Armenia says al-Qaida was involved in Karabakh war

Armenia officially reacted to news about the death of Osama bin Laden today.

“Being involved in the international community’s fight against terrorism, on Bin Laden’s extermination we share the feelings of the Americans and all those who fight against terrorism,” MFA spokesperson Tigran Balayan told “Armenpress” state news agency.

“Those feelings are particularly close to us, because people linked with this terrorist organisation were in the past involved in the aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh,” he added.

I have heard in the past about Afghan mujahedeen being involved in Karabakh war, but I have never heard from a reliable source about them being linked to  al-Qaida, so this statement might be a propaganda move, or a formal accusation that Azerbaijan has cooperated with the world’s number one terrorist organization.


10 thoughts on “Armenia says al-Qaida was involved in Karabakh war

    • Actually, the statement is a little delayed, don’t you think? Even if its pure propaganda, it could be disseminated at least on Tuesday.

    • I don’t know. Maybe the government is trying to get some aid from the US now that no one can refute what they say.

      There have been Chechens and Afghans fighting against us in Karabakh but it was never suspected that they were sponsored or supported by Al Qaeda. The Afghans, mostly untrained cannon fodder, were actually brought to fight by a US oil company trying to get a sweet deal from Heydar Aliyev. The Chechens came on their own accord.

  1. Hey, you can read it f.e. here- Karabakh war was the first operation of Al Kaeda in the former USSR territory -

  2. Samvel jan, any English-language references that you know of? (You know, for us non-Russian speakers – LOL)

    • Samvel,

      thanks. The passage relevant to this post is on page 10:

      While al-Qaeda was based in the Sudan it opened a satellite office in Baku.(33) The office was up and running in August 1995, with a significant liaison office having been established. This was headed by an Egyptian operative by the name of Ibrahim Eidarous. He would be responsible for the Baku station for two important years between 1995 and 1997 until he was replaced by Ahmed Salam Mabrouk. It would seem that Eidarous did a good job at whatever he was doing as he was subsequently promoted to head of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad cell in London in September 1997.(34)

    • God Save the Shah
      American Guns, Oil and Spies in Azerbaijan

      By Mark Irkali, Tengiz Kodrarian and Cali Ruchala


      Amid the polite applause that one might expect from an audience of
      diplomats, a member of the audience coughed loudly. His harsh, gasping
      rasp was embarrassingly on cue. He covered his mouth with a balled-up
      fist. The speaker – Azeri president Heydar Aliyev, whose appearance
      dispelled yet another rumor circulating through Baku and Tbilisi that he
      was dead – continued without acknowledging it.

      The speech was broadcast live on television – such is the importance of
      a new pipeline in the Caucasus.

      The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline (or BTC, as insiders call it) did
      indeed begin as a dream during the early 1990s, and the Americans
      considered its approval their top priority in the whole of the region.
      The idea was to get the massive deposit of oil beneath the Caspian Sea
      to market without having to rely on the goodwill of either Russia or
      Iran, the two regional heavyweights. Today, more than ten years later,
      construction is finally underway.

      The next speaker also underlined the importance of the BTC to America.
      US Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham – rewarded for losing his seat in
      the Senate with a cushy cabinet appointment – took the podium and read a
      statement from President George W. Bush.

      It was a typical snowjob, though the prestige of an American president
      gracing the Caucasus region, even if by proxy, forced the man with the
      raspy cough to bite down hard on his knuckles. Bush intoned via Abraham
      that building the snaking pipeline from the Azeri capital of Baku to the
      Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan would have a number of astonishing
      including “enhancing global energy security” and “strengthening the
      sovereignty and independence of countries in the Caspian Basin.”


      DEPENDING ON WHO you talk to, the BTC is either the reason for the
      extensive American involvement in the Caucasus, which began in the 1990s
      and has been slammed into overdrive since 9/11, or simply a pretext for
      increasing American military presence in the geopolitically important
      southern extremities of the former Soviet Union. Two things are beyond
      America has, for the moment at least, wrested control of most of the
      independent states of the Caucasus from Russia’s sphere of influence,
      and there are now American military forces on the ground.

      The latter is something that Georgia and Azerbaijan have long desired as
      the easiest way to acquire western military hardware and training, but
      not to protect them from Russia. The weapons and know-how will almost
      certainly be used first to subdue several ethnic statelets which broke
      away in the early part of the 1990s: Abkhazia, South Ossetia and, from
      Azerbaijan, Karabakh.

      When completed in 2005, Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan will cross more than 1,000
      miles of territory. Construction will cost around two and half billion
      dollars, give or take a few hundred million. Skeptics scoffed – and
      continue to scoff – at the project; one contacted for this story called
      it “the most expensive playground ever built,” and disputed that there
      would ever be enough demand to justify such an expenditure.

      But the cost cannot just be measured in dollars and lari. American
      influence in the Caucasus has been a painful, often sordid affair. Back
      in the 1970s, the American government invited dissidents to dinner to
      show their support for human rights in the USSR. In the 1990s, two men
      feted for their courage on such occasions were overthrown by dinosaurs
      from the Communist Party who, in Soviet times, had been their chief
      persecutors. American support has flowed to the former apparatchiks as
      these two former disciples of Leonid Brezhnev unleashed a column of fire
      on their own people, guided by American advisors, their positions
      buffeted by American aid.

      And it can only get worse. The Caucasus has become the new Central
      America: a place crawling with CIA agents and other shady characters
      dispatched to back two of the most repressive, unstable regimes in the
      former Communist Bloc.

      Over the last twelve years, Israel is the only country in the world
      which has received substantially more aid than Georgia. The CIA trained
      President Eduard Shevarnadze’s security detail, while jails and
      cemeteries filled with his opponents. In the Spring of 2002, America
      took the plunge and dispatched a contingent of Special Forces to
      train-and-equip the Georgian army in
      “anti-terrorist” operations, using the pretext that al-Qaeda fighters
      had been spotted in the country (their existence was disputed at a
      Washington press conference by no less an authority than the Georgian
      Defense Minister, obviously a man not in on the plan).

      American support for Shevardnadze in Georgia, guardian the vulnerable
      central link of the BTC, has at least been public. The same cannot be
      said for the efforts of America in Azerbaijan. In the early 1990s, with
      a war in the breakaway province of Karabakh, the country seemed to be on
      the verge of disintegration. The first independent government was headed
      by Soviet
      fossils; the primary apparatchik was Ayaz Mutalibov, noted as the only
      head of a Soviet republic to welcome the hardline coup against Mikhail

      With the army battered by the Armenians of Karabakh, and the government
      criticized by an increasingly hostile public, the Azeri president turned
      to the few Americans in his country for help. Three men with backgrounds
      out of a spy novel lent him their services. Over the course of the next
      two years, the company they founded procured thousands of dollars worth
      of weapons and recruited at least two thousand Afghan mercenaries for
      Azerbaijan – the first mujahedin to fight on the territory of the former
      Communist Bloc.

      And they did it under the guise of an oil company.

      This story is the culmination of more than a year of investigation and
      dozens of interviews in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Pakistan, as well as the
      United States. It’s a story about money, oil, weapons and the lengths
      that some men will go to control the “new energy sources” that American
      politicians have so often called for. Whether they were working for
      themselves or for their country, the men behind the energy company with
      the Orwellian name – MEGA Oil – wrecked havoc in the Caucasus, pursuing
      goals which were remarkably in tune with America’s primary aim in the

      We will state up-front that we have discovered no documentary evidence
      to tie MEGA Oil, as an entity, definitively to the United States
      government. There is however considerable evidence that all three prime
      movers in the company – former Iran-Contra conspirator Richard Secord,
      legendary Air Force special operations commander Harry “Heinie”
      Aderholt, and the man known as either a diabolical con-man or a
      misunderstood patriot, Gary Best – were in the past involved in some of
      the most infamous activities of in the history of the CIA.

      In fact, the MEGA Oil debacle followed the model of the Iran-Contra
      Affair with uncanny accuracy, down to the formation of shell companies
      and, possibly, the use of private sector companies to contravene both
      the letter and the intent of American law. Together with Oliver North,
      Secord had pioneered this model in the 1980s to fund the Nicaraguan
      Contras and make
      themselves millionaires in the bargain. By a remarkable coincidence or a
      cunning design, the MEGA Oil enterprise would have served the same purpose.

      How much of it can be assigned to coincidence and how much to design is
      left to the reader to decide.


      AS IN THE Middle East, the most bitter conflict in the Caucasus was not
      fought over oil, but rather over the single bit of territory in the
      region which is comparatively bereft of it.

      The Karabakh War was an ethnic war, in some ways corresponding to the
      fighting in the Balkans, in other ways at odds with it. About 20 percent
      of Azerbaijan’s territory is presently – and probably permanently –
      occupied by Armenian forces. The fighting in the first years of the
      post-Soviet era was centered in the “Mountainous Black Garden” –
      Nagorno-Karabakh – but the
      Armenians presently control considerable territory outside the enclave
      as well.

      This conflict must form the backbone of any narrative of Azerbaijan’s
      lost decade, as mounting military debacles and successive tidal waves of
      terrified refugees washing through the cities spurred on popular revolts
      and undermined two presidents, further plunging the republic into
      economic catastrophe.

      The post-Communist years will be known as the darkest years in
      Azerbaijan’s history. In the 1990s, one in every seven Azeris became a
      war refugee. And yet, incredibly, the 1990s have been characterized by
      some people in the West as an Azerbaijani Golden Age. Citing the
      enormous untapped oil reserves discovered in the twilight of the Soviet
      Union, these individuals gloried in the bright future of Azerbaijan and
      produced impressive charts showing how much money American industries
      were already pouring into the country in preparation for the great oil

      Their numbers are not many, and the Americans who trumpet the “Baku
      Boom” and the Azerbaijani Golden Age are among the few who can speak (or
      do speak, regardless of ability) about Azerbaijan. Among them are
      familiar faces from the American political establishment, such as James
      Baker and John Sununu, both of whom have been employed as lobbyists by
      the Azerbaijani government or various energy companies favourable to
      improved relations between Azerbaijan and America. Unfortunately (and
      predictably, to long term observers of the Middle East), little of the
      money which has come to Azerbaijan has trickled down to the poor.

      The oil rush of the 1990s was not the first that Azerbaijan has seen.
      The first came in 1870 and attracted the cosmopolitan crowd of
      investors, hucksters and fanatics that seem drawn by the heavy waft of
      crude. By the turn of the century, Azerbaijan’s oil exports exceeded
      those of the entire United States.

      The oil industry in Azerbaijan fell into decline during the Soviet
      years, for reasons which parallel the American experience: it was
      cheaper to bring oil to market from the fertile Siberian fields than to
      dilly with a thousand small deposits in the Caucasus. The landscape of
      Azerbaijan is littered with the red and black piping of abandoned wells
      last tapped back in the 1960s.

      In 1991, when the immense size of the Caspian oil shelf became known,
      the derelict wells seemed even more antiquated, compared to the glossy
      pictures of offshore platforms in the briefcases of chubby Texans in the
      two Intourist Hotels that bookended Baku’s Lenin Square. But to a group
      of American investors with a background out of a spy novel, these scraps of
      industrial decay smelled like an opportunity – or a suitable pretext,
      depending on who you believe. And this is when our story begins.

      THE P.O.W. CAPER

      GARY BEST HAS made it his business not to be found. A self-described
      “electronics importer,” he has left a long trail of anecdote and
      innuendo of past misdeeds but few testifying witnesses. He was a
      marginal figure in one of the many subplots of the Iran-Contra Scandal,
      though how exactly he was related to the activities of Oliver North and
      his co-conspirators is
      unclear. His importing business was concentrated primarily in Southeast
      Asia, but somehow brought him into contact with the Afghan Mujahedin,
      Iran-Contra conspirator Richard Secord and legendary Air Force special
      operations commander Brigadier General Harry “Heinie” Aderholt. His
      current mailing address, and his current profession, are unknown.

      In 1985, Gary’s business was headquartered in Marietta, Georgia. What
      exactly his company did, and how he spent his days, is a mystery. Bob
      Fletcher, another figure on the periphery of Iran-Contra, claims that in
      1985, Gary Best became a partner in his toy company, which he and other
      Iran-Contra figures planned to use as a cover for illicit weapons
      transfers of the sort that made Ollie (and Secord) famous. There’s been
      no convincing evidence that this is true, and Fletcher has since built
      an inspiring career as a first-class conspiracy kook. He later became a
      spokesman for the Militia of Montana, fondly remembered by law
      enforcement for issuing liens on strangers’ property, the glare from
      their giant belt buckles and their tense stand-offs with federal marshals.

      But for his other activities in the late 1980s, Gary Best might be
      considered somewhat less credible than a run-of-the-mill crank babbling
      about weather control technology. Knowing people in his business in
      Southeast Asia (whatever it was), and with his connections to the
      not-yet-victorious Mujahedin in Afghanistan (however he got to know
      them), Best was in an advantageous position to capitalize on one of the
      great popular delusions of 1980s America: the search for missing
      American prisoners of war in Vietnam.

      Though the evidence in favour consisted solely of the plotline in the
      movie Rambo, many veterans and their widows hoped that the
      liberalization taking place in the USSR under Gorbachev would lead to
      the release of some of America’s lost POWs. Their hopes were cruelly
      bolstered when Stephen Morris, a right-wing Australian academic, claimed
      to have found a document in the
      KGB archives in Moscow which referred to “thousands” of imprisoned
      American POWs, rather than the hundreds the North Vietnamese claimed to
      be holding during the Paris Peace Talks. It came at an inopportune time,
      delaying America’s long-awaited normalization with Vietnam for several
      months before the document was exposed as a forgery.

      Meanwhile, “Russia’s Vietnam” – the Afghan War – was just winding down
      (the last Red Army tanks crossed the northern frontier of Afghanistan
      only in 1989). Russian widows, wives and mothers of servicemen who had
      not returned with their battered units also harboured hopes of securing
      their loved ones’ release. The two superpowers – America and the USSR –
      were stymied in getting any answers from their former adversaries, but
      both had relatively good relations with the other country’s enemies.

      Gary Best was better placed than most to bring America and the USSR
      together over this issue, trading his contacts with the Mujahedin for
      his Soviet counterparts’ connections in Vietnam. Should any Americans
      turn out alive, Best would be able to have them immediately transferred
      to a hospital in Thailand, where his associates would look after them as
      they began the long
      journey home.

      Best left few traces of his involvement in this caper, though associates
      would later give him credit for securing the release of several Russian
      POWs held in Afghanistan. He allegedly made several visits to the USSR
      as well as to Mujahedin headquarters in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and
      former associates say that Best bragged about his friendship with
      sometime-Afghan Prime
      Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who, like many former Mujahedin, is now a
      sworn enemy of the United States. At the time of writing, Hekmatyar had
      just been placed on a terrorist list by the State Department, and a
      staffer contacted at his movement’s headquarters in Pakistan was
      understandably reluctant to discuss too many things with outsiders that
      spoke English. A week later, the staffer, who claimed to be Hekmatyar’s
      son-in-law, told us that no one in the organization had ever heard of
      Gary Best, and that they were unaware of any endeavors by Americans to
      assist in locating Soviet POWs, or securing their release.


      BEST CONVINCED AT least one important ally of the sincerity of his
      intentions. Brigadier General Heinie Aderholt isn’t just a guy with a
      lot of brass on his chest. Among special forces veterans and aspiring
      students who read up on his career in Air Force-issue textbooks, Heinie
      is a legend. He was in charge of dropping anti-Communist guerrillas
      behind enemy lines in the Korean War, and conducted interdiction
      campaigns to stem the flow of supplies to the Viet Cong. Among active
      duty and retired servicemen, Aderholt is only a peg or two down from
      Patton, McArthur and other Gods of War in 20th century American military

      Aderholt also claimed to have bought into the possibility that American
      POWs were still being held in Vietnam. Former associates say that Best
      used Aderholt’s prestige to add credibility to his crusade. But Best’s
      expensive trips around the world didn’t pay for themselves. It wasn’t
      long before Best approached Aderholt with a proposal which would give a
      shot in the arm and an infusion of cash into the search for American and
      Soviet POWs and, possibly, make both of them millionaires in the bargain.

      While traveling in the Soviet Union, Best had noticed the thousands of
      rusting cages over abandoned oil wells, concentrated heavily in
      Azerbaijan. He figured that capital costs to rehabilitate them wouldn’t
      be prohibitively expensive provided just a fraction of the wells could
      be brought back into operation. Best boasted of his connections with the
      Azeri government – a collection of scarcely reformed apparatchiks
      wrestling with the popular revolts and waves of repression which marked
      the death spasms of the Soviet Union. Aderholt wouldn’t have to do a
      thing except pitch the idea to investors: Best would take care of
      everything in Azerbaijan when, of course, he wasn’t flying around the
      world, looking for skeletons long since turned to phosphor in the
      humidity of the Vietnamese jungle brush.

      Despite the unconventionality of the idea – forming a business to fund
      what most would consider humanitarian work, when they didn’t consider it
      an outright swindle – Aderholt agreed. And that’s when things really
      started getting weird.


      GARY BEST WAS but one of a horde of con-men and ruthless operators who
      made the frightful voyage to Baku on Azerbaijan’s state airline, which
      began the 1990s with quite possibly the oldest and most ill-equipped
      fleet of airplanes in the world. Among the figures of ill-repute to make
      their way south was none other than Marc Rich, acclaimed scoundrel who
      slid a few million greenbacks into the Iranian government’s pocket while
      its student-athletes were jogging blindfolded American Embassy staff
      through the streets of Teheran. Rich was then still barricaded in his
      palatial estate in Switzerland; it would be another ten years before his
      ex-wife would emerge from bribing her way through nine rings of lackeys
      in the Clinton
      Administration to buy her husband a pardon from the commander-in-chief.

      But Best drew first blood, ingratiating himself among the brahmins of
      the Azeri Communist Party when agents from the big oil companies were
      still trying get a foot in the door. A former Best associate named
      “Andrew,” who describes himself as a “hazmat broker” – he deals only in
      those commodities which are toxic, flammable or explosive – sat down
      with us in a Tbilisi
      restaurant in February 2003 to describe how Best was able to do it.

      “Gary is one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever known,” he says.
      “Not physically. He just looks like he’s always on the verge of doing
      something important and great. If you know him long enough, you stop and
      say, ‘Well, have any of these plans ever worked out? No, so ta!’ But to
      those who just meet him, Gary Best looks like a legitimate player.”

      Andrew didn’t know who Heinie Aderholt was, but “Gary rubbed shoulders
      with a lot of important people. You would never guess that every word
      out of his mouth was a crock of shit. The secret of Gary Best’s success
      is that he disappears and reinvents himself all the time. He has to,
      because he’s always running away from people who are really pissed off
      at him over one of his plans.”

      According to Andrew, Best has a warrant out for his arrest in the United
      States and is probably traveling under a false passport (Best has had at
      least one default judgment against him in a lawsuit – he never showed up
      to contest the charges – but he is not the subject of any federal
      warrant we could identify.) Like many people who have dealt with Gary
      Best, Andrew is convinced that he’s a CIA agent, or at least a former
      one who retained some contacts in the intelligence community. He doesn’t
      think Best’s work in Azerbaijan was part of an official operation, “but
      with the crowd he had around him, who knows?”

      The “crowd” expanded in 1991 to include another ghost from America’s
      past: prominent Iran-Contra co-conspirator Richard Secord. Whereas the
      partnership of Best and Aderholt could be written off as a curious
      pairing, the presence of Secord in Best’s Azerbaijani oil venture ought
      to have raised blood red flags around the world.

      Secord is a man that many people believe should have been in jail in
      1991 – just two years after copping a plea to a count of lying to
      Congress (he was facing trial on eleven other felony charges). Instead,
      we are to believe that this former mastermind of arms shipments and
      shady deals with guerrillas and Ayatollahs was taken by the
      possibilities of dead oil wells in Azerbaijan.

      Best, Aderholt and Secord, with their lack of background in public
      relations, might be forgiven for picking such an Orwellian name for
      their venture as “MEGA Oil.” Assuming that Aderholt and Secord were, as
      they say they are, accidental patsies in Best’s devious schemes, it’s
      still difficult to believe the atrocious due diligence that two men with
      extensive backgrounds in intelligence executed. Conducting a post-mortem
      on MEGA Oil – noting its birthdate and vital statistics – is almost as
      difficult as
      tracking down Gary Best.

      MEGA Oil’s American partners wrote in press releases that the company
      was based in either Marietta or Atlanta, Georgia. A search of public
      records finds not one but two companies known as “MEGA Oil USA.” One is
      called “MEGA Oil USA/Vista Joint Ventures,” and was incorporated in
      1985. “MEGA Oil USA” on the other hand wasn’t incorporated until 1993.
      There is, moreover, a third MEGA Oil involved in the food processing
      business. None of these Georgia companies could be definitively traced
      to Best.

      To make up for MEGA Oil’s lack of experience in the industry, Best
      contracted a company which specialized in rehabilitating and servicing
      existing oil wells. Ponder Industries, registered in Delaware but
      conducting business in Alice, Texas, entered into partnership with MEGA
      Oil in Azerbaijan feeling like they had trumped an entire industry.
      Later, an Securities and Exchange Commission panel expressed
      astonishment that Ponder had done even less due diligence on MEGA than
      they would have with any Texas partner – almost as little as Aderholt
      and Secord. Gary Best, insiders say, led Ponder to believe that his
      connections with the Azeri government would take care of any problems.
      As a result, Ponder agreed to fund and staff the oil wells in Azerbaijan
      by themselves, as well as providing unspecified “operating costs” to
      MEGA. All MEGA had to do was bring them the contract with SOCAR, the
      Azeri state oil company. Best promptly faxed it over. It was written in
      Russian, and no one in Ponder’s office could read it. Incredibly, they
      took Best’s word that the fax was exactly what he said it was: a joint
      venture agreement between MEGA Oil and SOCAR to service the abandoned
      oil wells.

      Ponder began flying their equipment and staff into Azerbaijan in late
      1991 and January of 1992. The latter was the date when the conflict in
      Karabakh, which had hitherto been fought by guerrillas and militias,
      exploded into a full-scale war as Azeri soldiers pounded the Karabakh
      Armenians’ “capital,” Stepanakert, with thousands of rounds of artillery
      fire. It was intended to
      soften the Armenians’ position, with thousands of fresh troops following
      the path of fire.

      The hopes of the Azeris for a quick and decisive thrust into Karabakh
      were bolstered when their American friends offered to help
      train-and-equip their beleaguered armed forces, and even bring in some
      of their old special forces friends to lend a hand in drilling and
      structural reorganization. MEGA Oil, a company in Azerbaijan which was
      created in order to fund a farcical search for POWs in Vietnam, was now
      hiring mercenaries.


      IN AN INTERVIEW with Baku-based journalist Thomas Goltz, Heinie Aderholt
      claimed that representatives of the Azeri administration of Ayaz
      Mutalibov – the technocrat-in-chief in Baku – had asked him if he could
      facilitate the hiring of a large contingent of Afghan Mujahedin to fight
      in Karabakh. Aderholt says he refused. But he went along with the plan,
      attributed to
      Best, by which American special forces veterans would train the hapless
      Azeri army then being pummeled by Karabakh Armenian irregulars, while
      obtaining weapons for the Azeris through their own channels.

      Others say that this was the plan all along – and that the oil rig
      rejuvenation program, the POW search and the contract with Ponder was
      nothing but a smokescreen to cover up a covert train-and-equip program
      conducted with the tacit approval of the United States government. There
      is, in fact, a remarkable congruency between what Secord, Aderholt and
      Best were doing in Azerbaijan, and the strategic aims of the United
      States in the Caspian region.

      The Americans’ avowed priority in the Caucasus was to find a method to
      deliver the crude from the Caspian oil shelf to market, avoiding both
      Russia and Iran as middlemen. Since the oil would flow from Azerbaijan,
      this strategic goal was quite at odds with the American government’s
      favouritism towards Armenia in the Karabakh War.

      In fact, providing support of any kind to Azerbaijan was illegal.
      Congress passed a law (Section 907 of the “Freedom Support Act”)
      effectively banning foreign aid – and, needless to say, all military aid
      – to Azerbaijan. Thus America’s top long-term interest in the Caspian
      was threatened by the promises of Armenian-American retribution at the
      polls – a very real threat
      considering Armenian electoral power in the key state of California.

      Those who allege that MEGA Oil at least began as a project approved by
      Washington point to the involvement of Richard Secord, whose visit to
      Azerbaijan in early 1992 came at MEGA’s expense and coincided with the
      company’s negotiations with Mutalibov on building Azerbaijan’s army.
      Secord’s only public comment on the matter to date was to state that
      Mutalibov couldn’t decide whether he wanted his American friends to
      build an army or a Praetorian Guard to hold onto power.

      At the heart of the Iran-Contra controversy, of course, was a
      Congressional ban on aid to the Contras strikingly similar to Section
      907, and Secord’s primary role in that first scandal was as the head of
      a private corporation which worked at the behest of Oliver North for
      covert and illegal weapons procurement for the Nicaraguan Contras.

      Many forget that Secord’s involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair was
      motivated to a large degree by personal profit. The special
      investigator’s report on Iran-Contra concluded that “one of Secord’s
      central purposes in establishing and carrying out the operations of the
      enterprise was the accumulation of untaxed wealth in secret overseas
      accounts… that [Secord] received at least $2 million from his
      participation in the enterprise during 1985 and 1986, that he set up
      secret accounts to conceal his untaxed income, and that he later lied
      and encouraged others to lie to keep it concealed.”


      JUST MONTHS FROM when the special investigator’s report on Iran-Contra
      was finally published, the final arrangements were being worked out with
      Mutalibov on military procurement and training. The bulk of the aid was
      diverted away from the Azeri army and into building up Azerbaijan’s
      interior ministry forces, serving solely at the behest of the president.

      But MEGA’s support came too late for Mutalibov. In late February of
      1992, the Karabakh Armenians launched a counter-attack which the Azeris
      hadn’t planned for. Large swaths of territory were overrun. Within a
      week, popular demonstrations had forced Mutalibov to resign.

      By March, Ponder Industries had brought enough of their equipment and
      personnel into the country to begin work on the oil wells.
      Anti-Mutalibov demonstrations by the opposition Popular Front forced
      them to delay, but their project leaders inside the country – including
      a relative of Ponder’s septuagenarian founder, Mack Ponder – didn’t seem
      especially upset when MEGA
      Oil’s most prominent Azeri supporter fled to Moscow. They received the
      green light from Best in April, and began work immediately thereafter.

      Mutalibov returned to Azerbaijan in an attempted coup, but lasted just a
      single day. After a brief interregnum, Popular Front leader Abulfaz
      Elchibey became Azerbaijan’s new president. Elchibey was a former
      dissident and he carried into office an almost mythical reputation for
      honesty. Years before, after concluding a series of lectures at a
      university in the Middle East, he
      shocked his hosts by refusing the rather modest payment promised him. As
      a foreigner, he told them, he couldn’t accept money from a country whose
      people were so poor.

      Industry analysts have difficulty reading the lines on a person who, all
      other things being equal, is nothing if not his own man. In corporate
      jargon, Elchibey was a wild card. In July of 1992, after several months
      of ambiguous hints and rumors, the Azeri government ordered Ponder to
      cease all operations. MEGA Oil, the government stated, had no contract
      with the government oil company, SOCAR, to undertake the work they were
      doing. When company representatives unfolded copies of the joint venture
      agreement MEGA had signed with SOCAR – the Russian text faxed to Ponder
      Headquarters in Alice, Texas – the bureaucrats laughed. Not only was it
      a forgery, but it wasn’t even a forgery of the joint venture agreement
      it was purported to be.

      Ponder had been billing MEGA for work done and for capital sums they had
      given to MEGA agents in Azerbaijan – a total of $8 million in invoices
      in scarcely three months. SEC papers show that Ponder’s accountants,
      exasperated by the blind faith their clients put in MEGA Oil, attempted
      to track Best down during a whirlwind visit he made to America in
      mid-1992, but were unable to obtain any documentation confirming his
      verbal assurances.

      After Ponder was ordered to stop drilling in July of 1992, the company’s
      corporate officers listed the sums spent in Azerbaijan as capital
      expenditures – the type of accounting shenanigans that their Texas
      energy big brother, Enron, would later make famous. SEC filings in the
      investigation of Ponder underline the investigators’ state of disbelief
      that a company with so many years experience in the oil business would
      take on such a risky venture based on so little. (Ponder’s officers made a
      settlement with the Feds, though the company never recovered. Curiously,
      they also delayed seeking redress in American courts against MEGA Oil
      for more than six months after they learned the truth about MEGA’s
      relationship with SOCAR. A few years later Ponder filed for Chapter 11
      bankruptcy. They merged with another small energy company, N-Vision, in
      January of 2001.)

      Heinie Aderholt parted ways with Best a month after Ponder was ordered
      to cease operations by SOCAR. Richard Secord, he claims, went with him
      (Secord and Aderholt have known each other for years, as both were
      attached to Air Force intelligence, and later became neighbours in Fort
      Walton, Florida, where a great many old fighter pilots go to die). But
      though the company was finished in the oil industry – and by now the POW
      crusade was completely forgotten – MEGA Oil still had some business to
      conduct. Mutalibov had requested more than weapons and training – he
      wanted real, live bodies to fight a war the Azeris were losing, or to
      protect himself from a nation that hated him. Aderholt says he refused
      to participate on the basis of
      principles which he had, apparently, developed in the two or three years
      since the Cold War ended. But when Elchibey’s government posed the
      question, nobody was left at MEGA Oil who would turn them down.


      LIKE MANY AFGHANS, Abdullah only uses his first name. Thankfully, there
      aren’t very many people named “Abdullah” in Tbilisi’s underground to
      confuse him with.

      Abdullah was 16 years old in 1986, when he fled his village along
      Afghanistan’s eastern border for Pakistani city of Peshawar. Tens of
      thousands of other Afghan refugees live in Peshawar, and the city was
      the nerve center for the American campaign of support for the Mujahedin
      during the Afghan War.

      Once crawling with intelligence agents dispensing thick stacks of rupees
      and RPGs, in the 1990s the spooks left, but Peshawar continued to be the
      world’s greatest illegal arms bazaar and a recruiting ground for
      Soldiers of God fighting in conflicts around the world.

      Abdullah was selling fruit in his neighbour’s stall in Peshawar when he
      met a slender, bespectacled American who offered him two thousand
      dollars to fight in Karabakh. Upon arriving in Azerbaijan, the agent,
      Abdullah found out, worked for Gary Best.

      In September of 1992, Azerbaijan’s new Popular Front officials in the
      Defense Ministry called up thousands of young Azeris for military
      service. The army’s aging officer corps was not entirely pleased. The
      Armenians had by now drilled themselves into the Karabakh hills like
      ticks, and the top brass reiterated that throwing untrainted conscripts
      at their positions en masse would be suicide (after all, it hadn’t
      worked up until now). Once again they pressed the ministry to outfit and
      train a crack cadre of special forces that wouldn’t bristle at the
      Armenian advantage.

      Best’s mysterious international connections once again worked to his
      advantage. Abdullah was one of an estimated 2,000 Afghan mercenaries
      hired by MEGA Oil to wear Azeri uniforms and face the Armenians head on.
      (The Afghans were split between separate parts of the country; Abdullah
      himself claims to have trained with 200 of his fellow countrymen.)

      It’s difficult to house a few thousand foreign soldiers and keep it
      quiet, especially in a country as small as Azerbaijan. Abdullah tells us
      that he and his compatriots were never permitted to leave the base. As
      the recruits’ identity papers had been confiscated upon their arrival in
      the country, they had no doubt that any attempt to desert would result
      in their arrest as illegal migrants – their American handlers had
      several times threatened to do just that in disciplinary proceedings. In
      spite of his precautions, Gary
      Best’s Afghan enterprise was soon common knowledge all over the
      Caucasus, even in Armenia and Karabakh, though no one had yet collected
      enough evidence to substantiate it.

      MEGA Oil’s Karabakh adventure was the first time that Afghans fought
      inside the boundaries of the former Soviet Union. In later years, they
      would flock to Tajikistan and Chechnya in aid of embattled Muslim
      rebels, hijacking what were more or less independence struggles for
      their own war to further the reach of fundamentalist Islam. Importing
      hardcore Mujahedin could have been disastrous for Azerbaijan as well.
      For a variety of reasons, it wasn’t.

      Elchibey’s government wanted experienced soldiers – the mujahids who
      have put the fear of a fire-breathing Allah into Christians and
      Communists on four continents. But most of the Afghans hired by MEGA Oil
      were like Abdullah: poor refugees whose only connection to war had been
      their flight from it (something they shared with a great many Azeris).
      Very few of the
      Afghans, according to Abdullah, had any fighting experience whatsoever.
      Best had bought Afghan refugees for pennies, and sold them as million
      dollar Afghan Mujahedin.

      According to Abdullah, and confirmed by people involved in the project
      interviewed by Thomas Goltz in the mid-1990s, the “well-armed” part of
      MEGA Oil’s Afghan enterprise wasn’t quite accurate, either. Much of
      Azerbaijan’s heavy weaponry had been lost in Karabakh during the
      previous winter’s Armenian counter-attack. Goltz even alleged that many
      of the Afghans given
      RPGs and anti-armour weapons watched in horror as their rounds bounced
      harmlessly from Armenian positions. They had been firing practice
      rounds, remarked and sold at discount prices as live ammunition.

      In addition to Afghans like Abdullah, Best imported in several dozen
      American veterans to replenish those who had walked away in disgust
      after Best, Aderholt and Secord’s original plans had been shelved with
      the fall of Mutalibov. According to Goltz, many of the “legitimate”
      American mercenaries scoffed at the new meat Best brought in as “the
      type of psychos who answer ads in magazines.” Abdullah remembers things
      differently – all of the Americans, he claims, were arrogant sadists and
      willing collaborators in the scheme. Even worse were some of the Turkish
      “advisors” – some allegedly members of the fascist Grey Wolves movement
      – that the Turkophile Elchibey had added to the project, one of whom
      shot an Afghan recruit in a brawl. Training was hard, and the Afghans
      were given spoiled food and hand-me-down uniforms mended with patches.

      The winter offensive began in December. The Popular Front began a
      massive program of agitation among the Azeri population, with one of
      Elchibey’s advisors threatening to launch nuclear warheads into Karabakh
      to teach the Armenians a lesson. It soon became clear that the offensive
      was a complete failure. Thousands of Azeris were killed, and in another
      counter-attack, the
      Armenians for the first time occupied Azeri territory outside of
      Karabakh itself. People that Goltz spoke to blamed Azerbaijan’s military
      brass for using the “elite troops” that Best had acquired as “cannon
      fodder.” Abdullah has a different explanation.

      “When the shooting started, we were surrounded, and we ran,” he says.
      Though miles away in Tbilisi, one gets the impression that the battle
      for Abdullah is just over the next hill. He fidgets and runs a hand
      through his thick black hair.

      “You must understand that most of us had only fired a gun a few times,
      never an automatic weapon. Only a few of us had fought before, and when
      we looked to [these] people to lead us, they were unable to communicate
      with the Azeris. We didn’t speak the language and nobody spoke ours. The
      orders were to advance at any cost, but it was clear that the people who
      issued these orders did not know what we were fighting. We looked at the
      maps. Were we in the wrong place? No, but they gave us maps from forty
      years ago! The village at the top of a hill was burned to the ground.
      The Armenians were in it and
      they were shooting down at us. But according to the map, there was no
      village at all!”

      The Azeri regular forces fared no better. An element of farce permeated
      the sackings and dismissals as the Elchibey government searched for a
      scapegoat to blame for the latest Azeri military disaster. The closest
      thing the Azeris had to a war hero, Colonel Surat Husseinov, decided to
      spare his troops the pleasure of hurling the lifeless bodies of their
      comrades at
      Armenian machine gun nests and withdrew of his own accord from
      Kelbadzhar. The Armenians swooped down in their wake. While gaining
      thousands of new refugees from the area, Azerbaijan had lost one of its
      last pieces of Karabakh. Essentially, the Karabakh War was over.


      WORSE FOR AZERBAIJAN’S leaders, Armenian troops combing the battlefields
      had found many dark-skinned Afghan corpses among the dead. A few had
      managed to hide identity papers, refugee cards, pictures of their
      sweethearts and even, in one case, a clipping from a Peshawar newspaper
      which carried a story about his son’s academic achievements.

      The evidence was leaked from Karabakh through the network of Armenian
      organizations throughout the world. One enterprising journalist from the
      London Observer sleuthed around and discovered the embryonic core of the
      story of the oil company that trained combat squads, publishing a few
      details about it in his papers’ November 28, 1993 edition.

      The true scope of American involvement in the Karabakh War became known
      as more facts were ferreted out. New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone, a
      noted friend of Armenia who has even served as an election observer in
      the unrecognized Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, called for an
      investigation from the floor of Congress. Embassies in the Caucasus
      distanced their bosses from allegations that MEGA Oil, a company founded
      by three prominent figures in the American intelligence community, had
      enjoyed official backing all along.

      Andrew, the “hazmat broker,” says he was not surprised by the denials,
      even though he gives contradictory answers as to whether Best & Co. had
      official American backing. “There is a stench of failure when things
      fail so badly,” he says, repeating the old saw that “‘Victory has a
      thousand fathers; defeat is always an orphan.'” When pressed, Andrew
      says that Best wouldn’t have been able to obtain the kind of money
      needed to hire and outfit a mercenary army from the paltry $1.8 million
      Ponder claims to have advanced to MEGA in Best’s oil well fraud.

      “You learn a few things from being around people like Gary Best,” he
      adds, “And you better learn them, since you get nothing else from his
      acquaintance. Governments are born without eyes, and the left hand
      doesn’t know what the right one is doing. In the best parts of the USA
      like the agriculture departments, they have transparency and the left
      and right guide each other.

      “I don’t think Gary’s little adventure had official support, as in the
      head of the CIA signing off on it. I do think he had a lot of friends in
      high places and he was able to convince these people to trust him and
      not blow the whistle on what he was doing. If it worked they all stood
      to benefit. The army would be victorious and would be led by Americans.
      That’s a powerful advantage. We wouldn’t have had all the problems we
      have had here and it would have been owed to America. It didn’t work
      though, so instead you see only Gary Best.”


      ABDULLAH RAN FOR his life from the Afghan cemetery in Karabakh, and
      didn’t stop running until he crossed the border to Georgia. He says he
      has knowledge of only one other Afghan known personally to him to have
      survived the slaughter in Azerbaijan – a cousin, who made his way home
      to Peshawar. Though that city isn’t really their home, it is a sanctuary
      exile turned permanent – the type of place which hundreds of thousands
      of Azeris from Karabakh in squalid camps, neglected by their own
      government for ten years running, do not know.

      The American mercenaries, some of whom had been used as “force
      multipliers” during the winter offensive, trickled home disgusted and,
      needless to say, unpaid. There are reports that others stayed behind in
      Azerbaijan, acting as muscle for various Azeri kingpins, though no
      instances have come to our attention. Thugs and oafs, sadly, are not in
      short supply.

      According to Andrew, one of the reasons Azeri President Elchibey was
      willing to forgive MEGA Oil for their past transgressions was “his
      pathological hatred of Russians.” That was why MEGA’s last remaining
      founder returned to favour after building a Praetorian Guard for
      Elchibey’s predecessor and having his oil wells confiscated as punishment.

      Russian support was indeed crucial for Elchibey’s opponents in their
      quest to have him overthrown. Surat Husseinov, the colonel who absconded
      with his troops from Karabakh during the Afghan enterprise, rallied his
      forces in his hometown of Gyandzha. Direct orders for him to return to
      Karabakh or disarm went unheeded. Husseinov blew his ill-gotten fortune
      re-equipping his troops and their numbers grew with the desertion of
      thousands of Russian soldiers from the old Soviet base in that city. In
      June of 1993, Husseinov marched on Baku, overthrowing Elchibey and
      bringing a relic of Azerbaijan’s Soviet
      past, Heydar Aliyev – a former Brezhnev protégé and head of the Azeri
      KGB – in tow. Aliyev later squeezed out Husseinov and placed his dopey
      son, Ilham, into a prime position as head of SOCAR, where he remains to
      this day, waiting for his father to die and to take his place as a
      bejeweled sultan of a hungry nation.

      Prior to Husseinov’s mutiny, Elchibey was preparing to go abroad to sign
      the so-called “Deal of the Century,” granting rights to exploit
      Azerbaijan’s share of the Caspian oil shelf to a consortium of energy
      companies for seven billion dollars. Aliyev signed the deal a few months
      later instead.

      Brigadier General Harry “Heinie” Aderholt returned to his retirement
      among the palm trees in Florida, from where he supervised the writing of
      his biography by a sympathetic admirer. It carries no mention of MEGA
      Oil, Gary Best, or most of his career for that matter. The debacle in
      Azerbaijan seems not to have tainted his reputation in the slightest.

      Richard Secord settled down in 1995, employed in a variety of offices
      for Computerized Thermal Imaging, a health industry company based in
      Oregon. He was made Chairman and CEO in 2002. Since he has taken over
      the company, CTI’s stock has fallen from $19 to about 11 cents per
      share. Secord was subpoenaed in December 2002 to answer for having sold
      about a hundred thousand shares of CTI stock ahead of an unfavourable
      Food and Drug Administration ruling on a product they sell; he bought
      the shares back a week later and made approximately $90,000 in the
      bargain. A few days before press time, CTI’s auditor, Deloitte & Touche,
      severed relations with the company and CTI failed to release its fourth
      quarter report.

      As for Gary Best, his fate is unclear. Andrew repeated a rumor heard by
      many former Best associates that their man had been nailed trafficking
      in nuclear materials in the port of Baku by the Azeri police. It was
      later covered up, or so the story goes, because Azerbaijan under Aliyev
      – a repressive, brutal dictator – is an American partner only for his
      claims to have stabilized a
      resource-rich country torn apart by war and ready to explode by a revolt
      of the disenfranchised – in essence, a Shah and a Commissar in one. A
      Freedom of Information Act request was sent to several departments of
      the United States government which sought any and all documents relating
      to Gary Best and MEGA Oil. Surprisingly, a request of a similar nature –
      including all documents relating to Best and the export of nuclear
      materials from the port of Baku – was already on record from the Summer
      of 2002. It was denied.

      One question persists at the end of the story: Were Best, Secord and
      Aderholt out for their government, or out for themselves? When what was
      done in Azerbaijan is done for the love of money, we call it greed. When
      it’s done for the love of America, we call it patriotism. The answer for
      these particular patriots is likely to be mired in the dense gray area
      between the two extremities. Except for the fraud perpetrated on Ponder
      Industries, it appears that most of the dynamic trio’s exploits were
      fully in line with the policy held an administration desperate to lay
      sole claim to a source of energy without any ties to the Iranians or
      Russians, but unable to do so owing to the persistent pressure placed
      upon them by the Armenian-American community. Despite a number of
      violations of US law – paramount among them, the recruitment of an army
      for a foreign prince or despot, a crime considered so grave by the
      Founding Fathers that it is enshrined in the primary documents of the
      American Republic – no one associated with MEGA Oil has ever been
      charged. As more time passes and oil companies entrench themselves in
      the Caspian region, the possibility becomes more remote that they ever
      will be.

      MEGA Oil’s activities in Azerbaijan appear at first glance to have had
      no long-term effects on the region: the two political chieftains they
      supported were both overthrown, and the Azeris probably would have lost
      Karabakh anyway. But the first glance is deceiving. Emerging from the
      primordial hangover of seventy years of Soviet rule, the Caucasus
      staggered through the
      1990s like a victim from the scene of a bloody accident. Wars
      hemorrhaged from Chechnya to Abkhazia, South Ossetia to Ingushetia,
      North Ossetia to Karabakh. It didn’t have to be this way.

      The first Bush Administration disowned the only dissidents to take power
      in any of the Soviet republics outside of the Baltics – Elchibey and
      Gamsakhurdia – and Clinton built upon this bankrupt policy by
      dispatching CIA teams to protect the new guardians of the BTC Pipeline
      from their own people. The second Bush team has sent American soldiers
      to train-and-equip the Georgian army, ready to unleash blitzkrieg on
      ethnic minorities in Abkhazia and South Ossetia that broke away in the
      early 1990s – and possibly against an Armenian enclave in the south of
      the country as well.

      The only thing preventing the Americans from offering the same sort of
      “help” to Azerbaijan had been Section 907. In the interest of national
      security, and to help in “enhancing global energy security” during this
      War on Terror, Congress granted President Bush the right to waive
      Section 907 in the aftermath of September 11th. It was necessary,
      Secretary of State Colin
      Powell told Congress, to “enable Azerbaijan to counter terrorist

      President Bush utilized the waiver almost immediately. For Azerbaijan,
      no more MEGA Oils will be necessary.

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