1000 Years for Revenge: A Conversation With Peter Lance

by Claire E. White

Could the terrorist attacks of 9/11 have been prevented?
Photo of Peter Lance
Absolutely, says five-time Emmy award-winning investigative journalist and bestselling author Peter Lance, in his new book, 1000 Years for Revenge: International Terrorism and the FBI, the Untold Story (ReganBooks). In a groundbreaking work, Lance lays out the long-range al-Qaeda plan to attack a number of American landmarks over the last ten years, which culminated in the attacks against the Pentagon and the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Lance tells the story through the eyes of three very different people: two American heroes, FBI Special Agent Nancy Floyd and FDNY Fire Marshal Ronnie Bucca, and one master terrorist, Ramzi Achmed Yousef, the man responsible for the first World Trade Center bombing and the architect of many other terrorist attacks.

The book features a detailed color timeline which clearly connects the dots between the events which led up to 9/11. The timeline also provides photographs of all the key players in the al-Qaeda network who were involved in this far-reaching plot. Based upon numerous interviews and hundreds of pages of declassified documents, the book is meticulously researched. One of the most disturbing aspects of the book is the fact that a number of talented FBI agents who were close to putting the pieces together were thwarted at every turn by their superiors. As Lance states, "The attacks of September 11 represented the greatest failure of intelligence since the Trojan Horse." Lance concludes that the FBI is the wrong intelligence agency to fight terrorism because of the institutional culture of arrogance and the fact that it focuses on making a legal case after something has happened, instead of focusing on prevention. In a recent speech, Vice-President Dick Cheney appeared to reach the same conclusion about the FBI. When talking about the intelligence community's failure to follow active leads after the arrest and conviction of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, Vice President Cheney stated: "But the case was not closed. The leads were not successfully followed. The dots were not adequately connected. The threat was not recognized for what it was." 1000 Years for Revenge is an important book which puts all the pieces together for the reader in a fast-moving, gripping narrative.

Peter spoke with us about why he felt it was so important to write this book, how al-Qaeda managed to operate on U.S. soil for over ten years without being caught and why he feels the United States is now in even more danger from al-Qaeda than ever before.

The book is really shocking. Although sometimes nonfiction of this type, with all the confusing names and dates, can be dry, this reads more like a thriller.

Cover of 1000 Years For Revenge by Peter Lance
Thank you. My approach to writing this book was this: as I began peel back the layers on this story of the events leading up to the tragedy of 9/11, I became so shocked at the level of negligence by the FBI that I felt I was onto a really important story that needed to be heard by every American. So I wrote this book in as simple a way as I could, even for people who have never bought a nonfiction book before. I didn't want to write one of these dry, historical pieces. Most of the 9/11 books that have came out about the road to 9/11 and the intelligence have been fairly dry historical pieces. What I wanted to do was to tell the story through three people: the master terrorist Ramzi Achmed Yousef, Ronnie Bucca the Fire Marshal and Nancy Floyd the FBI special agent -- the two heroes that tried to stop them. By intercutting their stories, I was able to present the narrative of what happened. But in order to tell the story properly with all these complicated names -- there are many Islamic figures with multiple names and multiple aliases -- I came up with the notion of doing a timeline in the middle of the book. Each part of the timeline chronologically would give a lost piece of intelligence, a missed opportunity to prevent terror, and then tie the timeline to the narrative. So as we go through the book I recommend that people read the timeline first to get an overview of the book. Then, as they start reading the book, go back and forth and look at the timeline which is in
Photo of FBI agent Nancy Floyd
color and I think its fairly easy to follow.

I really wanted this book to be a tool for people to see what led up to 9/11 and the threat that we still face as Americans. I got a free master's degree in a way. In two years I got a master's degree in terror and the U.S. Government's attempts to stop it, and I wanted to be able to communicate that to the average American.

Well let's start with Ronnie Bucca's story. I was really saddened by his story; he was the only Fire Marshal who actually died on 9/11. What I was most shocked about was that he basically uncovered a terrorist right inside the New York Fire Department - Ahmen Amin Refai.

Ronnie believed Refai was some kind of mole. The most extraordinary thing was that if you looked at my story -- some of the things that I think I document very well -- is that al Qaeda, with the exception of Osama bin Laden himself, who is a Saudi of Yemeni origin, is dominated completely by radical Egyptians. Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was recently seen on the video of bin Laden that showed up within the last week, is an Egyptian. Mohammed Atef who was reportedly killed after the US invaded Afghanistan in the Fall of 2001 is an Egyptian and a radical. And of course their spiritual guide -- and their Pope if you will -- is the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman. This man was indicted in the plot to assassinate Anwar Sadat, but he escaped punishment because they couldn't prove he was directly involved. But he was the spiritual leader of two anti-American anti-Western Egyptian radical fundamentalist groups. One being the al Gamma'a Islimaya (the "IG") and the other being the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. He actually ran the IG, the al Gamma'a Islimaya. Let me give you an idea of how violent the Sheikh's connections were. The IG that he ran (he was actually the leader of) plotted and carried out the 1997 massacre in Luxor, Egypt in which 58 tourists were killed. Men, women and children were massacred, their bodies were split open and they inserted into their bodies leaflets that said "Free the Blind Sheikh." This is after he had been convicted of a plot to blow up the bridges and tunnels around New York City.

"They have an expression [in Baluchistan] -- 'If it takes me ten centuries to kill my enemy, I will wait 1000 years for revenge.' This is about the Crusades. This is a 1000 year war of vengeance that these guys have been waiting for, to try and punish the West for the time when the Knight Templars came down from Europe and sacked the councils of the Islamic princes in the 11th century. So, this is -- unfortunately -- what we are up against."
This is the conspiracy. The so-called Blind Sheikh is one of the most dangerous men ever to be allowed into this country. He is at the heart of this story. He met bin Laden in Afghanistan in 1989. He and these two other Egyptians, al-Zawahiri and Atef, sided with bin Laden in what amounted to a coup d'etat to take over a world-wide network of brick-and-mortar centers to raise money for the Mujahadeen rebels. It was called the MAK or Services Office for the Mujahadeen. That was bringing in tens of millions of dollars in cash annually worldwide. Bin Laden had a falling out with the original founder, Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian scholar. The Soviets were dispatched in 1989 and defeated. But money was continuing to pour into these centers around the world. There was one in Brooklyn, New York. There was one in Pittsburgh, one in Atlanta, one in Detroit, and a major one in Tuscon -- that's the Arizona connection. So Azzam wanted the money to be used to set up a Taliban-like government in Afghanistan. But bin Laden had a much broader worldwide view for the worldwide Jihad. He wanted money to go towards the fight against the West and the United States. The Egyptians sided with bin Laden because they siphoned of some of the money to kill Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt. So, long story short, mysteriously Azzam and his two sons were killed by a pipe-bomb in Peshawar, Pakistan in November, 1989. And almost immediately bin Laden took over that entire brick-and-mortar network and renamed it al Qaeda. That it is the origins of the terror network that we know today.

So the Blind Sheikh was basically a founding member of al-Qaeda?

Photo of blind Sheikh Rahman
So the Blind Sheikh was involved with the terrorists from those early days with bin Laden in 1989, all the way through to 9/11. He was a prime motivator in a number of the attacks that bin Laden sponsored. For example, two weeks prior to the Cole bombing in October, 2000 bin Laden made the famous video fatwa where you see him with a dagger. He had the Blind Sheikh's son on camera. He said in the video, "Free the Blind Sheikh." (Who was in U.S. custody by this time) Remember El Sayyid Nosair? He was the guy who murdered Rabbi Meir Kahane in 1990. And the murder of Rabbi Kahane, as my timeline points out, was the first true act of al Qaeda violence on American soil directed towards an American. That was November 5th of 1990. That was the beginning and that was the second huge dot on the chart. The first huge dot for the FBI was in 1989 when in four successive weekends the special operations group of the New York Office of the Bureau, the elite Black Bag Unit (this was the unit that nailed Gotti if you will) followed four groups of M.E.s, (which is bureau speak for Middle Eastern men). These Middle Eastern men were from this notorious Alkifah center -- the very MAK center in Brooklyn that I told mentioned before that was part of this network. The FBI followed these guys out to Long Island -- this is like exit 71 off the Long Island Express Way -- and they photographed them on four separate weekends firing automatic weapons. This was July, 1989, during the administration of George Herbert Walker Bush, the current president's father. Of the men photographed on those four weekends by the Bureau, three went on to bomb the World Trade Center, one (Nosair) went on to kill Rabbi Kahane, two went on to plot with the Blind Sheikh (the plot to blow up tunnels around Manhattan -- which included the FBI office at 2600 Federal Plaza) and the leader of the group, Ali Mohammed, went on to train Bin Laden's bodyguards in Khost, Afghanistan and he later did the surveillance for the African Embassy bombings in August of 1998. In the pictures that Ali Mohammed took bin Laden pointed to where he wanted to bomb places. Simultaneous bombings killed 234 and wounded 5,000. Nine years before this bombing, this guy was on the radar of the FBI and they dropped the ball.

That's disturbing. Okay, so now the Blind Sheikh, he was actually convicted for conspiracy in the first World Trade Center bombing?

"The Bush administration clearly had to invade Afghanistan. It was a haven for al-Qaeda and the Central Command. It was also a terrible regime, which was extremely violative of human rights. Because of al-Qaeda's presence there, Afghanistan was a direct threat to the security of the United States. So they had to go in to Afghanistan."
No, not for the first World Trade Center bombing. He was convicted for the second bridge and tunnel plot -- the land mines plot, that they call the Day of Terror plot. So, if you start to look at the major dots on the chart, you've got this surveillance which is mysteriously shut down in 1989. The FBI photographs these terrorists practicing shooting guns, but all of a sudden the surveillance ends. The first big dot is the surveillance of Calverton, the next big dot is the murder of Rabbi Kahane on the 5th of November. Remember how I told you that of the Calverton shooters that three of the guys went on to bomb the Trade Center? One of them was a big red-headed Egyptian: you couldn't miss him. He was a six foot, two inch Egyptian named Mahmud Abouhalima. His partner was a little Palestinian guy named Mohammed Salameh. Those two guys, who were in Calverton in 1989, were the getaway drivers during the night of the murder of Rabbi Kahane. So when Nosair burst out of the Marriott Hotel on Lexington he thought Abouhalimah, who was a cab driver, was going to wait for him. But the police had moved him forward, so Nosair jumps into the wrong cab. The cab driver freaked out, Nosair bolted and ran down the street and then got into a gun battle with an armed postal inspector, was wounded and arrested. Ironically, the victim and the shooter were in parallel stalls at the hospital. Rabbi Kahane died, his assassin Nosair lived. That night, the 17th precinct detective squad of the NYPD, with the FBI, raided Nosair's rented house in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Astonishingly, in the search they found 47 boxes of evidence. In the 47 boxes of evidence were included: 1400 rounds of ammunition, top secret manuals from the U.S. Special Forces Warfare school in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, maps of the World Trade Center, pictures of the World Trade Center, bomb recipes and the untranslated sermons and writings describing the Blind Sheikh's sermons which said that they wanted to hit the edifices of capitalism -- "the high world buildings." If they had had a blinking red light in the sky pointing at the World Trade Center on that night in November of 1990, it couldn't have been more obvious. But what happened was the Chief of Detectives for the NYPD, Joseph Borelli, who was credited as the man that got the Son of Sam, decided to treat it as a "lone gunman" shooting. In the face of vast evidence of an international conspiracy, he didn't want to have a political show trial in New York City. And in fact they tried him as the lone shooter. But guess who was present at the house that night when the police came in and they were taken into custody? Mahmud Abouhalima and Mohammed Salameh - the getaway guys. And the NYPD let them go the next day, because this was "just a lone gunman shooting." The second major dot on the chart. Astonishing.

That is very disturbing. Where is the Blind Sheikh right now?

I'm not sure what Federal Prison he is because he was
Photo of Ahmed Amin Refai
in prison in Minnesota. But a recent indictment that come down in April, 2002, alleged by the feds that while in Minnesota his lawyer, Lynn Stuart, and a translator, actually distracted the guards at the prison so that the Blind Sheikh could communicate direction to the IG, this terrorist group. What happened was there was a U.S. Postal worker named Abdel Sattar. Sattar basically was running the IG from his house on Staten Island. He was giving the information from the Blind Sheikh that was being trafficked through the translator. These are current, pending allegations. There is a federal indictment against his lawyer, Lynn Stuart and this translator and Sattar. It is alleged that they were getting the directions from the Sheikh in a prison in Rochester, Minnesota. Then Sattar from Staten Island was acting as the U.S. communication director for this terrorist group. This is a U.S. postal worker: another naturalized Egyptian. And that's one of the reasons that the Ahmed Amin Refai story (the mole in the New York Fire Department) resonates so much, because there is a very similar fact pattern.

Refai was a naturalized Egyptian who was working as an accountant in the FDNY for twenty-five years and was later discovered by Fire Marshal Ronnie Bucca a) to have obtained the plans to the World Trade Center prior to the bombing and b) in 1999 to have lied to obtain a second ID to Metrotech, which is the city's most secure building, the FDNY's new headquarters where the plans of most of the city's buildings are kept.

So, how did Ronnie Bucca become suspicious of Refai?

Photo of Ronnie Bucca
So Ronnie Bucca was a Fire Marshal. He was a decorated heroic firefighter. He was in Rescue One; Rescue One is like the Green Berets of the Fire Department. They are the guys that go in and do all the heavy rescue work in Manhattan. Ronnie had been injured seriously in 1986 in a fall in which he broke his back and was not expected to live. He could have retired on a three-quarters tax-free pension. Not only did he go back to the Fire Department, but he went back to Rescue One in one year which is unheard of. He was known henceforth as the Flying Firefighter. He was kind of a legend to begin with in the Fire Department. He had always had an active duty army reserve presence. He was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne and because he hurt his back, he put in for Military Intelligence. He was ultimately in a unit that was one of only four army reserve units in the entire country that was tasked to the Defense Intelligence Analysis Center at Boling Air Force Base in Washington. So, Ronnie had top-secret clearance from the U.S. government. After the first World Trade Center bombing, he had a personal interest in investigating because of Kevin Shea, the firefighter who fell into the four story hole that the bomber Ramzi Yousef had created, right after Rescue One responded. This firefighter, Kevin Shea, literally dropped four stories and almost died. He was in the hospital that night and Ronnie went to see him. So Ronnie was not only interested in the World Trade Center bombing because he was a Fire Marshal, this was arguably the greatest arson fire in New York City history and the Fire Marshal should have had jurisdiction. But he also had a personal stake because his friend was hurt. He assumed that the FBI would allow the Fire Marshals into the investigation. But, except for two token Marshals, they excluded the Fire Department completely. This is one of the many problems that the Joint Congressional Inquiry found on the road to 9/11: this arrogance, this exclusion of various agencies from crucial investigations. The report states that the CIA kept information from the FBI. Here is an example where the FBI kept out capable local fire department investigators who could have contributed.
Photo of Ramzi Yousef
Having been thwarted the first time from being involved in the FBI investigation, Ronnie then educated himself about Islamic terrorism and began his own, personal probe. He came across an astonishing piece of evidence early on (not long after the bombing) that convinced him that these guys were going to come back to New York and try again to topple the World Trade Center. Ronnie learned a lot because of his contacts at Army Reserve Military Intelligence.

The evidence he had was this. A computer was found in New Jersey, on which bomber Ramzi Yousef had written threat letters to five New York newspapers, after the bombing. Yousef's letter was eventually published in The New York Times. In the letter, Yousef called his terrorist group The 5th Battalion of the Liberation Army. The letter was typed on the computer of one Nidel Ayyad, who is a Rutgers graduate, a Kuwaiti, who was one of the four original bombers convicted. When the Feds found the computer, at the bottom of the computer, was a coda that had been added to by Nidel Ayyad on behalf of Ramzi Yousef which said in so many words, "We know what we did wrong, we placed the bomb in the wrong spot." It was clear that the terrorists had wanted to knock Tower 1 into Tower 2, but didn't place the bomb in the correct position. Essentially the translation was "We know what we did wrong, we'll come back and next time the twin towers will not stand." (I'm paraphrasing here.) Ronnie had access to this information, the public did not. So Ronnie himself was concerned about the Twin Towers. From 1993 up until 9/11, he was obsessed (in the best possible way) with learning as much as he could about the threat from Islamic fundamentalists and protecting the Twin Towers. He told dozens of people over the years that he was convinced that there was going to be another attack on the World Trade Center.

He even gave up his vacations to get extra training, didn't he?

"Of course, we do have more modern mechanisms like, ELINT, electronic surveillance, and PHOINT, which is from satellites, but as has been pointed out by a few conservatives after 9/11, the decimation of the human spy element in the CIA is what blinded us to 9/11. To this day, as far as I know, there has been no significant inroads made in the ability to penetrate the al-Qaeda organization."
He did. In fact, just before 9/11, he had used up all his leave time for 2001 to get extra training. So he was planning to take sixteen days of his next year's leave time to go take another military intelligence course in the army reserve. One month before 9/11, Ronnie Bucca visited one of the security guards at WTC and inquired whether there were any new means of ingress or egress that could allow anyone access to the Twin Towers from below. That's how specific he sensed the threat was. In September, 1999, he was working at Metrotech, which was the new fire department headquarters in Brooklyn. Metrotech is one of the most secure buildings in the city. It contains the plans for virtually all the major structures in New York City. Ronnie learned of an Egyptian-American named Ahmed Refai, who was an accountant for twenty-five years with the FDNY, a naturalized Egyptian citizen. Refai had lied about losing his ID. He had claimed that he'd lost his ID, so that he could obtain a second ID. Ronnie, given his knowledge of the Egyptians and the role that they played earlier with the Blind Sheikh and the Day of Terror plot and the first World Trade Center bombing found that very suspicious. So, just on a hunch, he started taking a closer look at Refai. He went down and observed the videotape taken of Refai which clearly showed that his ID was right there in his back pocket, when he was requesting a new one. Although he was supposed to have lost his ID, later video showed him swiping his ID card through the reader and getting in to Metrotech. Ronnie wondered why would a guy lie like that? Then they found out Refai had filed a false report to report the card missing and forged the signature of a Fire Marshal. Ronnie wondered, "Why would a guy go to that kind of trouble?" Refai was interviewed, but gave conflicting information. First he said was nostalgic for his old unit, the capital budget unit, that he did not like his new unit and he wanted to keep his old ID and get a new ID for nostalgia reasons. Which is absurd. So Ronnie talked to his boss, one Kay Woods, who is now Deputy Assistant Commissioner, and asked her what kind of employee Refai had been. Woods kind of rolled her eyes and said this guy was like a ghost employee. He would come in late, took every vacation, would fall asleep at his desk, and made calls to Egypt. He was like a non-entity in the department, so saying he was "nostalgic" for his old department just didn't make sense. Ronnie asked her if he had done anything else unusual that she had observed. Wood replied that there was that time that Refai got the blueprints -- and Ronnie asked, "What blueprints?" She replied, "The blueprints to the World Trade Center." Ronnie was shocked, to say the least. Woods then said that in the early 90s (prior to the bombing) the capital budget unit where she and Refai were located was being renovated. They had some old green filing cabinets where the blueprints of a number of buildings were kept from when the inspection department was in that area. They were throwing them out. She had two dumpsters and they were just tossing these old blueprints. She went to lunch one day and came back to find Refai digging through the dumpsters. She said he had found the blueprints to the Trade Center. (Another Marshal also told me Refai also had the blueprints to the bridges and tunnels.) But in any event Kay Woods specifically remembered the World Trade Center blueprints and Refai asking, "Can I have these?" At the time she thought nothing of it. The day of the first World Trade Center bombing (February 26, 1993), Refai called in sick. He then became extremely paranoid. Woods described a pattern where he told her he thought the FBI was bugging his garage.

Photo of Refai and the Blind Sheikh
Ronnie Bucca then discovered that the FBI had interviewed him twice in 1994. But more specifically Ronnie found out from people in the fire department that this man, Refai, had been seen in new footage walking near the Blind Sheikh, holding his arm. So Ronnie went up to Channel 7 Eyewitness News where Ronnie knew a film editor who did him a favor. Ronnie had no expectations, but by the fourth or fifth cassette he was looking at, he found the tape showing Refai on the arm of the Blind Sheikh, acting like his bodyguard , moving him through the crowd, while whispering in his ear -- like an intimate of one of the most dangerous terrorists America has ever known.

Don't you have to be one of the inner circle to be allowed to get that close to a leader like the Sheikh?

Absolutely. An FBI agent named Joe O'Brien, a veteran agent who wrote the book Boss of Bosses with his partner Andy Kurins, and who spent 19 years in the FBI as an organized crime expert, went down with me to interview Refai for the book. When I finally got the story I had to give him an opportunity to respond. Joe told me that the Sheikh would have had to trust Refai with life to let him get that close to him. But, more importantly, when I interviewed Refai he admitted that he had acted as the Sheikh's translator at his INS hearing. Now this is a hearing where his status in the country is going to be affected. He wouldn't just let any random guy represent him - he would have to have an intimate man he could trust. Even more significantly, Refai later admitted that he was a member of the al-Salaam mosque in Jersey City. Now he frequented the two others mosques in Brooklyn where the Sheikh would preach - the Al Farooq Mosque - where those Middle-Eastern men where going in 1989 - that was the al Qaeda base. The Sheikh preached there and he also preached at another mosque called the Abu Bakr. But the main mosque was a dingy little third-floor room over a toy store in Jersey City called the al-Salaam, the Mosque of Peace, ironically. That room would only hold like twenty-five people, tops, that's how small it was. Of the twenty-five men in that room, seven of them have been convicted of terrorism. One third of the members in that room on any given night during that time period are now in federal prison. Ironically enough, this guy Refai lives in Middletown, New Jersey, which is the town in New Jersey that has the highest concentration of 9/11 widows, because that's where a lot of Cantor Fitzgerald people lived. Refai lives in a nice, beautiful upper middle class neighborhood in a split-level house an hour and a half south of Jersey City. For him to go that dingy little mosque means only one thing -- he was there for the Sheikh, to serve the Sheikh and to act on behalf on the Sheikh.

So Ronnie Bucca finds this information that Refai had plans to the World Trade Center and he brings it to the FBI in September of 1999. And what do they do? They say, "Well, we don't see any crime here. There is nothing we can do." He was absolutely stunned. He was shocked.

What was his reaction when you told Refai about your book?

I did this interview
Photo of the Twin Towers
for like 45 minutes which I recorded and I asked him four times if he would renounce the Blind Sheikh, a convicted terrorist -- and he refused to renounce him. I gave him four opportunities during the course of the interview. I showed him a video picture. I found the same video last Christmas. I called in a favor with one of my old producers at ABC News. I went up to ABC World News Tonight and went into a room with about a dozen cassettes. I had no idea what I would find, but I found this thing on the sixth or seventh cassette I looked at. I couldn't believe it. This is a picture worth a million words because Refai's body language -- the way he is moving the Sheikh through the crowd and whispering in his ear -- it clearly looks like the guy's bodyguard. So I took a video still of that and showed it to him and he admitted that that was him. He denied that he had obtained the plans to the World Trade Center. He denied that he had called in sick for work that day. But he basically said that he was just a member of the mosque that was walking the Sheikh to an immigration hearing as his translator. So, then I pressed him and I asked, "Well did you know Mahmud Abouhalima?" And he said, "Yes, I know him." "Did you know Mohammed Salameh?" "Yes, I know him." "Did you know Nidal Ayyad?" "Yes, I knew him." "Did you know El Sayyid Nosair?" "Yes I knew him. But I do not really know these men. In other words I was acquainted with them." Now, how he can be in a room with these twenty men (which was essentially a nest of vipers in Jersey City) and not know what they were up to is beyond any reasonable belief. So, at the very end of the interview I asked him at one point "How did you feel about 9/11?" And he tried to fake a weepy eyed kind of expression, saying "I went to the park in the town and I hold a candle for these people." He started to get like he was getting sad, but not for long, because I really pressed this guy hard. I kept pushing on him about the Sheikh and his relationship with him and (just a few minutes later) he finally lost it. He said, "Do you know why the FBI did not discover 9/11?" I didn't understand what he was saying. I said, "Well that's what my book seeks to answer." And he said, "No do you understand what my people believe? This is not bin Laden. This is not the Sheikh. This is the U.S. Government doing this for Israel." I'm said, "What??" I looked at FBI agent Joe O'Brien and he looked over at me. We were stunned. I said, "Let me get this straight: you are saying that your people believe that the 3,000 people were murdered by the U.S. Government on behalf of the State of Israel?" He said, "This is what my people believe." Which is just absurd. That was the way the interview ended, except as I was walking out of his house I was asked, "What is the name of your book?" I said it was 1000 Years for Revenge. He began to laugh: "Ah ha ha ha." Kind of this chilling laugh. He thought that was very funny.

The phrase "1000 Years for Revenge" comes from an expression in Baluchistan, a no-man's land between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran. It's about the size of France and is a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. Ramzi Yousef comes from there, his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed has his roots there and so did Mir Aimal Kasi, the CIA shooter -- the man who killed two people outside the CIA. They have an expression there -- "If it takes me ten centuries to kill my enemy, I will wait 1000 years for revenge." This is about the Crusades. This is a 1000 year war of vengeance that these guys have been waiting for, to try and punish the West for the time when the Knight Templar came down from Europe and sacked the castles of the Islamic princes in the 11th century. So, this is unfortunately what we are up against.

You told Paula Zahn on CNN that you thought America was still in grave danger. What did you mean by that?

"I'm very praiseworthy of the U.S. military. Since Vietnam, they have had so much improvement with the efficiency with which they fight a war, the collateral damage is down, the number of POWs and casualties are down. They really have learned the lessons of Vietnam. Unfortunately, our intelligence agencies have not. They still have this old mentality."
Well, I think the danger increased exponentially after the invasion of Iraq. This isn't just my opinion. Remember Colleen Rowley? She was the courageous FBI lawyer from Minneapolis who blew the whistle on the charade over the failure to get a warrant on Zacarias Moussaoui. If it wasn't for Colleen Rowley, by the way, I firmly believe that director Robert Mueller would have made no significant changes in the Bureau after 9/11. Because for months after 9/11 he circled the wagons and he claimed that there was no culpability. I actually found a speech he gave on the 19th of 2002 to a businessmen's group in San Francisco in which he actually said that there was not a single piece of paper in our files that would have given us warning of 9/11. Well, my book has 500 pages which documents what went wrong. In the back of the book, are a series of pages which document the amount of paper they had in their file, including at the end of the book, we have a seventeen page FBI "302 Memo," which has never been published before.

The Memo memorializes the interrogation by two Bureau agents who are questioning Ramzi Yousef's partner, Abdul Hakim Murad, as he was being extradited back to the U.S. on a plane. The interrogation was memorialized in this seventeen page memo that they call a "302 Form." In the memo it states "Murad advises that Ramzi Yousef wants to return to New York to bomb the World Trade Center a second time." It's right there in black and white, in April, 1995. So when Director Mueller made that statement, Colleen Rowley and her co-workers in Minneapolis were so shocked that she dashed off a twelve page letter to him, criticizing his statements. Only after this letter was made public, did Mueller announce these reforms. On February 26, 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq, she wrote him another letter saying (and I'm paraphrasing) she had grave concerns that the agency would not be able to meet the increased level of danger that would come at the country after we invaded Iraq. She said she was not sure if he, as Director of the FBI, had communicated this to the President. This is coming from the inside.

I can give you a quick recap of a dozen reasons why I believe we are at greater risk. Saddam Hussein was a despot, but he was a self-contained despot who directed his villainy towards his own people. We know now, that despite the allegations of the Bush administration prior to the invasion, there was next to no evidence of any weapons of mass destruction, no evidence that America was in imminent danger from Iraq and literally no evidence of any al-Qaeda connection. Iraq certainly had no connections to 9/11 (which the White House has stated recently). There was a training camp in Northern Iraq that was in Kurdish-held territory (not even Saddam's territory), there was one al-Qaeda member who had medical treatment in Baghdad, but in terms of any significant proof that Saddam Hussein had been in league with bin Laden or had any direct connection to 9/11 has never been found. We've been on the ground for five months and, believe me, if there was a single piece of paper proving that found in Iraq, it would be on the front page of the Washington Times.

We now know that the very reason that Americans supported the invasion was based on faulty intelligence. There are also the lies that have been documented about the alleged importing of uranium (which turned out to be a forgery.). So here's the situation now. We have a protracted guerrilla war. Our brave men and women are now in harm's way. Our service people are subjected to daily life-threatening situations where the front is all around them now, as it was in Vietnam. There is no clearly defined enemy. You have a virulent anti-American Shiite majority. And you have the prospect that if in fact democracy is restored to that country, they will vote in an Iran-like or Taliban-like anti-American radical Islamic regime that will be much more likely to ally itself with al-Qaeda than ever before. You now have evidence of al-Qaeda operatives entering Iraq to ally with the Baath party members, where before, Osama bin Laden, the Blind Sheikh and Ramzi Yousef hated Saddam Hussein. The last moment of Ramzi Yousef's public career was at the end of his trial. He went out of his way to condemn Saddam Hussein as a secular Islamic leader. The Sheikh was booed off a pulpit in a mosque in Brooklyn in 1991 for condemning Saddam Hussein for the invasion of Kuwait. So these guys, after Israel and the U.S., they put Saddam Hussein as #3 on their enemies list, prior to the invasion. But now the Arab street has united against the United States as a result of the invasion. Therefore to me, the danger is exponentially greater.

After 9/11, the White House never came out and blamed the FBI. In fact, it went out of its way to praise them and the CIA publicly. But, President Bush then immediately turned around and created the Office of Homeland Security, which was clearly a slap in the face of both the CIA and the FBI, saying "you can't get it done, obviously, we need a new agency." How do the agencies all work together now? Is it working or has it just created a giant bureaucracy?

"The FBI never should have been given this job of defending America, protecting America against domestic terrorism. The FBI is in the business of solving crimes, after the chalk mark is on the ground. Even with that job, they've had a lot of foibles over the years. But at least they know how to do that. The way it works is this. You get ahead in the Justice Department and the FBI by making cases, by getting convictions, not stopping crimes before they happen. One of the biggest problems they've had over the years is treating these incidents -- the first Trade Center bombing, the murder of Kahane, the Day of Terror plot, Project Bojinka -- they treated them as a series of legal cases that could be taken one at a time, they get a conviction, they get a long sentence for these guys, and they figure that the threat is over. They weren't stepping back and looking at this as the political threat that it was. It was a war and they were treating it as a series of legal cases. But that's the nature of the FBI and the Justice Department, that's what they do."
The new setup helps with communication between the various agencies. I think one positive step for homeland security is that we would hope that now if someone's name shows up on a watch list, the FAA, the INS, Customs, the FBI, CIA, NSA -- everybody in the big 5 -- finds out about it instantly. If they don't have that by now, then Americans should be terrified. One would hope that step has already been taken. However, with respect to intelligence, the forward-thinking foresight as to what the threat is, e.g., perceiving the threat before something happens, and interdicting it, the Homeland Security Office has no independent intelligence-gathering capabilities. They rely on the Bureau and the CIA. If you want an example of how good the CIA has gotten since 9/11, just look at the road to Iraq. All of the faulty intelligence on Iraq has been blamed on the CIA. I've already spoken as to where the Bureau stands. There haven't been any significant reforms and Director Mueller has directed about 20% of the personnel in the FBI, instead of working on drug cases (which they shouldn't be working on anyway, since that is the DEA's job) he directed them towards terrorism. But you don't change the fundamental culture of an agency overnight. The FBI never should have been given this job of defending America, protecting America against domestic terrorism. The FBI is in the business of solving crimes, after the chalk mark is on the ground. Even with that job, they've had a lot of foibles over the years. But at least they know how to do that. The way it works is this. You get ahead in the Justice Department and the FBI by making cases, by getting convictions -- not stopping crimes before they happen. One of the biggest problems they've had over the years is treating these incidents -- the first Trade Center bombing, the murder of Kahane, the Day of Terror plot, Project Bojinka -- they treated them as a series of legal cases that could be taken one at a time. They get a conviction, they get a long sentence for these guys, and they figure that the threat is over. They weren't stepping back and looking at this as the political threat that it was. It was a war and they were treating it as a series of legal cases. But that's the nature of the FBI and the Justice Department, that's what they do. The Secret Service is totally different. There are men and women in the Secret Service that you will never hear about, because they have interdicted threats before they happen. They have a completely different way of measuring success than the Bureau. The Bureau is just the wrong agency to be fighting terrorism. I am telling you, Joe O'Brien, a very sharp guy who is very conservative, he wears a "No Spin Zone" hat from Bill O'Reilly, he's not even remotely moderate, let alone liberal, and he has embraced my book and what I've tried to do. He's a veteran FBI agent who has said to me, "Peter, I've talked to people inside and outside the agency and I'm telling you they still don't get it." That's a terrifying thing to hear from a veteran FBI agent from the New York. office. The New York office, on which I lay most of the culpability on in my book, is the office of origin for all the bin Laden cases. The Joint Terrorism Task Force was from the New York flagship office. In September, 2000, they had a 20th anniversary party to pat themselves on the back for how great they were and how many convictions they had gotten over the years. Guess where the party was? Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center. While these feds were sitting around drinking martinis and celebrating their great victories, the cohorts of Ramzi Yousef and Kalid Sheikh Mohammed were sleeping on mattresses on 54 Marionstrasse in Hamburg, Germany, plotting to take down those very buildings where those people were celebrating.

That's unbelievable. In light of recent tapes which appear to show bin Laden tripping along on an afternoon ramble in the mountains, looking pretty spry for a guy with kidney problems, as a practical matter, how do these terror cells work? How does the money flow? It seems like Kalid Sheikh Mohammed had a lot of freedom in what he did.

Photo of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed
Well, they called Kalid Sheikh Mohammed "The man with the ignition key." He was considered the Chief Operating Officer of al-Qaeda; he was a brilliant strategic planner. Ramzi Yousef, his nephew, was the chief point man for four years, the chief detonator, if you will, of bin Laden's strike force worldwide. He is an absolute engineering genius. Al-Qaeda operates with many terror groups, as a series of cells. The cells operate on a "need to know" basis, and that's why they are so difficult to fight. The problem with the Bush administration is that they've treated the war on terrorism the way local TV stations treat crime: they shoot the chalk mark. That's easy to do. You go in, you shoot the body, you do a couple of talking head interviews: covering crime and the origins of crime is much more difficult. The Bush administration clearly had to invade Afghanistan. It was a haven for al-Qaeda and the Central Command. It was also a terrible regime, which was extremely violative of human rights. Because of al-Qaeda's presence there, Afghanistan was a direct threat to the security of the United States. So they had to go in to Afghanistan. But with respect to Iraq, taking out leaders is easier because you have a military objective that you cam accomplish. I'm very praiseworthy of the U.S. military. Since Vietnam, they have had so much improvement with the efficiency with which they fight a war, the collateral damage is down, the number of POWs and casualties are down. They really have learned the lessons of Vietnam. Unfortunately, our intelligence agencies have not. They still have this old mentality. People don't realize how the CIA really works. When someone talks about a CIA operative or a case officer, do you know what CIA case officers actually do overseas? They basically recruit assets. The notion of a spy going undercover is just wrong. Even the kind of undercover operation that the FBI ran to get the Mafia doesn't exist in the CIA. What the case officer does is to go into another country, hopefully he's fluent in the language, but that's not always the case, and he then tries to recruit foreign nationals to betray their country. He asks them to go in as double agents. A huge number of these guys are really triple agents. They don't betray their country at all. So our CIA is really getting second hand information. It's not like the operative is actually undercover. The absolute methodology of the HUMINT (Human Intelligence) by the on the ground spies is archaic as it was the day it was founded as a legacy of the OSS, which is really ancient. Of course, we do have more modern mechanisms like, ELINT, electronic surveillance, and PHOINT, which is from satellites, but as has been pointed out by a few conservatives after 9/11, the decimation of the human spy element in the CIA is what blinded us to 9/11. To this day, as far as I know, there have been no significant inroads made in the ability to penetrate the al-Qaeda organization.

So you would not agree that we have "broken the back" of al-Qaeda?

No, we have not broken the back of al-Qaeda.
Photo of Abdul Hakim Murad
In fact, the FBI has declared victory over al-Qaeda a number of times. Remember Dale Watson, the #3 guy in the FBI who in 1998 minimized the threat from al-Qaeda? He's the guy that twice in 2002 made statements that bin Laden was dead. When Kalid Sheikh Mohammed was arrested in March, they said they had broken the back of al-Qaeda, then after the Gulf War II, there were these spectacular attacks by al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia and Morocco. Every time they arrest one of these guys, they say al-Qaeda is finished. We keep picking up important people, such as the Indonesian cleric they arrested two weeks ago who was tied to the Bali bombing. He was at the January, 2000, surveillance meeting about 9/11. We keep picking these guys up, but somehow their bench strength seems to be quite significant.

So we have Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, on the run. As a practical matter, do you and your sources think they are still plotting against us? How do they communicate, as a practical matter? Or is Osama just a figurehead to inspire terror?

Photo of Osama bin Laden
No, absolutely not -- he's not just a figurehead. I believe that when we get bin Laden, that we will make a geometric leap forward in the war on terrorism. Because, not only is he a billionaire, he is internationally capable. Before he turned to radical Islam, bin Laden was an international businessman. He was actually involved with the BCCI -- the Bank of Credit and Commerce. He traveled the world as an international entrepreneur. He had connections all over the world, he learned how to move money, munitions, arms and large scale construction equipment. So he was so capable. They believe that he's holed up in some area of Afghanistan, I believe that he's maybe in Baluchistan, some people have actually said that he may have crossed the border into China. In any event, these guys communicate with a low tech system. That's why they are such a big threat. They stay under the radar. They have years and years to plan. We now know that they began planning the attacks of 9/11 in the Fall of 1994. That's how long 9/11 was in the works.

"There was a tendency to treat incidents like these as individual criminal acts to be handled primarily through law enforcement. Ramzi Yousef, who perpetrated the first attack on the World Trade Center, is the best case in point.

The U.S. government tracking him down, arrested him and got a conviction. After he was sent off to serve a 240-year sentence, some might have thought, 'Case closed.' But the case was not closed. The leads were not successfully followed. The dots were not adequately connected. The threat was not recognized for what it was."
--Vice President Dick Cheney, Transcript of Speech at the Heritage Foundation, October, 2003.
The African Embassy bombing had been planned for three or four years. So they have the time to wait us out. That is what is so terrifying about it. What I wish is that the FBI and the CIA would do a wholesale national recruiting campaign for middle eastern immigrants of Islamic origin who speak Arabic and speak Uzbeki and Urdu and the languages that the terrorists speak. That they would say to these people "We want you -- the patriotic, loyal citizens." There are people of multi-generations all living in America loyal to the flag, loyal to our country -- not loyal to the higher power of radical Islam. They could be trusted, they could be vetted, they could be polygraphed and we could embrace those people and send them back to have them infiltrate al Qaeda, but for some reason to these day it hasn't happened. There was a story a month ago in the New York Times about one of the top FBI agents who speaks fluent Arabic (he is one of the few people who can actually conduct a polygraph in Arabic) was frozen out by Dale Watson, the very guy I just described, who is now retired. That agent did such a good job on the Khobar Towers investigation while Watson had told FBI Director Louis Freeh that we were getting nowhere in the investigation. This agent went to Saudi Arabia and had incredible success. Watson apparently felt threatened and basically put a cloud over this man's career. That is what has been alleged, in any event. So this guy has been frozen out. This is one of the most important guys that we need right now in the Bureau and this guy has a cloud over his career.

Was there any evidence that turned up during your investigation that some of the slip up may not have been incompetence -- that they may have been something a little bit more sinister?

Yes, that's a very good question. When I interviewed Col. Rodolfo Mendoza, the interrogator of Yousef's partner Murad, some interesting things came out. I think I did the most extensive interview on audio and video that any journalist has done with him. He's the guy that said that as early as 1994 Murad told him that al-Qaeda had six targets including the Trade Center, Pentagon, Sears and Transamerica towers, CIA headquarters and a nuclear facility. They had ten men training in U.S. flight schools at that moment in 1994. He gave all this information to the U.S. Embassy in Manila. He wouldn't tell me who -- he didn't want to embarrass whoever it was. But clearly we know the FBI got it because they mention it in a Memo which I have a copy of part of in the book.

And we know that they investigated two of the flight schools. Murad, Yousef's lifelong friend had been to four US flight schools in 1991 and 1992. So we know they had it. I think what happened at that point when they dropped the ball on 9/11 -- they figured we'll we have Ramzi for the Trade Center, were going to try him again for the Bojinka plot. He is going to go away -- it's all going to be over. But when they started connecting the dots and they realized that this organization related to him went all the way back to the original Trade Center bombing and we haven't even gotten to the story of Nancy Floyd -- this courageous FBI agent who came within a hair's breath of stopping the first bombing by Yousef only to be thwarted by management in New York. She almost succeeded in capturing and interdicting the plot, but the Bureau blew it.

Yes, the Nancy Floyd story was very interesting. Her story and many other interesting stories are covered in the book. It's an important book for Americans to read to understand the threat that faces us today.

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