Last week, we shared the story of former FBI agent Mark Rossini. The CIA ordered him not to alert FBI headquarters that a known al Qaeda operative—and future 9/11 hijacker—had obtained a multi-entry U.S. travel visa. This week, we share Rossini’s views on the 28 pages, the 9/11 Commission Report and claims of Iranian ties to 9/11.
“It’s a disgrace that they haven’t been released.”
Mark Rossini, the veteran FBI agent and whistleblower who was assigned to the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, says 28 pages detailing foreign government ties to the 9/11 hijackers should be declassified, and that the continued secrecy flies in the face of the American system of government.
“We’re a government of the people, for the people and by the people. The Constitution starts with the word ‘we.’ It’s not ‘we the government’ and ‘you the people,’ its ‘we’ and in a sense that document is ours. And we have every right as American citizens to see that document,” says Rossini.
The 28 pages are said to implicate the Saudi Arabia, and Rossini says the cover-up is part of the U.S. government’s practice of shielding the kingdom from embarrassment.
“What are we afraid of? It’s all about that black ooze coming out of the ground. If it weren’t for that black ooze, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Preventing that embarrassment is sadly more important (to the government) than 3,000 people dead and the families,” Rossini says.
What the Saudis Knew
While Rossini believes the 28 pages will demonstrate that prominent Saudis provided financial and logistical support to al Qaeda, he doesn’t think those Saudi benefactors knew about the specifics of the 9/11 plot.
“The way al Qaeda operates and in particular Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—in his operations, secrecy and operational security were paramount, so there’s no way the people that are in the report knew that an operation to attack America was going on,” says Rossini.
That’s not, however, an exoneration. “In my mind, what the report does show is that prominent Saudis contribute to organizations that they know, deep in their heart, engage in activity that is not gentle,” he says.
Government Withholding Important Evidence
In July, attorneys for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia asked Judge George Daniels to drop them from a lawsuit pressed against them by 9/11 victims, family members and insurers—for lack of evidence. His decision is expected by the end of the year.
“As I tweeted when that happened, the very evidence the plaintiffs want is in the 28 pages. So Judge Daniels is saying to them, ‘I’m going to drop the Saudis out of the lawsuit because you can’t prove what you want to prove.’ Well, your honor, the proof is in the damn 28 pages you’re blocking,” Rossini says.
The very evidence Judge Daniels requires, is in the sealed 28 Pages. Sadly ironic. The proof plaintiffs need is what is being blocked.
Rossini suggested Daniels could take an aggressive stance in the name of justice, ordering the government to release the 28 pages: “Now, the government (would) fight it, but it would be a victory on many, many levels. He would go down in history as a great man.”
The very same Judge Daniels who controls the near-term fate of the suit against Saudi Arabia previously issued a summary judgment against Iran for its supposed connections to September 11. Iran did not respond to the complaint.
The judgment against Iran has been ridiculed by many observers, and Rossini—who was one of the founding executives of the National Counterterrorism Center and who provided daily threat matrix briefings to the CIA director and senior leadership—emphatically joined the chorus of criticism.
“The Iranian judgment is just totally, totally delusional. I will say this and you can print this in bold.” Pausing repeatedly to hammer home each word, Rossini continues, “Iran had nothing…nothing…nothing…nothing…nothing to do with 9/11. And it just outrages me that people say this. It is beyond comprehension. To connect Iran to 9/11—all you’re doing is placing blame on another regime because you know they have money and they’re an easy target and everybody hates them.”
9/11 Commission Report: “I have no words that are fit to print”
The 9/11 Commission Report was also the subject of Rossini’s ire—especially this passage at the end of the fifth chapter: “To date, the U.S. government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks. Ultimately the question is of little practical significance.”
28Pages.org read the passage to Rossini and asked him, as a former FBI agent and thinking about how crimes are investigated, what he thought of it.
“I have no words that are fit to print regarding that statement. That’s just despicable. It flies in the face of logic, it’s an insult and an embarrassment—I’m actually standing in my kitchen and I can’t come up with the proper words to address that other than utter disbelief and shame and embarrassment,” Rossini says.
He continues, forcefully, “If I was still an FBI supervisor, I would say to the agent writing that to me, ‘Are you crazy? What is your job in life? What are you supposed to do for a living? You’re supposed to investigate and find the answer to that. That’s the foundation and fundamental root of every single financial trial, every case we do. Where did the money come from?'”
“How do you write that statement with a straight face? It’s all about protecting the regime. Further evidence (that it’s about) not embarrassing King Salman, because he might get upset and he might turn the spigot off,” Rossini says.
To Rossini, however, transparency for the American people and justice for 9/11 families and victims should take the highest priority: “Let the chips fall where they may. Release the 28 pages. Let King Salman wriggle in his robes a little bit and get upset. Let the truth out there. Let it hang. Let’s see what happens.”
In 2000, then-FBI agent Mark Rossini was a witness to perhaps the most disastrous and consequential incident in the history of the U.S. intelligence community—one he believes is ultimately the only reason why al Qaeda was able to kill 2,977 people on September 11, 2001 and unleash a chain of worldwide aftershocks that continue to this day.
Rossini told 28Pages.org about the CIA’s intentional obstruction of a warning about a future 9/11 hijacker, and the agency secret that he thinks lies behind it.
By Brian P. McGlinchey
In January 2000, Mark Rossini and Doug Miller were FBI agents with an unusual assignment: They worked in the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, code-named “Alec Station.”
That month, the CIA learned that known Al Qaeda terrorist Khalid al-Midhar—who had been linked to a pair of devastating attacks on U.S. embassies in Africa and who had just attended a terrorist summit in Malaysia—had obtained a multi-entry visa enabling him to travel to the United States.
To alert his FBI superiors that a known “bad actor” was now equipped to travel to the homeland—the FBI’s jurisdiction—Miller dutifully drafted a Central Intelligence Report, or CIR. To the astonishment of Miller and Rossini, however, the message was stopped in its tracks.
A CIA supervisor, responding via the computer system that managed the flow of CIRs, wrote: “pls hold off on CIR for now per Tom Wilshire.” Wilshire was Alec Station’s deputy chief.
Bewildered and alarmed, given what was at stake, Miller turned to Rossini who, as the senior of the two, took it upon himself to follow up with the supervisor. In his interview with 28Pages.org, Rossini would not name this person—whose name is still considered classified—and instead referred to her using the pseudonym “Michelle.” Elsewhere, however, it’s been reported that the CIA supervisor was a woman named Michael Anne Casey.
In a heated exchange, Rossini says Casey told him, “You are not to tell the FBI about it. When and if we want the FBI to know about it, we will.”
Had the FBI been alerted, Rossini says, “(FBI counter-terror chief) John O’Neill would have assembled a whole team to come to the agency and demanded a meeting and ask how do you know about this information, why do you know about this information, and for how long?”
The questions would have been followed by decisive action. “If they come here, we’re going to follow them and put them on every watch list, put them in a computer system, tickler the NSA because the NSA monitors all their travel and tickets and everything. They’re coming to America? Great. We’ll have people there that day to follow them in America,” he says. Given such scrutiny, it seems likely the broader plot could have been detected and foiled.
But because of Wilshire’s directive and its enforcement by Casey, none of that happened. Instead, on September 11, al-Midhar helped hijack American Airlines Flight 77, which struck the Pentagon and killed 64 people on the aircraft and 125 on the ground.
The CIA incident—and the thought of what would have happened if he or Doug had disobeyed the order—has weighed heavily on Rossini ever since.
Today, Rossini is a man on a mission—a mission to expose what he believes was an illegal CIA operation that was the reason for the agency’s interference: “I’m trying to prove circumstantially, for the rest of my life, there was a recruitment op that went bad.”
Rossini is convinced that the CIA, in an effort to get more information on al Qaeda, was trying to recruit al-Midhar or, less likely, his close associate, Nawaf al-Hazmi—in other words, to turn one or both of them into a source that would share the terror organization’s secrets. Doing so on U.S. soil without consulting the FBI is prohibited. Bush counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke, who was also kept in the dark, embraces the same theory.
More Suspicious Behavior…and a Cover-Up
According to a revealing 2011 story by Rory O’Connor and Ray Nowosielski in Salon, although Casey prevented Miller and Rossini from alerting the FBI, she sent out a message—or cable, in CIA parlance—to others in the CIA saying the FBI had been notified. And she sent that message two days before the heated conversation with Rossini.
Casey’s supervisor, identified by O’Connor and Nowosielski as Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, would later tell investigators working for the 2002 joint congressional intelligence inquiry into 9/11 that she had personally delivered al-Midhar’s visa information to FBI headquarters, a statement proven false when the investigators checked the FBI visitor log.
That congressional inquiry, a precursor to the 9/11 Commission, is the same one that produced the famously classified, 28-page chapter documenting foreign government ties to 9/11.
Rossini says that, before the inquiry’s investigators arrived, the word was put out: “You’re not to talk about anything going on here. Those (joint inquiry investigators) are not cleared to know about the operations going on here, so just keep your mouth shut. No one said ‘lie,’ but it was put in my head that they’re after somebody to put in jail. And I wasn’t allowed to have an attorney present,” says Rossini.
While Rossini didn’t have an attorney, someone else was present in the interview: A CIA monitor, taking notes. “Every question I was asked, she would just look at me in the eye and stare at me while I talked,” says Rossini, whose repeated responses of “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember” made for a very brief discussion: “Maybe 15 minutes at most.”
Looking back now and asked to characterize the CIA’s approach to the joint inquiry, Rossini replies, “Obstruction. And fear. An assurance that questions would just hit roadblocks.” Those roadblocks were so effective that the 9/11 Commission skipped Miller and Rossini altogether.
It wasn’t until the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) conducted its own 9/11 inquiries—with an assurance that participants needn’t worry about being prosecuted, found civilly liable or losing their jobs—that Rossini finally felt comfortable fully exposing the CIA’s stifling of the warning about al-Midhar.
The OPR interviews took place in a conference room filled with executives and staff members. “We came in one by one, and you sat at the end of the table. It was like a Senate hearing and they peppered you with questions.” Rossini was near one of seven audio recorders arrayed around the table. The FBI’s assistant director of OPR, Candice Will, was seated next to him.
Then came the question he yearned to answer: “Mark, why do you think Doug’s memo didn’t go?”
“I can be a little cheeky,” says Rossini. “I tapped the recorder and looked at Candice Will in the eye and said, ‘This thing on?’ She smiled and said ‘yes’ and I said, ‘Well, let me tell you a little story…'”
The Unasked, Unanswered Question: “Why Did You Write That?”
Though Rossini has told his story, what’s missing, he says, is the rationale behind the message that halted Miller’s CIR: “pls hold off for now on CIR per Tom Wilshire.”
“No one’s ever drilled down on the person who wrote it and found out why. Not to my knowledge. The 9/11 Commission certainly didn’t do it,” says Rossini. “We need to know why she wrote that, and why (Tom Wilshire) told her to tell that to Doug. And what was said between those two people. The answer to that is the reason 9/11 happened. No other issue. No other thing.”
“Tell me why. Why you hold off on sending a CIR to the FBI that evil people that you took the time and effort to follow halfway around the globe, you hold off on telling the bureau that they have visas to come to the USA. There’s no logical reason. None, other than they wanted to recruit somebody or try to and they didn’t want the FBI in the form of John O’Neill messing up their operation and they didn’t want the FBI to cause embarrassment to the Saudi regime.”
Rossini said that, to protect Saudi Arabia from embarrassment, the CIA and its Saudi Arabian counterparts had something of a gentleman’s agreement—one that can help explain why the CIA wouldn’t want the FBI to know a prominent al-Qaeda member was poised to travel to the United States.
“(Former CIA officer) Bruce Reidel says that, essentially, the U.S. government had an agreement with the Saudi GID—the General Intelligence Directorate, their version of a combined FBI/CIA—that if and when we identify wayward Saudis around the globe, boys that had lost their moral compass, if you will, rather than embarrassing the regime and arresting them with big splashy headlines like we’re prone to do, we would get them back home to be reprogrammed. Or—we use the term in the FBI—‘rechromed,”’ said Rossini. “If you screw up in the FBI, they’ll send you to headquarters for two years to be rechromed, and you come out like a fresh new Cadillac.”
The kingdom’s extreme fear of embarrassment—which Rossini says flows from its self-perceived position as the promoter of pure Islam and the keeper of the religion’s two holiest sites—obstructed the FBI before, in the wake of the 1996 bombing of a housing complex in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 U.S. servicemembers.
“This all ties in to Khobar Towers and the FBI trying to go over there and interview the people and the Saudis executed them before they even got a chance to talk to them. Because they don’t want to be embarrassed,” says Rossini. “‘You can’t interview them, they’re dead.'”
“In my opinion, I think the person that was most logically recruited or intended to be recruited was Khalid al-Midhar, for the simple reason that he had a wife and children back in Yemen. Remember, he was allowed to go back home, get a new passport and come back to America,” says Rossini.
Connecting that CIA-GID understanding to his circumstantial case against the CIA, Rossini continued, “So when Khalid al-Midhar was identified, rather than making a big splashy headline, rather than letting my colleague’s memo go to the FBI and have John O’Neill and us go follow him and then maybe arrest him, the CIA said let him be rechromed, let him go back home to Yemen to see his wife, let him go get a new passport. And in that passport they put a chip or a code identifying him as someone who is to be watched.”
Rossini says the CIA’s feelings about O’Neill figured heavily in the agency’s behavior. “They feared John O’Neill being a loose cannon because they hated O’Neill and they feared O’Neill and they thought wrongly of O’Neill. And they feared O’Neill going in and arresting them and embarrassing the Saudis,” he says.
In a terrible twist, O’Neill was killed on September 11 in New York City, where he served as chief of security for the World Trade Center after leaving the FBI.
The CIA may also have realized they would likely clash on priorities. “The bureau, first of all, would never have given a damn about recruiting them. The first thing the bureau would have done is follow them. And monitor them and get a FISA and then maybe try to recruit them,” says Rossini.
Eventually, the CIA and FBI would talk—to a limited extent. In August of 2001, the CIA had a sudden change of attitude, calling a meeting with the FBI in New York to ask for the bureau’s help in tracking down al-Midhar and al-Hazmi. Notably, Rossini wasn’t invited, and the CIA wouldn’t tell the FBI exactly why they were looking for them.
To Rossini, the shift bolsters the proposition that the CIA had tried to recruit al-Midhar or al-Hazmi—but that something went very wrong.
“What happened in Yemen, when he was there? When he went back home, when he left America. Did someone talk to him, try to speak to him? That’s the thing we need to know. And why was he allowed to come back to America, on July 4th of all days? And then why did the CIA come running up to the FBI and saying ‘you gotta find these guys’? Why? Did Khalid al-Midhar tell them to go pound sand? Did he turn around and say I’m not going to talk to you anymore? Did he stop communicating and they couldn’t find him? That’s really it, that’s what we need to know,” said Rossini.
Given the history-altering nature of the CIA’s silencing of Miller and Rossini, and the documented dishonesty of CIA supervisors that followed it, one would expect the incident to command an entire chapter within the 9/11 Commission Report—ostensibly a definitive accounting of the attacks and the government’s failure to thwart them. Instead, it’s relegated to a single endnote, buried deep within 116 pages of tiny print in the back of the book.
“Mr. Strada is not a footnote and neither is anybody else who died that day,” says Rossini with disgust. “I’m not a footnote, and you’re not a footnote. And to be treated like a footnote is sickening in a government that’s by the people for the people.”
There was a time when, so very fatefully, Mark Rossini was silenced. Today, he is speaking out forcefully and repeatedly, determined to help expose the secret buried somewhere behind footnote 44.
More from Mark Rossini: His thoughts on the 28 pages and his pointed answer to the question of whether Iran may have had a hand in 9/11.
With the 14th anniversary of the September 11 attacks approaching, three national security whistleblowers are adding their voices to the growing movement to declassify 28 pages from a 2002 congressional inquiry that document indications of foreign government support of the 9/11 hijackers.
Former senior NSA executive Thomas Drake and FBI veterans Mark Rossini and Coleen Rowley are all urging the release of the material that was classified by President George W. Bush amid controversy and criticism.
Meanwhile, an ongoing intelligence community review of the 28 pages for potential declassification, initiated by the White House last year under pressure from Congress, has already taken more than twice as long as the entire, far-reaching inquiry that produced them.
“After all these years, what is so secret about the 28 pages that so compels the government to still keep hidden from the public, and the families of those murdered on 9/11, the fuller truth of what happened?,” Drake asked in a message to 28Pages.org.
Former Senate intelligence committee chairman Bob Graham—who presided over the congressional inquiry that wrote the 28 pages as part of an report—has said the 28 pages implicate Saudi Arabia, and that, by shielding the kingdom from scrutiny of its funding of extremists, the classification of the pages paved the way for the rise of ISIS.
“It is way past time to reveal the missing 28 pages and provide a fuller accounting of entangling foreign alliances, active involvement, material support and funding behind the perpetrators of that fateful day in history,” said Drake.
In a recent interview on The Real News Network, Drake told host Paul Jay that, regarding the 28 pages and the connections to Saudi Arabia they are said to reveal, “This is really serious stuff. You’re talking, kind of, the heart of dark government, what I call the double government. This is the other government in action. You’ve set it up in a way that obviously you’re going to protect the Saudis. And yes, clearly the Saudis had a huge—most of the hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.”
Rossini: “It’s a disgrace that they haven’t been released”
For Mark Rossini, who was an FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit, the battle for the release of the 28 pages goes to the very nature of the American system of government.
“It’s a disgrace that they haven’t been released. We’re a government of the people for the people and by the people. The constitution starts with the word ‘we.’ It’s not ‘we the government’ and ‘you the people,’ its ‘we’ and in a sense that document is ours. And we have every right as American citizens to see that document,” Rossini tells 28Pages.org. (See our full stories here and here.)
While at the CIA unit, Rossini was witness to a pivotal incident that has yet to be fully and publicly examined.
Rossini’s fellow agent, Doug Miller, attempted to alert the FBI that known al Qaeda terrorist and future Flight 77 hijacker Khalid al-Midhar had obtained a multi-entry visa for travel to the United States. To the astonishment of Rossini and Miller, a CIA supervisor stopped the message from proceeding to FBI headquarters. When Rossini questioned the decision, the supervisor ordered him to stay quiet, saying, according to Rossini, “You are not to tell the FBI about it. When and if we want the FBI to know about it, we will.”
Reflecting on the fact that the ongoing declassification review of the 28 pages has already taken a year or more—the National Security Council refused to say on which day or even in which month the review began—an animated Rossini said, “There’s nothing to review…come on. Everybody knows what’s in there. To review it again for what? It’s only frickin’ 28 pages, I could read it in a half hour. No, it’s all bull****, it’s just another excuse to push it down the street and make it someone else’s problem, and not release it and not embarrass King Salman and guarantee the continuation of the black ooze coming out of the ground.”
Rowley Publicizes White House Petition
Coleen Rowley, one of three whistleblowers named “Persons of the Year” by Time magazine in 2002, recently helped promote awareness of the White House petition urging the president to release the 28 pages by sharing a link to the petition on Twitter.
Rowley, who was assigned to the FBI’s Minnesota office in 2001, wrote a memo documenting FBI failures in the weeks leading up to 9/11. In a letter to then-FBI Director Robert Mueller, Rowley wrote, “I feel that certain facts…have, up to now, been omitted, downplayed, glossed over and/or mischaracterized in an effort to avoid or minimize personal and/or institutional embarrassment on the part of the FBI and/or perhaps even for improper political reasons.”