Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

For The Record  

FTR #563 A Tale of Two Heroes

Record­ed August 13, 2006
MP3 Side 1 | Side 2

Intro­duc­tion: Revis­it­ing the trag­ic sto­ry of FBI Agent John O’Neill, the pro­gram high­lights his unsuc­cess­ful efforts at inter­dict­ing Al Qae­da oper­a­tions and details the mag­nif­i­cent work of his Lebanese-Amer­i­can col­league Ali Soufan. These are the “Two Heroes” in the title of the broad­cast. In charge of the FBI’s inves­ti­ga­tion of Al Qae­da, O’Neill died in the 9/11 attacks. Despite remark­able efforts in Yemen by both men in their inves­ti­ga­tion of the Al Qae­da bomb­ing of the USS Cole, their dis­cov­ery of infor­ma­tion about the impend­ing 9/11 attacks was nev­er prop­er­ly uti­lized, due in con­sid­er­able mea­sure to the CIA’s fail­ure to share sur­veil­lance infor­ma­tion. That sur­veil­lance infor­ma­tion led to the dis­cov­ery that two of the atten­dees at a Malaysia meet­ing of Al Qae­da oper­a­tives had trav­eled to the Unit­ed States. The arti­cle read here attrib­ut­es the fail­ure to inter­a­gency jeal­ousy and a Jus­tice Depart­ment rul­ing dubbed “The Wall” that blocked prop­er infor­ma­tion shar­ing among intel­li­gence and law enforce­ment per­son­nel. How much of the fail­ure was due to incom­pe­tence and how much to the activ­i­ty of a Fifth Col­umn is a mat­ter of con­jec­ture. It is Mr. Emory’s opin­ion that there was plen­ty of both in con­junc­tion with 9/11. (For more about John O’Neill, see—among oth­er programs—FTR#’s 310, 326, 336. In par­tic­u­lar, lis­ten­ers are encour­aged to lis­ten to side “A” of FTR#310, record­ed in ear­ly July of 2001. It was broad­cast on WFMU the night before the attacks. The morn­ing fol­low­ing the broad­cast, O’Neill died in the attack on the World Trade Cen­ter. Click to hear the pro­gram as it was broad­cast on the evening of 9/10/2001.

Pro­gram High­lights Include: Ali Soufan’s clever manip­u­la­tion of cap­tive Al Qae­da oper­a­tives in order to fer­ret out the truth; open ani­mos­i­ty and jeal­ousy on the part of the CIA toward John O’Neill; sym­pa­thy on the part of the Yemeni author­i­ties toward the jihadis; the con­vic­tion on the part of Al Qae­da cap­tives that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks; attempts by the CIA to recruit Ali Soufan to “The Dark Side;” the dis­cred­it­ing of John O’Neill.

1. Intro­duc­ing the two heroes for whom the pro­gram is named, the broad­cast opens with the bomb­ing of the USS Cole, inves­ti­gat­ed by the late John O’Neill and Ali Soufan. The for­mer was in charge of the FBI’s inves­ti­ga­tion of Al Qae­da and the lat­ter was his “right-hand man.” “Octo­ber 12, 2000, in the deep-water port of Aden, Yemen, the U.S.S. Cole, a guid­ed-mis­sile destroy­er weigh­ing eighty-three hun­dred tons, was docked at a fuelling buoy. The Cole, which cost a bil­lion dol­lars to On build, was one of the most sur­viv­able ships in the U.S. Navy, with sev­en­ty tons of armor, a hull that could with­stand an explo­sion of fifty-one thou­sand pounds per square inch, and stealth tech­nol­o­gy designed to make the ship less vis­i­ble to radar. As the Cole filled its tank, a fiber­glass fish­ing boat con­tain­ing plas­tic explo­sives approached. Two men brought the skiff to a halt amid­ships, smiled and waved, then stood at atten­tion. The sym­bol­ism of this moment was exact­ly what Osama bin Laden, the leader of Al Qae­da, had hoped for when he approved a plan to attack an Amer­i­can naval ves­sel. The destroy­er rep­re­sent­ed the West, bin Laden said lat­er. The small boat rep­re­sent­ed Muham­mad. The shock wave from the blast shat­tered win­dows onshore. Two miles away, peo­ple thought there had been an earth­quake. The fire­ball that rose from the water­line swal­lowed a sailor who had leaned over the rail to see what the men in the skiff were up to. The blast opened a hole, forty feet by forty feet, in the port side of the ship, tear­ing apart sailors belowdecks who were wait­ing for lunch. Sev­en­teen of them per­ished, and thir­ty-nine were wound­ed. Sev­er­al sailors swam through the blast hole to escape the flames. The great man-of-war looked like a gut­ted ani­mal.”
(“The Agent: Did the C.I.A. Stop an F.B.I. Detec­tive from Pre­vent­ing 9/11” by Lawrence Wright; The New York­er; July 10–17/2006; pp. 62–63.)

2. The pro­gram details Ali Soufan’s back­ground: “It was Al Qaeda’s sec­ond suc­cess­ful strike against Amer­i­can tar­gets. In August, 1998, oper­a­tives had bombed the Unit­ed States Embassies in Kenya and Tan­za­nia simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, killing two hun­dred and twen­ty-four peo­ple. Yet an impor­tant part of the Cole plot had failed: Fahd al-Quso, a mem­ber of Al Qaeda’s sup­port team in Aden, was sup­posed to video­tape the blast for pro­pa­gan­da pur­pos­es, but he slept through a morn­ing alarm and did not set up his cam­era in time. Quso was in a taxi at the moment of the explo­sion, and he imme­di­ate­ly went into hid­ing. Short­ly after the attack, Ali Soufan, a twen­ty-nine-year-old Lebanese-Amer­i­can, was dri­ving across the Brook­lyn Bridge when he received a page from the New York office of the F.B.I., where he was employed as a spe­cial agent. He was told to report to work at once. At the time, Soufan was the only F.B.I. agent in the city who spoke Ara­bic, and one of only eight in the coun­try. He had joined the New York office in the fall of 1997, and his tal­ents were quick­ly spot­ted by John O’Neill, the head of the F.B.I.‘s Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Divi­sion, which is devot­ed to com­bat­ting ter­ror­ism. The fol­low­ing Feb­ru­ary, when bin Laden issued a fat­wa declar­ing war on Amer­i­ca, Soufan wrote a tren­chant report on Islam­ic fun­da­men­tal­ism that O’Neill dis­trib­uted to his super­vi­sors. com­bat­ting ter­ror­ism. The fol­low­ing Feb­ru­ary, when bin Laden issued a fat­wa declar­ing war on Amer­i­ca, Soufan wrote a tren­chant report on Islam­ic fun­da­men­tal­ism that O’Neill dis­trib­uted to his super­vi­sors. After the 1998 embassy bomb­ings, Soufan helped assem­ble the ini­tial evi­dence link­ing them to bin Laden. Soufan’s lan­guage skills, his relent­less­ness, and his roots in the Mid­dle East made him invalu­able in help­ing the F.B.I. under­stand Al Qae­da, an orga­ni­za­tion that few Amer­i­cans were even aware of before the embassy bomb­ings. O’Neill, who had joined the F.B.I. twen­ty-five years ear­li­er, referred to the young agent as a nation­al trea­sure. Despite Soufan’s youth and his rel­a­tive­ly short tenure, O’Neill placed him in charge of the Cole inves­ti­ga­tion. As it turned out, Soufan became Amer­i­ca’s best chance to stop the attacks of Sep­tem­ber 11th.” (Ibid.; pp. 63–64.)

3. “Soufan speaks rapid­ly, and there is still a hint of Lebanon in his voice. He has an open face and an engag­ing smile, although there are cir­cles under his eyes from too many long nights. Soufan is a Mus­lim, but he does­n’t fol­low any par­tic­u­lar school of Islam; instead, he is drawn to mys­ti­cal thought, espe­cial­ly that of Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese-Amer­i­can poet. He told me that he has an inter­est in the Kab­bal­ah, because it appeared at a time when the polit­i­cal envi­ron­ment for the Jews was so harsh that they used this phi­los­o­phy to escape their anguish. When he wants to relax, he watch­es reruns of Seinfeld–he’s seen every episode three or four times–or Bugs Bun­ny car­toons. One of his favorite writ­ers is Karen Arm­strong, whose biogra­phies of Muham­mad and the Bud­dha knit togeth­er his­to­ry and reli­gion in a way that makes sense to him. Soufan grew up in Lebanon dur­ing the calami­tous civ­il war, when cities were destroyed and ter­ror­ists were empow­ered by law­less­ness and chaos. His father was a jour­nal­ist in Beirut, and as a child Soufan helped out at the busi­ness mag­a­zine his father pro­duced, often car­ry­ing gal­leys to the printshop. In 1987, when Soufan was six­teen, the fam­i­ly moved to the Unit­ed States. Soufan’s most vivid ini­tial impres­sion of his adopt­ed coun­try was that it was safe. Also, it allowed me to dream, he said.” (Ibid.; p. 64.)

4. “Soufan lived in Penn­syl­va­nia, and he nev­er suf­fered from prej­u­dice because he was a Mus­lim Arab. In high school, he won many aca­d­e­m­ic awards. He attend­ed Mans­field Uni­ver­si­ty, in cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia, where he was elect­ed pres­i­dent of the stu­dent gov­ern­ment. In 1997, he received a mas­ter’s degree in inter­na­tion­al rela­tions from Vil­lano­va Uni­ver­si­ty, out­side Philadel­phia. He ini­tial­ly planned to con­tin­ue his stud­ies in a Ph.D. pro­gram. But he had devel­oped a fas­ci­na­tion with the U.S. Constitution–in par­tic­u­lar, with its guar­an­tees of free­dom of speech, reli­gion, and assem­bly, and the right to a speedy tri­al. Peo­ple who are born into this sys­tem may take it for grant­ed, he said. You don’t know how impor­tant these rights are if you haven’t lived in a coun­try where you can be arrest­ed or killed and not even know why. Like many nat­u­ral­ized cit­i­zens, Soufan felt indebt­ed for the new life he had been giv­en. Although he was poised for an aca­d­e­m­ic career, he decided–almost as a joke, he says–to send his resume to the F.B.I. He thought it was near­ly incon­ceiv­able that the bureau would hire some­one with his back­ground. Yet in July, 1997, a let­ter arrived instruct­ing him to report to the F.B.I. Acad­e­my, in Quan­ti­co, Vir­ginia, in two weeks.” (Idem.)

5. After join­ing the FBI, Soufan hooked up with O’Neill. “Upon grad­u­a­tion, Soufan went to the New York bureau. He was soon assigned to the I‑40 squad, which con­cen­trat­ed main­ly on the Islamist para­mil­i­tary group Hamas, but, in 1998, on the day after the East African embassy bomb­ings, O’Neill draft­ed him into I‑49, which had become the lead unit in the F.B.I.‘s inves­ti­ga­tion of Al Qae­da. O’Neill was one of a few top man­agers in the F.B.I. who rec­og­nized ear­ly the dan­ger that Al Qae­da posed to Amer­i­ca. His inten­si­ty was unyield­ing, and his man­ner was often abra­sive; he could be bru­tal not only to those under him but to supe­ri­ors who he felt were not ful­ly com­mit­ted to an inves­ti­ga­tion. Soufan proved to be a tire­less ally, will­ing to work nights and hol­i­days. O’Neill adored him, and Ali felt the same way, Car­los Fer­nan­dez, an agent who knew both men well, observed. They were equals, in many ways. If you say some­thing to Ali, he’ll remem­ber it, word for word, ten years from now. John was also great at remem­ber­ing names and con­nect­ing the dots. They could go on for hours, putting things togeth­er. The fact that a novice like Soufan had direct access to O’Neill aroused some resent­ment among the oth­er agents, but the bureau had nobody else with his skills and ded­i­ca­tion. John and I often talked about the need to clone Ali, Ken­neth Maxwell, an F.B.I. offi­cial who was then Soufan’s supe­ri­or, told me.” (Idem.)

6. “The after­noon of the Cole bomb­ing, Soufan and a few dozen oth­er agents flew to Yemen to begin look­ing for evi­dence that could be used against Al Qae­da in court. (A larg­er con­tin­gent, which includ­ed O’Neill, was held up in Ger­many for a week, wait­ing for per­mis­sion to enter the coun­try.) Yemen was a par­tic­u­lar­ly dif­fi­cult place to start a ter­ror­ist inves­ti­ga­tion, as it was filled with active Al Qae­da cells and with sym­pa­thiz­ers at very high lev­els of gov­ern­ment. On tele­vi­sion, Yemeni politi­cians called for jihad against Amer­i­ca. When the agents land­ed in Aden, the day after the attack, Soufan looked out at a detach­ment of the Yemen Spe­cial Forces, who wore yel­low uni­forms with old Russ­ian hel­mets; each sol­dier was aim­ing an AK-47 at the U.S. plane. A jit­tery, twelve-man hostage-res­cue team, which had been sent along to pro­tect the F.B.I. agents, respond­ed by bran­dish­ing their M4s and hand­guns. Soufan real­ized that every­one might die on the tar­mac if he did­n’t do some­thing quick­ly. He opened the plane’s door. One Yemeni sol­dier was hold­ing a walkie-talkie. Soufan walked direct­ly toward him, car­ry­ing a bot­tle of water as the guns fol­lowed him. It was a hun­dred and ten degrees out­side.” (Idem.)

7. An invalu­able asset, Soufan’s pres­ence of mind and under­stand­ing of Arab cul­ture and cus­toms helped defuse the con­fronta­tion. It was one of many instances in which Ali Soufan’s extra­or­di­nary abil­i­ties stood him in good stead. “You look thirsty, Soufan said, in Ara­bic, to the offi­cer with the walkie-talkie. He hand­ed him the bot­tle. ‘Is it Amer­i­can water?’ the offi­cer asked. Soufan assured him that it was, adding that he had Amer­i­can water for the oth­er sol­diers as well. The Yeme­nis con­sid­ered the water such a pre­cious com­mod­i­ty that some would not drink it. With this sim­ple act of friend­ship, the sol­diers low­ered their weapons. Soufan divid­ed the agents on the ground into four teams. The first three were respon­si­ble for foren­sics, intel­li­gence, and secu­ri­ty; the last was devot­ed to exchang­ing infor­ma­tion with Yemeni author­i­ties. Just get­ting per­mis­sion from the Yemeni gov­ern­ment to go to the crime scene–the wound­ed war­ship in the Aden harbor–required lengthy nego­ti­a­tions with hos­tile offi­cials. Secu­ri­ty was a great con­cern, con­sid­er­ing that auto­mat­ic weapons were ubiq­ui­tous in the coun­try, espe­cial­ly in rur­al areas, but Bar­bara Bod­ine, the Amer­i­can Ambas­sador, refused to allow the agents to car­ry heavy arms. She was con­cerned about offend­ing the Yemeni author­i­ties.” (Ibid.; pp. 64–65.)

8. Sens­ing a point of infor­ma­tion that was going to prove very fruit­ful, Soufan ini­ti­at­ed a search for a cam­era­man. That search ulti­mate­ly yield­ed Quso, who, in turn, helped to unrav­el the Cole bomb­ing. That inves­ti­ga­tion ulti­mate­ly yield­ed infor­ma­tion about the 9/11 attacks, which might have helped pre­vent the attacks, had it not been for “The Wall” [see below.] “When Soufan and the inves­ti­ga­tors vis­it­ed the ship, clumps of flesh were strewn belowdecks, amid the tan­gled mass of wire and met­al. F.B.I. divers, hop­ing to make DNA iden­ti­fi­ca­tions of the vic­tims and the bombers, net­ted body parts float­ing in the waters around the ship. Look­ing through the huge blast hole, Soufan could see the moun­tain­ous, ancient city of Aden, ris­ing above the curved har­bor like a clas­si­cal amphithe­atre. He fig­ured that, some­where in the city, a cam­era had been set up to record the explo­sion, since ter­ror­ists reg­u­lar­ly doc­u­ment­ed their work. Although the bombers were like­ly dead, a cam­era­man might still be at large. When O’Neill final­ly arrived in Aden with the oth­er agents, he was puz­zled, upon get­ting off the plane, to see the Yemeni sol­diers salut­ing. I told them you were a gen­er­al, Soufan explained to him. Yemen is a sta­tus-con­scious soci­ety, and, because Soufan had pro­mot­ed O’Neill to gen­er­al, his coun­ter­part was Gen­er­al Ghal­ib Qamish, the head of Yemeni intel­li­gence. Every night, when the Yemeni author­i­ties did busi­ness, Soufan and O’Neill spent hours push­ing for access to wit­ness­es, evi­dence, and crime scenes. Ini­tial­ly, the Yeme­nis told them that, since both of the bombers were dead, there was noth­ing to inves­ti­gate. But who gave them mon­ey? Soufan asked. Who pro­vid­ed the explo­sives? The boat? He gen­tly prod­ded the Yeme­nis to help him.” (Ibid.; p. 65.)

9. “A few days after the bomb­ing, the Yeme­nis brought in two known asso­ciates of bin Laden’s for ques­tion­ing. One was named Jamal Badawi; the oth­er was Fahd al-Quso, the man who had failed to video­tape the Cole attack. Both men were Yemeni cit­i­zens. Quso, who ran a guest­house in Aden for jihadis, had turned him­self in after fam­i­ly mem­bers were ques­tioned. He did not admit his role in the Cole plot, but he and Badawi con­fessed that they had recent­ly trav­elled to Afghanistan, and had met there with a one-legged jiha­di named Khal­lad. Badawi said that he had bought a boat for Khal­lad, who, he explained, had want­ed to go into the fish­ing busi­ness. The Yeme­nis even­tu­al­ly deter­mined that this was the boat used in the Cole bomb­ing. When Soufan heard that Quso had men­tioned the name Khal­lad, he was star­tled: he had heard it from a source he had recruit­ed a few years ear­li­er, in Afghanistan. The source had told him that he had met a fight­er in Kan­da­har with a met­al leg who was one of bin Laden’s top lieu­tenants. When Soufan asked to speak to Quso and Badawi, the Yeme­nis told him that the men had sworn on a Koran that they were inno­cent of any crime. For them, that set­tled the mat­ter.” (Idem.)

10. O’Neill and Soufan were able to estab­lish an excel­lent rap­port with Gen­er­al Qamish. “Soufan and O’Neill knew that Gen­er­al Qamish rep­re­sent­ed their best hope of gain­ing any coop­er­a­tion. He was a small, gaunt man whose face remind­ed Soufan of Gand­hi’s. Despite the ten­sions between the two sides, Qamish had begun call­ing his Amer­i­can col­leagues Broth­er John and Broth­er Ali. One night, O’Neill and Soufan spent many hours ask­ing Qamish for pass­port pho­tographs of sus­pect­ed plot­ters, espe­cial­ly that of Khal­lad. He said repeat­ed­ly that the F.B.I. was not need­ed on the case, but O’Neill and Soufan point­ed out that the soon­er they could inter­ro­gate sus­pects linked to the Cole bomb­ing the soon­er they might obtain intel­li­gence that could destroy Al Qae­da. The fol­low­ing night, Qamish announced, I have your pho­tos for you. Soufan imme­di­ate­ly sent Khal­lad’s pho­to to the C.I.A. He also faxed it to an F.B.I. agent in Islam­abad, Pak­istan; the agent showed it to Soufan’s source in Afghanistan, who iden­ti­fied the man as Khal­lad, the Al Qae­da lieu­tenant. This sug­gest­ed strong­ly that Al Qae­da was behind the Cole attack. Anoth­er break came that same evening, when a twelve-year-old boy named Hani went to the local police. He said that he had been fish­ing on a pier when the bombers placed their skiff in the water. One of the men had paid the boy a hun­dred Yemeni riyals–about six­ty cents–to watch his Nis­san truck and boat trail­er, but he nev­er returned. When the police heard Hani’s sto­ry, they locked him in jail and arrest­ed his father as well. After repeat­ed requests, the Amer­i­cans got per­mis­sion to inter­view the boy and to exam­ine the launch site. Hani was scared, but he pro­vid­ed a descrip­tion of the bombers: one was heavy, and the oth­er was hand­some. An Ara­bic-speak­ing naval inves­ti­ga­tor named Robert McFad­den offered the boy some can­dy. He then said that the bombers had invit­ed him and his fam­i­ly to take a ride in the boat, which was white, with red car­pet­ing on the floor. When Soufan heard this, he deduced that the bombers had been try­ing to deter­mine how much weight the skiff could car­ry.” (Ibid.; pp. 65–66.)

11. “The aban­doned truck and trail­er were still at the launch site. It was a major mis­take on the part of Al Qae­da not to have retrieved them. By check­ing reg­is­tra­tion records, inves­ti­ga­tors con­nect­ed the truck and trail­er to a house in a neigh­bor­hood of Aden called Burayqah. When Soufan went to the house, which was sur­round­ed by a wall and a gate, he had an eerie feel­ing: this res­i­dence had a strik­ing resem­blance to the house in Nairo­bi where the bomb for the 1998 embassy attack had been made. Inside, in the mas­ter bed­room, there was a prayer rug ori­ent­ed to the north, toward Mec­ca. The bath­room sink was full of body hair; the bombers had shaved and per­formed rit­u­al ablu­tions before going to their deaths. Soufan’s men col­lect­ed a razor and hair sam­ples, which might pro­vide the F.B.I. with the DNA evi­dence nec­es­sary to estab­lish the iden­ti­ty of the killers. (So far, the inves­ti­ga­tors at the Cole site had found only a cou­ple of bone frag­ments that did­n’t belong to Amer­i­can sailors.) Inves­ti­ga­tors found that anoth­er house in Aden had been rent­ed by the ter­ror­ists; it was reg­is­tered to Abda Hus­sein Muham­mad. The name was dim­ly famil­iar to Soufan. At one point dur­ing the Nairo­bi inves­ti­ga­tion, a wit­ness had men­tioned an Al Qae­da oper­a­tive named Nash­eri who had pro­posed attack­ing an Amer­i­can ves­sel in Aden. Soufan did some research and dis­cov­ered that Nash­er­i’s full name was Abdul Rahim Muham­mad Hus­sein Abda al-Nash­eri. The mid­dle names were the same, just reversed. Soufan’s hunch paid off when Amer­i­can agents dis­cov­ered a car in Aden that was reg­is­tered to Nash­eri. It was anoth­er strong link between Al Qae­da and the Cole attack.” (Ibid.; p. 66.)

12. Among the many obsta­cles that Soufan, O’Neill and their asso­ciates had to over­come was the more or less open sym­pa­thy that some Yemeni offi­cials had for jihadis. “A cou­ple of weeks after the bomb­ing, Yemeni author­i­ties placed Badawi and Quso, the two Al Qae­da oper­a­tives, under arrest, appar­ent­ly as a pre­cau­tion. Soufan con­tin­ued to press Gen­er­al Qamish to let him inter­ro­gate the men direct­ly, and final­ly, after sev­er­al weeks, Qamish relent­ed. Soufan spent hours prepar­ing for the encoun­ters, with the goal of find­ing some com­mon ground with his sub­jects. Often, the bond cen­tered on reli­gion. Ali was very spir­i­tu­al, Car­los Fer­nan­dez recalled. In Yemen, he was read­ing the Koran at night. He would talk to these guys about their beliefs. Some­times, he would actu­al­ly con­vince them that their under­stand­ing of Islam was all wrong. In the inter­ro­ga­tion of Badawi, Soufan learned that the skiff had been pur­chased in Sau­di Ara­bia. Soufan ques­tioned Quso over the course of sev­er­al days. Quso was small, wiry, and inso­lent, with a wispy beard that he kept tug­ging on. Before Soufan could even begin, a local intel­li­gence offi­cial came into the room and kissed Quso on both cheeks–a shock­ing sig­nal that the secu­ri­ty ser­vices were sym­pa­thet­ic to the jihadis. McFad­den, who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the inter­ro­ga­tions, recalled that Soufan was not intim­i­dat­ed. He said, Ali was a nat­ur­al inter­view­er, and he was able to dis­lodge Quso from his cir­cle of com­fort. Even­tu­al­ly, Quso began to open up. He had been in Afghanistan, and boast­ed that he had fought beside bin Laden. He said that bin Laden had inspired him with his speech­es about expelling the infi­dels from the Ara­bi­an Peninsula–in par­tic­u­lar, Amer­i­can troops sta­tioned in Sau­di Ara­bia.” (Idem.)

13. Again, Soufan’s under­stand­ing of the Arab psy­che yield­ed results: he was able to learn of a Khal­lad, who even­tu­al­ly proved to be a key to deter­min­ing that anoth­er oper­a­tion was on the way. That oper­a­tion was 9/11, although “the Wall” pre­vent­ed the inter­dic­tion of the oper­a­tion. “Soufan asked if Quso ever planned to get mar­ried. A shy, embar­rassed smile appeared. Well, then, help your­self out, Soufan urged him. Tell me some­thing. Final­ly, Quso admit­ted that he was sup­posed to film the bomb­ing but had over­slept. (The Yeme­nis lat­er found a video cam­era at his sis­ter’s house.) He also said that sev­er­al months before the Cole attack he and one of the bombers had deliv­ered thir­ty-six thou­sand dol­lars to Khal­lad, the one-legged Al Qae­da lieu­tenant, in Bangkok. The mon­ey, Quso added, was meant only to buy Khal­lad a new pros­the­sis. Soufan was sus­pi­cious of this expla­na­tion. Why had Al Qae­da sent mon­ey out of Yemen just before the Cole bomb­ing took place? Mon­ey always flowed toward an oper­a­tion, not away from it. He won­dered if Al Qae­da had a big­ger plot under way. The C.I.A. had offi­cials in Yemen to col­lect intel­li­gence about Al Qae­da, and Soufan asked them if they knew any­thing about a new oper­a­tion, per­haps in South­east Asia. They pro­fessed to be as puz­zled as he was. In Novem­ber 2000, a month after the Cole bomb­ing, Soufan sent the agency the first of sev­er­al offi­cial queries. On Soufan’s behalf, the direc­tor of the F.B.I. sent a let­ter to the direc­tor of the C.I.A., for­mal­ly ask­ing for infor­ma­tion about Khal­lad, and whether there might have been an Al Qae­da meet­ing some­where in South­east Asia before the bomb­ing. The agency said that it had noth­ing. Soufan trust­ed this response; he thought that he had a good work­ing rela­tion­ship with the agency.” (Ibid.; pp. 66–67.)

14. The CIA’s reluc­tance to help the FBI obstructs attempts at pen­e­trat­ing the con­spir­a­cy. The Agency’s jeal­ousy of Soufan, O’Neill and the FBI played a part. “Quso had told Soufan that when he and the Cole bomber went to Bangkok to meet Khal­lad they had stayed in the Wash­ing­ton Hotel. F.B.I. agents went through phone records to ver­i­fy his sto­ry. They found calls between the hotel and Quso’s house, in Yemen. They also noticed that there were calls to both places from a pay phone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In April, 2001, Soufan sent anoth­er offi­cial tele­type to the C.I.A., along with the pass­port pho­to of Khal­lad. He asked whether the tele­phone num­bers had any sig­nif­i­cance, and whether there was any con­nec­tion between the num­bers and Khal­lad. The C.I.A. said that it could not help him. In fact, the C.I.A. knew a lot about Khal­lad and his ties to Al Qae­da. The F.B.I. and the C.I.A. have long quar­relled over bureau­crat­ic turf, and their man­dates place them at odds. The ulti­mate goal of the bureau in gath­er­ing intel­li­gence is to gain con­vic­tions for crimes; for the agency, intel­li­gence itself is the object. If the agency had respond­ed can­did­ly to Soufan’s requests, it would have revealed its knowl­edge of an Al Qae­da cell that was already form­ing inside the Unit­ed States. But the agency kept this intel­li­gence to itself. I come from a gen­er­a­tion of F.B.I. agents who have always worked close­ly with the C.I.A., Soufan told me. At the time he joined the bureau, law enforce­ment had become inter­na­tion­al­ized. In the nine­teen-nineties, his men­tor, O’Neill, had estab­lished close rela­tions with for­eign police ser­vices, an approach that some­times encroached on the C.I.A.‘s ter­ri­to­ry. In 1999, O’Neill sent Soufan and his super­vi­sor, Pasquale D’A­muro, to Jor­dan, where author­i­ties had dis­cov­ered that jihadis linked to Al Qae­da were plot­ting to bomb tourist sites and hotels. Infor­ma­tion that the Jor­da­ni­ans shared with Soufan made him real­ize that the intel­li­gence that the C.I.A. was report­ing was deeply flawed. His analy­sis forced local C.I.A. rep­re­sen­ta­tives to with­draw twelve cables that they had sent to agency head­quar­ters. On the floor of the C.I.A.‘s sta­tion in Amman, Soufan dis­cov­ered a box of evi­dence that had been giv­en to the agency by Jor­dan­ian intel­li­gence. Such evi­dence is what the F.B.I. needs in order to mount pros­e­cu­tions, and no one had exam­ined the box’s con­tents or turned it over to the bureau. In the box, Soufan found a map of the pro­posed bomb sites, which proved cru­cial in the pros­e­cu­tions of twen­ty-eight plot­ters in Jor­dan, twen­ty-two of whom were con­vict­ed. Soufan’s suc­cess embar­rassed the C.I.A., deep­en­ing the rift between the two insti­tu­tions. ‘The C.I.A. peo­ple could­n’t stand the fact that Ali’s opin­ion and analy­sis were cor­rect, an F.B.I. coun­tert­er­ror­ism offi­cial who worked with Soufan told me. He was an Ara­bic speak­er and an F.B.I. agent on the ground who was run­ning cir­cles around them.’” (Ibid.; p. 67.)

15. The CIA tried to recruit Soufan. Their phrase­ol­o­gy is inter­est­ing. Inter­est­ing, also, is the fact that the FBI gave the CIA much of its infor­ma­tion about Al Qae­da. “Nev­er­the­less, the C.I.A. rec­og­nized Soufan’s abil­i­ties and repeat­ed­ly tried to recruit him. ‘Come over to the Dark Side,’ an agency oper­a­tive once said to him. ‘You know you’re inter­est­ed.’ Soufan said that he just laughed. Indeed, some of the C.I.A.‘s best infor­ma­tion about Al Qae­da came from the F.B.I. In 1998, F.B.I. inves­ti­ga­tors found an essen­tial clue–a phone num­ber in Yemen that func­tioned as a vir­tu­al switch­board for the ter­ror net­work. The bombers in East Africa called that num­ber before and after the attacks; so did Osama bin Laden. The num­ber belonged to a jiha­di named Ahmed al-Hada. By comb­ing through the records of all the calls made to and from that num­ber, F.B.I. inves­ti­ga­tors con­struct­ed a map of Al Qaeda’s glob­al orga­ni­za­tion. The phone line was mon­i­tored as soon as it was dis­cov­ered. But the C.I.A., as the pri­ma­ry orga­ni­za­tion for gath­er­ing for­eign intel­li­gence, had juris­dic­tion over con­ver­sa­tions on the Hada phone, and did not pro­vide the F.B.I. with the infor­ma­tion it was get­ting about Al Qaeda’s plans. A con­ver­sa­tion on the Hada phone at the end of 1999 men­tioned a forth­com­ing meet­ing of Al Qae­da oper­a­tives in Malaysia. The C.I.A. learned the name of one par­tic­i­pant, Khaled al-Mihd­har, and the first name of anoth­er: Nawaf. Both men were Sau­di cit­i­zens. The C.I.A. did not pass this intel­li­gence to the F.B.I. How­ev­er, the C.I.A. did share the infor­ma­tion with Sau­di author­i­ties, who told the agency that Mihd­har and a man named Nawaf al-Haz­mi were mem­bers of Al Qae­da. Based on this intel­li­gence, the C.I.A. broke into a hotel room in Dubai where Mihd­har was stay­ing, en route to Malaysia. The oper­a­tives pho­to­copied Mihd­har’s pass­port and faxed it to Alec Sta­tion, the C.I.A. unit devot­ed to track­ing bin Laden. Inside the pass­port was the crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion that Mihd­har had a U.S. visa. The agency did not alert the F.B.I. or the State Depart­ment so that Mihd­har’s name could be put on a ter­ror watch list, which would have pre­vent­ed him from enter­ing the U.S.” (Ibid.; pp. 67–68.)

16. A mon­u­men­tal short­com­ing on the part of the agency was its fail­ure to dis­close to the FBI the infor­ma­tion gleaned from Malaysian sur­veil­lance of an Al Qae­da meet­ing attend­ed by Mihd­har, Haz­mi and Khal­lad. “The C.I.A. asked Malaysian author­i­ties to pro­vide sur­veil­lance of the meet­ing in Kuala Lumpur, which took place on Jan­u­ary 5, 2000, at a con­do­mini­um over­look­ing a golf course designed by Jack Nick­laus. The con­do was owned by a Malaysian busi­ness­man who had ties to Al Qae­da. The pay phone that Soufan had queried the agency about was direct­ly in front of the con­do. Khal­lad used it to place calls to Quso in Yemen. Although the C.I.A. lat­er denied that it knew any­thing about the phone, the num­ber was record­ed in the Malaysians’ sur­veil­lance log, which was giv­en to the agency. At the time of the Kuala Lumpur meet­ing, Spe­cial Branch, the Malaysian secret ser­vice, pho­tographed about a dozen Al Qae­da asso­ciates out­side the con­do and vis­it­ing near­by Inter­net cafes. These pic­tures were turned over to the C.I.A. The meet­ing was not wire­tapped; had it been, the agency might have uncov­ered the plots that cul­mi­nat­ed in the bomb­ing of the Cole and the Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001, attacks. On Jan­u­ary 8th, Spe­cial Branch noti­fied the C.I.A. that three of the men who had been at the meeting–Mihdhar, Haz­mi, and Khallad–were trav­el­ling togeth­er to Bangkok. There Khal­lad met with Quso and one of the sui­cide bombers of the Cole. Quso gave Khal­lad the thir­ty-six thou­sand dol­lars, which was most like­ly used to buy tick­ets to Los Ange­les for Mihd­har and Haz­mi and pro­vide them with liv­ing expens­es in the U.S. Both men end­ed up on planes involved in the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks.” (Ibid.; pp. 67–68.)

17. Con­tribut­ing to the CIA’s reluc­tance to share infor­ma­tion with FBI was its resent­ment of O’Neill. The CIA neglect­ed to noti­fy the bureau that the Mihd­har and Haz­mi were in the coun­try. “In March, the C.I.A. learned that Haz­mi had flown to Los Ange­les two months ear­li­er, on Jan­u­ary 15th. Had the agency checked the flight man­i­fest, it would have noticed that Mihd­har was trav­el­ling with him. Once again, the agency neglect­ed to inform the F.B.I. or the State Depart­ment that at least one Al Qae­da oper­a­tive was in the coun­try. Although the C.I.A. was legal­ly bound to share this kind of infor­ma­tion with the bureau, it was pro­tec­tive of sen­si­tive intel­li­gence. The agency some­times feared that F.B.I. pros­e­cu­tions result­ing from such intel­li­gence might com­pro­mise its rela­tion­ships with for­eign ser­vices, although there were safe­guards to pro­tect con­fi­den­tial infor­ma­tion. The C.I.A. was par­tic­u­lar­ly wary of O’Neill, who demand­ed con­trol of any case that touched on an F.B.I. inves­ti­ga­tion. Many C.I.A. offi­cials dis­liked him and feared that he could not be trust­ed with sen­si­tive intel­li­gence. ‘O’Neill was duplic­i­tous,’ Michael Scheuer, the offi­cial who found­ed Alec Sta­tion but has now left the C.I.A., told me. ‘He had no con­cerns out­side of mak­ing the bureau look good.’ Sev­er­al of O’Neil­l’s sub­or­di­nates sug­gest­ed that the C.I.A. hid the infor­ma­tion out of per­son­al ani­mos­i­ty. They hat­ed John, the F.B.I. coun­tert­er­ror­ism offi­cial assigned to Alec Sta­tion told me. They knew that John would have marched in there and tak­en con­trol of that case.” (Ibid.; p. 68.)

18. The author spec­u­lates about pos­si­ble rea­sons for the CIA’s fail­ure to noti­fy the FBI about the hijack­ers’ pres­ence in the Unit­ed States. It should be not­ed that, as Daniel Hop­sick­er (among oth­ers) has chron­i­cled, in the San Diego area, some of the hijack­ers were active­ly assist­ed by FBI infor­mants. For more about this sub­ject, see—among oth­er programs—FTR#507.) Were the infor­mants actu­al­ly dou­ble agents? How much of the osten­si­ble “incom­pe­tence” on the part of ele­ments of the fed­er­al bureau­cra­cy was due to the activ­i­ty of what Mr. Emory calls “Fifth Colum­nists?” “The C.I.A. may also have been pro­tect­ing an over­seas oper­a­tion and was afraid that the F.B.I. would expose it. More­over, Mihd­har and Haz­mi could have seemed like attrac­tive recruit­ment possibilities–the C.I.A. was des­per­ate for a source inside Al Qae­da, hav­ing failed to pen­e­trate the inner cir­cle or even to place some­one in the train­ing camps, even though they were large­ly open to any­one who showed up. How­ev­er, once Mihd­har and Haz­mi entered the Unit­ed States they were the province of the F.B.I. The C.I.A. has no legal author­i­ty to oper­ate inside the coun­try. In the end, the C.I.A.‘s fail­ure to inform the F.B.I. may be best explained by the fact that the agency was drown­ing in a flood of threats and warn­ings, and sim­ply did not see the piv­otal impor­tance of this intel­li­gence. What­ev­er the rea­son for the C.I.A.‘s lapse, many F.B.I. inves­ti­ga­tors remain furi­ous that they were not informed of the pres­ence of Al Qae­da oper­a­tives inside Amer­i­ca. Mihd­har and Haz­mi arrived twen­ty months before Sep­tem­ber 11th. Ken­neth Maxwell, Soufan’s for­mer super­vi­sor, told me, ‘Two Al Qae­da guys liv­ing in California–are you kid­ding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: phys­i­cal sur­veil­lance, elec­tron­ic sur­veil­lance, a spe­cial unit devot­ed entire­ly to them.’ Of course, the F.B.I. had oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties to pre­vent Sep­tem­ber 11th. In July, 2001, an F.B.I. agent in Phoenix sug­gest­ed inter­view­ing Arabs enrolled in Amer­i­can flight schools; a month lat­er, the bureau’s Min­neso­ta office request­ed per­mis­sion to aggres­sive­ly inves­ti­gate Zacarias Mous­saoui, who lat­er con­fessed to being an Al Qae­da asso­ciate. Both pro­pos­als were reject­ed by F.B.I. super­vi­sors. But Mihd­har and Haz­mi were direct­ly involved in the Sep­tem­ber 11th con­spir­a­cy. Because of their con­nec­tion to bin Laden, who had a fed­er­al indict­ment against him, the F.B.I. had all the author­i­ty it need­ed to use every inves­tiga­tive tech­nique to pen­e­trate and dis­rupt the Al Qae­da cell. Instead, the hijack­ers were free to devel­op their plot until it was too late to stop them.” (Idem.)

19. “In Yemen, the secu­ri­ty sit­u­a­tion dete­ri­o­rat­ed rapid­ly. Soufan and the oth­er F.B.I. agents were quar­tered at the Aden Hotel, crammed in with oth­er U.S. mil­i­tary and gov­ern­ment employ­ees, includ­ing Marine guards, and bil­let­ed three and four to a room; sev­er­al dozen slept on bedrolls in the hotel ball­room. Gun­fire erupt­ed out­side the hotel so fre­quent­ly that the agents slept in their clothes, with their weapons at their sides. Agents learned from a mechan­ic in Aden that, after the bomb­ing, some men brought to his shop a truck sim­i­lar to the one used by the bombers; the men want­ed to have met­al plates installed in such a way that they could direct the force of an explo­sion. Cer­tain­ly, the most tempt­ing tar­get for such a bomb would be the Aden Hotel. It was­n’t clear that the Yemeni gov­ern­ment troops who were guard­ing the hotel with machine-gun nests would tru­ly pro­tect the Amer­i­cans. We were pris­on­ers, an agent recalled. One night, shots were fired on the street while O’Neill was run­ning a meet­ing inside the hotel. The marines and the hostage-res­cue team adopt­ed defen­sive posi­tions. Soufan ven­tured out, unarmed, to talk to the Yemeni troops. Hey, Ali! O’Neill called out. Be care­ful! He raced down the steps of the hotel to make sure Soufan was wear­ing his flak jack­et. Frus­tra­tion, stress, and dan­ger, along with the enforced inti­ma­cy of their sit­u­a­tion, had brought the two men even clos­er. O’Neill had begun to describe Soufan as his secret weapon. Speak­ing to the Yeme­nis, he called him sim­ply my son.” (Ibid.; pp. 68–69.)

20. Soufan again helped the inves­ti­ga­tors evade what may have been a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion. “Snipers cov­ered Soufan as he approached a Yemeni offi­cer, who assured him that every­thing was O.K. If every­thing is O.K., why are there no cars on the street? Soufan asked. The offi­cer said that there must be a wed­ding near­by. Soufan looked around and saw that the hotel was sur­round­ed by a large num­ber of men in tra­di­tion­al dress–some in Jeeps, all car­ry­ing guns. They were civil­ians, not sol­diers. They could be intel­li­gence offi­cers, or a trib­al group bent on revenge. In either case, they eas­i­ly out­num­bered the Amer­i­cans. Soufan was remind­ed of the 1993 upris­ing in Soma­lia, which end­ed with eigh­teen Amer­i­can sol­diers dead, and one of the bod­ies being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. The hotel backed up to the har­bor, and the Amer­i­cans were essen­tial­ly trapped. After Soufan went inside and offered his assess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion, O’Neill ordered the marines to deploy two armored vehi­cles to block the street in front of the hotel. The night passed with­out fur­ther inci­dent, but the next day O’Neill moved the inves­ti­ga­tors to the U.S.S. Duluth, sta­tioned ten miles away, in the Bay of Aden. That proved to be a dan­ger­ous mis­take. The next morn­ing, when O’Neill and Soufan were fly­ing back to town, their heli­copter sud­den­ly lurched into vio­lent eva­sive maneu­vers. The pilot report­ed that an SA‑7 mis­sile had locked in on them. O’Neill decid­ed to send most of the inves­ti­ga­tors home; those who remained returned to the desert­ed hotel.” (Ibid.; p. 69.)

21. The CIA turned down a sug­ges­tion by an Agency liai­son at FBI head­qauar­ters to noti­fy the bureau of Mihd­har and Hazmi’s pres­ence in the coun­try. “Just before Thanks­giv­ing, the F.B.I. pulled O’Neill out of Yemen, appar­ent­ly as a con­ces­sion to Ambas­sador Bod­ine, who felt that the F.B.I. pres­ence was strain­ing diplo­mat­ic rela­tions between Amer­i­ca and Yemen. Soufan stayed on, but the threats in Aden became so acute that he and the oth­er agents moved to the Amer­i­can Embassy in Sanaa, Yemen’s cap­i­tal. The inves­ti­ga­tion was los­ing its momen­tum. In the spring of 2001, Tom Wilshire, a C.I.A. liai­son at F.B.I. head­quar­ters, in Wash­ing­ton, was study­ing the rela­tion­ship between Khaled al-Mihd­har, the Sau­di Al Qae­da oper­a­tive, and Khal­lad, the one-legged jiha­di. Because of the sim­i­lar­i­ty of the names, the C.I.A. had thought that they might be the same per­son, but, thanks in part to Ali Soufan’s inves­ti­ga­tions in Yemen, the agency now knew that they were not, and that Khal­lad had orches­trat­ed the Cole attack. O.K. This is impor­tant, Wilshire said of Khal­lad, in an e‑mail to his super­vi­sors at the C.I.A. Coun­tert­er­ror­ist Cen­ter. This is a major-league killer. Wilshire already knew that Haz­mi, the oth­er Sau­di oper­a­tive, had arrived in the Unit­ed States and that Mihd­har was pos­si­bly with him. Some­thing bad [is] def­i­nite­ly up, Wilshire wrote to a col­league. He asked per­mis­sion to dis­close this vital infor­ma­tion to the F.B.I. His supe­ri­ors at the C.I.A. nev­er respond­ed to his request. (In an offi­cial state­ment, the C.I.A. ques­tioned the accu­ra­cy of this arti­cle but did not address spe­cif­ic alle­ga­tions. It said, Based on rig­or­ous inter­nal and exter­nal reviews of its short­com­ings and suc­cess­es before and after 9/11, the C.I.A. has improved its pro­cess­ing and shar­ing of intel­li­gence. C.I.A.‘s focus is on learn­ing and even clos­er coop­er­a­tion with part­ners inside and out­side gov­ern­ment, not on pub­lic fin­ger point­ing, which does not serve the Amer­i­can peo­ple well.)” (Idem.)

22. “That sum­mer, Wilshire asked an F.B.I. ana­lyst to review the mate­r­i­al on the Malaysia meet­ing, but he did not reveal that some of the par­tic­i­pants might be in the Unit­ed States. More impor­tant, he con­veyed none of the urgency reflect­ed in his e‑mail; he told the ana­lyst that she should exam­ine the mate­r­i­al in her free time. She did­n’t get around to it until the end of July. Wilshire did want to know, how­ev­er, what the F.B.I. knew. He asked Dina Cor­si, anoth­er F.B.I. ana­lyst, to show three sur­veil­lance pho­tos from the Malaysia meet­ing to sev­er­al I‑49 agents. The pic­tures showed Mihd­har and Haz­mi and a man who, the C.I.A. believed, resem­bled Quso, the Cole cam­era­man. Wilshire told Cor­si that one of the men was named Khaled al-Mihd­har, but he did not explain why the pic­tures had been tak­en, and he did not men­tion that Mihd­har had a U.S. visa. Accord­ing to the 9/11 Com­mis­sion Report, on June 11th a C.I.A. super­vi­sor went with the F.B.I. ana­lyst and Cor­si to New York to meet with F.B.I. case agents on the Cole inves­ti­ga­tion; Soufan, who was still in Yemen, did not attend. The meet­ing start­ed in mid-morn­ing, with the New York agents brief­ing the C.I.A. super­vi­sor, Clark Shan­non, for three or four hours on the progress of their inves­ti­ga­tion. Cor­si then showed the three Malaysia pho­tographs to her F.B.I. col­leagues. They were high-qual­i­ty sur­veil­lance pho­tos. One, shot from a low angle, showed Mihd­har and Haz­mi stand­ing beside a tree in Malaysia. Shan­non want­ed to know if the agents rec­og­nized any­one. The I‑49 agents asked who was in the pic­tures, and when and where they had been tak­en. Were there any oth­er pho­tographs of this meet­ing?, one of the F.B.I. agents demand­ed. Shan­non refused to say. Cor­si promised that in the days and weeks to come she would try to get per­mis­sion to pass that infor­ma­tion along. The meet­ing became heat­ed. The F.B.I. agents sensed that these pho­tographs per­tained direct­ly to crimes they were try­ing to solve, but they could­n’t elic­it any fur­ther infor­ma­tion from Shan­non. Cor­si final­ly dropped the name Khaled al-Mihd­har. Steve Bon­gardt, Soufan’s top assis­tant in the Cole inves­ti­ga­tion, asked Shan­non to pro­vide a date of birth or a pass­port num­ber to go with Mihd­har’s name. A name by itself was not suf­fi­cient to pre­vent his entry into the Unit­ed States. Bon­gardt had just returned from Pak­istan with a list of thir­ty names of sus­pect­ed Al Qae­da asso­ciates and their dates of birth, which he had giv­en to the State Depart­ment. That was stan­dard procedure–the first thing most inves­ti­ga­tors would do. But Shan­non declined to pro­vide the addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion. Top C.I.A. offi­cials had not autho­rized him to dis­close the vital details of Mihd­har’s U.S. visa, his asso­ci­a­tion with Haz­mi, and their affil­i­a­tion with Khal­lad and Al Qae­da” (Ibid.; pp. 69–70.)

23. “There was a fourth pho­to­graph of the Malaysia meet­ing that Shan­non did not pro­duce. That was a pic­ture of Khal­lad, the one-legged oper­a­tive. Thanks to Soufan’s inter­ro­ga­tion of Quso, the Cole inves­ti­ga­tors had an active file on Khal­lad and were prepar­ing to indict him. Knowl­edge of that fourth pho­to would like­ly have prompt­ed O’Neill to demand that the C.I.A. turn over all infor­ma­tion relat­ing to Khal­lad and his asso­ciates. By with­hold­ing the pic­ture of Khal­lad attend­ing the meet­ing with the future hijack­ers, the C.I.A. may in effect have allowed the Sep­tem­ber 11th plot to pro­ceed. That sum­mer, Mihd­har returned to Yemen and then went to Sau­di Ara­bia, where, pre­sum­ably, he helped the remain­ing hijack­ers secure entry into the Unit­ed States. Two days after the frus­trat­ing June 11th meet­ing, Mihd­har received anoth­er Amer­i­can visa from the con­sulate in Jed­dah, Sau­di Ara­bia. Since the C.I.A. had not giv­en his name to the State Depart­ment to post on its watch list, Mihd­har arrived in New York on the Fourth of July. The June 11th meet­ing was the cul­mi­na­tion of a strange trend in the U.S. gov­ern­ment toward hid­ing infor­ma­tion from the peo­ple who most need­ed it. In this regard, the F.B.I. was as guilty as the C.I.A. [Empha­sis added.] A fed­er­al law at the time pro­hib­it­ed the shar­ing of infor­ma­tion aris­ing from grand-jury tes­ti­mo­ny, but the F.B.I. took it as a near­ly absolute bar to reveal­ing any inves­tiga­tive evi­dence and, as a result, repeat­ed­ly turned down requests for infor­ma­tion from oth­er intel­li­gence agen­cies. (The Joint Con­gres­sion­al Inquiry on 9/11 claimed that the law ‘came to be used sim­ply as an excuse for not shar­ing infor­ma­tion.’)” (Ibid.; p. 70.)

24. The Wall became an invin­ci­ble obsta­cle for O’Neill, Soufan and the inves­ti­ga­tors of the Cole bomb­ing, as well as for those look­ing into what was to become 9/11. “In 1995, the Jus­tice Depart­ment estab­lished a pol­i­cy, known as the Wall, which reg­u­lat­ed the exchange of for­eign intel­li­gence infor­ma­tion between agents and crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tors. Man­agers at F.B.I. head­quar­ters mis­in­ter­pret­ed the pol­i­cy, turn­ing it into a strait­jack­et for their own inves­ti­ga­tors. Intel­li­gence agents were warned that shar­ing such infor­ma­tion with crim­i­nal agents could mean the end of their careers. The Wall, the F.B.I. decid­ed, sep­a­rat­ed even peo­ple who were on the same squad. The F.B.I. also began with­hold­ing intel­li­gence from the White House. Every morn­ing on the clas­si­fied com­put­ers of the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Coun­cil, there were at least a hun­dred reports, from the C.I.A., the N.S.A., and oth­er intel­li­gence branch­es, but the F.B.I. nev­er dis­sem­i­nat­ed infor­ma­tion. The C.I.A. embraced the idea of the Wall with equal vig­or. The agency fre­quent­ly decid­ed not to share intel­li­gence with the F.B.I. on the ground that it would com­pro­mise sen­si­tive sources and meth­ods. For exam­ple, the C.I.A. col­lect­ed oth­er cru­cial infor­ma­tion about Mihd­har that it did not pro­vide to the F.B.I. Mihd­har, it turned out, was the son-in-law of Ahmed al-Hada, the Al Qae­da loy­al­ist in Yemen whose phone num­ber oper­at­ed as the net­work’s switch­board. After arriv­ing in New York on July 4th, Mihd­har flew to San Diego and rent­ed an apart­ment. From there, he made eight calls to the Hada phone to talk to his wife, who was about to give birth. In the I‑49 squad’s office, there was a link chart show­ing the con­nec­tions between Hada’s phone and oth­er phones around the world. Had a line been drawn from Hada’s Yemen home to Mihd­har’s San Diego apart­ment, Al Qaeda’s pres­ence in Amer­i­ca would have been glar­ing­ly obvi­ous.” (Ibid.; pp. 70–71.)

25. In state­ments before Con­gress, the CIA lied about its fail­ure to divulge the two hijack­ers’ pres­ence in the Unit­ed States: “After Sep­tem­ber 11th, the C.I.A. claimed that it had divulged Mihd­har’s iden­ti­ty to the F.B.I. in a time­ly man­ner; indeed, both George Tenet, the agen­cy’s direc­tor, and Cofer Black, the head of its coun­tert­er­ror­ism divi­sion, tes­ti­fied to Con­gress that this was the case. Lat­er, the 9/11 Com­mis­sion con­clud­ed that the state­ments of both were false. The C.I.A. was unable to pro­duce evi­dence prov­ing that the infor­ma­tion had been passed to the bureau. The I‑49 squad respond­ed to the secre­cy in aggres­sive and cre­ative ways. When the C.I.A. refused to share inter­cepts of bin Laden’s satel­lite phone, the squad came up with a plan to build two anten­nae to cap­ture the signal–one on Palau, in the Pacif­ic, and anoth­er on Diego Gar­cia, in the Indi­an Ocean. The squad also con­struct­ed an inge­nious satel­lite tele­phone booth in Kan­da­har, hop­ing to pro­vide a con­ve­nient facil­i­ty for jihadis want­i­ng to call home. The agents could lis­ten in on the calls, and they received videos of callers through a cam­era hid­den in the booth. Mil­lions of dol­lars and thou­sands of hours of labor were con­sumed in repli­cat­ing infor­ma­tion that oth­er U.S. offi­cials refused to share. Accord­ing to Soufan, the I‑49 agents were so used to being denied access to intel­li­gence that they bought a CD con­tain­ing the Pink Floyd song Anoth­er Brick in the Wall. He recalled, When­ev­er we got the speech about ‘sen­si­tive sources and meth­ods,’ we’d just hold up the phone to the CD play­er and push Play.” (Ibid.; p. 71.)

26. Even as the CIA was stonewalling with “The Wall” as an excuse, O’Neill was prepar­ing to leave the FBI after a dam­ag­ing leak to the New York Times. (For more about the nature of these dis­clo­sures, see FTR#326.) “Just days before the June 11th meet­ing took place in the New York office, new threats in Yemen cre­at­ed a secu­ri­ty cri­sis for the Amer­i­cans. Yemeni author­i­ties arrest­ed eight men who, they said, were part of a plot to blow up the Amer­i­can Embassy, where Soufan and oth­er inves­ti­ga­tors had tak­en refuge. Louis Freeh, the direc­tor of the F.B.I., act­ing on O’Neil­l’s rec­om­men­da­tion, with­drew the team entire­ly. By then, Soufan had a much clear­er idea of the rela­tion­ship between Khal­lad and the Cole con­spir­a­tors. In July, 2001, he sent a third for­mal request to the C.I.A. ask­ing for infor­ma­tion about a pos­si­ble Al Qae­da meet­ing in Malaysia, and about Khal­lad’s trip to Bangkok to meet with Quso and the Cole sui­cide bomber. Yet again, the agency did not respond. On August 22nd, John O’Neill was pack­ing box­es in his office. It was his last day at the F.B.I. He had decid­ed to retire from the bureau after he learned of a dam­ag­ing leak to the Times. The paper had report­ed that O’Neil­l’s brief­case, con­tain­ing sen­si­tive doc­u­ments, was stolen while he was attend­ing an F.B.I. con­fer­ence in Flori­da. The brief­case was quick­ly recov­ered, and it was deter­mined that none of the sen­si­tive mate­r­i­al had been touched, but it ruined his prospects at the bureau.” (Idem.)

27. The news that Mihd­har and Haz­mi were in the coun­try set off alarm bells among those around Soufan and O’Neill. “That day, Soufan came by O’Neil­l’s office to say good­bye. He was going back to Yemen lat­er that after­noon; O’Neil­l’s last act as an F.B.I. agent was to sign the paper­work that would send Soufan’s team back into the coun­try. They were deter­mined to arrest the killers of the Amer­i­can sailors, despite the risks of work­ing in such a hos­tile envi­ron­ment. The two men walked to a near­by din­er. O’Neill ordered a ham-and-cheese sand­wich. You don’t want to change your infi­del ways? Soufan kid­ded him, indi­cat­ing the ham. You’re gonna go to Hell. O’Neill urged Soufan to vis­it him in New York when he returned. He had tak­en a job at the World Trade Cen­ter, as the head of secu­ri­ty. I’m going to be just down the road, he said. Soufan con­fid­ed that he and his long­time girl­friend had decid­ed to get mar­ried. O’Neill gave his bless­ing. She has put up with you all this time, he joked. She must be a good woman. The week that O’Neill retired from the bureau, the F.B.I. ana­lyst at Alec Sta­tion who had been review­ing intel­li­gence on the Malaysia meet­ing real­ized that Mihd­har and Haz­mi were in the U.S. She passed the infor­ma­tion to Dina Cor­si, at F.B.I. head­quar­ters. Cor­si, alarmed, sent an e‑mail to the super­vi­sor of the I‑49 squad, order­ing the unit to locate the Al Qae­da oper­a­tives. But, she added, because of the Wall no crim­i­nal inves­ti­ga­tors could be involved in the search. As it turned out, there was only one intel­li­gence agent avail­able, and he was new. An F.B.I. agent for­ward­ed Cor­si’s mes­sage to Steve Bon­gardt, Soufan’s top assis­tant. He called her. Dina, you got to be kid­ding me! he said. Mihd­har is in the coun­try? He com­plained that the Wall was a bureau­crat­ic fic­tion that was pre­vent­ing inves­ti­ga­tors from doing their work. In a con­ver­sa­tion the next day, he said, If this guy is in the coun­try, it’s not because he’s going to fuck­ing Dis­ney­land! Lat­er, he wrote in an e‑mail, Some­day some­body will die–and, Wall or not, the pub­lic will not under­stand why we were not more effec­tive. The new agen­t’s attempt to find Mihd­har and Haz­mi proved fruit­less.” (Idem.)

28. “Three weeks lat­er, on Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001, Soufan was at the embassy in Sanaa. He spoke on the phone with his fiancee, who told him that the Twin Tow­ers had been attacked. He turned on a tele­vi­sion, and watched as the sec­ond plane hit. He called O’Neil­l’s cell phone repeat­ed­ly, but there was no answer. The F.B.I. ordered Soufan and the rest of his team in Yemen to evac­u­ate. The morn­ing of Sep­tem­ber 12th, the C.I.A.‘s chief of sta­tion in Aden went with the agents to the air­port in Sanaa. The C.I.A. offi­cial was sit­ting in the lounge with Soufan when he got a call on his cell phone from F.B.I. head­quar­ters. He told Soufan, They want to talk to you. Dina Cor­si spoke to Soufan, and told him to stay in Yemen. He was upset. He want­ed to return to New York and inves­ti­gate the attack on Amer­i­ca. This is about that–what hap­pened yes­ter­day, she told him. Quso is our only lead. She would­n’t tell him any more. Soufan got his lug­gage off the plane, but he was puz­zled. What did Quso, the Cole cam­era­man, have to do with Sep­tem­ber 11th? Robert McFad­den, the naval inves­ti­ga­tor, and sev­er­al oth­er offi­cials stayed behind to help Soufan. The order from head­quar­ters was to iden­ti­fy the Sep­tem­ber 11th hijack­ers by any means nec­es­sary, a direc­tive that Soufan had nev­er seen before. When he returned to the embassy, a fax con­tain­ing pho­tographs of twen­ty sus­pects came over a secure line. Then the C.I.A. chief drew Soufan aside and hand­ed him a mani­la enve­lope. Inside were three sur­veil­lance pho­tographs and a com­plete report about the Malaysia meeting–the very mate­r­i­al that he had asked for so many times. The Wall had come down. When Soufan real­ized that the C.I.A. had known for more than a year and a half that two of the hijack­ers were in the coun­try he ran into the bath­room and threw up. (Soufan’s dis­il­lu­sion­ment with the gov­ern­ment was so pro­found that he even­tu­al­ly quit the bureau; in 2005, he became direc­tor of inter­na­tion­al oper­a­tions for Giu­liani Secu­ri­ty and Safe­ty, a com­pa­ny found­ed by Rudolph W. Giu­liani, the for­mer may­or of New York.)” (Ibid.; pp. 71–72.)

29. “Soufan went to Gen­er­al Qamish’s office and demand­ed to see Quso again. What does this have to do with the Cole? Qamish want­ed to know. I’m not talk­ing about the Cole, said Soufan. Broth­er John is miss­ing. He start­ed to say some­thing else, but he was unable to con­tin­ue. Gen­er­al Qamish’s eyes also filled with tears. Qamish instant­ly made a deci­sion, McFad­den recalls. He said, ‘You tell me what you want, and I’ll make it hap­pen.’ Qamish said that Quso was in Aden, and there was one last flight that evening from there to the cap­i­tal. He called his sub­or­di­nates on the phone and began shout­ing, I want Quso flown in here tonight! Then the Gen­er­al called the air­port and demand­ed to be patched through to the pilot. You will not take off until my pris­on­er is aboard, he ordered him. You could hear them snap­ping to atten­tion, McFad­den recalled. At mid­night, in a room not far from Qamish’s office, Soufan met with Quso, who was in a petu­lant frame of mind. Just because some­thing hap­pens in New York or Wash­ing­ton, you don’t need to talk to me, he said. Soufan showed him the three sur­veil­lance pho­tographs of the Malaysia meet­ing, which includ­ed the Sau­di hijack­ers Mihd­har and Haz­mi. Quso thought he remem­bered see­ing them in Al Qae­da camps, but he was­n’t cer­tain. ‘Why are you ask­ing about them?’ He want­ed to know.” (Ibid.; p. 72.)

30. Soufan played a pro­found role in con­firm­ing the link between the Cole bomb­ing and the 9/11 attacks. “Final­ly, the next day, Soufan received the fourth pho­to­graph of the Malaysia meeting–the pic­ture of Khal­lad, the mas­ter­mind of the Cole oper­a­tion. The two plots, Soufan instant­ly real­ized, were linked, and if the C.I.A. had not with­held infor­ma­tion from him he like­ly would have drawn the con­nec­tion months before Sep­tem­ber 11th. He met again with Quso, who iden­ti­fied the fig­ure in the pic­ture as Khallad–the first con­fir­ma­tion of Al Qaeda’s respon­si­bil­i­ty for the Sep­tem­ber 11th attacks. Soufan inter­ro­gat­ed Quso for three nights, while dur­ing the day he wrote reports and did research, sleep­ing lit­tle more than an hour at a time. He was sick as a dog, but he was get­ting real­ly good infor­ma­tion, his fel­low-agent Car­los Fer­nan­dez recalled. On the fourth night, Soufan col­lapsed from exhaus­tion. We want­ed to mede­vac him out of there, Fer­nan­dez said. We took him to the emer­gency room. The kid could bare­ly stand. But he refused to leave, and the next day he was right back at it. None of us had ever seen any­thing like that. His co-work­ers began refer­ring to Soufan as an Amer­i­can hero. Soufan was intense­ly aware that the infor­ma­tion he was get­ting was crit­i­cal, and that per­haps no one else could extract the truth from Quso. Final­ly, after hours of extend­ed ques­tion­ing, Quso was shown a pho­to­graph of Mar­wan al- She­hhi, the hijack­er who pilot­ed Unit­ed Air­lines Flight 175, which crashed into the sec­ond tow­er. Quso iden­ti­fied him, and said that he had met She­hhi in a guest­house in Kan­da­har. He remem­bered that She­hhi had been ill dur­ing Ramadan and that the emir of the guest­house had tak­en care of him. The emir’s name was Abu Jan­dal. As it hap­pened, Abu Jan­dal was also in Yemeni cus­tody, and the Amer­i­cans arranged to inter­view him. He was a large, pow­er­ful man with a dark beard. What are these infi­dels doing here? he demand­ed. He took a plas­tic chair and turned it around, sit­ting with his arms crossed and his back to the inter­roga­tors. After some coax­ing, Soufan got Abu Jan­dal to face him, but he refused to look him in the eye. Abu Jan­dal did want to talk, how­ev­er; he deliv­ered a lengthy, rapid-fire rant against Amer­i­ca.” (Idem.)

31. “Soufan real­ized that the pris­on­er was trained in counter-inter­ro­ga­tion tech­niques, since he eas­i­ly agreed to things that Soufan already knew–that he had fought in Bosnia, Soma­lia, and Afghanistan, for instance–and denied every­thing else. Abu Jan­dal por­trayed him­self as a good Mus­lim who had con­sid­ered jihad but had become dis­il­lu­sioned. He thought of him­self not as a killer but as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary who was try­ing to rid the world of evil, which he believed came main­ly from the Unit­ed States, a coun­try he knew prac­ti­cal­ly noth­ing about. As the nights passed, Abu Jan­dal warmed to Soufan. He told him that he was in his ear­ly thir­ties, old­er than most jihadis. He had grown up in Jed­dah, Sau­di Arabia–bin Laden’s home town–and he was well read in reli­gion. He seemed to enjoy drink­ing tea and lec­tur­ing the Amer­i­cans on the rad­i­cal Islamist view of his­to­ry; his socia­bil­i­ty was a weak spot. Soufan flat­tered him and engaged him in the­o­log­i­cal debate. Lis­ten­ing to Abu Jan­dal’s dia­tribes, Soufan picked up sev­er­al use­ful details: that he had grown tired of fight­ing; that he was trou­bled by the fact that bin Laden had sworn loy­al­ty to Mul­lah Omar, the leader of the Tal­iban, in Afghanistan; and that he wor­ried about his two chil­dren, one of whom had a bone dis­ease. Soufan also not­ed that Abu Jan­dal declined some pas­tries, because he was a dia­bet­ic.” (Idem.)

32. Abu Jandal’s igno­rance of Amer­i­ca was pro­found. “The next night, the Amer­i­cans brought some sug­ar­less wafers, a cour­tesy that Abu Jan­dal acknowl­edged. Soufan also brought him a his­to­ry of Amer­i­ca, in Ara­bic. Abu Jan­dal was con­found­ed by Soufan: a mod­er­ate Mus­lim who could argue about Islam with him, who was in the F.B.I., and who loved Amer­i­ca. He quick­ly read the his­to­ry that Soufan gave him and was amazed to learn of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion and its strug­gle against tyran­ny. Soufan, mean­while, was try­ing to deter­mine the bound­aries of Abu Jan­dal’s moral land­scape. He asked him about the prop­er way to wage jihad. Abu Jan­dal eager­ly talked about how a war­rior should treat his adver­sary in bat­tle. The Koran and oth­er Islam­ic texts dis­cuss the ethics of con­duct in war­fare. Where do they sanc­tion sui­cide bomb­ing? Soufan asked him. Abu Jan­dal said that the ene­my had an advan­tage in weapons, but the sui­cide bombers evened the score. These are our mis­siles, he said. What about women and chil­dren? Soufan asked. Aren’t they sup­posed to be pro­tect­ed? Soufan point­ed to the bomb­ings of the Amer­i­can embassies in East Africa. He recalled a woman on a bus in front of the Nairo­bi embassy, who, after the bomb explod­ed, was found clutch­ing her baby, try­ing to pro­tect him from the flames. Both had been incin­er­at­ed. What sin had the moth­er com­mit­ted? What about the soul of her child? God will give them their rewards in the Here­after, Abu Jan­dal said. Besides, he added, can you imag­ine how many joined bin Laden after the embassy bomb­ings? Hun­dreds came and asked to be mar­tyrs. Soufan coun­tered that many of the East African victims–perhaps most of them–were Mus­lims. Sev­er­al times, Abu Jan­dal quot­ed cler­i­cal author­i­ties or chap­ters from the Koran, but he found that Soufan was more than a match for him on the­o­log­i­cal mat­ters. Abu Jan­dal final­ly assert­ed that, because the embassy bomb­ings were on a Fri­day, when the vic­tims should have been in the mosque, they were not real Mus­lims.” (Ibid.; pp. 72–73.)

33. Note that Abu Jan­dal blamed the 9/11 attacks on Israel and the Jews. He would have fit very well in the so-called 9/11 Truth Move­ment. “On the fifth night, Soufan slammed a news mag­a­zine on the table between them. The mag­a­zine had pho­tographs of the air­planes crash­ing into the Twin Towers–graphic shots of peo­ple trapped in the build­ings and jump­ing a hun­dred sto­ries. Bin Laden did this, Soufan told him. Abu Jan­dal had heard about the attacks, but he did­n’t know many details. He stud­ied the pic­tures in amaze­ment. He said that they looked like a Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion, but the scale of the atroc­i­ty vis­i­bly shook him. Soufan and Abu Jan­dal were joined in the small inter­ro­ga­tion room by McFad­den and two Yemeni inves­ti­ga­tors. Every­one sensed that Soufan was clos­ing in. Amer­i­can and allied troops were prepar­ing to go to war in Afghanistan, but they des­per­ate­ly need­ed more infor­ma­tion about the struc­ture of Al Qae­da, the loca­tions of hide­outs, and the plans for escape–all of which Amer­i­can intel­li­gence offi­cials hoped Abu Jan­dal could sup­ply. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, a local Yemeni paper was on a shelf under the cof­fee table. Soufan showed it to Abu Jan­dal. The head­line read, TWO HUNDRED YEMENI SOULS PERISH IN NEW YORK ATTACK. (At the time, the death-toll esti­mates were in the tens of thou­sands.) Abu Jan­dal read the head­line and drew a breath. God help us, he mut­tered. Soufan asked what kind of Mus­lim would do such a thing. Abu Jan­dal insist­ed that the Israelis must have com­mit­ted the attacks on New York and Wash­ing­ton. The Sheikh is not that crazy, he said of bin Laden.” (Ibid.; p. 73.)

34. Even­tu­al­ly, Soufan was able to out maneu­ver Abu Jan­dal, who yield­ed the infor­ma­tion Ali sought. “Soufan then took out a book of mug shots con­tain­ing pho­tographs of known Al Qae­da mem­bers and of the hijack­ers. He asked Abu Jan­dal to iden­ti­fy them. The Yemeni flipped through them quick­ly and closed the book. Soufan opened the book again and told him to take his time. Some of them I have in cus­tody, he said, hop­ing that Abu Jan­dal would­n’t real­ize that the hijack­ers were all dead. Abu Jan­dal paused for a half-sec­ond on the pho­to­graph of She­hhi, the pilot of Unit­ed Air­lines Flight 175, before he start­ed to turn the page. You’re not done with this one, Soufan said. Ramadan, 1999. He’s sick. You’re his emir, and you take care of him. Abu Jan­dal looked at Soufan in shock. When I ask you a ques­tion, I already know the answer, said Soufan. If you’re smart, you’ll tell me the truth. Abu Jan­dal con­ced­ed that he knew She­hhi and gave his Al Qae­da nom de guerre, Abdul­lah al-Shar­qi. He did the same with Khaled al-Mihd­har and five oth­ers, includ­ing Mohammed Atta, the lead hijack­er. But he still insist­ed that bin Laden would nev­er com­mit such an action. It was the Israelis, he main­tained. I know for sure that the peo­ple who did this were Al Qae­da guys, said Soufan. He took sev­en pho­tographs out of the book and laid them on the table. How do you know? Abu Jan­dal asked. Who told you? You did, said Soufan. These are the hijack­ers. You just iden­ti­fied them. Abu Jan­dal turned pale. He cov­ered his face with his hands. Give me a moment, he plead­ed. Soufan walked out of the room. When he came back, he asked Abu Jan­dal what he thought now. I think the Sheikh went crazy, he said. And then he told Soufan every­thing he knew.” (Idem.)


One comment for “FTR #563 A Tale of Two Heroes”

  1. Nev­er for­get that the vic­tims are still pil­ing up.

    A friend’s father in law passed away this week. Shlo­mo (Steve) Zakheim was a first respon­der to the World Trade Cen­ter on 9/11/2001.

    From Myhero.com


    Rebec­ca from Brook­ly, NY USA- 11/24/2010 at 2:05:07 PM.

    My hero is: Shlo­mo Zakheim. I would like to nom­i­nate Mr Shlo­mo Zakheim. Mr. Zakheim (aka Steve Zakheim) is a vol­un­teer medic for hatza­la. At the time of the 9–11 dis­as­ter he worked for Metro­Care. At the time of the ter­ror­ist attack Shlo­mo did NOT think twice- he ran to his car, (which got destroyed by the tow­ers) risked his life and ran into the build­ings. Shlo­mo Z that day saved civil­ians, FDNY, NYPD, and oth­er EMS tech­ni­cians. i would like to nom­i­nate him as my hero for always putting oth­ers needs ahead of his own.. I would like to men­tion his hero­ism and self­less­ness did not end on 9–11.... Last year with after the dis­as­ter in Haiti he spon­sored a Res­cue mis­sion which he him­self went on and helped save count­less peo­ple there as well! You can see news­pa­per clip­pings in Dai­ly News, NY Post and oth­ers about Mr Zakheim

    He devel­oped lung dis­ease from breath­ing in all the crap that was in the air that day, which result­ed in his pre­ma­ture pass­ing.

    Mr. Zakheim was 60.

    Posted by Vanfield | September 9, 2013, 9:54 am

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