UQ Wire: The Secret World Of 9.11
The Secret World Of 9.11
Terrorists, Arms Dealers, & Ghosts in Malawi
“There’s a secret world all around us,” a legendary CIA agent tells a young recruit in “Overworld,” L.J.. Kolb’s eye-opening account of growing up as the son of an American spy. “You just don’t see it unless you know where to look.”
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Crucial details in the biography of "Professor” Abdussattar Shaikh, the San Diego man called the "best chance to uncover the Sept. 11 plot before it happened” by the Joint Congressional 9.11 Intelligence Committee, are untrue, mis-leading, or false, a MadCowMorningNews investigation has discovered.
Like the senior Al-Qaeda operative just indicted for planning to blow up U.S. financial landmarks, alleged to have operated freely in this country using his student status "as cover to conceal the true purpose of his subsequent trips to the United States," the true identity of Shaikh, a key witness to the 9.11 conspiracy, is shielded from view by bogus claims of academic employment and status.
The practice of using Universities to provide cover for foreign nationals in the U.S.—either as terrorists or as U.S. intel assets, or both—appears to have been widespread; so widespread in San Diego, at least, that the San Diego FBI’s own confidential informants were engaged in it.
An image boost from a friendly media outlet
The man who had two hijackers living in his house in San Diego while operating at the same time as a confidential informant for the FBI was identified in wire reports as “a retired professor of English as San Diego State” as well as “vice president for international projects at American Commonwealth University.”
After visiting the various locations around San Diego where he was said to have worked, we discovered that Abdussattar Shaikh never taught at San Diego State, nor been a Professor of English, and possesses a phony PhD from a bogus diploma mill run by people with U.S. military and intelligence connections, and the University for which he was said to be a vice president for international projects does not, in fact, exist.
official explanation of who Abdussattar Shaikh is appears to
be a lie. And there's one more thing...
"Abdussattar Shaikh" is not his real name.
The Secret World of 9.11
In the gap between what happens and what gets reported lies the secret history. In sunny San Diego, we discovered, it was visible almost everywhere you looked.
Just as a handful of highly-suspect flight schools in Florida provided “cover” for Mohamed Atta and his terrorist cadre, a handful of bogus “Universities” in San Diego provided a cloak of legitimacy to a number of suspected terrorists.
The “University” for which Shaikh handled those mysterious “international projects,” American Commonwealth University, is one of a cluster of interlocking diploma mills which exist only as mail drops in San Diego.
At the time in question, American Commonwealth no longer even existed as that. It had been forced out of business by state regulators.
In its place at its old address in a non-descript office building alongside the 805 freeway in San Diego are a clutch of other faux citadels of learning, with names like Golden Gate University, Huron International University, and the American Institute of Hypnotherapy, all presumably carrying on the murky legacy of Amer-Comm U.
The scam schools, we learned, are run by an reoccurring cast of characters who might be dismissed as “scam artists,” except that some of them have what appear to be U.S. military and intelligence connections.
Shaikh’s supposed “employer,” American Commonwealth University, for example, began life as William Lyon University, named for and founded by retired Air Force General William Lyon, a big wheel in California Republican circles as Chairman of the GOP’s “Team California Victory 2004,” and a member of a group of wealthy, high-powered Orange County's Republicans called “The New Majority.”
One big question raised by the news: how many FBI informants who house terrorists under cover of working for non-existent Universities with U.S. military connections are still out there?
The San Diego Union Tribune Spins the Shaikh
Consider how Shaikh was presented to the American people in the media: The Associated Press labeled Shaikh “a retired San Diego State University English teacher.” Ditto The Los Angeles Times, which called him “a retired professor in suburban San Diego.”
Shaikh’s description as “prominent Muslim leader and former San Diego State University English professor” was based on initial reporting by the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“The retired San Diego State University English professor said he often invites students to live in his five-bedroom house for companionship and to learn other cultures and languages,” said the Sept 16,2001 San Diego Union Tribune.
It wasn’t true. They admitted the error in a correction.
“Muslim leader Abdussattar Shaikh was misidentified as a retired San Diego State University professor in a story Sunday. In fact, he is a retired educator who taught at Mesa and Miramar colleges and American Commonwealth University in San Diego. The Union-Tribune regrets the error.”
damage had been done, and in most subsequent stories Shaikh
was called a “San Diego Professor,” which was apparently all
that was necessary to deflect any closer scrutiny.
He was called “a trusted informant for the FBI." Newsweek dubbed him a tested undercover asset."
No U.S. media outlet has reported, until now, that Abdussattar Shaikh is not even his real name, as we learned from a profile on Indian-born Shaikh in his hometown Indian newspaper India-West, which reported on Oct 12, 2001 that Shaikh had changed his name from "Abdussattar Chhipa," a common Muslim name in India and Pakistan.
No word, however, on why.
"State-Sponsored Crime can be highly efficient."
We contacted the California Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education enquiring about Abdussattar Shaikh’s PhD. Deborah Godfrey asked us to hold while she checked, then came back and said there was nobody by that name in her records.
“There is no definitive source for records from that ‘school,’” she stated. “ The transcripts I have came from someone’s garage.”
At one time both ‘schools’ cited in Shaikh’s resume—American Commonwealth and United States International University—had been run by Dr. Richard Crews, an M.D. from Harvard, whose pedigree includes stints as Chief of Psychiatry at Womack military hospital and "Chief of Mental Hygiene Consultation Services” at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of America’s Special Forces.
Curiously for someone with this background, Crew’s life had somehow led him to the Presidency of two bogus Universities. But the clearly educationally-minded Dr. Crews wasn’t done by a long shot.
He’d also helmed Columbia Pacific University, the school that awarded Mars & Venus’s “Dr.” John Gray his doctorate in snake-oil. The bogus diploma mill was eventually shut down in the late ‘90’s by the state of California.
But not without a fight.
A sticky GOP wicket
“At one time there was no law in this field at all,” explained California’s Deborah Godfrey.
“When we first tried to take action against Columbia Pacific, it was all the way back in 1989,” she said. “We immediately encountered the wrath of Governor Pete Wilson. There was an vindictive atmosphere, full of reprisals.”
When Wilson finally appointed a task force to investigate the industry, it was packed with the owners of the bogus schools. In fact, Richard Crews was the chairman of the committee.
When we heard this we thought: this guy is pretty “connected.”
Then we found a story about Gov. Wilson’s having relied on special interest groups to pay the costs of routine and campaign travel. The biggest contributors were pretty predictable: California Winegrape Growers, the Independent Oil Producers, Merchants and Manufacturers Assn. of California… and there, listed with the big lobbyist, was William Lyon University of San Diego, which will one day after changing its name provide cover for Abdussattar Shaikh.
Why did clean-cut Pete Wilson go to bat for a bunch of diploma mills ten years ago? It could only be because of GOP big-wig Gen William Lyon.
Despite the bad publicity, the cluster of phony universities in San Diego soldiered on. They seemed like the hundreds of tiny “airlines” through which the CIA once concealed the biggest airline in the world, changing names almost faster than you can say "CIA front."
For example, Columbia Pacific, John Gray’s alma mater, has also been known as both “Columbia Commonwealth” and “Commonwealth Pacific.” It currently operates under a charter from the country of Malawi, which might conceivably lay claim to being an educational up-and-comer had not its President-for-Life just been in the news for allegedly refusing to move into his new $300 million palace because it was haunted by ghosts.
"Bribes replaced apples a long time ago."
For a “lone cadre slipping through Europe and America unnoticed,” as Hedrick Smith lied in the opening of PBS’s Front Line documentary on the 9.11 attack, the hijackers didn't associate with only the poor nobodies you would expect foreign students to know while they lived in the U.S.
Just as in Venice, we discovered, the people they
hung with were anything but poorly-connected.
But if Abdussattar Shaikh wasn’t who authorities claimed, who was he?
While the answer to that questions remains unknown, one thing that is clear today is Shaikh's curious association with another shadowy figure living in San Diego. Sam Koutchesfahani, an Iranian exile, had been an arms dealer for the Shah, until the Peacock Throne went pffft.
In San Diego, as one of a large number of Iranians-in-exile, many with former CIA ties, he turned his attentions to a variety of tasks, including infiltrating Middle Eastern men into the U.S. illegally for the better part of a decade.
“For more than six years in the 1990s, people from the Middle East came to San Diego County on bogus student visas,” reported a September 21, 2001 San Diego Union-Tribune story headlined “Terrorists may have exploited student visas.”
“Through an underground network led by a Rancho Santa Fe man, nearly 100 Middle Easterners paid local community college teachers and administrators for counterfeit admission papers and grades, which allowed them to get student visas.”
(The final figure was "more than 200," according to Sam's plea bargain.)
“At the center of the scam was a Rancho Santa Fe man, Sam Koutchesfahani, whose family roots and wealth were deep in Iran. He pleaded guilty to tax evasion and fraud and was sentenced to a year in prison. Koutchesfahani was the owner of a rented house in Rancho Santa Fe where 39 members of the Heaven's Gate cult took their lives in 1997.”
"Sam & Fifi at the Moonlight Beach Lodge."
Koutchesfahani had been bribing college and university instructors in the San Diego area to procure phony student visas for middle-eastern men he was helping insert into the U.S.
And if that wasn't part of Abdussattar Shaikh's job description as well, then he may just be the unluckiest sumbitch in recent American history for having "unwittingly" housed two of the 19 terrorist hijackers.
We received confirmation of a link between the two men when we were contacted by a man who had worked at a motel in Encinitas, on the beach just north of San Diego, during the mid-90’s. While he worked there it had been sold to a group led by a Lebanese man who apparently has so far completely escaped scrutiny named Tamer Tamer Salomah, and which included Sam Koutchesfahani.
Here we recalled the convenience store in Venice where Mohamed Atta and Marwan hung out. It was abandoned the day after the 9.11 attack by its owner, another Lebanese man, named Meekram Chams.
Today Joe Cicchese is the general manager of a hotel and convention center complex in Corvallis, Oregon. But ten years ago, while going to school in San Diego, he worked as a motel clerk, where he met Sam Koutchesfahani.
“I just happened upon your article where you mentioned Sam Koutchesfahani, with the Heaven's Gate cult in his home and all,” he wrote us.
“I worked for Sam and his wife Fifi in 1994-95. then they were using the last name of Fahani. Motel was called Moonlight Beach Lodge. It has changed names twice since; today its called the Portofino Inn. I worked there in 1995 when Tamer bought the place, and he brought Sam in. Sam said he was "a silent partner" so his name may not appear on the title.”
We lost no time in phoning Mr. Cicchese to ask for his recollections.
A violent character in a dubious enterprise
Said Cicchese, “Neither one of them knew how to run a hotel. That’s what I told the FBI when I contacted them in October 2001 with info on Sam and his bribes to admit middle-eastern students to Universities in San Diego they did not qualify to attend. But I never heard back from them on whether or not my info proved fruitful.”
So, who was Sam Fahani/ Koutchesfahani?
“He told me he did arms deals for the Shah,” Cicchese replied. “And I believed it, because he was a really violent character. He and I didn’t get along too well, because I didn’t hide the fact that he didn’t know the first thing about motel management.”
“Then one day he called me into his office because he was pissed about something,” Cicchese continued, “ and he told me he was going to beat me with a tire iron.”
“Later that day I had to leave the front desk for some reason, and I saw Sam walking towards me up the center drive running through the motel, and he had a tire iron in his hand!”
“And a customer came up to him and asked him about something, and Sam kept looking back and forth between the customer and me the whole time he talked with him. If that customer hadn’t stopped him, I think he was going to hit me with it.”
If neither Tamer nor Sam knew anything about motels, why did they buy it?
“I heard them talking about using it to house some students,” Cicchese explained. “Tamer taught at some international University in San Diego with a lot of foreign students, and they were going to use the motel to house them.”
We asked, “United States International University?”
Cicchese said, “Yeah. That’s the one.”
So one link between Sam Koutchesfahani and Abdussattar Shaikh is participation in some kind of covert operation involving bogus universities in San Diego.
Clunker cars on campus at Auld Lang Syne
We discovered that Koutchesfahani also boasts a bogus PhD as well. He has a doctorate in psychology (we like to think that perhaps his specialty is anger management) from a diploma mill called “Newport University.”
A story in the June 09, 1996 SALT LAKE TRIBUNE contained this description of the campus of "Newport University:"
“A couple of clunker cars sit in the driveway of a 40-year-old brick house, which sits squarely in a commercial zone: a hardware store in back, an equipment-rental company in front and a McDonald's expanding up the street.”
”The back yard has an old cedar fence, a rusting clothesline and an overgrown shade tree. Inside the house, a secondhand desk, some office chairs, bookshelves and a pair of torch lamps are assembled in the living room…”
”Welcome to Newport University, Utah's newest private college.”
But there is yet another, even more incredible link between the two men: Both worked for the San Diego FBI as confidential informants. In court documents in his bribery case we learned to our astonishment that at exactly the same time he was renting a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe to the Heaven’s Gate cultists, Sam Koutchesfahani worked as a confidential informant for the San Diego FBI.
So if nowhere else, Shaikh and Koutchesfahani’s paths crossed in the waiting room of the San Diego FBI, which we picture as looking as strange and exotic as the Wookie Bar from Star Wars.
More competition for Unluckiest Sumbitch
The San Diego FBI office has endured much embarrassment since the 9.11 attack.
Were they the unluckiest sumbitch in recent American history?
The FBI admitted they had been searching for Al-Midhar and Alhazmi since August because of suspected connections to Osama bin Laden.
Like the after-image of innocent people hanging out of 100th story windows in the World Trade Center on the morning of the attack, questions about Shaikh persisted.
Three other suspected terrorists who had rented rooms in his home—Omer Bakarbashat, Ramez T. Noaman and Yazed Al-Salmi—were arrested as material witnesses in the ongoing terror investigation.
Congressional investigators allowed that they had some problems with the veracity of Shaikh’s statements. For example, Shaikh had vociferously denied being an informant for the FBI, until it was definitively learned he had been one.
News reports began to sound slightly less sure about him…
"Little is known about the 65-year-old, Indian-born Shaikh, who has declined several interview requests by The Associated Press, other than to deny his neighbors' reports that suspected hijacker Mohamed Atta visited his home.”
And, amazingly, at least three of his neighbors had seen Mohamed Atta visit his home on several occasions.
The Indian-born Shaikh was lying about it.
Neighbor Marna Adair told the FBI that the polite, clean-shaven Atta was frequently at the home of Abdussattar Shaikh between August and early December of 2000. Adair said she identified a photograph of Atta on Sept. 17 to FBI agents who visited her home and showed her three pages of photos.
Adair, a homemaker whose door is about 50 feet from Shaikh's house and gives a clear view of the driveway, said she is "positive" she saw Atta.
Another neighbor, Deborah Fortner, remembered seeing Atta as well. "He was the one that was scary. He's got these piercing eyes. That's something you never forget about him."
Even the FBI was forced to admit to the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 911 that “the hijackers may have known the informant [Shaikh] months earlier than the informant admitted.”
But somehow Shaikh’s ‘cover’ held.
Clues to the real story about the hijackers who lived in San Diego were visible in the first stories filed from there about the city’s role in the 9.11 plot.
It was a story was about “students:”
“Prominent Muslim leader Abdussattar Shaikh said he thought he was offering shelter to students from Saudi Arabia studying English,” reported the Sept 15, 2001 San Diego Union-Tribune. “FBI agents are trying to piece together the many aspects of the hijackers' lives in San Diego.”
Every news account quoted Bill Gore, head of the San Diego FBI office, denying that Shaikh was a suspect. He was not suspected of knowingly harboring the terrorists, Gore told reporters.
Who knows? Maybe the FBI was trying to piece together some of the “many aspects of the hijackers lives…”
Just not all of them.
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- Daniel Hopsicker is the author of Barry & 'the boys: The CIA, the Mob and America's Secret History. About the author. - Email the author.
Welcome To Terrorland - A NEW BOOK BY DANIEL HOPSICKER
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