April 07, 2004

9-11 panel to probe FBI informant's tip: Man who translated lead on al-Qaida plot confirms meeting with 3 investigators

"Out, out damn spot!"

Paul Sperry, www.worldnetdaily.com: When he watched the planes hit the Twin Towers on 9-11, former FBI translator Behrooz Sarshar says he "immediately" remembered a tip about an al-Qaida plot the bureau got from an informant more than four months before the terror group attacked America. Though he won't divulge details of the tip or discuss the sources and methods behind it, arguing they are still highly classified, Sarshar confirmed in an exclusive interview that he recently briefed three 9-11 Commission investigators about it, as WorldNetDaily first reported March
28...Sources familiar with the briefing say the FBI informant told two FBI agents from the Washington field office in April 2001 that his sources in Afghanistan had heard of an al-Qaida plot to attack America in a suicide mission involving planes. Sarshar, fluent in Farsi, acted as an interpreter at the meeting, held at a Washington-area residence.

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DAY OF INFAMY 2001
9-11 panel to probe FBI informant's tip: Man who translated lead on al-Qaida plot confirms meeting with 3 investigators

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Posted: April 6, 2004
1:00 a.m. Eastern


By Paul Sperry
2004 WorldNetDaily.com


WASHINGTON -- When he watched the planes hit the Twin
Towers on 9-11, former FBI translator Behrooz Sarshar
says he "immediately" remembered a tip about an
al-Qaida plot the bureau got from an informant more
than four months before the terror group attacked
America.

Though he won't divulge details of the tip or discuss
the sources and methods behind it, arguing they are
still highly classified, Sarshar confirmed in an
exclusive interview that he recently briefed three
9-11 Commission investigators about it, as
WorldNetDaily first reported March 28.

He says he met Feb. 12 with Lance Cole, Chris Healey
and one other commission investigator in a secure room
here on K Street. During the more than two-hour
classified meeting, he says he told them the name of
the informant.

Part of the independent panel's mandate is to
investigate leads U.S. law enforcement may have missed
before the terrorist attacks, which killed 2,745
Americans.

The 66-year-old Sarshar, who had Top Secret clearance
when he left the bureau in November 2002, also briefed
congressional investigators in the Senate Hart
Building on Feb. 13. That meeting was not classified.

Sources familiar with the briefing say the FBI
informant told two FBI agents from the Washington
field office in April 2001 that his sources in
Afghanistan had heard of an al-Qaida plot to attack
America in a suicide mission involving planes.
Sarshar, fluent in Farsi, acted as an interpreter at
the meeting, held at a Washington-area residence.

The asset, an Iranian immigrant who worked in the
shah's intelligence services, had been on the FBI's
payroll for at least a decade, and was considered
reliable. He travels abroad and is said to maintain
good Afghan contacts. Iran shares its eastern border
with Afghanistan.

Both FBI agents took notes, and the case agent who
worked with Sarshar filed a report with his squad
supervisor, Thomas Frields. It's not clear if the
information was teletyped to headquarters, however.

Frields, now retired from the bureau, says the case is
too "sensitive" to discuss.

"It involves very sensitive matters that took place
while I was an on-duty agent, and I have absolutely
nothing to say," said Frields, reached at his
Washington-area consulting office.

Two former colleagues described Frields as "solid" and
"meticulous," and said they have no doubt he would
have notified headquarters if he thought the
information was credible.

The headquarters official in charge of
counterterrorism at the time was FBI assistant
director Dale Watson, also retired and now working for
the same consulting firm as Frields. He did not return
phone calls.

Former FBI directors Thomas Pickard and Louis Freeh
are scheduled to testify next week before the 9-11
Commission. Pickard replaced Freeh as acting director
in June 2001.

On 9-11, as soon as the shock of the attacks wore off,
Sarshar's mind raced back to the meeting with the
informant.

"I immediately remembered the source," he said last
week during an interview at a Northern Virginia coffee
shop.

"But I didn't discuss it [with the two agents],
because I was sure they also were kind of surprised
this had happened," he said. "And I didn't want to
discuss it because I was sure that they had done their
job."

However, he says he spoke with other linguists at the
Washington field office about the informant's tip,
which in hindsight had been very hot.

Some familiar with Sarshar's briefings last month say
the tip cited major cities with skyscrapers, including
Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

But a veteran FBI source says the tip at the time was
not that specific, and has been sensationalized since
9-11. He says the information did not include cities.
Nor was there any indication when the attacks might
occur.

"At the time it sounded unbelievable," he said.
"People in Afghanistan being trained to fly jumbo jets
to attack America just seemed unbelievable. Camels,
maybe. But not planes."

America, as well as Europe, were mentioned as targets
by the informant, however, knowledgeable sources
confirm. And he suggested that al-Qaida agents,
already in place inside America, were being trained as
pilots.

Before the suicide plane attacks, the FBI failed to
act on other clues that al-Qaida was planning
aviation-related terrorism inside America.

In July 2001, for example, an FBI agent in Phoenix
warned headquarters that an "inordinate number" of
Middle Eastern men sympathetic to al-Qaida were taking
local flying lessons. And in August, a FBI supervisor
in Minneapolis told headquarters that he worried a
foreign flight student he had in custody on visa
violations -- Zacarias Moussaoui -- might be part of a
plot to "take control of a plane and fly it into the
World Trade Center."

If those two pieces of information had been combined
with the broader informant's tip, the FBI might have
been able to see the outline of the plot, a source
familiar with Sarshar's briefings said.

"Those three pieces together make a big piece" of the
puzzle, he said.

White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice
has maintained the administration could not have
predicted al-Qaida terrorists "would try to use an
airplane as a missile." She is said to have recently
revised her statement in private talks with the 9-11
Commission, however. She testifies publicly Thursday.

Watson, for his part, has argued that the FBI has been
unfairly blamed for dropping the ball on 9-11. He
compared the bureau to a soccer goalie who blocks 99
shots out of a 100 and only gets credit for the miss.

Such explanations don't satisfy families of 9-11
victims -- and they shouldn't, says FBI
counterintelligence veteran I.C. Smith, who left the
bureau in 1998. He thinks 9-11 could have been
stopped.

"They've all said there's nothing we could have done
anyway," he said. "Well, that is wrong, wrong, wrong."


"If FBI agents had been allowed to interview those
Middle Eastern students at the flight schools, there
is no doubt in my mind they could have disrupted
them," Smith explained. "We would have found them
overstaying their visas and booted them out of the
country."

In his July memo, the Phoenix agent had asked
headquarters for "authority to obtain visa information
on persons seeking to attend flight schools." But
supervisors there had closed the matter the next month
without taking action.

Told of the 9-11 plot tip, Smith said, "I'm convinced
there's more information in the FBI." He's writing a
soon-to-be-published book that takes the bureau, and
Watson in particular, to task for counterterrorism
failures.

Another FBI veteran said the informant's lead likely
joined the thousands of others buried and never
investigated at the "Federal Bureau of Information."

Sarshar, who worked more than seven years for the FBI,
says he asked the Senate Judiciary Committee for
immunity to testify about the informant's tip and
other FBI matters. He says the FBI warned him: "If you
talk about these things, you'll be locked up."
Republican staffer John Drake and Democratic counsel
Tara Magner told him they would look into it after he
met with them, he says.

Tracy Schmaler, a Judiciary spokeswoman, confirmed the
meeting took place, but stopped short of specifics.

Also attending the Feb. 13 meeting on the Hill, which
lasted about two-and-a-half hours, were Kristen
Breitweiser, who lost her husband in the World Trade
Center attacks, and Sibel Dinez Edmonds, a former
contract linguist for the FBI, who was hired after
9-11.

Edmonds, who translated Farsi, Turkish and Azerbaijani
recordings and documents at the Washington field
office, has told both congressional and 9-11
investigators that many terror-related intercepts have
not been translated accurately because of
anti-American bias and incompetence among some Middle
Eastern translators. Sources say she was asked to
retranslate a 9-11-related document that also may have
held clues to the plot.

It was Edmonds who coaxed Sarshar to brief the 9-11
Commission. He met with investigators the day after
she did. Her Feb. 11 classified briefing took place in
a SCIF, or sensitive compartmented-information
facility, set up in commission offices on D Street.

Commission Chairman Thomas Kean confirmed the panel's
meeting with Edmonds. "We've had all her testimony and
it's under investigation," he said Sunday on NBC's
"Meet the Press."

Also, Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton appeared to confirm
the panel's meeting with Sarshar the following day.
"We've talked to people she's identified," he said on
the same show.

Commission spokesman Al Felzenberg would neither
confirm nor deny his briefing. "It's our policy that
we cannot talk about people we interview," he said.

Sarshar says the commission has not contacted him
since his briefing. He says investigators indicated
they'd call him back to testify with the informant.

The FBI source cautioned that Edmonds sued the bureau
after it fired her in 2002 for undisclosed reasons.

But the FBI terminated her contract only after she
filed internal complaints against a supervisor in the
language unit, Edmonds asserted. And senior FBI
officials have nonetheless confirmed some of her
charges in private hearings on the Hill, according to
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., ranking member of the
Senate Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Charles Grassley,
R-Iowa, also a Judiciary member.

Grassley, moreover, has called Edmonds "very
credible."

A former Grassley investigator says he found Sarshar
credible, too.

"We thought he was a pretty credible guy," said former
Senate Judiciary Committee investigator Kris Kolesnik,
who interviewed Sarshar nearly two years ago as an
investigator for a Washington public-interest law firm
handling federal whistleblower cases.

Sarshar, a political refugee from Iran who joined the
FBI in 1995, says he has testified seven times in
federal court against FBI suspects, more than any
other translator on the Farsi board. He says his life
was threatened once after testimony he gave sealed a
drug conviction. He also has worked on terrorism cases
related to Mujahedin el-Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian
dissident group that has killed Americans.

In Iran, he was a colonel in the national police force
under the shah, as well as president of Iran's judo
federation, until the 1979 revolution, when he was
forced to flee the country.

The FBI insider, however, cautioned that Sarshar was
placed on administrative leave just before he
resigned. He says the department's Office of
Professional Responsibility had been investigating him
since 2000.

Sarshar, a level GS-12 employee, acknowledged that the
bureau notified him in October 2002 it was putting him
on leave, but he says that it was with pay. He decided
at that point to resign anyway. He declined to
elaborate.

But he says he pleaded his case to the Justice
Department inspector general. He says he met with an
official there in January. The meeting lasted
four-and-a-half hours, he says, and covered classified
information that included the informant's tip about
9-11.

Despite pre-9-11 slips, Sarshar insists the FBI "is
still the best law enforcement agency in the world."

Edmonds, 33, also took her case to the inspector
general. That was two years ago, she complains. The
IG's office still hasn't released any findings from
its investigation.

Previous stories:

FBI informant revealed 9-11 plot in April 2001

Senator demands hearings on FBI translator crisis

Backlog of untranslated Arabic swamps FBI

FBI mandates Muslim-sensitivity training for agents

FBI whistleblower: Arab translators cheered 9-11

Jews need not apply to fight terror at FBI

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Paul Sperry is Washington bureau chief for
WorldNetDaily and author of "Crude Politics."

Posted by richard at April 7, 2004 12:54 PM