Terrorism and Censorship: An Interview With Peter Lance

Posted on July 10, 2009

Five time Emmy Award-winning investigative journalist Peter Lance got a real surprise when it came time to publish the trade paperback version of his bestselling 9/11 expose, Triple Cross: How Bin Laden's Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the Green Berets, and the FBI, which tells the shocking story of Ali Mohamed, the Egyptian who managed to penetrate the deepest levels of the U.S. intelligence community and provide crucial intelligence to Al Qaeda terrorist operations for years before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all while being paid by the U.S. government.

U.S. District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald threatened to sue HarperCollins if it did not halt publication, pull every last copy of the book from all bookstores in the United States and admit that the book was all lies. For nearly two years HarperCollins and Peter Lance painstakingly rechecked every fact in the book. The book, with a new introduction and updated information, was just published despite Fitzgerald's many threatening letters. Fitzgerald objects to the book on personal grounds, not in his capacity as a U.S. Attorney. Fitzgerald led the counterterrorism task force in the Southern District of New York that was responsible for finding and stopping Osama bin Laden long before September 11, 2001, and that office's many mistakes are laid out in painstaking detail in the book. The Justice Department has made no attempt to censor the book, but Fitzgerald (who is used to adulation by the press) personally objected to his portrayal in the book and began sending cease and desist letters. One of the letters was faxed from the Justice Department, which Lance says was done to falsely give the impression that the Justice Department was threatening to sue HarperCollins. Lance filed a complaint with the Justice Department, asking to open an Office of Professional Responsibility investigation based on Fitzgerald's actions in trying to kill the book. Lance says that Fitzgerald improperly used government resources to intimidate and harass him and his publisher.

Lance, who worked for ABC for many years, was shocked that a top official at the Justice Department was trying to censor a book that was so meticulously researched. Lance himself testified at the 9/11 Commission hearings and is known for his meticulous attention to detail.

Peter talked to us about Fitzgerald's lawsuit threats and how he felt about the attempt to censor his work:

Has Patrick Fitzgerald followed through on this threat to sue? Has he responded to the ethics complaint you filed?

As of this date Fitzgerald, who promised in his letter of June 2nd that if the book was published and "if in fact... it defames me or casts me in a false light, Harper Collins will be sued," hasn't even come close.

The fact is that Fitzgerald, who knows the libel standard as set forth in the landmark case of New York Times vs. Sullivan, knew back in October, 2007 when he sent the first of four threat letters to HarperCollins that he didn't have a viable libel claim. To mount one he'd have to prove not also falsity but that I acted with "reckless disregard for the truth" or "actual malice;" a threshold he could never meet since the book of 604 pages was meticulously researched with 1,420+ end notes and 32 pages of documentary appendices.

Yet in his latest letter of June 2nd trying to stop publication of the trade paperback Fitzgerald wrote that the entire book was "a deliberate lie masquerading as the truth." What an incredibly reckless statement from a Federal prosecutor who should choose his words carefully.

As a journalist, how you do you feel about a top government official trying to censor your book?

I frankly think that it's repugnant, for any government official to try and kill any book -- much less the man who is arguably the most intimidating Federal prosecutor in America seeking to use the private libel laws to pulp a book critical of his performance in office.

One of the strange things about the 9/11 aftermath is that no one really got blamed and no one got fired as a result of the biggest terrorist act committed on American soil. Why is that, do you think?

The fact that the 9/11 Commission held no one accountable is the subject of my second book Cover Up. Half of the Commission staff was made up of alumni of the very agencies who were supposed to protect America. A key player in the whitewash that became the 9/11 Commission Report was Dietrich Snell, the ex-Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York (who worked under Patrick Fitzgerald).

I demonstrated probative evidence in Triple Cross that Snell and his co-prosecutor in the 1996 Bojinka case, Mike Garcia, received the evidence from the Philippines National Police (PNP) in 1995 detailing Ramzi Yousef's "planes as missiles" plot -- ultimately carried out by his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) on 9/11.

Snell took my testimony before the Commission in a windowless conference room at 26 Federal Plaza, the building that houses the FBI's New York Office.

As I detail in the piece I just wrote for Playboy, "The Chilling Effect," Snell then flushed all the evidence that I provided that the plot originated with Yousef and KSM in Manila in 1994 and pushed the origin of the plot ahead 2 years to 1996 to a time after Yousef had been captured (thus removing him from the plot).

Snell then reduced all of my testimony to a single end note and he cited as the sole authority on the 1996 date, KSM himself, who we now know was waterboarded more than 183 times. As noted in Triple Cross, relying on the word of KSM for such an important date is like taking the word for David Berkowitz for when he committed the first Son of Sam Murder. KSM's tortured testimony was completely unreliable.

In the Playboy piece I also cited a recent study by Robert Windrem, formerly of NBC News, who went back and discovered the shocking fact that 25% of the supporting end notes were derived from the testimony of "detainees" who were subject to enhanced interrogation techniques like waterboarding and other coercive methods -- in short the testimony was wholly unreliable.

And this is the M.O. of the last official body to investigate the biggest unsolved mass murder in U.S. history.

To answer your question, no one got blamed because those charged with assessing blame (who failed to do so) would have had to blame themselves. The 9/11 Commission was the ultimate example of the foxes guarding the chicken coop.

Note: You can buy Triple Cross by Peter Lance on Amazon.com.

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