CLICK HERE for a page with a number of the 302s documenting the sting
CLICK HERE for Peter Lance’s PLAYBOY article on the sting: “The Chilling Effect.”
A MAFIA WISEGUY UNCOVERS A TREASURE TROVE OF AL QAEDA INTEL
The 9/11 Commission Report, published in July 2004 and later nominated for a National Book Award, concluded that the original World Trade Center bombing cell was made up of a “loosely based group of Sunni Islamists”; further, that the 9/11 plot had originated not with Ramzi Yousef in Manila in 1994, as I had demonstrated, but with Yousef’s uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who—according to Snell’s account—merely pitched the planes-as-missiles operation to Osama bin Laden in 1996.
The evidence I’d obtained from the Philippines National Police demonstrated that the Yousef-KSM Manila cell was funded directly by bin Laden via his brother-in-law, but the Commission, with the backing of Snell and other ex-Feds, concluded that KSM wasn’t even a member of al Qaeda in 1996. By mid-2004 I was getting closer to the truth. The 1996 FBI 302 memos I’d tried to share with the commission showed that the Bureau, and prosecutors from the Justice Department, had affirmatively covered up evidence of an active al Qaeda cell in New York City.
The same intelligence revealed the existence of a bin Laden-sponsored plot to hijack U.S. airliners, designed to pressure the U.S. to free the blind Sheikh and Ramzi Yousef, who was locked up in the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Similar threat reporting would show up in Presidential Daily Briefings in 1998 and 2001—a fact that later made headlines—but my findings revealed that the FBI had buried identical intelligence years before. Why would America’s most elite law enforcement and investigative agencies suppress such critical intel?
Their motive could be traced to a most surprising quarter: organized crime. As a phone book-sized file of documentary evidence from prosecutors in the Eastern District of New York reveals FBI investigators and federal prosecutors were desperate to avoid a scandal over an alleged corrupt relationship between R. Lindley DeVecchio, a senior supervisory special agent in the Bureau’s New York Office, (NYO) and a notorious hit man named Gregory Scarpa Sr., whose two-year war of succession in the Colombo crime family had left twelve people dead, including two innocent bystanders.
Through a bizarre turn of events, the Yousef evidence came from the killer’s son, Greg Scarpa Jr., a junior wiseguy who happened to inhabit a jail cell adjacent to Yousef’s at the MCC. But rather than risk losing a series of sixty Mafia cases in the Eastern District built on tainted evidence from Scarpa Sr., the Feds decided to bury the intel.
One of the lead prosecutors who disconnected those dots, I learned, was Patrick Fitzgerald, then the head of Organized Crime and Terrorism in New York’s Southern District. Considered the Justice Department’s leading authority on bin Laden, Fitzgerald would go on to become U.S. Attorney in Chicago, and special prosecutor in he ongoing investigation of media leaks regarding former CIA operative Valerie Plame, which ultimately cleared White House aide Karl Rove, while indicting Lewis “Scooter” Libby, top aide to Vice President Cheney.
AL QAEDA MEETS THE MOB
Much of this tangled tale was laid out in great detail in my second investigative book Cover Up, published in September of 2004. It documented an ends/means decision by senior FBI and Justice Department officials to suppress the DeVecchio scandal, preserve those mob cases, and brand the Yousef-Scarpa Jr. intelligence a “hoax” and a “scam.”
Until the cover up, that intelligence—chronicled in dozens of FBI 302s and notes from Yousef—was considered so important to the Feds that they gave Scarpa Jr. a camera to photograph it and even set up a phony Mafia front company, the “Roma Corporation,” allowing them to monitor Yousef’s outside calls.
By the fall of 1996, the Bureau’s internal affairs probe on DeVecchio was closed and Yousef was convicted along with Murad and a third conspirator. Dietrich Snell and Mike Garcia, the current U.S. Attorney for the SDNY, had won a decisive victory\and the Feds soon began to believe that they were winning the war against al Qaeda. But the burial of that evidence, which prevented other U.S. intelligence agencies from appreciating al Qaeda’s true breadth and depth, would have shocking repercussions.
As I looked back on the Justice Department’s counter-terrorism track record, I concluded that many of the dots left unconnected by the FBI and DOJ on the road to 9/11 appeared to have been the result of an intentional obscuring of the evidence.
Continuing to work sources and examine the reams of documentary evidence generated in the SDNY al Qaeda cases, I came to the conclusion that the FBI’s failure to prevent the African embassy bombings in 1998, the deadly assault on U.S.S. Cole in 2000, and the 9/11 attacks themselves, went beyond gross negligence. It seemed as if a number of FBI officials and federal prosecutors at the heart of the bin Laden hunt realized that they had been outgunned for years. So they had acted affirmatively to partition the intelligence.
I believe that their motive was to sanitize the record and thus prevent the public from understanding the full depth of the FBI/DOJ missteps in the years leading up to September 11. So “walls” were intentionally built, and key intelligence was withheld from other agencies, including the CIA and DIA. In any other government enterprise, the consequences might have been more benign. but in the realm of national security that compartmentalization of intelligence proved fatal.
By the third anniversary of 9/11, the Scarpa-Yousef evidence had been published in Cover Up. Sixteen months later, DeVecchio would finally be arraigned on murder charges stemming, in part, from that investigation. But many unanswered questions remained. I wanted to know the names of the men and women in the shadows at Justice who had suppressed the evidence and hidden the truth behind al Qaeda all those years. I also wanted to learn why the Bush 43 Administration would act to obstruct an investigation into the destruction of the Able Danger intel, a scandal that took place during the Clinton years?
It took me months of further digging before the depth of the government’s deception started to become clear.