THE BLOG

Peter Lance's Flawed Triple Cross

I believe that Peter Lance's new book, Triple Cross, is a flawed and inaccurate piece of investigative reporting. Not the kind of work one would expect from a five time Emmy award winning reporter. I write this not out of animus towards Peter Lance. I reached this conclusion based on evidence I have that flatly contradicts several of Lance's claims. Let's start with a minor issue. Peter Lance presents inaccurate and misleading information about me on page 384 of his book. Lance writes:

He [Johnson] then compounded that mistaken assessment five weeks later with a Times Op-Ed piece entitled "The Declining Terrorist Threat," describing al Qaeda as a "a loose amalgam of people with a shared ideology, but a very limited direction."[vi]

Peter is flat out wrong. At no point in that July 2001 op-ed did I write what he says I wrote (here is the
link to the op-ed, read it for yourself). At no point did I refer to Al Qaeda in that piece because I was focused on the broader trends in terrorism.

Lance leaves the clear impression that I minimized the importance of Osama Bin Laden. That also is not true. Ironically, Milt Bearden, a retired CIA officer, and I
wrote an op-ed in November of 2000 when we learned that Ali Mohamad (the subject of Lance's latest work) had entered a plea agreement. We warned the next President that:

Mughniyeh and Bin Ladin are the two most prolific mass murderers currently at large. A new administration will have to take on the fundamental task of bringing to American justice the two men who have killed so many Americans. The full range of options, including military force, covert action, clandestine operations and diplomatic pressure must be brought to bear. The experience of the last two decades has shown that putting terrorists in American prisons is a very effective policy, but we must be prepared to take other steps if that option is not feasible.

The more important and substantive flaw in Peter's book also appears on page 384. Lance reports the results of his interview with a Philippine police official, Colonel Rodolfo B Mendoza. According to Lance, Mendoza claimed that Hakim Murad, an Islamic extremist arrested in Manila 7 January 1995, had divulged all of the relevant details that should have tipped off the United States that the 9-11 plot was in the works. According to Mendoza:

. . .by the end of his sixty-seven day interrogation Murad had ultimately given up the full-blown hijack-airliners-suicide plot. He discussed with me . . .even without me mentioning [it], that there is really formal training [going on] of suicide bombers.

While I am sure Peter is accurately reporting what Colonel Mendoza said in March 2002, this account is not supported by any of the documentary evidence from the period January-March 1995. Peter apparently did not have access to the documentary evidence--i.e. the debriefing reports filed at the time--that would have raised serious questions about Mendoza's credibility as a witness. No proof beyond Mendoza's interview with Lance, especially documentary evidence, exists that substantiates or corroborates the claim that the United States Government ignored intelligence or warnings from Government of the Philippines (or the Philippine police) about the plot that subsequently unfolded on September 11, 2001.

How do I know? I actually have the documentary evidence that shows what the Filippinos learned from Hakim Murad. I have the following documents from the Philippine National Police in my possession:

(a) A Tactical Interrogation Report filed by Senior Inspector EUGENIO H ROXAS dated 9 January 1995.

(b) Seventeen Debriefing reports covering the period 17 January 1995 to 31 March 1995.

(c) Memorandum for the Chief, Philippine National Police, SUBJECT: After Intelligence Operation Report re Neutralization of International Terrorists, 27 February 1995.

(d) The Comprehensive Report Re Mid-Air Explosion of FLIGHT PR-434 22 March 1995

(e) Memorandum for the Chief, Philippine National Police, SUBJECT: MUSLIM EXTREMISTS' THREATS TO FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS (not dated)

Here's the evidence that Mendoza's account of the debriefing of Hakim Murad is nothing more than pure bullshit. Lance writes on page 181 of Triple Cross:

Murad was subjected to sleep and food deprivation in those first few hours. . . . Yet these techniques only caused Murad to stonewall. So several days after his arrest, the interrorgation was turned over to Colonel Rodolfo B. "Boogie" Mendoza, the baby-faced commander of the PNP's Special Investigation Group.

Lance continues on p. 182 with the fanciful tale provided by Mendoza:

Mendoza specifically ordered that Murad not be placed in a cell. Seeking to earn the terrorist's confidence, he had him cuffed to a metal bed in a room that contained only a small table and a chair. Instructing Murad's handlers to keep him hungry and blindfolded, Mendoza waited until he knew the prisoner was famished; then he had his assistant Major Alberto Ferror, lift him up so that Murad was sitting in front of the table. A McDonald's hamburger, fries, and a Coke were then placed in front of him.

We are told on p. 183 that:

. . .over the next sixty days, in admission after admission, he opened up to Mendoza, ultimately revealing the precise details of the plot to kill the Pope and Bojinka.

Now, here is the truth as recorded in the actual police reports. On 9 January 1995 Senior Inspector Eugenio H Roxas, filed a tactical interrogation report.
Download here.

At this point, Hakim Murad had been in custody for 48 hours. According to the Memorandum for the Chief, Philippine National Police, SUBJECT: After Intelligence Operation Report re Neutralization of International Terrorists, (dated 27 February 1995) the initial interrogation was conducted by:

Sr. Supt. GARCIA, Dir, IC, Sr. Supt ROBERT C DELFIN, DDO, IC, and Senior Inspector ALBERT FERRO proceeded to PSG to fetch the suspect who had been identified as one ABDUL HAKIM ALI HASMID MURAD alias ABDUL MURAD, a Pakistani national around 26 years old.

ABDUL MURAD was subsequently interrogated by SIG and CIG Officers, CINSP ALEX PAUL MONTEAGUDO, Insp WILLY SERRANO and SINSP ALBERT FERRO.

Anyone see Mendoza's name? Nope. Lance, relying on Mendoza, claims no progress had been made in the interrogation and that Colonel Mendoza was brought in to save the day. That is simply not true. Here is what the Philippine police had learned by 9 January 1995 according to Inspector Roxas:

1. Abdul Hakim Ali Hashim Murad was a 28 year old Pakistani.

3. That Murad had been trained in Lahur (sic), Pakistan by Abdul Baset Mahmood Abdul Karim aka Majy Awaita Haddad in making explosives.

5. "Subject [Murad] also revealed that his friend Abdul Baset was responsible in the bombing of the Manhatten World Trade Center in New York, USA. . ."

6. "Another involvement of Abdul Baset, was the bombing of Philippine Airline bound from Cebu to Japan on December 1994. . .

7. Subject further revealed their plans to assassinate Pope John Paul II and other members of foreign delegation during their engagement here in the Philippines. . .

8. "Subject also claimed that if he (Murad) was not arrested, his tasking was to make a series of bombing particularly the United Air Lines flight via Singapore-Hong Kong and Los Angeles and another flight from Hong Kong to Singapore and then he will proceed to Carachi (sic) and wait for the arrival of Abdul Baset (sic) ."

After reading the 9 January tactical interrogation report, it is clear that the account of the events presented in Triple Cross on pages 181-183 are triple wrong. Mendoza apparently sold Peter Lance a bill of goods and Lance did not have a clue.
Let's take a quick look at the results contained in debriefing reports prepared about a week later. The 17 January 1995 "After Debriefing Report" provided details about the bomb used in the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center.
Download here.
Murad called it an "Astrolite Bomb", which is "made of ammonium nitrate and hydrazine liquid.

In the 20 January 1995 debriefing report, Murad had given up extensive details about Abdul Basit (aka Ramsi Yousef).
Download here.
Murad told the Filippino police that Basit had traveled to New York City from Pakistan in November of 1992 where he helped organize and plan the February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. After the bombing, Basit hid out in the Embassy Hotel in Karachi. During the ensuing year Basit traveled to Dubai twice. Basit hooked up with Murad in Pakistan in August 1994 and provided training in making improvised explosives.

Murad told the police that he had been tasked to call the U.S. Embassy in Oman in the event the New York subway was bombed and to claim credit in the name of the A1168 Liberation Army. He also identified three other plotters besides Basit, one of whom we now know as Khalid Sheikh Mohamad. According to Murad, Basit (aka Yousef) and Khalid Sheikh rented a helicopter in December 1994 in order to impress a "lady dentist working at "Sheafa" Dental Clinic". Ah, the power of love.

The 20 January report also presents the only documented evidence of Basit's intention to hijack a plane. Murad told the Philippine police:

With respect to their plan to dive-crash a commercial aircraft at the CIA Headquarters in Virginia, subject alleged that the idea of doing same came out during his casual conversation with ABDUL BASIT and there is no specific plan yet for its execution. What the subject have in his mind is that he will board any american commercial aircraft and pretending to be an ordinary passenger. Then he will hijack said aircraft, control its cockpit and dive it at the CIA Headquarters. There will be no bomb or any explosive that he will use in its execution. It is simply a suicidal mission that he is very much willing to execute. That all he need is to be able to board the aircraft with a pistol so that he could execute the hijacking.

As Murad said, "there is no specific plan yet for its execution". That stands in stark contrast to his detailed account of Basit aka Yousef's plan to put bombs on commercial airliners. That is the difference between a plan and a dream.

There is no other reference in any of the seventeen (17) reports by the Philippine National Police referring to any plot to hijack commercial airliners and fly them into the World Trade Center or any other building in the United States. Colonel Mendoza's account as told to Peter Lance is bullshit. The debriefing and interrogation reports paint a completely different picture of events than the one describe by Mendoza to Lance. Instead of being the uncooperative subject who was deprived of food per Lance's account, Murad was actually quite cooperative had given up significant intelligence details by 9 January 1995. It was not the ridiculous process described in Chapter 18 of Triple Cross.

The credibility of Lance's work is further called into question in light of objections lodged this week by former Federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy. McCarthy, in a
recent email to Lance, wrote:

You falsely accuse me of obstructing justice by advising a witness, Ali Mohammed, to ignore a defense subpoena from Sayyid Nosair -- in a case in which I have a lengthy record of providing the defense with voluminous evidence unfavorable to the government, and in a career in which I have a lengthy record of advising all witnesses that it is mandatory to comply with court orders, regardless of whether their evidence would help or hurt prosecutions.

You base this scurrilous allegation on the uncorroborated word of Ibrahim Elgabrowny (Nosair's cousin), a convicted terrorist with a long track record of making false claims.

.

Given the inaccuracies in Triple Cross that I have documented above, I believe that Andrew McCarthy's objections ring true. I will leave it to Mr. McCarthy, an able prosecutor and attorney, to defend himself.

I cannot in good conscience recommend you buy Triple Cross. If you are thinking about buying Triple Cross, buyers beware. If you have already bought it and are reading it, don't accept anything at face value. It contains mistakes, some quite significant.