Zelikow : No Evidence that CIA Sought to Recruit Hijackers


Excerpt from latest essay by Phillip Zelikow, publish at The Cypher Brief


“Former senior White House counterterrorism official Richard Clarke and a former FBI agent, Mark Rossini, alleged in the History Channel program that the CIA failures to share information with the FBI appear to have been deliberate. This was because, they say, the CIA had hoped to recruit al-Mihdhar or al-Hazmi to become agency informants, a plan approved by Director of the CIA Tenet and CIA leadership. This is obviously a grave allegation.


There is no evidence that this allegation is true. There is plenty of evidence that it is false. The Commission’s investigators interviewed all the relevant individuals (including Mr. Clarke and Mr. Rossini), in the course of the overlapping investigations conducted by the Commission and the Inspector General of the Department of Justice. When those individuals were interviewed by the Commission and the Office of the Inspector General, they knew that if they lied they could face criminal prosecution. They also knew that we had access to the relevant internal CIA and FBI records, including electronic indications of who had accessed what records and all of the briefings prepared by the Counterterrorist Center every day for Director Tenet — so that we could check on what they were telling us. Although it is not cited in our report, the Commission also had access to the good work and interviews that had been conducted internally and separately by the CIA’s Inspector General.


If the “recruitment theory” posited by Clarke and Rossini were true, there would be evidence of a recruitment effort — some CIA attempt to locate and contact al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi. There is no such evidence. Nor was there any evidence of a recruitment plan or even the consideration of one. Instead, the evidence showed – as we detail in our Report – repeated confusion about who was being sought and where. There were several occasions during the work in the first half of 2001 when the dots might have been connected but, due to particular circumstances in each case, unfortunately this did not happen.


The dots did start getting connected in July 2001. And, contrary to the premise of the “recruitment theory,” this breakthrough happened because a persistent CIA officer, a man involved in much of the earlier work, asked an FBI analyst to look at the Kuala Lumpur materials one more time. As mentioned above, the subsequent search for al-Mihdhar and al-Hazmi barely got underway before 9/11, for reasons that had little to do with the CIA”.


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