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Conspiratorial Incompetence

Montecito Journalist Peter Lance Indicts the FBI for 9/11
Negligence

by Sam Kornell

Peter-Lance.jpgPeter Lance empathizes with those who
think the federal government was involved in 9/11. “After all the
lies about WMD, after Iraq, after Katrina,” he said, “I think it’s
understandable that many Americans are very, very angry with the
Bush administration, and their anger has led them to some dark
places.” But after five years of research, Lance said he hasn’t
uncovered “a single shred of evidence” that the government knew
about 9/11 or helped it happen.

Lance is an excitable, fast-talking journalist who lives in
Montecito. Since September 11, 2001, he has written two books about
FBI incompetence in the months and years preceding the attacks; a
third, Triple Cross, was published in September. Lance’s
repudiation of 9/11 conspiracy theories distinguishes him from the
42 percent of Americans who suspect federal officials assisted in
the attacks or took no action to stop them so that the U.S. could
go to war in the Middle East, if a July poll by the Scripps Howard
University is to be believed. Yet it also firmly aligns him with
the judgment of every professional news organization in the United
States.

So how is it that Peter Lance can be accurately described as a
9/11 conspiracy theorist? He believes the government was as shocked
as anyone on that clear, sunlit day five years ago, when mass
murder assailed an unsuspecting nation; his point of contention, as
he explained in his new book, is that the government should not
have been shocked. And the government’s confounding failure to
foresee the attacks, Lance argued, makes it complicit in their
execution. Even more damningly, Lance believes that following 9/11,
the government embarked on a comprehensive campaign to cover up its
own incompetence.

Lance, a former ABC news journalist, was working as a
screenwriter and novelist when 9/11 occurred. Galvanized by the
question of the attacks’ preventability and shaken by his personal
brush with the cataclysm they caused (his son went to high school
two blocks away from the World Trade Center), Lance decided to
refocus his energies on reporting, this time with the biggest story
of the young century his subject. In 1000 Years for Revenge and
Cover Up, published in 2003 and 2004 respectively, Lance laid out
his theory that the FBI, through negligence and ineptitude, failed
to detect a series of alarming warning signs in the lead-up to
9/11. Those signs were so apparent that the failure to act on them
amounts, he argued, to a criminal indictment of the bureau.

In Triple Cross, Lance offers new evidence of the FBI’s
inability and/or unwillingness to act on the threat posed by Osama
bin Laden’s nascent terror organization, Al Qaeda, and refines his
argument that the 9/11 Commission did not go nearly far enough
when, in July 2004, it called the FBI to task for its mistakes.
Triple Cross tells the story of Ali Mohamed, an Egyptian soldier of
fortune whom Lance calls Osama bin Laden’s “master spy.” Mohamed
became an FBI informant in 1992, but according to Lance, he worked
as a double agent for years, helping bin Laden plan and execute
terrorist attacks even as he ingratiated himself with his American
bosses. Lance believes Mohamed’s double-dealing was easily
detectable and therefore should have been stopped.

Like Lance’s other works, Triple Cross is primarily a book of
reportage, not analysis. It does not attempt to address the
systemic causes of 9/11, nor the overarching consequences of the
attacks. Instead, it offers an exhaustive array of well-documented
facts about the sordid career of Ali Mohamed. Until 1985, Mohamed
was an officer in the Egyptian army’s military intelligence units;
he then moved to the United States and joined the U.S. Army,
serving as a drill sergeant at Fort Bragg until 1989. While there,
he conducted training for clandestine demolition counterterrorism
tactics, which, Lance said, he would later use to train Al Qaeda
militants in Afghanistan and the U.S.

According to Lance, the FBI secretly photographed Mohamed
training men to shoot AK-47 assault rifles at a firing range in
Long Island in 1987; three of the trainees present were later
convicted of helping to execute the 1993 World Trade Center
bombing. Another, El Sayyid Nosair, was convicted of assassinating
Rabbi Meir Kahane — head of the militant Jewish Defense
League — and two others were convicted of plotting to explode
bridges and tunnels in New York. Enmeshed in an ongoing
investigation of the Mafia, Lance argues, the FBI failed to follow
up after the Long Island incident — an act of negligence Lance
believes is of special import to the development of the 9/11
attacks.

Lance contends that Mohamed’s fealty to bin Laden and bin
Laden’s second-in-command, Ayman al Zawahiri, began before his move
to the U.S. and never wavered during his career as an informant.
Yet his U.S. handlers, never picking up on his surreptitious
support for Al Qaeda, gave him access to increasingly compromising
material, including top secret memos identifying the positions of
Special Forces units worldwide. This misplaced trust culminated in
the FBI’s decision to use Mohamed as an informant in 1992, even as
he was helping Al Qaeda case the American embassies in East Africa
that would be so tragically bombed in 1998, resulting in 257
deaths. Mohamed was arrested for his role in the bombings and later
pleaded guilty, but the terms of his plea deal are secret. He has
since disappeared, apparently a beneficiary of the FBI’s witness
protection program.

Peter Lance is an exhaustive reporter, yet the non-expert reader
may find Triple Cross to be tough going, not least because of its
reams of material that often tend toward the obscure. But it is
that same material that promises to bolster Lance’s case that the
FBI has some serious explaining to do, on top of the mea culpas
already extracted by the 9/11 Commission. As Lance put it, “The FBI
could have stopped 9/11, and the fact that they didn’t, and that
they won’t own up to it, is a national scandal.”

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