11 September 2001>News Stories>Oil Diplomacy Muddled U.S. Pursuit of bin Laden, New Book Contends

Oil Diplomacy Muddled U.S. Pursuit of bin Laden, New Book Contends
Ethan Bronner . NYTimes . 12 November

John P. O'Neill, terrorism chief at the trade center, died Sept. 11

A former F.B.I. antiterror official who was killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 complained bitterly last summer that the United States was unwilling to confront Saudi Arabia over Osama bin Laden and that oil ruled American foreign policy, according to a new book published in France.

The former official, John P. O'Neill, was the director of antiterrorism for the F.B.I.'s New York office when he resigned in August to become chief of security for the twin towers.

"All the answers, everything needed to dismantle Osama bin Laden's organization can be found in Saudi Arabia," Mr. O'Neill is quoted as saying in the new book, "Ben Laden: La Vérité Interdite" ("Bin Laden: The Forbidden Truth"), which argues that Saudi support for Mr. bin Laden has been extensive.

One of the book's co-authors, Jean- Charles Brisard, a security expert who has spent several years examining Mr. bin Laden's financial empire, says in the book that he met with Mr. O'Neill in June and July. Mr. O'Neill is quoted as lamenting "the inability of American officials to get anything at all from King Fahd," the ailing Saudi ruler.

He explains the failure in one word: oil.

In telephone interviews and e-mail exchanges, Mr. Brisard elaborated on the book, released this week by the French publishing house Denöel.

He said he first met Mr. O'Neill in June in Paris, where the two had dinner with a group of French antiterror officials. Mr. Brisard had written a report for the French intelligence services on the finances of Mr. bin Laden's Al Qaeda organization and he gave Mr. O'Neill a copy. In late July, he said, they met alone in New York for drinks and dinner, and Mr. O'Neill complained that the F.B.I. was not free to act in international terror investigations because the State Department kept interfering. Mr. O'Neill, who had worked on investigations of the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993, and on the attacks on two American embassies in Africa in 1998, also suggested that he would soon move to the private sector, Mr. Brisard said. Mr. Brisard said his conversations with Mr. O'Neill were not interviews. He is publicizing Mr. O'Neill's opinions as "a tribute" to a man he admired.

Mr. O'Neill's frustrations with the State Department were not secret. He had been leading the F.B.I.'s investigation into the bombing of the destroyer Cole in Yemen in October 2000, but he had been barred in July from returning to Yemen by the United States ambassador there.

The ambassador, Barbara Bodine, complained that Mr. O'Neill and his associates showed no sensitivity to Yemeni culture or concerns and were harming relations between the two countries.

After Mr. O'Neill's death in September, Yemeni officials called the F.B.I. and offered to cooperate with their investigations, Barry W. Mawn, the assistant director of the F.B.I., announced at Mr. O'Neill's funeral Mass.

The book by Mr. Brisard, written with Guillaume Dasquié, a journalist, also makes public for the first time the first international warrant for the arrest of Mr. bin Laden. It is a 1998 Interpol document from Libya. The so-called red notice, file number 1998/20032, accuses Mr. bin Laden and three Libyans of killing two Germans in Libya in 1994.

The book identifies the victims as Silvan Becker and his wife and says they were German antiterror agents. It says Libya's leader, Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, sought their killers because they were members of a group linked to Mr. bin Laden that also wanted to kill Colonel Qaddafi. That group, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, was listed by President Bush after the Sept. 11 attacks as one whose assets should be frozen worldwide.

According to the new French book, Mr. bin Laden was in Libya when the two Germans were killed in 1994. The book also asserts that Colonel Qaddafi's fears had some foundation. It says the British secret service, MI5, tried to assassinate Colonel Qaddafi in 1996 using members of that same Libyan Islamic Fighting Group.

The book says it was because of that collaboration that the Interpol document with its Libyan origin has not been made public. Mr. Brisard said he had received the document from a former senior Interpol official who told him that British and American officials had kept it from public view.