Originally Published on June 7, 2002
The complex and often uneasy relationship between Israel’s Mossad and the U.S. intelligence community is emerging as a prime reason for the catastrophic failure of the CIA and FBI to act on advance warnings of an impending attack on America.
Eight days before the September 11 attack, Egypt’s senior intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, informed the CIA station chief in Cairo that “credible sources” had told him that Osama bin-Laden’s network was “in the advanced stages of executing a significant operation against an American target.”
Prior to that, the FBI whistleblower Coleen Rowley had revealed, there was a similar warning from French intelligence.
Both warnings, Globe-Intel has established, originally came from Mossad.
The Israeli intelligence service chose to pass on its own intelligence to Washington through its contacts in French and Egyptian intelligence agencies because it did not believe its previous warnings on an impending attack by the bin-Laden network had been taken seriously enough in Washington.
Part of the reason has already emerged by President Bush acknowledging for the first time there had been a serious breakdown between the twin pillars of the U.S. intelligence community – the FBI and CIA.
“In terms of whether or not the FBI and the CIA were communicating properly, I think it is clear that they weren’t,” he has said.
Behind this admission is the long-standing suspicion that both the FBI and CIA have about Mossad and its ongoing activities in the United States.
Ostensibly, Israel denies it has ever spied on its most powerful ally. But the reality is otherwise. Both the FBI and CIA regard Mossad as a clear and present danger to U.S. national security. It places the Israeli spy agency just below the espionage totem pole that has China’s Secret Intelligence Service at its top.
A full ten months before Mossad started to sound its own warnings against bin-Laden, senior officials in both the FBI and CIA saw them as “blowing smoke” to divert attention from Mossad’s own activities in the United States.
Evidence of this may well be contained in the more than 350,000 documents that the CIA has already turned over to the hearings of the Senate and House of Representatives intelligence committees.
These are now underway in sound-proofed rooms before 37 members of those committees.
Already, in the atmosphere of leak and counter-leak in Washington, the consensus is emerging on Capitol Hill that the U.S. intelligence community had enough data to have been able to prevent the September 11 attacks.
Richard Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate intelligence committee has spoken about “a massive intelligence failure.”
A hint of the extent of that failure has come from Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak. He has spoken of “a secret agent who was in close contact with the bin-Laden organisation.”
Globe-Intel has been told that the “agent” was in fact the senior Mossad source who tipped off Egypt’s intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, that an attack on America was coming.
During last year, senior Egyptian officials have told Globe-Intel there were five separate contacts between Suleiman and his Mossad counterpart, Efraim Halevy.
Understandably, Israeli government sources in Tel Aviv have denied such contacts.
But an official close to Mubarak have confirmed that they did take place.
Mubarak’s public statements on the matter – the first ranking statesman to break cover over the building controversy of who-knew-what-and-when, will at minimum be seen as clear indications that there were lapses in the interpretations of both the CIA and FBI.
Coupled to the warnings that Mossad arranged to be passed through French intelligence and which Coleen Rowley has used to lambaste her chief, FBI director Robert Mueller, the failure to act assumes frightening proportions.
The revelations make a mockery of George Tenet’s claim that he was “proud” of the CIA’s record. Its embattled director, currently in Israel trying to broker a doomed peace deal, has found in his absence that his own staff are admitting to mistakes.
“Part of the problem is that the CIA and FBI are loath to share vital information with each other, or with other government agencies because they have this deep-seated fear of compromising their own sources,” a senior State Department analyst told Globe-Intel.
But in the coming days the relationship between Mossad and the CIA and FBI will become the subject of close scrutiny in the closed hearings of the intelligence committees picking their way through the mass of documents now in their possession.
It is beginning to emerge that intelligence relating to pre-September 11 stopped at the desk of National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice.
The question as to why the President was not fully briefed has led to others. Had a decision been taken by Rice in consultation with Secretary of Defense and other high-ranking members of the Bush Administration to effectively not inform Bush of what was developing because they did not trust his limited experience in dealing with global terrorism – or a major threat of any kind?
Officially such a question is dismissed around the White House as nonsensical. Yet it persists within the State Department – where Secretary of State Colin Powell remains outside the charmed inner circle surrounding Bush.
There, senior officials point to the fact that the CIA briefing to Bush last August, less than a month before the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, turned out to be conspicuous by what was not said.
Yet, at that time the CIA knew of the impending threat. There are other pointers that the President may have been kept out of the loop.
Within his own circle there is a determination to distance him from taking the advice of his father. President George Bush Snr is seen by some in the White House as being out of touch with todays world. And that the advice he proffers his son during their Texas cookouts is out-moded.
All this may go some way to explain why President Bush has now publicly acknowledged there was an intelligence failure. Much else will flow from that.
GORDON THOMAS is the author of forty-three books. Seven of them are major motion pictures including five times Academy Award-nominated Voyage of the Damned; Enola Gay, which won the Emmy Awards Foreign Critics Prize.
His books of best-selling David Morton novels are being filmed by IAC International as a 22-hour television series to be screened worldwide in 2003. His Gideon’s Spies: Mossad’s Secret Warriors became a major documentary for Channel Four which he wrote and narrated. It followed three years of research during which he was given unprecedented access to the Mossad’s key personnel. The book has so far been published in 16 languages.
Gordon Thomas lives in Ireland, with his wife.