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.
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