Author: Bush's nominee for Attorney General is primed to keep lid on Qaeda spying disaster; Patrick Fitzgerald's missing witness
Peter Lance
Published: Tuesday September 25, 2007

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In Part One, Peter Lance described how Bush nominee for Attorney General Judge Michael B. Mukasey prevented defense lawyers from telling the full story of FBI informant and al Qaeda master spy Ali Mohamed at the 1995 "Day of Terror" trial. Today he reveals how a full vetting of the Ali Mohamed story in 1995 might have ripped the lid off the FBI's failure to stop the first World Trade Center attack. Lance provides even more details with declassified FBI memos and other documents in the new edition of his latest HarperCollins investigative book, Triple Cross.

In this piece, he also reveals how then-New York attorney Patrick Fitzgerald -- later the CIA leak czar -- also kept Mohamed off the stand -- while the Feds cut a deal to keep Qaeda's "master spy" in a witness protection program.

The ex-federal prosecutor and judge President Bush wants to run the Justice Department has repeatedly supported tweaking the constitutional guarantees of privacy and due process when it comes to the all-encompassing "war on terror."

In a New York Times piece on September 18th, Phil Shenon and Ben Weiser described how "Mr. Mukasey … now in private practice in Manhattan, has repeatedly spoken out to support the administration's claim to broad powers in pursuing terrorism threats, especially surveillance of terrorism suspects and imprisoning them before trial."

But as I've chronicled now in three investigative books focusing on the failures of the two "bin Laden offices of origin" – the SDNY and the FBI's NYO – none of the post-9/11 draconian counter-terrorism initiatives (including The Patriot Act) would have been necessary, if the Feds had simply utilized the intelligence they had in their own files.

That's not just my opinion: It's a conclusion admitted to last week by Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell, who told members of the House Judiciary Committee that "9/11 should have and could have been prevented … it was an issue of connecting information that was available."

Al Qaeda's New York cell circa 1989

Mukasey's most significant terror-related resumι credit – as touted by his supporters – was his role as judge in the 1995 trial of blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman and nine other defendants.

As noted yesterday in Part One of my series, the blind Sheikh was accused by prosecutors for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) of leading a "jihad army" in a plot to blow up a series of New York "landmarks" from the United Nations building to 26 Federal Plaza, the FBI's New York Office (NYO) – not to mention the bridges and tunnels leading into Manhattan. As reported in the Times coverage of the trial on February 8th, 1995, as early as July of 1989 the FBI had spent four weekends in surveillance of two of the blind Sheikh's co-defendants: El Sayyid Nosair and Clement Rodney Hampton-El.

Both of those terrorists had been trained by al Qaeda's master spy, Ali Mohamed, an ex-Egyptian intelligence officer who had infiltrated the CIA in 1984 and the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, N.C. from 1987-89.

Ali was strangely absent from the trial, despite the attempts of defense attorney Roger L. Stavis to subpoena him. But as noted by the Times, Judge Michael B. Mukasey was presented with some startling evidence that should have provoked him to write a bench warrant to get Mohamed on the stand.

It came during the testimony of FBI agent Robert Fogle, who had been part of a black bag surveillance team from the FBI's elite Special Operations Group (SOG), which had followed five Middle Eastern men (dubbed "ME's") from the al Farooq mosque on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn to a shooting range at Calverton, Long Island.

Photographing Ali's Trainees

In dozens of color photos, the SOG team captured Nosair, Hampton and three other terrorists later convicted for the World Trade Center bombing – Mahmoud Abouhalima, Mohammed Salameh and Nidal Ayyad – as they fired AK-47's, pistols and semi-automatic weapons.

The Times piece also noted that a "crucial witness" in the "Day of Terror" trial before Judge Mukasey would be another Egyptian intelligence officer named Emad Salem.

Wrote Times reporter Richard Bernstein, "In 1993, after the trade center attack, Mr. Salem recorded conversations he had with his F.B.I. contacts in which he seemed to scold them for ignoring his warnings that a terror attack was being planned."

FBI's chance to break the Blind Sheikh's cell

As I reported in the first of my three 9/11 investigative books, 1000 Years For Revenge, Salem had been recruited in 1991 by FBI Special Agent Nancy Floyd, a Texan who worked Russian Foreign Counter Intelligence in the FBI's New York Office.

Risking his life for $500.00 a week, Salem got so close to the blind Sheikh that he became his bodyguard. For more than half a year he burrowed into the al Qaeda-funded cell around Abdel Rahman, interacting with Hampton-El and regularly visiting Nosair, then in Attica for the Kahane murder, as well as reporting back to SA Floyd an incipient al Qaeda plot to blow up "12 Jewish locations" in New York, including the Diamond District in midtown Manhattan.

Meanwhile, while she chased Russian spies during the day, the tenacious Nancy Floyd had to work double duty debriefing Salem each night.

It seems that Salem's two "control" agents, NYPD Detective Lou Napoli and Special Agent John Anticev, were rarely around when he needed to talk to them. Since Salem wasn't wearing a wire, he had to spill his guts each night to Floyd, playing for time as he sought to defuse the bombing plot.

Then, in the summer of 1992, Salem was effectively forced out of his undercover job by Carson Dunbar, an Assistant Director In Charge (ADIC) of the FBI's New York Office who had zero terrorism experience.

Once Salem withdrew from the cell, Sheikh Rahman contacted Pakistan and Ramzi Yousef, an engineer trained in Wales, was shipped to N.Y. to begin building a real weapon of mass destruction.

Starting in early September, 1992, in the waning days of the first Bush presidency, Yousef connected with Abouhalima, Salameh and Ayyad, all trained by Ali Mohamed, whom the FBI's elite SOG had under surveillance three years earlier.

The "lone gunman" shooting

Incredibly, way back in 1990, the red-headed Abouhalima and Salameh had been the getaway drivers on the night Ali Mohamed's other Egyptian trainee, El Sayyid Nosair, gunned down Rabbi Meier Kahane. They'd even been taken into custody the night of the killing at Nosair's Cliffside Park, N.J. home where the FBI recovered top secret memos stolen by Mohamed from the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg.

The murder of Kahane, a world figure, had international conspiracy written all over it, especially when the Feds recovered bomb formulas and pictures of the World Trade Center from the home.

But the very next day, after the NYPD declared the murder a "lone gunman" shooting, "The Red" and Salameh were released. Over the next two years, Det. Lou Napoli and SA John Anticev made some attempt to track the six foot, two inch Abouhalima, born with red hair, as his fellow jihadis would joke, because of his "Crusader's Blood."

Posing as Con Ed workers, they searched his Brooklyn apartment, and he later bragged that he led them on wild goose chases up into Connecticut – where he continued his gun training.

One of the most astonishing discoveries I made in researching Triple Cross, was an FBI #302 memo written by Napoli – a member of the NYO's Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) – just days after the Kahane murder in November of 1990. In an interview with the officer of the shooting range in Connecticut, Napoli learned that every weekend for two years, a group of "Mid-Easterners" had been seen firing up to 1,000 rounds per day at silhouette targets vs. bullseyes.

Think about that. Napoli's office had 1989 surveillance photos of Abouhalima, Ali Mohamed's trainee, firing an AK-47 at a Calverton, Long Island range. The next year, Abouhalima was the getaway driver for Nosair, the Egyptian killer of a world figure like Meier Kahane, and a few days into the murder investigation, Napoli learned that up to 15 "Mid-Easterners" were firing two thousands rounds each weekend in Connecticut, one of the most densely populated states in the Northeast.

Later, he and his partner FBI agent Anticev attempted to follow "The Red" on those shooting sprees into the Nutmeg State, but they failed, somehow, to connect the dots.

In an episode of CSI, the cops would have wrapped that one up in a tight little package and gone to a grand jury. But, this, please understand, was the New York Office of the FBI – which spent 12 years from the 1989 Calverton surveillance to 9/11 seemingly disconnecting the dots on al Qaeda's New York cell.

The Way They Got Gotti?

Flash forward to early September of 1992, just weeks after Yousef's arrival in New York. Napoli and Anticev summoned Abouhalima and a number of other "ME's" down to 26 Federal Plaza in a ham-handed attempt to shake them.

They had the Egyptians fingerprinted. Next they showed them pictures of the Calverton surveillance and demanded details of the Kahane homicide, asking them if they knew Nosair or the blind Sheikh. Anticev warned them that eventually the Feds would get Sheikh Rahman the same way they’d gotten John Gotti.

But Abouhalima, a hardened Ali Mohamed-trained operative, just thumbed his nose at the Feds and went back to New Jersey to help Ramzi Yousef morph the "12 Jewish locations" plot into the World Trade Center bombing conspiracy.

Later, in a bomb factory on Pamrapo Avenue in Jersey City, with Salameh's help, they constructed the 1,500 pound device that they later planted on the B-2 level beneath the WTC's North Tower.

"Don't call me when the bombs go off"

By this time, Emad Salem, Nancy Floyd's asset, was out of the cell. But the FBI continued to pay him through the summer, weaning him until he got a new job.

In October, 1992 he met Floyd at a Subway sandwich shop near 26 Federal Plaza to get his last cash payment of $500. During the brief encounter, Salem tried to warn her. He'd caught wind that something was being planned, and he begged her to follow Nosair's two getaway drivers, Abouhalima and Salameh.

But Floyd's hands were tied. She told Salem that in the weeks since he'd left, she'd been frozen out of the terrorism investigation by ASAC Dunbar. She would try and pass on the word and encourage the surveillance, but there was little else she could do.

Still, insistent that something terrible was about to happen, Salem issued a chilling warning. If the FBI wouldn't follow "The Red and Salameh," as he'd warned, them, then they shouldn't "bother to call" him "when the bombs go off."

Floyd passed on Salem's warning, but the FBI made no effort to track Salameh and "The Red." If they had, they would have led federal agents straight to Yousef and the bomb.

Later, when I asked Det. Lou Napoli why they'd dropped the ball and failed to follow the highly visible red-headed Abouhalima, he said, "Abouhalima beat feet on us... We were trying to locate him but he went to Jersey. You've got to remember, there are boundaries. The Hudson River separates New York and New Jersey."

But as anybody who watched The Sopranos knows, that's absurd: The Feds have multi-state jurisdiction to track terrorists.

Yousef's first WTC attack

Around noon on Feb. 26, 1993, after the FBI's New York Office had ignored Salem's warning, Ramzi Yousef's gigantic urea-nitrate device went off, blowing through four floors of eleven-inch thick rebarred concrete beneath the Twin Towers. Six people died, including a pregnant woman. A thousand were injured.

The night of the blast, as I reported for the first time in 1000 Years For Revenge, a worried Mary Jo White – about to become the U.S. Attorney for the SDNY – was pacing in the office of James Fox, then Assistant Director in Charge (ADIC) of the FBI's New York Office.

At that moment the FBI was putting word out to the press that they suspected "Serbian terrorists" in the blast. But Napoli and Anticev knew the truth, so they mentioned to White that they'd had an asset "that was very close to these people."

"Asset? What asset?" snapped White. When told of Emad Salem, she immediately demanded that Napoli and Anticev "get him in here."

"Well," said Lou, "We were paying him, like, five hundred a week. This time, you know, considering what's happened, he's probably gonna want – a million dollars."

"I don't give a damn what he wants," she shot back. "If he can deliver, give it to him."

Going back undercover

Within days the SDNY prosecutors coaxed Salem into going back under, this time wearing a wire.

Over the next three months, he uncovered the "Day of Terror" plot, later testifying in front of Judge Mukasey as the star witness for prosecutors Andrew McCarthy and Patrick Fitzgerald.

Salem was ultimately paid one and a half million dollars by the Feds for doing what he could have done in the summer of 1992 if FBI officials like Carson Dunbar hadn't forced his withdrawal.

So the "Day of Terror" case – which is one of the biggest hash marks on Judge Mukasey's c.v. – was really nothing more than a "make good" for the Justice Department's earlier negligence. Worse, Mukasey's refusal to shine a light for the jury (and the press) on Ali Mohamed, the bin Laden spy who had trained the bombing cell, gave the Feds an excuse for disconnecting dots that didn't come together until Ramzi Yousef's second date with the Twin Towers on 9/11.

As reported in 1000 Years For Revenge, as far back as 1994 in Manila, Yousef had hatched the "planes as missiles" plot. It was merely executed by his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed after Ramzi's capture in 1995. But Yousef was the real "mastermind."

And by the fall of '95, after the Feds' "sweeping victory" in the blind Sheikh's trial, Ali Mohamed was planning al Qaeda's next attack.

"The Most Dangerous Man"

Desperate to get him to turn, the Southern District Feds scheduled their second California sitdown with Ali in the fall of 1997.

By then, Patrick Fitzgerald was directing I-49 – the bin Laden Squad – in the FBI's New York Office. He actually flew across the country to meet Mohammed face to face.

Keep in mind that Fitzgerald had convicted "the blind Sheikh" of seditious conspiracy in the "Day of Terror" case before Judge Mukasey.

But in a Sacramento restaurant, in the presence of FBI agents, Mohamed professed that he "loved" bin Laden and didn't need a fatwa to attack the US (his adopted country). Further, he admitted to having a network of sleepers who he could make operational at any moment.

For a naturalized citizen and Army vet who had sworn oaths to protect and defend America, Ali's threat to attack the United States was sedition on its face. But the handcuffs never came out.

Fitzgerald left the meeting shaken and told FBI agent Cloonan, "Ali Mohamed is the most dangerous man I have ever met. We cannot let this man out on the street."

And yet Fitzgerald and the Feds left him on the street for another ten months, even though they'd linked him directly to the Kenyan Embassy bombing cell. Only after the bombs went off in Nairobi and Dar Es Salaam, killing hundreds, was Mohamed finally arrested.

We can only wonder if that carnage might have been prevented if the President's nominee for Attorney General had pushed for Ali Mohamed's testimony in 1995. Clearly Mohamed would have been outed, terminating his ability to slip in and out of Africa unheeded.

Keeping Ali off the stand again

In 2001, when Patrick Fitzgerald convicted the Embassy bombing co-conspirators, paving the way for his appointment as U.S. Attorney in Chicago and the CIA leak czar, Ali Mohamed was, once again, strangely absent from the stand.

The former Egyptian army officer-turned-spy was the one man in custody who could personally identify bin Laden as the person who had fingered the position of the suicide truck bomb in Nairobi.

Under an exception to the hearsay rule for co-conspirator testimony, Ali's eyewitness testimony would have been both admissible and highly probative. Yet in the trial against Osama bin Laden, the man who was arguably the most important single adversary to the United States since Adolf Hitler, Fitzgerald risked losing the case rather than using Mohamed, his best witness.

His motivation in hiding Ali from public view may have been similar to that of Andrew McCarthy, who'd sought to keep Ali off the stand before Judge Mukasey.

"Mohamed would have been opened up by defense lawyers and told the whole sad tale of how he'd used the Bureau and the CIA and the DIA for years," says retired says retired special agent Joseph F. O'Brien. "The Bureau couldn't risk that kind of embarrassment."

The Ali Mohamed Enigma

Ultimately, the Feds cut a deal with Mohamed. In return for his silence, he would be spared the death penalty and end up in custodial witness protection. Today, his case file remains one of the most tightly sealed in the history of the "war on terror."

As commentator Rory O'Connor later described the Feds' handling of Mohamed, "it was a conspiracy to cover up incompetence."

As the new attorney general, Judge Michael B. Mukasey could change all of that. He could push to get Mohamed's file unsealed so that the public could finally get a full vetting of the Justice Department's track record when it came to stopping al Qaeda in the 12 years from when the FBI began tracking its New York cell up through the attacks of 9/11.

But how likely is that, given Judge Mukasey's pedigree as an SDNY veteran who joked about Ali's significance as far back as 1995?

Time for Hardball Questions on Mukasey

It's time for Democrats to start reading the transcript of the "Day of Terror" trial. It says more than the 9/11 Commission Report about how the New York Feds and the FBI's New York Office allowed a top al Qaeda spy to eat their lunch for years.

It speaks reams about the judgment of the man Mr. Bush wants to put in charge of a Justice Department hemorrhaging from the U.S. Attorney scandal and reports of unauthorized wiretaps.

Where was Michael Mukasey when he had a chance to put a bona fide al Qaeda terrorist on the stand and connect the dots on bin Laden's decade-long plan to attack this country?

He was cozying up to his former colleagues in the Southern District, letting in just enough evidence to get a conviction, but not enough to tip reporters and the public to the sheer failure of the FBI to stop the first Trade Center attack.

He ought to be remembered as the man who kept the Ali Mohamed skeleton in the Justice Department's closet. Perhaps now, as Mukasey's confirmation hearings approach, some lawmakers will have the courage to open the door and shine a light in.