OK, It’s a Smoking Gun, but for Whom?

Yesterday, the Bush administration finally released the homemade movie that officials say U.S. military forces discovered in a house in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. If one believes the tape is real, as I do, it implicates Osama bin Laden in planning the Sept. 11 attacks.

The tape is consistent with bin Laden’s press interviews before Sept. 11, as he has long promised that he and his followers would attack the United States. While the radical Saudi did not become a household name in America until this fall, he has been our most-wanted man since the East Africa embassy bombings in 1998.

Unfortunately, however, what we Americans see clearly on our TV sets as a smoking gun will look like no more than a smokescreen to countless others abroad, and the Bush administration’s media policies are no small reason why. Top administration officials tried to control the on-screen images that not only we have seen but that non-Americans, too, have seen around the world. But, instead of enhancing our security, these heavy- handed efforts have only undermined the best evidence we now have against our principal enemy.

Propaganda is a factor in most wars, and bin Laden scored a coup when his face appeared on Al-Jazeera, the Qatar-based satellite network, only hours after the United States started bombing Afghanistan. The White House panicked. First, administration officials pressured the Emir of Qatar to censor Al-Jazeera, before they rushed one official after another, including National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, on Al- Jazeera to make the administration’s case through translators into Arabic. And the Bush administration took no chances at home, either, as Rice asked American television network executives to be wary of bin Laden’s messages and to avoid running his videos.

Censorship is often subtle, but the fist that imposes it is usually transparent — and afterward, few trust the news or what they see on TV. By intervening against the press both here and overseas, the United States squandered the opportunity to be believed now that U.S. forces have seized the videotape. For no matter how Americans perceive the tape, how many non-Americans will agree? Those who already see bin Laden as vile no doubt still will, probably even more so, while too many of those who have defended him will maintain he is not responsible for 9/11.

The price of censorship is credibility, and America is the loser in this case.

We also wear blinders here in the United States. The many videos produced and distributed by bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda organization provide insight into not only his plans but how he wants to be perceived in a Muslim world that extends way beyond the Mideast. Take the 90-minute-plus recruitment video that al-Qaida released to Al-Jazeera this summer. Much of it has the feel of a U.S. Marines TV commercial, with men dressed in black running obstacle courses. We cannot afford to discount the depth of bin Laden’s appeal in many quarters.

Destroying known Al-Qaeda operatives is one U.S. goal. But cooling the feverish climate that their deadly networks thrive in is another. Why do “they” hate us so much? It has less to do with the fact of our power than the arrogant way we tend to use it, serving our immediate interests while being callous about others. The world sees how the so-called defenders of democracy censor when they feel it is needed. By suppressing bin Laden’s publicity, we have unwittingly provided a way for him and his countless supporters to claim that the movie, with its poor soundtrack, was somehow doctored by us.

America needs both military and political tools to disarm terrorism, and our quick success in Afghanistan is as limited as the many strings of Al-Qaeda are long. While most of the September hijackers came from either Saudi Arabia or Egypt, Al-Qaeda networks are found in countries including Algeria, Tunisia, Bosnia, Tajikistan, Chechnya, the Philippines, Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia and Indonesia, as well as the United States.

No one expected the top terrorist to be so cocky as to allow a confidant to film him incriminating himself in the 9/11 attacks. The tape leaves no doubt as to his culpability in my mind and probably yours. But to countless others elsewhere, our censorship only protects him like a screen from his own captured image.

Culture Clash

Although East Africa was the site of three out of the four major attacks exchanged since 7 August between US and apparently pan-Islamist forces, the region itself has been painted as merely being a battleground of opportunity for anti-US bombers. However, even before President Clinton’s decision to strike targets in Sudan as well as in Afghanistan, the USA and Osama Bin Ladin, the wealthy Saudi whom Clinton administration officials blame for the twin bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, have been backing different warring sides in East Africa.

Sudan contains the headwaters of the Blue and White Nile rivers, which run north from nearly the Great Lakes to the Great Sahara. Islamic groups have long followed their valleys south into black Africa. More recently, Sudan’s National Islamic Front (NIF) government has tried to expand Islam toward the Great Lakes and the Horn. NIF leaders do not believe they can survive alone, so they have backed radical Islamist and even fundamentalist Christian groups against most of their neighbours. At the same time, the NIF has collaborated with bin Laden to provide sanctuary as well as training to radical Islamist groups operating worldwide. According to one former Sudanese military intelligence agent interviewed last year in the region, trainees came from as far away as the Philippines. Meanwhile, Iran and Iraq have each also backed the NIF.

The USA, along with its East African allies, has sought to check the influence of Sudan and its allies. The Kenyan capital of Nairobi, the site of one of the embassy bombings, has become the locus of US activity in the region. The US embassy there, besides providing offices for diplomats assigned to the Clinton administration’s mission to Kenya, has also supported diplomats and other personnel assigned to the US mission to Sudan. The administration closed its embassy in Khartoum in February 1996 because officials feared that it might be a target for Islamist groups. Three months later the NIF finally expelled bin Laden in response to Saudi as well as US pressure, but the NIF continued to back radical Islamist groups and others against its neighbours.

Nairobi has also become the site of the largest CIA station in East Africa. Soon after withdrawing with other US personnel from Khartoum, officers from the CIA and other US intelligence agencies began establishing sophisticated eavesdropping posts around Sudan with the co-operation of many bordering countries. By then, Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda had formed a coalition of front-line states against the NIF. Eritrea invited the leaders of the Sudanese opposition to take over the Sudanese embassy in Asmara, while Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda each stepped up their support for Sudanese rebels, providing sanctuary as well as arms.

Escalation, not initiation

Although it has received scant attention anywhere, partly because the debate has been held almost entirely behind closed doors within the Washington beltway, the Clinton administration for at least the past two years, has been trying to undermine if not overthrow the NIF regime. “We want to compel change in how Sudan is governed,” said one White House advisor flatly just months before East Africa’s twin bombings. “To be more relevant in achieving our objective,” the advisor added, the administration has been backing the entire anti-NIF coalition. Last year, the Clinton administration promised the coalition’s front-line states US$20 million in non-lethal aid in what stands as the largest military aid package to Africa since the Cold War. This April, according to one high-level participant, the administration sent an interagency team to Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda to explore more anti-NIF “humanitarian, development, political, diplomatic, military, and intelligence options”.

Last year, during the rainy season, the author travelled north from Uganda into southern Sudan, much of which has long been controlled by the rebel Sudan People’s Liberation Army. Journalists were told not to photograph hundreds of new green wooden crates. A few open ones contained rocket-propelled grenades. Each crate had stencilled white letters saying that they had been shipped to the Ugandan Defence Ministry via the Tanzanian port at Dar es Salaam. [The author made this trip in part for the Human Rights Watch Arms Division. Its newly released report on Sudan is available at, although the author alone is responsible for this JIR report.

Rogue state

Although only 70 percent of Sudan’s population are (Sunni) Muslims, the NIF, after it seized power through a 1989 military coup, imposed Shari’a law nationwide. Besides bin Laden, the NIF’s closest foreign allies have been those erstwhile adversaries, Iran and Iraq. Tehran sent mainly political advisors, while Baghdad sent mainly military specialists, according to former Sudanese military officers who defected to the guerrillas.

Iran’s role peaked in 1992 when Tehran sent thousands of advisors who helped restructure Sudan’s army, police and civil service. To better control dissent, they encouraged the NIF to purge more than 78,000 personnel from these services’ collective ranks. Iranian advisors also provided the formative training for the NIF’s Popular Defence Forces: lightly armed militia that are now active in Khartoum and many areas throughout the country.

Iraq’s role is far more ongoing. Up to 60 Iraqi military experts rotate into Khartoum about every six months, according to one of the former officers, an army captain. “About 20 of them were air force specialists including mechanics and pilots,” he said. Others were military technicians involved in some kind of “munitions development” at the Military Industries Complex in Khartoum.

The Clinton administration has just recently begun to claim that these Iraqis have been helping the NIF develop chemical weapons (CW). Journalists first started hearing such allegations from the Sudanese opposition in Asmara, the base for a loose coalition of leaders known as the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). For years, NDA leaders said that Iraqi technicians were working on such a project at the Military Industrial Complex in Khartoum and that Sudan was already storing CW for Iraq at the Yarmouk Military Manufacturing Complex in Sheggera, south of Khartoum. The same opposition leaders also claimed that Sudan had already used CW against rebel forces in the Nuba mountains and elsewhere in the southern half of the country. Opposition leaders even alleged that a group of Iraqis who hijacked an aircraft from Khartoum to London in 1996 were involved in Sudan’s CW project. These Iraqis, however (who were later convicted of the hijacking), were draft dodgers who feared deportation back to Baghdad; they had nothing to do with any Iraqi Government effort. In fact, no evidence to support any of the above claims has ever appeared.

Nowhere in their discussions or “fact sheets” did the opposition mention the El Shifa pharmaceutical factory north of Khartoum: the one recently demolished by US cruise missiles. The USA destroyed the El Shifa plant, along with alleged bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan, on 20 August, claiming that a soil sample clandestinely taken from near the El-Shifa plant showed traces of a rare chemical, O-ethyl methylphosphonothioic acid (Empta), used to make VX nerve agent. However, US officials have yet to make their evidence public.

So far no other evidence has appeared to substantiate their claim, although some independent observers have already rejected it. A British engineer, Tom Carnaffin, who helped oversee construction of the plant as a technical manager until its opening in 1996, told The Observer that it “just does not lend itself to the manufacture of chemical weapons.” Similarly, three Jordanian engineers who worked at the El Shifa plant until mid-1997 agree. “The factory was designed to make medicines,” said engineer Mohammad Abdul-Wahed at an Amman press conference. “It is impossible to change it to produce any other substance.”

Bin Ladin meets the Sudanese

Whatever the nature of Iraq’s as well as Iran’s support for Khartoum, Osama bin Laden, too, has been one of the NlF’s main backers. He built new roads for the regime, connecting the capital for the first time with the northern part of the country and, to the east, with Port Sudan on the Red Sea. Bin Laden has also collaborated with the NIF on several joint military endeavours. “It was Iranian diplomats who first introduced him to NIF leaders,” said the ex-Sudanese military intelligence agent. Although the NIF gave bin Laden a warm welcome when he arrived in Khartoum shortly after the Gulf War in 1991, its leaders never entirely trusted him. They instructed military intelligence agents, whose ostensible task was to cater for his needs, to keep an eye on him. Apparently, NIF leaders feared that bin Laden’s brand of Islamist radicalism was so extreme that it might even become a threat to them. Ironically, after monitoring bin Laden closely for four years, one of the NIF agents instead became an admirer.

Shortly after bin Laden left Khartoum, the ex-agent left the country too.

Bin Ladin’s own time in Khartoum, from 1991 to 1996, has only been part of a longer journey. The 17th of 52 children of one of Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest families, bin Laden, like many revolutionaries, was born into a world of privilege. His father, a construction magnate who founded the bin Laden group, acquired over $5 billion in assets building offices, homes and mosques for the royal House of Saud. Osama Bin Ladin’s own fortune today is estimated to be worth over $250 million.

Although Bin Ladin was just 16 when he first got involved with radical Islamist politics in Riyadh, it was the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan that radicalised him. Only days after it began, bin Laden, then 22, flew there to help organise the first Islamist guerrilla fighters, who later became known as the mojahedin. From around the world, young Muslim idealists like himself flocked to Afghanistan to join them. The number of foreign volunteers eventually grew to up to 20,000. Bin Ladin financed housing for them in Peshawar, Pakistan, just across the Khyber Pass. Inside Afghanistan, he bankrolled the Ma’sadat Al-Ansar military training camp, which trained both local and international volunteers.

Bin Ladin was not the mojahedin’s only foreign patron. The CIA, then directed by President Ronald Reagan, sought to “roll back” the Soviets out of Afghanistan, so it financed and armed the mojahedin throughout the 10-year conflict. Although Bin Ladin himself, according to all accounts, never had any direct relationship with the agency, he was a key leader of a broad movement that the CIA was firmly behind. Even the training camps that the Clinton administration claims to have recently destroyed in Afghanistan were, according to many reports, first established under the Reagan administration by the CLA.

Not content to merely help underwrite the movement, Bin Ladin personally fought in many battles, including the 1989 siege of Jalalabad: a key contest with the Soviets. Only months later the foreign communist forces withdrew in defeat. Bin Ladin still draws inspiration from this experience today. “The biggest benefit [of that campaign],” he told CNN in an interview from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan last year, “was that the myth of the superpower was destroyed.” Bin Ladin, incidentally, credits the mojahedin, as opposed to the Reagan administration, for crippling the Soviet Union enough to make it collapse. Regarding that other superpower, the United States, Bin Ladin frequently expresses confidence that he and his followers will repeat their giant-slaying.

After the Afghan war, Bin Ladin returned to Saudi Arabia a hero, but he quickly became disillusioned with the royal family. Like many Saudis, bin Laden complained that the House of Saud was economically corrupt and morally bankrupt. He fumed, especially, at what he saw as their subservience to the United States. Following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, the House of Saud allowed the US troops to deploy on its soil for Operation “Desert Storm.” The first US soldiers arrived on 7 August, 1990 — eight years before to the day that the two US embassies in East Africa were bombed. The US deployments outraged Bin Ladin. Saudi Arabia is the home of Mecca and Medina: the two most revered places within Islam. Today, over 4,000 US troops remain in Saudi Arabia: their ongoing presence remains a source of angst for many Saudis and other Muslims worldwide. To Islamist radicals, as was evidenced by the bombing of the US barracks at Khobar Towers on 25 June 1996, they are a target.

Building the camps

Shortly after the Gulf War, Bin Ladin moved with his four wives and an unknown number of children to Khartoum. In 1990, a year before he even arrived, according to the ex-intelligence agent, bin Laden began bringing mojahedin veterans to Khartoum. He later brought hundreds more. Many, comprised the core of his personal security force. Others became instructors at training camps he financed.

The largest camp was near Soba, 10 km south of Khartoum along the Blue Nile, said the ex-Sudanese military agent, who added that it was a highly restricted area of about 20 square acres. He added that Iranians who were previously based in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley were among the trainers, while the trainees came from Algeria, Tunisia, Bosnia, Chechnya, the Philippines, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Somalia.

Some of these groups have been especially active. Egypt’s Islamic Jihad Organisation is suspected of being behind the 1995 attempted assassination of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa. The Organisation’s leader, al-Zawahri, recently called a newspaper in Pakistan to give a statement on bin Laden’s behalf; he is currently believed to be holding up with him in Afghanistan. Other groups like Eritrea’s Islamic Jihad have attacked civilians. This Organisation’s most comnon tactic is planting anti-tank mines, which have destroyed several passenger buses. Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army is another group that has terrorised civilians, and it frequently press-gangs even adolescent children. All of these groups have been armed by Sudan. Last year, plastic anti-tank mines discovered in Eritrea were identical in design and markings to anti-tank mines captured from NIF stocks just north of the Ugandan border.

These groups and others have trained at camps financed by bin Laden on Sudanese territory. According to the ex-Sudanese military intelligence agent, the instruction focused on three major areas. One was the fabrication of travel documents. The second was low-tech covert communications, from basic encryption to use of invisible ink. In light of recent events, however, it is the third area that may be among the most interesting: the use of small arms and explosives. The ex-agent said that bin Laden spent $15 million on one shipment of arms. It included Chinese and Iranian weapons, as well as Czechoslovakian explosives, which he was unable to identify further (Semtex, a Czech plastic explosive, is suspected of being used in at least the US embassy bombing in Nairobi).

The ex-agent also said that bin Laden, while in Khartoum. had formed a shadowy, pan-Islamist coalition involving many groups. He established an “advisory council” involving at least 43 separate Islamist groups from around the world. They included Egypt’s Islamic Group, Ethiopia’s Oromo Islamic Front, Eritrea’s Islamic Jihad, Uganda’s Islamic forces of Sheikh Abdullah. Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front and the Philippines’ Moro Liberation Front, according to the ex-agent. Bin Laden himself admits to playing an international role, claiming in interviews to have sent Islamist combatants to Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan and Somalia.

This Khartoum-based “advisory council” seems like a precursor to a smaller coalition of like-minded Islamist organisations which formed the World Islamic Front in February 1998. In announcing their formation, members of the World Islamic Front, including bin Laden, signed a religious decree, or fatwa, calling on Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies — civilian and military”. Observers back in Langley, Virginia, at the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center noted that this was the first such fatwa to justify killing US civilians.

Bin Ladin admits his and his followers’ role in previously killing US soldiers. He told CNN in March 1997 that “Afghan Arabs” loyal to him played a role in 1983 attacks against US troops in Somalia, where a total of 30 US soldiers were killed. The ex-Sudanese agent confirmed this account, saying that bin Laden’s men “set up a base in Somalia and smuggled weapons to it from Ethiopia.” One US official who was in Somalia at the time says that it remains unclear whether US helicopters there were shot down with surface-to-air missiles or just rocket-propelled grenades.

The current climate in Khartoum

Sudan finally expelled Osama Bin Ladin in May 1996 in response to US and Saudi pressure. He has since gone to Afghanistan, which is now controlled by the ultra-fundamentalist Taliban regime — perhaps bin Laden’s only remaining refuge. What kind of ties Sudan and others still have with bin Laden remains in question. The NIF has tried to distance itself from him, although he still has investments and other commercial interests in Khartoum (yet there is no evidence that he has any connection to the recently destroyed El-Shifa pharmaceutical factory as Clinton administration officials have claimed).

While the NIF has continued to back various Islamist groups from Africa and elsewhere, its leaders have also recently begun to express interest in negotiating with both the USA and anti-NIF Sudanese rebel leaders. It is worth noting, too, that before the Clinton administration attacked the El-Shifa plant in Khartoum, along with targets in Afghanistan, Sudan had denounced the bombings of the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as unacceptable terrorist acts. Sudan even offered to help US investigators find the bombers. Even after the US strike on Khartoum, the NIF leader and Parliament speaker Hassan Turabi predicted that, despite their recent history of animosity, relations between Sudan and the USA were likely to improve. “I don’t think it will take too long,” he added.

Iran has also begun to tone down much of its anti-US rhetoric. Its leaders quickly denounced the US embassy bombings, although they have since denounced the US strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan as well. While Iran remains on the US State Department’s list of countries which sponsor terrorism, the country has at least begun to change since the election of the moderate President Mohammad Khatami last year. And although Iran had a strong presence in Khartoum throughout the early 1990s, its role in recent years has clearly diminished.

Iraq, however, maintains strong ties with Sudan, and NIF leaders apparently no longer care who knows it. The day after the Clinton administration attacked the El-Shifa plant in Khartoum. Sudan’s foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, flew to Baghdad for consultations.

Silent Struggle

Original article can be found here.

Last week’s missile attack against Sudan also struck Americans like a bolt from the blue. Who knew where Sudan was on the map, let alone that it was a bitter enemy of the U.S.? Actually, the strikes were the culmination of a long struggle within the Clinton administration about how to deal with that nation’s radical regime.

Part of the problem is that the National Islamic Front (NIF), which took over Sudan in a 1989 coup, is insecure about its hold on power. To bolster its position, the NIF has tried to expand Islam regionally, backing radical Islamist (and even fundamentalist Christian) groups against most of its neighbors. At the same time, the NIF has collaborated with Osama Bin Ladin to provide sanctuary as well as training to radical Islamist groups operating worldwide.

In 1993, the Clinton administration put Sudan on the list of nations that sponsor terrorism. Since then, though, officials have quarreled over how much more they should do. Career State Department officials, led by Undersecretary of State Thomas R. Pickering, have argued that dialogue and diplomacy are the best way to change the NIF. But political appointees, led by Assistant Secretary of State Susan E. Rice (formerly with the National Security Council), have countered that the NIF will only respond to force.

Even before the East Africa bombings, the administration was moving toward Rice’s line. After Sudan had expelled Bin Ladin in May 1996, in response to Saudi and American pressure, Pickering argued that it was time to re-open the American Embassy in Khartoum, Sudan (The embassy had been closed since February 1996 because of terrorism fears). But NSC officials, including Rice, thought it should stay shut. In September 1997, while Rice was on maternity leave, Pickering tried what one diplomat calls a “squeeze play.” Without White House authorization, Pickering told his subordinates to leak to the press that the administration would soon reopen the embassy. But a week later, after the news had been reported in both The Washington Post and The New York Times, Rice’s allies at the NSC got the announcement over-ruled. “Albright called Pickering and told him to call the reporters back,” recounts another seventh-floor official.

So the U.S. mission to Sudan remained in Nairobi — bin Laden’s eventual target. And it soon became the site of the largest CIA station in East Africa — a station that coordinates a sophisticated eavesdropping network aimed at Sudan with the cooperation of bordering countries like Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda, which form a coalition of frontline states against the NIF.

The United States’ goal has not merely been to gather information. For at least two years, the Clinton administration has been trying to undermine, if not overthrow, the NIF regime. ‘We want to compel change in how Sudan is governed,” one White House adviser told me in May. Toward that end, the adviser added, last year, the administration promised the anti-NIF states $20 million in nonlethal aid. According to a high level participant, the administration recently sent an interagency team to Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda to explore “humanitarian, development, political, diplomatic, military, and intelligence options.”

The United States’ interest in undermining the NIF is due to more than the regime’s support of Bin Ladin. One of the NIF’s closest foreign allies has been Iraq. According to a former Sudanese army captain who defected to rebel forces, up to 60 Iraqi military specialists rotate through Sudan every six months.

Why is this significant? The ex-captain said some of the Iraqis were involved in some kind of munitions development at the Military Industries Corporation in Khartoum. And Sudanese opposition leaders have long claimed Iraq was helping Sudan develop chemical weapons at installations in Khartoum. They further charge that Sudan has stored chemical weapons for Iraq at a military complex south of Khartoum.

Meanwhile, U.S. officials say soil samples collected outside the pharmaceutical factory targeted in the strike contained traces of a chemical that is an ingredient of VX nerve agent and lacks any known industrial application. Furthermore, The New York Times reported that Iraq bought medicines from the factory and that, according to U.S. officials, one of the leaders of Iraq’s chemical weapons program had close ties to senior Sudanese officials there. Finally, non-American officials told the Times that Iraqi technicians frequently visited another, more heavily guarded factory in Khartoum also suspected of producing chemical weapons.

Of course, these are still allegations. Some of the Sudanese opposition’s other claims — like the story that Iraqis who hijacked a plane to London in 1996 were involved in the chemical weapons program — are clearly preposterous; the hijackers were draft-dodgers. Nor is the evidence cited by U.S. officials necessarily irrefutable. For instance, a British engineer who, until 1996, worked as a manager at the factory targeted in the strike recently told the London Observer that the factory “just does not lend itself to the manufacture of chemical weapons.”

Still, Iraq and Sudan are clearly up to something. Just consider the Sudanese foreign minister’s first reaction to the U.S. strikes: he flew to Baghdad. ”

The Holy Warrior: Is This the Man Behind the Bombings?

Original article can be found here.

Osama Bin Ladin is not an easy man to find, and he plans on keeping it that way. A multi-millionaire from Saudi Arabia, he is considered by the U.S. government to be “one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world.” Law enforcement officials from a half-dozen nations would like to question him about his possible role in at least nine terrorist conspiracies. More recently, bin Ladin’s name has surfaced in connection with last week’s bombing of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. He is “high on the list” of suspects, says one White House official. So maybe it’s not surprising that, since 1996, bin Ladin has taken refuge in one of the most inaccessible regions in the world: southern Afghanistan.

If you wish to meet with him, as one of us did for an interview that aired on CNN back in May of 1997, you must first get hold of an intermediary–like Khaled al-Fauwaz, a spokesman for a Saudi opposition group, called the Advice and Reformation Committee. Al-Fauwaz lives far from the tumult of the Middle East, in the quiet North London suburb of Neasden. Serving flavored coffee and a plate of dates in his modest 1940s Tudor-style home, he is at pains to make clear that he does not work for Bin Ladin. Nor does he necessarily condone all of Bin Ladin’s views. But, if you can assure him that you are not an agent of the CIA, well, then he may find a way to put you in touch with the shadowy Saudi.

And so the journey begins. Al-Fauwaz directs you to Peshawar, Pakistan, where you are to await further notice. Several days after your arrival, one of Bin Ladin’s followers makes contact and instructs you to make your way across the winding Khyber Pass into neighboring Afghanistan. You arrive in the border town of Jalalabad and settle into a rundown hotel. And then you wait.

A week passes. Finally, late one afternoon, a curtained van arrives. You are bundled inside and the van sets off toward the mountains, along the Kabul road. Suddenly the van stops, and you are given blindfold-like dark glasses to wear as you change to a four-wheel-drive vehicle for the drive up rough mountain tracks. Several times during the journey, heavily armed men emerge from the darkness shouting for your convoy to stop. At one point you are told that, if you are carrying any type of tracking device, now is the time to say so. Later discovery of such a device, it is suggested, will not be pleasant for you. At the final checkpoint the guards run a beeping scanner over you and your bags to make sure you’ve been telling the truth.

At long last, your vehicle pulls into a rock-strewn valley about 5,000 feet above sea level — just below the snow line. It is near midnight. The air has a cold bite to it, and the ground crunches underfoot as you are led to a small mud hut lined with blankets. At one o’clock in the morning, Bin Ladin enters the room. You are told you have an hour to speak with him before he moves on. He does not like to remain in the same place for very long.

At first glance, Bin Ladin does not look like a master terrorist with a core of several thousand committed followers at his command and up to $250 million in his bank account. He is dressed simply — wearing a white turban and robe under a camouflage jacket and carrying a Kalashnikov rifle across his shoulder. But he is a tall man with an aquiline nose and an aristocratic demeanor. His followers treat him with the utmost deference, which he seems to take as his due. And, though he speaks in a near whisper, his talk is of bitter injustice and merciless revenge. The United States, he said in that CNN interview, “has committed acts that are extremely unjust, hideous, and criminal” by supporting Israel and imposing sanctions on Iraq. But it is the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, the land of Mecca and Medina, “the holiest place of the Muslims,” that most outrages Bin Ladin — this, he says, is why he has declared a jihad on the United States.

Is this the man behind the carnage in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam? So far, no evidence links Bin Ladin to the bombings. And there are plenty of other possible suspects to consider — including a Somali and a handful of Sudanese and Iraqis recently rounded up for questioning in Tanzania. However, the coordination with which the two attacks were carried out suggests a well-financed and experienced group — the kind often connected to the Middle East.

And, among those with such connections, Bin Ladin is certainly a credible suspect. Last February, as the United States seemed primed to launch strikes against Iraq, Bin Ladin joined with several other leading Islamist radicals, speaking on behalf of the World Islamic Front, in calling on Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies–civilian and military.” Significantly, the CIA Counterterrorist Center issued a statement saying: “These fatwas are the first from these groups that explicitly justify attacks on American civilians anywhere in the world … this is the first religious ruling sanctifying such attacks.”

Then, on May 26, Bin Ladin held a press conference that, in the words of a State Department advisory, implied “that some type of terrorist action could be mounted within the next several weeks.” And on June 21, according to Abdul-Bari Atwan, editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, members of the groups that signed the fatwa met in Peshawar, Pakistan, to set upon an undisclosed plan of action. In a June advisory on the fatwa, the State Department affirmed that “we take these threats seriously, and the U.S. is increasing security at many U.S. government facilities in the Middle East and South Asia.” Africa was not mentioned.

That Bin Ladin’s call to holy war is greeted with such gravity is a measure of his unique status in the world of terrorism. His was a privileged youth — the kind you would expect for the seventeenth of 52 children born to the founder of the Bin Ladin’s Group, a Saudi Arabian construction company worth an estimated $5 billion. Though by the tender age of 16, Bin Ladin had already become involved with Islamist political groups in his native Saudi Arabia, it was the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 that radicalized him. Only days after it began, Bin Ladin, then in his early twenties, flew to Afghanistan to help organize the first Islamist guerrilla fighters — young idealists like himself who flocked to the war from all over the Muslim world.

Bin Ladin eventually became a key leader of these “Afghan Arabs,” whose numbers reached about 20,000. He financed housing for them in Peshawar, Pakistan. He bankrolled the Ma’sadat Al-Ansar military camp in Afghanistan, which trained both local and international volunteers. And Bin Ladin himself fought in many battles, including the 1989 siege of Jalalabad — a key contest with the Soviets. The USSR’s subsequent withdrawal from Afghanistan made a profound impression: as Bin Ladin said in the CNN interview, “In this jihad the biggest benefit was that the myth of the superpower was destroyed.”

Bin Ladin returned to Saudi Arabia a hero. But he quickly became disillusioned with the ruling House of Saud, which he characterizes as spendthrift, corrupt, insufficiently Islamic, and — most objectionable of all — subordinate to the United States. Soon he was at odds with the authorities, and in 1991 he and his immediate family — that is, his four wives and an unknown number of children — left for Sudan.

Sudan’s ruling National Islamic Front (NIF) gave Bin Ladin a warm welcome, but it never quite trusted him, assigning military intelligence agents to keep tabs on their Saudi guest. Ironically, after working closely with Bin Ladin for four years, one of these agents — who has since left his post — became an admirer. According to the ex-agent, for a time Bin Ladin and the NIF “had a convergence of interest.” The NIF has tried to expand the reach of political Islam into black Africa, and it has backed Islamist and even Christian extremist groups against the neighboring states of Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Uganda.

Bin Ladin, however, may have even bigger aspirations. According to the ex-Sudanese agent, “his strategy is to form an international organization to head toward what he calls the Khalifa.” An important concept in Islam, the Khalifa refers to a leader chosen by the most knowledgeable Muslims to lead the umma, or worldwide Muslim community. A Bin Ladin associate suggests it’s unlikely that Bin Ladin aspires to be the Khalifa himself. Instead, he hopes to create the conditions for the Khalifa to emerge by uniting the most radical Islamist forces.

Toward this end, beginning in 1990, even before his own arrival, Bin Ladin brought hundreds of veterans from the Afghan war to Sudan. These holy warriors first came to help the NIF fight non-Muslim rebels in southern Sudan. Later they made up Bin Ladin’s personal security force. According to the State Department, they also helped run at least three military training camps that Bin Ladin created and financed.

Bin Ladin’s Sudanese camps soon became important centers for international terrorists. According to the ex-Sudanese agent, groups came to train there from Algeria, Tunisia, Bosnia, Chechnya, the Philippines, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Somalia. In his CNN interview, Bin Ladin said that he has also dispatched his own followers to equally far-flung places — Bosnia, Chechnya, Tajikistan, and Somalia — while financing extremist groups in Algeria and Egypt.

The first successful attack on Americans that Bin Ladin is believed to have been involved in came in Somalia in 1993 — where a total of 30 U.S. soldiers were killed in several incidents. In his interview with CNN, Bin Ladin said that some of the men involved in at least one of those operations were “Arab holy warriors who were in Afghanistan” — men who looked to him as a leader. The ex-Sudanese intelligence agent confirms this account, adding that the men had been trained at Bin Ladin’s Sudanese camps and that “they set up a base in Somalia and smuggled weapons to it from Ethiopia.” Does the United States believe bin Ladin was responsible? Philip Wilcox, the State Department’s then-chief counter-terrorism official, has said, “We take him at his word.” And Wilcox has added that there is solid evidence that bin Ladin forces also attempted to bomb U.S. servicemen in Yemen while they were on their way to the Somalia operation. A State Department report even claims bin Ladin admitted to the bombing, which killed two people but no U.S. soldiers.

U.S. officials also have circumstantial evidence tying bin Ladin to another famous act of anti-American terrorism: the 1993 bombing of New York’s World Trade Center. After that attack, its mastermind, Ramzi Yousef, fled to Peshawar, Pakistan, where he lived in a house for Islamic radicals that bin Ladin funded. In 1996, Yousef was convicted of a separate plot to blow up several U.S. passenger planes. U.S. officials say Yousef’s convicted conspirator in that plot, Wali Khan Amin Shah, served under Bin Ladin in Afghanistan.

In his CNN interview, Bin Ladin said he had “no connection” to the World Trade Center bombing but did say that Sheik Rahman is a widely respected Muslim cleric against whom the United States “fabricated” what he called “a baseless case.” Bin Ladin also insisted he had nothing to do with the bombing of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia at Riyadh in 1995 and Dhahran in 1996 — though, again, he expressed admiration for those who carried out the attacks. All the same, U.S. officials would like to talk to Bin Ladin about both of these incidents as well.

Of course, at the moment it is the African bombings that are uppermost in the minds of U.S. officials. And one key reason to take a close look at Bin Ladin is that his followers are no strangers to either Kenya or Tanzania. According to a source within the Saudi opposition movement, for the past three years Bin Ladin has had a “significant presence” in both nations. What’s more, this source says, two years ago one of Bin Ladin’s key lieutenants drowned in Lake Victoria — which lies within the borders of both Kenya and Tanzania. That account is confirmed by a U.S. official who says that Bin Ladin’s “head military guy” died there in a ferry accident in May 1996. The U.S. official says that the man, a former Egyptian army officer who went by the nom de guerre of Abu Abaida al Panjshiri, gained combat experience in the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets.

To be sure, it’s highly possible that, even if Bin Ladin is the behind the embassy bombings, he may do no more than express his “admiration” for the operation — not out of modesty but out of necessity. In 1996, the Sudanese government, under heavy pressure from Saudi Arabia and the United States, finally expelled Bin Ladin. Afghanistan, which is largely ruled by the Taliban, a movement of religious-students-turned-warriors who share Bin Ladin’s extreme interpretations of Islam, may be his last refuge. And the Taliban, who are hoping for international recognition for their regime, know that enthusiastic support for Bin Ladin will only hurt their cause. So they have cut a deal with Bin Ladin: he can stay, but only so long as he promises not to participate in “political” activities in other countries.

But, although Bin Ladin has so far remained silent on the African bombings, his name has already emerged in connection with other, less circumspect groups. One organization that has come forward to claim responsibility for the bombing, the Liberation Army for the Islamic Sanctuaries, has cited the same objective that motivates Bin Ladin: namely, the desire to drive the United States from all Muslim lands, especially in the Arabian peninsula. The group explicitly told the Cairo Arabic daily al-Hayat that it was partly inspired by Bin Ladin. (Of course, all claims of responsibility in such cases should be greeted with a grain of salt.)

Bin Ladin is also associated with the one group that gave warning of attacks before the bombings. A week prior to the blasts, Egypt’s Islamic Jihad told an Arabic newspaper in London that it would strike back at the United States in retaliation for compelling Albania to extradite three Egyptian Islamic volunteers back to Egypt. The Islamic Jihad organization is one of the groups that Bin Ladin helped train in Sudan. And it joined with his organization in both the fatwa calling for retaliation against the United States last May and the meeting to discuss a more concrete plan of action last June.

Ultimately, it may turn out that Bin Ladin served not as a direct organizer of the African embassy bombings but as the inspiration for them. Bin Ladin’s message and example are reverberating throughout the Arab world. As Al-Quds Al Arabi editor Abdul-Bari Atwan explained it in a CNN interview, “Younger generations, especially those Islamic fundamentalists, are looking for a hero, and Mr. Bin Ladin fits the bill.”

Our Missiles Won’t Crush This Terrorist

At least one suspect in the two U.S. embassy bombings on Aug. 7 has reportedly implicated a wealthy Saudi, Osama bin Ladin. Finally U.S. prosecutors might now have a chance to indict bin Ladin, who was linked to but never charged with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. But the Clinton administration’s unilateral cruise-missile strikes against Afghanistan and Sudan last Thursday have only made it harder to bring him to trial.

When it comes to making incriminating statements, bin Ladin is his own worst enemy. Unlike other radicals who tend to hide in the dark, bin Ladin threatens his enemies, namely the United States, in the glare of publicity. Just last May, he told, ABC News, “America will see many youths who will follow Ramzi Yousef” — the convicted mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing. (He fled afterwards to a safe house funded by bin Ladin in Peshawar, Pakistan.) Bin Ladin further warned, “We predict a black day for America. . . [which] will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America, God willing.”

Bin Ladin issued an even more ominous threat in February, when he and other Islamic fundamentalist radicals signed a declaration of holy war against the United States. Calling themselves the World Islamic Front, they declared that killing “Americans and their allies — civilians and military — is an individual duty for every Muslim.” The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center noted that this was the first such religious decree to justify attacks against civilians.

Though bin Ladin has a steadfast following among radical fundamentalists in many countries, he is only part of a fringe element within the Islamic community worldwide. “He does not represent the values that we hold to be true,” said Salah Obdidallah of the Islamic Center of Passaic County in New Jersey. How can he “take human life with such a cavalier attitude and hide behind a beautiful religion?”

But however marginal he may be to Islam, bin Ladin is serious about attacking the United States. In many interviews, he paints a dangerously simple portrait: Muslims are struggling against non-Muslims worldwide, and he and his followers must do everything they can to support their brethren.

Bin Ladin, for one, has long done his best. It was the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan that radicalized him. Along with up to 20,000 other young idealists, bin Ladin joined the anti-Soviet resistance, which soon became known as the mujahedeen.

And he put his money where his mouth was. The 17th of 52 sons born to Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest construction magnate, Osama bin Ladin himself has about $250 million. He built roads, tunnels and training camps for the mujahedeen. Ironically, he did it alongside another (then) anti-Soviet group — the CIA, which is now trying to find him.

Bin Ladin was not content to merely finance the resistance. He himself fought in many battles, including the 1989 siege of Jalalabad — a key contest near the Khyber pass that helped compel the Soviets to finally leave Afghanistan. It left a big impression on him. “[The biggest benefit,” he told CNN last year, “was that the myth of the superpower was destroyed.” Bin Ladin, incidentally, credits the mujahedeen, not President Ronald Reagan, for crippling the Soviet Union enough to make it collapse. Now he forthrightly claims that his followers will prevail against the United States. Bin Ladin’s main demand is that the United States withdraw from all Muslim lands, especially from the Arabian peninsula. Saudi Arabia is the home of Mecca and Medina, the two most revered places within Islam, and many Saudis and other Muslims feel the same way he does. It is perhaps no coincidence that the two embassy bombings detonated on the eighth anniversary — to the day — of the first U.S. troop deployment in Saudi Arabia for Operation Desert Storm.

Before last Thursday’s Tomahawk missile strikes against Sudan and Afghanistan, authorities in Pakistan were already cooperating with the U.S.-led investigation. Sudan offered to assist the investigation as well, and there was a sense that the United States might even persuade Afghanistan’s ultra-fundamentalist Taliban regime, which seeks international recognition, to expel bin Laden.

All these joint efforts, however, are now in doubt. According to all reports, bin Ladin and nearly all of his followers survived the Tomahawk attacks. And the backlash that they have produced among key Muslim countries only makes it less likely that they will help us catch him now.

One Man’s Private Jihad

He became a potentially hostile blip on the U.S. intelligence radar screen as early as 1991, when he arrived in Sudan. He said he had come to build roads, but according to a former Sudanese intelligence agent who spoke on the condition of anonymity, he also set up pan-Islamist camps where recruits from countries like Bosnia, Chechnya, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Somalia were given military training.

His blip intensified in the early 1990s, when his name came up in the international manhunt for Mir Aimal Kansi, the Pakistani who shot up the CIA’s Langley, Virginia, headquarters. It grew stronger still in 1996, during the probe of the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. servicemen. He would call the perpetrators of that act ”heroes.”

Though both CNN and ABC have interviewed him in the past 17 months, it’s only in the wake of the August 7 East African embassy bombings that the name Osama bin Laden has become widely known to Americans. In the worldwide Muslim community, however, bin Ladin has been a controversial figure for several years. Some, like his followers, now venerate him with the title ”sheik,” even though he is not a cleric. Others, like Salah Obdidallah of the Islamic Center of Passaic County, consider him a criminal who kills and ”hides behind a beautiful religion.” (The New York office of the FBI tends toward Obdidallah’s view; according to reports, Gotham-based agents are arguing they should direct the Kenya and Tanzania cases based on substantial but uncorroborated information tying bin Ladin to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well as the thwarted plan to blow up other city buildings and tunnels.)

Though the government and the fourth estate have a notorious history of jumping the gun when it comes to blaming ”Middle East radicals” for big explosions (recall Oklahoma City and TWA Flight 800), fingering bin Ladin for a role in the embassy bombings is by no means unreasonable — and not just because one of the reportedly confessed bombers has admitted to being a follower. Not only does bin Laden have the motive, means, and opportunity, but in light of his personal jihad, the bombings are thoroughly understandable. While bin Ladin is neither a mainstream Muslim nor the paragon of sanity (one consulting CIA psychologist’s assessment holds that he is a ”malignant narcissist” who views people as objects either to be killed or protected), if he is responsible for the bombings, it’s imperative, Middle East experts say, that his actions and motivations be examined not just in terms of a terrorist threat, but in the context of current Arabian politics, U.S. foreign policy, and Islamic theology.

”If this was done by bin Ladin — who is definitely a fringe character — part of what we should be focusing on is what the bombings are reflective of in the Islamic world vis-a-vis the U.S. right now,” says Sam Husseini, former spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. ”I think these bombings will cost him many people’s sympathies. But before August 7, I think he was beginning to achieve folk-hero status in some parts of the Middle East, because he’s doing what no one else is — standing up to the U.S. over some very legitimate grievances.” And the fact that bin Ladin has successfully stood up to and beat another superpower — the USSR, in Afghanistan — gives him a resolve not necessarily found in other terrorists.

One cannot understand bin Ladin without understanding his relationship to his native Saudi Arabia — arguably the center of a concentric circle of Islamist angst. In various interviews, bin Laden has described himself not as a terrorist, but as a defender of the true faith against a corrupt Saudi monarchy that has committed sacrilege by allowing an (infidel) U.S. army presence in sacred Muslim land. ”After the Americans entered the Holy Land, many emotions were roused in the Muslim world — more than we have seen before,” bin Ladin recently told ABC News. Indeed, it has not been lost on terrorist experts — and Bin Laden watchers in particular — that the bombings came on the anniversary of the first U.S. Desert Shield troop deployment inside Saudi Arabia.

While many secular Saudis don’t necessarily share bin Ladin’s angry zeal, they do simmer with resentment at the Saudi elite’s hypocrisy and the American presence, says Scott Armstrong, a national security expert who has conversed with figures sympathetic to bin Ladin. And they have a point. As one former State Department foreign service officer candidly characterized the situation in a 1996 interview, ”The role of the U.S. military presence there is to make sure the Saudis can defend themselves in a pinch, but still be reliant on us for real defense. [Saudi Arabia] is a strategic position we don’t want to withdraw from.” The officer also said that, despite public pronouncements, many Saudi elites privately flout Islamic rules against indulging in Western vices such as alcohol and Baywatch.

To bin Ladin this amounts to a sellout and blasphemy by the Saudi upper crust. That same ruling class, in one of the many ironies of bin Laden’s life, have indirectly financed his terrorist operations. The 17th of 52 children sired by Saudi Arabia’s wealthiest construction magnate, Osama controls $250 million of the $5 billion Bin Laden family kitty — money made largely by building homes, offices, and mosques for the House of Saud. But since the age of 16, when he became involved with radical religious groups, bin Laden has been less interested in making money than using it in defense of his concept of Islam.

Truly radicalized by the Soviet Union’s 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, bin Ladin, then 22, became one of the early founders and financiers of what became the Mujahadeen, the Afghan rebellion. Not only did he build safe houses, roads, and tunnel complexes for these insurgents, but he bankrolled training camps and arms purchases. And he did it all alongside another group pursuing its own jihad against the Soviets — the Central Intelligence Agency, which is now charged with tracking him down.

Not content to merely be an underwriter of the resistance, bin Ladin also fought in some particularly fierce battles, including the siege of Jalabad, which marked the end for the Soviets in Afghanistan. This was, for bin Ladin, a defining and empowering moment, which cements his faith to this day. As he told CNN, it destroyed ”the myth” of the invincible superpower.

Having helped vanquish the Soviet colossus, he returned home a celebrated hero and leader of the opposition movement to the House of Saud, charging the regime with moral turpitude. But when the Saudis allowed U.S. troops to deploy in the land of the Two Most Holy Places — Mecca and Medina — bin Ladin abandoned Saudi Arabia for a more like-minded country: Sudan, where the radical National Islamic Front (NIF) had taken control in 1989.

Even before he moved to Sudan, bin Ladin was already backing the NIF. In 1990, he arranged for hundreds of Mujahadeen veterans to travel to Sudan in order to fight alongside the NIF against non-Muslim guerrillas. According to an ex-Sudanese intelligence agent who knew bin Laden, hundreds more came over in the next few years. Many became instructors at training camps he financed. During his five years in Sudan, bin Ladin’s camps trained hundreds of recruits from places like Algeria, Bosnia, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Somalia. The course of instruction, says the ex-agent, focused on three major areas. One was the fabrication of travel documents. The second was low-tech covert communications — from basic encryption to use of invisible ink. In light of recent events, however, it is the third area that may be most interesting: the use of small arms and explosives.

According to the ex-agent, bin Ladin dropped $15 million on one shipment of Chinese and Iranian arms — as well as explosives from Czechoslovakia, most likely Semtex. While several terrorist outfits have access to the plastic explosive, which is believed to have been used in the embassy bombings, bin Ladin was much more likely to use it because of his multinational intelligence network. According to the ex-agent, while in Sudan, bin Ladin set up an ”advisory council” of at least 43 separate Islamist groups. Many of them are active worldwide, and bin Ladin admitted on CNN that he has sent Islamist combatants to places as far-flung as Bosnia and Tajikistan.

During his years in Sudan, the government came under increased international criticism and pressure. By 1996 the U.S. was indirectly backing anti-Muslim rebels in the southern and eastern parts of the country. The Clinton administration also pressured Sudan to expel bin Ladin. But instead of couching its criticism of Sudan in terms of its human rights record, which is reviled the world over, the U.S.’s approach reinforced bin Ladin’s view that it was gunning for Islam.

At about the same time the Saudi government started to bring its financial and political power to bear on the Sudanese NIF to at least rein bin Laden in, if not expel him. ”When they insisted initially that I should keep my mouth shut, I decided to look for a land in which I can breathe a pure, free air to perform my duty in enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong,” bin Laden told CNN last year. His destination: his old stomping grounds in Afghanistan, now controlled by the ultra-conservative Taliban. He remains holed-up there to this day, still directing various Islamist military activities.

In interviews with both Arabic-and English-speaking journalists, bin Laden has often cited the U.S. approach to Sudan as an example of the assault on global Islam — a situation, he says, that justifies his sending followers to fight in such far-flung places as Chechnya, Bosnia, and Somalia. He also frequently condemns the U.S.-led sanctions against Iraq, as well as U.S. support of Israel. ”His main focus is Saudi Arabia, but he doesn’t have enough Saudis or Afghans to accomplish what he wants,” says Armstrong. ”He wants to see Islamist states left alone to be Islamist states. And within the Islamist world, he’s willing to join in any coalitions to get critical mass.”

The extent of his involvement, however, varies, and just how active a role he takes in certain actions isn’t entirely clear. In the case of a 1995 Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, bombing — in which five American servicemen were killed — a federal grand jury in Manhattan continues to probe his suspected role. And he was never indicted in the World Trade Center bombing, though several current and former intelligence officials indicate they strongly suspect he had some connection. One of the convicted bombers, for instance, fled to Pakistan after the incident, where he hid out in a house for Islamist radicals that bin Laden had funded. Additionally, bin Ladin and Wali Khan, a convicted conspirator on another bombing, are ”good friends” according to bin Ladin, who fought alongside Khan in Afghanistan.

As far as other actions are concerned, ”Someone might suggest something and bin Ladin might say, ‘yeah,”’ says a former CIA Middle East analyst. ”A lot of these [terrorist acts] are cooked up ad hoc. And while I believe some of bin Laden’s communications have been intercepted, part of what makes him so dangerous is that he’s so low-tech and his people are so scattered. Communications for the planning of this were probably innocuous channels–letters, innocuous-sounding phone calls from relatives’ houses.”

The apparent confession in the embassy bombings appears to have clarified things considerably, however. According to Monday’s Washington Post, Mohammed Sadiq Howaida — picked up for using a phony passport on a flight in from Kenya — has not only confessed to a role in the bombing, but has told authorities he was acting for bin Ladin. Larry Barcella, an ex-assistant U.S. attorney who specialized in terrorist cases, predicts relatively quick indictments for bin Ladin and his associates.

There is, however, the issue of apprehending bin Laden, whose remote location in Taliban territory does not lend itself to easy warrant service. In the meantime, national security expert Armstrong offers a suggestion: ”The CIA might do better to figure out what the U.S. could do to support our friends without making regimes so ostentatiously corrupt that they end up giving credence to bin Ladin.”

A New Game: The Clinton Administration on Africa

The Clinton administration has focused American attention on sub-Saharan Africa like no other administration before it. Last December, Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright visited Africa. This spring, President Bill Clinton went there as well. Besides being the longest overseas trip of his presidency, it was the most extensive visit to black Africa of any sitting U.S. president. Many private groups are also now paying unprecedented attention to Africa. A new day in U.S.-Africa relations may have already dawned.

The administration’s strategic objectives are clear, according to one White House advisor, who, like most officials who granted interviews here, asked not to be identified by name: “How can we bring Africa into both the global economy and the global political structure as an effective player?” The advisor adds, “Nobody ever asked that before.” [1]

Until this decade, Africa was seen through a Cold War lens. Many African states that once received substantial U.S. aid, such as Zaire, Somalia, Sudan, and Liberia, have since imploded. Each has generated crises to which the United States in one way or another has been compelled to respond.

Tactically, however, the Clinton administration could not be more divided. At the heart of the debate on Africa is a dilemma that, though reminiscent of the Cold War, transcends it. How can the United States protect its national interests and preserve its principles at the same time? Today, the definition of what it means to be democratic involves more than simply being anticommunist; human rights — entirely absent from Africa policy considerations during most of the Cold War — are now integral to the discussion. Moreover, it seems to be no easy matter to define the national interest with respect to Africa.

The discussion over Africa is unprecedented. Concepts like left and right no longer apply. Many former “liberal” allies now oppose each other over how to best advance democracy and economic growth. The Congressional Black Caucus is similarly split, while, in Africa itself, former Marxists and free-marketeers are finding common ground. Back home, some groups enjoy extraordinary influence. They include several newly formed African American-led organizations, such as the National Summit on Africa and the Constituency for Africa, that seek to build bridges between the two continents, even though their own board members fundamentally disagree among themselves over such basic issues as trade legislation. They also include more established humanitarian groups, which, though they too have the ear of the White House, now disagree with each other over the best way to promote human rights in Africa.

The American business community, on the other hand, is united in its view that market capitalism is the key to solving Africa’s problems. As more African countries embrace market principles, U.S. investors see Africa as a promising frontier, one where returns on investments have so far averaged, as President Clinton noted on his trip, an impressive 35 percent. “It’s true,” says David H. Miller, Executive Director of the Corporate Council on Africa. “It’s high risk, but with high return.”

While some human rights groups lobby for unilateral sanctions against the military dictatorship in Nigeria, for example, companies like Mobil firmly oppose them. “Sanctions are just killing us,” says Miller, referring to the unilateral U.S. sanctions recently imposed on Sudan. “Do they achieve our political goals?” He thinks not.

Complicating the scene, different groups have focused their efforts on different regions. American businesses are looking to maintain their trade relations with Nigeria and Sudan, while U.S. human rights groups have homed in recently on the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo. Governments “are the most malleable when they are the most needy,” explains Holly J. Burkhalter of Physicians for Human Rights: “We’ve got to work where we can make a difference.” She adds that there have been more killings recently in the Congo than in Nigeria. Of course, the backdrop to violence in Congo and elsewhere in Central Africa remains Rwanda’s 1994 genocide — a seminal event that has the entire international community still wringing its hands.

All these groups lobby Susan E. Rice, 33, the Clinton administration’s new assistant secretary of state for Africa. Before moving to Foggy Bottom, Rice oversaw the administration’s Africa policy from the National Security Council (NSC). At her going away party last fall, one of the NSC’s deputy national security advisers, Nancy Soderberg, 40, gave Rice an unexpected gift. It was a Zulu shield and spear. The joke? Rice might need them to fend off resentful career foreign service officers at her new job.

Rice, following a series of internecine battles, some of which she has won, is now the main architect of U.S. policy toward sub-Saharan Africa. By all accounts, she is one of the most capable people in Washington, though she faces a rocky slope. “We have economic interests. But we also have to stand for something,” she says about Africa.

Her most serious challenges at the moment are Congo, Nigeria, and Sudan. The latter is led by a military-backed Islamist regime that has sponsored terrorism against many of its neighbors. Nigeria is led by a military regime that, in addition to being endemically corrupt, has viciously repressed its own people. And Congo is led by a former guerrilla leader who, besides imprisoning political opponents, journalists, and others, is implicated (along with Rwanda’s leadership) in the massacre of thousands of civilians.

Divided Counsel

At issue is whether to engage these regimes in the hope of moving them toward moderation, or to try to isolate them to achieve the same goal. Here Rice and others, including some administration officials, are at odds. Thomas R. Pickering, 67, the State Department’s new under secretary for political affairs and one of the most seasoned and respected diplomats at Foggy Bottom, has pushed for more interaction between Washington and Khartoum. Rice, instead, is ratcheting up pressure on the regime in Sudan. Jesse L. Jackson, 56, President Clinton’s new special envoy for the promotion of democracy in Africa, favors greater engagement with Nigeria. Rice, on the other hand, leans toward isolating the regime in Lagos. The debate within the administration over Congo is far less divisive, as Rice and most other U.S. officials wish to stay engaged. But outside the U.S. government, human rights groups are demanding punitive measures against the Kabila regime.

Of course, the outcome of the Africa policy dialogue will be settled at least as much in Africa as in the United States. Much of the Clinton administration’s new approach toward the continent hinges upon progress being made by Afticans themselves. Rice is optimistic about a new generation of independent, nationalist-minded leaders, like Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, and Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, who have recently come of age.[2] Other U.S. officials, however, are far less sanguine. “We’ve seen people like them before. There’s nothing new about them,” says one old Africa hand at Foggy Bottom. “What is new is that neither we nor the Soviets put them there.” Indeed it is a brand new game.

A New, Post-Cold War Plan?

Rice, too, is new to the table. She is one of the most controversial people to reach the upper floors of the State Department in a while, though some of the criticism voiced about her privately says more about the institution and its culture than it does about Rice. “Why would I expect a 33-year-old black woman to know how to run a large bureaucracy,” asks one veteran diplomat. Female career foreign service officers of all ages, however, greatly admire the new assistant secretary. “She is prepared to take risks,” says one woman, her senior, who also holds a management position. “And, 80 to 90 percent of the people around the conference table are still white males.”

Rice is nothing like her predecessor, George E. Moose, 54. He is a career diplomat who, prior to taking over the Africa Bureau in 1993, was the diplomat-in-residence at Howard University. “George is from the old school,” says one of his peers. His approach to Africa was a holdover from the Cold War. After the Somalia debacle, which resulted in the deaths of U.S. marines and the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region, his main objective was to keep Africa off the Clinton administration’s radar screen. During his tenure at the Africa Bureau, Moose traveled often to Europe, following a pattern that predated even the Cold War: U.S. Africa policy has long been coordinated as much with Western allies as with African leaders. And he much preferred brokering a consensus at the conference table to leading a discussion of the issues.

Not Rice. “It’s great to have strong intellectual leadership in an approach on Africa,” says one female colleague. Rice, a Stanford University alumna, is a former Rhodes Scholar with a Ph.D. from Oxford University. Within the U.S. diplomatic corps, she is the youngest African-American woman ever to rise so high. She is also a brazen political appointee with no patience for bureaucratic sloth. One colleague describes her as “aggressively youthful.” Rice toils daily in what she described in Essence magazine as “an overwhelmingly white-male environment.” Though she has already made enemies at most of the U.S. foreign policy agencies, even her most bitter critics concede that she is “whip-smart.”

Some complain that Rice often makes unrealistic demands upon her staff. “Sometimes we can’t run,” says one mid-level manager. “We have to walk to figure out how to get things done.” Rice herself concedes that she can be impatient. But, she adds, “I’m a straight shooter, and I expect people to be straight with me back.” Even one self-described “old white male” admits that Rice will listen to anyone and consider his or her position. In fact, her tendency “to think out-side the box” is what some career bureaucrats find threatening.

When Rice encounters resistance, she is also prone to bypass the formal chain of command. Though she technically reports to Pickering, Rice has the ear of Secretary of State Albright, who has been a close family friend since Rice was a little girl. Notes one veteran diplomat, “I’ve not seen an assistant secretary with this kind of juice.”

During the first Clinton administration, no one seemed sure what concrete interests the United States still had in Africa. Rice, however, working first from the White House in coordination with National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and then from Foggy Bottom, has identified three interests. The first is that Africa has immediate potential for U.S. investment and perhaps over the long term will become a serious market for U.S. goods. The second is that Africa is rife with transnational threats, namely terrorism, drug trafficking, and other forms of organized crime, that warrant prophylactic U.S. measures. And third, considering the frequency with which the United States has had to respond to recent humanitarian disasters, preemptive steps make sense.

Africa presented the Clinton administration with its first overseas crisis, when, in October 1993, American television viewers witnessed the spectacle of U.S. marines being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Though the intervention in Somalia had been undertaken by the Bush administration, President-elect Clinton, among many others, supported it at the time. But the unexpected loss of American lives paralyzed the new administration. The televised scenes of bloody mayhem also reinforced American stereotypes about Africa’s “age-old tribal wars.” Later on, the writer Robert Kaplan gave intellectual credence to this theme in his article, “The Coming Anarchy,” which appeared in the February 1994 issue of Atlantic magazine.

The United States was disengaged from and apparently uninterested in Africa when, beginning in April 1994, genocide spread in Rwanda like fire in a greasy pan. Though it seemed to come from nowhere, it did not. Tutsi monarchs had dominated Rwanda for centuries until 1959, when, during the transition to independence, Hutu extremists seized power. Exiled Tutsis, after organizing for decades in neighboring Uganda, invaded Rwanda as a guerrilla force in 1990. A power-sharing agreement eventually produced a cease-fire between the Tutsi rebels and the Hutu government, which ended when the 1994 genocide began.

Historians and others still argue over whether the slaughter was ethnically or politically motivated. But none doubt that it was led by Hutu extremists who murdered at least 500,000 Tutsis, along with roughly 50,000 Hutu moderates.[3] The genocide was carried out with unprecedented speed — with machetes as well as automatic rifles, hand grenades, and other small arms — in just 89 days. In Rwanda, a country the size of Maryland with a population of 8 million, over 6,000 victims perished, on average, each day. [4]

At the time, Rice was director of international organizations and peacekeeping at the National Security Council. She wasn’t used to feeling impotent, and the anguish she felt during the genocide remains. “I will do everything in my power as a policymaker to make sure not to have to ever see that again, she recently told the Washington Post. “I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but I’ll go down fighting.” [5]

“The Initiative”

In the months after the genocide, Rice still refused to see Africa as hopeless. Instead, she decided to help Africans help themselves. By then, a limited, regional U.S. policy based on just such a perspective was already being implemented. The irony is that it had originated not with Rice or any other senior policymakers in Washington but with veteran Agency for International Development (AID) specialists like Gayle Smith, 41, working on the African Horn. Known as the Greater Horn of Africa Initiative, it grew out of the wreckage of Somalia. By 1994, AID administrator J. Brian Atwood was its leading advocate in Washington.

The initiative was revolutionary in concept. Instead of merely reacting to crises, the idea was to take concrete, preemptive measures, to work with local governments throughout the region to promote “food security” and “conflict resolution.” Providing food security means setting up the political, legal, and physical infrastructure to ensure safe and reliable delivery of relief supplies. Conflict resolution entails something more ambiguous. It involves promoting dialogue between hostile states and between warring factions, and working closely with like-minded African leaders who are also interested in trying to create a stable environment.

In 1991, two allied nationalist guerrilla groups took over Ethiopia, ending years of civil war; this led, two years later, to the peaceful breakup of the country and the establishment of Eritrea as an independent nation. This gave impetus to the initiative, which is based on the idea of partnership instead of paternalism. Explains Carol Peasiev, AID’s acting assistant administrator for Africa, “We don’t want hegemony. We want harmony.” What this means in practice is that although UD is financing grass-roots empowerment groups in countries like Kenya, in Eritrea it is deferring to the wishes of the leadership not to back groups independent of government control. “We don’t see a need for [this policy] in Eritrea,” she says.

AID is now applying the same principles to other African states, including Uganda, Rwanda, and Congo, which also have new (relatively so in Uganda’s case) leaders. Critics charge that this approach only undermines pluralism and democratic development, but its defenders argue that positive political change can only take root over time. “You need to look at the evolution of democracy in terms of a movie, not still photographs,” says ex-national security advisor Lake, who is now a professor at Georgetown Universlty, “or, in other words, in dynamic and not static terms.”

Rice, who worked closely under Lake at the White House, shares this view. She also supports the Greater Horn of Africa Initiative. In fact, back in 1994 in response to the Rwandan genocide, Rice even built upon its concepts in developing another plan: the African Crisis Response Initiative. The idea, again, was to develop a regional capability to head off future hostilities. The objective, according to Vincent D. Kern II, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, is to help African countries develop a joint “military capability that would be able to rapidly assemble and deploy in order to prevent another descent into anarchy and the needless loss of life.” [6]

Critics, both inside and outside the Clinton administration, charge that neither initiative has made much progress so far. Rice concedes that both plans still have a long way to go. Nonetheless, they represent the aspirations of a new, post-Cold War vision.

To Engage or Pressure Khartoum?

New thinking, however, will not necessarily resolve new dilemmas. Whether to engage or to pressure the regime in Sudan is one. Sudan presented Rice with her first major bureaucratic test, even before she moved from the National Security Council to the State Department. She and a few other political appointees have been pitted against what sometimes seems like everyone else at Foggy Bottom. “Few people anywhere in this building share their approach,” says one career diplomat. Another official describes the wrangling, which began even before Rice came to Foggy Bottom, as a rare contest of “sheer power.”

One of Rice’s main allies is John Prendergast, 35, a Sudan expert at the NSC who has spent extensive time on the ground there behind rebel lines.[7] Both appointees have many Washington critics. “Susan and John are not diplomats,” says one official. “It is good when political appointees challenge conventional wisdom. It is nice, however, when they are informed by institutional expertise.”

At issue is not the nature of Sudan’s Islamist regime, which even Rice’s critics concede has sponsored terrorism. The debate has been over whether to try to cripple the regime by backing front-line states (which are arming Sudanese rebels) as Rice and Prendergast are doing, or to seek to moderate it through diplomacy, as Under Secretary Pickering and others would have preferred.

These others at one time included Barbara K. Bodine, 50, the State Department’s former director of East African affairs, April Glaspie, 56, her successor at the same post (better known for her controversial role as U.S. ambassador to Iraq in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait), and Timothy Carney, 50, the former U.S. ambassador to Sudan. All are career diplomats. Like Pickering, they maintained that the threat posed by Sudan’s regime is greatly exaggerated. They also maintained that the regime could be neither effectively undermined nor overthrown, so they encouraged Sudanese opposition groups to try to negotiate a settlement to the country’s 15-year civil war. Pickering and his allies also actively searched for moderates within the Sudanese regime with whom they hoped to build relations.

The rival camps fought a decisive battle last September. Though the United States has maintained relations with the regime in Sudan, in February 1996 the administration closed the embassy in Khartoum for security reasons and moved its staff to Nairobi. The security problems have since abated, but Rice’s camp has nonetheless sought to keep the embassy shut in order to send a strong message of disapproval. Last September, while Rice was on maternity leave, Pickering and his allies made a move. Without White House authorization, Pickering told journalists — through an intermediary — that the administration would soon partly reopen the embassy in Khartoum. “It was an interesting squeeze play,” says one official sympathetic to Pickering. Within a week, however, Prendergast mustered the clout to get the announcement overruled. “Albright called Pickering and told him to call the reporters back,” says another senior official. “He was left with egg all over his face.”

In view of this skirmish, it is ironic that the impetus for a more hard-line approach toward Sudan came from neither Rice nor her allies but from Africans, in particular from Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki and the leaders of Sudan’s other front-line states. For years, Sudan’s Islamist regime has supported such rebel groups as Eritrea’s Islamic jihad, whose weapons of choice are anti-tank mines, with which they have blown up several packed civilian buses. Similarly, Sudan has backed the fanatical Christian Lord’s Resistance Army, which conducts a campaign of terror in northern Uganda against civilians and regularly press-gangs adolescent children. Sudan has also backed rebel groups in Ethiopia, and was behind the 1995 attempt on the life of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak during his visit to Addis Ababa.[8]

The National Islamic Front, led by Gen. Omar Bashir, seized power in Sudan in 1989. Even though only 70 percent of Sudan’s population is (Sunni) Muslim, and although the Muslims are concentrated mainly in the northern part of the country, the regime imposed Sharia (Muslim law) nationwide. Its closest foreign allies are those erstwhile adversaries, Iran and Iraq. Politically isolated in Africa, the Bashir regime has sought to expand the reach of Islamist forces in the region between the Sahara and the Horn. It has also allowed such groups as Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front and the Palestinian-based Hamas, as well as Islamist veterans of the war in Afghanistan, to train on its soil.

The United States added Sudan to its list of nations that support terrorism in 1993, making the country ineligible for any U.S. aid. In 1996, the U.N. Security Council imposed travel restrictions against Sudanese diplomats over Sudan’s failure to extradite suspects wanted for the attempt on President Mubarak’s life. Last year, the Clinton administration promised the front-line states of Uganda, Ethiopia, and Eritrea $20 million in nonlethal military aid, including uniforms and communications equipment — the largest U.S. military aid package to Africa since the Cold War. Last October, the Clinton administration expanded economic sanctions against Sudan during peace negotiations between the regime and opposition groups. Predictably, the talks failed.

Now the Clinton administration is upping the pressure on Khartoum. In April, it sent an interagency team to Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda to explore more “humanitarian, development, political, diplomatic, military and intelligence options” against Sudan, says one high-level participant. Though administration officials say they do not expect Sudanese opposition forces to defeat the government by means of force alone, they hope that, with sufficient external support, the opposition could cripple the regime enough to force it either to change or fall.

Is Nigeria’s Abacha Acceptable?

Nigeria is another source of intra-administration tension. As President Clinton adrnitted during his recent trip to Africa: “We’ve had some fairly heated debate [over Nigeria] among ourselves.” At issue is how to deal with Gen. Sani Abacha, who seized power in 1993. Now, after harassing, imprisoning, and executing members of the opposition, Abacha has scheduled elections for August 1, with himself running for president unopposed.

In March, shortly before President Clinton left Washington for Africa, Assistant Secretary Rice, in a speech at the Brookings Institution, stated what she thought was the administration’s policy. “Let me state clearly and unequivocally that an electoral victory by any military candidate in the forthcoming presidential election in Nigeria would be unacceptable,” she said. “Nigerians need and deserve a real transition to democracy and civilian rule, not another military regime dressed up in civilian clothes.” Rice also called Abacha’s regime “one of the worst abusers of human rights on the continent,” saying that it would be a “source of grave concern” if he did not hand over power to civilian rule.

However, at a joint news conference in Cape Town with South African president Nelson Mandela, President Clinton said something entirely different: “If [Abacha] stands for election, we hope he will stand as a civilian.” Administration officials, including Joseph Wilson, 49, the senior national security advisor for Africa, later tried to “spin” the controversy, suggesting that the two statements meant the same thing. But the fact is that Clinton gave Abacha “the green light to run as a civilian,” conceded a State Department official. This time Rice had egg on her face.

Who got to Clinton? Many people, it seems. One may have been Gilbert Chagouty, a Lebanese national whose family has lived in Nigeria for decades. Chagoury has extensive business interests in Nigeria and is close to General Abacha. He also has White House connections. According to The Washington Post, he was among 250 top Democratic National Committee donors who attended a dinner with President Clinton in 1996. Though as a foreigner he is prohibited by law from donating money directly to the Democratic Party, Chagoury, a few months before the dinner, had donated $460,000 to Vote Now 96, a nonprofit voter registration group that has come under scrutiny from Congressional investigators over its alleged connections to the Democratic Party.[9]

Of course, a host of other individuals and companies with market interests in Nigeria have also long lobbied the administration not to impose sanctions. One of their chief advocates is Jesse Jackson, who, though he has no government office and still works out of the private organization he founded, the National Rainbow Coalition, serves President Clinton as a special envoy. One White House aide who went along on Clinton’s trip to Africa says that Rice and Jackson exchanged heated words on Air Force One and elsewhere. Rice denies it. (Jackson did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.) Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, who were also on board, entered into the discussion. One participant says the talks were “vibrant.”

Indeed, principles and interests clash in Nigeria. The country is second only to South Africa in sub-Saharan Africa as a site of U.S. direct foreign investment, with $978 million flowing into Nigeria last year. U.S. exports to Nigeria in 1997 totaled $814 million — again more than to any other country in sub-Saharan Africa except South Africa. And Nigeria surpasses all African countries as a source of U.S. imports. Last year, it exported oil, gas, and other commodities worth $6.3 billion to the United States.[10] It is the fifth largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States, even though overall it has only about 4.1 percent of the total U.S. market. (Mobil and Chevron are the main U.S. buyers.)

At the same time, Nigeria is among Africa’s most retrograde countries. The private group, Transparency International, lists it as Africa’s most corrupt nation. Its infrastructure has collapsed, and criminal syndicates are flourishing. The Abacha regime has neglected such basic needs as clean drinking water and electricity. Moreover, the regime has been linked to thousands of fraudulent scams that have targeted small businesses in the United States, and the country has become a major transshipment point for heroin and other illegal drugs that end up in Europe and the United States.

Abacha’s human rights record is deplorable. He has killed hundreds of political opponents and imprisoned thousands more, including many members of other ethnic groups. In 1995, he ordered the execution by hanging of eight activists of the Ogoni people in southeastern Nigeria, including Ken Saro-Wiwa, the award-winning writer, who had accused the government and oil companies together of destroying their homeland. More recently, Abacha has even attacked former allies. In April 1998, a military court sentenced six ex-military officers, including Abacha’s former right-hand man, Gen. Oladipyo Diya, to death by firing squad for allegedly plotting a coup.

“He is making a time bomb,” says Adotei Akwei of Amnesty International, who complains that Rice and other U.S. officials haven’t pressured Abacha enough. “It is almost as if they perceive of Nigeria as too big a challenge,” he adds. “And they may have already undercut themselves.”

Indeed, the young assistant secretary may have painted herself into a corner. Abacha, shortly after President Clinton’s trip, manipulated Nigeria’s electoral process to ensure that all five of its legally registered parties would nominate him as their sole candidate for president. Now no one can legitimately argue that the process is fair. That leaves Rice with no easy step. Human rights groups have long pressed the administration to impose an embargo against Nigerian oil exports. Though a unilateral embargo might provide leverage in the short term, over time Nigeria would likely find new buyers elsewhere. “That would only hurt us,” says the Corporate Council on Africa’s David Miller.

Another option would be to try to forge a multilateral oil embargo. While divisions within the European Community would likely prohibit this, an embargo involving the United States and the British-led Commonwealth nations seems more feasible, especially with the new Labour government in London. Some Clinton administration officials have considered this step. But few people inside or outside the administration are convinced (or worried) that they will follow through. Following the news that Abacha would be Nigeria’s only presidential candidate, Peter Bartlett, senior vice president at the Banque Nationale de Paris in London, told Reuters: “It doesn’t look like it’s good news for democracy, but I don’t think it will have much effect on the Nigerian market.”

Stopping Central Africa’s Cycle of Violence

The Clinton administration is far less divided over Congo. Most officials have sought to remain engaged with its new leader, Laurent Kabila, much to the dismay of some private human rights organizations, which seek to ostracize him for his continuing abuses. Other groups that might be expected to voice an opinion in the matter have had little to say. The State Department’s Human Rights Bureau, though it affects policy indirectly through its annual country reports, has had little influence on the discussion. (It rarely does in general.) Similarly, U.S. business groups have avoided this quarrel. Though the United States imported $282 million worth of oil, minerals, and other goods from Congo last year, American firms have few direct foreign investments in the country.

Foreign observers everywhere are watching to see how the situation in Congo develops. The revolt that erupted in November 1996 in what was then called Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) caught everyone off guard. The strength of the rebellion and the speed — seven months — with which it led to power took virtually all observers, including the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, by surprise. “We were caught with our pants down,” says one high-ranking State Department official. A Defense Department official says that prior to the revolt the CIA had only reported that “some trouble was brewing” in eastern Zaire and that “something was likely to happen” — no more than what was already being reported by humanitarian groups at the time.[11]

U.S. officials, contrary to claims by France and others, were also initially unaware of the depth of direct military involvement by Rwanda, Uganda, Eritrea, and other states in providing joint training arms, and funds for the effort. Though Rwanda’s leader, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, had previously intimated to U.S. officials that he and others might launch a preemptive strike against Hutu genocidaires then holding other Hutu refugees hostage in eastern Zaire, few took him seriously at the time. “We under-estimated them,” says one old Africa hand. Independent military action on that scale by Africans is a phenomenon that has emerged only since the Cold War, even though the nationalism that has accompanied it may seem familiar.

A Thug for Decades

Laurent Kabila has wrapped himself in his flag, and presents himself as one of Africa’s promising new leaders. In fact, he’s been a thug for decades. Though he’s been involved in leftist guerrilla movements since the early 1960s, he never attracted any significant following. “Kabila has not set foot since time immemorial at the front,” wrote the Cuban Revolutionary, Che Guevara, in his Zaire diaries in 1965. “He allows the day to go by without worrying about anything other than political infighting and is too addicted to drink and women.”[12] Congo’s new leader has also been involved in ivory, diamond, and gold smuggling.

Few people had even heard of Kabila before the 1996 rebellion. Among those who had, including Foggy Bottom’s old Africa hands, many questioned both his capability and his motives. Other officials, including Rice, saw him as one of Africa’s promising new leaders. So did the secretary of state. During her December 1997 trip to Africa, Albright held a joint press conference with him in Kinshasa. But Kabila embarrassed her by railing against a local journalist who dared to ask about an imprisoned opposition leader.

It was only one warning post on a treacherous road. The initial optimism that accompanied the fall of Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire’s longtime despot, whose reign gave rise to the term “predatory regime,” has since given way to melancholy and fear. Kabila has banned independent human rights groups, imprisoned Journalists, sent political opponents into internal exile, and executed others, including military officers suspected of mutiny. Voices from all quarters say that the Kabila regime is corrupt. Even his former allies in Rwanda, Uganda, and Eritrea have begun asking whether they should have recruited another Zairian to lead the operations in eastern Zaire.

Their collective objective in organizing rebel forces in this area was to rid it of the genocidaires who had regrouped there after carrying out Rwanda’s 1994 slaughter. In the beginning, few thought that the effort might eventually propel the Zairian rebel forces to national power. But from the start, Rwanda played a major role in directing the rebels and participated in the carnage that followed. Though the actual number of casualties is unknown, thousands were massacred in the months leading up to August 1997. Though Congolese and Rwandan officials have both claimed that most of those who perished were armed genocidaires who died fighting, witnesses and other evidence clearly suggest that among the dead were thousands of unarmed civilians, including women and children. And Kabila’s forces as well as Rwandan military officers are implicated in these attacks.[13]

Nevertheless, the Clinton administration is providing economic and military aid, including U.S. Army Special Forces trainers, to the Rwandan government and economic aid to Congo. Rice argues that this support is essential to ensure stability in the long term. Alison DesForges of Human Rights Watch is among those who oppose it. “Kabila was established [in power] at the enormous cost of noncombatant lives,” she says. Holly Burkhalter of Physicians for Human Rights agrees, “If you give them aid now, then you squander your leverage.”

Not everyone in the humanitarian community has been against providing him with aid. An unprecedented split between human rights groups and development organizations has emerged. “We care about human rights,” says Justin Forsyth of Oxfam International. “But we think you need to engage Kabila [and others] first in order to gain leverage.” He points out that the entire international community lost credibility in the region for its collective failure in 1994 to help stop Rwanda’s genocide. Afterward, many of the same groups — including his own, he adds — were responsible for supporting refugee camps that harbored genocidaires.

Rice maintains that the genocidaires still represent a serious threat. They are once again active inside Rwanda, where they have been carrying out attacks, including against civilian witnesses to the genocide. Genocidaires murdered 231 people the day before Secretary Albright and Assistant Secretary Rice arrived in Kigali last December. Rice was so outraged by the attack that she asked the Defense Department to consider ways, besides providing training, to help Rwanda fight back. Pentagon officials say Rice was even considering U.S. military intervention; Rice denies it. She remains determined, however, to back the government in Kigali against the genocidaires. Their ongoing attacks are “something about which we all need to be concerned,” she says.

At the same time, Rwanda and Congo are each still committing their own abuses. This April, Rwanda executed 22 alleged genocidaires by firing squad after hurried trials in which some of the accused had only hours to prepare a defense. That same month U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan finally withdrew a U.N. team from Congo that had been sent to investigate the 1997 killings in the eastern part of the country. After agreeing last year to allow the team to operate, Kabila had harassed investigators and intimidated witnesses, and the investigation went nowhere.

How to Stay in the Game?

Whether Assistant Secretary Rice succeeds in setting lasting parameters for U.S. Africa policy will depend upon effective action by players on both sides of the Atlantic. She brings vitality to the job at a time when Africa is undergoing dynamic change. Her active approach to problems resembles that of Africa’s new generation of leaders. But Rice is also young enough to make mistakes. “I’m not sure she knows when to compromise,” says one fan who is also a friend.

Having overcome her rivals, Rice now plays the administration’s Africa hand. Of course, says one official, if she plays the wrong cards, “we are going to wind up dealing ourselves out of the game.”


1. All quotations are from interviews conducted by the author in April and May 1998. Back
2. I am relatively sympathetic toward these leaders. See Dan Connell and Frank Smyth, “Africa’s New Bloc,” Foreign Affairs 77 (March/April 1998), pp. 80-94. Back
3. The historian Alison DesForges of Human Rights Watch/Africa uses these figures. The histo- rian Gerard Prunier and the New Yorker writer Philip Gourevitch use the figure of 800,000 killed. See Gerard Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide, 2d ed. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1997), and Philip Gourevitch, “The Genocide Fax,” New Yorker, May 11, 1998. Back
4. Frank Smyth, Arming Rwanda (New York: Human Rights Watch/Arms Project, January 1994). Back
5. Lonnae O’Neal Parker, “She’s on Top of the World,” Washington Post, March 30,1998. Back
6. Testimony before the House Subcommittee on Africa of the Committee on International Relations, October 1, 1997. Back
7. See John Prendergast, The Outcryfor Peace in the Sudan (Washington, D.C.: Centre for the Strategic Initiatives of Women, October 1996). Back
8. See Ted Dagne and Donald Deng, Sudan: Civil War, Terrorism, and U.S. Relations (Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, April 3, 1997). Back
9. Charles R. Babcock and Susan Schmidt, “Voters Group Donor Got DNC Perk,” Washington Post, November 22, 1997. Back
10. G. Feldman, U.S.-African Trade Profile (Washington, D.C.: Office of Africa, International Trade Administration, U. S. Department of Commerce, March 1998). Back
11. See Sheldon Yett, Masisi, Down the Road from Goma: Ethnic Cleansing and Displacement in Eastern Zaire (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Committee for Refugees, June 1996). Back
12. Jorge G. Castaneda, “How Che Saw Kabila,” Newsweek, April 21, 1997. Back
13. Scott Campbell, What Kabila Is Hiding (New York: Human Rights Watch/Africa, October 1997). “