SPECIAL REPORT. "October Surprise II" -- The USS Cole was set up for terrorist attack...
Cole crew members were promised "hush money" by Navy officials in return for the silence.
WMR has learned from informed Navy sources that the USS Cole was ordered to pull into Aden harbor in Yemen on October 12, 2000, as part of a purposeful plan to place the warship in a position to suffer an assymetrical warfare attack a few weeks from the 2000 presidential election, the closest and most controversial in U.S. history.
On May 15, 2003, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, reportedly one of the most corrupt in the nation, indicted "for plotting al Qaeda’s October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in the harbor of Aden, Yemen, in which 17 American sailors were killed." The indictment added, "On Oct. 12, 2000, a small boat laden with high explosives pulled alongside the USS Cole in the harbor of Aden, where it had been moored for a scheduled refueling stop. Suicide terrorists detonated the bomb, ripping a 40-foot hole in the side of the Cole, killing 17 American sailors and wounding at least 40 others." Refueling was also the reason cited in a U.S. Navy report on the bombing.
The prosecution of the Cole bombing was led by Deputy U.S. Attorney David Kelley. WMR has learned from Cole crew sources that federal investigators engaged in bullying and fear tactics in acquiring witness statements from a number of Cole crew members.
According to crew sources stationed on the Cole at the time of the attack, the indictment contains a number of glaring misstatements. The most glaring is that the Cole did not pull into Aden on the morning of October 12 for a "scheduled refueling stop." The Cole never reached pier side but took on fuel from an off-shore mooring known as a "dolphin" located about 200 yards from the shore. The fueling contractor was Arab Investment Manufacturing and Trading of PO Box 6208, 166 Socotra Street, Khormaksar, Aden. The owner of the firm, which was backed by Saudi investments, reportedly lived in London. The mooring line contractor that operated a number of boats in Aden harbor was Al-Mansoob Commercial Group.
The Navy insisted that it was normal for Navy ships to refuel in Aden and the then-commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps General Athony Zinni, cited the high degree of security in Aden for visiting U.S. warships.
The order was unusual because the Cole never refueled in port but always took on fuel from Navy oilers while underway. The Cole had just been refueled in the Mediterranean before it transited the Suez Canal, so there was no reason for a refueling stop in Aden while the ship was en route to the Persian Gulf to participate in Operation Southern Watch, the maritime interdiction operation targeting exports and imports from and to Iraq.
Cole crew sources said the order to pull into Aden came from Destroyer Squadron 22 (DESRON 22) in Norfolk. The refueling story cited in the indictment of "Al Qaeda" members for the attack on the ship was a cover story. The actual reason, as relayed to WMR, was a "public relations" visit. However, considering the warning sent to Fifth Fleet that the next U.S. Navy ship that entered Aden harbor would be attacked, the "public relations" story appears to hold little water. There was another reason to have the Cole enter Aden and it had to do with the pending presidential election, one that the Bush-Cheney campaign would stop at nothing to win.
Cole crew sources report that the Commanding Officer of the Cole, Commander Kirk Lippold, voiced concerns when his ship was ordered to pull into Aden for a refueling. Before the Coled departed Norfolk on August 8, 2000, for its deployment to the Middle East, the USS Arleigh Burke visited Aden. After the Burke left Aden, the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain, received a warning that the next U.S. ship that pulled into Aden would be attacked.
About five days before the Cole pulled into Aden, the Cole took on vendors at the northern port of the Suez Canal, Port Said. The Cole begab to transit the canal on October 7. The vendors were on the vessel for about 10 hours as the ship made its way from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea. Taking vendors aboard U.S. Navy ships transiting the canal was apparently a common occurrence. The vendors, who sold rugs, jewelry, and other souvenirs and goods, set up their sales displays on the mess deck of the Cole. The vendors departed the ship at Port Taufiq at the southern end of the canal.
One of the vendors who helped carry rugs on and off the Cole was remembered by some of the crew for asking a lot of questions. The bearded man wearing glasses asked how many crewmen were aboard the Cole and even requested, unsuccessfully, a tour of the ship. The inquisitive merchant would not be forgotten. Some three days later, when the Cole pulled into Aden, the man who asked the questions during the Suez Canal transit would be seen again. He was one of the two men in the motorized dinghy that contained the bomb that tore through the hull of the Cole and killed 17 of its crew.
Questions remain about who did this on October 12, 2000
The dinghy that was said to have contained the C4 bomb that tore through the port side of the Cole had been removing bags of trash from the ship. Crew sources said they noticed a metal box in front of the dinghy that was thought to contain the C4. However, there is reason to believe that the C-4 of American manufacture, which was claimed by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Salih to be only to be available in the United States, Israel, an Arab country, and another "Islamic" country, was not sufficient alone to cause the extensive damage to the Cole. President Salih was quoted in The Washington Post on December 10, 2000, as saying that "Israel might be responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole." WMR has previously reported that CIA sources have stated that Israel was definitely involved in the attack on the Cole and it may have used a sea-skimming, submarine-launched cruise missile. U.S. Marine Corps sources have also indicated an Israeli angle to the attack.
The Taliban denied from Afghanistan that their "guest," Osama bin Laden, was involved in the attack on the Cole.
The explosion not only forced the Cole into mooring dolphin seven, damaging the small structure on the platform but also shook buildings on shore as far as a mile and a half away.
There were several discrepancies in the initial report on the explosion. The Navy first stated the explosion occurred at 12:15 pm but the Cole's logs stated it occurred at 11:18 am, while engaged in the refueling process from the dolphin. Crew sources told WMR that the explosion occurred at "lunch time."
There was also confusion about the number of explosions that occurred. There were reports from Yemeni observers that a fire had broken out on the starboard side of the Cole where it was tied to the mooring dolphin, shortly before the explosion on the port side.
The explosion on the port side took place next to the mess decks where one of the dinghy occupants had been selling carpets just five days prior in Egypt.
Based on the information from crew sources, the Cole was practically fueled and did not require four to five hours for a complete refueling as indicated by the Navy. A crew source told WMR., "The Cole didn't need fuel." The Cole was only running one of its gas turbines for ship's power. The gas-turbine used for propulsion was off-line.
In addition, there is a question as to the type of vessel used in the attack. The Navy cited the presence of wood and fiberglass shards on the Cole as proof the boat used was a motorized skiff or "houri." However, crew sources told WMR that the two men who were removing the trash were in an inflatable dinghy. The Navy also said the dinghy approached the Cole only once when it set off the explosion. However, crew sources told WMR that there were two trips made by the dinghy to the Cole to remove trash. It was on the third trip, the two men in the dinghy stood up and saluted the Cole just before the explosion occurred.
There were other anomalies according to Cole crew sources. The ship's radar had been turned off in the harbor. In addition, there were no armed personnel on the quarterdeck, which was also considered unusual. The Cole's weapons systems were also off-line. From the skipper on down the ranks, there were misgivings among the crew about pulling into Aden. The port was not considered safe.
A crew source also told WMR that the Cole's skipper prior to Kirk Lippold's assumption of command in 1999, Commander Richard J. Nolan, Jr., would have never pulled into Aden. Nolan was reported a hard-charging commanding officer who put the morale and safety of his crew above political considerations.
After the explosion, some 34 wounded crew members were transported to a hospital in Aden. Yemeni onlookers reportedly threw rocks at the ambulances transporting the wounded sailors. Some of the wounded, noticing rusty injection needles, refused treatment. On the evening of October 12, there was an unsuccessful attempt by terrorists to blow up the hospital. At 4 am on October 13, the Cole's wounded were flown, with U.S. Marine protection, from an airport in Aden to the U.S. Army's Landstuhl Regional Medical Center near Ramstein, Germany.
It was after the wounded crew were in Landstuhl that agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) showed up to ask questions. The FBI began interviewing Cole crew members after they returned to their home port of Norfolk.
While chief FBI anti-terrorism agent John O'Neill and his team was getting sidetracked by political pressure from the U.S. ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine and the Navy, the Cole crewmen were being pressured by NCIS and FBI agents to leave important details out of their official statements. WMR has previously reported that O'Neill wanted to obtain sludge samples from the bottom of Aden harbor where the explosion occurred, as well as DNA samples from the head wear of one of the occupants of the dinghy. Whether O'Neill was interested in the dinghy trash remover who had been seen on the Cole while in the Suez Canal is not known, however, O'Neill's investigation of the Cole attack was thwarted by Bodine, her embassy staff in Sana'a, and the U.S. Navy, which cited the presence of crew bodies in the water under the Cole and their recovery by divers as a reason for refusing his request for harbor sludge samples. However, the Navy divers were not recovering bodies from under the ship but from within water-filled compartments of the ship and trapped by collapsed bulkheads and flooring.
According to sources who worked with O'Neill, the FBI agent had reason to suspect state players, not asymmetric warriors, in the attack on the Cole.
Eventually, O'Neill and his FBI team was ordered out of Yemen by Bodine. She would later become an official of Paul Bremer's corrupt Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad. O'Neill died in the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001, after his retirement from the FBI after being subjected to attacks by FBI top brass on his professionalism and character.
For the Cole crew, things were not much better. NCIS agents told Cole crew members that they were never to talk to anyone but NCIS about what happened to the Cole. Moreover, FBI agents in Norfolk instructed Cole crew members to "leave out certain parts" in their official statements to the FBI and NCIS. Those "details" included the presence of one of the dinghy occupants on the Cole in the Suez Canal and the crew's misgivings about going into Aden.
In fact, nine years after the Cole attack, anonymous agents, claiming to work for NCIS, continue to phone Cole crew members monthly to warn them about their obligation never to discuss the events of October 12, 2000. The crew are also asked to report whether anyone has ever inquired about the Cole attack.
The most astounding claim about the malfeasance of NCIS is that the agency promised to compensate the Cole crew members with a "six figure" monetary sum in return for their continued silence. However, NCIS reneged in its deal, citing the costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as a reason that the "hush money" could not be paid.
On March 14, 2007, Judge for the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of Virginia Robert Doumar ruled that the government of Sudan was liable for the attack on the Cole. Sudan was ordered to pay $8 million to the families of the 17 sailors killed on the Cole. Recently, Judge Kimba Wood of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York released $13.4 million of frozen Sudanese assets to the families of the 17 Cole crew members killed in the attack.
However, to date, no compensation has been paid to the survivors of the Cole bombing who were promised "six figures" in return for their continued silence about the details of the attack.
A Saudi citizen, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a detainee at Guantanamo, was charged with being the mastermind behind the Cole attack. However, Nashiri was one of the detainees tortured by U.S. interrogators. On February 5, 2009, all charges were dropped against al-Nashiri "without prejudice." On February 3, 2006, 13 individuals jailed for their involvement in the attack on the Cole were allowed to escape from their Yemeni jail. One, Jamal al-Badawi, one of the two men named in the May 15, 2003 federal indictment, later surrendered to Yemeni authorities but was released after he pledged to refrain from assisting "Al Qaeda" in the future.
The Cole attack was used by critics of the Clinton-Gore administration to point to America's weakness against terrorist attacks just weeks before the election that pitted Vice President Al Gore against George W. Bush. After he was was sworn in after a dubious election, Bush refused to militarily respond to the Cole attack. The reported involvement of Saudis and Israelis in the attack on the Cole, mirroring a similar duality of culpability construct in the 9/11 attacks, suggest that the Cole may have served as yet another pre-election October Surprise designed to affect the outcome of a U.S. presidential election using the cauldron of Middle East politics. Some of the veterans of the Cole attack believe their ship was "set up."