know, clearly other officials in the U.S. government met with the Sudanese. I mean, Yahia Hussein Babiker came here to Washington in January of 2002 and held meetings with senior officials at the C.I.A. The Sudanese official who handles the liaison relationship with the C.I.A. traveled here late last year and met with C.I.A. officials to discuss Iraq. So there has been extensive consultations between the parties. And in fact, there is now an active C.I.A. station in Khartoum. There are regular, if not daily, contacts between the two intelligence agencies over there. So this is an ongoing regularized channel of communication between the intelligence agencies.
AMY GOODMAN: One last thing, Ken Silverstein, before we go to Congressman Donald Payne. Can you describe this secret trip most recently taken, and how you got the details of it?
KEN SILVERSTEIN: I need to be a little bit careful about that. All I can say is that the C.I.A. sent an executive jet to Khartoum to pick up Major General Gosh. He was brought over to Washington for three days of meetings here. He met with very senior officials in the C.I.A. And, you know, I don’t have direct knowledge, of course, of the talks that were held, but clearly he was here to discuss ongoing intelligence collaboration. And I think the trip is especially significant because they’ve had senior people come over before. But to my knowledge it’s the first time that the head of Sudanese intelligence has come to Washington to meet with top officials there. So I think that sort of speaks for the importance the C.I.A. gives to the relationship. And it’s symbolic of the importance for both sides that the C.I.A. would send a plane over there to bring him here.
AMY GOODMAN: New Jersey Congress member Donald Payne, welcome to Democracy Now!
REP. DONALD PAYNE: Good to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: Your response to these latest revelations about the relationship, and did you know about it before?
REP. DONALD PAYNE: I had some idea that there was contact, and as it’s been indicated, pretty high level contact. As we were pushing through our condemnation of the government of Sudan, as you know, the North-South Peace Accord was going on, and a lot of energy, of course. That was the initial 10-year push get a peace accord that the U.S. was pretty involved in. And as that was sort of coming to fruition, there started to be some additional meetings, high-level meetings, as it’s been indicated. I know when I introduced the Resolution on Genocide that was passed through the House, bipartisan, 422 to zero, and then went over to the Senate to urge the Senate to do the same thing, it was near the time that we were going on a recess in, I think it was July, the last day of our session when the Senate finally passed with unanimous consent. While we were doing that and even after that, I know that there were State Department — at least a State Department official that went over. And from what I understand, really said, even though the Congress is doing that, and Colin Powell came out later about two months later after our resolution passed both Houses with the fact that genocide was occurring, the message was, well, the Congress is annoyed, and we’ve got some people that are making this a big issue. However, the administration really would like to have some kind of cooperative relationship. And so I was aware of that. Very disturbing, of course, but almost like, you know, don’t really pay too much attention to those people in the House and the Senate, we want to have some kind of relationship with you.
AMY GOODMAN: So the question is, what are you calling for now? We also tried to reach your senator from New Jersey, Jon Corzine, senator, democratic senator. He’s in eastern Chad now with Sudanese refugees and then headed to Iraq. He, too, quite angry about this relationship, calling for action on Darfur. Ken Silverstein, you wrote — talked about in your piece what Congress is not getting from the administration in terms of information. For example, getting a list of war criminals — giving a list of those who have committed war crimes in Sudan but not a roster of government officials who have committed these war crimes.
KEN SILVERSTEIN: Well, I know there are a number of steps that, you know, Sudan’s critics want taken and that sort of have not been taken by the administration. There is — Congress has issued a list of senior Sudanese officials who they claim has been involved in war crimes. The administration has not released its own list, as Congress has requested that it do. The Congress has requested a number of other steps, targeted sanctions on individuals so that people who are identified as having committed war crimes would have their bank accounts frozen and be barred from international travel. The administration has not done that. There is, in fact, not an arms embargo on the government of Sudan, which critics in Congress have asked for. So there are a whole series of steps that people in Congress want taken that the administration has not taken. I think in terms of whether this is influencing policy, the intelligence cooperation, you know, it’s largely a question of, are there steps that could have been taken that haven’t been taken. It’s not that the administration has done — taken a lot of active steps, although they did allow the sanctions to come off that were imposed by the U.N. over the attempt on Mubarak. But it’s mostly a question of, you know, from talking to critics of the Sudanese government, they have said this is what we should have done that we haven’t done, and they suspect that the intelligence sharing is one reason why the administration hasn’t been as aggressive as it might be.
AMY GOODMAN: And pressuring the U.N. Security Council to strengthen the mandate of the African Union observer mission?
KEN SILVERSTEIN: That’s another thing. I mean, people have said, look, the U.N. has been very slow to act. And that’s primarily been because of China and Russia, because, both of those, especially the Chinese, have extensive economic interest in Sudan. China has a very, very big role in the Sudanese oil industry. And so, both of those countries have sought to block action at the U.N. Now, critics here have said we have not really challenged the Chinese or the Russians on that issue, that we should be pressuring them more, and that certainly, they have said, we should be pressuring the U.N. to expand the A.U. mandate. Right now the A.U. is there as an observer force, but it’s not really authorized to try to prevent human rights abuses from taking place. And people want the U.N. to take — to expand the A.U. mandate and to strengthen its mandate. You know, people have called for a greater logistical support to the A.U. mission and greater funding for the A.U. mission. So, as I said, it’s — a lot of what people are calling for are steps that they say could have been taken but thus far the administration has not moved on.
AMY GOODMAN: Salih Booker of African Action, what are you demanding right now of Congress, of the Bush administration, of the United Nations?
SALIH BOOKER: Well, just to pick up where Ken left off, obviously we’re calling for the U.N. Security Council to establish a Chapter Seven International Intervention Force. There’s a genocide occurring in Darfur. Genocide is a unique crime against humanity. Many people would say it’s the ultimate crime. It’s the 90th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, 60 years since the Holocaust, 11 years since Rwanda. People keep saying never again, and here we have a genocide unfolding in slow motion since February 2003 in Darfur. What the Bush administration is doing, it’s willing to cover up genocide in favor of an intelligence collaboration with a regime in Sudan. It is defining bilateral relations with countries based on what their governments can do for the U.S. in the so-called war on terrorism. And this is a trade they’re perfectly willing to make. And to minimize the significance of the atrocities and the crimes against humanity going on in Darfur, even while the administration was forced to acknowledge that, in fact, what’s happening there constitutes genocide, it hasn’t provided the leadership at all necessary in the U.N. and it hasn’t challenged China or Russia at all to establish an international force. They’ve been washing their hands by saying African solutions for African problems, knowing that the African Union doesn’t have the capacity, the logistics, the financing, or even the troops to mount the kind of broad, multinational intervention necessary to provide protection, you know, to more than two million people in a region the size of Iraq. And one thing we haven’t mentioned is that as part of the Bush administration’s original game plan after September 11 was intelligence cooperation with the Sudanese, who literally called up and said, hey, Bin Laden used to live here, come get the files. They want to normalize ties, so they focused on the negotiations between the north and the south, got a peace agreement which they felt then would allow the U.S. to take Sudan off the terror list to lift sanctions, and significantly, which would then allow American oil companies to reenter Sudan and to begin to compete with China and the other companies that are there. That was the game plan. The genocide in Darfur has been an inconvenience to that game plan, and they’ve been forced largely by public pressure here to give more attention to and address it. But their leadership has not been — you know, it’s not been forthcoming.
AMY GOODMAN: Salih Booker, what do you want Congress to do? What are you demanding of Congress members like Donald Payne?
SALIH BOOKER: Right, well, of course, Congressman Payne has been providing great leadership on the House side and broadly in the Congress for years on Sudan. And particularly at this moment, there are bills in both the Senate and the House, the Darfur Accountability Acts, the efforts by members of Congress to actually impose targeted sanctions on the Sudanese government, in addition to those that are already there, to authorize the President and the United States government to use greater options of force in the international force, you know, to bring about change. But it’s all that Congress can do is to express its opinion on what the administration ought to be doing and to try and legislate some of these sanctions. It can’t force the kind of international cooperation that the administration should be organizing at the U.N. Security Council. And the other thing is the Bush administration has been opposing this very legislation. They got the Senate to take it out of the supplemental appropriations bill, and they haven’t been supportive at all on the House legislation either.
AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Donald Payne, what do you plan to do now with this newly released information, and the whole issue of sanctions?
REP. DONALD PAYNE: Well, I will certainly raise the issue at our Congressional Black Caucus annual — I mean, weekly meeting on Wednesday. I will be meeting with some of our colleagues who have been very supportive. Congressman Wolf, Congressman Tancredo, Congressman Cummings. And we will try to come up with some strategy, as Salih Booker said. We have come out strong. You know, it was three months after we declared genocide in the House and the Senate that the administration declared that genocide was going on. I listed 51, read them from the well of the House, 51 Sudanese persons, government officials, starting with the Vice President Taha, who allegedly is the one who orchestrated the release of the Janjaweed, supporting them financially, equipping them. And so he was the chief negotiator of the North-South Accord. He is alleged by Darfurans there and here as the one who is the mastermind. Now, how do you negotiate with him in good faith? What the U.S. government did a decade ago, the C.I.A. in their wisdom removed practically every single C.I.A. station in Africa, just eliminated 10, 12 years ago, as they were cutting back. Therefore, once again, mismanaging an agency have now to rely on government officials where if they had kept their kind of communications that they do allegedly — I don’t know how they actually operate, but they have operatives on the ground. By removing them from Africa, now they have to depend on the government of Sudan. Also, as it’s been mentioned by Salih Booker, we put pressure Talisman, which was a Canadian company, to withdraw its activities in Sudan. The PetroChina and Malaysians went in in bigger force. We have got to put some pressure on China. However, I believe, as Salih said, that once you can get sanctions removed, then U.S. companies can go in. There are still a lot of untapped oil resources in Sudan. And that’s a part of this agenda of trying to normalize relations with Sudan, so that U.S. oil companies can go in and start exploring oil. And so we are going to have certainly a dialogue with the supporters of Sudan when I get back to Washington this afternoon and try once again. We had capital market sanctions in our legislation, Congressmen Tancredo and Bachus from Alabama. and it was removed. Greenspan came and said capital market sanctions must be removed. And as it’s been mentioned, Senator Frist was denied a visa. Here’s a person who perhaps may run for President of the United States. How can you have normal relations or even have conversations with a government that said that your president — your Senate leader does not — is not welcome in our country? He’s not thought of enough. Senator Corzine, I believe, also put an application. I have never applied to the government of Khartoum, because — in Khartoum, because it’s an illegitimate government. I don’t recognize them. What they do is to wait you out, tell you we’ll get back to you, and then decide if they will let you come in, then take you where they want you to go and tell you when you should leave.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, on that note, Congress member Donald Payne, I want to thank you very much for being with us, as well as Salih Booker of Africa Action, and Ken Silverstein of the Los Angeles Times. We will link to the Los Angeles Times expose at our website, DemocracyNow.org.