By Huffington Post | by Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld
Thursday, April 2nd, 2009 @ 3:40AM
Posted April 2, 2009 | 01:40 PM (EST) Osama Bin Laden is in Iran, asserts Alan Howell Parrot, the director of The Union for the Conservation of Raptors (UCR – www.savethefalcons.org). In fact, he has been stating this, offering evidence of Bin Laden’s sighting in Iran, since November 2004 to a great number of U.S. government officials at the Department of Defense, the FBI, Senators, and even to the former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Gen. Michael V. Hayden. No one responded. Falconry is a 2,000-year-old tradition among Arabs, especially princes and sheikhs. They gather several times a year in well- equipped hunting camps in the Arabian deserts, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, among other places, to hunt with falcons that cost $100,000 and in some cases more than $2 million. Not surprisingly, the illegal trade in falcons is valued at more than $300 million annually.
Falconry is so popular in the Middle East that the founder of the Saudi kingdom, Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman Al Saud, was known as “the Falcon of the Peninsula” (Al Saqr al Jazira). Saudi Prince Fahd bin Sultan described Falconry as the Arabs’ “form of golf, a place to relax and conduct business.” Bin Laden is also known as an avid Falconer. Former White House counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke told the 9/11 Commission that in the 1999 the U.S. “planned to bomb a Falconry camp in Pakistan when Osama bin Laden was present.” That raid, however, “was scrubbed because a minister from the United Arab Emirates was a member of the hunting party.”
Encouraged by president-elect Barak Obama’s statement on January 14 in an interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric that his “preference obviously would be to capture or kill him [Bin Laden]”, Parrot sent a letter to the Rewards for Justice program at the State Department detailing his efforts to track Bin Laden and providing information of bin Laden’s whereabouts. Parrot also noted that he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials and that “a negotiated and political (i.e. not-military) solution is available” with the Iranian leadership. The letter was sent on January 20, but Parrot has yet to hear from Washington.
Parrot’s story is as unconventional as he is. A Falconer who, in 1974, just 18 years old, began his career training hunting falcons for the Shah of Iran. He excelled in his work and was retained by wealthy Arabs in Kuwait and the Gulf States who flew him regularly from Ithaca, NY – he studied biology at Cornell University – to the Middle East. He left school after 3 years in favor of trapping and training falcons for The United Emirates (UAE) president and Abu Dhabiﾒs ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayyan From 1981- 1991 he continued to work for Zayed, who hosted him in his many palaces where Parrot met and befriended many of the ruler’s guests, including the late Yasser Arafat, who also enjoyed Zayed’s largess for many years. Sheikh Zayed’s recommendation opened doors to employment with other Arab leaders. Parrot also worked for Saudi Crown Prince – now King – Abdullah bin Abdulaziz.
A true bird lover, Parrot could not tolerate the illegal smuggling and abuse of falcons he witnessed the world over, and from 1978 -1984 he participated as a civilian undercover agent in “Operation Falcon,” conducted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the Canadian Wildlife Service (CWS) to stop the multi-million dollar international smuggling of North American falcons to the Middle East. That operation resulted in the arrest of 300+ falcon smugglers the world over. Prince Bandar bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, the former Saudi Ambassador to the U.S., was also caught smuggling falcons from the U.S. on board a Royal Saudi Airlines charted plane. Bandar paid his $150,000 fine to the Department of Justice from his Washington DC Riggs Bank account. It was the same account which Bandar’s wife used to pay two of the 9/11 hijackers. True to form, Bandar threatened the U.S. government with oil sanctions if the story leaked; not surprisingly, the public remained in the dark.
In praise of his work in Operation Falcon, Parrot received two letters of commendation from the Canadian government. Together with a dedicated team of like-minded falcon lovers, Parrot continued to collect evidence on falcon smuggling throughout Central Asia, Russia, China, and the Middle East. In 2001 he established The Union for the Conservation of Raptors (UCR), a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization. Its mandate pertains ﾓto the conservation and sustainable management of raptors, with specialized expertise on Middle East falconry practices and smuggling cartels with operational linkage to al-Qaeda.ﾔ Parrot found out that the Secretariat for the U.N. Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has violated its own mandate by licensing illegal trade in sport-falcons to Arab rulers and sheikhs. This led to the creation of ‘five star’ tented cities erected throughout the Middle East, Central Asia, and Afghanistan, like the royal falconry camp that served as Al Qaeda’s de facto ‘Board room,’ referenced in the 9/11 Commission Report.
Parrot’s passion to save the falcons led him and his expert team to bin Laden. In November 2004 a UCR field operator in Iran happened to meet bin Laden. Parrot brought the very detailed and seemingly convincing evidence to my attention. I then introduced him to former senior US military officials. Between November 2004 and January 2009 Parrot says he has “diligently reported UCR meetings with Bin Laden in Iran, to U.S. government agencies. At no time did the Bush Administration request interviews with any of the UCR field operators who tracked and met bin Laden in Iran.” Parrot provided accounts of bin Ladenﾒs movement and details of six meetings UCR’s operators had with bin Laden in Iran; some were held near Zehedan, in Southern Iran, others in a safe house North of Tehran and in Mashhad. Moreover, Parrot claims that he has negotiated with Iranian officials the transfer of bin Laden from Iran to the custody of the Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Saud al Fisal. Since these detailed reports have been persistent and the sources appear reliable, one hopes that the Obama Administration would follow them up. If indeed the Iranian regime harbors Osama bin Laden, it should be a major factor in the U.S. dealings with Iran.
Dr. Rachel Ehrenfeld author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed – and How to Stop It, is director of American Center for Democracy