Just like in the final scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the box of phone bills was never even opened. We’ll never know if there was or is a threat to Americans originating with the Taliban or Taliban sympathizers. We’ll never know why those Americans were in contact with the Taliban immediately before and immediately after Sept. 11. The same thing is still happening.
By John Kiriakou truthdig.com June 13, 2016
Sunday’s terrorist attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando should be cause for all Americans to come together. This wasn’t just an attack on the gay community. It was an attack on all of us.
It will, of course, lead to the predictable arguments about gun control, Islam, mental health and immigration. Congress will offer “thoughts and prayers,” and nothing will change.
But something ought to change, and quickly: that is the consistent failure of the FBI to do its job, to infiltrate domestic and foreign terrorist groups, and to prevent attacks on U.S. soil. This is not something new. The FBI has been incompetent for a very long time.
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Orlando shooter Omar Mateen reportedly had planned the massacre “for a long time,” according to CNN. Over the past several weeks, he had attempted to buy military-grade body armor, and he had successfully purchased a Glock semi-automatic handgun and a long gun. And the FBI did nothing.
The FBI knew that Mateen had worked for G4S Secure Solutions, one of the world’s largest private security companies, for which he had apparently passed a background investigation. FBI officials knew this because they had interviewed Mateen in 2013 and 2014. The interviews were conducted because he had expressed support for a suicide bomber. And still the FBI did nothing.
FBI Director James Comey said Monday that the FBI is “highly confident” that Mateen was radicalized, probably by viewing extremist material on the internet. Even after the National Security Agency had swallowed up every piece of metadata on the entire internet and, presumably had its Cray computers analyze and pass actionable intelligence onto the FBI, it did nothing.
This is a longstanding pattern. After Syed Farook killed 14 people in a shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., last year, the FBI said it was aware that Farook had been in contact with terrorism suspects but that its agents had done nothing about it.
I wrote in my book, “The Reluctant Spy: My Secret Life in the CIA’s War on Terror,” of an incident in which I personally witnessed FBI incompetence in Pakistan in 2002, when I was the chief of CIA counterterrorism operations there.
I was part of a team that raided the Taliban embassy in Peshawar that year. As part of our “haul,” we confiscated a set of file folders that contained more than a year’s worth of the embassy’s phone bills. Those bills showed hundreds of calls from the Taliban to phone numbers all across the United States—Buffalo, Kansas City, Sacramento, Tampa, Detroit and elsewhere. Those calls ended abruptly on Sept. 10, 2001, and then started up again, slowly, on Sept. 16.
I wanted to know who was receiving these calls. Why were they receiving calls from the Taliban? It was possible that they were Afghan nationals in the United States with legitimate consular issues. But it was equally plausible that they were working for or with the Taliban in some way, possibly against the U.S. Could they have been spies? Were they “sleepers,” tasked with living quiet lives until called upon to carry out an attack? We didn’t know.
I reported all of this to CIA headquarters and was told that it was an FBI issue. I then sent the original phone bills to the FBI, and then I returned to my regular business.
Months passed. I returned to CIA headquarters, and in the summer of 2002, I ran into an FBI agent with whom I had worked in Pakistan. “What happened with those Taliban phone bills?” I asked. The FBI was waiting for Pashto translators to become available. “Pashto translators?” I asked. “Those bills were written in English. That’s how I knew what they were.”
I resigned from the CIA a year and a half later. Again, I ran into a former FBI agent from Pakistan. “Whatever happened to those Taliban phone bills?” “Oh,” he said, “they ended up being shipped to an FBI storage facility in suburban Maryland.”
Just like in the final scene of “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” the box of phone bills was never even opened. We’ll never know if there was or is a threat to Americans originating with the Taliban or Taliban sympathizers. We’ll never know why those Americans were in contact with the Taliban immediately before and immediately after Sept. 11.
The same thing is still happening. The FBI’s ongoing, long-term incompetence has led to the deaths of far too many Americans. San Bernardino and Orlando are only the beginning. If the FBI can’t do its job, if its only counterterrorism successes are when it entraps hapless idiots who don’t know any better and who never had any intention of committing a terrorist act, it should be scrapped. At the very least, President Obama should immediately demand the FBI director’s resignation. That should happen today.
John Kiriakou is a former CIA counterterrorism operations officer and former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.