How 9/11 changed everything, except al Qaeda.
Nov 13, 2006, Vol. 12, No. 09 • By DAVID AIKMAN
What seems to have explained Osama's success at cultivating the support of consecutive radical Islamic regimes, and gathering to himself a devoted corps of followers, was his single-mindedness in opposing America, and his determination to bring about a radical reordering of world affairs. Wright reveals many of these sometimes-tense relationships, introducing some quite remarkable figures. One example of the improbable misfits who flitted in and out of the al Qaeda orbit was Ali Abdelsoud Mohammed, an Egyptian and a multilingual physical fitness buff who managed to insinuate himself into the U.S. Army's Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. He was quite open about his Islamist sympathies, and briefed U.S. intelligence about al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, and other vital information. His interlocutors totally ignored his revelations. The Defense Department even managed to lose records of conversations with Mohammed reported by an FBI agent.
It is the Keystone Kops aspect of America's repeated bungling of attempts to unravel the looming Islamist plot against itself that provides both the comic and tragic elements to the story. Again and again, the CIA refuses to tell the FBI that suspected al Qaeda agents are on American soil. The National Security Agency won't release to the CIA or the FBI telephone transcripts that will fill in the blanks of al Qaeda plotting. When the FBI office in Minneapolis stumbles onto Moussaoui's bizarre flight-training requirements (he wasn't interested in learning how to land airliners) and informs Washington, it's cautioned not to get people "spun up." In frustration, a supervisor tells Washington that all he was doing was "trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center."
Wright's telling of the story is detailed, colorful, and insightful. One unrecognized hero is FBI counterterrorism chief John O'Neill, who was himself to die in the World Trade Center after leaving the FBI and becoming head of security there. O'Neill had a tangled romantic life--he was running three simultaneous girlfriends while still married. Brilliant, dynamic, and bureaucratically ruthless, O'Neill was terrifyingly aware that something terrible would happen in America in the fall of 2001. But he was, in the end, unable to untangle the intelligence bureaucracy sufficiently to uncover what it was.
So Osama bin Laden launched the plot that humbled America, but in so doing, pasted a permanent "Wanted" notice on his own life.
David Aikman, senior fellow at the Trinity Forum, is writer-in-residence at Patrick Henry College.