The CIA withheld information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit from the FBI because one of the peripheral attendees, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, was gay and the CIA used this as leverage in a failed attempt to recruit him, according to a new story in the New York Observer.
Here’s the basic idea behind the article:
The development [that the CIA withheld the information to protect the failed recruitment] is intriguing in part because the informant they were after was thought to be secretly gay—a fact that gave intelligence agents leverage in their efforts to turn him against his conservative Islamist circle. But the case may also help answer one of the long-standing mysteries of the 9/11 narrative: why a terrorist known to one part of the U.S. government wasn’t captured by other parts before he boarded a plane and helped carry out the most devastating attacks on the country.
Intelligence officials tell The Observer that the character at the center of the intrigue was an enigmatic but jovial man named Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, or “Shakir el Iraqi.” “He was tall as a mushroom, fat and gay,” one source familiar with the case told The Observer, “and the idea was to exploit him as an agent against Al Qaeda.”
The C.I.A.’s pursuit of Mr. Shakir, and the role he could have played in stopping, or at least complicating, the 9/11 plot, is a story that’s never been told, adding yet another piece in the puzzle leading up to the attacks.
Telling the F.B.I. about Mr. Mihdhar would have blown the lid on the Shakir gambit—and recruitments are the most sensitive operations in the spook world. The C.I.A., as one source put it, “did not want the bureau messing up the operation.” He added, “The bureau might have demanded everything: ‘Who is this guy? Let’s target him!’”
The article is by a guy named Aram Roston, who seems to have a decent reputation. However, the whole premise–that the intelligence “failures” leading up to 9/11 were deliberate and done by the CIA in order to keep from the FBI a failed recruitment attempt–is ridiculous and holds no water. It might explain why the CIA initially withheld the information from the bureau, but it certainly doesn’t explain why they continued to do so for as long as they did. For example, it doesn’t explain why Almihdhar’s name was left off the internal March 5, 2000 cable, the fishing expedition that was the June 11 meeting, Dina Corsi’s failure to pass on the NSA information to Steve Bongardt even after the bureau was notified of Almihdhar’s entry to the US, why Tom Wilshire told nobody at the bureau about the “very high interest” e-mail, etc., etc. There is also the small matter that the CIA’s protection for Almihdhar extended to Khallad bin Attash, an alleged leader of the attack on the USS Cole; Roston is suggesting that the agency hampered an investigation into the murder of 17 US sailors to protect a failed recruitment a year before. Why would anybody believe that?
The way the article first reads is that it is disinfo, planted to throw the public off the scent. But on second thoughts I’m inclined to go for misinformation, basically because I think nobody would intentionally make up a story this implausible. Presumably, Roston has got this from a former CIA officer in Malaysia who was involved in monitoring the Kuala Lumpur summit (such as the station chief who showed the photos to Frank Pellegrino) and was offered some form of modified, limited hangout after the event and was not bright enough to see through it.