What does 9/11 Commission Staffer Doug MacEachin Really Think Happened before 9/11?

Sorting Through Murky Circumstances, Mystery Opponents & So-Called Supporters

By Kevin Fenton

maze In his recent book The Black Banners, former FBI agent Ali Soufan portrays a key 9/11 Commission staff member, Doug MacEachin, as believing the CIA deliberately withheld information from the FBI in January 2001. This is in contrast with the Commission’s final report, which states that the CIA failed to pass on intelligence to the FBI on multiple occasions, but puts it down to honest failings.

MacEachin was one of the best-known of the Commission’s staffers before its formation. He was a career CIA officer and even served as Deputy Director for Intelligence between 1993 and 1996.

According to Soufan, MacEachin believed that the CIA purposefully withheld information placing al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash at the Malaysia summit, a gathering of top al-Qaeda figures in Kuala Lumpur in January 2000 that was monitored by the CIA. This intelligence was especially significant because it linked bin Attash, then known to be a mastermind of the October 2000 USS Cole bombing, to future Flight 77 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.

Had the FBI learned what the CIA knew of the Malaysia summit at this time, its Cole investigators would have focused on Almihdhar and Alhazmi eight months before 9/11, giving them plenty of opportunity to stop the plot.

In his book, Soufan describes a meeting between himself and some Commission staffers, evidently Soufan’s second interview with the Commission on September 15, 2003.

terroristSoufan says he started the interview by discussing a source inside al-Qaeda that he and his partner Steve Bongardt had helped recruit some time before the Cole bombing. In late 2000, the source had been shown a passport photo provided by the Yemeni authorities of a person the FBI thought to be bin Attash, and had identified him as such to a CIA officer known only as “Chris” and FBI agent Michael Dorris. This was another plank in the case being built against bin Attash for the Cole bombing.

Shortly after, in murky circumstances Soufan does not discuss, the CIA sent pictures of Almihdhar and Alhazmi taken at the Malaysia summit for the source to try to identify. While Dorris was out of the room, Chris showed the pictures to the source, who said he did not know Almihdhar, but identified the photo of Alhazmi as bin Attash; the two men had similar facial features. [Read more...]

The CIA and 9/11 Part 3: The Shouting Match

 Tom Wilshire’s Orchestrated Ruse

By Kevin Fenton

CIAIn the first two parts of this series we saw how a group of officers at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, concealed information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit from their FBI colleagues in January 2000. In particular they hid information about a US visa in the possession of Flight 77 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. We also saw how this protection of Almihdhar, his partner Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash continued even after the involvement of Almihdhar and bin Attash in the October 2000 USS Cole bombing became known to the US intelligence community. Concealing information about terrorists involved in seventeen homicides was bad enough, but things were about to get much worse.

wilshireShortly after the CIA had failed to respond truthfully to a second formal request for information about the Cole bombing from FBI agent Ali Soufan in April 2001, the cables the CIA drafted about the Malaysia summit were reviewed at Alec Station. The review was conducted by Tom Wilshire, the station’s deputy chief and one of the key figures in the withholding of the information, and a female CIA officer whose name is not known. The two of them re-read cables from the previous year that said Almihdhar had a US visa and that Alhazmi had flown to Los Angeles with a companion, but neither of them took the appropriate action—watchlisting the Malaysia attendees and alerting the FBI.

After this review, Wilshire ordered another review of the same information. The review was to be carried out by Margaret Gillespie, a CIA detailee to Alec Station whose alleged memory loss regarding the events of January 2000 makes one suspicious of her motives. Wilshire believed, correctly as it turns out, that the cables contained the key to preventing the next major al-Qaeda attack—had they been handled properly, 9/11 would never have happened.

Three weeks before the attacks, Gillespie allegedly discovered a key cable, and this led her to tell the FBI about Almihdhar and Alhazmi. As you know, the FBI hunt for Almihdhar and Alhazmi was unsuccessful and this, as you probably don’t know, was largely due to Wilshire. Nevertheless, Wilshire received substantial praise from the post-attack investigations for getting Gillespie to do the review. Plenty of his other actions cast suspicion on him, but this review seemed to put him in the clear—if he really was trying to hide the information, why start a review? [Read more...]

The CIA and 9/11 Part 2: The Cole & “Omar”

The Tale of Incompetence Stretched Well Beyond Breaking Point

By Kevin Fenton

coleIn the first part of this series we saw how, in January 2000, the CIA learned that Flight 77 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa, but kept this secret from the FBI. At the time, concealing a terrorist or two from the FBI may have been wrong, but it was nothing to get that excited about. However, the withholding of the information took on a new meaning on October 12, 2000, when al-Qaeda bombed the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen.

Although there is no stone-cold proof of Almihdhar’s involvement in the bombing, there is a small hill of circumstantial evidence linking him to it. For example, he was in Yemen at the time, reportedly with one of the masterminds of the attack, Khallad bin Attash, and the bombers called his phone number in Sana’a, Yemen, although this was an al-Qaeda communications hub and they could have been talking to somebody else there. In addition, one day after al-Qaeda’s previous ship-bombing attempt in Yemen, he had left the country and gone to meet with other people suspected of involvement in the operation. Also, he worked on another al-Qaeda ship-bombing plot, to be carried out in Singapore.

The team that went to Yemen to investigate the bombings was mostly from the FBI, although there were also Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents, and the CIA station in Yemen was supposed to co-operate. The team was led by FBI managers John O’Neill, who died on 9/11, and Ali Soufan, who later became famous due to his opposition to torture by the CIA and US military.

al-QThey quickly found evidence linking the bombing to al-Qaeda. This was both through the calls to the communications hub where Almihdhar lived and through evidence linking the attack to bin Attash and another al-Qaeda leader, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri. Both bin Attash and al-Nashiri were known to the US intelligence community. Indeed, the number of core bin Laden operatives was so small that both had also played a part in the 1998 East African embassy bombings, something already known to US authorities in 2000.

Investigating bin Attash, Soufan picked up hints of an al-Qaeda meeting somewhere in Southeast Asia around January 2000. Thinking this might be significant; in November 2000 he sent a formal request to the CIA asking whether the Agency knew anything about such meeting. The reply that came back was that it knew nothing. This was not true, as the CIA was highly aware of the meeting, having followed the participants around Kuala Lumpur for several days. [Read more...]