Writing Blind or Turning a Blind Eye? The Confused World of Amy Zegart

I recently had the misfortune to read Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI, and the Origins of 9/11 by Amy Zegart. I have to say it is the very worst book I have ever read abut 9/11. It was even worse than this one, which, as you can appreciate, is difficult, and it was way, way worse than this one, this one and this FBI press release. I haven’t read this one yet, and I anticipate it will be a lot, lot worse even than Zegart’s attempt, but you never know.

Basically, Zegart takes the 9/11 Commission’s no-fault thesis to the nth degree by claiming the whole thing was systemic failure and holding no individual accountable for his or her failures.

Here are a typical couple of paragraphs of dreck, about the FBI's search for Almihdhar and Alhazmi:

Culture also played an important role. It turns out that the FBI analyst who requested the manhunt actually believed the matter had some urgency. She was so worried about finding Almihdhar, in fact that she called an agent in New York’s bin Laden squad to alert him even before finishing her formal request. This was something she had never done before.14 A few days later, she sent him an e-mail urging, “I… want to get this going as soon as possible.”15 In addition, when another counterterrorism agent pressed to have the manhunt opened as a full-scale, high priority criminal investigation, she explicitly considered the matter and sought legal advice. Yet she ultimately assigned the manhunt the lowest possible priority: a “routine” intelligence case. Why?

The answer lies in pervasive attitudes and beliefs, not individual errors. Like nearly all FBI officials, the analyst believed that criminal investigations—which are designed to solve past crimes—took precedence over intelligence investigations designed to gather information about future attacks. After September 11, the analyst told Justice Department officials that although she considered finding Almihdhar to be important, this investigation was “no bigger” than any other intelligence investigation at the time.16 Good instincts led the analyst to take unusual steps to expedite the search, but old attitudes prevailed: when pressed to prioritize the manhunt relative to the bureau’s traditional law enforcement work, she put down “routine.”

Those knowledgeable of the issues will have identified in this passage Dina Corsi (the FBI analyst), Craig Donnachie (the bin Laden squad agent) and Steve Bongardt (the other counterterrorism agent). Having read the relevant sources, Zegart knows who these people are, but, with the exception of a walk-on part for Bongardt in an end note late in the book, she doesn’t trouble her readers with them. This means that unless you have read all of Zegart’s sources five times yourself, you can’t tell that some of the same people are involved in multiple failures.

You can also only marvel at Zegart’s description of Corsi’s actions. Zegart has her charging hard to get the case started, but it took her a week to send the five-page lead to New York, so how much did she really want it? And your jaw can only drop in wonder at Zegart’s explanation for Corsi giving the lead routine precedence. As Zegart must know, Almihdhar and Alhazmi were being sought as material witnesses in the Cole bombing investigation, which was actually a past crime, having occurred the previous October. This, in Zegart’s world, should mean that the investigation gets a high priority, but Zegart keeps this from her readers, giving them the impression the two men were being sought for some other reason.

There are also three things startling by their absence here. One is the complete absence of Tom Wilshire, referred to variously and vaguely throughout the book, but never by name and never by an alias readers can keep track off. Zegart cites The Looming Tower repeatedly, so she must know who he is, but she isn’t telling her readers. Second, in the whole of the discussion of the failed hunt for Almihdhar the two things conspicuous by their entire absence from the book are the NSA’s permission to share its intelligence on Almihdhar and Alhazmi with Bongardt and other criminal agents and Sherry Sabol’s alleged (and probably fabricated) opinion that Bongardt could not be present at an interview of Almihdhar if the FBI did find him. Why does Zegart miss them out? We don’t know, but we do know that they are pretty powerful evidence of intentional wrongdoing by Corsi, and that if you wanted to write a book claiming systemic failure was the main cause of 9/11, you’d better leave them out.

Here’s another couple of paragraphs of the same, this time about the shouting match meeting and the run-up to it:

That same month, another CIA official had the chance to disclose information about the plot to an FBI counterpart but did not. The CIA official, an analyst who was trying to identify someone else in US custody in connection with the Cole bombing, showed an FBI Intelligence Operations Specialist a picture of Almihdhar but said nothing about the fact that the picture had been taken at a meeting with Khallad, that Almihdhar held a US visa, or that he might travel to the United States.

On June 11, the same CIA analyst met with FBI agents from the New York field office who were investigating the Cole case. The New York agents were also shown copies of Almihdhar’s photo. But they were told only his name. One of the New York agents pressed for more information, asking, “Why were you looking at this guy? You couldn’t have been following everybody… What was the reason behind this?” He didn’t get an answer. The CIA analyst said that the information could not be passed, but might be shared in the days and weeks to come. It wasn’t despite repeated inquiries by the FBI agent.

Let’s take the errors here one by one.

First, like I said earlier, in order to understand what went on, you really have to name the players involved. If you don’t do this, you don’t understand that the same people are involved in multiple failures on multiple occasions and that Wilshire is involved in pretty much all of them.

Second, the “CIA official, an analyst" Zegart refers to is Clark Shannon. However, he did not show the FBI Intelligence Operations Specialist, Corsi, the photo of Almihdhar. Zegart cites two sources for the claim it was Shannon that showed the photo to Corsi, the Congressional Inquiry report and the staff statement read by Eleanor Hill on 20 September 2002. Neither of these sources say what Zegart claims they say. The correct source is the Justice Department inspector general's report, which clearly states it was Wilshire who showed the photo to Corsi.

Third, the “someone else in US custody in connection with the Cole bombing” was Fahad al-Quso, who, I trust, would be surprised to learn he was ever in US custody. The Yemeni authorities who held him would have been equally surprised, as would the bureau.

Fourth, the New York agents were not only told Almihdhar’s name at the 11 June meeting. They were also told he was travelling on a Saudi passport, which you can also learn from the DoJ IG report or the relevant entry in the 9/11 Timeline.

Fifth, CIA analyst Shannon did not say that the information might be passed, Corsi said that. Zegart cites an “unidentified FBI agent” testifying before the Congressional Inquiry on 20 September 2002 for this (and she knows this is Bongardt). The testimony makes it clear that Corsi, not Shannon said she would try to get the information passed.

So, in one paragraph Zegart confuses Shannon with Wilshire and in the next she confuses him with Corsi. Way to go.

This has already been a long post, so just one more example:

The FBI’s decentralized field office structure proved even more crippling. Within a seven-week period, three different field offices uncovered leads to the plot. Phoenix identified a connection between bin Laden and flight schools, Minneapolis arrested a suspicious jihadist who wanted to fly 747s, and New York began searching for two suspected al-Qaeda operatives. Because of the autonomous field office structure, however, none of the agents working these cases knew about the others,54 and most of the FBI’s fifty-three other field offices didn’t either…

Zegart repeats this over and over throughout the book like a mantra. However, it is so obviously untrue that even she has to add a sort-of disclaimer. If you turn to endnote 55, this is what you get:

The Phoenix memo reached some officials in the New York field office and was forwarded to the Portland Office, which took no action. No other field offices received it. The Moussaoui investigation was known by a handful of headquarters officials and some agents in the bureau’s Oklahoma City field office who had been dispatched to Airman Flight School, which Moussaoui had previously attended…

The problem here is that Rita Flack, an FBI headquarters employee, worked on the Moussaoui case and read the Phoenix memo, Jack Cloonan, a New York agent, was involved in the hunt for Almihdhar and Alhazmi and was also the main NY agent to whom the Phoenix memo was forwarded, and Wilshire was the senior manager involved in the hunt for Almihdhar and Alhazmi, and also the most senior official fully involved (not counting Michael Rolince’s bit part) in the Moussaoui case. (And while we are at it HQ employee Jennifer Maitner worked on the Phoenix memo and President Bush’s August 6 PDB). The sources Zegart cites state this repeatedly, and she must know it.

I guess a well-paid lawyer could argue that agents that were working on the cases did not know of the other cases. After all, Flack’s technical job title was intelligence operations specialist, not agent, and Wilshire was a manager. In addition, Cloonan didn’t work on the manhunt, he just supervised it.

On the other hand, I’m not a well-paid lawyer, so I call this “pulling a fast one on your readers” and have no choice but to give her a Hayden for honesty. Whatever you do, don’t read this book, it is completely worthless.

P.S. I just have to add this. One thing that is remarkable is the near-total absence of National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice from the book. One would have thought that the National Security Advisor at the time of the attacks was a key figure in the interagency process whose conduct should be analysed in detail. However Rice, whose performance has been criticised by just about everybody except her staunchest supporters, only gets two mentions in the book: on page 6 she takes a pop at the Clinton administration and on page 109 she says she thought the FBI had it under control. You can certainly criticize, say, the 9/11 Commission’s treatment of Rice, but at least they mentioned most of the important events that involved her (except this one, of course). So what explains Zegart’s lack of interest in Rice? This does (second sentence, third paragraph). The Wayback Machine is so useful, isn't it? Incidentally, here's a current version of the same page where the offending reference has been airbrushed out.

Originally posted here.


I went to Amazon.com and didn't see a review of this book by you. I hope you will post this blog on Amazon right away. We need to spread the word about bogus disinformation whenever we can. Great analysis.

I, too, hope Kevin will post his review at Amazon

I, too, hope Kevin will post his review at Amazon- in the meantime, i posted a review based on things he'd pointed out, and linked to his:

Zegart has written a book about 9/11 that blames it on institutional failings not people. She does this despite referencing sources that show key people, such as Dina Corsi (FBI) and Tom Wilshire (CIA) at the heart of multiple key failures- some of which she cites, but usually without mentioning their names, or examining their role. In her book she mentions Condoleezza Rice twice- once in reference to Rice putting the blame on the FBI, the other putting blame on the Clinton administration. No mention is made of GW Bush abolishing the "existing system of Interagency Working Groups" Feb 2001, putting Rice in charge of coordinating the flow of info, and revoking the right of "heads of other executive departments and agencies, as well as other senior officials" to attend NSC meetings. [...]

So what's going on here? Is this simply shoddy research? Political or career calculus? An attempt to disinform the public and promote a mythical narrative that serves an agenda?

The '9/11' myth about 'Al Qaeda (and no one else) attacked us' serves the agenda of those who used the attacks and the shift in public and Congressional opinion to massively fund the military-industrial complex, establish a domestic surveillance state and justify wars in geo-strategic nations that had nothing to do with the attacks. These are the same people who had received numerous warnings signs (including from at least 11 other nations) about an impending Al Qaeda plot, including info pointing to planes targeting US cities, who knew Al Qaeda operatives were in the US- and did nothing to disrupt the plot, harden security or warn the American people. Zegart does not critically examine 9/11 in this context, but the public record is available for anyone to research. The amount of public information that contradicts and disproves the official 9/11 narrative continues to grow, and it is continually being collected and organized at The Complete 9/11 Timeline [...]

One more thing that gives some insight on Zegart: as recently as June 2007, her bio at UCLA noted that "she studied under Condoleezza Rice" and "served as a foreign policy advisor to the Bush-Cheney 2000 presidential campaign". [...]

For some reason, this information is no longer part of her bio as of this writing: [...]

Also, see this review of Zegart's book by Kevin Fenton, for more detail on some of her egregious and inexcusable omissions and distortions:
Writing Blind or Turning a Blind Eye? The Confused World of Amy Zegart


Corrupted & Conflicted Minds Think Alike

I hope you bought this worthless book used at a substantial discount (I think I’ll wait for this one to hit the Amazon $0.01 price before I add it to my 9/11 library). Out of curiosity, is Zegart related to Zelikow, maybe it has something to do with the delusional and corrupted minds of people whose last names begin with “Z”? Zegart is definitely doing her part in helping perpetuate the 9/11 myth as created by the Zelikow Commission. For those who did not check out Kevin’s links below, Zegart studied under Condoleeza Rice at Stanford University, explaining her omission of Rice in any of the 9/11 failures and her adherence to Rice’s close personal friend Zelikow’s 9/11 myth. What a cozy little group of friends and colleagues who have contributed so significanlty to the failures and cover-ups of the 9/11 false flag attacks.

What a Zelikow type deception that Zegart purposely omits individuals’ names who were involved in multiple intelligence failures, how else can she (and the 9/11 Commission who “sometimes” uses aliases) substantiate her ingenuous claim of systematic failure. Zegart’s outright misstatement of many other facts is also a joke, are there any UCLA political science blogs that you could post this great critique to, it might be nice for her students and peers to see how biased and misinformed Zegart really is (Whit has a great idea posting this critique to the Amazon book review, which by the way only has 11 other reviews)?

Debunking these “so called” scholarly writings from conflicted and truth bending individuals who try to spread the lies and myths created by the Zelikow Commission is a worthy and important cause. Another great job by Kevin for exposing the frauds for who and what they really are.

Lastly, another great review of Zegart's book could be found at the following link by ex-CIA counterterrorism officer and author, Paul Pillar:


A couple of interesting observations made by Pillar are as follows:

"Most of the emperical errors in Zegart's analysis of 9/11 related intelligence stem from her extremely heavy reliance on postmortem inquiries, especially the 9/11 Commission report. In fact, much of Spying Blind is little more than a repackaging of that report."

Pillar's review also discusses how the 9/11 Commission equated the intelligence community's strategic analysis with only one type of report (presumably CIA PDB's) and brushed aside numerous other finished assessments in other formats. To this point, Pillar adds:

"The intelligence community used other channels in addition to regular written assessments to convey to policymakers a strategic view of the Jihadist threat. These included briefings of the most senior officials; special memos from the CIA Director; countless discussions in the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group chaired by the NSC's Richard Clarke; and the assessment of covert-action findings. But the 9/11 Commission never mentioned the use of these channels, and so neither does Zegart."

Indeed, it might be very interesting for the American public to know exeactly what was conveyed to policymakers in these other forms of terrorism assessments and why the 9/11 Commission did not investigate and report on them.

It should be noted the MFR's with the officials involved

are still classified. These records were turned over to NARA in '04! Simply stated, the intel agencies are sitting on these records. One would think that is a rather important detail to take into consideration. And the public has never heard from many of the key intel agents. Either the media isn't interested or they are willingly to comply with government secrecy requests. Evidently the media doesn't care that national security classification procedures are being abused to protect corrupt officials. Or that the secrecy helped justify the use of torture and domestic spying.