In 1999 the US had the opportunity to potentially stop the 9/11 attacks in New York City, but failed due to internal disputes between the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigations and National Security Agency.
In that same year the Taliban had settled on a license with an American company, Afghan Wireless Communications, to build a cell-phone and Internet system in Afghanistan.
The stealthy arrangement which was dubbed “Operation Foxden,” would have given access to the US government to monitor all al-Qaeda and Taliban phone calls and e-mails.
“Had this network been built with the technology that existed in 2000, it would have been a priceless intelligence asset,” said an unnamed former NSA official to David Rose a contributing editor for Vanity Fair.
Afghan Wireless “was one tool we could have put in Afghanistan that could have made a difference,”added another former spy, this time from the CIA.
According to Rose’s report, Ehsan Bayat, an Afghan-American telecomm entrepreneur, was a key factor to having the Taliban agree to such an extensive network.
Bayat who doubled as a counterterrorism source for the FBI had built close ties with the Islamist militant group and its senior officials. Among those he built relations were, Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, who was the last Foreign Minister in the Taliban government and served as a spokesperson for Mullah Mohammed Omar, leader of the Taliban.
Bayat wooed his way to the top of the Taliban chain by giving lavish gifts such as satellite phones and according to Rose these same gifts could have been used by Omar and even Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind behind the modern day Pearl Harbor.
Bayat’s Afghan wireless which had the backing of British based partners Stuart Bentham and Lord Michael Cecil, would give the Afghan Ministry of Communications a 20 percent stake in the enterprise and Bayat would hold the bulk of the share.
Afghan wireless when created would have cornered the market in Afghanistan, making it the only mobile phone and land-line provider.
“The plan was simple" said David Davis, the former shadow home secretary in a Guardian report.
"Because the Taliban wanted American equipment for their new phone network, this would allow the FBI and NSA to build extra circuits into all the equipment before it was flown out to Afghanistan for use. Once installed, these extra circuits would allow the FBI and NSA to record or listen live to every single land-line and mobile phone call in Afghanistan. The FBI would know the time the call was made and its duration. They would know the caller's name, the number dialed, and even the caller's PIN," Davis added.
In addition to the US government agencies fighting over who would control the massive communications tool, then President Clinton signed an Executive Order that prohibited US citizens doing business with the Taliban. The FBI requested an exception in order for Bayat to be able to proceed with the business transaction, but later was denied.
According to Rose’s reports the NSA joined in the fight to make the deal happen and even invested $30 million of its own money. Bayat also tried to circumvent the issue by reassigning ownership of the company to a firm he and his business partners owned in Liechtenstein.
Bayat advised the Taliban to pursue alternatives.
The last obstacle for Operation Foxden came in January 2000 when the CIA interceded.
“For the next 13 months, until February 2001, the interagency review ground on, with a series of fractious meetings involving the FBI and NSA at CIA headquarters, in Langley, Virginia,” Rose reports.
According to reports, the CIA wanted complete control over Afghan Wireless and didn’t want any British involvement.
“We wanted to force them and MI6 out, because there was a question of control,” said a former CIA officer to Rose.
After the motion became obvious to Stuart Bentham and Lord Michael Cecil, Bayat’s business partners they filed a lawsuit against Bayat.
The suit was later stopped and sealed under the State Secrets Privilege and resulted in gag orders for both Bentham and Cecil.
Bentham’s wife Margaret, who was at a majority of the meetings with Bayat in Britain and America recalls the moment.
“They were told they could have nothing more to do with the FBI and NSA — pending the US review — until further notice,” she said.
After all the hurdles were cleared for the project, it was finally given the go ahead three days before the infamous al-Qaida attacks.
Still the former NSA official questions the way the project played out.
“Why didn’t we put it in? Because we couldn’t fucking agree,” the NSA official told Rose.