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Context of '1992: Ali Mohamed Informs for FBI Again, Never Polygraphed'

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August 11-20, 1988: Bin Laden Forms Al-Qaeda

The notes from al-Qaeda’s formation meeting. The short lines on the right side are the list of attendees.The notes from al-Qaeda’s formation meeting. The short lines on the right side are the list of attendees. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden conducts two meetings to discuss “the establishment of a new military group,” according to notes that are found later. Notes reveal the group is initially called al-Qaeda al-Askariya, which roughly translates to “the military base.” But the name soon shortens to just al-Qaeda, meaning “the base” or “the foundation.” [Associated Press, 2/19/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134] With the Soviets in the process of withdrawing from Afghanistan, it is proposed to create the new group to keep military jihad, or holy war, alive after the Soviets are gone. The notes don’t specify what the group will do exactly, but it concludes, “Initial estimate, within six months of al-Qaeda (founding), 314 brothers will be trained and ready.” In fact, al-Qaeda will remain smaller than that for years to come. Fifteen people attend these two initial meetings. [Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134] In addition to bin Laden, other attendees include:
bullet Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the head of the Egyptian militant group Islamic Jihad. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
bullet Mohammed Atef, a.k.a. Abu Hafs.
bullet Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, a.k.a. Abu Hajer.
bullet Jamal al-Fadl.
bullet Wael Hamza Julaidan.
bullet Mohammed Loay Bayazid, a US citizen, who is notetaker for the meetings. [Wright, 2006, pp. 131-134]
Al-Fadl will reveal details about the meetings to US investigators in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). Notes to the meeting will be found in Bosnia in early 2002. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] It will take US intelligence years even to realize a group named al-Qaeda exists; the first known incidence of US intelligence being told the name will come in 1993 (see May 1993).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Loay Bayazid, Osama bin Laden, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Jamal al-Fadl, Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Wael Hamza Julaidan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Ali Mohamed’s US passport, issued in 1989.Ali Mohamed’s US passport, issued in 1989. [Source: US Justice Department] (click image to enlarge)Ali Mohamed is honorably discharged from the US Army with commendations in his file, including one for “patriotism, valor, fidelity, and professional excellence.” He remains in the Army Reserves for the next five years. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001] A US citizen by this time, he will spend much of his time after his discharge in Santa Clara, California, where his wife still resides. He will try but fail to get a job as an FBI interpreter, will work as a security guard, and will run a computer consulting firm out of his home. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Army, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

1990: Ali Mohamed Becomes Informant for FBI

Ali Mohamed, an al-Qaeda operative recently discharged from the US army (see November 1989), becomes an informant for the FBI. He applies to be an translator at FBI offices in Charlotte, North Carolina, and San Francisco, and is turned down. However, the San Francisco office hires him to be an informant to help expose a local document forging conspiracy that possibly involves members of Hamas. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 144] Mohamed will continue to have connections with the FBI for much of the rest of the 1990s while also running an al-Qaeda cell in California.

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Meir Kahane.Meir Kahane. [Source: Publicity photo]Egyptian-American El Sayyid Nosair assassinates controversial right-wing Zionist leader Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane’s organization, the Jewish Defense League, was linked to dozens of bombings and is ranked by the FBI as the most lethal domestic militant group in the US at the time. Nosair is captured after a police shoot-out. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993] Within hours, overwhelming evidence suggests that the assassination was a wide conspiracy but the US government will immediately declare that Nosair was a lone gunman and ignore the evidence suggesting otherwise (see November 5, 1990 and After). Nosair will later be acquitted of Kahane’s murder (though he will be convicted of lesser charges) as investigators continue to ignore most of the evidence in his case which links to a wider conspiracy (see December 7, 1991). Nosair is connected to al-Qaeda through his job at the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, an al-Qaeda front (see 1986-1993). A portion of Nosair’s defense fund will be paid for by bin Laden, although this will not be discovered until some time later. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; Lance, 2003, pp. 34-37]

Entity Tags: Meir Kahane, Al-Qaeda, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, El Sayyid Nosair

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA is aware of the term al-Qaeda at least by this time. Billy Waugh is a CIA contractor assigned to follow bin Laden and other suspected criminals in Sudan starting at this time (see February 1991- July 1992). He will later recall in a book that when he arrived in Sudan, the CIA station chief there said to him about bin Laden, “We don’t know what he’s up to, but we know he’s a wealthy financier and we think he’s harboring some of these outfits called al-Qaeda. See what you can find out.” Waugh will note, “I was familiar with bin Laden from [CIA] traffic, but this was the first time I had heard the term al-Qaeda.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 121] According to most other media accounts, US intelligence does not learn about the existence of al-Qaeda until several years later, not long before the State Department publicly uses the term in 1996 (see August 14, 1996). For instance, US News and World Report will even assert in 2003, “So limited was the CIA’s knowledge that it began using al-Qaeda’s real name only [in 1998]—10 years after bin Laden founded the organization.” [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Billy Waugh, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Double agent Ali Mohamed, who became an informant for the FBI in 1990 (see 1990), apparently works as an FBI informant again, obtaining intelligence on some suspects at a San Jose, California, mosque. But he is never polygraphed, even though this is standard procedure. Retired FBI agent Joseph O’Brien will later complain, “One of the most unbelievable aspects of the Ali Mohamed story is that the Bureau could be dealing with this guy and they didn’t” polygraph him. “The first thing you do with any kind of asset or informant is you polygraph him and if the relationship continues, you make him submit to continued polygraphs down the line.” FBI agent John Zent becomes Mohamed’s handler. [Lance, 2006, pp. 95-96] Apparently Mohamed will be given a polygraph test in 1993 and will fail it (see May 1993).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Mohamed, Joseph O’Brien, John Zent

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

One of the documents stolen by Ali Mohamed found in El-Sayyid Nosair’s residence. At the bottom are the words: ‘United States Army. John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.’One of the documents stolen by Ali Mohamed found in El-Sayyid Nosair’s residence. At the bottom are the words: ‘United States Army. John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center.’ [Source: National Geographic]Not long after the World Trade Center bombing in February 1993 (see February 26, 1993), investigators discover a connection between some of the plotters, Ali Mohamed, and El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990). The Wall Street Journal reports that investigators “went back to look at [Nosair’s] personal possessions. There, they finally saw the link to Mr. Mohamed.” Top secret US military documents obviously supplied by Mohamed are found among Nosair’s possessions. Still no action is taken against Mohamed. [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001; Posner, 2003, pp. 186-94]

Entity Tags: El Sayyid Nosair, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In the wake of his detention in Canada (see June 16, 1993), double agent Ali Mohamed is interviewed by the FBI and volunteers the earliest publicly known insider description of al-Qaeda. Mohamed is working as an FBI informant on smugglers moving illegal immigrants from Mexico to the US. FBI agent John Zent, Mohamed’s handler, interviews him in the FBI San Francisco office after having helped release him from Canadian custody. [New York Times, 10/31/1998; Lance, 2006, pp. 125, 130] Mohamed says that bin Laden is running a group called “al-Qaeda.” Apparently, this is the first known instance of the FBI being told of that name, though it appears the CIA was aware of the name since at least 1991 (see February 1991). Mohamed claims to have met bin Laden and says bin Laden is “building an army” that could be used to overthrow the Saudi Arabian government. He admits that he has trained radical militants at bin Laden’s training camps in Sudan and Afghanistan. He says he taught them intelligence and anti-hijacking techniques. Mohamed apparently is given a polygraph test for the first time, and fails it (see 1992). However, he denies links to any criminal group or act. An FBI investigator later will say, “We always took him seriously. It’s just he only gave us 25 percent of what was out there.” In addition to his Canadian detention, the FBI is also interested in Mohamed because his name had surfaced in connection with the Al-Kifah Refugee Center as part of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing investigation. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001; Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001] By the time this interview takes place, investigators looking into the World Trade Center bombing earlier in the year have already determined that top secret US military training manuals found in the possession of assassin El-Sayyid Nosair (see November 5, 1990) must have been stolen by Mohamed from the US army base where he had been stationed (see Spring 1993). Yet Mohamed is not arrested, though he is monitored (see Autumn 1993). New Yorker magazine will later note, “inexplicably, [the contents of the FBI’s] interview never found its way to the FBI investigators in New York.” [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed, Al-Qaeda, John Zent, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Kifah Refugee Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Essam Marzouk.Essam Marzouk. [Source: FBI]US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed is detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Vancouver, British Columbia, after attempting to pick up a man named Essam Marzouk, who is carrying numerous false passports. The RCMP identifies Mohamed as a top al-Qaeda operative. Mohamed admits to it that he traveled to Vancouver to help Marzouk sneak into the US and admits working closely with Osama bin Laden. [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001; Globe and Mail, 11/22/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001] After many hours of questioning, Mohamed tells the Canadian officials to call John Zent, his handler at the FBI. Zent confirms that Mohamed works for the FBI and asks them to release him. They do. [Lance, 2006, pp. 124] Mohamed is accompanied by fellow al-Qaeda operative Khaled Abu el-Dahab (see 1987-1998), who brings $3,000 sent by bin Laden to pay for Marzouk’s bail. Marzouk had run one of bin Laden’s training camps in Afghanistan and was an active member of the al-Qaeda allied group Islamic Jihad at the time. However, Canadian intelligence apparently is unaware of his past. Marzouk will spend almost a year in detention. But then, again with the help of another visit to Canada by Mohamed, Marzouk will be released and allowed to live in Canada (see June 16, 1993-February 1998). He later will help train the bombers who carry out the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Globe and Mail, 11/22/2001; National Post, 11/26/2005] Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent who later investigates Mohamed, will say: “I don’t think you have to be an agent who has worked terrorism all your life to realize something is terribly amiss here. What was the follow up? It just sort of seems like [this incident] dies.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 125]

Entity Tags: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, John Zent, Osama bin Laden, Jack Cloonan, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Essam Marzouk, Ali Mohamed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Canadian Security Intelligence Service

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

Defense counsel for El Sayyid Nosair, one of the militants accused in the “Landmarks” bomb plot (see June 24, 1993) along with the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, applies for a missing witness instruction for double agent Ali Mohamed. The counsel, Roger Stavis, believes that it would benefit his client to have Mohamed testify, because Mohamed worked for militants connected to Abdul-Rahman as well as the FBI (see 1990), CIA (see 1984), and US army (see 1986). Therefore, Stavis might be able to use Nosair’s connection with Mohamed to convince the jury that Nosair was acting on the instructions of an agent of the US government. Stavis has been attempting to contact Mohamed with no success for some time, although the prosecution is in contact with him where he lives in California (see December 1994-January 1995). Under federal law, a trial judge can give a missing witness instruction if one party at a trial wants a witness to testify but cannot find him, whereas the other party can find him but does not seem to want him to testify. Based on such an instruction, the jury can then decide that the party that could find him, but did not get him to testify, did so deliberately because it thought the testimony would be damaging to it. Author Peter Lance will later comment that, given the circumstances, “Stavis had every right to expect that jury charge,” but Judge Michael Mukasey merely responds, “I don’t think a missing witness charge on that gentleman is warranted and I am not going to give one.” Lance will comment that by failing to grant the missing witness instruction, Mukasey helps “bury the significance” of Mohamed, and conceal his role in Islamic militancy from the public. [Lance, 2006, pp. 208; Raw Story, 9/25/2007] President Bush will later appoint Mukasey to be the US attorney general (see November 8, 2007).

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey, El Sayyid Nosair, Peter Lance, Roger Stavis, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Jack Cloonan is given the task of building a file on double agent Ali Mohamed. Mohamed is living openly in California and has already confessed to working for al-Qaeda (see May 1993). He has been monitored since 1993 (see Autumn 1993). [Lance, 2006, pp. 138] Cloonan is part of Squad I-49, a task force made up of prosecutors and investigators that begins focusing on bin Laden in January 1996 (see January 1996). Mohamed has been an informant for FBI agents on the West Coast of the US (see 1992 and June 16, 1993), though when he stops working with them exactly remains unknown. Cloonan and other US officials will have dinner with Mohamed in October 1997 (see October 1997), but Mohamed will not be arrested until after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see September 10, 1998).

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Jack Cloonan, I-49

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

David Cohen.David Cohen. [Source: Ting-Li Wang / New York Times]David Cohen, head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, wants to test the idea of having a “virtual station,” which is a station based at CIA headquarters and focusing on one target. He chooses Michael Scheuer to run it. Scheuer is running the Islamic Extremist Branch of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center at the time and had suggested creating a station to focus just on bin Laden. The new unit, commonly called Alec Station, begins operations in February 1996 (see February 1996). The 9/11 Commission will later comment that Scheuer had already “noticed a recent stream of reports about bin Laden and something called al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109] It has been widely reported that US intelligence was unaware of the term al-Qaeda until after defector Jamal al-Fadl revealed it later in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). But Billy Waugh, an independent contractor hired by the CIA to spy on bin Laden and others in Sudan in 1991 to 1992, will later claim that the CIA was aware of the term al-Qaeda back then (see February 1991- July 1992). And double agent Ali Mohamed revealed the term to the FBI in 1993 (see May 1993). The term will first be used by the media in August 1996 (see August 14, 1996).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, David Cohen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and FBI agents Jack Cloonan and Harlan Bell, all members of the I-49 squad, take Ali Mohamed out for dinner at a restaurant in Sacramento, California (he has recently moved there from Santa Clara, California). Fitzgerald pays for Mohamed’s meal. Cloonan will later recall, “The purpose in us going to meet Ali at that point in time is that we wanted to gain his cooperation. We knew of his long history having been connected to al-Qaeda, and what we desperately wanted was to convince Ali Mohamed to cooperate with us that night.” During the several-hour-long meeting, Mohamed says the following:
bullet He “loved” bin Laden and “believes in him.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/4/2001; Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276]
bullet He organized bin Laden’s move from Afghanistan to Sudan in 1991 (see Summer 1991).
bullet He was in Somalia training militants to fight US soldiers in 1993. He claims “bin Laden’s people were responsible” for the killing of 18 US soldiers there (see 1993).
bullet He trained bin Laden’s personal bodyguards in 1994 and he lived in bin Laden’s house while doing so (see Shortly After February 1994). [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276]
bullet He says he trained people in “war zones, and… war zones can be anywhere.” [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2001]
bullet He asserts he doesn’t need a religious edict to make war on the US since it is “obvious” that the US is “the enemy.” Author Peter Lance will later note these words clearly “amounted to treason.”
bullet Cloonan will recall, “He said that he was in touch with hundreds of people he could call on in a moment’s notice that could be, quote, ‘operational,’ and wage jihad against the United States. Very brazenly, he said, ‘I can get out anytime and you’ll never find me. I’ve got a whole network. You’ll never find me.”
After dinner, Cloonan will recall that Fitzgerald turned to him and said, “This is the most dangerous man I have ever met. We cannot let this man out on the street.” But Lance will later note, “But that’s just what he did. Patrick Fitzgerald allowed Ali Mohamed to go free”—even though Mohamed firmly rejected the offer to cooperate. During the dinner, other agents break into Mohamed’s house and bug his computer (his phone is already tapped (see Late 1994). Mohamed will continue to live in California for nearly a year and won’t be arrested until after the August 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The FBI apparently makes a report based on Mohamed’s comments at this meeting (see After October 1997). But no evidence has come to light that Mohamed’s confession is shared with top US officials or spread widely within US intelligence before 9/11. [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-276] In 2003, Fitzgerald will testify before a Senate committee and claim that when he had to make the decision after the embassy bombings whether or not to arrest Mohamed (see September 10, 1998), the “decision to arrest was made partly in the dark” because prosecutors could “not learn what information [the FBI] had gathered” on Mohamed. Fitzgerald will fail to mention that he was sitting with FBI agents when Mohamed gave this startling confession. [US Congress, 10/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Jack Cloonan, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Harlan Bell, I-49, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Patrick FitzgeraldPatrick Fitzgerald [Source: Publicity photo]Ali Mohamed is finally arrested after testifying at a grand jury hearing. The arrest is officially kept secret, but the media will report it one month later. [New York Times, 10/30/1998] Patrick Fitzgerald is on the prosecutor team that subpoenaed Mohamed to appear, but apparently he and the other prosecutors know very little about Mohamed. Fitzgerald blames this on a legal “wall” between intelligence gathering and criminal prosecution. He later will relate what happened on the day Mohamed testified: “Ali Mohamed lied in that grand jury proceeding and left the courthouse to go to his hotel, followed by FBI agents, but not under arrest. He had imminent plans to fly to Egypt. It was believed [by the prosecutors] at the time that Mohamed lied and that he was involved with the al-Qaeda network but Mohamed had not by then been tied to the [embassy] bombings. The decision had to be made at that moment whether to charge Mohamed with false statements. If not, Mohamed would leave the country. That difficult decision had to be made without knowing or reviewing the intelligence information on the other side of the ‘wall.’ It was ultimately decided to arrest Mohamed that night in his hotel room [and he was arrested]. [The prosecution] team got lucky but we never should have had to rely on luck. The prosecution team later obtained access to the intelligence information, including documents obtained from an earlier search of Mohamed’s home by the intelligence team on the other side of ‘the wall.’ Those documents included direct written communications with al-Qaeda members and a library of al-Qaeda training materials that would have made the decision far less difficult. (We could only obtain that access after the arrest with the specific permission of the Attorney General of the United States, based upon the fact that we had obligations to provide the defendant with discovery materials and because the intelligence investigation of Mohamed had effectively ended.)… Mohamed [later] stated that had he not been arrested on that day in September 1998, he had intended to travel to Afghanistan to rejoin Osama bin Laden. Thus, while the right decision to arrest was made partly in the dark, the ‘wall’ could easily have caused a different decision that September evening that would have allowed a key player in the al-Qaeda network to escape justice for the embassy bombing in Kenya and rejoin Osama bin Laden in a cave in Afghanistan, instead of going to federal prison.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003] Mohamed’s associate Khaled Abu el-Dahab, now living in Egypt, wil hear of Mohamed’s arrest and attempt to leave the country, but will be arrested in October 1998. He will be put on trial there and sentenced to 15 years in prison (see 1999). [San Francisco Chronicle, 11/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Patrick J. Fitzgerald

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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