Saturday, June 05, 2010

Ali Mohamed: an Al Qaeda/FBI Operative in the US Military Command

An al Qaeda operative at Fort Bragg


FORT BRAGG, N.C. -- A former sergeant at Fort Bragg who became a close adviser to Osama bin Laden obtained sensitive documents describing how U.S. special operations units function.

Ali A. Mohamed, a trusted trainer in bin Laden's al Qaeda network, walked the halls of the U.S. military's top warfare planning center at Fort Bragg for more than two years as an Army sergeant.

From 1987 to 1989, he acquired sensitive documents describing how special operations units work and a detailed plan for a special operations training exercise, court documents say. The exercise was for an attack on Baluchistan, a part of Pakistan wedged between Afghanistan and the Arabian Sea.

From 1981 until his arrest in 1998, Mohamed was a key member of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, and he belonged to al Qaeda through the 1990s. He is in prison in an undisclosed location awaiting sentencing for his role in planning the 1998 car bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, which killed 224 people and injured 4,500. Among those who served at The John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School while Mohamed was there, there is disagreement over the quantity of the documents he obtained and over the extent to which that information may compromise the U.S. military effort in Afghanistan.

But court files make clear that Mohamed did obtain numerous documents from Fort Bragg, including some labeled "top secret."

In 1990, the FBI found Army documents that Mohamed gave to an Islamic extremist later convicted in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing conspiracy. Included were top-secret documents identified as belonging to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Commander in Chief of the Army's Central Command, according to an FBI inventory. "There is no doubt that his proximity, in hindsight, was very harmful," said one former Special Forces officer who spoke on the condition that he not be identified. "Does this hurt our efforts now? Absolutely."

But another officer who worked on the Baluchistan exercise said he didn't think knowledge of the late-1980s training exercise or documents used to plan it would jeopardize the U.S. military.

"We pulled that exercise out of the air," said retired Lt. Col. Lonnie R. Poole, who lives in Stockdale, Texas. "You can get more accurate information by going off post and buying a training book."

Mohamed's background made him an ideal spy for Islamic extremists at Fort Bragg. As a major in the Egyptian military's special operations forces, he took an officer training course for Green Berets at Fort Bragg in 1981. The U.S. military offered the course to dozens of foreign soldiers each year.

About the same time, he joined Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a group dedicated to overthrowing the government of Egypt and responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.

In 1984, after obtaining a degree in psychology, Mohamed immigrated to the United States, joined the U.S. Army and was attached to the Fifth Special Forces -- presumably because of his fluency in Arabic and familiarity with the Middle East. Though he was not a member of the Special Forces, he spent much of his time teaching Green Berets and others in special operations.

From 1981 until his arrest in September 1998, Mohamed was in contact with the U.S. government. He tried, without apparent success, to sign up as a CIA operative. "He was an active source for the FBI, a double agent," said Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent and director of counterterrorism at the State Department during the first Bush administration.

For a military spy such as Mohamed, there would be few better places to be than the JFK School in the late 1980s. At the time, the U.S. military was combining the special operations units from all service branches under one command. For months, planners at Fort Bragg worked to create the new command structure. "The JFK School was the architect for the structure --how it would operate the missions it would undertake and how it would train," said retired Gen. David J. Baratto of Alexandria, Va., who was in charge of developing the command.

Several officers recalled that Mohamed showed a keen interest in the Baluchistan training exercise, called the Special Operations Staff Officer Course Command Post Exercise, or SOSOC CPX. The exercise was designed to help Special Forces officers learn how to fight a guerrilla leader staging an insurgency in Baluchistan. The scenario had the leader taking over the region and threatening U.S. interests. "The exercise was designed to use Special Forces, Psychological Operations and Civil Affairs," Poole said.

Baratto and others disagree on the value of the information. He said the guidelines for how the forces operate would not change, but much else would. "I know as much about Special Forces as anyone, and I could not lay out for you a scenario with any accuracy about what is being done in Afghanistan today," he said. Baratto acknowledged that the exercise serves as the foundation for off-the-shelf plans, and that means much of the way the military operates in them would be the same in the exercise as in the plan.

Chester Richards, a retired Air Force Reserve colonel and military strategist, said bin Laden's forces would love to get their hands on a Command Post Exercise or the documents that go into one. "It would be out of date," Richards said, "but it would be quite valuable and give him some insight, allow him to get inside our minds and how we do battle."

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)
Last year, a former U.S. Army sergeant, Egyptian-born Ali Mohamed, admitted that he had been involved in the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Africa that were blamed on Osama bin Laden. Mohamed told a New York court that he helped train members of bin Laden's terrorist organization, Al-Qaeda.

A book originally published abroad, "Dollars for Terror," by Swiss television journalist Richard Labévière, suggests that Ali Mohamed was an active agent of U.S. policy who trained bin Laden's agents in the New York area.

Labévière, who conducted a four-year investigation, concluded that the international Islamic networks linked to bin Laden were nurtured and encouraged by elements of the U.S. intelligence community, especially during the Clinton years.

Labévière's thesis strikes some as too outlandish to accept, but Larry Johnson, a former deputy director of the Office of Counterterrorism at the State Department who had previously worked for the CIA, confirms it at least in part.

He told the San Francisco Chronicle that the CIA had a brief relationship with Ali Mohamed after he offered in 1984 to provide information about terrorist groups in the Middle East.

In 1981, the year in which Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated by army officers who belonged to the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, Mohamed joined that terrorist group. Seven years later he told Lt. Col. Robert Anderson, "Anwar Sadat was a traitor, and he had to die."

Larry Johnson told the Chronicle that the CIA had ended its relationship with Mohamed because they found him unreliable, but he said the FBI later used him as an informant. Johnson said the FBI should have recognized that he was a terrorist who was plotting violence against the U.S. "The FBI assumed he was their source," Johnson said, "but his loyalties lay elsewhere."

Ali Mohamed was sent to Ft. Bragg in 1981 to train with the Green Berets for four months. Returning to Egypt, he spent three more years in the Egyptian army with the rank of major. He quit in 1984 and took a security job with Egypt Air. That was when he approached the CIA.

In 1985, Mohamed obtained a U.S. visa. He came here in 1986, enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 34 and was assigned to Special Forces at Ft. Bragg as a supply sergeant. Lt. Col. Anderson thought it strange that a major in the Egyptian army unit that killed President Anwar Sadat would be given a visa to come to the U.S. and that he would be accepted by our Army and assigned to Special Forces.

Anderson assumed that Mohamed was sponsored by the CIA, but Larry Johnson told the Raleigh News & Observer, "He was an active source for the FBI, a double agent." Johnson charged that the FBI "did a lousy job of managing him. He was holding out on them. He had critical information years ago and didn't give it up."

That probably explains why Ali Mohamed's plea agreement was sealed by the court and remains so until this day. The other four defendants, all of whom were foreign nationals, testified at the trial, and all were convicted.

Mohamed did not testify for reasons which have yet to be explained. He and his attorney have not been available for interviews. It appears that the secrecy was invoked to spare the FBI and the Army painful embarrassment.

In 1988, while still on active duty, Mohamed took leave to go to Afghanistan and fight the Russians. Lt. Col. Anderson told the Chronicle this was "contrary to all Army regulations." He said he wrote reports to get Mohamed investigated, court-martialed and deported, but no action was taken.

The News & Observer says that near the end of his tour at Ft. Bragg, Mohamed would go to New Jersey on weekends to train Islamic fundamentalists in surveillance, weapons and explosives.

This Egyptian terrorist was honorably discharged in 1989 with commendations for "patriotism, valor, fidelity and professional excellence." He later became an American citizen.

Mohamed traveled abroad to meet with bin Laden and his operatives. He helped move him from Afghanistan to Sudan, and in 1996 he helped him and his aides move back to Afghanistan.

He handled sensitive security matters for bin Laden, trained his bodyguards and his fighters in Afghanistan and translated training manuals from English to Arabic.

He cased the American Embassy in Nairobi for bin Laden, helping plan the bombing that killed 224 people and wounded over 4,500. And all this time he was a trusted FBI informant.

No wonder bin Laden thought his audacious terrorist attack of September 11 could succeed.


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