Triple Cross: Journalist Peter Lance on How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets and the FBI – And Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him
New details have emerged about how an al Qaeda spy named Ali Mohamed penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets and the FBI before the 9/11 attacks. We speak with investigative journalist Peter Lance about his new book, “Triple Cross.” [includes rush transcript]
Ali Mohamed was a member of Osama bin Laden’s inner circle who operated freely within the United States for years before 9/11. Despite being a top al Qaeda operative, he managed to become a naturalized US citizen, join the US Army, get posted to the military base where Green Berets and Delta Force train and infiltrate both the CIA and FBI. And while he was an FBI informant he smuggled bin Laden in and out of Afghanistan and helped plan the attacks on US embassies in Africa. He ended up playing a pivotal role in 9/11.
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Journalist Peter Lance joins me here in our firehouse studio. He is a five-time Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter and a former ABC News correspondent. His new book is called “Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets and the FBI – And Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him.”
* Peter Lance, five-time Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter and a former ABC News correspondent. His latest book is “Triple Cross.” His previous books include “1000 Years For Revenge” and “Cover Up.” Website: Peterlance.com
This transcript is available free of charge. However, donations help us provide closed captioning for the deaf and hard of hearing on our TV broadcast. Thank you for your generous contribution. Donate – $25, $50, $100, more…
AMY GOODMAN : This all according to journalist Peter Lance, who joins us here in New York, a five-time Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter, former ABC News correspondent. His new book is quite a tome. It’s called Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets and the FBI – And Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him . Welcome to Democracy Now!
PETER LANCE : Good to be back, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN : Well, lay out this story.
PETER LANCE : Okay. Well, Ali Mohamed was — the story actually begins 20 years before 9/11 with the murder of Anwar Sadat. Ali Mohamed was actually a member of the radical Egyptian army unit that murdered Sadat. Only, at the time, he escaped investigation because he happened to be at Fort Bragg even then on an officer exchange program. And when Mubarak took over in Egypt, he purged the military of some radical elements, and Ali was discharged.
But Dr. Imam al-Zawahiri, who was then emerging as the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, recognized Ali Mohamed’s potential. Amy, he was an army commando. He spoke four languages, including Hebrew. He had two degrees in psychology. So Dr. al-Zawahiri pretty much adopted him and sponsored him and first vectored him toward Egypt Air. He spent a year at Egypt Air, the state airline, where he studied all the air piracy counterterrorism measures.
He then — you know, there was the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon in ’83, October. And the previous April, there was the embassy bombing, the kidnapping of the CIA station chief. So the CIA was desperate at that point in early ’84 to get anyone who, you know, could speak Arabic or had any sense of the Islamic world. So Ali walked into the CIA station in Cairo and presented himself, and they vetted him to some degree, but they sent him to Hamburg, where the primary CIA station looking into Hezbollah was operated. And he went to work briefly as a CIA operative in Hamburg and infiltrated a mosque, only, according to legend, blown his cover.
But, Amy, mysteriously he was able to get past the US watch list. And one of his former CO at Fort Bragg told me he believed that he had had help from the CIA getting into America. On the plane on the way in, a TWA flight, he met a woman from California who was coming back from Greece on vacation, about ten years older than him. And six weeks later, they were married at a drive-through wedding chapel in Reno, Nevada. He is now living in Santa Clara in her condo in the middle of, you know, the high-tech heartland, and eventually enlists in the US Army, as you said, goes in as an enlisted man, because I believe that, you know, OCS, Officer Candidate School, would have subjected him to greater scrutiny.
But in any event, he ends up at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, which is the heart of the advanced training for Delta Force and the Greet Berets. And his CO, Colonel Anderson, told us, he said it would be easier to win the power ball lottery than to be in the unit that murdered Anwar Sadat and get past the watch list and end up at the SWC, they call it.
AMY GOODMAN : How do you know all this?
PETER LANCE : Well, I know it because, you know, I have been working for five years now, Amy, focusing primarily on the two bin Laden offices of origin, the New York office of the FBI and the Southern District Prosecutor’s Office. Up until 9/11, the war on terror, as you know, was fought as a series of legal cases, a stones throw from where we are here in the Southern District.
And so, what I did when I went — right after 9/11, when I began, really “How did this happen?” and “Could it happen again?” were my two questions. So, what I did was, I read all 40,000 pages of the Southern District cases. I read every book on the subject, 10,000 articles. You know, Paul Thompson has — I’ve worked closely with Paul Thompson of cooperativeresearch.org and basically, you know, began developing sources inside and outside of the bureau.
And one day, I woke up — after the first book, I showed tremendous negligence by the bureau, and then gross negligence, in my second book, to the point of suppression of some evidence. And I still couldn’t connect the dots. And one day, I woke up, and I went, “Ali Mohamed is the key.” I mentioned him briefly in my first two books. And there had been about a dozen articles on him, which I cite in the beginning of the book. New York Times had done pieces on him. But no one had ever looked at him in depth.
And when I began to, you know, peel back the layers on Ali Mohamed’s career, I realized that the principal fed, the principal prosecutor who was running Squad I-49 effectively in the New York office of the bureau, the bin Laden squad, was Patrick Fitzgerald. Patrick Fitzgerald, from January 1996, was charged by the Justice Department with pretty much getting bin Laden. President Clinton had issued —
AMY GOODMAN : Explain his position at the time.
PETER LANCE : At the time, he was a prosecutor in the Southern District. He was soon to become, ironically, head of Organized Crime and Terrorism in the Southern District. And this is the office, by the way, that produced Rudy Giuliani, Louis Freeh. It’s the primary — it’s the stellar US federal prosecutor’s office.
AMY GOODMAN : And, of course, Patrick Fitzgerald is the man who eventually went on to investigate the Valerie Plame case.
PETER LANCE : Absolutely, and became US Attorney in Chicago. In fact, he made — I would speak metaphorically and say he made his bones, he became famous, on the African embassy bombing case, which was called US v. Bin Laden in February of ’01. But he ended up convicting one primary player, Wadi al-Hajj, but the other people convicted were fairly minor players.
Ali Mohamed, Amy, on the other hand, was the principal — not only did he do the surveillance for the bombing in 1993, but bin Laden himself, according to Ali’s testimony, pointed to the pictures and said, “This is where I want the suicide truck bomb to go.” Five years later, that’s exactly where the bomb in Nairobi went off. Ali sustained the cell. He interacted regularly with Wadi al-Hajj, and yet he’s also an FBI informant on the West Coast from 1992. Amy, this man trained the original World Trade Center bombing cell. He trained the —
AMY GOODMAN : You mean in 1993.
PETER LANCE : In 1993. The cell that worked with Ramzi Yousef to do the first World Trade Center bombing. He trained El Sayyid Nosair, the Egyptian who murdered Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990. In fact, he stayed at his house. He used to come up weekends from Fort Bragg, and he would bring top-secret — I have like 30 pages of heretofore classified documents in the book. And he would bring these top-secret memos from Fort Bragg, and he’d give them to Nosair. They found them the night after the rabbi’s murder in Nosair’s apartment. And they also found two operatives, Abu Halima and Salameh, that night. They arrested them. And these men were photographed, along with Nosair, in Calverton, Long Island in 1989. Now, this was when Bush 41 is in the White House.
The New York office of the FBI, their elite unit that got John Gotti, over four weekends in July of ’89, they followed a group of men — MEs, they called them, for Middle Eastern men — and they followed them, Amy, from the Al Farooq Mosque on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn out to the shooting range, where they’re firing automatic weapons in the middle of the summer. And of the men photographed by the FBI when Bush 41 was in the White House, three were later convicted in the Trade Center bombing. One, Nosair, was convicted both initially for the gun charges and the rabbi’s death, and eventually Patrick Fitzgerald and Andrew McCarthy convicted him in what was called the “Day of Terror” plot, the bridge and tunnel plot.
So the FBI had Ali Mohamed’s cell on the radar in ’89. They had Ali himself working as an informant from 1992. And he is literally, as you pointed out — he moved the entire al-Qaeda leadership from Afghanistan to Sudan. He set up the al-Qaeda training camps. He trained bin Laden’s personal body guard, lived in bin Laden’s house and, as I said, was the primary player behind the African embassy bombings.
I prove in this book — and I challenge Patrick Fitzgerald who refused to talk to me, but I challenge him to show me where they could not have prevented the African embassy bombings. Squad I-49, this elite squad of FBI units, which he was effectively directing, had a wiretap on the home in Kenya of Wadi al-Hajj. They searched Wadi al-Hajj’s house, Amy, in August of ’97 in Kenya. They found Ali Mohamed’s phone number and contact information in Sacramento.
Patrick Fitzgerald himself had a meeting with Ali Mohamed, face to face, in Sacramento in October, at which point Ali said to him — and by the way, at this point Ali Mohamed is a naturalized US citizen, an Army veteran getting a pension, you know, from the US Army — he said to Patrick Fitzgerald across the table, “I love bin Laden. I do not need a fatwa to attack America. I have a number of sleepers who I can make operational like that. And I could just” —
AMY GOODMAN : And this, you have from what, this information?
PETER LANCE : From Jack Cloonan, the principal agent who was at the meeting. He was the principal agent — one of the two or three principal agents in Squad I-49, was at the meeting. So it’s, you know, from the mouth of the agent who was there. And after the meeting, Patrick Fitzgerald turned to Cloonan and said, “That is the most dangerous man I have ever met. We cannot leave him on the street.” And yet, they did, Amy, for ten more months, only to have the bombs go off. They waited a month to arrest him. And even when they arrested him, they kept him on a John Doe warrant for nine months in the Southern District, because they didn’t want the media to know effectively they had been snookered by this guy.
AMY GOODMAN : A John Doe warrant means they didn’t name him.
PETER LANCE : Didn’t name him. And they negotiated with him for almost two years to cut a deal. But Ali had all the cards, if you will, in the poker game. Why? Because he knew that the feds would never want the record that is now contained in this book to come out, how they had been bamboozled and snookered for many years by this principal spy.
AMY GOODMAN : I’m looking at some criticism by Larry Johnson, the former CIA analyst, who says, “Here’s the truth: there’s not one document, piece of court evidence or retired FBI agent that supports the claim that in the year prior to the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa Ali Mohamed was recorded stating his intent to attack those embassies. Not one.”
PETER LANCE : Larry Johnson is a joke, okay? Larry Johnson was a former CIA officer who happened to be in the same class as Valerie Plame. If you google “Larry C. Johnson” and google “the declining terrorist threat,” he wrote an Op-Ed page piece on July 10th of 2001, the day the Phoenix memo was issued, that basically said the declining terrorist threat — he was quoted in the New York Times as saying, bin Laden is highly overestimated, he’s being treated like a Fortune 500 leader when in fact al-Qaeda is fragmented.
Larry Johnson has had an animus against me personally for years. Amy, last week, on his website he actually said that I had not won five Emmy Awards. He came right out and said it, and I called the National Academy. They furnished him with proof. It was all on my website. My five Emmys were listed. And he literally maliciously, without even talking to me to confirm, withdrew that, you know, false malicious statement. Larry Johnson’s upset because I’ve named him in my book as an example of how the feds failed on the road to 9/11. He’s a regular talking head, because he has supported, you know — and by the way, I support the investigation —
AMY GOODMAN : And what about the point that there is not one document, not one former FBI agent who supports this idea that he said that he was going to take out the embassies before they were bombed?
PETER LANCE : He never said — I never ever said in my book that he did. I never ever said in my book that Ali Mohamed said he was going to take out the embassies before they were bombed. What was true, what Jack Cloonan told me, was that Harlan Bell, one of the agents in Squad I-49, after the embassy bombing, he went back and he looked at — he had recorded some conversations with Ali, and Ali said, “We have an operation going on in Africa.” He never mentioned the bombings. I never even said that in the book. What Larry Johnson is trying to do is, because he’s upset that I’ve impeached his credibility, he’s trying to attack my book. And by the way, he made that statement before the book had even come out. He hadn’t even read the book.
AMY GOODMAN : Where is Ali Mohamed today?
PETER LANCE : Ali Mohamed is in some kind of custodial witness protection. As I said, he cut a deal. He escaped the death penalty. He is — I believe he’s in the New York area somewhere, because Cloonan said his wife Linda Sanchez remains loyal to him, visits him regularly, and Cloonan lives in the New York area, and he says, “I see Linda when she comes in to visit Ali.” But they may have moved him by now.
AMY GOODMAN : Why would the US be protecting him?
PETER LANCE : Because he is a one-man 9/11 commission. Ali Mohamed, if he ever told the full truth under oath, would expose all the years of negligence by the Southern District. Amy, look, Patrick Fitzgerald and the Southern District prosecutors have had an almost unblemished reputation for years as being the primary, you know, terror-busters. You know, Vanity Fair did this glowing article on him, in which they described him as the bin Laden brain, scary smart intelligence.
No one has ever, ever gone back and audited Patrick Fitzgerald in the Southern District. The 9/11 Commission didn’t, because Dietrich Snell was a co-prosecutor with Fitzgerald, is the one who wrote Staff Statement 16 on the origin of the plot. And he literally pushed the plot, the 9/11 plot forward from Manila, the Philippines, with Yousef and Khalid Shaikh. He moved it to 1996, claiming that Khalid Shaikh wasn’t even a member of al-Qaeda at the time.
AMY GOODMAN : What do you think needs to happen now?
PETER LANCE : What I think needs to happen is there needs to be a real investigation of 9/11, not staffed by alumni of the very agencies that, you know, were asleep at the switch in the years leading up to 9/11. It should be staffed by American citizens, journalists, scholars, widows, the Jersey girls should be on it. It should be fully funded, and it should have subpoena power, because anyone that thinks that in reading the 9/11 Commission Report you’ve gotten the full story is wrong. No accountability. They never named a single name in the 9/11 Commission Report .
Ali Mohamed’s entire career is mentioned in one tiny little paragraph of the 9/11 report. Jamie Gorelick was deputy attorney general. She literally — they had Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, was captured in December of 1994 with a Newton PDA, a treasure trove of evidence linking him to the Blind Sheikh in New York and Yousef’s cell in Manila. And Jamie Gorelick effectively pushed him out of country to Jordan, even though her own State Department, the State Department said he’s a terrorist, we should investigate him. Not a word of that is in the 9/11 report.
Nor in The Looming Tower . I mean, Lawrence Wright, in this book — and he’s an excellent writer for the New Yorker — Lawrence Wright mentions Mohammed Jamal Khalifa twenty times and never even mentions the fact that he was captured by the bureau, because he interviewed many of these agents and just took their word at face value. What I’ve done is I’ve gone back and I’ve audited them. So anyone who’s read this book — and I recommend that everyone read The Looming Tower , by the way, it’s an excellent book — but that’s half of the story. We need to audit the Justice Department. We need to go back. And this transcends administrations. Fitzgerald is still working for Bush 43. Valerie Caproni, who was party to a cover-up of evidence in 1996 in the Eastern District and with Ramzi Yousef, she is the general counsel to the FBI. So many of these same people are working under Bush 43.
AMY GOODMAN : We’re going to have to leave it there. A very complex story. Peter Lance’s latest book is called Triple Cross: How Bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets and the FBI – And Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him . His earlier book, One Thousand Years for Revenge . Also wrote Cover Up . Thank you, Peter, for being with us.
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So the ‘holiday season’ has brought us a rehash of the recent attack on 9/11 skepticism from the schizophrenic www.counterpunch.org.
Apparently at Counterpunch, if you are a commentator with a fair amount of intellectual/political capital, you can write articles that suggest the 9/11 attacks were helped by US complicity. Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair will be happy to publish it on the front page (see any number of Paul Craig Roberts’ articles posted there, for instance).
To the rest of us ordinary people, Cockburn offers the back of his hand at the suggestion of complicity (see http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn11282006.html). ‘Nutty conspiracy theorists’, all. Yet his own diatribe contains the crucial admission which certifies the importance of 9/11 skepticism. More on that in a subsequent post.
For now, here are two ‘nutty’ pieces from Peter Dale Scott and Peter Lance on the amazing career of terrorist and US government employee, Ali Mohamed.
What Lance’s work shows, undeniably and foremost, is that the 9/11 attacks were the entirely foreseeable consequences of US covert politics as usual. It is the policy of US intelligence to employ literally anyone, be they murderers of heads of state, terrorist trainers or planners of a plot to blow up the World Trade Center, if it is determined that they are useful as ‘strategic assets’.
Not ‘capture and bring to justice’, but ’employ and protect from prosecution’. That’s not ‘blowback’, it’s complicity in terror before and after the fact.
It also reminds us that due to the longstanding and plentiful ties US intelligence has to terrorists at any given moment in time, those terrorists are always available to be used or framed should US intelligence ever see fit to use or frame them. For anything. And those of us on the outside – meaning virtually everybody, including most others within the intelligence apparatus and certainly including those in Congress who supposedly have ‘oversight’ as well as the public – can never know with a sufficient degree of confidence that they’ve gotten the full story on a deeply covert operation. Remember, even the much-celebrated ‘independent, nonpartisan and thorough’ 9/11 Commission was denied direct access to Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and the other supposed masterminds of the plot. The Commissioners were not permitted to ask direct questions of the accused. Instead, they (laughably) were told to submit their questions which the CIA promised they would hand deliver and submit the answers to the Commissioners.
How helpful! And how unsatisfactory. And how standard.
Back to the current case. If Lance and Scott are correct, Ali Mohamed is guilty if conspiring to kill Anwar Sadat and Meir Kahane, and blow up the WTC in 1993. He lived in Osama Bin Laden’s home, declared his ‘love’ for him publicly to Patrick Fitzgerald before the 1993 WTC bombing, trained Al Qaeda terrorists, and no doubt figured in a host of other capital crimes. So who was he ultimately working for during the different phases of his career as a terrorist murderer? Since the final sources are the terrorists themselves and the covert intelligence types who employed them and who make a career of telling lies, how on earth can you know what to believe?
That’s the world of ‘intelligence’. You can’t reliably find the bottom of it from the outside. How again does this benefit the people?
We hope readers will focus more on facts, and less on the speculative conclusions drawn by Lance. It’s baffling how he can claim that Mohamed ‘bamboozled’ or ‘snookered’ his handlers right after Lance claims Mohamed told Fitzgerald he loved Bin Laden and could make an ‘operation’ happen in an instant. The indisputable facts are that Mohamed was permitted the space by his US sponsors to train terrorists and hatch plots, for whatever reason. That’s the important thing, not Lance’s speculation on how he was able to outsmart his handlers. Better that we leave open the question of just how Mohamed was able to bring this off, as Scott does, in concluding that:
“It’s time to confront the reality that these (US intelligence) agencies themselves, and their own sponsorship and protection of terrorist activities, have aggravated the greatest threats to our national security.”
How the FBI protected Al Qaeda’s 9/11 Hijacking Trainer
The following text is an expanded version of Peter Dale Scott’s Talk at Berkeley, September 24, 2006, entitled “9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out.” I want to talk tonight about using the 9/11 Report as evidence — evidence of what is being suppressed. We can use it in this way because some parts of the Report are accurate and reliable. This base line of reliability helps define other parts of the Report which are misleading, and in a few places I believe dead wrong. These relevant omissions and deceptions should be taken as clues as to what is being suppressed, and where the hidden truth lies.
I shall talk of the Report’s occasional resistance to the truth. Let me give an easy and incontrovertible analogy from the Warren Report. The Warren Report got many things right; but it also minimized the links between Jack Ruby and organized crime. 1 This resistance was a clue that Ruby in fact was crime-related and that this was important. The House Select Committee on Assassinations, even though they got many things wrong, amply confirmed the importance of Ruby’s crime links.
We find similar symptomatic resistance in the 9/11 Report.
1) Here is an easy example : the identity of the hijackers . The FBI had distributed a list naming 18 of the 19 alleged hijackers by 10 AM on 9/11. 2 Within two weeks the identities of at least six of the hijackers were unclear; as men in Arab countries with the same names and histories, and in some cases the same photographs, were protesting that they were alive and innocent. 3 In response to these protests, FBI Director Robert Mueller soon acknowledged that the identity of several of the suicide hijackers was in doubt. 4 But there is no discussion of this problem in the detailed treatment of the alleged hijackers in the 9/11 Commission Report. 5
2) WTC-7. This is obviously a big area of doubt, as you have just heard. The Report’s solution was not to mention WTC-7 at all. And yet Kean and Hamilton, the 9/11 Commission Co-Chairs, have the nerve to claim in their new book that after the Report “those believing conspiracy theories now had to rely solely on imagination, their theories having been disproved by facts.” 6 In other words, they are still covering up that there was a cover up.
3) The U.S. government’s intimate on-going connection to al-Qaeda and a chief 9/11 plotter .
In our book, 9/11 and Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out , I wrote of Ali Mohamed, the close ally of Osama bin Laden and his mentor Ayman al-Zawahiri. 7 It is now generally admitted that Ali Mohamed (known in the al Qaeda camps as Abu Mohamed al Amriki — “Father Mohamed the American”) 8 worked for the FBI, the CIA, and U.S. Special Forces. As he later confessed in court, he also aided the terrorist Ayman al-Zawahiri, a co-founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and by then an aide to bin Laden, when he visited America to raise money. 9
The 9/11 Report mentioned him, and said that the plotters against the U.S. Embassy in Kenya were “led” (their word) by Ali Mohamed. 10 That’s the Report’s only reference to him, though it’s not all they heard.
Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney who negotiated a plea bargain and confession from Ali Mohamed, said this in testimony to the Commission
Ali Mohamed. …. trained most of al Qaeda’s top leadership — including Bin Laden and Zawahiri — and most of al Qaeda’s top trainers. He gave some training to persons who would later carry out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing…. From 1994 until his arrest in 1998, he lived as an American citizen in California, applying for jobs as an FBI translator . 11
Patrick Fitzgerald knew Ali Mohamed well. In 1994 he had named him as an unindicted co-conspirator in the New York landmarks case, yet allowed him to remain free. This was because, as Fitzgerald knew, Ali Mohamed was an FBI informant , from at least 1993 and maybe 1989. 12 Thus, from 1994 “until his arrest in 1998 [by which time the 9/11 plot was well under way], Mohamed shuttled between California, Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia and at least a dozen other countries.” 13 Shortly after 9/11, Larry C. Johnson, a former State Department and CIA official, faulted the FBI publicly for using Mohamed as an informant, when it should have recognized that the man was a high-ranking terrorist plotting against the United States. 14
As I say in our book, in 1993 Ali Mohamed had been detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Canada, when he inquired at an airport after an incoming al Qaeda terrorist who turned out to be carrying two forged Saudi passports. Mohamed immediately told the RCMP to make a phone call to the United States, and the call secured his release. 15 We’ve since been told that it was Mohamed’s West coast FBI handler, John Zent, “who vouched for Ali and got him released.” 16
This release enabled Ali to go on to Kenya, take pictures of the U.S. Embassy, and deliver them to bin Laden for the Embassy bombing plot.
In August 2006 there was a National Geographic Special on Ali Mohamed. We can take this as the new official fallback position on Ali Mohamed, because John Cloonan, the FBI agent who worked with Fitzgerald on Mohamed, helped narrate it. I didn’t see the show, but here’s what TV critics said about its contents:
Ali Mohamed manipulated the FBI, CIA and U.S. Army on behalf of Osama bin Laden. Mohamed trained terrorists how to hijack airliners , bomb buildings and assassinate rivals. [D]uring much of this time Mohamed was …, an operative for the CIA and FBI, and a member of the U.S. Army. 17 …Mohamed turned up in FBI surveillance photos as early as 1989, training radical Muslims who would go on to assassinate Jewish militant Meir Kahane and detonate a truck bomb at the World Trade Center. He not only avoided arrest, but managed to become an FBI informant while writing most of the al Qaeda terrorist manual and helping plan attacks on American troops in Somalia and U.S. embassies in Africa. 18
That Mohamed trained al Qaeda in hijacking planes and wrote most of the al Qaeda terrorist manual is confirmed in a new book by Lawrence Wright, who has seen US Government records. 19 Let me say this again: one of al-Qaeda’s top trainers in terrorism and how to hijack airplanes was an operative for FBI, CIA, and the Army.
Yet this TV show, just before the 9/11 anniversary, was itself another cover-up. It suppressed for example the information given it about Mohamed’s detention and FBI-ordered release in Canada. According to Peter Lance, the principal author for the show, the show suppressed many other sensational facts. Here is Lance’s chief claim: that Fitzgerald and his FBI counterpart on the Bin Laden task force, John Cloonan, learned shortly after 9/11 that Mohamed “knew every twist and turn of” the 9/11 plot. 20
Within days of 9/11 Cloonan rushed backed from Yemen and interviewed Ali, whom the Feds had allowed to slip into witness protection, and demanded to know the details of the plot. At that point Ali wrote it all out – including details of how he’d counseled would-be hijackers on how to smuggle box cutters on board aircraft and where to sit, to effect the airline seizures. 21
If all these latest revelations about Ali Mohamed are true, then:
1) a key planner of the 9/11 plot, and trainer in hijacking, was simultaneously an informant for the FBI.
2) This operative trained the members for all of the chief Islamist attacks inside the United States — the first WTC bombing, the New York landmarks plot, and finally 9/11, as well as the attacks against Americans in Somalia and Kenya.
3) And yet for four years Mohamed was allowed to move in and out of the country as an unindicted conspirator. Then, unlike his trainees, he was allowed to plea-bargain. To this day he may still not have been sentenced for any crime . 22
Peter Lance has charged that Fitzgerald had evidence before 1998 to implicate Mohamed in the Kenya Embassy bombing, yet did nothing and let the bombing happen. 23 In fact, the FBI was aware back in 1990 that Mohamed had engaged in terrorist training on Long Island; yet it acted to protect Mohamed from arrest, even after one of his trainees had moved beyond training to an actual assassination. 24
Mohamed’s trainees were all members of the Al-Kifah Center in Brooklyn, which served as the main American recruiting center for the Makhtab-al-Khidimat, the “Services Center” network that after the Afghan war became known as al Qaeda. 25 The Al-Kifah Center was headed in 1990 by the blind Egyptian Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who like Ali Mohamed had been admitted to the United States, despite being on a State Department Watch List. 26 As he had done earlier in Egypt, the sheikh “issued a fatwa in America that permitted his followers to rob banks and kill Jews.” 27
In November 1990, three of Mohamed’s trainees conspired together to kill Meir Kahane, the racist founder of the Jewish Defense League. The actual killer, El Sayyid Nosair, was caught by accident almost immediately; and by luck the police soon found his two co-conspirators, Mahmoud Abouhalima and Mohammed Salameh, waiting at Nosair’s house. They found much more:
There were formulas for bomb making, 1,440 rounds of ammunition, and manuals [supplied by Ali Mohamed] from the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg marked “Top Secret for Training,” along with classified documents belonging to the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. The police found maps and drawings of New York City landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, Times Square — and the World Trade Center. The forty-seven boxes of evidence they collected also included the collected sermons of blind Sheikh Omar, in which he exhorted his followers to “destroy the edifices of capitalism.” 28
All three had been trained by Ali Mohamed back in the late 1980s at a rifle range, where the FBI had photographed them, before terminating this surveillance in the fall of 1989. 29
The U.S. Government was thus in an excellent position to arrest, indict, and convict all of the terrorists involved, including Mohamed.
Yet only hours after the killing, Joseph Borelli, Chief of NYPD detectives, struck a familiar American note and pronounced Nosair a “lone deranged gunman.” 30 Some time later, he actually told the press that “There was nothing [at Nosair’s house] that would stir your imagination…..Nothing has transpired that changes our opinion that he acted alone.” 31
Borelli was not acting alone in this matter. His position was also that of the FBI, who said they too believed “that Mr. Nosair had acted alone in shooting Rabbi Kahane.” “The bottom line is that we can’t connect anyone else to the Kahane shooting,” an F.B.I. agent said.” 32
In thus limiting the case, the police and FBI were in effect protecting Nosair’s two Arab co-conspirators in the murder of a U.S. citizen. Both of them were ultimately convicted in connection with the first WTC bombing, along with another Mohamed trainee, Nidal Ayyad. The 9/11 Report, summarizing the convictions of Salameh, Ayyad, Abouhalima, and the blind Sheikh for the WTC bombing and New York landmarks plots, calls it “this superb investigative and prosecutorial effort.” 33 It says nothing about the suppressed evidence found in Nosair’s house, including “maps and drawings of New York City landmarks,” which if pursued should have prevented both plots from developing.
What explains the 9/11 Report’s gratuitous and undeserved praise for the superb effort of Patrick Fitzgerald and the FBI in the New York landmarks case? How can it be “superb” to know that terrorists intend to blow up buildings, to lie to protect them from arrest, to allow them to bomb the WTC, and only then to arrest and convict them? Lance now alleges that Kenya was allowed to happen as well, before a few of the bombers there were convicted with the aid of the arch-plotter. This pattern of toleration can make for good arrest and conviction records, but at a terrible cost to public security.
Did the authors of the 9/11 Report recognize that here was an especially sensitive area, which if properly investigated would lead to past U.S. protection of terrorists? This question returns us to Peter Lance’s charge that Fitzgerald had evidence before 1998 to implicate Mohamed in the Kenya Embassy bombing, yet did nothing and let the bombing happen. Did Fitzgerald have similar advance evidence before the 9/11 attack, and again do nothing as well? Skeptics will need a thorough investigation before they can be reassured that this is not the case.
As a first step, all U.S. agencies should release the full documentary record of their dealings with Ali Mohamed, the FBI and CIA informant who allegedly planned the details of the airline seizures. Then and only then will a close interrogation of Fitzgerald satisfy those who accuse members of the U.S. Government of assisting the 9/11 plot, or alternatively of failing to prevent 9/11 from happening. 34
Now, what did the 9/11 Commission know about this scandalous situation? I suspect they knew more than they let on. Is it just a coincidence that they selected to write the staff reports about al Qaeda and the 9/11 plot, and conduct the relevant interviews, a man who had a personal stake in preventing the truth about Mohamed from coming out. This man was Dietrich Snell, who had been Fitzgerald’s colleague in the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s office. (Thus Snell presumably drafted the praise for the superb effort by his former colleague Patrick Fitzgerald and the FBI). Of the nine people on Snell’s team, all but one had worked for the U.S. Government, and all but two for either the Justice Department or the FBI. 35
Keep in mind that what I have said so far is about a government-Mohamed connection and cover-up that goes back to at least 1990, long before the Bush-Cheney administrations. But the 9/11 Commission staff reports went out of their way to cover this up. The 9/11 Report, based on the Snell staff reports, mentions Mahmoud Abouhalima and Mohammed Salameh, two co-conspirators of Ramzi Yousef in the first WTC bombing of 1993 (72). It does not mention that these two men had been trained by Ali Mohamed, even though Fitzgerald referred obliquely to this fact in his testimony. Nor does it mention that, had it not been for a police and FBI cover-up protecting Ali Mohamed back in 1990, Abouhalima and Salameh should probably have been in jail at the time of the WTC bombing –for their involvement in the murder of Meir Kahane by Ali Mohamed’s trainees three years earlier. 36
If I had had time today, I would have written about other key areas where the 9/11 Report shows resistance to relevant facts and allegations. Central to these, and to my forthcoming book on 9/11, would have been the Report’s failure to deal with important testimony challenging Vice President Cheney’s account of his conduct on 9/11, and in particular his important relationship (which the Report obscured) to the stand-down and shoot-down orders of that day. There was important testimony contradicting both Cheney and the Report itself from two eyewitnesses inside the White House , Norman Mineta and Richard Clarke, which the Report flagrantly, and symptomatically, failed to deal with.
But I consider the scandal of Ali Mohamed’s tolerated terrorism to be a still more fundamental problem, an on-going problem for which we need a more serious remedy than just putting a Democrat in the White House. As has happened after past intelligence fiascoes, our intelligence agencies were strengthened as a result of the 9/11 Commission, and their budgets increased.
It’s time to confront the reality that these agencies themselves, and their own sponsorship and protection of terrorist activities, have aggravated the greatest threats to our national security. Peter Dale Scott, a former Canadian diplomat and English Professor at the University of California, Berkeley, is a poet, writer, and researcher. His website is http://www.peterdalescott.net
1 Warren Report, 801.
2 Richard Clarke heard that the FBI had the names at 9:59 AM, the time of the collapse of WTC Tower 2. See Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terrorism (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 13-14; Thompson, The Terror Timeline , 441. This investigative tour de force is even more amazing when we consider that in the FBI, according to the 9/11 Report (77), “prior to 9/11 relatively few strategic analytic reports about counterterrorism had been completed. Indeed, the FBI had never completed an assessment of the overall terrorist threat to the U.S. homeland.”
3 Peter Dale Scott, “The 9/11 Commission Report’s Failure to Identify the Alleged Hijackers,” http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~pdscott/Hijackers.mht . The mainstream U.S. press, such as the New York Times , later attributed the confusion about the hijackers’ identity to the number of different Arabs sharing the same names. But at least five shared histories as well as names with the alleged hijackers. Waleed al-Shehri told the BBC “that he attended flight training school at Dayton Beach in the United States, and is indeed the same Waleed Al Shehri to whom the FBI has been referring. But, he says, he left the United States in September last year, became a pilot with Saudi Arabian airlines and is currently on a further training course in Morocco” (BBC, 9/23/01). Saeed al-Ghamdi, alive and flying planes in Tunisia, also studied at Florida flight schools, as late as 2001. According to the London Telegraph (9/23/01), CNN used his photograph in describing the hijacker with his name. Abdulaziz al-Omari acknowledged the same date of birth as the accused hijacker al-Omari, but claimed his passport was stolen when he was living in Denver, Colorado (London Telegraph , 9/23/01; Thompson, The Terror Timeline , 497).
9 This admitted connection to al-Zawahiri has led some to identify Mohamed (Abu Mohamed al Amriki) with the al-Amriki alleged by Yossef Bodansky to have acted as go-between between Zawahiri and the CIA: “In the first half of November 1997 Ayman al-Zawahiri met a man called Abu-Umar al-Amriki ( al-Amriki means “the American”) at a camp near Peshawar, on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. High-level Islamist leaders insist that in this meeting Abu-Umar al-Amriki made al-Zawahiri an offer: The United States would not interfere with or intervene to prevent the Islamists’ rise to power in Egypt if the Islamist mujahideen currently in Bosnia-Herzegovina would refrain from attacking the U.S. forces there. Moreover, Abu-Umar al-Amriki promised a donation of $50 million (from unidentified sources) to Islamist charities in Egypt and elsewhere. This was not the first meeting between Abu-Umar al-Amriki and Zawahiri. Back in the 1980s Abu-Umar al-Amriki openly acted as an emissary for the CIA with various Arab Islamist militant and terrorist movements… then operating under the wings of the Afghan jihad…. In the late 1980s, in one of his meetings with Zawahiri, Abu-Umar al-Amriki suggested that Zawahiri would need “$50 million to rule Egypt.” At the time, Zawahiri interpreted this assertion as a hint that Washington would tolerate his rise to power if he could raise this money. The mention of the magic figure, $50 million, by Abu-Umar al-Amriki in the November 1997 meeting was interpreted by Zawahiri and the entire Islamist leadership, including Osama bin Laden, as a reaffirmation of the discussions with the CIA in the late 1980s about Washington’s willingness to tolerate an Islamic Egypt. In 1997 the Islamist leaders were convinced that Abu-Umar al-Amriki was speaking for the CIA — that is, the uppermost echelons of the Clinton administration” (Bodansky, Bin Laden , 212-13). As we shall see, it is the case that Mohamed was allowed to travel to Afghanistan even after his designation as an unindicted co-conspirator in 1994 ( San Francisco Chronicle , 10/21/01).
11 Patrick Fitzgerald, Testimony before 9/11 Commission, June 16, 2004, http://www.9-11commission.gov/hearings/hearing12.htm , emphasis added. Actually Mohamed was in Santa Clara, California, by 1993 ( New Yorker , 9/16/02). Fitzgerald was flagrantly dissembling. Even the mainstream account by Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon ( The Age of Sacred Terror [New York: Random House, 2002], 236) records that “When Mohamed was summoned back from Africa in 1993 [sic, Mohamed in his confession says 1994] to be interviewed by the FBI in connection with the case against Sheikh Rahman and his coconspirators, he convinced the agents that he could be useful to them as an informant.”
12 Peter Lance, “Triple Cross: National Geographic Channel’s Whitewash of the Ali Mohamed Story,” Huffington Post, 8/29/06, http://news.yahoo.com/s/huffpost/20060829/cm_huffpost/028270 . Unfortunately Lance’s book on Mohamed, Triple Cross , was not yet available as this book went to press. Cf. Lawrence White, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Knopf, 2006), 181-82; Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, The Age of Sacred Terror (New York: Random House, 2002), 236; Lawrence Wright, New Yorker , 9/16/02: “In 1989…Mohamed talked to an F.B.I. agent in California and provided American intelligence with its first inside look at Al Qaeda.”
13 Raleigh News & Observer , 10/21/01, http://www.knoxstudio.com/shns/story.cfm?pk=ALIMOHAMED-10-24-01&cat=AN .
14 San Francisco Chronicle , 11/04/01. What was clear to Johnson cannot be clear to the American public. We have no way of knowing whether or not Mohamed forewarned his American handlers about the embassy bombings, or even (since his current whereabouts are a mystery) about 9/11. See below.
15 Toronto Globe and Mail , 11/22/01, http://email@example.com/msg00224.html ; Peter Dale Scott, “How to Fight Terrorism,” California Monthly , September 2004, http://www.alumni.berkeley.edu/Alumni/Cal_Monthly/September_2004/How_to_fight_terrorism.asp . Mohamed’s companion, Essam Marzouk, is now serving 15 years of hard labor in Egypt, after having been arrested in Azerbaijan. Mohamed’s detention and release was months after the first WTC bombing in February 1993, and after the FBI had already rounded up two of the plotters whom they knew had been trained by Ali Mohamed.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/huffpost/20060829/cm_huffpost/028270 . Unfortunately Lance’s book, Triple Cross , was not yet available as this book went to press.
17 Dave Shiflett, Bloomberg News, 8/28/06, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601088&sid=aNWwkZYujCIs&refer=home .
18 Glenn Garvin, Miami Herald , http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald/entertainment/columnists/glenn_garvin/15310462.htm
19 Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (New York: Knopf, 2006), 181.
The Report claims (56) that “Bin Ladin and his comrades had their own sources of support and training, and they received little or no assistance from the United States.” But Wright reports that Mohamed, while on a leave from the U.S. army, went to Afghanistan and trained “the first al-Qaeda volunteers in techniques of unconventional warfare, including kidnappings, assassinations, and hijacking planes.” This was in 1988, one year before Mohamed left active U.S. Army service and joined the Reserve.
20 Peter Lance, “Triple Cross: National Geographic Channel’s Whitewash of the Ali Mohamed Story,” Huffington Post, 8/29/06,
http://news.yahoo.com/s/huffpost/20060829/cm_huffpost/028270 . Cloonan was the FBI agent in the Bin Laden squad who received the famous memo from Kenneth Williams in Phoenix recommending that the FBI compile a list of all the Arabs attending flight schools. He reportedly “wadded it into a ball and threw it against a wall. `Who’s going to conduct the thirty thousand interviews?’ he asked the supervisor in Phoenix” (Lawrence White, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 [New York: Knopf, 2006], 350).
21 Peter Lance, “Triple Cross: National Geographic Channel’s Whitewash of the Ali Mohamed Story,” Huffington Post, 8/29/06, http://news.yahoo.com/s/huffpost/20060829/cm_huffpost/028270 .
22 According to publicity for the National Geographic special, Mohamed is “currently in U.S. custody,” but “his whereabouts and legal status are closely guarded secrets” ( Rocky Mountain News , 8/28/06, 2D). Lance wrote that Mohamed was put into the witness protection program. “David Runke [Ruhnke], a defense attorney in the African embassies bombing case, says, “I think the most likely thing that will happen is he’ll be released, he’ll be given a new name and a new identity, and he will pick up a life someplace.” (Shiflett, Bloomberg News, 8/28/06). As of November 2001, Mohamed had not been sentenced and was still believed to be supplying information from his prison cell.
23 “Ali Mohamed had stayed in [El-Hage’s] Kenyan home in the mid 90’s as they plotted the bombings. Another agent in Fitzie’s squad Dan Coleman, had searched El-Hage’s home a year before the bombings and found direct links to Ali Mohamed and yet Fitzgerald failed to connect the dots” (Lance, “Triple Cross,” Huffington Post, 8/29/06).
25 Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2005), 278; John K. Cooley, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America, and International Terrorism (London: Pluto Press, 1999), 87-88; Lance, 1000 Years for Revenge , 29-31; Independent , 11/1/98.
26 Rahman was issued two visas, one of them “by a CIA officer working undercover in the consular section of the American embassy in Sudan” (Peter L. Bergen, Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden [New York: Free Press, 2001], 67). FBI consultant Paul Williams writes that Ali Mohamed “settled in America on a visa program controlled by the CIA” (Paul L. Williams, Al Qaeda: Brotherhood of Terror [[Upper Saddle River, NJ]: Alpha/ Pearson Education, 2002], 117). Others allegedly admitted, despite being on the State Department watch list, were Mohamed Atta and possibly Ayman al-Zawahiri (Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation, and the Anatomy of Terrorism [Northampton, MA: Olive Branch Press, 2005], 205, 46).
27 Wright, The Looming Tower , 177.
28 Lance , 1000 Years , 34.
29 Lance , 1000 Years , 31; Peter Lance, Cover Up: What the Government Is Still Hiding about the War on Terror (New York: Regan Books/ HarperCollins, 2004), 25.
30 Newsday , 11/8/90; quoted in Lance , 1000 Years , 35.
31 New York Times , 11/8/90; Robert I. Friedman, Village Voice , 3/30/93.
32 New York Times , 12/16/90.
33 9/11 Report, 72.
34 Fitzgerald is of course the U.S. Attorney who for years has been investigating the leak of the name of CIA covert operative Valerie Plame. It could appear that he has been putting pressure on the Bush White House to forestall disclosure of his own (and possibly the CIA’s) embarrassing and improper relationship to the chief planner of the 9/11 plot.
35 Kean and Hamilton, Without Precedent, 273 (chapters); Lance, Cover Up , 212-20 (reports). Snell was assisted by Douglas MacEachin, the former CIA deputy Director for Intelligence.
36 Lance , 1000 Years , 31-35.
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