Triple Cross: How bin Laden's Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI--and Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Himby Peter Lance
In the years leading to the 9/11 attacks, no single agent of al Qaeda was more successful in compromising the U.S. intelligence community than Ali Mohamed. A former Egyptian army captain, Mohamed succeeded in infiltrating the CIA in Europe, the Green Berets at Fort Bragg, and the FBI in California - even as he helped to orchestrate the al Qaeda campaign of terror that culminated in 9/11. As investigative reporter Peter Lance demonstrates in this gripping narrative, senior U.S. law enforcement officials - including the now-celebrated U.S. attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who personally interviewed Mohamed long before he was brought to ground - were powerless to stop him. In the annals of espionage, few men have moved between the hunters and the hunted with as much audacity as Ali Mohamed. For almost two decades, the former Egyptian army commando succeeded in living a double life.
Brazenly slipping past watch lists, he moved in and out of the U.S. with impunity, marrying an American woman, becoming a naturalized citizen, and posing as an FBI informant - all while acting as chief of security for Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zawahiri. Known to his fellow terrorists as Ali Amiriki, or "Ali the American," Mohamed gained access to the most sensitive intelligence in the U.S. counterterrorism arsenal while brokering terror summits, planning bombing missions, and training jihadis in bomb building, assassination, the creation of sleeper cells, and other acts of espionage.
Building on the investigation he first chronicled in his previous books, 1000 Years for Revenge and Cover Up, Lance uses Mohamed to trace the untold story of al Qaeda's rise in the 1980s and 1990s. Incredibly, Mohamed, who remains in custodial witness protection today, has never been sentenced for his crimes. He exists under a veil of secrecy - a living witness to how the U.S. intelligence community was outflanked for years by the terror network.
From his first appearance on the FBI's radar in 1989 - training Islamic extremists on Long Island - to his presence in the database of Operation Able Danger eighteen months before 9/11, this devious triple agent was the one terrorist they had to sweep under the rug. Filled with news-making revelations, Triple Cross exposes the incompetence and duplicity of the FBI and Justice Department before 9/11...and raises serious questions about how many more secrets the Feds may still be hiding.
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Triple CrossHow bin Laden's Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI--and Why Patrick Fitzgerald Failed to Stop Him
By Peter Lance
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Peter Lance
All right reserved.
The Deep Black Hole
On October 20, 2000, after tricking the U.S. intelligence establishment for years, Ali Mohamed stood in handcuffs, leg irons, and a blue prison jumpsuit before Judge Leonard B. Sand in a Federal District courtroom in Lower Manhattan. Over the next thirty minutes he pleaded guilty five times, admitting to his involvement in plots to kill U.S. soldiers in Somalia and Saudi Arabia, U.S. ambassadors in Africa, and American civilians "anywhere in the world."1 The goal of the al Qaeda terrorists he trained, he said, was to "kidnap, murder and maim." His career in espionage had earned him a death sentence in an Egyptian trial the year before. But now, before the federal judge, Ali was seeking mercy.
In short but deliberate sentences, Mohamed peeled back the top layer of the secret life he'd led since 1981, when radical members of his Egyptian army unit gunned down Nobel Prize winner Anwar Sadat. A highly educated master spy, fluent in four languages, Mohamed told of how he had risen from a young recruit in the virulently anti-American Egyptian Islamic Jihad to become Osama bin Laden's most trusted security adviser. He described how al Qaeda cell members from Kenya had infiltrated Mogadishu, Somalia, inthe 1993 campaign that ultimately downed two U.S. Black Hawk helicopters; how he had brokered a terror summit between al Qaeda and the hyper-violent Iranian Party of God known as Hezbollah; and how he had trained al Qaeda jihadis in Afghanistan and Sudan, teaching them improvised bomb building while schooling them in the creation of secret cells so that they could operate in the shadows. On this last bit of tradecraft, he'd literally written the book.2 If there was ever a shadow man in the dark reaches of al Qaeda, it was the triple spy born Ali Abdel Saoud Mohamed.3
Because there is so little on the public record about him and because his career resulted in so much terror and death, we will reproduce his words from that plea session throughout this book, verbatim.
Perhaps Ali's most telling admission came when Judge Sand asked his objectives. Mohamed answered by restating al Qaeda's longstanding goal of driving the U.S. out of the Middle East--particularly Saudi Arabia, where troops had been stationed since August 7, 1990.4 What would make Mohamed's leader, Osama bin Laden, think he could achieve that goal? At that point, without naming him, Mohamed cited the example of how President Ronald Reagan had withdrawn U.S. troops from Lebanon following the deadly Marine barracks bombing in 1983--an act of terror that some suspect Ali himself may have had a hand in:5
The Court: The overall objective of all of these activities you described was, what?
Mohamed: . . . just to attack any Western target in the Middle East; to force the government of the Western countries just to pull out . . . not interfere in the--
The Court: And to achieve that objective, did the conspiracy include killing nationals of the United States?
Mohamed: Yes, sir. Based on the Marine explosion in Beirut in 1983 and the American pull-out from Beirut, they will be the same method, to force the United States to pull out from Saudi Arabia.
The Court: And it included conspiracy to murder persons who were involved in government agencies and embassies overseas?
Mohamed: Yes, your honor.
The Court: And to destroy buildings and properties of the United States?
Mohamed: Yes, your honor.
The Court: And to attack national-defense utilities?
Mohamed: Yes, your honor.
But the most important aspect of that plea session was what was left unsaid. In that Southern District Courtroom nearly two years before the attacks of September 11, Ali Mohamed uttered nothing on the record about his most stunning achievements: how he had slipped past a State Department Watch List and into America, seduced a Silicon Valley medical technician into marriage, joined the U.S. Army, and gotten himself posted to the highly secure base where the Green Berets and Delta Force train. He didn't say a word about how he'd moved in and out of contract spy work for the CIA and fooled FBI agents for six years as he smuggled terrorists across U.S. borders, and guarded the tall Saudi billionaire who had personally declared war on America: Osama bin Laden.
"Those who know Ali Mohamed say he is regarded with fear and awe for his incredible self-confidence, his inability to be intimidated, [his] absolute ruthless determination to destroy the enemies of Islam and his zealous belief in the tenets of militant Islamic Fundamentalism."6
That's how terrorism expert Steven Emerson described Mohamed after the FBI finally arrested him in 1998. Though the Bureau had been onto his terrorist connections since 1989, it took the simultaneous attacks on the embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi to jolt them into the admission that the Justice Department had been conned; that whatever intelligence crumbs he'd thrown to the FBI, Mohamed had gotten back ten times more. Worse, he'd led a campaign of disinformation that lulled the Bureau into a vast underestimation of the al Qaeda threat.
Mohamed's commanding officer at Fort Bragg, Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, was more specific: "Ali Mohamed is probably the most dangerous person that I ever met in my life."
He wasn't the devil himself, Anderson said, in an interview for this book.7 He was more like "The aide to the devil. He was a fanatic. He had an air about him; a stare, a very coldness that was pathological." But Anderson noted that Ali "would shift into a very nice polite individual when it was to his advantage."
Now, in the courtroom, as he stood cuffed and stooped over, feigning humility, Ali Mohamed played yet another role--that of the contrite and broken jihadi, a man willing to cooperate with the Feds. Finally, once and for all, the hope was that he would give up his secrets. But in the poker game between "asset" and FBI control agent, Mohamed held most of the face cards. He had stung the Bureau repeatedly over the years and he knew that in the end, they would want to hide the truth.
Excerpted from Triple Cross by Peter Lance Copyright © 2006 by Peter Lance. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Peter Lance is the author of three previous works of investigative journalism, 1000 Years for Revenge, Cover Up, and Triple Cross. A former correspondent for ABC News, he covered hundreds of stories worldwide for 20/20, Nightline, and World News Tonight. Among his awards are the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Prize and the Sevellon Brown Award from the Associated Press. He lives in California.
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