Most Americans have only heard of Bin Laden and the 19 hijackers, but few have heard of one of Al Queda's most accomplished agents along with 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramsi Yousef, who infiltrated not only the CIA, but the US special forces base, and FBI, and was probably instrumental in not only building up the Afghan mujahideen against the Soviets when they were working for the CIA but also in turning them against the US once they found themselves unemployed and looking for a new target -- the USA.
He has disappeared from sight but evidently is in US custody where he continues to be an intelligence source, hopefully for the side of good, not jihad.
He has disappeared from sight but evidently is in US custody where he continues to be an intelligence source, hopefully for the side of good, not jihad.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ayman al-Zawahiri, who toured California mosques to raise money to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. While there, Zawahiri encouraged him to infiltrate the United States, to whom he later presented himself as defecting. Since he simply walked into the CIA office in Cairo and asked to speak to the station chief and offered his services, the Americans assumed he was an Egyptian spy, but nevertheless recruited him to be a junior intelligence officer. When tasked to infiltrate a mosque with ties to Hezbollah, he simply informed the leadership he was an American spy intending to collect information; since a loyal American spy was also in the congregation, he reported Mohamed's bizarre behaviour to the CIA, who dismissed him and sought to ban him from entering the United States. Ironically however, he was simply picked up by the Special Forces in the American army, who sent him to the Special Warfare school and encouraged him to pursue a doctorate in Islamic Studies and teach courses on the Middle East.
In the 1980s Mohamed trained anti-Soviet fighters en route to Afghanistan. FBI special agent Jack Cloonan called him "bin Laden's first trainer". Mohamed was charged with the August 7, 1998 bombings of the United States embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. In October 2000, he pleaded guilty to five counts of conspiracy to kill nationals of the United States and to destroy U.S. property.
Mohamed has been described as "Six-foot one, 200 pounds, and exceptionally fit, ... a martial artist and skilled linguist who spoke fluent English, French, and Hebrew in addition to his native Arabic. He was disciplined, clever, and gregarious, with a marked facility for making friends."
Mohamed was a major in the Egyptian army's military intelligence unit, until being discharged for suspected fundamentalism in 1984. He enlisted in the U.S. Armyand used U.S. military information to train al-Qaeda and other Muslim militants, and write al-Qaeda's multivolume terrorist training guide. 
In the United States
In 1984 Mohamed offered his services to the CIA in Cairo station and was stationed in Hamburg, Germany. There he "entered a mosque associated with Hezbollah and immediately told the Iranian cleric in charge that he was an American spy assigned to infiltrate the community." The mosque had already been penetrated and his announcement was passed on to the CIA, which, according to Lawrence Wright, "terminated Mohamed" and "sent out cables labeling him highly untrustworthy." By this "time, however, Mohamed was already in California on a visa-waiver program that was sponsored by the agency itself, one designed to shield valuable assets or those who have performed important services for the country." 
In America he married an American woman from Santa Clara, California after a 6 week courtship and became a U.S. citizen. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and managed to get stationed at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina until 1989. "His awed superiors found him 'beyond reproach' and 'consistently accomplished'." 
According to Cooperative Research, Mohamed was a Drill sergeant at Fort Bragg, and was hired to teach courses on Arabic culture at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School.
In 1988 Mohamed informed his superior officers in the U.S. Army that he was taking some leave time to fight Soviets in Afghanistan. "A month later, he returned, boasting that he had killed two Soviet soldiers and giving away as souvenirs what he claimed were their uniform belts."
Mohamed's commanding officer, Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, said he wrote detailed reports aimed at getting Army intelligence to investigate Mohamed — and have him court-martialed — but the reports were ignored.
"I think you or I would have a better chance of winning Powerball, than an Egyptian major in the unit that assassinated Sadat would have getting a visa, getting to California ... getting into the Army and getting assigned to a Special Forces unit," he said. "That just doesn't happen."
It was equally unthinkable that an ordinary American GI would go unpunished after fighting in a foreign war, he said.
Anderson said all this convinced him that Mohamed was "sponsored" by a U.S. intelligence service. "I assumed the CIA," he said.
Mohamed also took maps and training manuals off base to downsize and copy at Kinko's and used them to write al-Qaeda's multivolume terrorist training guide that became playbook.
Mohamed also conducted clandestine military and demolition training through the Al Kifah Refugee Center. While in the United States, he helped train a number of jihadis, like El Sayyid Nosair and Mahmud Abouhalima, who assisted Ramzi Yousef in his 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
In the early 1990s Mohamed returned to Afghanistan, where "he trained the first al-Qaeda volunteers in techniques of unconventional warfare including kidnappings, assassinations, and hijacking planes, which he had learned from the American Special Forces." According to FBI special agent Jack Cloonan, in one of Mohamed's first classes were Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and other al-Qaeda leaders.
In 1993 Mohamed also traveled to Africa to survey embassies in Africa such as the Nairobi, (Kenya) embassy which Al-Qaeda later bombed. He became an FBIinformant.
In 1994, al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Atef refused to allow Mohamed to know which name and passport he would be traveling under, expressing concerns that Mohamed could be working with the American authorities.
In a televised interview Mohamed explained his rationale for his efforts: "Islam without political dominance cannot survive."
While he was subpoenaed in "Blind Sheik" Omar Abdel-Rahman's trial, Ali Mohamed was not arrested until years later — on 10 September 1998, when he attempted to flee to Egypt after being subpoenaed in the aftermath of the embassy bombings in Nairobi and Tanzania. After eight months of imprisonment, Ali Mohamed entered a guilty plea in May 1999. What happened after that is unclear. The trial proceeded, but there is no record of any sentencing or even a conviction. As late as February 20, 2002, CBS News reported that "Mohammad pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing." He has now been arrested again by the Pakistani Army in Karachi.
Speculated cooperation with US Intelligence
In October 2001, the Raleigh News & Observer noted that Ali Mohamed may be cooperating with the US government. "Defense lawyers and many other observers believe that Mohamed, who has not yet been sentenced, is now cooperating with the United States, though the government has never confirmed this. When he is sentenced he could receive as little as 25 years under his plea agreement." In his book "The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander", former Delta Force commander Pete Blaber indicates he met Ali Mohamed who gave him information on how to infiltrate Afghanistan, find Al Qaedacommanders, and operate in country undetected in late 2001.
Further news sources in 2001 seem to suggest that Ali Mohamed is providing information on Bin Laden and al-Qaeda in an attempt to reduce his sentence, and that his sentencing "has been postponed indefinitely.". In 2006, Mohamed's wife, Linda Sanchez, was reported in 2006 as saying, "He's still not sentenced yet, and without him being sentenced I really can't say much. He can't talk to anybody. Nobody can get to him. They have Ali pretty secretive...it's like he just kinda vanished into thin air."
- ^ Ton Hays and Sharon Theimer, "Egyptian agent worked with Green Berets, bin Laden", Jerusalem Post, December 31, 2001 (copy). Archived 2009-10-25.
- ^ a b c Temple-Raston, Dina. "The Jihad Next Door", 2007. p. 83
- ^ a b Interview with FBI special agent Jack Cloonan, Frontline, PBS, October 18, 2005.
- ^ a b c d e Wright, Lawrence (2006). Looming Tower. p. 180. ISBN 1-4000-3084-6.
- ^ Bin Laden's man in Silicon Valley
- ^ Lance Williams and Erik McCormick, "Al Qaeda terrorist worked with FBI ...", San Francisco Chronicle, November 4, 2001.
- ^ Benjamin, Daniel & Steven Simon. "The Age of Sacred Terror", 2002
- ^ Wright, Lawrence (2006). Looming Tower. p. 181. ISBN 1-4000-3084-6.
- ^ 9/11 Commission Report, chapter 2, p.68 (HTML version)
- ^ Sullivan, John. Raleigh News and Observer, "Al-Qaeda Terrorist Duped FBI, Army", October 21, 2001
- ^ Interview on National Geographic Channel documentary Link
- ^ Raleigh News & Observer 10/21/2001
- ^ Blaber, Pete (2008). The Mission, The Men, and Me: Lessons from a Former Delta Force Commander. Berkley Pub Group. ISBN 9780425223727.
- ^ San Francisco Chronicle 9/21/2001
- ^ Associated Press 12/31/2001
- ^ Peter Lance, Triple Cross, Harper Collins 2006
- ^ Complete 911 Timeline, Cooperative Research
- ^ "By The Book", 60 Minutes II, CBS News, February 20, 2002
- Williams, Lance and Erin McCormick. "Al Qaeda terrorist worked with FBI, Ex-Silicon Valley resident plotted embassy attacks",San Francisco Chronicle, November 4, 2001. Accessed April 4, 2006
- Aita, Judy. "Ali Mohamed: The Defendant Who Did Not Go to Trial, Pled guilty to conspiracy in African embassy bombing case", International Information Programs, US Dept of State, May 15, 2001. Accessed April 4, 2006
- "Hunting Bin Laden: The Suspects & Charges". PBS Frontline. 2001-05-29. Retrieved 2006-04-04.
Ali Mohamed Case
Ali Mohamed Case
Ali Mohamed has an almost unbelievable resume: Major in the Egyptian Army Special Forces, then Sergeant in the U.S. Army Special Forces at Fort Bragg, long-time al-Qaida operative and trainer of terrorists who bombed the New York World Trade Center, chief of security for Osama bin Laden, CIA agent, FBI informant, and applicant for a Department of Defense security clearance. In addition to being a fascinating tale of intrigue and deception, the Ali Mohamed story has important lessons about vulnerabilities in the personnel security system.
Ali Abdelseoud Mohamed was born in Egypt in 1952. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Alexandria. In testimony after his arrest in 1998, he claimed to have two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree – one of them perhaps from his two years of training at the Egyptian military academy. He joined the Egyptian Army in 1970 or 1971 and rose to the rank of Major in the Special Forces.1
In 1981, the Egyptian Army sent Mohamed to Fort Bragg for 4 months’ training with the U.S. Special Forces. Working alongside Green Berets, he learned unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency operations, and how to command elite soldiers on difficult missions.2,3 After that, he returned to Egypt and served in the Egyptian Army until 1984, when he left to work as a counterterrorism expert for EgyptAir.
Also in 1981, the Egyptian president, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated, largely because he had concluded peace negotiations with Israel. He was assassinated by members of Mohamed’s Special Forces unit who were associated with the fundamentalist group Egyptian Islamic Jihad, of which Mohamed was also a member.1 Since Mohamed was in Fort Bragg at the time, he was not directly involved with the assassination and avoided arrest by Egyptian authorities.3 It is noteworthy, however, that the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad at this time was Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was Mohamed’s spiritual mentor. Later, Egyptian Islamic Jihad gradually merged with al-Qaida, and al-Zawahiri introduced Mohamed to Osama bin Laden. Today, al-Zawahiri is Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in hiding.4
After leaving the Egyptian Army in 1984, Mohamed volunteered his services to the CIA. This was a time when CIA was stepping up its operations against Muslim militants. Terrorists had bombed the American Embassy and Marine barracks in Lebanon in 1983. In March 1984, terrorists linked to Iran-backed Hezbollah kidnapped William F. Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut. It is not known whether Mohamed contacted CIA on his own initiative or on instructions from Egyptian Islamic Jihad to penetrate CIA operations, but the latter explanation appears more likely.
CIA tasked Mohamed to go to Germany and establish contact with the Hezbollah, but within weeks discovered he had told the Hezbollah operatives he was a CIA agent. Thus, CIA considered him untrustworthy. Thinking he might try to reenter the United States, they put Mohamed on the State Department Watch List, which should have prevented him from obtaining a visa. CIA also warned other government agencies about him.1, 5, 6
Immigration to the United States
In the early to mid-1980s, Mohamed’s mentor and head of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, al-Zawahiri, decided to send “sleeper agents” to the United States.5 A sleeper agent is an agent who is planted in a target country or organization but remains inactive until needed for a mission. In 1985, Mohamed did immigrate to the United States as CIA had suspected he would, and it is reasonable to assume that he was at that time an agent for al-Zawahiri. The American Embassy in Cairo issued him a visa even though he was on their Watch List, perhaps because of confusion in the spelling of his name. There are many different ways to transliterate the Arabic name Mohamed into English. 7, 8
Mohamed arrived in the United States in September 1985. On the flight to New York he met a divorcee returning from a vacation in Greece to her home in Santa Clara, CA. Within a few days after his arrival in New York, Mohamed phoned her and then came to Santa Clara. After a six-week courtship, they were married in Reno. With an American wife, he could get a green card and then become a naturalized citizen, an obvious goal for a sleeper agent. Although they lived apart for long periods, she remained loyal, corresponding with Mohamed and visiting him in prison after his arrest in 1998.13
In early 1986, Khalid Abu-al-Dahab, whom Mohamed had recruited into Egyptian Islamic Jihad in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1984, arrived in America. Dahab was from a wealthy family and had been a medical student in Alexandria. He came to the United States on a student visa ostensibly to study medicine, and Mohamed helped him get settled in Santa Clara. Within weeks, he too married an American woman he met through Mohamed’s wife, thus obtaining a green card for permanent residence in the United States.12
New Career in U.S. Army
Mohamed described himself to his wife’s friends as a former Egyptian Army officer who hoped to do intelligence work for the United States.13 After having difficulty finding a job, this 34-year-old former Major, who was well educated and spoke Arabic, Hebrew, French and English, enlisted as a regular soldier in the U.S. Army in 1986. He was assigned to the U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, home of the Green Berets and Delta Force (counterterrorism squad). This is the same place where, five years earlier as an Egyptian Army officer, Mohamed had trained for 4 months. Though officially a supply sergeant, he spent much of his time teaching soldiers about the Middle East in the JFK Special Operations Warfare School. As a naturalized citizen married to an American, Mohamed was eligible for and received a security clearance at the Secret level.9
Mohamed was extremely outspoken about being a fundamentalist Muslim. His commanding officer, Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, recalls Mohamed supporting the assassination of Egyptian President Sadat. He said Sadat was “a traitor and he had to die.”1 In 1988, Mohamed informed Anderson that he was using his leave to fight in the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation. The Afghan war began in 1979 and ended 10 years later; during this time the United States was providing covert funding and military assistance to the mujihadeen, the Muslim guerilla force fighting the Russians.
Assisting the mujihadeen was consistent with U.S. policy at that time, but it was so irregular for an American soldier to fight in a foreign war without authorization that Anderson submitted a report to his supervisors two weeks before Mohamed departed. Anderson told Mohamed not to go, but Mohamed replied that he was going and planned to circumvent the Army’s restrictions by flying to Paris on his American passport and then use other documents to travel to Afghanistan. 6
When Mohamed returned a month later, he boasted of killing two Russian special forces soldiers and brought back their belts as souvenirs, giving one of them to Anderson. Anderson viewed Mohamed as a dangerous fanatic and thought Mohamed should be court-martialed and deported. He submitted a second report, but, like after the first report, got no response. To Anderson, the lack of reaction to his two reports was so incredible that he decided Mohamed must be sponsored by a U.S. intelligence service, probably CIA. 7
However, not everyone agreed with Anderson. The director of Middle East studies at the Army’s Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, believed in Mohamed’s loyalty. The director described Mohamed as “in many, many ways as loyal a soldier as you’d find coming off the farm in the Carolinas or out of New York City.” 6
In retrospect, we now know that Lt. Col. Anderson was correct. During the period 1988-89, Mohamed did betray his new country. While serving in the Army at Fort Bragg, he traveled on weekends to Jersey City, NJ, and to Connecticut to train other Islamic fundamentalists in surveillance, weapons and explosives. His trainees were so impressed with Mohamed's assimilation of American culture that they dubbed him “Abu Mohamed ali Amriki” -- Mohamed the American.1 Telephone records show that while at Fort Bragg and later, Mohamed maintained a very close and active relationship with the Office of Services of the Mujihadeen, in Brooklyn, which at that time was recruiting volunteers and soliciting funds for the jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.2 This was the main recruitment center for the network that, after the Soviets left Afghanistan, became known as al-Qaida.
Mohamed was honorably discharged in November 1989, ironically with a commendation for patriotism, valor, fidelity, and professional excellence. The terrorists Mohamed trained went on to conduct terrorist actions in New York.
Contacts with the FBI, 1989 - 1994
This section discusses what is known about Mohamed's connections with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies during the period 1989 to 1994. The following section describes what Mohamed was doing for al-Qaida during the same time period.
The FBI observed and photographed Mohamed giving weapons training to a group of New York area residents during four successive weekends in July 1989. They drove from the Farouq Mosque in Brooklyn to a shooting range in Calverton, Long Island, and they fired AK-47 assault rifles, semiautomatic handguns and revolvers during what appeared to be training sessions. For reasons that are unknown, the FBI then ceased its surveillance of the group. Peter Lance, author of 1000 Years for Revenge, a book about international terrorism and the beginnings of al-Qaida, contends that the FBI failed to recognize that it was seeing the beginnings of a terrorist network whose members were later involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, plots to bomb bridges and tunnels, and the attacks of September 11. 9
Investigative journalists who have written about this case believe Mohamed became an FBI informant in the early 1990s, but how early is not known. The most likely date seems to be some time in 1993. 2,6 According to Larry C. Johnson, a former deputy director in the State Department Office of Counterterrorism and a former CIA employee, Mohamed was “clearly a double agent…. It’s possible that the FBI thought they had control of him and were trying to use him, but what’s clear is that they did not have control…. The FBI assumed he was their source, but his loyalties lay elsewhere.” 7
One of the terrorists that Mohamed trained was el Sayyid Nosair, who in 1990 shot and killed Meir Kahane, an ulta-Zionist rabbi who headed the militant Jewish Defense League, after he spoke at a public meeting in New York. Nosair had immigrated to the America from Egypt in 1981.10 This was the first al-Qaida-related terrorist attack in the United States.
In a search of Nosair’s home, the police found U.S. Army training manuals, videotaped talks that Mohamed delivered at the JFK Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg, operational plans for joint coalition exercises conducted in Egypt, and other materials marked Classified or Top Secret.1 These documents belonged to Mohamed, who often stayed in New Jersey with Nosair. The documents did not surface during Nosair’s 1991 trial for the Kahane murder. It is not known if the FBI investigated Mohamed in connection with these documents. However, it is logical to assume that some action would be taken after classified documents associated with Mohamed were found in Nosair's apartment. This could have been the first time that Mohamed provided information to the FBI in order to buy protection for his own activities.
In 1992, Mohamed was detained by authorities at the airport in Rome, Italy. His luggage aroused suspicion as it had false compartments. Mohamed assured his interrogators that he was on their side in the war on terrorism, and claimed he was involved in security for the Summer Olympics in Spain.6 Mohamed had a classified Defense Intelligence Agency document in his possession, and Italian authorities reported this to U.S. authorities.16
In early 1993, Mohamed was detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) at the Vancouver, Canada, airport. He had come to the airport to meet an Egyptian who had arrived from Damascus but was found to be carrying two forged Saudi passports. When Mohamed was about to be arrested as well, he told the RCMP he was collaborating with the FBI and gave them a name and phone number to call to confirm this. The RCMP made the call and Mohamed was released immediately at the request of the FBI.11 When the FBI subsequently questioned Mohamed about this incident, he offered information about a ring in California that was selling counterfeit documents to smugglers of illegal aliens.6 This is the earliest hard evidence that is publicly available of Mohamed being an FBI informant.
September 11, 2001, was not the first time the New York World Trade Center was attacked by al-Qaida. In February 1993, the terrorist cell that Mohamed had trained exploded a truck bomb under the World Trade Center that killed six and injured about 1,000 persons. The perpetrators of this bombing included people Mohamed had trained, and Mohamed had been in close contact with the cell during the period leading up to the bombing. Mohamed's name appeared on a list of 118 potential un-indicted co-conspirators that was prepared by federal prosecutors.
Some time after the World Trade Center bombing, Mohamed went to the Sudan to work with bin Laden. In late 1994, while he was in Africa, Mohamed received a phone call from an FBI agent who said he wanted to speak with Mohamed about the upcoming trial of the World Trade Center bombers. Mohamed flew back to the United States and spoke with the FBI. After talking with the FBI, Mohamed was subpoenaed to testify at the upcoming trial, but was not called despite intense interest in his testimony by defense lawyers. He was also not arrested.5 Some years later, after he was arrested, Mohamed testified that in speaking with the FBI he "did not disclose everything I knew" at that time about the World Trade Center bombing. 14
According to government officials interviewed by one journalist, the relationship with the FBI gave Mohamed a de facto shield effectively insulating him from FBI scrutiny for his ties to bin Laden. The relationship also helped protect Mohamed from being scrutinized by other federal agencies. 2
Working for al-Qaida, 1989 - 1994
By 1989, Ayman al-Zawahiri’s militant wing of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad was cooperating closely with Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida. This section discusses Mohamed’s work for al-Qaida during the period 1989 through 1994. As noted above, he was an FBI informant during at least the latter part of this period. Mohamed’s U.S. passport and residence gave him a safe base from which to travel around the world on behalf of bin Laden. He continued his terrorist activities, shuttling between California, Afghanistan, Kenya, Somalia and at least a dozen other countries. Much of the information about this period comes from Mohamed’s own testimony after his arrest in 1999.
After his discharge from the Army in 1989, Mohamed moved back to Santa Clara, CA, his wife’s home town. At that time, Mohamed established a base of operations together with his friend and fellow Egyptian Islamic Jihad member Khalid Abu-al-Dahab.
Beginning in 1990, El-Dahab’s apartment was an important communications hub for al-Qaida and Islamic Jihad cells all over the world. For much of the 1990’s, the Egyptian government cut direct phone links from Egypt to countries like Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan or Pakistan in an effort to disrupt communications between radical militants. One could phone from Egypt to America, however, so Dahab acted as a telephone operator for the Islamic Jihad network, using a three-way calling feature to connect operatives in far-flung countries. 12
In 1991, after the Soviets had withdrawn from Afghanistan, Mohammed went to Afghanistan, met Osama bin Laden, and helped move bin Laden’s operation from Afghanistan to Sudan. In 1992, he conducted military and basic explosives training for al-Qaida in Afghanistan.14 He also taught terrorists how to create cell structures that preserve secrecy and how to move undercover in Western countries. 1
Mohamed set up a cell in Nairobi to support al-Qaida’s activities in Somalia, a country in which the government had collapsed and opposing clans were fighting each other. The United States sent troops to Somalia to bring food to the starving population and try to pacify the country. Mohamed trained Somali clansmen in the months prior to the October 1993 gun battle that has been immortalized in the book and movie Black Hawk Down.1,14 Two U.S helicopters were shot down and 18 U.S. soldiers lost their lives in that battle.
Bin Laden sent Mohamed to Nairobi in late 1993 to surveil American, British, French, and Israeli targets there. The goal was to select targets to retaliate against the United States for its involvement in Somalia. He went to Djibouti on the same type of mission in 1994.14 Also in 1994, bin Laden reportedly sent Mohamed to Algeria to bribe Algerian officials to free an accused terrorist from jail.15
After an attempted assassination of bin Laden in 1994, Mohamed went to Sudan to train bin Laden’s bodyguards. He trained those responsible for security of the interior of the compound, while Sudanese intelligence personnel were responsible for external security. He also did surveillance training for al-Quida.14
Application for Security Clearance
In 1995, Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Sunnyvale, CA, submitted Mohamed for a Secret clearance. He was, at that time, working as a security guard at the front gate and needed a Secret clearance to conduct other duties. The application revealed certain financial and credit issues, so an interim clearance was denied and a Santa Clara DSS investigator was assigned to conduct investigative interviews.16
The investigator discovered, on examining Mohamed’s military discharge papers, that Mohamed had exaggerated his role in the Army. Also, Mohamed’s supervisor at Westinghouse told the investigator that Mohamed had told her that he had some type of affiliation with the FBI. This was interesting, because the previous National Agency Check (NAC) of FBI files had come back with no negative information.
The DSS investigator brought the reported FBI connection to his supervisor. The Santa Clara DSS office maintained a cooperative relationship with the local FBI office, so the investigator’s supervisor called the FBI CI office in Palo Alto, which then called the counterterrorism office in San Francisco. It was at this point that the investigator learned the FBI had information about Mohamed that they were unwilling to disclose. The FBI did advise, however, that they had no active investigation of Mohamed at that time, but that the Egyptian government suspected Mohamed of being involved in the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat. The FBI asked the investigator to continue his investigation and provide the FBI with the results.
The investigator then conducted a subject interview with Mohamed that focused on foreign connections. During two subsequent interviews, Mohamed made no admission of terrorist activity, but the investigator was suspicious of his account and asked if he would be willing to take a polygraph test. Surprisingly, Mohamed agreed immediately. During this December 1995 test, Mohamed admitted to terrorist activity against Israel but not against the United States. When he failed the polygraph, DSS denied the clearance. 16
While the clearance was in process, there were times when Mohamed would call in to work and say he was sick, and no one knew where he was.16 Apparently he continued to travel on missions for al-Qaida during this period.
From 1996 to Arrest and Trial
In May 1996, various circumstances including U.S. diplomatic pressure prompted the Sudanese government to required bin Laden and his entourage of about 150 men, women, and children to leave Sudan. Mohamed was called in to manage security for the move back to Afghanistan.
At some point after bin Laden moved back to Afghanistan, Mohamed and his friend Dahab traveled to Afghanistan to report to bin Laden on their success in recruiting 10 Americans. Bin Laden praised their efforts and emphasized the necessity of recruiting as many Muslims with American citizenship as possible. He wanted to be able to use their American passports to facilitate international travel by al-Qaida personnel. In 1995, Mohamed and Dahab had provided a fake passport and identity documents to al-Zawahiri when he came to the United States for a covert fund-raising tour. He reportedly raised about $500,000, part of which financed the subsequent bombing of the Egyptian Embassy in Pakistan in November of that year. This information comes from Dahab’s confession after he was arrested in Egypt in 1998. 12
After DSS denied his clearance, Mohamed went back to Africa and played a central role in planning the bombing of U.S. Embassies in East Africa.1 In August 1998, Mohamed’s al-Qaida associates succeeded in blowing up our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 and injuring 4,500.
Two weeks after the Africa bombings, FBI agents entered Mohamed’s apartment in Sacramento, CA, where he then lived, and found evidence of terrorist activities. After the bombings, Mohamed arranged to go back to Egypt and then Afghanistan to meet with bin Laden. Before he could leave, however, Mohamed was subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury on September 10, 1998, and was arrested the same day as he planned to leave the country and fly to Egypt. Mohamed later admitted that he lied during the grand jury appearance.14
Mohamed’s arrest was kept secret for eight months. No one knows exactly why, but the conventional wisdom is that prosecutors were trying to cut a deal. That apparently failed as the government indicted him in May 1999 along with four other suspects in the embassy bombings. He was handled differently from the other prisoners, remaining in solitary confinement after the others were allowed to rotate as cellmates. 5, 8
In preparation for Mohamed's trial, the FBI investigator contacted the DSS investigator to arrange for the DSS polygraph operator who tested Mohamed to appear as a witness at the trial. Two days before the trial, the FBI called to advise that this testimony was no longer needed as Mohamed had agreed to plead guilty and was going to receive a life sentence without parole.16 Mohamed and the government struck a deal on October 13, 2000, in which Mohamed pled guilty to five counts of conspiracy.14 He admitted to all the information described above concerning his al-Qaida activities from 1990 to 1994 and his role in planning the bombing of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi and Tanzania.
The trial of others involved in the embassy bombings began in January 2001. Mohamed had been expected to be a key government witness against his four co-conspirators, but—for reasons unknown—he never took the stand.8 Larry Johnson, the former State Department counterterrorism official, reportedly believes the government kept Mohamed off the stand because his testimony would have unearthed material extremely embarrassing to the government.1 Mohamed’s plea agreement with the government remains secret. As far as we can determine, there has been no public announcement of his sentence. There is speculation that he disappeared into a witness protection program.3 According to the DSS investigator, however, Mohamed is presently serving a life sentence without possibility of parole.16
Reflections on Ali Mohamed as a Person
One journalist who specializes in reporting on terrorist activities says that those who knew Ali Mohamed regarded him “with fear and awe for his incredible self-confidence, his inability to be intimidated, absolute ruthless determination to destroy the enemies of Islam, and his zealous belief in the tenets of militant Islamic fundamentalism.”2 Another source close to Mohamed described him as “quiet, easy-going,” but “very charismatic.” To another source familiar with Mohamed’s life in Egypt, his enlistment in the U.S. Army and subsequent overtures to FBI and CIA were not a surprise. “He just liked that kind of stuff—the danger, the intrigue. That’s what he did in Egypt for 20 years.” 3
An example of Mohamed’s self-confidence was his immediate willingness to take a polygraph test on the occasion of his 1995 application for a security clearance. The DSS investigators believe he accepted with enthusiasm what he perceived as the challenge of participating in such a test. In the end, this self-confidence was mistaken, for he failed the test and did not receive a clearance.
A fellow soldier who was in training with Mohamed for three months described him as quiet, but with a ferocious temper and very religious. During training, Mohamed constantly compared the U.S. military with the Egyptian military, and always found the American military wanting. It seemed weird for Mohamed to be in the enlisted ranks when he had so much training, and it also seemed odd for him to be in the U.S. military and have so much hate toward the United States. He never referred to America as his country.1
From a personnel security perspective, the Mohamed case offers several lessons. The first is how easy it is for a personnel security investigation to miss a huge amount of very relevant adverse information about terrorist activity. If Mohamed had not had minor credit problems, he would have been granted a Secret clearance with no questions asked.
Thanks to the credit issue, investigative interviews were required, and one interview determined that Mohamed had once mentioned to his supervisor that he had some affiliation with the FBI. A less conscientious investigator, or an investigator under pressure to work faster to reduce a backlog of investigations, might have limited the investigation to the identified credit issue, or might have assumed that an "affiliation" with the FBI was favorable and not even reported it. It was only because the DSS investigators in the case took the initiative to discuss the case with their office supervisor, and the office had cultivated good relations with the local FBI office, that the story of Ali Mohamed began to unravel. 16
Today, with concern focused on the terrorist threat, local FBI offices and other law enforcement agencies are increasingly developing and indexing intelligence and investigative records on elements of the local Muslim community whose sympathies are questionable. These intelligence and investigative files may show, for example, if the subject of investigation is suspected of terrorist associations or sympathies, associates with persons who are under suspicion, or if the individual has attended "religious" education classes conducted by a radical fundamentalist. There are, however, still pitfalls that might cause such information to not be reported in response to a NAC. Confusion in the spelling of Arabic names is one problem. Another is the burden of additional work required when the FBI record does not have a positive identifier such as date of birth or Social Security number. On some occasions, withholding of information may be required for protection of the FBI source.
The Mohamed case also shows how easily even a top-level terrorist can operate in the United States. Presumably that is more difficult now than when Mohamed was active. However, the story of Mohamed's dual roles as bin Laden terrorist and FBI informant illustrates the problems still facing U.S. intelligence services as they attempt to penetrate terrorist groups in the United States and abroad.
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