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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Triple Cross in the Fresno Bee

Finally papers are realizing, it's not just a good book, it's breaking news.

Dana Ewell, terror and a question of judgment

By Bill McEwen / The Fresno Bee 12/19/06 04:13:28

John Zent was supposed to be the star witness for his daughter's boyfriend, Dana Ewell. Confident in himself and in Ewell's innocence, Zent used his status as a veteran FBI agent to try to poke holes in the prosecution's case.

He testified that he doubted the abilities of Fresno County sheriff's detectives investigating the slayings of Ewell's father, mother and sister, and mocked two detectives as "Bert and Ernie" after the Sesame Street puppets.

But before the trial's conclusion in 1998, Zent's credibility was in tatters. Eleven witnesses disputed Zent's accounts of Ewell's actions and Zent's criticisms of the investigation. A month later, a jury found that Ewell had conspired with a college friend in the 1992 triple slaying so they could split Ewell's $8 million inheritance.

Now, author and five-time Emmy award-winning reporter Peter Lance has linked Zent with Ali Mohamed, the notorious al-Qaida spy who penetrated the CIA, the FBI and the Green Berets in the years leading to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In "Triple Cross," his third book about the war on terror, Lance says that while Mohamed was living in Santa Clara and flying overseas to help Osama bin Laden, he became an FBI informant.

His control agent in the bureau's San Francisco office?

John Zent.

Writes Lance: "But within months of taking on Mohamed as a source, Zent is embroiled in a grisly triple murder case. He becomes the primary alibi witness for Dana Ewell. ...

"The multiyear investigation consumes much of Zent's attention — at a time when he is responsible for monitoring [Mohamed]."

Lance relies on interviews with Fresno investigators who worked the Ewell murders to make the case that Zent was the wrong agent to be in charge of Mohamed — a former Egyptian commando who lived a double life in the United States while serving as bin Laden's security chief.

"If [Zent] couldn't see the guilt of this kid [Ewell], who was an absolute sociopath, after two years — when we had an airtight forensic case with a co-conspirator who flipped — how was he going to sniff out an [al-Qaida] spy?" retired sheriff's detective John Souza says in the book.

Lance, in an interview for this column, says: "To me, the idea that a man like John Zent, who used his position with the FBI to intervene in the Ewell murder investigation and openly declared Dana innocent — even testified for him at trial six years after the murders — shows an incredible inability to judge character or admit that he was wrong — two fatal qualities in an investigator."

Lance says he interviewed Zent briefly for the book, but arrangements for an in-depth interview broke down when Zent sent an e-mail raising several issues, including "compensation" and "indemnity from legal actions."

Zent did not respond to a request for a comment left Monday on his voice mail at Yahoo, where he is a security and risk-management executive.

Mohamed admitted in federal court six years ago to his involvement in plots to kill American soldiers in Somalia and Saudi Arabia, U.S. ambassadors in Africa and American civilians throughout the world.

He is a free man today, hidden by the government he duped for years, in a witness-protection program.

Well, I don't think he's a free man. In the book, Lance reports that Mohamed is in "custodial witness protect" but his wife still goes to visit him, in jail.