Original script for Triple Cross
From Peter Lance:
A National Geographic Channel Special about Al Qaeda’s Master Spy and the Untold Story Behind the 9/11 Attacks
Based on “TRIPLE CROSS”, an extraordinary new book by renowned investigative journalist Peter Lance, Towers Productions presents the untold story of Ali A. Mohamed, a radical ex-Egyptian Army officer who became a CIA asset, joined the US Army, and spent five years as an FBI informant, but who all the while was really Osama bin Laden’s chief intelligence agent, playing a key role in Al Qaeda terror plots and “triple crossing” US officials on the road to 9/11.
It’s a real life epic that plays out like a Tom Clancy thriller as it takes us through twist and turns from Brooklyn to Khartoum, Kandahar to Fort Bragg. The story spans a quarter century from the assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981, up through the 9/11 attacks, and to the present. As the plot unfolds, we are introduced to characters we never knew were connected to the 9/11 saga, including corrupt FBI agents and Mafia kingpins.
And it’s a tale that some well-known federal authorities are extremely reluctant to discuss, because it shines a highly unflattering light on US intelligence failures going back to the late 1980s.
The two-hour documentary will show how Mohamed survived more than 14 years as al Qaeda’s chief “mole” inside the U.S. How he moved his boss, bin Laden, in and out of Afghanistan. How he helped plan the operation in Somalia that downed two U.S. Blackhawk helicopters. How he assisted in planning the 1998 African embassy bombings, and even wrote part of the al Qaeda terror manual. And finally, how Mohamed confessed to his crimes, cut a deal with the US government that has never been explained to the public…and soon after, just plain disappeared. To this day Mohamed’s whereabouts are a complete mystery.
The 9/11 Commission’s Final Report, released in the summer of 2004, exposed only a fragment of the Mohamed story. Since then, the Able Danger scandal has begun to expose the extent to which US officials set up barriers to uncovering the 9/11 plot. This film will link the Mohamed story to that brewing scandal.
Prologue: October 20, 2000. Ali Mohamed stands shackled before Judge Leonard B. Sand in a Federal District courtroom in Lower Manhattan. Over the next 30 minutes, he pleads guilty five times, admitting involvement in plots to kill U.S. soldiers in Somalia and Africa, and U.S. civilians “anywhere in the world.” He was handpicked by Osama bin Laden to train al Qaeda terrorists in Sudan and Afghanistan. The goals of his students were to “kidnap, murder and main.”
In short but deliberate sentences, Mohamed peels back the top layer of the secret life he’d led as a master spy. He was highly educated, fluent in four languages. He’d risen from a young recruit in the virulently anti-American Egyptian Islamic Jihad to become Osama bin Laden’s most trusted security advisor. As Ali ticks off al Qaeda exploits, he appears contrite, a broken jihadi, a man now willing to cooperate with the Feds. The hope is that he will finally give up all of his secrets.
Yet in that Southern District Courtroom nearly two years before the attacks of September 11th, he said nothing on the record about his most stunning achievements… As Peter Lance begins to tell the story we flashback to:
1984. A veteran of the same radical Egyptian Army unit that killed Sadat, Mohamed is discharged from the military.
1985. Mohamed signs on as a CIA asset and is allowed to slip past a watch list and enter the U.S. Within months, Mohamed has married a Silicon Valley woman whom he met on the plane over, and joined the U.S. Army as an enlisted man. He quickly makes sergeant and gets himself posted to the highly secure base at Fort Bragg, NC where Delta Force and the Green Berets train. As Peter Lance tells it, Mohamed was dispatched to the US by bin Laden and Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the Egyptian radical who serves as bin Laden’s number-two, and whose special protégé was a young Army officer named Ali Mohamed.
July 1989. The FBI’s elite Special Operations Group follows a clandestine cell of Islamic militants from the al Farooq mosque in Brooklyn to a firing range in Calverton, Long Island. Of the men photographed by the FBI over four weekends, one would kill Rabbi Meier Kahane in 1990; three would be convicted in the 1993 WTC bombing; and two would be convicted in 1995 in the plot to blow up New York’s bridge and tunnels. The man training the militants at the firing range is none other than Ali Mohamed. Yet within weeks, the FBI shuts down the investigation into what would soon become al Qaeda’s flagship sleeper cell.
November 5th, 1990. The Feds are searching the home of one of Mohamed’s Calverton trainees, El Sayyid Nosair. Nosair had been apprehended for assassinating Rabbi Meier Kahane.
In Nosair’s house, the FBI and NYPD find top-secret memos from the U.S. Joint Chiefs, manuals and maps from Fort Bragg, pictures of the World Trade Center, and bomb recipes. They also find tapes of the Arabic sermons of the Blind Sheikh, Omar Abdel Rahman (OAR) the radical Egyptian cleric who leads the New York cell, and who, like Mohamed, entered the US by slipping past a “watch list.” The evidence gives authorities a road map to the World Trade Center bombing plot to come. Yet for unexplained reasons, the FBI goes along with the NYPD and calls the Kahane assassination a “lone gunman” shooting. How Nosair would have obtained US military documents—from the same army base where Ali Mohammed had served—is left unanswered for now…
1991. Osama bin Laden commissions Mohamed to coordinate his fledgling al Qaeda organization’s move from Afghanistan to Sudan. Mohammed oversees the building of terror training camps in Sudan, drills bin Laden’s personal bodyguards and helps write the manual that later becomes al Qaeda’s terror bible. Mohammed’s travels outside the U.S. would range from a few weeks, to at one point, more than a year, between older terrorist camps in Afghanistan, bin Laden’s new base in Sudan, and the U.S. He performs bin Laden’s bidding while commuting back and forth to his American wife in Silicon Valley where he seeks a “secret” clearance from a top U.S. defense contractor.
1992. The FBI has other opportunities to hook on to Ali Mohammed and penetrate the cell he’d trained in New York. Unfortunately, agents either avoid or overlook many of their chances.
FBI Special Agent Nancy Floyd in the New York office recruits Emad Salem, an Egyptian ex-intelligence officer to infiltrate the cell. Salem is close to uncovering a plot, inspired by the Blind Sheikh and being planned by his militant followers. to hit “12 Jewish locations” in NY. But FBI ASAC Carson Dunbar, a senior agent with zero terrorism experience, takes over the FBI’s Joint Terrorist Task Force (JTTF) and shuts Salem down. Now the FBI is blinded to the true danger of the Sheik’s operation. As soon as the Bureau loses its asset inside the cell the Sheikh contacts Pakistan and Ramzi Yousef, a master bomb maker, arrives in New York
Fall of 1992. Mohamed’s trainees from the al Farooq mosque begin serving as Yousef’s team in executing the first World Trade Center bombing. During this period the Feds have multiple chances to interdict the cell and stop the bombing.
February 26, 1993. Yousef and the Calverton trainees were able to complete construction of a bomb and detonate it in the basement of the World Trade Center. After the bombing, Agent Floyd and her Egyptian informant go back undercover, and manage an FBI sting that convicts the Blind Sheik and nine others in a plot to blow up New York’s landmarks.
Out in Silicon Valley, meantime, Ali Mohamed, bin Laden’s “man inside,” cozies up to US intelligence. By now he has left the US Army and signed on as an FBI informant. He studies the FBI’s playbook on Al Qaeda while feeding his control agents disinformation by informing on Mexican drug smugglers. The assignment enables him to deflect attention from his own trafficking: smuggling al Qaeda operatives into America, even boldly squiring one, al Qaeda’s No. 2, Dr. al-Zawahiri, on two U.S. fund raising tours that raise ten of thousands of dollars.
In another 1993 incident, Royal Canadian Mounted Police catch Mohamed attempting to smuggle al Qaeda terrorist Essam Marzouk into the US, using Ali’s favorite route from Vancouver to Seattle. It is Marzouk who would later seek a nuclear weapon for bin Laden in years to come. But after being interrogated by the Mounties, Ali is released on the word of the FBI.
Ali Mohamed’s al Qaeda assignments in Africa multiply by 1993, when the ex-Egyptian officer and FBI informant organizes a Kenyan al Qaeda cell for bin Laden. The Kenyan cell will contribute to the downing of two US military helicopters in the infamous Blackhawk Down incident in Somalia.
Mohammed soon contacts Wadih el Hage, one of the future conspirators in the African US embassy bombings, and someone who had likewise known the New York cell’s Calverton trainees. New evidence uncovered by Lance for TRIPLE CROSS will show that officials in the US Justice Department, including Patrick Fitzgerald, were aware that Mohamed was in contact with El Hage.
Shortly after the ’93 Trade Center bombing, the FBI actually recruits Mohamed to provide key intelligence on the cell responsible for that attack, even though their informant was the very man who had trained the cell members. While feeding his control agents disinformation, Ali continues to study the Bureau’s playbook.
It’s at this point that Mohamed brokers an historic summit between bin Laden, a radical Sunni, and Imad Fayez Mugniyah, leader of the military wing of Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group responsible for bombing the Beirut U.S. Embassy and the Marine barracks in 1983. This summit happens while Ali is working directly as an informant to FBI agents in Sacramento, San Francisco and New York. Yet the Feds apparently never know about it.
1994. While the FBI’s trail towards ’93 Trade Center mastermind Ramzi Yousef runs cold, Yousef and his uncle Khalid Sheikh Mohammed move to Manila, linking up with Abdul Hakim Murad, a pilot trained in 4 U.S. flight schools; and Wali Khan, an Uzbeki whom bin Laden called “The Lion”. The team will move on to brainstorm three terror attacks in Asia, with a special interest in detonating planes.
They conduct a wet-test of a miniature nitroglycerine bomb aboard PAL Flight #434 on December 11th, 1994. The explosion kills a Japanese national but just misses the center wing fuel tank. Yousef vows to get it right when he executes project Bojinka, a plot to bomb 12 US-bound jetliners over the Pacific.
December 16th, 1994. INS agents arrest bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, on visa fraud and other violations in Mountain View, California, just miles from Ali Mohamed’s house.
The Feds seize an Apple Newton PDA with a treasure trove of data linking Khalifa to bin Laden, the New York cell and the Yousef-KSM cell in Manila. Khalifa is one of the Manila cell’s financiers. His computer is an important piece of evidence that connects to both the ’93 attack on the World Trade Center, as well as the now-brewing 9/11 plot. Khalifa is a walking one-man playbook of al Qaeda secrets who should have been highly motivated to cut a deal with US officials. Why? Because a death sentence hangs over his head for a series of al Qaeda bombings in Amman, Jordan.
January 6, 1995. But higher ups at the Justice and State Departments want no part of holding an alleged bomber from Jordan on American soil. In this case, ironically, despite the FBI’s lobbying for the INS and Justice Department to hold Khalifa, officials decide otherwise. Jamie Gorelick, a Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton Justice Department, along with Secretary of State Warren Christopher, petitions an Immigration judge for Khalifa’s release. He is eventually extradited to Jordan and, after a witness recanted, he was set free – only to return to Saudi Arabia where he is embraced with a hero’s welcome. He would serve as Ramzi Yousef’s chief financier in his Bojinka plot.
That same day in 1995, Philippines National Police catch a break when a suspicious apartment fire lands Yousef’s terror partner Abdul Hakim Murad in custody. Authorities confiscate the Toshiba laptop Yousef has used to store all of his terror plots. This laptop, and the ensuing interrogations of Murad, do far more than hint at what will be the 9/11 attacks…. But they will be overlooked or otherwise ignored.
Exclusive evidence retrieved by the Philippine National Police from Yousef’s laptop proves that one of the plots being developed by the Yousef-KSM cell was the “planes as missiles” suicide scenario realized on 9/11 – a plot separate from the Bojinka plot to bomb 12 planes in the Pacific, for which Murad would be the lead pilot. Lance will detail how Yousef and KSM had chosen up to seven targets on both U.S. coasts including the WTC, Pentagon, White House, CIA headquarters, a nuclear plant, and the Sears & Transamerica Towers. Further, that they had up to ten Islamic pilots training in U.S. flight schools in 1995.
In an exclusive interview conducted by Peter Lance with PNP Col. Rodolfo Mendoza – the chief interrogator of Murad – will be included. Mendoza uncovered the entire “planes as missiles” plot.
With recently uncovered documents, we’ll prove that the FBI’s Legal Attaché in Manila got the evidence as early as January 1995.
The FBI agents who took control of Murad wrote a haunting 17-page report on their debriefing, which included a statement from Murad that Yousef intended to return to the US and attack the World Trade Center again. (This body of evidence contradicts the 9/11 Commission’s report that the planes operation was conceived in 1996.)
We’ll cut to the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), the federal jail in Lower Manhattan where Ramzi Yousef, apprehended in February 1995, is awaiting trial for the Bojinka plot and representing himself in court. Through a series of notes and FBI’s #302 memos Lance uncovered, we’ll document how the bomb maker sends messages to his partner Murad across the cell of Greg Scarpa, Jr., a Colombo family wiseguy, while Scarpa awaits his racketeering trial.
The startling notes, which the FBI gets directly from Scarpa, Jr., show how Yousef’s "people" intend to put a bomb on a U.S. airliner to win a mistrial in the Bojinka case. His motive is to argue that a blast on a 747 identical to the PAL #434 “wet test” occurred while he was incarcerated; creating reasonable doubt in the jurors’ minds over whether Yousef was responsible for the PAL bombing. Based on evidence obtained exclusively by Lance from the PNP we’ll show how Yousef’s diagrams for such a device matched precisely those of his earlier PAL #434 bomb. In the notes passed to Scarpa Jr., Yousef even suggests RDX as an alternate explosive to nitroglycerine , the key explosive in the PAL #434 device.
Scarpa Jr.’s cooperation with the FBI goes much further. The Bureau instructs Scarpa Jr. to tell Yousef he can help the terrorist communicate with his people in New York and abroad. Yousef thus begins to place calls from the prison to his associates on the outside, making at least one to his uncle, Khalid Sheik Mohammed in Doha, Qatar. The call is patched through a Mafia front company called “Roma Corp” run by the FBI. According to one Bureau document obtained by Lance, Scarpa Jr. reports that Yousef has told him that Osama bin Laden plans to hijack a plane to free the Blind Sheik. This is a crucial piece of intelligence that takes on new importance in the years to come as both Presidents Clinton (in ‘98) and Bush (in ‘01) are warned of similar bin Laden hijack plots.
Ali Mohammed, meanwhile, continues his missions on behalf of Osama bin Laden. He snaps photographs of the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, then slips into Sudan to meet with bin Laden and deliver his intelligence. Mohammed later coordinates bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan when the Sudanese government effectively kicks him out soon thereafter. Another of bin Laden’s Sudanese aides, Jamal al Fadl, defects to the U.S., giving Feds their first real sense, at least officially, of al Qaeda’s scope and bin Laden’s violent designs on the U.S. This informant had at one point worked at the very same al Farooq Mosque from which Ali Mohammed had trained the WTC bombers. He directly ties bin Laden to the New York cell of the Blind Sheik, citing bin Laden’s funding of El Sayyid Nosair’s defense in 1991 after the Kahane murder.
July 17th, 1996. The night before Murad's confession to Col. Mendoza is to be entered into evidence in Yousef’s Bojinka trial, TWA #800 crashes off Long Island after a mysterious explosion in the area of the center fuel tank. 234 passengers and crew are killed. The FBI immediately dispatches 1000 agents to the crash site, believing (based on Scarpa Jr.’s intel) that the crash was a terrorist incident.
As he told Scarpa Jr. he would do, Yousef immediately requests that the judge in his case declare a mistrial. The motion is denied. But the evidence uncovered by Lance suggests that the crash of TWA #800 was the Bojinka plot fulfilled.
Fall 1996. As the wreckage of TWA 800 is assembled piece by piece in a hangar on Long Island, FBI agents discover traces of nitroglycerine, RDX and a third high explosive (PETN) near the center wing fuel tank. The Bureau is about to declare the crash sabotage with evidence of a “bomb,” when it does a “180 turn.”
With zero forensic evidence to support the theory, the Bureau ends up siding with the National Transportation Safety Board, which concludes that a spark in TWA #800’s fuel tank caused its spontaneous combustion. It doesn’t matter that in the billions of air miles of the 747-100 there had never been such an event or that the evidence of a bomb trigger precisely matches what Yousef told Scarpa, Jr. he would do and moves for a mistrial the day after the crash.
The FBI would eventually shut down the TWA #800 investigation in the fall of 1997, declaring that the NTSB’s “spark” theory was the probable cause. But Lance will reveal shocking evidence that Bureau agents not only found the high explosives nitro glycerin, RDX and PETN between the 15th and 17th rows of TWA #800’s passenger cabin directly above the fuel tank, he’ll also shatter the FBI’s sole explanation for the presence of the explosives in the planes wreckage.
The act will end with the FBI’s dramatic flight to Qatar to capture KSM after the Roma Corp. patch revealed his presence in Doha, only to narrowly miss him when Qatari officials tip KSM off. According to Lance, FBI officials have never acknowledged the significance of the Scarpa-Yousef connection, as it might suggest that the FBI might be blamed with facilitating the TWA 800 crash.
Lance will further document that the FBI was especially reluctant to have Greg Scarpa Jr. emerge as a credible witness in a possible TWA 800 trial, because doing so would undermine up to 60 Mafia cases stemming from New York’s infamous “Colombo war” which claimed 12 lives from 1991-92. One such case, involving Scarpa’s father and an allegedly corrupt FBI undercover agent, was recently re-opened by the Brooklyn DA’s office, based on Lance’s research.
Among the top officials who are party to the Scarpa-Yousef intelligence: Dietrich “Dieter” Snell, the Assistant US Attorney who co-prosecuted Yousef and Murad; Valerie Caproni, head of the criminal division in the Eastern District of New York, on whose career this series of Colombo War mafia cases rested; and: Patrick Fitzgerald, then head of Organized Crime & Terrorism in the Southern District of New York, who would go on to convict Osama bin Laden in absentia in the 2001 African Embassy bombing case, before becoming US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois and a highly prominent Special Prosecutor.
Meantime, FBI officials continue to trust bin Laden’s personal intelligence agent inside the US, Ali Mohamed. Mohamed, now known in Al Qaeda as “Ali the American,” moves freely back and forth between Silicon Valley to consult with bin Laden in Sudan and Afghanistan. But while snookering FBI agents on both coasts, Mohamed’s most devastating act of terror was to come.
Peter Lance will lead off the second hour with the sealed federal indictment of Khalid Sheik Mohamed (KSM) in 1996 for the Pacific airliners/Bojinka plot Keeping the hunt for KSM secret stands in stark contrast to the very public $2-million reward that brought Yousef to justice after the first World Trade Center Bombing. In fact, Department of Justice officials will hide KSM’s identity from the public until January of 1998, when he was well into executing the 9/11 plot.
Greg Scarpa, Jr., meantime, should have received “downward release time” under federal sentencing rules for risking his life to inform on Yousef. During the 11 months he informed on Yousef, Scarpa Jr. generated a treasure trove of intelligence on Yousef, al Qaeda and bin Laden’s threats to the U.S. But, when he goes to trial in 1998 for racketeering, prosecutors Patrick Fitzgerald and Dieter Snell support Valerie Caproni’s allegation that Scarpa, Jr.’s intelligence was a “hoax” and a “scam.” As a result, Scarpa Jr., a wiseguy who had run a marijuana ring, is sentenced to 40 years in a Supermax prison for RICO violations.
Throughout this period, from 1996 on, the US Justice Department and the FBI’s New York office--the two bin Laden “offices of origin”--receive multiple warnings that a larger al Qaeda network is out there, ready to strike. These include the November 1997 Luxor massacre, tied to the Blind Sheikh’s Islamic Group, as well as a 1998 Presidential Daily Briefing to President Clinton that warns of an airplane hijack plot to free the Blind Sheikh. But their ultimate wakeup calls will be the 1998 African Embassy Bombings, a plot planned by both Wadih El Hage and the FBI’s owned informant Ali Mohammed.
August 7th, 1998. Blasts at the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania kill more than 200 people, including 12 Americans. As Peter Lance will reveal, Patrick Fitzgerald and the Department of Justice soon come to understand the depth of Ali Mohammed’s deception and how he could become the linchpin witness in the Embassy bombing trial, which Fitzgerald would prosecute.
Days after the Kenya and Tanzanian bombings, the Feds called Mohammed back to New York for a briefing.
Demonstrating the audacity that had allowed him to penetrate the Bureau for years, Mohamed returns, figuring he could brass it out, like he had in 1995 when the Feds named him as an un-indicted co-conspirator in the “Day of Terror” plot.
But as soon as he leaves the grand jury room, Mohammed is arrested. The Feds quickly jail him in the M.C.C. under a “John Doe” warrant. One might imagine that the capture of bin Laden’s “master spy” would generate front-page headlines. It does not. The feds keep it quiet, just as they did with the sealed indictment of KSM in 1996. According to Lance, this is because federal prosecutors worry that Mohammed would reveal the long and compromising history of his involvement with the US government if he ever took the stand in open court.
For the next nine months the Feds keep Mohammed’s presence in the federal jail hidden from the press as Ali negotiates a plea deal. Given that his presence in the Embassy bombing plot alone could generate a death sentence, Mohammed is characteristically cocky about his chances. He knew that the Feds will want to keep secret the damage he’s done to U.S. intelligence and law enforcement over the years. In the Spring of 1999 they charge him, but he appears un phased.
Meanwhile, the Defense Intelligence Agency begins developing its own intelligence, linking members of the New York cell to an unknown al Qaeda operation. Commencing in December of 1999, on the order of Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Hugh Shelton, the Army’s Special Operations Command create Operation Able Danger designed to identify al Qaeda cells and take them out.
Using a unique concept called “data mining” involving high-end search “bots” which comb the Internet, the Able Danger analysts soon unearth the same evidence that the FBI had for years; namely, that al Qaeda was responsible for the first attack on the World Trade Center and is planning more acts of terror aimed at the U.S. A link chart created in the late summer of 1999 by DIA analysts, obtained for the first time by Peter Lance, clearly demonstrates the links among bin Laden, the Blind Sheik, Ramzi Yousef, and Ali Mohamed.
January 2000. The U.S. intelligence community has its next best change at interdicting the 9/11 plot when the CIA becomes aware of a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia that involves Khalid al Midhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, two of the “planes operation” hijackers. Also present is Khalid bin Atash, who will be a key operational player in the U.S.S. Cole bombing ten months later as well as Hambali, the Indonesian cleric linked to the Yousef-KSM Manila bombing cell.
But in another of the catastrophic “what ifs” on the road to 9/11, the CIA reportedly fails to tip the Bureau to the meeting until the two hijackers were already in the U.S.
October 20th, 2000. We now come full-circle to where we began in the prologue of the film, with Ali Mohamed’s appearance before Judge Sands in a Federal District courtroom in Lower Manhattan. For reasons that have never been explained, Mohamed, with a possible death penalty staring him in the face, is able to parlay his plea into a secret deal. Did it involve prison time? We don’t know, as there is no record of Mohamed in the US prison system.
Perhaps they sent him into the cushy limbo of witness protection, so he could proffer more tidbits about the terror network he’d served as al Qaeda’s “California connection.” Today, more than five and a half years after pleading guilty to crimes that would have ended any other terrorist’s life via lethal injection, Ali Mohamed, remains a legal black hole. As far as anyone outside the Government knows, he has never been sentenced for his crimes.
Exactly how much did Mohamed know about the 9/11 plot, which was well underway at the time of his capture? We may never know. But, as Lance explains, the inability of senior DOJ officials like Dietrich Snell and Patrick Fitzgerald to extract from Mohammed the full depth of al Qaeda’s violent plan to attack the U.S., results by 2001 in a continuing series of intelligence failures.
For any FBI or DOJ investigator in the SDNY, by now, the number of “dots” on the chart foreshadowing a major bin Laden attack on the U.S. by now is overwhelming. Given the body of intelligence they had on the Blind Sheikh, Yousef, KSM, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Ali Mohammed and bin Laden, who had already declared war on America, why weren’t these senior Justice Department officials able to interdict the 9/11 plot – especially when, by the fall of 2000, hijackers al Midhar and al Hazmi were living openly in San Diego in rooms rented from Abdusattar Shaikh, another paid FBI informant?
September 2000. The next opportunity for the Feds to bring the planets into alignment comes within days of the FBI’s cancellation of a meeting between Bureau agents and Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer who was slated to share the active Able Danger links between the Blind Sheikh’s New York cell and al Qaeda.
Weeks later, Osama bin Laden and Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri stage an infamous video fatwa. In it, bin Laden presents one of the Blind Sheik’s sons, who declares: “Go to the spilling of blood for your Sheikh,” and “remember (El Sayyid) Nosair” – the man Ali Mohammed trained at Calverton who spilled the first al Qaeda blood on U.S. soil with the murder of Rabbi Meier Kahane in 1990.
If the FBI and Southern District prosecutors like Fitzgerald and Snell ever needed confirmation of the link between bin Laden, the Blind Sheik, and the New York cell that had carried out the first World Trade Center bombing, this was it.
Two weeks later, October 12, 2000. A small inflatable boat laden with explosives blows a four-story hole in the side of the U.S.S. Cole, in Aden, Yemen harbor. 17 U.S sailors are killed. In his earlier video fatwa, bin Laden, whose roots are in Yemen, even hinted at the attack’s location by wearing a Yemeni dagger.
By then, Lt. Col. Shaffer and the Able Danger operatives say they had already put lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta’s picture in a link chart tied to the blind Sheikh. But before the end of the year 2000, less than nine months before 9/11, DIA officials had already ordered that evidence destroyed. The question is Why?
2001. As the clock ticks down now towards the events of September 11th, 33 separate terror warnings will be made by the summer of 2001. To use CIA Director George Tenet’s metaphor “the system was blinking red.” In July Phoenix Memo is issued, warning of suspicious Islamic pilots in U.S. flight schools. In August, Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested, but his computer is not searched because the FBI is unable to obtain a warrant from the special foreign intelligence court set up to handle such cases.
There is another reminder of the importance of the Blind Sheik to al Qaeda when on August 6th, President George W. Bush receives a Presidential Daily Briefing in Crawford Texas, titled “Bin Laden determined to attack in U.S.” It too warns of an airplane hijack plot to free the Blind Sheikh harking back to Greg Scarpa’s Yousef intel from 1996 and the PDB to Clinton in ’98. And then, as Lance reveals, a week before 9/11, the Taliban government in Afghanistan offers to exchange the Blind Sheik for the Christian missionaries held captive in Kabul.
The events of the day 9/11 itself are self-evident. The question is, why? Why did it have to happen given the dozens of warnings dating back to the FBI’s surveillance of Ali Mohammed in the summer of 1989, as he was training the first cell to attack the Twin Towers? What did Federal prosecutors like Patrick Fitzgerald feel knowing that Mohammed had been in custody since 1998 and had to know details of the “planes as missiles” plot given his closeness to bin Laden?
As Lance asserts now, in the beginning the FBI lapses amounted to negligence. By the time the Philippines National Police tipped the Feds to the “planes as missiles” plot in 1995, their lapses had reached the stage of “gross negligence.” But taking into account Jamie Gorelick’s forced extradition of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa and the long overdue arrest of Ali Mohammed, followed by the destruction of the Able Danger data, the evidence begins to suggest that senior FBI, DOJ and DIA officials were setting up roadblocks to uncovering the truth.
The motive, Lance believes, is the abject fear among prosecutors like Fitzgerald, Snell and Deputy A.G. Gorelick that the five year long compromise of the FBI by Ali Mohammed would make them each, in part, accountable for failing to stop the 9/11 attacks. With Ali Mohammed, the Feds had their best possible source inside al Qaeda, and yet, for years, bin Laden’s master spy continued to use them, giving them virtually nothing in return.
Why didn’t the 9/11 Commission pick up on this? As Lance notes, it might have been because Gorelick herself became one of the ten Commissioners and Dietrich Snell was appointed senior counsel. As we’ll soon see, the conflicts of interest were profound and the Commission would reveal only part of the truth.
In this final act, we will tell the story of the 9/11 Commission, and how it failed to issue a truly thoroughgoing Final Report because it suffered from conflicts of interest. Lance will link some of the chief people responsible for contributing to the 9/11 Commission’s understanding of events to a campaign of disinformation. Among those individuals:
Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who served on the Commission’s panel. In 1995, she wrote the famous “wall memo”, which instituted a “wall” to separate all FBI and DOJ investigators working on “past” al Qaeda cases from Foreign Counter Intelligence (FCI) investigators who were trying to prevent “future” al Qaeda attacks. This, says Lance, was the equivalent of separating the left side of the Justice Department’s al Qaeda brain from the right side.
Later, when the 9/11 Commission would cite “walls” and “stove piping” as the chief reasons for the intelligence community’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks, they failed to mention that these barriers were built by senior officials like Gorelick. As Lance points out, Gorelick was one of only two Commission officials allowed into the SCIF (a secured room) to view all of the classified documents relating to the 9/11 attacks. Along with Commission Executive Director, Philip Zelikow, a former associate of Condoleezza Rice, Gorelick was in a position to control the evidence that the full Commission saw.
Dietrich Snell, the former federal prosecutor of Ramzi Yousef who had turned a blind eye toward the PNP evidence of the “planes operation” in 1995, was charged by the 9/11 Commission with determining the single most important conclusion on the road to 9/11: the origin of the plot.
In mid-March of 2004, when Peter Lance testifies before the Commission, it is Dietrich Snell who takes his testimony in a windowless conference room with no stenographer present and no recording device to put the testimony on the record.
Despite dozens of heretofore secret memos provided to the Commission by Lance proving bin Laden’s link to the Yousef/OAR 1993 WTC bombing cell, and the Yousef/KSM Manila cell; despite Lance’s video tape of Col. Mendoza’s interview in which he confirms Abdul Hakim Murad’s revelation of the “planes as missiles” plot in 1995, and despite Lance’s presentation of the DIA link chart which connects bin Laden to the Yousef/OAR New Brooklyn cell, Snell flushes this evidence, reducing it to a single footnote in the Commission’s final report.
July, 2004 When Navy Captain Scott Phillpott, director of the Able Danger data mining operation, tells the 9/11 Commission that his unit had uncovered evidence of a link between lead hijacker Mohammed Atta and the blind Sheikh’s Brooklyn cell, it is Dietrich Snell who deems it “not sufficiently reliable” to include in the Commission’s Final Report, published a month later.
Lance contends that as a former SDNY prosecutor, Snell should have been called as a lead witness before the Commission.
Instead he was given the crucial responsibility of determining “the origin of the 9/11 plot, and in doing so, Lance contends, Snell took Yousef out of the plot; concluding that the plot commenced in 1996 – two years after Yousef had spun it into motion in Manila. Snell asserted that KSM was not a member of al Qaeda at the time and had merely “pitched” the “planes operation” to bin Laden, whom he allegedly barely knew.
In reaching this conclusion in the 9/11 Commission’s Report Dietrich Snell remove the two bin laden “offices of origin” (including his own SDNY) from any culpability for failing to stop the Yousef-OAR WTC bombing cell in 1992.
Snell’s sole authority for this conclusion was KSM himself, who was captured in March of 2003 and reportedly subjected to torture including “water boarding.” But Snell’s conclusion on the origin of the plot became the official “truth” as set forth by the Commission, the last official body to examine the biggest mass murder in U.S. history. The report contained scant mention of Ali Mohamed.
When Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois (Chicago) testified before the 9/11 Commission on June 16th, 2004 he actually cited Mohammed as “one of the most chilling examples of al Qaeda’s espionage.” But he only told a fragment of the full story.
Speaking at a nationally televised hearing, under oath, Fitzgerald went into great detail about how Ali Mohammed had been stationed at Fort Bragg, from which he trained “some of the persons who would later carry out the 1993 World Trade Center bombing,” and how he had “arranged bin Laden’s security in the Sudan” and later “lived as an American citizen in California, applying for a job as an FBI translator and working as a security guard for a defense contractor.”
But what Fitzgerald didn’t tell the Commission – or the American public, was that Mohammed had served as an FBI informant for five years from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing to the 1998 African Embassy bombings; that Fitzgerald had been unable to get Mohammed to cooperate; that Mohamed had been given a plea deal that somehow did not compel him to testify about al Qaeda, bin Laden, or what he might have known about the 9/11 plot.
Fitzgerald’s limited testimony was the only official word on Ali Mohammed in the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report – a book that became a national best seller – praised by the mainstream media and nominated for a National Book Award.
The official story put forth by the 9/11 Commission might have held. But in the late summer of 2005, cracks began to appear in the Commission’s vaulted credibility when Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA) produced evidence that the Able Danger unit had linked Atta to the blind Sheikh’s cell more than a year before the Commission said that he’d shown up on the radar.
Suddenly, decorated officers including Tony Shaffer and Scott Phillpott were muzzled by the Pentagon. Shaffer’s top-secret clearance was removed and he was set up on petty charges.
Cong. Weldon called it a scandal that was “bigger than Watergate,” and three separate congressional committees began investigations. Americans as politically diverse as Lt. Col. Oliver North on the right and “The Jersey Girls” who campaigned for Sen. John Kerry on the left, believe that that Able Danger probe offers the last best chance to get the full truth about why U.S. intelligence agencies failed to prevent 9/11.
To date, the Bush administration has resisted the Able Danger probe. The question is why? Why would this Pentagon under Donald Rumsfeld withhold Able Danger data that might impact negatively on the previous administration? The answer lies in the untold, chilling tale of how Ali Mohammed compromised three of the big five intelligence agencies across 3 Presidential administrations.
Because Peter Lance’s evidence from the PNP and the link chart he published in 2003 was in perfect sync with the Able Danger revelations, he was asked to consult by Rep. Weldon and Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA), the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee which funds the FBI and Justice.
Those investigations will unfold as this documentary is being produced. Further, as Lance has documented, Patrick Fitzgerald may find himself with some difficult questions to answer if called before the House panel.
Chief among them: why was Ali Mohammed, al Qaeda’s master spy who cleaned the FBI’s clock for years, never formally sentenced or sent to a U.S. prison? Did the man largely responsible for the African Embassy bombings skate with a cushy deal for life in Witness Protection? What about the rumors that he has been freed? What do Fitzgerald, Snell and other DOJ officials have to hide?
In addition to Snell and Fitzgerald, one former DOJ official who could answer our questions is Valerie Caproni. In fact, she is now in a position to be particularly forthcoming. Currently, she works at General Counsel to the FBI. In effect, she’s the Bureau’s top lawyer.
Recently Caproni made headlines by testifying on Capitol Hill to help insure that the FBI was granted extraordinary investigative powers to conduct domestic surveillance with the renewal of The Patriot Act. She has yet to answer for why she was a party to the continuing efforts to discredit Greg Scarpa, Jr., whom Lance will petition the Bureau of Prisons to interview for this documentary.
As many parts of this story come full circle, the case of Greg Scarpa Jr. is particularly significant. When Lance attempted to interview Scarpa Jr. in the summer of 2004, Warden Robert A. Hood of ADX Florence (Supermax) sent Lance a letter alleging that his conversation with Greg Jr. would constitute a “risk to the internal security” of the prison and “to the safety of the staff, inmates and members of the public.” Peter Lance with a reporter’s notebook and a pen.
By exploring the untold saga of Ali Mohamed, bin Laden’s master spy inside the U.S., the question that this ground breaking documentary will seek to answer is this: “What do they have to hide?”