For Release: Tuesday, August 6, 2002
Agency That Ran Secret Afghan Aid Program Flatly Denies Role in Transfer of 25 Barrett Sniper Rifles to bin Laden Organization
Letter Confirms Earlier VPC Report Based On Interviews With Former CIA Officials That Ran Aid Program
Washington, DC – The Violence Policy Center (VPC) today released a letter from the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency that flatly denies any CIA role in the transfer of 25 Barrett 50 caliber sniper rifles to terrorist Osama bin Laden. The letter to Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA) raises further doubts about Barrett’s explanation that the transfer was part of an official U.S. aid program. The letter confirms a February 2002 VPC report, based on interviews with former top CIA officials, that found no credible evidence that the transfer was part of the official U.S. aid program.
The transfer of 25 Barrett anti-armor sniper rifles was revealed in the 2001 criminal trial of bin Laden operatives convicted of bombing two U.S. embassies in Africa. Government witness Essam al Ridi, a naturalized Egyptian, testified that he bought the 25 anti-armor sniper rifles and shipped them to bin Laden’s group. After the VPC reported this transfer, which occurred in 1988 or 1989, the Barrett Firearms Manufacturing Co. claimed that the rifles sent to bin Laden were part of the secret American program of aid to Afghan rebels fighting occupying Soviet forces. It accused the VPC of hiding this information.
However, the CIA, which ran the secret Afghan aid program, told Congressman Waxman that after “an extensive review of our records,” it had found “no information that indicates the Central Intelligence Agency aided or was otherwise involved in a transfer of weapons by Essam al Ridi to Afghanistan between 1985 and 1990.” The letter confirms what the three top CIA officials who ran the Afghan rebel aid program told the VPC earlier this yearï¿½the 25 rifles transferred to Osama bin Laden were not part of the U.S. aid program.
“All of the objective, credible evidence now supports the VPC’s position,” said VPC Senior Policy Analyst Tom Diaz. “We still don’t know exactly how or from whom Essam al Ridi got the 25 Barrett rifles he shipped to bin Laden. But it is clear that he was not acting on behalf of the U.S. government, as Barrett claims. Instead, he was simply taking advantage of lax federal laws that allow the easy purchase of weapons of war like these by terrorists, other extremists, and common criminals.”
Adds Diaz, “The burden is clearly on Barrett to put up or shut up and release any documents it may have supporting its version of the transfer of these anti-armor sniper rifles to bin Laden’s agent.”