For Release: Wednesday, February 13, 2002
Rebuts Attempt to Shift Blame to CIA
Interviews with Former CIA Officials, Corroborating Documents, Give Lie to Industry Red Herring
Washington, DC The Violence Policy Center (VPC) today released a study rebutting gun industry claims that twenty-five 50 caliber sniper rifles obtained by Osama bin Laden in the 1980s were part of U.S. government aid to Afghan rebels fighting Soviet invaders. Based on interviews with the top three former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials who ran the Afghan-aid program, sworn court testimony, and other independent sources, the report The U.S. Gun Industry and Others Unknown: Evidence Debunking the Gun Industry’s Claim that Osama bin Laden Got His 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles From the U.S. Afghan-Aid Program demonstrates that the Barrett rifles bought by bin Laden were not part of the U.S. freedom fighter aid program.
A VPC report issued last October Voting from the Rooftops: How the Gun Industry Armed Osama bin Laden, other Foreign and Domestic Terrorists, and Common Criminals with 50 Caliber Sniper Rifles revealed that Osama bin Laden’s organization now known as Al Qaeda bought 25 powerful Barrett 50 caliber military anti-materiel sniper rifles in the late 1980s. It noted that the military sniper rifles are easier to buy legally in the United States than handguns. Barrett Firearms Manufacturing, Inc. and its president, Ronnie G. Barrett, claimed in response that bin Laden’s 25 rifles were transferred as part of the U.S. Afghan-aid program. Barrett made these assertions despite the sworn testimony of bin Laden associate Essam al Ridi, cited in the VPC report, that al Ridi had shipped the guns to Afghanistan.
“We went straight to the top of the former Afghan-aid program and worked our way down,” said Tom Diaz, VPC senior policy analyst. “We interviewed the former CIA counter-terrorism chief, the former CIA Pakistan station chief, and the former CIA official who bought weapons in the United States. They absolutely rejected Barrett’s claims and insisted that the U.S. program never helped bin Laden directly or indirectly, and specifically not with any Barrett sniper rifles. Barrett is apparently more interested in hiding behind its own government than in helping stop the flow of its killer guns to terrorists.”
Diaz added that the VPC sent Ronnie G. Barrett an overnight letter on January 10, 2002 asking for any documentation he might have supporting his version of the bin Laden transaction, but it has received no reply.
The VPC report concludes that the 25 rifles were bought in the United States by an agent of bin Laden, Essam al Ridi, who shipped them abroad just as he recounted in sworn testimony in a federal district court by unknown means. The report cites this as merely one example among many of how the U.S. gun industry has increasingly manufactured weapons of extreme lethality that are ridiculously easy for terrorists like Al Qaeda legally to buy in the civilian market. “This is dangerous and risky for American security,” states the report.