An interview with former FBI agent Mark Rossini

by Leonardo Salvaggio. An Italian translation is available here.

Today Undicisettembre offers its readers the story of former FBI agent Mark Rossini, whose report is particularly valuable in understanding what mistakes were made by US intelligence and how the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented.

Rossini has already appeared in several documentaries, such as The Spy Factor, Hubris: Selling The Iraq War and The Agent.

We wish to thank Mark Rossini for his kindness and his helpfulness.

Undicisettembre: Hi, Mark, and thanks for the time you’re giving us. Would you like to introduce yourself first?

Mark Rossini: As you already know my name is Mark Rossini, I became an FBI agent in 1991, and I started working on terrorism matters in May 1997; I started working on al-Qaeda matters after the embassies were bombed in Nairobi and Tanzania in August 1998. After that I went to Nairobi and spent almost three months there as an acting supervisor on the ground, and when I returned from Nairobi I was sent to the CIA's Alec Station, located within the CIA headquarters building in Langley, Virginia. Alec Station was a station dedicated solely to investigating Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. I was sent there as the representative of the NY FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force known as the JTTF. This is important to note, that I was assigned from FBI NY not FBI headquarters. This was due to the fact that my squad on the NY JTTF was responsible for the investigation of bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. I had this position from from January 1999 until May 2003. In May 2003 I was one of the founding members of the National Counterterrorism Center, and I did that until September 2005.

I guess you want to talk about what happened on Alec Station and what led to 9/11, right?

Undicisettembre: Yes, let’s talk about that. Could 9/11 have been prevented?

Mark Rossini: The 9/11 attacks did not have to happen. The 9/11 attacks happened because of the willful and purposeful non-passage to the FBI of information by the CIA concerning hijackers that had what we call a "Terror Summit" in Malaysia in January 2000. The CIA purposely did not tell the FBI about that meeting nor did they more importantly tell the FBI that two of the people at the meeting, who turned out to be hijackers, had visas to visit the USA. The CIA and the NSA also knew about the travel plans they had to come to America and still did not tell the FBI. If the FBI had been given this information we would have stopped 9/11. A colleague of mine who was with me at the CIA, Special Agent Doug Miller, wrote a draft Central Intelligence Report, known also as a CIR, which is the only official way information is transferred between the agencies, to tell the FBI about the meeting in Malaysia and about these individuals that were there, and the CIA blocked it. To this day no one has ever been held accountable for blocking Doug’s memo from going or for telling me I couldn’t tell the FBI about what Doug tried to send. This is something even the 9/11 Commission neglected to investigate, and I applaud former New Jersey Governor Thomas Kean, who was 9/11 Commission Co-Chairman and who cited this as a failure to pursue and get an answer. There’s so much more about the subject that it would take probably hours to listen to and talk about. There are so many missteps here and willful omissions that it’s criminal. It’s a stain on our society, it’s a stain on our system of justice that three or four key individuals have not been called before a court of law, a Grand Jury or a regular Jury, and been asked “Why did you block his memo?”

Moreover, even if Doug didn’t write his memo, even if Doug and I were never assigned to the CIA, no one asked them “Why did you (Alec Station) on your own not send the information to the FBI?” The question is valid and needs to be asked because everyday information is sent back and forth between the two agencies via a CIR, and I guarantee you there was nothing that was sent between the two agencies before or after 9/11 that was more important than what Doug was trying to send over to the FBI.

And we have to come to understand why that happened. I have many theories, and my first theory that I have been trying to prove is that CIA was on a recruitment operation and they were trying to recruit some of the members of the cell, specifically Khalid al-Mihdhar or Nawaf al-Hazmi [pictured below]. Khalid al-Mihdhar’s father had a home in Sana’a, Yemen, which was the switchboard for al-Qaeda operations around the world and the CIA knew about that since 1998 or according to some rumors since 1996, since the CIA and specifically Alec Station was actively monitoring and investigating al-Qaeda operatives in Kenya. Regardless if it was 1996 or 1998, they purposely did not tell the FBI what was going on at that al-Qaeda switchboard and there is no intention to do so even up until today. It's as if it never existed. Watch the documentary The Spy Factory and the interview of 9/11 Commission member Eleanor Hill. She says bluntly that looking at the NSA was forbidden by the Commissioners. How is that for being a true and transparent society?

The recruitment operation was far more important to the CIA and they didn’t want the FBI, in the personification of my boss John O'Neill, to mess up their operation. Moreover, an arrest by the FBI of Saudi "boys" would have cause great embarrassment to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and that’s a big “no, no” in any Presidential administration, either Bush or Bill Clinton or Obama or Trump or Hillary Clinton, I don't care who is the President. The absolute rule exists since oil came gushing up from a few inches below the sand: “You must not embarrass the Saudis”. It's because they control the oil and they own the balance of the power in the Middle East and that’s the bottom line: our economy and the world economy is tied to oil. The price of the barrel of oil is done in dollars, not in any other currency, and that is because we protect the king of Saudi Arabia and they also protect us by ensuring as the leader of OPEC that the price of a barrel of oil is pegged to the US dollar. As I said before, you must never embarrass them, this is what it is all about, because the FBI would have arrested the Saudi young men and caused large headlines and inquiries by the media and other governments perhaps, and the CIA was afraid they could not control the FBI. No administration would ever want that.

As a country, as a world, as humanity we have to get to the truth about why Doug’s memo didn’t go, we cannot just sit by idly and accept that. Until we do that, we really have no moral standing, nor can we hold our rules, laws and courts as legitimate. We should not and cannot face our citizens and say “We did everything to prevent this, and we are doing everything to protect you,” because we haven’t and we are not.

Undicisettembre: I would like you to elaborate on the reason why they did that. I can’t believe the CIA were so stupid to make such a big mistake on purpose.

Mark Rossini: It’s not because they were so stupid, but because they had this specific plan of action: to try to recruit somebody in the al-Qaeda cell and not have the FBI interfere. In particular my boss, mentor and friend John O'Neill, whom the people that managed Alec Station despised because they were jealous. Former terrorism "Czar" Richard Clarke, who served under both President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, said in an interview, which you can easily find online, that on the day Cofer Black became the Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC), the two chatted after the official meeting to welcome Cofer and Richard Clarke asked Cofer what was the first thing he wanted to address. Per Clarke, Cofer turned to him and said “The only thing that really pisses me off is that we have no sources in al-Qaeda.” If you fast forward from their conversation, to the meeting in Malaysia and the discovery of the travel plans of the terrorists to come to America it would be the perfect opportunity to try to recruit somebody.

We know from the historical record, and as is reported in newspapers, the 9/11 Commission points out the fact that CIA did try to recruit Shakir el-Iraqi, who was the gentleman at the Kuala Lumpur airport who was the "greeter, fixer and expediter" who got them through the airport and hotel rooms. We do know he was approached by Malaysia Special Branch and by CIA to be recruited and he rebuffed the recruitment. So it stands to reason and logic that Alec Station had set their sight on maybe someone in the cell. And two hijackers came to America, unbeknownst to the FBI, and went to stay at the home of an FBI informant and they also had an encounter with Omar al-Bayoumi who was a Saudi agent working in San Diego as a professor.

There’s enough circumstantial evidence to prove that the crime took place of a Willful Omission or Conscious Avoidance of telling the FBI about the meeting in Malaysia and that at least two of the people who attended this "terror summit" had visas to come to the USA. Those FBI cowboys could cause a political stir at the White House and State Department.

Undicisettembre: Generally speaking, how is the relationship between the two agencies? I’m asking this question because I have the impression that former FBI agent Ali Soufan in his book The Black Banners depicts the CIA as the bad guys.

Mark Rossini: Ali and I are very dear friends. I have a lot of respect for CIA and admire the agency greatly, they do tremendous and fantastic work as the FBI does, which you will never hear about. With the exception of 5 people at Alec Station I never worked with brighter and more dedicated people in my life. I wish I worked there. The problem is, and what FBI agents find so frustrating, that the CIA is not interested in a "court of law" or getting to the truth of proving something for court as the FBI is; the CIA is an intelligence gathering organization that is gathering intelligence and yes of course the "truth" in order to assist the President in carrying out his, maybe soon her, agenda and that of the Presidential Administration as a whole. And that’s where and why things get haywire, because there’s a disconnect between the two agencies’, FBI's and CIA's, missions and authorities. In spite of what you think, the CIA provides a vital function in protecting America, but to an FBI agent like me or Ali it’s difficult to understand their mentality. We get evidence, we put people in jail. We don’t have a long term view of the world like who is going to rule a country 60 years from now.

So I agree with Ali, and I understand why he has that feeling. And while Ali had dealings with them in the field they were hiding from him the picture of Khalid and CIA knew Khalid was linked to the meeting in Malaysia but refused to tell him.

Another reason why we must not embarrass the Saudis is that we need to have our air bases there to protect Israel and also maintain the balance of power in the Middle-East, which are two long term vital and strategic goals. As a human being I care and understand these goals and their importance. As an FBI agent, it's not my "portfolio" or mission.

Undicisettembre: What’s your take on the torture? Because as far as I know the CIA used a lot of torture while interrogating people while the FBI did not.

Mark Rossini: Torture is an action and a desire of little weak men. I’ll say it again: torture is an action and desire of little weak men. Torture is a fantasy that is fed down your throat by movies. Torture does not work because it does not get you to truth. It’s just for vengeance fantasies.

It is wrong and it is immoral. A lot of very tough guys sitting on the couch would tell me “What do you mean it’s immoral? These people are immoral, they don’t deserve my morals.” Well. If you want to get down to their level and act like a savage, go right ahead; but I’m not and nor other members of the FBI. We interview people and get in their head and talk to them. Did you ever think perhaps for one second that torturing one of these terrorists is something that they want? It proves their manhood and in their brain they are showing Allah they are withstanding this brutal force to get a greater award in heaven.

“Tough guys” (I say that sarcastically) in a diner drinking coffee don’t think about this. They don't care since they believe they are superior, and they want vengeance on somebody who’s chained up and cannot fight back.

It’s wrong and it’s immoral and it’s repugnant that we even did it. The fact that there are people in my country who think it’s okay to do it and that these people deserve that because they are “evil non-Christian Muslims” makes me not even want to talk to them I cannot even go near them.

It’s just fantasy of small and little men.

Undicisettembre: I agree with you and I remember reading in the book The Longest War by Peter Bergen that you are not getting real information by torturing people because they just tell you the first thing that comes to their mind just to make the torture stop.

Mark Rossini: They will tell you anything you want to hear just to make the torture stop. Look at Ibn Al-Shaikh al-Libi, the guy that was tortured in Egypt. The CIA thought he was not giving them enough information and that he was lying. That the FBI Agent and NYPD detective who were interviewing him were being lied to by him and they were not aggressive enough. So what does the CIA do? They “take over”. He was duct taped onto a wooden board and sent him to Egypt. While he’s laid out tied down with duct tape to the board one tough guy from Alec Station who is a real idiot whispered in his ear “I’m going to go fuck your mother.” Does that make you feel tough and big, you little runt?

So they took him to Egypt and tortured him. He said “Oh yes, Saddam is connected to al-Qaeda” just to make the torture stop. And that was used to justify the war in Iraq.

Undicisettembre: In Italy there’s a very widespread myth according to which the Saudis where somehow behind 9/11, either by supporting the terrorists or by letting them do it without interfering. What are your thoughts about this?

Mark Rossini: No, people are losing track. When something is so brutal as 9/11 was, people have a hard time understanding the simplicity of it. A lot of people feel the need to have a larger explanation like that the Saudis had a role in it. No, no, no. No Saudi wanted that to happen, that’s impossible. There were prominent Saudis, royal and non-royal, that were giving money to al-Qaeda affiliated associations and NGOs. But did those people know that money was being used for terrorism or specifically for 9/11? No. But none of them can look me straight in the face to tell me their money was going for something fair either. That’s the real issue. Remember that after 9/11 there were many Saudis in America that the FBI wanted to interview but in the days right after the attacks, when no plane was flying, only one plane was allowed to come and pick them up and take them out of the country before we could talk to them. Because the Saudis are protected.

This kind of action brings people to believe that the Saudi government wanted it to happen, but no one wanted that to happen because no one of these people who gave money knew that this attack was going to happen, not even the hijackers knew about each other and what their role was.

We theorize that not even the “muscle hijackers” who kept the passengers from reacting knew it was a suicide mission, only the pilots knew it was a suicide mission.

Undicisettembre: In your opinion, were there links between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden?

Mark Rossini: Not in my opinion but in fact there was not one shred, not one contact: nothing. I want this to be perfectly, perfectly clear. I’m sure there will be some couch potato or keyboard genius saying I’m wrong. Oh, you still want to believe you are right? I’m sorry, you are wrong. There was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda and bin Laden. Zero. Saddam had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. It was a fantasy that was spun by Dick Cheney and the White House in order to push gullible people who were still afraid because of what happened on 9/11 to swallow a ton of bullshit and support the invasion of Iraq.

Saddam was an evil man. Saddam had killed people and there’s no question about it, but he did not attack America and he did not have anything to do with 9/11 and he was a Sunni that controlled the Shia country. We went in there and removed a powerful Sunni leader and now we have the mess of a Shia-led country of Iraq aligned and friends with another massive Shia country which is Iran, which has always been seen as the enemy. What genius was asleep at this switch and didn’t think beforehand of what we were doing?

If anyone in Washington DC had half a brain they would have realized that, but they were bent on revenge, getting Saddam’s oil and controlling the whole Middle East. Now we created this “megacountry” and alliance between Iraq and Iran controlled by Shia governments and we have Sunnis who live in Iraq who are oppressed and have come to join ISIS.

I don’t care what bullshit a certain network in America wants to spin about how thoughts like mine are wrong and unpatriotic: we have messed it up. And Sunnis in Iraq who have been disenfranchised are now members of ISIS. We created it, we are responsible for it. We created a power vacuum, and had not the brains to realize what we created when we invaded Iraq. The orchestrators of the Iraq illegal invasion are naive, ignorant and small minded people. When the blind lead the blind and slick politicians lead the gullible, this is what happens.

And they tried to shove it down our throats by saying “You’ll see in fifty years that my plan was the smart one.” No it’s not, because people have died right now, and it’s not the sons of the Neocons going to war but the poor slob they put the lie to whose son is going to war.

Undicisettembre: There’s one point I don’t understand. You said that the war in Iraq was done also to get Iraq’s oil. But as far as I know, war costs much more than the oil you can get from the Iraqi wells. So it makes no sense to me.

Mark Rossini: You are right, it makes no sense and the whole thing was a farce, a waste of time and a fraud. It did not have to happen and we will be paying for this for the next one hundred years in blood and economy. It was a wrong move. It was a delusional thought that the Iraqi people would see us as liberators and willfully give us their oil wells so that we could control the world market of oil.

The Neocons also thought they could build Middle East from scratch and control it. It was lead by emotion, not by brain; when you lead by emotion is when you make mistakes.

Undicisettembre: What do you think about the hunt for Osama bin Laden? Could he have been killed before 2011?

Mark Rossini: Perhaps he could have been killed before 2011, but I’m not so sure. I think it was done the correct way and I have no issue on how the Navy SEALs did it, I think it was heroic and that Obama made the right decision. He made the right decision militarily and politically by not informing the Pakistanis we were doing it because there’s no question in my mind that middle or high management of the Pakistani Intelligence Service known as ISI knew that he was there, but they chose to turn a blind eye.

Something we will never understand is the power of Islamic religion and what it means to certain people and how they twist its meaning and they lose sight of what is right and what is wrong. You would have to be blind not to see that someone in the Pakistani military knew that he was in that compound and it shows they did not say anything to us.

He was found not thanks to torture but thanks to interviews and investigation that the CIA did admirably. Admirably! Unequivocally they deserve every accolade in the book for this: for finding him and bringing him to an end.

Undicisettembre: In your opinion was Pakistan shielding him?

Mark Rossini: I think there were certain people in Pakistan who were shielding him, I wouldn’t say the Prime Minister or anyone like that. But I would say certain people at mid-level or lower senior level knew where he was but chose to keep that information suppressed.

Undicisettembre: What do you think about conspiracy theories that claim that 9/11 was an inside job?

Mark Rossini: I have to leave the room if someone says that. I cannot even discuss it for five seconds. There are all these bullshit theories about controlled demolition and how the steel couldn’t break and World Trade Center 7.

These people really need to get a life and go back under the rock they came from.

They are just creating confusion and pain. It’s just wrong, trust me.

Undicisettembre: What’s the level of security today in the USA?

Mark Rossini: The level of security is very, very high. But I have an issue with that, I am a little disturbed by that fact that we have not been able to create a single agency that’s responsible for protection. We have not delineated and designed each agency’s role nor have we defined who’s in charge of operations.

In the US we have FBI, Homeland Security, the Military, CIA, NSA, all contributing and at the same time doing their own thing and agenda; we have a lot of kitchens and a lot of chefs. We haven’t yet created one agency that does it all and coordinates every operation. We should create a new agency comprised of the respective agencies’ competencies that deals with terrorism on a national and international level. There is so much more to explain on this, and it could and should become a reality, but I don’t think it will ever happen, since the change would almost be like an earthquake for all the “stakeholders” in Washington, D.C. who cannot agree basically on anything.

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