1000 Years for Revenge: A Conversation With Peter Lance (Part 2)

by Claire E. White
The Internet Writing Journal, October 2003
( Click Here to return to Part I of this interview.)


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.

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.

"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.
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.



More from Writers Write


  • Frederick Douglass Statue Unveiled at Hillsdale College


  • Trump's Supreme Court Pick Neil Gorsuch Faces Plagiarism Accusations


  • White House Bans CNN, LA Times, NY Times and Politico From Press Conference




  • Salman Rushdie is Writing Novel With Trump-Like Villain


  • Javaka Steptoe Wins 2017 Caldecott Medal for Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat