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Profile: John Zent
John Zent was a participant or observer in the following events:
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).
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]
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]
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]
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