The FBI has blocked two of its veteran counterterrorism agents from going public with accusations that the CIA deliberately withheld crucial intelligence before the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
FBI Special Agents Mark Rossini and Douglas Miller have asked for permission to appear in an upcoming public television documentary, scheduled to air in January, on pre-9/11 rivalries between the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency.
The program is a spin-off from The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America, by acclaimed investigative reporter James Bamford, due out in a matter of days.
The FBI denied Rossini and Miller permission to participate in the book or the PBS “NOVA” documentary, which is also being written and produced by Bamford, on grounds that the FBI “doesn’t want to stir up old conflicts with the CIA,” according to multiple reliable sources.
Bamford, contacted by phone, said he could not comment because his publisher has embargoed his new book for release around Oct. 10.
The author of two other ground-breaking books on the NSA, Bamford also said his general policy is not to discuss his negotiations for interviews with intelligence agencies.
Pre-9/11 intelligence mishaps have been generally attributed to bureaucratic screw-ups — a “failure to connect the dots,” exacerbated by spy agency rivalries.
But Rossini and Miller, who were assigned to the CIA-run Counterterrorist Center during the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, are prepared to describe on camera how the CIA blocked them from sharing crucial intelligence with FBI headquarters – and then later pressured them not to tell the truth to investigators.
The first allegation is not entirely new, having been reported by author Lawrence Wright in his 2006 book, The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, among other places.
But what is new is that Rossini and Miller — who still hold sensitive jobs in the FBI, and are identified here for the first time — are prepared to say publicly that, under pressure from the CIA, they kept the full the truth from the Justice Department’s Inspector General, which looked into the FBI’s handling of pre-9/11 intelligence in 2004.
“There was pressure on people not to disclose what really happened,” said sources close to the IG investigation.
Rossini, in particular, is said to have felt threatened that the CIA would have him prosecuted for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act if he told the IG investigators what really happened inside the CTC.
CIA officials were in the room when he and Miller, as well as a sympathetic CIA officer, were questioned.
The IG investigators showed them copies of CTC intelligence reports and e-mails.
But the FBI agents suddenly couldn’t remember details about who said what, or who reported what, to whom, about the presence of two al Qaeda agents in the U.S. prior to the 9/11 attacks,
The IG investigators were suspicious.
Indeed, their report, which used pseudonyms for the CIA and FBI agents its interviewed — Rossini and Miller were called “Malcolm” and “Dwight,” a CIA analyst was dubbed “Eric” — hinted at a cover-up.
“When we interviewed all of the individuals involved about the CIR [Current Intelligence Report] they asserted that they recalled nothing about it,” it said
Dwight told the OIG that he did not recall being aware of the information about Mihdhar, did not recall drafting the CIR, did not recall whether he drafted the CIR on his own initiative or at the direction of his supervisor, and did not recall any discussions about the reasons for delaying completion and dissemination of the CIR. Malcolm said he did not recall reviewing any of the cable traffic or any information regarding Hazmi and Mihdhar. Eric told the OIG that he did not recall the CIR.
Subsequently, Rossini and Miller were not subpoenaed by the 9/11 Commission to tell what they knew, even though sources say they were eager to do so.
But he and Miller did come clean during an internal FBI investigation, which remains under wraps.
Sources with direct knowledge of the FBI’s internal probe say that the agents provided the bureau with unadulterated versions of their CTC experiences, including orders they were given by the center’s then-Deputy Director, Tom Wilshire, to withhold intelligence about the movement of al Qaeda operatives into the country from the FBI.
When the agents asked permission to tell that same story on television, the FBI initially agreed, but then cancelled at the last moment, two sources involved in the deliberations said, with the explanation that it didn’t want to risk inflaming the CIA.
The FBI’s top spokesman, Assistant Director John Miller, did not address that issue directly.
But he said that the FBI had withheld permission for the agents to be named in various reports on 9/11 intelligence out of security and privacy concerns.
“These questions were examined extensively by several independent agencies and commissions,” he said via e-mail Wednesday.
“It was determined that the two FBI employees would not be named in those reports because they continue to hold sensitive positions in the FBI as well as Privacy Act issues regarding current and former personnel.”
Agent Douglas Miller has said that he doesn’t have “a rational answer” to explain why the CIA blocked him from sharing information with the bureau, particularly a report of such obvious magnitude about al Qaeda operatives in the U.S. He speculated that CIA officials at the CTC were annoyed that he had encroached on their territory.
A CIA spokesman, Paul Gimigliano, ridiculed the allegations.
“I have every reason–every reason–to believe that’s complete garbage,” he said in a brief telephone interview. “Not only did the 9/11 Commission look at the matter in detail, but former Director George Tenet wrote about it at some length in his book.”
But the Justice Department Inspector general contradicted Tenet’s assertion that the CIA shared its intelligence on al Qaeda operatives in a timely fashion with the FBI.
“We reviewed whether this information was in fact passed to the FBI by the CIA, and based on the evidence, concluded that while the CIA passed some of the information about Mihdhar to the FBI, it did not contemporaneously pass the information about Mihdhar’s U.S. visa to the FBI,” the IG report said.
“We concluded it was not disclosed by the CIA until late August 2001, shortly before the September 11 terrorist attacks.”
Another intelligence source said the CIA feared that if FBI headquarters learned of the suspects’ arrival in the U.S., it would try to arrest them — and bust up a sensitive CIA operation to penetrate al Qaeda.
Mihdhar and Hazmi were plotting an attack outside of the United States, the CIA believed, and wanted the FBI to stay clear of them.
“They said it has nothing to do with the FBI, the next attack will be in Southeast Asia,” said a source familiar with the details. “They said, ‘It’s none of your business.'”
Rossini and other FBI counterterrorism agents were furious, according to a knowledgeable source. The FBI is responsible for investigating domestic-based plots.
“They’re here!” Rossini protested to his CTC bosses. “It is FBI business.”
The IG report criticized Douglas Miller (“Dwight”) for not ignoring CIA objections and sending his crucially important report on Mihdhar to FBI headquarters.
But Miller, who held the relatively low rank of GS-12 at the time, told investigators that it was unthinkable for him to violate the orders of his CTC superiors. He would have been fired, “sent home,” he told them.
Miller would be happy to give CIA officials the benefit of the doubt in a television interview, he has told friends, conceding that there may have been good reasons for their decisions that he was not aware of.
He has described the CTC as place filled with dedicated professionals who were “America’s lowest paid professional workers on an hourly basis,” for all the pressure-packed time they spent trying to detect terrorist plots.
But unless the FBI changes its mind, he’ll have to keep that story to himself.