Fbi informant Ali Mohamed close to 911 terrorists
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`Triple Cross' Accuses `Feds' of Pre-9/11 Blunders and Cover-Up
By Celestine Bohlen
Jan. 16 (Bloomberg) -- Peter Lance, a former television journalist and Emmy winner, says the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Bureau of Investigation didn't just bungle their probes into al-Qaeda plots in the years before Sept. 11, 2001.
He argues in his book ``Triple Cross'' that they deliberately suppressed potentially embarrassing evidence, thus sacrificing real leads into the terrorists' machinations.
This is an astonishing conspiracy theory, taking in such figures as Patrick Fitzgerald, the current U.S. Attorney in Chicago who made his name as the lead federal antiterrorism prosecutor before 9/11. Small wonder, then, that the book has come under attack from former Justice officials.
Lance, who has also been a screenwriter for ``Miami Vice,'' defends his conclusions on his Web site, saying they are based on five years of research, some of it compiled in two previous books. His latest work is published by HarperCollins under the imprint of Judith Regan, who was fired last month over her plan to print O.J. Simpson's ``If I Did It, Here's How It Happened.''
At 603 pages, ``Triple Cross'' tells a story as rambling and awkwardly argued as its subtitle, ``How Bin Laden's Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI -- and Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him.''
The book focuses on Ali Mohamed, a former sergeant in the Egyptian Army whose life has been retold by Fitzgerald in congressional testimony. Mohamed emigrated to the U.S. in 1985, enlisted in the U.S. Army, and was stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, from 1986 to 1989. By 1992, according to Lance's interviews with FBI officials, he had become an FBI informant, tasked with checking up on a local mosque in California.
All the while, Mohamed was hanging out with once and future terrorists in the U.S., Afghanistan, Pakistan and West Africa, Lance reports: In 1989, a federal surveillance team took pictures of Mohamed giving target practice to three men who became figures in the fatal shooting a year later of Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League, and in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.
In 1990, Mohamed helped Osama bin Laden move to Sudan. In 1993, he took pictures of the U.S. embassy in Kenya, the target of an al-Qaeda attack in 1998.
In 1998, Mohamed was arrested. After negotiations with U.S. officials, he pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy to kill U.S. citizens and destroy U.S. property. He remains in the custody of the Witness Protection Program somewhere in the New York area, Lance says.
Much of Mohamed's story has already been reported in a National Geographic special that aired under the same title, ``Triple Cross.'' Lance has criticized the program for being too soft on federal authorities. John Ford, the channel's executive vice president for programming, has denied the allegation and said the show wasn't based solely on Lance's book.
What makes Lance's account particularly disturbing is that Mohamed kept telling his U.S. mentors the truth.
In the mid-1980s, he told his superiors at Fort Bragg that he was going to Afghanistan to ``kill Russians.'' He returned with Soviet Special Forces belts as souvenirs. In 1997, he told Fitzgerald at a meeting in a California diner that he ``loved'' bin Laden and didn't need a fatwa to attack the U.S. This led Fitzgerald to tell then-FBI agent Jack Cloonan that Mohamed was ``the most dangerous man I have ever met,'' Lance says.
The failure to follow Mohamed more closely -- or to arrest him sooner -- reflects the negligence that allowed 9/11 to happen, Lance argues. He may well have a point.
Yet Lance doesn't let matters rest there. He contends that more than bureaucratic snafus and blunders were at work. With each account of missed opportunities, Lance becomes ever more insistent that the ``feds''' were engaged in a massive cover-up.
Well, maybe. Then again, maybe not: Nobody ever said hindsight is foolproof.
Fitzgerald declined to be interviewed for this book, Lance says. Fitzgerald's office didn't return a call from Bloomberg seeking comment. Lance did talk to Fitzgerald's former boss, Mary Jo White, in June 2006. White, who served as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York until early 2002, refuted the idea that federal agents were trying to cover up mistakes.
``Embarrassment or fear of embarrassment was totally irrelevant in our thinking,'' she told Lance. ``We had dangerous defendants guilty of crimes and terrorist crimes. You can take a lot of embarrassment.''
Lance wasn't convinced.
``Triple Cross'' is published by Regan (603 pages, $27.95).
Last Updated: January 15, 2007 23:57 EST