Author: Bush nominee helped mask FBI's pre-9/11 failures and kept al Qaeda's infiltration of US intelligence from view
This is the first of two op/ed exposes by Peter Lance, the best-selling author of Triple Cross, which will be released by HarperCollins in a new edition next month.
In the coverage of Michael B. Mukasey, President Bush's nominee to replace Alberto Gonzales, the line in his resume that has resonated the most with the media is his experience presiding over the 1995 terrorism trial of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman.
The blind Sheikh, a top al Qaeda confederate who was cited in the infamous Crawford Texas PDB just weeks before 9/11, was convicted with nine others in the so-called "Day of Terror Plot" to blow up New York's bridges and tunnels, the U.N. and the FBI's New York office.
Citing the trial in a Sept. 20 New York Times piece that lionized the ex-judge, reporter Adam Liptak described how Mukasey, with "a few terse, stern and prescient remarks," sentenced the blind sheik to life in prison:
"Judge Mukasey said he feared the plot could have produced devastation on 'a scale unknown in this country since the Civil War' that would make the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, which had left six people dead, 'almost insignificant by comparison.'"
Liptak was correct in citing the 1993 Twin Towers bombing in his story, but he failed to mention that the "Day of Terror" trial was really a desperate attempt by the FBI's New York office and prosecutors for the Southern District of New York (Mukasey's old office) to mop up after their failure to stop the blind Sheikh's "jihad army" prior to its first two attacks on U.S. soil: the murder of Rabbi Meier Kahane in 1990 and the Trade Center bombing on Feb. 26, 1993.
Worse, during the 1995 trial, Judge Mukasey helped bury the significance of Ali A, Mohamed, a shadowy figure who was working at the time for both Osama bin Laden and the FBI.
If Mohamed had been called to the stand and cross-examined in open court, defense lawyers could have ripped open the scandal of how the FBI failed to stop the first Trade Center attack. More important, they could have exposed the depth and breadth of al Qaeda's shocking plan to attack America, six years before 9/11.
Al Qaeda's master spy
An ex-Egyptian Army intelligence officer, Mohamed succeeded in infiltrating the CIA in 1984, the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg from 1987-89 and the FBI itself -- where he served as an informant on the West Coast from 1992.
Known to his jihadi brothers as "Ali Amiriki," aka "Ali the American," Mohamed not only moved bin Laden and his entourage from Afghanistan to the Sudan in 1991 but he set up most of al Qaeda's training camps in Khartoum, trained Osama's personal bodyguard, and literally wrote the "manual on terror."
Mohamed actually slipped Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri -- bin Laden's number two -- into the US on a fund raising tour of US mosques in the early 1990s.
This feat of deception was roughly the equivalent of a German spy smuggling Heinrich Himmler, the head of Hitler's dreaded S.S., into America at the dawn of World War II to raise deutschmarks on a tour of German-American churches.
All of this is chronicled in my book Triple Cross, due out in an updated edition from HarperCollins next month. The book flings the door open on a closet in Judge Mukasey's past -- a dark little room where one enormous skeleton lives.
It's the story of how New York prosecutors Andrew McCarthy and Patrick Fitzgerald (later CIA leak Special Prosecutor) went out of their way to keep Ali Mohamed out of the "Day of Terror" trial.
Why would they do that? Because Mohamed had penetrated three of the Big Five intelligence agencies, and defense attorneys like Roger L. Stavis believe that once he was on the stand, under oath, the truth would have come out.
"In Ali Mohamed," says Stavis, "You have a man that's working for us and being paid by us at the same time as he's working for Osama bin Laden who is the greatest enemy that this country has had since 1941. We had him, and he played us... The last thing federal prosecutors wanted back in 1995 was to have that story exposed."
Training the "jihad army"
At the time, the Feds were in possession of shocking evidence that Mohamed had trained two of the very members of the "jihad army" sitting in front of Judge Mukasey's bench: El Sayyid Nosair, the pill-popping Egyptian emigre who'd murdered Kahane four years earlier, and Clement Rodney Hampton-El, a U.S. Muslim and Afghan war veteran known as "Dr. Rashid."
Worse, as we'll see, the FBI had those two terrorists under surveillance from as early as 1989, when they'd also begun tracking additional Ali Mohamed trainees: Mahmoud Abouhalima, a six foot two inch red-headed Egyptian cab driver, Mohammed Salameh, a diminutive Palestinian, and Nidal Ayyad, a Kuwaiti Rutgers grad, all three of them later convicted in the WTC bombing.
So the potential for "blowback" and embarrassment to the Feds was enormous -- holding open the potential of derailing the "Day of Terror" prosecution itself.
And if those revelations weren't enough to inspire federal prosecutors to hide their "informant," Mohamed -- who'd been captured in 1993 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police trying to smuggle an al Qaeda terrorist into the US -- was later released on the word of an FBI agent. Once set loose, he began to plan the devastating East African Embassy bombings executed in 1998.
After getting sprung from the Mounties on the word of Special Agent John Zent, Mohamed traveled to Kenya where he took the surveillance pictures of the US Embassy that Osama bin Laden personally approved in 1994, pinpointing the precise spot where a truck bomb would detonate four years later, killing 212.
Mohamed himself would later run the Kenyan bombing cell while he commuted back and forth to the US, all the while keeping in touch with New York prosecutors and FBI agents on both coasts.
Ali's first sit down with the Feds
In December, 1994, as he was setting up the Embassy bombing cell, Mohamed was summoned back to his home in Santa Clara, California for a meeting with Andy McCarthy and FBI agent Harlan Bell. The Feds had deemed him so important to the upcoming trial that he'd been named as an un-indicted co-conspirator along with bin Laden himself.
At the time, Roger L. Stavis, Nosair's attorney, was prepping a subpoena to compel Ali's testimony. "I wanted him," Stavis told me for Triple Cross, "and I tried everything to find him."
Jack Cloonan, the ex-FBI agent who later debriefed Mohamed after his 1998 arrest, noted that "If Ali would have been put on [the stand] at that point in time, [he] would have been viewed as an agent provocateur... Maybe there would have been an issue of entrapment raised. It wouldn't have helped the Government's case... That subpoena became "a huge, huge issue for Ali" as well.
Stavis was prepared to argue that the Feds had been winking at Mohamed for years as he trained the Sheikh's "army" to wreak havoc for the Jihad in New York City. But after McCarthy's Santa Clara sit down with him, Ali mysteriously went missing.
Later, Ibrahim El-Gabrowny, Nosair's cousin and a "Day of Terror" co-defendant, argued in an appeal that Ali had told him to his face that the Feds had urged him to duck the subpoena.
McCarthy denies this, but he stayed in touch with Mohamed after their Santa Clara meeting and Ali never showed up at trial.
Mukasey jokes about "the missing witness"
In the course of the proceedings, unable to produce the phantom spy, Stavis had shown a videotape of Ali shot at Fort Bragg, in which he was literally training top Green Beret officers.
While an active duty U.S. Army sergeant, Mohamed had been commuting on weekends up from North Carolina to New York, where he schooled Nosair, Hampton-El, Abouhalima, Salameh and Ayyad in small arms and automatic weapons training.
Before leaving Fort Bragg, Ali would rifle the files at the JFK Special Warfare Center, stealing intelligence to pass on to his al Qaeda "brothers" in New York, including top secret memos from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He would stay at Nosair's house in Cliffside Park, N.J., where FBI agents later recovered the highly secure documents the night of the Kahane murder.
One memo, which can be downloaded from my website, even contained the positions of all Special Forces and Navy SEAL units worldwide on Dec. 5, 1988 -- a nugget of intel that the Soviets would have paid a fortune for at the height of the Cold War.
As I noted in Triple Cross:
El Sayyid Nosair's attorney Roger Stavis was doing his best to keep Mohamed's presence alive in the "Day of Terror" case. On Sept. 1, 1995, an exasperated Stavis requested a "missing witness instruction [to the jury] with regard to Ali Mohamed."
He reminded Judge Michael B. Mukasey that "Mohamed, was the person who came from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, who was assigned to the United States Army Special Forces."
At that point the judge quipped, "Yes, we saw him on that splendid videotape." But Stavis countered, "When we attempted to find Ali Mohamed, we could not bring him in."
Yet Mohamed was in the country during much of the eight-month trial. According to an affidavit filed by the FBI after his 1998 arrest, Mohamed had two meetings with DIS investigators in August 1995 and one on November 8th. In each instance he was home in Santa Clara.
Under federal law, a trial judge has the discretion to give a missing witness instruction "if a party has it peculiarly within his power to produce witnesses whose testimony would elucidate the transaction."
If such a person does not appear and one of the parties -- the Feds in this case -- has some special ability to produce him, the law permits the jury to draw an inference, namely that the missing witness would have given testimony damaging to that party.
Ali Mohamed was an un-indicted co-conspirator. Judge Mukasey was aware of his infiltration of the US Army at Fort Bragg. Andy McCarthy had visited him in the presence of an FBI agent within months of the trial. So Stavis had every right to expect that jury charge.
Mukasey's response? "I don't think a missing witness charge on that gentleman is warranted and I am not going to give one."
By Oct. 1, 1995, the issue of Mohamed's absence in the trial was rendered moot. Characterized by the New York Times as "the biggest terrorism trial in US history," it ended with guilty verdicts for Sheikh Rahman and the nine remaining co-defendants. AUSAs McCarthy, Fitzgerald, and Robert Khuzami even succeeded in convicting El Sayyid Nosair for the murder of Meier Kahane.
The skeleton in Mukasey's closet
Why does it matter now that Judge Mukasey, touted by the New York Times for his prowess as an anti-terror judge, made light of Ali Mohamed's failure to show at the "Day of Terror" trial? Because if Ali had testified, lawyers like Stavis would have ripped the lid off the years of failure by the FBI to stop bin Laden's juggernaut.
Al Qaeda's capabilities, their bench strength and sheer resolve to strike again at New York might have been exposed years before 9/11, giving other agencies like CIA and DIA a chance to examine the intel being gathered by Bureau agents in this country.
At a minimum, Mohamed's exposure at trial would have blown his cover as a double agent and interdicted his supervision of the Embassy bombing cell. But Judge Mukasey, the man President Bush wants to run the Justice Department, didn't want to tip the jury to the significance of his absence.
Tomorrow in part two of Peter Lance's RAW STORY exclusive, he'll describe how Judge Mukasey's decision not to call Ali Mohamed at the "Day of Terror" trial kept the media and the public in the dark on why the FBI failed to stop the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. For more detail, read Triple Cross.
More information on Peter Lance's investigations can be found at his website.