As a last question to former FBI head Louis Freeh, 9-11 Commissioner John Lehman asked whether Freeh was familiar with the information Jayna Davis has gathered for her new book, “The Third Terrorist.” Davis, a former Oklahoma City newswoman, makes a powerful case that Terry Nichols had conspired with convicted World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef in the Philippines and that Timothy McVeigh had received direct aid in the construction and delivery of the bomb from, among others, likely Iraqi agent, Hussain Al-Hussaini, the alleged John Doe #2.
This was an excellent question. Lehman, however, addressed it to the wrong person. He should have turned to his fellow commissioner, Jamie Gorelick, the deputy attorney general under Bill Clinton from 1994 to 1997. The Landmark Legal Foundation has now formally requested that Gorelick step down because she is “hopelessly conflicted.” But truth would be served if instead of stepping down Gorelick were forced to open up.
Evidence strongly suggests it was Gorelick – not the ineffectual Freeh – who not only misdirected the FBI’s investigation into Oklahoma City, but also the FBI investigation into TWA Flight 800. The parallels between the two cases are shocking. And in each case, the Clinton administration constrained the FBI for the same reason: to advance the re-election chances of its standard bearer.
This story rightfully begins on Election Day, Nov. 8, 1994. In a time of peace and economic growth, Democrats lost an incredible 52 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. “The election itself is being described as a total repudiation of Bill Clinton and the Democrats,” Labor Secretary Robert Reich observed at the time, a “fundamental realignment.”
After days of anger and self-pity, Bill Clinton began to focus again on the one organizing principle that had directed his life to date. “All that mattered was his survival,” Clinton aide George Stephanopoulos would write of his former boss. “Everyone else had to fall in line: his staff, his cabinet, the country, even his wife.”
Stephanopoulos speaks here of another circumstance, but the principle was eternal. In the next two years, the Clintons would sacrifice the nation’s very security to secure another four years in office. As I report in “Ron Brown’s Body,” Islamic terrorism was just the half of it, but it was the urgent half.
Five days before the election, in an unrelated event, Ramzi Yousef had applied for a visa to the Philippines. On the next day, Terry Nichols received a visa for the Philippines and left for Cebu City two weeks later. On the way to the airport, he unnerved his ex-wife, Lana Padilla, when he handed her a sealed package and told her, “If I’m not back in 60 days, open it and follow the instructions.” Curious, Padilla opened the package only to find a will, Nichol’s life insurance policy, and instructions that led her to $20,000 in cash.
Two weeks after Nichols’ arrival, Ramzi Yousef boarded a Philippines Airline flight in Manila and planted a small bomb. The bomb killed the Japanese tourist who took his seat after Yousef had disembarked in Cebu City.
A month later, January 1995, Yousef had to flee his Manila apartment after setting it on fire while building bombs. When his roommate, a Pakistani pilot, returned to the apartment to retrieve Yousef’s laptop, he was arrested. Yousef immediately fled to Pakistan where he would be seized weeks later. Terry Nichols hastily returned to the United States. When Padilla asked Nichols why he had come back so soon, he told her cryptically, “Somebody could get killed down there.” Perhaps more than coincidentally, the logbook in Yousef’s Manila apartment bore the signature of an occasional visitor named “Nick.”
In “Against All Enemies,” Richard Clarke casually addresses the simultaneous visits of these two terrorists to the Philippines in general, and Cebu City in particular. “We do know that Nichols’ bombs did not work before his Philippine stay,” writes Clarke, “and were deadly when he returned.” Nichols continued to call the Philippines frequently and surreptitiously after his return.
On April 19, 1995, I was co-hosting a point-counter point radio show on Kansas City’s leading AM station, KMBZ. The show aired just before Rush Limbaugh, who once worked at the station. The Oklahoma bomb detonated just as we were going on the air.
My partner and I followed developments closely. Early police reports and intelligence briefings led us all to believe that the bomb was the work of Islamic terrorists. When, however, the police identified McVeigh as a suspect a day later, my partner was absolutely gleeful. A wily and well-connected Democrat strategist, he went on the air and issued an All Points Bulletin for McVeigh’s “co-conspirators – Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich.” He claimed their hate speech and talk of revolution had inflamed the allegedly right-wing McVeigh.
My partner was simply following the Democratic National Committee’s talking points. Democrats, the president included, were spreading this same message all across America. Clinton, more subtle than his supporters, assigned responsibility for the bombing to the “purveyors of hate and division.” His supporters filled in the blanks. A master of strategic grief counseling, Clinton descended on Oklahoma City with an approval rating in the low 40s and left town with a rating well above 50. Late in the 1996 campaign, he would confide to reporters that his road back to the White House began in Oklahoma City.
The president, however, was more interested in the points he could score off Oklahoma City than in the truth. In her stunning book, Jayna Davis documents beyond all doubt what that truth was: McVeigh and Nichols had help from Islamic terrorists – not only in the Philippines, but also in Oklahoma City. In her role as a reporter for KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, Davis interviewed more than 20 reliable eyewitnesses who identified the crew of Iraqi nationals who had helped McVeigh assemble and deliver the bomb, among them, John Doe #2, Hussain Al-Hussaini.
Much as with TWA 800, however, the FBI lost all interest in the eyewitnesses as soon as the White House had established its talking points. The details of this abandonment appall the reader. “Could the al-Qaida explosives expert have been introduced to the angry American who proclaimed his hatred for America?” writes Richard Clarke of Nichols’ visit to the Philippines. “We do not know, despite some FBI investigation.”
“Some FBI investigation”? Why was there not a massive FBI investigation? On Yousef’s laptop seized from that burning Manila apartment were plans for Operation Bojinka. The following excerpt from a classified Republic of the Philippines intelligence report speaks to the nature of those plans:
The document [from Yousef's computer] specifically cited the charter service of a commercial type aircraft loaded with powerful bombs to be dive-crashed by SAEED AKMAN. This is apparently intended to demonstrate to the whole world that a Muslim martyr is ready and determined to die for the glorification of Islam.
Richard Clarke was well aware of these plans. In response to a question by Democrat Richard Ben-Veniste at a 9-11 hearing, Clarke admitted that the “knowledge about al-Qaida having thought of using aircraft as weapons” was relatively old – “five years, six years old.” He asked that intelligence analysts “be forgiven for not thinking about it given the fact that they hadn’t seen a lot in the five or six years intervening about it.” He admittedly did not share these plans with the Bush administration.
The reason Islamic terrorist links were ignored has more to do with politics than with security. Once arrested, McVeigh and Nichols served as poster boys for the natural progression of the “Republican revolution.” If, however, they proved to be mere “lily whites” – i.e., stooges recruited by Islamic terrorists to take the fall – they would lose their political value. Moreover, liberal scolds could no longer hector those who had publicly presumed that Islamic terrorists were behind the bombing.
This included not only the political right but also non-partisan terrorist experts like Steven Emerson, who had already been upbraided for “bigotry and misrepresentations” and “creating mass hysteria against American Arabs.” Indeed, to the detriment of our national security, the orchestrated Democratic reaction to Oklahoma City shamed reporters and investigators from pursuing Islamic terrorism aggressively. This, Davis documents all too painfully from her personal experience.
This pattern of denial climaxed in the days following July 17, 1996, the day that TWA Flight 800 exploded off the coast of Long Island. In this case, too, the FBI ignored – among other evidence – hundreds of eyewitnesses, the damning FAA radar tape and the scores of positive hits for explosive residue on the plane. And although Ramzi Yousef was on trial that very day in New York for his role in Operation Bojinka, there was no connection made between those plans and the destruction of the plane. Just the opposite. Richard Clarke, in fact, takes credit for suppressing the real evidence and discovering the preposterous “mechanical failure” thesis that the administration eventually made stick.
Although it is easy to blame the FBI for the shameful investigative breakdowns both in Oklahoma City and on Long Island, its agents did not subvert the investigations of their own accord. Their orders came from Washington. The responsibility for enforcing these orders fell to Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who served as the Soviet equivalent of the “political officer” within the Justice Department.
On Aug. 22, 1996 – five weeks after the crash of TWA 800 – Gorelick summoned the FBI’s Jim Kallstrom to Washington to be served up a dose of survival reality. Kallstrom had been a good soldier. He had kept all talk of eyewitnesses and satellites and radar and missiles out of the news. But the evidence had led him far away from mechanical failure, and there was no easy way to turn back.
To be sure, no account of the meeting provides any more than routine detail, but behaviors began to change immediately afterward, especially after the New York Times broke a headline story the next day, top right: “Prime Evidence Found That Device Exploded in Cabin of Flight 800.” This article stole the thunder from Clinton’s election-driven approval of welfare reform in that same day’s paper and threatened to undermine the peace and prosperity message of next week’s Democratic convention.
On that same Aug. 23, the Federal Aviation Administration began to inquire whether any explosives-training exercises had ever taken place on the plane that would become TWA 800. From that day forward, the FBI would do no more serious eyewitness interviews. On that same day, Kallstrom was now saying for the first time, “It was possible that the PETN could have been brought on the plane by a passenger and was not part of a bomb.”
Jim Kallstrom was not the only one who had learned the hard way that there could be no terrorism in the summer of 1996. At the “feel good” Atlanta Olympics, the beleaguered security guard Richard Jewell, the poor soul who first spotted the Centennial Park bomb, was learning a harder lesson still.
Although Davis does not document Gorelick’s role in Oklahoma City, media accounts routinely describe her as the director of the Oklahoma City task force, the so-called “field commander.” As Davis has told me, someone in Washington called the FBI in Oklahoma City and issued a two-word directive on its investigation into Islamic terrorism: “Kill it.”
If that person is not Jamie Gorelick, perhaps she could tell the 9-11 Commission who it is. By suppressing the truth in Oklahoma City, Long Island and Atlanta – and then burying it – the Clinton administration left America wide open on Sept. 11. Apologies are in order, but they will not be enough.