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Context of 'September 1985: Ali Mohamed Moves to US; CIA Role Is Disputed'

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Al Mohamed, pictured in a US army video.Al Mohamed, pictured in a US army video. [Source: US Army]The CIA claims to have put Ali Mohamed on a terrorist watch list to prevent him from coming to the US (see 1984). Somehow, Mohamed gets a US visa anyway. After learning that he has been given a visa, the CIA supposedly issues a warning to other Federal agencies that a suspicious character might be traveling to the US. Mohamed is able to move to the US nonetheless. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001] The State Department will not explain how he is able to move to the US despite such warnings. [New York Times, 12/1/1998] In 1995, after Mohamed’s name publicly surfaces at the trial of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, the Boston Globe will report that Mohamed had been admitted to the US under a special visa program controlled by the CIA’s clandestine service. This will contradict the CIA’s later claims of disassociating themselves from Mohamed and attempting to stop him from entering the US. [Boston Globe, 2/3/1995; New York Times, 10/30/1998] Mohamed befriends an American woman he meets on the airplane flight to the US. They get married less than two months later, and he moves to her residence in Santa Clara, California. The marriage will help him to become a US citizen in 1989. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Ali Mohamed, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ali Mohamed’s house in Santa Clara, California.Ali Mohamed’s house in Santa Clara, California. [Source: Peter Lance]At some point during Ali Mohamed’s US military service, possibly towards the end of his service, he expresses a great interest in being used as an intelligence operative, and asks his military superiors to be introduced to a CIA representative. The request is granted. the CIA representative who meets him appears to have no knowledge of the CIA’s previous contact with him (see 1984; September 1985). The outcome of this meeting is unknown. However, after he leaves the military and moves to Santa Clara, California, his new friends and neighbors take it for granted that Mohamed is helping the CIA support the mujaheddin fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan. He doesn’t tell them that he is working for the CIA, but does say that he worked for the CIA before, and hopes to work for them again. A neighbor who knew Mohamed and his wife well will say, “Everyone in the community knew he was working as a liaison between the CIA and the Afghan cause, and everyone was sympathetic.” [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ali Mohamed, now an instructor at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina (see 1986), travels to Afghanistan to train mujaheddin. He tells friends that he plans to join the mujaheddin in Afghanistan and “kill Russians.” He informs supervisor Lt. Col. Steve Neely of his plans, who passes the information up the chain of command. Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, Mohamed’s commanding officer, also reports Mohamed’s suspicious activities to Fort Bragg officials and army intelligence, but gets no response. Mohamed takes one month of leave and goes to Afghanistan. No action is taken to prevent him from doing this. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 143] When he returns, he boasts of his combat exploits to his colleagues. Lt. Col. Anderson writes up a second report and again gets no response. Freelance fighting would be a serious breach of military rules, and the New York Times will later note that, “The capture or death of an American serviceman in Afghanistan would have been a major international embarrassment to the United States.” However, no disciplinary action is taken against him. This leads Anderson to conclude that Mohamed’s activities are sponsored by a US intelligence agency. Anderson will state, “I think you or I would have a better chance of winning [the lottery], than an Egyptian major in the unit that assassinated [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat would have getting a visa, getting to California… getting into the Army and getting assigned to a Special Forces unit. That just doesn’t happen.” He will add that it is equally unthinkable that an ordinary US soldier would go unpunished after fighting in a foreign war. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001] Mohamed is also stealing classified documents from the base; some of them will be discovered by US investigators in 1990 (see November 5, 1990). According to a US army spokesperson, an officer working with Mohammed “did have some suspicions about what he did, but nothing came as a result of it. It really depended on who you believed.” [Associated Press, 12/31/2001]

Entity Tags: Steve Neely, Ali Mohamed, Robert Anderson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Double agent Ali Mohamed is interviewed by the US military about al-Qaeda, but what exactly is said is uncertain because the interview files are supposedly lost. When Mohamed’s FBI handler John Zent interviewed him in May 1993 (see May 1993), he mentioned al-Qaeda training camps. FBI agent Jack Cloonan, who will later investigate Mohamed, will recall, “John realizes that Ali is talking about all these training camps in Afghanistan. And starts talking about this guy named bin Laden. So John calls the local rep from army intelligence” and arranges for them to interview him. A special team of army investigators shows up from Fort Meade, Virginia, which is the home of the NSA. “They bring maps with them and they bring evidence.… And so they debrief Ali, and he lays out all these training camps.” What else he may reveal is not known. Cloonan is not sure why Mohamed volunteered all this vital al-Qaeda information. Earlier in the year, FBI investigators discovered that Mohamed stole many top secret US military documents and gave them to Islamic militants (see Spring 1993). However, Mohamed faces no trouble from the Defense Department about that. FBI agent Joseph O’Brien will later ask, “Who in the government was running this show? Why didn’t the Bureau bring the hammer down on this guy Mohamed then and there?” Whatever Mohamed says in this interview is not shared with US intelligence agencies, even though it would have obvious relevance for the worldwide manhunt for Ramzi Yousef going on at the time since Yousef trained in some of the camps Mohamed is describing. Several years later, Cloonan will attempt to find the report of Mohamed’s interview with army intelligence but “we were never able to find it. We were told that the report was probably destroyed in a reorganization of intelligence components” in the Defense Department. [Lance, 2006, pp. 130-131]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, US Department of Defense, Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed, Jack Cloonan, John Zent, Joseph O’Brien, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At some point not long after Ali Mohamed is interviewed by the FBI in the autumn of 1993, the US government begins tracking his movements and monitoring his phone calls. Eventually, this surveillance will lead US investigators to the al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1994). It is not clear which governmental agency does this. Meanwhile, he continues to have periodic contact with the FBI. They are especially interested in what he knows about bin Laden, as bin Laden’s importance becomes increasingly evident. [New York Times, 12/1/1998]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Boston Globe article publicly exposes Ali Mohamed, calling him “a shadowy individual described by defense attorneys as a key figure in the largest terrorism trial in US history.” The trial is the prosecution of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and others for the 1993 “Landmarks” bombing plot (see June 24, 1993). The Globe article notes that Mohamed was in the US Special Forces and connects him to both Abdul-Rahman’s radical militant group and the CIA. A senior US official claims that Mohamed’s “presence in the country is the result of an action initiated by [the CIA].” The article further states, “Senior officials say Mohamed, who is of Egyptian origin, benefited from a little known visa-waiver program that allows the CIA and other security agencies to bring valuable agents into the country, bypassing the usual immigration formalities. Intelligence sources say that waivers are controlled by the CIA’s Department of Operations, the clandestine side of the agency, and have been used ‘sparingly’ in recent years. Waivers are generally used to bring into the country people who have served the agency in sensitive positions overseas. They come here, an intelligence officer said, because they fear for their lives, have been promised asylum in return for cooperation, or need to be debriefed after an operation.” According to the article, “Mohamed dropped out of sight several years ago, and his whereabouts remain unknown.” But in fact, the FBI interviewed him three months earlier and remains aware of his whereabouts (see December 9, 1994). Mohamed will continue to work with al-Qaeda despite this exposure. [Boston Globe, 2/3/1995]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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