The Inside Information That Could Have Stopped 9/11
Good confirmation of the presence of CIA Minders during commission interviews.
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By: By Jeff Stein / January 14, 2015 9:24 AM EST
Just before Christmas, former FBI special agent Mark Rossini greeted me with his usual good cheer when we met for drinks in a midtown Manhattan restaurant. He told me his life had finally taken a turn for the better. He’s spending most of his time in Switzerland, where he works for a private global corporate-security firm. “Life’s good,” he said.
Good, but with a few major changes. Rossini was drinking club soda instead of the expensive cabernets he quaffed when I first knew him as a high-flying FBI official in Washington a decade ago, when he was a special assistant to the bureau’s chief spokesman, John Miller (now with the New York City Police Department). “I’ve cut back,” he said. “Feeling good.”
But when I ask him how he’s really doing, the light in his eyes dims. “Well, you know, I still miss the job,” he said, shaking his head. A boneheaded move—showing confidential FBI documents to his actress-flame Linda Fiorentino, who said she was researching a script about L.A. wiretapper extraordinaire Anthony Pellicano—cost him his career in 2008 and nearly landed him in jail.
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“What’s past is past,” he said. But not all of it. He quickly told me of an encounter the day before on a street in Yonkers, where he keeps an apartment. He’d run into a close family friend who’d lost relatives at the World Trade Center on 9/11. “Mark,” she told him, “you’ve got to get to the bottom of this.”
“She says that every time I see her,” he said, his mouth turning down. But now, at 53, six years out of the bureau, he’s making a determined effort to do just that—to close some of the gaping holes in the official 9/11 narrative, which blames the attacks on a vague “intelligence failure.”
Rossini is well placed to do just that. He’s been at the center of one of the enduring mysteries of 9/11: Why the CIA refused to share information with the FBI (or any other agency) about the arrival of at least two well-known Al-Qaeda operatives in the United States in 2000, even though the spy agency had been tracking them closely for years.
That the CIA did block him and Doug Miller, a fellow FBI agent assigned to the “Alec Station,” the cover name for CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, from notifying bureau headquarters about the terrorists has been told before, most notably in a 2009 Nova documentary on PBS, “The Spy Factory.” Rossini and Miller related how they learned earlier from the CIA that one of the terrorists (and future hijacker), Khalid al-Mihdhar, had multi-entry visas on a Saudi passport to enter the United States. When Miller drafted a report for FBI headquarters, a CIA manager in the top-secret unit told him to hold off. Incredulous, Miller and Rossini had to back down. The station’s rules prohibited them from talking to anyone outside their top-secret group.
All these years later, Rossini still regrets complying with that command. If he had disobeyed the gag order, the nearly 3,000 Americans slaughtered on 9/11 would probably still be alive. “This is the pain that never escapes me, that haunts me each and every day of my life,” he wrote in the draft of a book he shared with me. “I feel like I failed, even though I know it was the system and the intelligence community on the whole that failed.”
‘I Finally Broke Down’
The various commissions and internal agency reviews that examined the “intelligence failure” of 9/11 blamed institutional habits and personal rivalries among CIA, FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) officials for preventing them from sharing information. Out of those reviews came the creation of a new directorate of national intelligence, which stripped the CIA of its coordinating authority. But blaming “the system” sidesteps the issue of why one CIA officer in particular, Michael Anne Casey, ordered Rossini’s cohort, Miller, not to alert the FBI about al-Mihdhar. Or why the CIA’s Alec Station bosses failed to alert the FBI—or any other law enforcement agency—about the arrival of Nawaf al-Hazmi, another key Al-Qaeda operative (and future hijacker) the agency had been tracking to and from a terrorist summit in Malaysia.
Because Casey remains undercover at the CIA, Rossini does not name her in his unfinished manuscript. But he wrote, “When I confronted this person...she told me that ‘this was not a matter for the FBI. The next al-Qaeda attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia and their visas for America are just a diversion. You are not to tell the FBI about it. When and if we want the FBI to know about it, we will.’”
Rossini recalled going to Miller’s cubicle right after his conversation with Casey. “He looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.… We were both stunned and could not understand why the FBI was not going to be told about this.”
It remains a mystery. None of the post-9/11 investigating bodies were able to get to the bottom of it, in part because Rossini and Miller, who continued to work at Alec Station after the attacks, didn’t tell anyone what happened there. When congressional investigators came sniffing around, they kept their mouths shut.
“We were told not to say anything to them,” Rossini said. Who told you that? I asked. “The CIA. I can’t name names. It was just understood in the office that they were not to be trusted, that [the congressional investigators] were trying to pin this on someone, that they were trying to put someone in jail. They said [the investigators] weren’t authorized to know what was going on operationally.… When we were interviewed, the CIA had a person in the room, monitoring us.”
As a result, Rossini wasn’t interviewed by the subsequent 9/11 Commission, either. “Based on that interview, I guess the 9/11 Commission [which followed up the congressional probe] thought I didn’t have anything worthy to say.” He kept his secret, he said, from the Justice Department’s inspector general as well. “I was still in shock,” he added, and still fearful of violating Alec Station’s demand for omerta. Finally, when his own agency—the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR)—came to him in late 2004, after the congressional probe and 9/11 Commission had issued their reports, he opened up.